Whew! Another busy week has come and gone and I feel like I’ve barely come up for air! This month is flying by! But, enough about chores, work, and responsibility! Let’s talk about something fun.
d20 games in the media.
(Around my house).
Every once in a while I mention we’ve seen an episode of a show or movie that references D&D in some way. Stranger Things is and obvious (and amazing) example. iZombie has a wonderful set of episodes that feature Dungeons and Dragons, and my kids had a blast watching Voltron’s ode to the game. Just the other day we saw another on one of our family’s favourite kids cartoons: Teen Titans GO! In case you’re unaware, the Teen Titans are a teenage super hero team created by DC comics. Back in 2003 they had an awesome cartoon that played on the Cartoon Network, and a few years ago they re-released a spin-off of the show as… well an inane comedy. They’re the same characters and the same voice actors, but the show is goofy, irreverent, and rarely features any actual crime fighting. It’s a comedy above all else, and my whole family loves it. Seriously! My favourite episode, ‘And the Award for Sound Design Goes to Rob’ (Season Two, Episode 48) involves silence taking over the world, and the Teen Titans making their own sound effects for everything. When dolphins say ‘Booya!’ and Beast Boy makes punches sound like a fart, you know you’re about to have some laughs. My kids were rolling on the ground in laughter. (Seriously). Anyway, there we were, enjoying some Teen Titans Go! when the episode ‘Riding the Dragon’ (Season 3 Episode 51) started. (Most of) The Teen Titans are enjoying a fantasy game where they attempt to ride a dragon, only to have Robin appear and tell them they’re not playing by the rules. He proceeds to force them to, and spends the entire episode sucking all the fun out of their D&D style game. It’s hilarious.
And then today? My kids had the chance to have their weird and wacky characters ride a dragon in game. They were so excited! They even started singing a song from the Teen Titans episode. The look of absolute joy on their faces was truly a delight. Special thanks to GM Dennis for giving them the opportunity! (Thanks!)
On a similar note, my kids finally discovered the glory of Critical Role! How? Why? …Beastmaster!
My kids saw a picture online of Terry Crews holding up a fake warhammer and roaring. Immediately they exclaimed: “Hey! I know that guy! He was a judge on Beastmaster! Let’s watch that!” (My daughter LOVES Ultimate Beastmaster). So we clicked play.
It was an episode of World of Warcraft themed CelebriD&D starring Terry Crews. (I imagine more than a few of you have watched it!). Long story short we gave it a try and my kids were enthralled! They thought it was hilarious. My son thought that Terry Crews’ character ‘Thodak the Blacksmith’ was the coolest, but my daughter loved Marisha Ray’s goblin ‘The Ritz.’ If you haven’t watched it (or any of the other CelebriD&D episodes) and you like that sort of thing I suggest you give it a shot. It was great fun. Of course, my kids have never played World of Warcraft, so when we finally finished watching all the CelebriD&D episodes we watched the World of Warcraft movie, which is currently on Netflix. My husband fell asleep (he’s recently given up coffee, so I wouldn’t hold that against the film), but the rest of us liked it.
We’ve been watching Paizo’s Twitch Channel recently. The Doomsday Dawn live play episodes look interesting, but I’ve yet to give them a try. Admittedly, I don’t have the time to watch them. Haha. I don’t watch anything live, but when I can find the time (usually while preparing vegetables for dinner or something) I put on a shorter video. I regularly watch the Pathfinder Friday episodes (which are a whole lot of Deconstructing Doomsday Dawn recently!). But my favourite? I ADORE Starfinder Wednesdays! May of the recent episodes preview the Against the Aeon Throne adventure path (and information related to it). Recently they started making episodes about different planets in the Pact Worlds. Eox was first. Then Aucturn. And tonight they’re going further afield to the planet Daimalko. Awesome! My kids even love sitting down to watch these ones. It’s such a great way to get the feel for the many planets across in an engaging way. I hope they keep it up!
Speaking of making gaming engaging, I recently stumbled upon the work of Craig Bailey, a GM who makes props to go along with his games. Most of them are from Starfinder’s Dead Suns adventure path and WOW! Are they ever amazing! Field notes, passports, news clips, and even mock websites where the players can attempt to sift through an NPCs emails! AWESOME! If you haven’t heard of him (and especially if you’re GMing Dead Suns) be sure to look him up on twitter or youtube!
I can’t even imagine the effort put into these ‘handouts.’
In other news (sort of) I read the Dragon+ Magazine whenever I have the time (which is rarely. Did I mention I’ve been busy lately? Haha). For those of you who don’t know it’s a free Dungeons and Dragons web-magazine you can view online or through the Dragon+ app. But, this last issue I made sure to make the time to give it a read. Why? RAVNICA!
As some of you may be aware, I don’t just plat d20 games. I love all kinds of games. Including collectible card games. And, although my kids love Pokemon, my game of choice is Magic: The Gathering. By far. Love it. I love the game, the art, the lore, the worlds… Everything except the COST! Haha. So when I heard that Dungeons and Dragons was joining forces with Magic: the Gathering and releasing a Ravnica campaign sourcebook I squealed in glee. Then I thought: “It’s about time!” Cause, really! They’re both Wizards of the Coast! Why did this take so long?!? D&D: Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is due out near the end of November, but is already available for preorder on amazon. Even better? At the time of posting it’s twenty dollars off the regular price. If only I had someone to buy it for! (Other than myself…).
I’ve already mentioned that Starfinder has launched their new Adventure Path: Against the Aeon Throne. I’ve talked about it, geeked out about it, watched Paizo’s twitch stream, and generally wished I owned it. It looks like a ton of fun. My husband nodded his head and gave me a ‘that’s nice’ sort of look. Clearly not as excited as I am, haha. And my kids? Excited, but not obsessively so.
Until they saw the preview.
Yeah! Preview! The trailer! Like a movie trailer for an adventure path. It explains the premise and basics of the campaign clearly, quickly, and concisely. It sounds awesome, it’s got great art. And it generally made me start salivating all over again.
As soon as it started my kids wandered over to see what I was watching. They sat still…. and stared….
And when it ended my kids literally started shrieking all at once.
“THIS LOOKS SO MUCH FUN!”
“I WANT TO PLAY!”
“YOU NEED TO BUY THAT FOR ME! NO! I will tell DAD to buy it for YOU for YOUR birthday!”
“THAT’S TOO LONG! AN EARLY BIRTHDAY!”
“A… thanks for going to school gift? Can I have one of those? I am in grade one now, Mom.”
So on and so on. We laughed, and I figured they’d soon wander off.
Instead they pulled out the Starfinder books and started making characters for Against the Aeon Throne. They didn’t have time to finish before bed, but the next day on the walk to school it was all they talked about. And the day after, on the weekend, we spent our time at the laundromat creating their characters together.
My son made a contemplative technomancer who is a scholar with a focus on the fields of ecology and alien ecosystems. He dabbles in illusions, mind magic, and technology, but takes special care to use magic that doesn’t harm the environment, and to create clean, sustainable technologies. His contemplative travels to Nakondis to help his friend study the starship drive on the mysterious crashed ship she is studying there. In addition, he’s going to ensure that the new colony of Madelon’s Landing treats the planet of Nakondis with the respect it deserves.
And my daughter? She has a character image she discovered ages ago on Pinterest that she’s been saving for something special. She’s making a ysoki ninja! White furred, with pale pink attire, a dagger and a stun gun. She’s going to be an operative, although she’s torn between selecting the ‘daredevil’ and the ‘ghost’ specializations. She plans to focus on both acrobatics and stealth, so she’s undecided. Either way she’s going to be a nimble, tricky combatant comfortable in close range and melee combat.
Then they got to work asking what I would play, and badgering my husband for his character concept.
The only problem? I still don’t own it. Haha. Guess I’m investing in Against the Aeon Throne sooner than expected!
Grumpy over our inability to begin playing, my kids settled in with my husband to watch the finale of Voltron: Legendary Defender. They loved it, and when they end came they headed right over to the block bucket and got building.
Last time they built starships they did so with LEGO, but this time they used Duplo. Duplo is like bigger sized LEGO. It’s kind of marketed for toddlers, while LEGO is for kids, but my kids ADORE their Duplo (yes, even more than their LEGO). With LEGO they build things, but locking in the blocks sometimes hurts their fingers, and for some reason they feel compelled to find and follow instructions when they use it. They don’t often just build something grand from their imagination with LEGO. But with Duplo? It’s different. They never look at instructions. The blocks don’t hurt. They just come up with the craziest things, and build. Usually it’s full cities and markets with multiple buildings and roads and things. Trains and other vehicles are popular. Sometimes amusement park rides (that move). Once in a while they build mazes multiple layers deep. A while back my husband and I were watching ‘In The Heart Of The Sea‘ on Netflix and although my husband and I liked it my kids were bored out of their minds. Instead of watching my son sat down with blocks and built his own massive whaling ship. It was the right ship, had masts and sails, and even miniature rowboats on it. It was literally a massive, awesome ship. It even had a removable top deck so you could look inside. It was, hands-down, cooler than anything I’ve ever built.
So, I wasn’t surprised when they started building something together. They had a plan, and they chatted and got to work. When it was done they called me over. They had made a big starship, a few feet long and almost a foot wide. They stacked it on stilts that they attached to wheels, so it could drive around the house while the ship itself was still hovering off the ground.
“Awesome starship, guys!” I said
They shook their heads.
“This is not just ANY starship, Mom. THIS is a Galra battle cruiser! The really big ones. See!”
I looked at it again and nodded. It looked like the right shape and everything. I could see it.
They showed me the bridge. If you’ve got little hands (which I do not, haha) you can slip a hand inside and put figures inside. There’s even chairs and computer consoles in there. Impressive. They showed my the really big gun turret they built on top, which really does spin. They named what kind of gun it was, but in all fairness, I’ve forgotten it’s name (shame on me, I know). It was the big one. Haha. They showed me the thrusters and the engine bay. They showed my the medical bay and the prison cells. They pointed out that the prison cells had toy lions in them because in the finale they had just watched the villain captures the hero’s lions (they’re sentient lion-shaped starships, in case you have no idea what I’m talking about) and locks them up. Cool!
Anyways, I was so impressed we took a bunch of photos I thought I’d share below. My kids are very proud. They’re still waiting for Against the Aeon Throne. And they’re still excited. But, for now, they’re happy their creation is getting shared with the world.
Have any of you seen the film Kubo and the Two Strings? I watched it with my children and husband recently, and was literally amazed by it.
Kubo is wonderful stop-motion movie that follows a boy named Kubo on a journey to protect himself from the dreaded Moon King. But Kubo is no ordinary boy. Kubo can make magic happen by playing his samisen. On his journey he’s accompanied by an origami samurai, a talking monkey, and a samurai beetle who has amnesia.
It’s a samurai film and a fantasy film, lovingly made with puppets and gorgeous scenery. Not only was it a joy to look at, the story was well-developed, the characters were lovable (or terrifying) and everyone was… well-rounded. Whole, believable people. No one thought they were the villain, not everyone got along, and not everything came down to killing things. It was a touching tale, and admittedly I was sobbing my face off near the end, but at the same time, it was heartwarming and hopeful.
Although an American movie, Kubo is clearly a Japanese story, and a ton of research went into making it as historically accurate as possible–considering the story, haha. For those of you who haven’t given this movie a chance, I STRONGLY recommend you do.
Watching Kubo made me want to play some of the awesome adventures I have kicking around my house that have an Eastern feel to them, but since I have way too many campaigns on the go as it is, today we’re going to celebrate them on d20 Diaries! Presenting my five favourite d20 adventures that are inspired by Eastern cultures. Whether they’ve got samurai, ninja, monasteries of contemplative warrior monks seeking enlightenment, or a fusion of many places and cultures, these adventures celebrate, embrace, emulate or are inspired by the Far East!
So sit back, and enjoy!
The Winding Way
The first adventure we’re taking a look at is The Winding Way. Written by Nicholas Logue, and Published by Paizo in Dungeon Magazine Volume 117, The Winding Way is a 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons adventure intended for 14th level characters. Although it was written for a ‘neutral’ campaign setting and is meant to be dropped into any fantasy world, The Winding Way is clearly inspired by contemplative warrior monks like the Shaolin of China. That being said, it’s a horror adventure first and foremost, so don’t expect to be achieving enlightenment, or making friends with this one.
The Winding Way takes place at a secluded temple monastery which was built on the slopes of Darkmoon Mountain. During construction the Master, Marik Draven, discovered an ancient stone door, sealed for untold generations. Marik and his students were unable to decipher much of the text, but what they did translate was ominous: words like death, darkness and plague. Marik halted construction of his temple and meditated in contemplation. Eventually he decided that the door should be left untouched, and that his temple would be built around and above it. In addition to being a school for martial arts and enlightenment, the Temple of the Winding Way would become a guardian of this unholy doorway, ensuring it remained sealed for all time.
But it was not to last. Out of jealousy and greed, a rebuffed student sought to steal the riches of the temple for himself, and discovered the graven door. He picked the locks, disabled the door’s defences, and opened it, sealing the fate of those within the temple. For death was behind the door, and its spread is unstoppable!
This adventure has the PCs explore the Temple of the Winding Way for a variety of reasons, only to find that everyone inside has been turned into undead monstrosities. In order to put an end to this evil, they’ll have to defeat a wide variety of undead including bhuts, dread wraiths, forsaken shells, vampires and–my personal favourite–a pennaggolan monk! That’s right, an undead monk that’s going to use unarmed strike to fight with his own lungs and entrails. It’s going to be AWESOME! In addition, they’ll have to pass through the trials of the Winding Way itself, not all of which can be accomplished with brute strength or agility, and discover the source of the undead plague.
The Quest for Perfection
The second adventure we’re taking a look at today is actually a three-part trilogy of Pathfinder Society Scenarios entitled the Quest for Perfection. All three scenarios are Tiers 1-5. Scenario #3-09: The Quest for Perfection Part 1: The Edge of Heaven is written by Jerall Toi, and takes place in Tian Xia, a continent on Golarion strongly inspired by Chinese cultures. This adventure tasks the Pathfinders with travelling through the Wall of Heaven, the tallest mountain range on Golarion, on a journey to reach the Clouded Path Monastery and obtain an ancient relic, the Braid of a Hundred Masters, from the monastery. The trip is dangerous, and has a lot of wonderfully designed encounters where terrain plays a huge part. In addition to the perils of the mountain itself, the players are clearly on a pilgrimage trail, and there’s a lot of neat shrines, and other monuments along their journey. Upon reaching the monastery itself, they find it the lair of violent yetis who make excellent use of their surroundings. Their leader throws relics and nearby objects at the group including foo lion statues (of which there’s a picture)! In addition to enemies, the group can also meet a former monk of the monastery, currently a statue capable of tactile telepathy, who can share much of the history of the monastery with the group. After obtaining the Braid of a Hundred Masters, the Pathfinders discover it’s powers have gone dormant, which leads us into part two.
Scenario #3-11: The Quest for Perfection Part 2: On Hostile Waters is written by Benjamin Bruck, and sets the Pathfinders on a quest to reactivate the Braid of a Hundred Masters by bringing to the last remaining descendant of its rightful owner, a woman from the town of Nesting Swallow by the name of Je Tsun. The journey is a long one, down the Tuunma River and into the Sea of Eels. The river is surrounded on all sides by political turmoil, as it passes through the warring successor states of Lingshen, Po Li and Quain. In addition to the dangers of the river, and banditry, the players have to defend the Braid from soldiers and naval ships from Lingshen who desire to claim its power for themselves.
Scenario #3-13: The Quest for Perfection Part 3: Defenders of Nesting Swallow is written by Sean McGowan, and finally sees the Pathfinders arrive in the small town of Nesting Swallow, only to discover it has been under attack from tengu bandits. Je Tsun agrees to aid them in reactivating the Braid of a Hundred Masters–and will even let them keep it–if they can defend Nesting Swallow from the villains who prey upon them. The rest of the adventure allows the players to organize the defence of the town, train the villagers, and set up barricades or whatever else the group might think of. When the bandits finally come, they get to see how their work has paid off (or not!) as the villagers and the Pathfinders fight alongside one another to drive off the bandits. Wave after wave attacks the town, and whether anyone survives is up to your players. In the end, the bandit leader himself joins the battle, the tengu samurai mounted atop his axe beak mount: Khwankonu! This is the adventure’s finale, and is a ton of fun! If Je Tsun lives she makes good on her word and reignites the magic of the Braid, bestowing it upon the Pathfinders for saving her village.
This is a wonderful, atmospheric adventure that has the players explore the frozen wastes of Kisarimuke, with the purpose of finding the Amata Goten–the legendary Palace of Plenty–which was said to be a magical palace that once was connected to the city of Okabaimura. After making the journey through Kisarimuke, the group can explore the ruins of Okabaimura, a sombre, mysterious experience. Events in the ruins can give the group clues as to the nature of the Palace of Plenty, and how to get there, but it does so in a very subtle, wonderful way. After eventually finding the way to Amata Goten, the players find a beautiful palace, lush with greenery, that is frozen in time. Within are spirits and ghosts, and many more mysteries. I’ll refrain from giving anything else away about this adventure. But, I will say that I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful this adventure hints at the backstory, and the stories and lives of the ghosts and spirits within it, without just giving away information. It’s subtlety is spectacular.
The Ruby Pheonix Tournament
The fourth adventure we’re looking at is The Ruby Phoenix Tournament, a Pathfinder adventure written by Tim Hitchcock and intended for 11th level characters. This adventure brings us back to the Wall of Heaven on the continent of Tian Xia. Here, on the island of Xielan, a prestigious fighting tournament takes place, which allows the winners to claim any one object from the treasury of Hao Jin, the Ruby Pheonix. This tournament attracts combatants from all over the world, including from nations inspired by real-world Japan, China, India and many more. The matches the players are going to engage in are varied, with the terrain often playing an important part in the battles. Some places the players might find themselves fighting in are: flooded mud pools, hot coals, atop multiple towers and rope bridges, and even fighting horizontally on the side of a cliff (literally standing on the cliff face with slippers of spider-climb)! Your players are bound to be continually surprised. In addition to the tournament battles, the players can join in extra matches and challenges. But as the tournament proceeds it becomes clear that something is wrong. From entrants being poisoned and assassins attacking, the players will have to work fast to figure out who’s trying to put an end to the Ruby Pheonix Tournament and stop them, before it’s too late!
Although this adventure has a simple premise, I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s a great, exciting adventure that can be a ton of fun!
Tide of Honor
The final adventure we’re talking about today is my very, very favourite. Jade Regent Part 5 – Tide of Honor by Tito Leati. Now, the Jade Regent is a Pathfinder campaign where the last three books take place in Minkai, Paizo’s Japanese inspired nation in Tian Xia, but volume five of the series is my all time favourite. This adventure was clearly written with such LOVE and RESPECT. It’s honestly astounding how clearly that shows in the final product. But enough about the writing, what about the adventure?!
Tide of Honor has the PCs arrive in Minkai with their friend Ameiko Kaijitsu, true heir to the Imperial Throne of Minkai. …But they have no army! Minkai is currently ruled by the Jade Regent, a vicious tyrant who claimed the throne by murdering the emperor. In order to overthrow the Jade Regent the players are going to need allies. A LOT of them. The players single out an honourable Ronin and his small band of masterless samurai as a likely ally, knowing that they were expelled from the capital and are opposed to the Jade Regent. If the players can make contact with the ronin and ally with them, they will gain not only a number of trained warriors, but also allies who know the country, and may be able to help the group get other allies–or at least in contact with them. The leader of the ronin, Hirabashi Jiro attempts to test the PCs character and, if he finds them trustworthy, gives them a task. There is a group of bandits terrorizing the villagers and farmers of the region, but as they operate in two units, the ronin do not have enough warriors to defeat both groups at once. If the players can attack and conquer the bandit fortress, then Jiro and his men can take out the raiders before they harm any innocents. This opening battle is very adaptable and mobile, featuring a lot of ways the players can go about attacking, and organic ways in which the inhabitants respond to attacks. This encounter can benefit a LOT from good planning and scouting, and it’s a great location. To make it better? If the players can defeat the bandits, not only does Jiro agree to join your cause, but he also sets up the fortress as a base of operations for your group and your allies. This fortress is YOURS.
After some deliberation and discussion, Jiro can give the group a list of important political players and potential allies throughout the nation: the ninja clans of Enganoka, the merchants of Minkai who can be contacted by the geisha of Sakakabe, and the samurai of a cruel daimyo! But success isn’t as easy as simply meeting these groups, the players will have to earn their trust, and prove themselves worthy. But, if they can? The players will have an army at their disposal, one which will help them take on the Jade Regent himself and restore the throne to its rightful heir!
But the Jade Regent has many spies, and will not let the players operate without opposition! I hope you’re ready for some fearsome Oni!
And that’s all for us today! I hope you enjoyed taking a look at some of my favourite Eastern styled adventures! What are yours? Did I miss any you think deserve to be on my list?
Those of you with Netflix might have noticed an interesting film that just recently released on our televisions: Bright. If you haven’t watched the film–or even the trailer–I highly recommend you give it a chance. This movie’s an urban fantasy buddy-cop film revolving around a dangerous magic wand in a city populated by humans, elves, and orcs–with plenty of other wonderful weirdness. Yes. I’m serious. And it stars Will Smith.
In short: I loved this movie.
Now, this is not a movie review. This is a blog about d20 games. But watching Bright got me thinking. See, in addition to being a fantasy movie and a comedy movie, Bright cast a glaring light on some important topics. Chief among them: racism and corruption. Now, I’m not going to spoiler any more of the film than I already have, but I am going to say one last thing: Bright handled these topics very well. And to celebrate that we’re going to make a short list.
Now lists are likely something you’re going to see a lot of on d20 Diaries. I’m a fan of a good list. So today we’re looking at my five favourite d20 adventures that deal with prejudice.
You will not find adventures about wanton destruction or wiping out ‘evil races’ or anything like that in here. These aren’t orc-hating, demon-hunting or goblin-slaying tales. Here you’ll find adventures that have environments heavily tainted by prejudice, mysteries where killers prey upon the downtrodden and social encounters where the player’s may wonder whose side they should really be on. So without further ado:
My picks for top five d20 adventures that feature prejudice:
#5 – War of the Wielded by Michael Kortes
Although many of the top five adventures I’ve chosen are serious in tone, the first one is anything but. It’s an unabashedly absurd, fun little adventure printed in Issue 149 of Dungeon Magazine, back in 2007. War of the Wielded, by Michael Kortes focuses on a centuries old fight for dominance between two rival thieve’s guilds, The House of Oquon, and the Cabanites. The descendants of these groups despise each other with a passion reminiscent of the Montague’s and the Capulet’s from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a fifth level 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons adventure, but can easily be adapted to Pathfinder or other systems.
The adventure begins with the player’s stumbling upon a violent battle between the rival factions, and by the end has the player’s wondering which side of the war they should throw themselves behind. But, wait! There’s a twist!
The Oquons and the Cabanites are long gone. Dead. Caput. Only their intelligent blades remain, still battling each other to this day by possessing the people who happen to touch them, and using everyday people in their never ending war. That’s right. You heard me. The prejudice and hate featured in this adventure is perpetuated by two rival factions of magical swords.
It’s insane. It’s wonderful. I love it. Your player’s will love it. And by the end they’ll be torn between greed–come on, who doesn’t want a magical sword that can talk–and the need to save the people being used by these powerful blades. So give this adventure a whirl and see if you side with the Oquons or the Cabanites. Or perhaps, put an end to the hate and battle them both! I hope you’ve brought a rust monster…
#4 – Siege of the Spider Eaters by Tim and Eileen Connors
This next entry is an interesting adventure that in a lot of ways feels like classic dungeons and dragons, but has a neat twist. Siege of the Spider Eaters is a 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons adventure made for 1st level characters, that can easily be transferred into any other fantasy world. It was printed in Issue 137 of Dungeon Magazine. Siege of the Spider Eaters takes place in a secretive little village called Haven-Fara founded by pirates. When the players get there they find the entire town carpeted by a blanket of thick spider webs and more than half the townsfolk are missing. Of course, the player’s need to save the townsfolk, right? You can’t just let them get eaten by the spiders who’ve clearly dragged them away! And so they set out on a spider-squishing mission. But this adventure’s got some twists in it, and things aren’t going to be nearly that simple.
Now, Siege of the Spider Eaters has some cool things going for it. First of all: the town, Haven-Fara. This village is built around a beached pirate ship. Yup. Right there in the middle of the town, taking up a solid sixth of the entire village. A big, freaking, pirate ship. What makes that even better? The interior’s a pub. Haven-Fara’s also got ramshackle huts made of driftwood and scavenged ship parts, it’s surrounded by jungle, and it’s covered in thick spider webs. This town has atmospheric written all over it.
The beginning of this adventure is an investigation, and leads into a simple monster-killing mission, but when the locals you need to befriend and save are shifty, scuzzy, pirates, scuttlers, sailors and the descendants of thieving buccaneers, even small social encounters are memorable. And when a walk down the road is through massive spider web tunnels, it’s not the kind of adventure that will not soon be forgotten.
Once the player’s get to the spider’s den, though, things take a bit of a turn. For the spiders aren’t all what they seem. Some are aranea–intelligent spiders who can also turn into human-like people–and are in fact, the missing townsfolk. Yup. Spider people. Let’s hope the group didn’t kill too many of their pets on the way here… But if the missing townsfolk are spider people, why web up the town? Well, I’m not going to give the whole adventure away, as the surprises are part of the fun, but let’s just say it involves, spider-eaters, pirate treasure, secrets and greed.
As the players navigate the secrets of Haven-Fara’s aranea population they’ll be making plenty of choices. Who to help, who to hinder, and what secrets to keep and expose. The players actions can save Haven-Fara, or see it torn apart by hate and mistrust.
#3 – Murder’s Mark by Jim Groves
Murder’s Mark is a Pathfinder murder mystery intended for level one characters. It’s a fun, solid adventure that keeps moving along even if the players get stuck thanks to well-timed events and flavourful encounters.
Murder’s Mark takes place in the city of Ilsurian, an independent trade town in Varisia (a part of Pathfinder’s Golarion campaign setting), whose citizens are mostly foreign colonizers (Chelaxians) who harbour deep distrust and resentment towards the native Varisian population (a very gypsy-like peoples). The adventure begins when a traveling carnival comes to town, and the player’s pay it a visit.
The opening is a fun, light-hearted romp, where the players get to engage in games of skill and chance at the carnival, and end up distinguishing themselves as heroic and trustworthy when trouble breaks out.
But trouble’s brewing in Ilsurian. People begin turning up dead and the locals suspect a member of the traveling carnival–an enigmatic sphinx said to be tame. With tensions mounting between locals and performers, and the body count rising on both sides, the player’s have to discover what’s really going on before Ilsurian erupts into ethnic violence.
Murder’s Mark does a great job of using the rampant racism found in Ilsurian, and making it a focus of the adventure. With the townsfolk being Chelaxians and the carnival folk being Varisians, every encounter has the potential to take a violent turn due to prejudice, fear and stupidity. Players have a real chance to change Ilsurian, and save a lot of lives. But they also can fail. And when lives are in the balance, failure can be a huge disappointment–and an instigator of even greater violence.
Murder’s Mark is a great, well-written adventure filled with wonderful twists and turns, and social encounters that really matter. When your players finally discover the architects behind this string of murders, they’ll be dying to give them a whooping! I guarantee it.
Another great murder mystery, Steel Shadows was published in Issue 115 of Dungeon Magazine. It’s a 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons adventure intended for level seven characters and set in Sharn, a city in the Eberron Campaign Setting.
Steel Shadows takes us on an adventure in the seediest, poorest districts of Sharn, where a murderer is preying upon the city’s most oppressed citizens: it’s warforged. Warforged are essentially golems given life, souls and sentience by magic. They’re like robot men, or droids, but made by magic instead of technology. Warforged were made by rich people in order to fight their wars, but when the wars finally came to an end, the government made the surviving warforged citizenship. Unfortunately, these naive new peoples were taken advantage of. Many of them are poor, live in horrible conditions, suffer through tremendous racism, and were tricked into taking jobs that are little more than indentured servitude. It is on these people, that a killer is preying.
While investigating the murders, the players don’t just need to confront the dregs of society, and the dangers and sadness of the slums, but they also need to battle indifference. Why? No one really cares about a few dead warforged.
Finding justice is entirely up to your players.
Steel Shadows has some twists and turns, plenty of interesting characters, and a good deal of red herrings. It’s a great, unique adventure and I highly recommend it to anyone that manages to get their hands on it.
#1 – River Into Darkness by Greg A. Vaughn
River Into Darkness is a Pathfinder Module made before their ruleset came out, which means it’s technically a 3.5 adventure. It’s intended for level four characters and takes place in the Mwangi Expanse, a vast jungle dotted with newly settled colonies and commercial ventures found in Pathfinder’s Golarion Campaign Setting. This adventure is not your typical fantasy fare. It’s darker than most, not because of violence or horror, but because this adventure does not take a simple view of the world. It is not black and white, good and bad. It’s mostly written in shades of grey. But that’s what I love about it. It’s fluid, and adaptable. And what the player’s decide to do is entirely up to them. Honest! This adventure doesn’t assume your players choose one ending, it acknowledges (and even better, plans for) multiple possible endings. So get ready to pick a side–or flip flop a lot–cause the River Into Darkness is here!
This adventure begins with the players in the port city of Bloodcove, a tropical town built around a massive mangrove tree. After battling one of the city’s more natural hazards the player’s are offered good paying, simple work: protect a river boat owned by the Aspis Consortium as it travels to its destination deep in the country’s jungle interior. How hard could it be?
The hazards are simple at first. Dangerous animals, bad weather, ship trouble and sickness. Players can triumph (or not) and get to know the ship’s crew. In time, the dangers begin to involve a group of jungle elves known as the Ekujae. As the players finally get their ship to its destination they are offered further work, protecting the colonial trade station from incursion and attack. But as the skirmishes with the Ekujae continue, and the players get a chance to explore this trade station they’ll begin to wonder why the elves are so intent on destroying the Aspis Consortium. And how far both sides are willing to go to put an end to the other. However deep your players are willing to delve into the mysterious rivalry, one thing’s for sure, choosing a side won’t be easy–if they decide to at all. As the violence escalates, the players could be major players, or get caught in the crossfire. Should they side with the Aspis? The Ekujae? Try to broker peace? Abandon them both? Only protect themselves? This module leaves that decision firmly in the hands of the players. And the hardest route of all? That of peace.
Not an easy module to run (and not an adventure for everyone), River Into Darkness tops my list for the five best d20 adventures that heavily involve or focus on prejudice. If you don’t own it, you can pick up River into Darkness by clicking the link below.
What did you think of the adventures? Have you played any? Did any tickle your fancy? Do you have a favourite adventure that would fit that I missed? Let me know what you think of d20 Diaries or this article in the comments below!