Hello, and welcome to d20diaries! Today we’re taking a look at a dark and dramatic adventure path filled with political intrigue and horrifying monsters. Trade War for the Mists of Akuma campaign setting.
What is Mists of Akuma?
Mists of Akuma is an Eastern fantasy noir steampunk campaign setting that’s compatible with fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. Created by Mike Myler and published by Storm Bunny Studios, Mists of Akuma is based in a fictional nation called Soburin which is very closely based on Japanese culture of… oh, the Sengoku period of the 16th century if I had to guess (but I’m no expert). Soburin’s many prefectures are locked in a tenuous peace, torn between tradition and new technology, and beset on all sides by the terrifying Mists of Akuma, which corrupt everything they touch. Capable of transforming the land into a poisoned wasteland, peaceful dead into undead monstrosities, helpful spirits into foul oni, family heirlooms into cunning living objects, and people into terrifying monsters, the Mists of Akuma are a malignant evil. The Mists of Akuma campaign setting also features a wide variety of new character options, rules, technological items, magical objects, and creatures.
It’s a sorrowful, rich setting that pays close attention to eastern traditions and culture, and brings it into an exciting fictional fantasy world. Manners, honour, and lack of, all play a part, as do kami, oni, and a variety of other Japanese myths and traditions. Mists of Akuma is a setting bursting with creativity, intrigue, mythology, and tragedy that fills a niche all it’s own. For more information on the Mists of Akuma campaign setting you can visit Storm Bunny Studios. To pick up a copy of Mists of Akuma you can visit the Open Gaming Store, Paizo, and Drive Thru RPG. There’s also a few FREE primers available. I highly recommend picking up Mists of Akuma: Soburin Primer for a glimpse at the world of Soburin and the Mists of Akuma campaign setting, Mists of Akuma: Primer for a sampling of character options, and Mists of Akuma: Tsukumogami for a collection of new creatures (objects transformed into fell beasts by the corrupting Mists of Akuma).
But, enough about the campaign setting. Let’s talk Trade War.
Mists of Akuma: Trade War is a 375-page adventure for the Mists of Akuma campaign setting written by Mike Myler, along with Christopher Rippee, Andrew Engelbrite, and Dirk van de Rijt. Intended for 4-6 players, Trade War should bring characters from levels three all the way to level twelve or so. Although Trade War contains everything you need to play the adventure path, I highly recommend picking up the Mists of Akuma campaign setting or downloading the free primers mentioned above. They really enrich the adventure and your players understanding of their world and the beings in it.
Trade War is a campaign focused on politics, intrigue, and tragedy, with it’s true plot is hidden under layers of other stories and adventures. Players uncover threads of the mystery and its villains right from the beginning of the adventure path, with time weaving these seemingly disparate tales into a wonderful, layered story. The adventures are all open ended, providing information on a variety of paths your players might choose to follow instead of just assuming one ‘ending’ occurs. There’s plenty of important NPCs to interact with — both allies and enemies — and monsters to battle, with the lines between good and evil becoming increasingly blurred. Alliances can be forged, loyalties swayed, promises betrayed, and throughout it all your PCs will need to make difficult choices. For doing the right thing isn’t always easy — if you can even determine what the ‘right thing’ is. These tough decisions, moral dilemmas, and pyrrhic victories are truly a highlight of the adventure path.
Before we get any further into this review it’s important to note that not all of the content of Trade War is new. In fact, Trade War consists of six previously released adventure modules bound together with new adventures, side quests, and connections, all culminating in a brand new, epic conclusion. And when I say ‘epic’ I truly do mean it. The final adventure is exceptionally well done.
The six previously published adventures contained in Trade War are Scourge of Róbai Shita Temple, Feud Primordial, Fangs of Revenge, Curse of the Scorpion Samurai, Yai Sovereign of Storms, and Revenge of the Pale Master. The finale is entitled Hone-Noroi Keep Ascends. There are also two side trek adventures (Golden Carp and Cursed Well of Itami) which have varying difficulty levels and are intended to be inserted by the GM when they need to get the players back on track (or whenever they feel is most dramatic). There’s also a series of five ‘Connections,’ which are basically a collection of short social and combat encounters which occur on the journey between adventures and all tie in with the various ongoing plots and events of the adventure path. In addition to these adventures and connections, Trade War contains a bit of important information on the Mists of Akuma campaign setting, some new rules, a wide array of new character options, a player handout, and a character sheet. Finally, Trade War contains some quick and simple instructions for those GMs who want to run Trade War without the steampunk components.
Because Trade War is a mystery I won’t get into the plot just yet. Instead, information on the adventure’s storyline and various adventures will all be contained at the end of this blog post after a large spoiler warning. So, without spoilers, what do I think about Trade War?
For starters, Mists of Akuma is a really great, atmospheric setting. I love it. Trade War is grand campaign that’s much more layered than it originally appears. Despite it’s rather tightly constructed meta-plot it leaves a lot of room for players to make their own decisions, managing to continue the events of the adventure path no matter how honourable or disreputable your players turn out to be. It’s got a lot of climatic moments, dynamic battles, moral dilemmas, betrayals, and surprises. All of the scripted social encounters matter, playing a role in either the meta-plot, current adventure, or foreshadowing other important events. Many NPCs — both ally and enemy — have chances to make return appearances, and players will often be surprised at the role some of the people they meet will come to have. There’s a variety of factions your players could ally themselves with throughout the course of the adventure, all of which are very different.
However, all that open-ended storytelling does come with a downside. This is a rather loosely scripted campaign, with plenty of decisions for GMs to make, NPCs for GMs to create, and plenty of downtime for GMs to fill. While many GMs will be thrilled with this, I do prefer my adventures have a tighter narrative. Why your characters are travelling from one region to another between adventures is left for GMs to determine in most instances and, although the journey and ‘Connections’ themselves are filled with engaging encounters, the motivations behind the journeys are lacking (until the later adventures). In addition to this, many of the adventures utilize the same opening plot hook: a bengoshi told you to. Bengoshi in Mists of Akuma are essentially government officials who have the power to deputize citizens into performing tasks on their behalf. Refusal is met with execution. Obviously “do this because I said so or you die” is not really an engaging motivator. Although for some of these adventures it makes sense that a bengoshi would hire your PCs, at other times it’s unnecessary. There’s plenty of other PCs who could have acted as quest givers and, in many instances, the plot of the adventure itself or a few social encounters could have done a better job.
As previously mentioned, many of the battles are dynamic and complex. Although thrilling and rewarding, they aren’t easy to run. If you’re a beginner GM this is not the campaign for you to start with. Trade War has a lot of cool new creatures, some of which can transform into more powerful forms. Overall, the battles in this adventure path are challenging, memorable, and very well-crafted.
Mists of Akuma is not for the feint of heart. There are strong themes of tragedy, decay, corruption, and sorrow. There’s also some rather gross, horrific depictions (particularly in the finale), and body horror (as the Mists of Akuma can transform even your PCs into terrifying monsters). Although I thoroughly enjoyed the atmospheric, mature tone, it’s not for everyone. And certainly not a child-friendly or family campaign.
Mists of Akuma utilizes many Japanese terms throughout its length, which I really enjoyed. Particularly for names of people, locations, monsters, weapons, and titles. That said, I found that some terms are used but not explained, so I had to stop and look them up. In a few instances the Japanese version of an English loan word is used, instead of just using the English word, which was both jarring and a strange choice. I’m a fan of using culturally appropriate terms and naming conventions whenever possible, but in my opinion Trade War took it a bit too far. It hindered my comprehension of the material on more than a few occasions, which in turn made it less useful for me as a GM and less enjoyable for me as a reader. This adventure would have greatly benefitted from a glossary.
All in all I thought this was a wonderful, challenging, dramatic campaign that mature players are going to really enjoy. It’s set in an atmospheric fantasy world filled with tragedy, desperation, and corruption, wherein players get to make important, complicated decisions — and live with the consequences. I really enjoyed Mists of Akuma: Trade War.
Be warned! The following section contains information on the plot and component adventures of Trade War. If you don’t want any spoilers, stop reading!
Trade War‘s metaplot involves an ancient necromancer called the Pale Master, whose minions are working to bring him back into the world of the living. Fortunately for the world of Soburin, a powerful figure (who I won’t mention by name to prevent too many spoilers) has foreseen the return of the Pale Master and set events into motion that they hope will allow the people of Soburin to have a future. It’s the machinations of both the Pale Master and this other figure that drive the events of the Trade War adventure path. Set amongst this turmoil is a variety of other groups and factions which become embroiled in the growing conflict, either as allies, enemies, minions, pawns, or victims. PCs will have the chance to interact with members of all of the above mentioned groups on multiple occasions and forge relationships with them as they see fit (for good or ill).
Throughout this adventure PCs will face off against scheming humanoids, dark magic, ancient evil, corrupting fog, terrifying oni, powerful demons, unquiet spirits, animated dead, ninja, samurai, dragons, and even the undead army of a necromancer.
Trade War begins with Scourge of Robai Shita Temple, an adventure for third level characters. Tasked by a bengoshi to investigate the village of Shibai, PCs will need to determine why the village — which was mystically protected from the Mists of Akuma — has suddenly become overrun by the mists, the monsters that stalk within it, and a powerful wind demon named Fukō. This mystery is fun and pretty free-form, although I think having a bengoshi give your PCs their task is unnecessary. The various NPCs (or even just the events of this adventures) could have motivated the PCs just as easily. I particularly enjoyed the interactions with another group hired to protect the town, the boisterous Mubō Brothers. My only complaint is that there are a lot of battles with tsukumogami in this one (a bit too many, in my opinion).
From there your PCs travel East over the course of the winter, having a variety of adventures on their journey. Some important events in the adventure path are foreshadowed with social encounters, which was nice to see, and important rumours are already flying. I particularly enjoyed the encounters with the elemental oni Kumo-Rui, an ice-themed spider-like monster who has brought about an unnaturally cold winter. In this section the PCs also meet another bengoshi, Akia the Iron Shell, who tasks them with tracking down an oni-touched sorcerer who has formed his own cult and bringing her anything of value in his possession. This task is trickier than it seems, continuing on into the next adventure, Feud Primordial. It should be noted that the inclusion of Akia the Iron Shell is one I support, as she is important to the ongoing plot line and the next adventure, and it makes sense for her to hire the PCs in order to see her goals accomplished.
Feud Primordial is intended for fifth level characters, and begins with the PCs already in the middle of tracking down a cult-leader. Unfortunately, he has way too many possessions for the PCs to easily carry, making them unable to bring everything back to Akia the Iron Shell. They need to determine what’s valuable and sell the rest. Unfortunately, turns out the object Akia most wanted — in fact the whole reason she sent you after the cult-leader — was to fetch a specific object that was valuable to her, but not actually valuable. An object PCs have either sold (most likely) or was stolen from them (less likely). Furious, the bengoshi sends your PCs back out to hunt down the missing object. This adventure leads the PCs to a town where a murderer stalks the streets, and eventually casts them as pawns locked in a power struggle between two incredibly powerful ancient beings.
After finally appeasing Akia the Iron Shell the PCs accept work as a caravan guard and travel north. Along the journey they get involved in some interesting events, my favourite of which involves a corpse-eating oni.
In time the PCs arrive in Samon, home of the Tazuki Rail Company, where they become embroiled in the events of the next adventure, Fangs of Revenge. Once again, they’re hired by a bengoshi, although this time they’re asked to investigate a growing unrest among the labourers of Samon, discover the leader of the workers growing rebellion, and put and end to their uprising before it begins. This leads to a complex web of intrigue and a large cast of interesting characters. PCs will soon discover that there’s more going on in Samon that meets the eye as they clash with shapeshifting snake-folk, and dark rituals.
Leaving Samon behind the group travels south, working as guards for two different groups at different times. By now they’re likely catching wind of a smuggling operation that’s apart of this campaigns meta-plot, although they won’t necessary understand all the movers and shakers behind it. The PCs actions will continue to affect how a few factions see them later in the campaign.
The next adventure, Curse of the Scorpion Samurai, is intended for 7th-level characters and begins when the PCs are hired by a bengoshi from Fuson prefecture to sneak into Fuson, investigate a series of grisly murders, and lay a trap for the killer using his intended victims as bait. But their enemy, the Scorpion Samurai, was once a local folk hero with a tragic past. PCs will need to be exceptionally canny to prevent the people of Shinjitsu from informing the Scorpion Samurai of their presence lest they go from the hunters to the hunted.
From Fuson prefecture the PCs take a mountainous journey at the behest of a poor woman. Although their mission does not reach its conclusion, they do make some important discoveries related to a series of black torii gates that have been popping up throughout Soburin since the start of Trade War.
The next adventure, Yai Sovereign of Storms, is intended for 8th-level characters and takes place in a mountainous region of the GMs choosing, likely the same mountains that PCs were just travelling through. The PCs find themselves ambushed by a fearsome oni bengoshi who wants to hire them (this marks the second instance where I thought using a bengoshi quest giver was particularly important to the story). Xiqzoxix has heard of the PCs recent exploits and needs their aid to oust a powerful storm demon who usurped the throne from the previous warlord that ruled the oni city of Tsukisasu. Unfortunately, the storm demon is a hate-filled beast who gets more powerful by the day. PCs will need to sneak into the city of monsters in disguise, undo the storm demons magic circles, and defeat him before he becomes too powerful. In the end they’ll get to decide who will rule in the storm demons place — the original oni warlord or Xiqzoxix himself.
Leaving the magically hidden city of Tsukisasu behind the PCs suddenly find themselves in a forest near a newly laid rail track. In this series of connections they’ll have to battle an enemy atop a moving train, punish the oni behind the corrupted black torii gates, and discover that the various factions of Soburin are preparing for war.
Revenge of the Pale Master begins in the city of Kizaki immediately before the annual Festival of Falling Hawks. Intended for 8 – 10th level characters, this adventure once again sets the PCs on the trail of an infamous murderer. This time the murderer has come back from the dead to sacrifice six children whose relatives he tried to sacrifice in life exactly ten years ago. Although the local government has already placed three of these children in protective custody, the other three were kidnapped and need to be rescued. Except… that’s not really what’s going on at all. Haha. This adventure is full of twists, surprises, and betrayals. Whether the PCs ever figure out what’s really going on is entirely up to them. Revenge of the Pale Master is my favourite adventure in Trade War.
Which brings us to the all new finale to Trade War: Hone-Noroi Keep Ascends. In this adventure intended for 12th level characters the Pale Master’s bone tower rises from the earth and towers above Soburin, disappearing into the clouds. Undead march from the tower, the land becomes tainted, and dark magic is seen roiling in the skies. Villagers are evacuated by the government and the various factions met in this adventure path put their brewing war on hold to combat this ancient evil. The PCs may be able to ally with one or more of these armies and gain advantages (and disadvantages) based on how they treated the various groups. Some may be trusted allies, while others may be bitter enemies. Together with these armies your PCs will assault the Pale Master’s undead armies, storm the tower, ascend to the top, and defeat the Pale Master. It’s a gross and horrific gauntlet that’s packed full of challenging encounters and foul enemies. Such a great conclusion to this campaign!
Although that’s the end of the adventure path there are two more adventures in this book. Each is a short side quest intended for varying level difficulties. The first, Cursed Well of Itami, is best played at 5th level, and fits well between Feud Primordial and Fangs of Revenge. In it the PCs find themselves in a village whose well has been corrupted and now holds only blood and other vile substances. PCs need to descend into the well — and the hidden chambers connected to it — in order to cleanse the well and save the town. The second adventure, which is my favourite of the side quests, is Golden Carp. Intended for 7th-level characters, this adventure fits well between either Fangs of Revenge and Curse of the Scorpion Samurai or between Curse of the Scorpion Samurai and Yai Sovereign of Storms. In this adventure the PCs find a magical golden carp who begs them to prevent a noblewoman from catching him in her fishing net. If they choose to save the little fish from the woman — who’s actually an oni in disguise — they discover it is a powerful dragon on a pilgrimage back to its home. The dragon must undertake the journey in the humble form of a carp once every century in order to maintain is powers. They’ll need to protect the fish on it’s trip up to it’s mountain shrine without physically interfering in its journey.
Which brings us to the end of Mists of Akuma: Trade War!
Thanks for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed checking out the dark fantasy world of Mists of Akuma as much as I have.