Monday, 17 October 2011

Jade Regent - Night of Frozen Shadows

Pathfinder Adventure Path #50: Night of Frozen Shadows by Greg A. Vaughan continues the Jade Regent adventure path, begun in The Brinewall Legacy. In it, the PCs travel to the city of Kalsgard in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings to find the legendary sword, Suishen, and then to find a guide across the Crown of the World to the far-off land of Minkai. The adventure is mostly event-based with a lot of role-playing opportunities, and ends with a dungeon crawl. It contains an interesting system for tracking the PCs’ “notoriety”, and from that, determining how and when their opponents react. It makes an excellent continuation of the adventure path, and only really suffers from having no explanation for the inaction of the party’s NPC allies. SPOILERS FOLLOW

The adventure’s notoriety point system is certainly its most interesting mechanical inclusion. It continues the tradition of Pathfinder Adventure Paths adding new, but simple, rules mechanics for handling situations not covered by the Core Rules. Like the romance mechanic introduced in the Jade Regent Player’s Guide, the notoriety system allows Game Masters to easily track the responses of the party’s opponents based on their actions. Parties that try to keep a low profile will not attract as much attention as parties that make their presence known through flamboyant deeds or a lot of bloodshed. The system is very simple: The party receives notoriety points (NP) for doing certain things in certain ways. The more noticeable the action, the more NP they receive. The descriptions for locations and events in the adventure outline how many points the party may potentially acquire. When the party reaches certain pre-set NP totals, they trigger various events. While these events always occur in the same order, when they occur in relation to other parts of the adventure can vary from group to group.

The great part about these triggered events is that they allow the players to feel like they are having a real effect on the world, rather than just following a pre-written script. They also help to keep the adventure moving by creating a sense of urgency. Each event is a little more drastic than the one before it, as the PCs’ enemies begin to take greater and greater steps to stop them. Of course, much like I mentioned with the romance mechanic in my review of The Brinewall Legacy, some Game Masters may find this mechanic a bit limiting. Even though the system may make the players feel like they have more control over the outcome, the fact is the events are still following a specific script, and that script can’t possibly account for every conceivable PC action (and, as any Game Master knows, PCs have a talent for coming up with ideas that the adventure never considered). Some GMs may want to take a greater hand in deciding how the villains react, and there is certainly nothing wrong with this. In such a case, GMs can simply use the given events as guides and decide on their own what happens next. However, for less-experienced GMs, or GMs who simply don’t want to have to keep track of the reactions of multiple villains, the notoriety system may come in very useful, and it’s easily adaptable for use with other adventures.

One other concern that GMs may have with the notoriety system is the pace at which the events occur relative to the number of NP the PCs receive. It is very difficult for parties to avoid receiving any NP at all, and this is a good thing—it should be hard for the party to go completely unnoticed. However, in some cases, the number of NP needed to trigger the next event can seem very small. Several events can even potentially give the PCs enough NP to trigger the next event immediately. This definitely helps keep a sense of urgency as I said above. However, I can imagine some GMs finding it a bit fast or overwhelming for their group. In such cases, GMs might want to consider multiplying the number of NP needed to trigger each remaining event by 1.5. Overall, the I think the system should work quite well, but as with all things, GMs should be prepared to tweak it if necessary.

In terms of the actual adventure itself and what happens in it, Night of Frozen Shadows is an excellent look at the society of the northern Lands of the Linnorm Kings, Golarion’s vikings-inspired setting. In addition, there are a few ninja thrown in just to make things more interesting. Ninja and vikings—not a typical combination and something one might normally only expect to see in poorly written fan fiction. However, the combination works surprisingly well here, with the ninja being a foreign group that has been slowly infiltrating the local Rimerunners Guild for many years. Through it, the PCs get to experience viking parties, funerals, and even politics.

The adventure definitely emphasizes role-play over hack’n’slash (although the conclusion provides an opportunity for the PCs to get their combat fix against the villains). Indeed, parties that want to avoid accumulating large numbers of NP very quickly (and thereby triggering the deadliest events before they’re able to handle them) would be well advised to use subterfuge and diplomacy over violence to solve various situations.

Although the adventure provides lots of opportunity to interact with various NPCs, it does fail to provide much explanation for the near-absence of the four central NPCs the group are travelling with: Ameiko, Koya, Sandru, and Shalelu. There is only a throw-away line that these four remain with the caravan to look after its needs. Jade Regent has to deal with two principal problems of having such prominent NPCs: 1. these NPCs (particularly Shalelu) start more powerful than the PCs and can potentially overshadow them in the first two adventures; 2. after the first adventure, it’s difficult for subsequent adventures to further develop these characters since there is no way to predict exactly what each one might or might not have done in the previous adventure. As a result of these two problems, the adventures need to find a way of side-lining the four NPCs whilst simultaneously keeping them prominent and a motivating factor. The Brinewall Legacy does this fairly well, but Night of Frozen Shadows does not really succeed nearly as well (to be fair, Night of Frozen Shadows has it harder than The Brinewall Legacy).

It’s fairly believable that Sandru would stay with the caravan. Somebody has to, and as he is its owner, his motivations make sense. It’s also easy to believe that Koya, as an elderly person, would opt to stay with the caravan. However, Ameiko’s and Shalelu’s motivations here are much harder to understand. The PCs are searching for Ameiko’s birthright. As a capable adventurer herself, there’s no real reason for her not to be just as involved in the search for Suishen as the PCs are. Likewise, Shalelu’s skills are much more useful being active with the PCs then sitting around the caravan. This becomes doubly so if the PCs accumulate enough NP to trigger Event 11, which involves Ameiko’s kidnapping. While the kidnapping conveniently removes Ameiko from play (in a way that’s a little too similar to her illness in The Brinewall Legacy), it provides all the more reason for Shalelu to accompany the PCs. Based on her motivations laid out in The Brinewall Legacy, she is not the sort to sit back while her friend is in trouble. However, she is still of significantly higher level than the PCs and will easily outshine them if she accompanies them. Game Masters will need to think carefully about how to handle this conundrum before running Night of Frozen Shadows.

Like all Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes, Night of Frozen Shadows also contains several support articles, including a gazetteer of Kalsgard, the most prominent city in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings and the setting of the adventure. There is also the latest article on the deities of Golarion, this one focusing on Shelyn. I have always looked forward to these articles (there is one every three volumes, in the second and fifth instalment of each adventure path), as they give a detailed insight into the religions of the world and are always highly entertaining and informative to read. This one does not disappoint, as Shelyn is one of the more intriguing deities in the Golarion pantheon. Finally, there are the latest instalments of the “Pathfinder Journal” (I’ll wait until all six instalments are available before reviewing this story) and the “Bestiary”, containing several new viking-inspired and oriental monsters.

Overall, Night of Frozen Shadows is a worthy continuation of the Jade Regent adventure path. It is sure to provide players and Game Masters alike with many hours of fun and excitement.

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