Tuesday 20 November 2012

Shattered Star - Curse of the Lady's Light

In Curse of the Lady’s Light by Mike Shel, the second instalment of the Shattered Star Adventure Path, the player characters set out to find the next piece of the titular Shattered Star, the Shard of Lust. This quest takes them to the Lady’s Light, an ancient monument to Sorshen, the Runelord of Lust. Like Shards of Sin before it and the rest of the adventure path still to come, it is primarily a dungeon-based adventure. As I mentioned in my review of Shards of Sin, I can be somewhat critical of dungeon crawls. However, when they’re good, I give them the praise they deserve. Curse of the Lady’s Light is definitely one of those good dungeon crawls. While the actual dungeon itself is somewhat linear, the events that can occur within are surprisingly non-linear, with a wide variety of options for how things might progress. Most importantly, it has a selection of interesting and compelling NPCs. In fact, its two principal villains are amongst the best villains I’ve seen in an adventure path instalment: one sympathetic and tragic, the other irredeemably evil yet uniquely insane. This adventure is definitely a step up from the competent, but not-particularly-awe-inspiring Shards of Sin and could prove a good sign for the rest of the adventure path to come.


One of my criticisms of Shards of Sin was the lack of a compelling hook, something I think is important for the start of a new campaign. Curse of the Lady’s Light has a similarly uncompelling hook (it is basically nothing more than, “Go find the next shard”), but this is not as much a concern in an already-established campaign. The PCs have already had an opportunity to develop motivations and reasons to go on this journey. Even so, the adventure quickly becomes compelling in its own right once the PCs start on their way.

Indeed, I’d have to say my favourite part of the adventure is the journey to the Lady’s Light rather than the actual dungeon beneath and within. The adventure has its own little mini-setting in the wilderness around the monument, an area called the Lady’s Cape. The PCs get to interact with the local denizens, and these are more than just a selection of monsters to kill. The encounters feel like they belong there, rather than like random encounters, which wilderness roaming can often start to feel like, even when the encounters are planned. The warring troglodytes and boggards have established presences and actually live here (as in, their presence actually has an effect on the setting, unlike in many adventures where creatures are said to live in their locations, but could be easily removed without affecting anything). On top of that, they have motivations and characters all their own, distinguishing them from just monsters met on the way. No doubt a lot of parties will just wander through and slaughter any troglodytes or boggards that get in their way regardless, but for those who pause a moment to interact, there’s a whole wealth of opportunity waiting. The PCs could choose to help one or the other group, or even possibly help both. I love that there’s even the possibility to redeem the groups and set them on a path towards goodness. It’s not an easy path, but for PCs up to the challenge, it could be very rewarding.

The witch, Maroux, is also a very interesting character, one who can provide the PCs with valuable information, yet also be something of a thorn in their side with her uncouthness, her little side-quests, and her terrible cooking. While she is perhaps a bit of a stereotype “hedge witch” character, she fits believably in the setting. She also provides a stable presence for the PCs to return to, either for more information or even for a place to hide in if they’re on the run. She, along with the boggards and troglodytes, helps to make the the Lady’s Cape a living, breathing place. On top of that, if you have the web enhancement (see below), you can expand this little setting even more.

Once the PCs have found their way into the dungeon, the adventure does become a little less interesting, but not detrimentally so. As I said, it does have two extremely compelling villains. The layout of the dungeon is actually quite straight-forward (even taking the teleportation pedestals that move people from one section to the next into account). Apart from a few side rooms here and there, there’s not a lot of choice about which direction to go. Although there are different levels, you could easily string these levels and their chambers side-by-side in a line and not notice a lot of difference in terms of progression. However, in some ways, that’s to the benefit of the adventure. It avoids the PCs spending a lot of time going in circles and getting bored with repetitive encounters. Instead, it allows the focus to lie on the inhabitants, and much like those in the wilderness outside, it makes those inhabitants into a living, breathing community. The PCs actions amongst them can have a huge effect on how they respond.

This is most notably so in the presence of the Gray Maidens. Those familiar with the Curse of the Crimson Throne Adventure Path will recognize the Gray Maidens as Queen Ileosa’s elite guard. Their presence here makes Curse of the Lady’s Light far more directly a sequel adventure than Shards of Sin was. While very little about Shards of Sin actually required the events of Rise of the Runelords, Curse of the Crimson Throne, or Second Darkness (the adventures paths that Shattered Star is a sequel to) to have occurred, Lady’s Light very much requires the events of Crimson Throne, as the Gray Maidens wouldn’t exist without it. Curse of the Crimson Throne has always been one my favourite adventure paths, and the Gray Maidens are one of the best elements of it: nominally villains, but tragic ones who are redeemable. As events of adventure paths are not official parts of Golarion history, it’s never been possible to do any more with this organization until now. As a direct sequel, including Gray Maidens is the obvious direction to go. And the adventure remains true to their origins while developing them more.

Oriana, the leader of this group of Gray Maidens, is in some ways quite similar to Sabina Merrin (the commander of all the Gray Maidens in Crimson Throne). She is the tragic villain I mention above. She starts out doing what she’s doing because of loyalty to her dead queen and a misguided belief that she is actually working for the betterment of Korvosa. Then she is ensorcelled by the alu-demon Ashamintallu (in the guise of Sorshen) and made a slave. By the time the PCs reach her, she’s begun to break free and is feeling remorse for her actions. There’s not as much time to develop her in this adventure as there was for Sabina in Crimson Throne (this is just one adventure as opposed to an entire adventure path, after all), but she follows pretty much the same character arc as Sabina. While this might seem a bit repetitive to players who have played through Crimson Throne, it is in keeping with the tragic nature of the Gray Maidens and makes for compelling roleplaying opportunities.

The other villain (and the main end villain) is Sorshen herself—or rather, Ashamintallu, the alu-demon who thinks she’s Sorshen. While villains are often labelled insane, it’s rare to see one who truly is (in any way other than moustache-twirling evil), and that makes Ashamintallu a memorable villain. For much of the adventure, the PCs may actually think that the real Sorshen awaits them at the end of the dungeon, and although they may not know a lot about Sorshen, they are probably aware that she was a Runelord and that the Runelords were very powerful. This has the potential to create real worry, maybe even fear, something not experienced by PCs very often. Even the players may start to debate, “Would the GM really throw us up against her? We’ll die for sure!” That may prompt them to realize something else is up, but it does create tension. What works even better is that discovering Sorshen’s true identity can actually help the PCs win the final battle. They can unhinge Ashamintallu enough to inhibit her abilities (either lightly through providing the shaken condition, or severely by imparting one or more negative levels). This makes a great reward for PCs who do a little investigative work rather than just slaughter their way through the dungeon.

There are a number of other little touches that add to the play experience of Curse of the Lady’s Light. One of the best is the possibility that a PC could be reincarnated in a clone body of Sorshen. This creates all sorts of situations for the affected PC, both on a personal level and on how the dungeon’s inhabitants react to that PC. Indeed, this possibility has such fun implications that, if I were running the adventure, I would be seriously tempted to deliberately kill a PC just to make this happen. Of course, I wouldn’t actually do that. I’m a fair GM. (But I might be secretly rooting for a PC to die.)

As with all Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes, the main adventure in Lady’s Light is followed by a number of support articles, as well as the usual Bestiary and Pathfinder Journal. The first details the Gray Maidens themselves. This is an invaluable resource, not just for GMs running this adventure, but for any GM who has run (or is running) Curse of the Crimson Throne. It provides details on key members of the organization as well as the scattered groups that survive the ending of Crimson Throne. It gives great added depth to this organization.

The second article is the latest on the gods of Golarion by Sean K. Reynolds. This one details Torag, and completes the twenty principal gods of the setting. Future articles will delve into the non-mainstream gods. Torag fans can rejoice that, despite the long wait, this article is full of detailed information about the god, his followers, and their practices. It’s just as well written as the other articles in the series.

Of course, some people might note that Torag really doesn’t have much to do with Curse of the Lady’s Light or Shattered Star. That’s partially because as the number of gods remaining has dwindled, it’s been harder to tailor the god choices to the adventure path. But it’s also partially because this article was originally supposed to appear in the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path (where it would have been just as out of place, really). However, due to space issues, it got held back. Fitting it into this volume means that some other material had to be cut, and Paizo has released that missing material online in the form of a free web enhancement (found on the adventure's product page). The web enhancement contains additional information on the journey to Lady’s Light. It has full details on Jasper Kandamerus, a Magnimar NPC who could potentially end up a guide for the PCs or, at the very least, provide information about the Lady’s Cape and about Maroux. Jasper also provides a bit of foreshadowing for one of the later adventures of Shattered Star. On top of this, the web enhancement provides a couple of encounters (an initial one with Jasper, and one for the journey south), as well as information on the Wanton Ways, the ship that the PCs could potentially book passage on to take them to the Lady’s Cape. All in all, this web enhancement provides great options to further expand the wilderness portion of Curse of the Lady’s Light, and I highly recommend it for anyone running this adventure.

Overall, Curse of the Lady’s Light is a very good adventure. It has interesting antagonists and a compelling setting (particularly the wilderness around the dungeon). While the majority of the adventure is a dungeon crawl, the dungeon is more like its own mini-setting rather than a collection of random rooms and random encounters. It’s a fairly linear dungeon, but it is filled with vibrant characters who are more than just monsters to kill. In short, it’s a dungeon done right.

1 comment:

  1. Good in-depth review. I am hoping to run/mine this soon, got it in a bargain bin.