Book 2 - Travels
Travels is the second Shadows book in the series. This was “Kickstartered” late last year in a very successful campaign and included a number of very useful stretch goals that I will touch on later. However one thing to note is that the success of this kickstarter meant that the PDF for Book 0 – Prologue became free to download.
Name: Shadows of Esteren - Travels
Publisher: Agate RPG
Author: ForgeSonges Collective
Category: Fantasy Horror
Travels is a book about the land of Tri-Kazel and its history. There is a detailed cartography of the land with detailed descriptions of 10 locations throughout the peninsula. Also there are game aids for travel and sailing as well as a bestiary on some of the creatures that may be encountered. Canvases has specially constructed scenarios that have specific styles and settings. A Life Choice is a detailed story that goes into the community of Taol-Kaer and a missing child. Chapter 4 are the main figures of Tri-Kazel, the heroes, villains and those with secrets.
Chapter 1 Cartography
As with the other books in the series, the book has a number of anecdotes and inserts from persons of the land, that add flavour and context to the chapter. This time it is the turn of the bard Aeldred Firdh to set the scene…. The seventh opus of “peoples, Populations and Journeys”.
The lands of Gwidre, Reizh, Taol-Kaer have pages of information, giving details of places of interests from the Citadel of Kermordhran to River Klaedhin. Then there is Llewellen (the city) and the Western Swamps. Not minute detail, but enough to give a good GM seeds for a setting. In fact I would add that this is a great part for any world builder to read through!
Next are sites of interest to different classes. The lines of Tusal, the Ashen Yard and Expiation and the Pilgrims’ Way gives some great settings and then there is the Island of Calvary (a political prison) or Fionnfuar (the holy city). I must admit that the County of Frendian (dark forests, mountains and shadowed vales, fields, rivers and majestic castle is a setting I could work with. Really there is more information and more settings to fill a life-time of campaigns and the details are enough to keep you coming back for more……
Fifty pages in, again we come to some crunch. I love the way that the priority of the books are on feel and setting rather than the crunch. So anyway, now we are shown how to judge travel throughout the land. The means of transportation and land types and how to calculate are included along with hazards and Stermerks (trail-blazes) which are a nice addition. In fact I like the idea of trail marks that I am considering adding them to my current campaign.
Chapter 2 Canvases
OK – Easiest way to describe this part of the book is to quote directly from the book!
Canvases are specially structured scenarios with a short format that will be used throughout the Shadows of Esteren series. As they are, they are intended to be played in two or three hours, but they can easily be lengthened according to the imagination of the Leaders. Their structure is intended to leave ample room for everyone to improvise and do things their own way. More experienced Leaders will be able to run the scenario right after they are done reading it; those with less experience will probably want to spend additional time taking notes, preparing scenes, etc.
The Structure of the Canvases:
Each canvas begins with a set of technical information. Here you can learn about the style of the canvas (investigation, survival, action, etc.), the setting (urban, natural, etc.), the season, and the approximate length of the session. This information will present the Leaders with a general overview of the story.
Following that, each canvas rests on the metaphor of a tree and is divided into five distinct sections:
Roots: This first section describes the origins and the underlying reasons of the plot, revealing its hidden aspects to the Leaders. The Roots define the basis of the story in which the PCs are going to intervene.
Trunk: This second section details the heart of the action and describes the way the PCs will be involved in the story.
Branches: This section proposes various alternatives and possible choices for both the Leaders and the Players regarding how they will progress along the plot and reach its conclusion. Of course, Leaders can round out this section as much as they want, and in most cases Players will have the opportunity to come up with their own alternatives.
Leaves: The fourth section of the canvases describes the possible follow-up, aftermath, or consequences of the story the PCs have lived through. Again, these are only examples which Leaders are free to adapt so they can correspond to the story they want to tell and to the Players’ decisions.
Wind: The purpose of the last section is to give tips for the atmosphere as well as musical suggestions so that the Leaders may enhance the dramatic intensity of the game."
These are again some short adventures that can be expanded upon. At this point I was beginning to think that actually I would like to see some more overall campaign arc that could be used. There is now a lot of material for short sessions throughout the first three books but the appetisers have only tempted the palate for a greater feast. These are a nice idea and the presentation and art is the normal high quality. The best part is the fact that these are clearly identified and the tree model makes it easy to find information as it is required. So the little adventures are:
Blood Feathers - Players are attacked by birds while travelling and offered shelter in a nearby house by a strange family that blow upon horns to drive off the birds. What secrets do these strange miners have and what is the secret in the mine?
The Disappearance – Two missing people. An angry young man. What happened in this remote village?
Night of Fright – Escorting a caravan, the group come upon a deserted village. It looks like the inhabitants have just got up and left. Where have they gone? What are those sounds in the night?
Say it with Flowers – The PCs investigate the death of a herbalist after discovering his body.
The Shipwreck - A Wrecked ship; an eerie, silent village; a strange smell in the air. Are all related and can the PC’s find the answer in time?
As you can see there is a large number of adventures and all are given the bare bones that can grow into interesting sessions or even camapigns. However the need for meatier content is then answered…
Chapter 3 A Life Choice
As you can see from the descriptions in the previous chapter, a lot of the scnearios are set in remote villages and this larger adventure is no exception. I don’t want to spoil this too much but this adventure was very well supported through the kickstarter with maps, handouts and even tiles produced. I think I can post these and will be checking with the SOE crew at UK Expo. If all is OK then follow this link for the PDFs…..
Suffice for the actual adventure to say that in the following 47 pages there are plenty about the expedition of a frantic mother in search of her missing son….. Again the art and the detail of the content is truly exceptional.
Chapter 4 Figures of Tri-Kazel
As can probably be surmised by now is that Shadows is not the usual hack and slash adventure setting. A lot of emphasis is on character growth and interaction. NPCs are obviously a big part of this and a major way that players will feel the true connection with the setting. As such an entire chapter is given over to some of the people that the players may meet on their travels. This includes an old Bramble knight, a Sigire, occultist, Morcail, young noble, Varigal, renegade knight, witch, magientist, bard, hunter, Demorthen, mercenary and woodworker. There are plenty here with stats, background and rumours as to how they may affect the players. The pictures with each of these are truly fantastic.
Page 178 then goes into the mysterious powers of “black magic”. Most of this will be dealt with in an upcoming book of “Secrets” but there is enough here with curses and supernatural powers to give the Leader enough of grounding in the concept.
Chapter 5 Bestiary
Finally there is the obligatory bestiary. As I said earlier, combat is not the main part of the system and as such encounters should be few and far between. Initially we are given the normal natural beasts (rats, bats, bears, wolves etc). Then we are given some more fantastic and horrific beasts that may be encountered but these should be used very carefully and only as a key moment or the final confrontation of a story. The Sea worm, The mud crawler, The vampire bat – all with unique names and backgrounds are some of the horror listed here. Again a great chapter that makes a dry bestiary very interesting to read.
So in summary I have to say this is a quality product. The awards and praise heaped upon these books are well recorded and well deserved. The amount of content and the high quality of the art and the writing means that this is a great read. What it also is though is a great resource as there are plenty of ideas and design here that anyone can pick up and use for their own campaigns. The kickstarter was a huge success. The next book (Monastery of Tuath) has funded and I will review it as soon as I receive it!!!
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