Supplement Review: Shadowlands: Secrets of the Tainted Adventure Arc (PFRPG) by John Maki from BlackStar Studios

Back in the fall of 2011, I backed a Kickstarter project from BlackStar Studios to see what the world of Shadowlands was all about (they have a new Kickstarter going as well – check out the links at the bottom for more). Largely that decision was made based on the art that appeared on the project page and a bit of tantalizing description. Gorgeous maps and full color images really sucked me in, though I’m sorry to say that I’ve not had a chance to dive into that world though backers started seeing PDFs back in March of this year. That is until now…

Shadowlands: Secrets of the Tainted Adventure Arc - BlackStar StudiosShadowlands: Secrets of the Tainted Adventure Arc serves as a 1st level module and introductory adventure to get a group of PCs into the world of Shadowlands. The city of Tarina is a major port city with numerous influential groups holding sway. Each has a different agenda. And when one gets the better of another, feathers get ruffled as you might expect. But when one finds a way to upset two others, tension in the city rises to dangerous levels.

Ultimately that’s what the PCs have to look forward to – a politically charged situation where they not only have to get to the heart of the matter, but determine how to resolve it. Which group do they seek favor with? And are they willing to accept the consequences of those actions?

As you might imagine from the last couple of paragraphs, I’m a fan of the story of this module. John Maki did a great job pulling together a diverse group of threads to introduce a good cross-section of the city to the players while at the same time giving them choices that will affect the outcome of events later in the campaign. Who do they trust? Who do they help? And who do they tick off in the process? This, much like Wolfgang Baur’s Midgard Adventures: The Raven’s Call, manages
to present a bit less of a railroaded plot and more of an open sandbox that both players and GMs can sink their teeth into. So story-wise and module construction-wise I think this is spot-on.

Next up? Art!

Ambrose H. Hoilman did the spectacular cover as well as some interior artwork along with Jonathan Roberts (of Fantastic Maps fame) and Terry Maranda. Truly beautiful work scattered throughout the book, from stem to stern. The maps are gorgeous, the page backgrounds add flavor without getting in the way, and the individual pieces featuring NPCs, coinage, weapons, and so on really help the reader gain an understanding of how things look in the world of Shadowlands. So I’m a big fan of the art as well.

Beyond those two major categories, I have to say that the Designer Notes scattered in a few places. It’s great getting a bit of insight into why things were written a particular way. Also, the “Concluding the Adventure” and “Continuing the Adventure” sections were very welcome hooks that enterprising GMs could use to fuel thoughts on continuing plots. And the appendices were helpful in locating stat blocks for particular critters, adding some flavor to the adventure, and more. So kudos on the content of the adventure itself.

Unfortunately, there are two major things about the layout that drove me a bit batty, so bear with me.

First, this is a 32 page PDF, so it’s not very long to begin with. But there are three blank pages. Why are they there? If they’re not necessary, rip ’em out! I’ve not seen any indication that this book is to be printed physically, but if that’s the concern I’d insert them in the physical copy for the printer and have an electronic copy without them for purely e-reading.

Second, the font sizes are too darn small! Reading on my iPad I couldn’t read any of the designer notes or stat blocks (items, NPCs, etc.) without zooming in, but even reading the body text was difficult. Remember those blank pages? Bump up the font size a point or two and I bet you’d quickly fill the blanks.

I would have also liked to have seen a border around some of those stat blocks just to help corral them from the rest of the text, but that’s a minor nit compared to the other two.

So to sum up… Great adventure, but I hope they work on page layout in future products. Even with the layout issues, there’s a ton to like here and I’m excited to see what other goodies came out of the BlackStar Studios Kickstarter. The world has depth and a sense of reality to it that’s refreshing and I hope to explore more before I’m done.

For more about Shadowlands: Secrets of the Tainted Adventure Arc, check out…

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