With a compelling Pathfinder adventure called The Gift, Rite Publishing begins an ambitious three-part series called Curse of the Golden Spear. Filled with tales and creatures from Japanese folklore, this campaign carries players to land wracked by angry spirits, where death is never truly the end.
The Gift is an adventure for 5th level characters. It takes place in a land called Kaidan, which is roughly analogous to feudal Japan (indeed, the word kaidan is Japanese for “ghost story”). There are multiple adventure hooks that will get non-Kaidanese characters into this strange land filled with oni, undead warlords and nobles so desperate for immortality they managed to curse their entire nation.
It’s actually a bit difficult to talk about the plot of The Gift in much detail, because it’s filled with mystery, duplicity and betrayal. I’d hate to give anything away. The PCs are hired to join a merchant delivering a magnificent gift to a Kaidanese daimyo. The gift is contained within an elaborate and heavy chest. While the merchant deals with customs problems, the characters explore the port district of Gaijinoshima, where they encounter a secretive woman needing their help along with the attentions of the local Yakuza clan. All the while they have to lug this heavy, awkward and incredibly valuable trunk around with them, protecting it from harm.
So what’s in the trunk? What business does the merchant have with the daimyo? What is the daimyo’s true nature? What does the strange woman want with the PCs? How is the Yakuza involved?
This is quite a lengthy adventure, one I think will keep the average gaming group busy for multiple sessions. There’s a lot of variety among the encounters, and the Japanese influenced setting is presented with rich detail. There’s even a glossary and pronunciation guide. The art is sparse, but excellent. There are quite a few maps, all of which are in full color and very well-crafted. The set-up for parts two and three of Curse of the Golden Spear is a real page-turner, so to speak. I can’t wait for part two so I can find out what happens when the daimyo gets his gift!
The only weak spot in this adventure is the atmosphere. It’s presented at the outset as a horror-themed adventure. Kaidan has an unusual cosmology that constantly recycles the same souls, leading to angry, displaced souls and blatant competition and possession for bodies that these souls want to inhabit. It certainly sounds horrific, but this is a clear case of, “show, don’t tell.” The explanation of this soul blight is very clear an detailed, and strips much of the mystery away. The body of the adventure has some horrific elements, but it’s short on creepiness and atmosphere. I’d have preferred that the specific explanation for why there are so many ghosts and undead in Kaidan be left more open-ended, with the encounters providing creepy elements that hint at the true reasons behind them. I understand, however, that this is a particular school of thought regarding horror, and you can also argue that a DM needs the background information and can then present the horror elements as he or she chooses.
In any case, The Gift is a fine fantasy adventure that will lead your characters down a much longer path. It’s a great way to visit a fantasy locale more exotic and foreign than the medieval Europe most RPGs hang out in, with twisting plots and vibrant flourishes of Japanese folk flavor. You can stop by Rite Publishing’s official site to purchase it.