Visit a Demon-Haunted Version of Japan in Curse of the Golden Spear

August 1st, 2011 by Ed Grabianowski

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.

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9 Responses to “Visit a Demon-Haunted Version of Japan in Curse of the Golden Spear”

  1. Comment by Billy Gibbs

    I’d say that they should give the GM as much info as possible, and let them decide what their players need.

  2. Comment by zizhou

    I quite enjoy both Mountain Witch and Pathfinder, so this should be a lot of fun.

  3. Comment by Joe Grabianowski

    RPGs in general should be liberal about portals and other space-timing melding conveyances. That way if you are duking it out in the forests of Bloppityham or storming an ice castle…you can easily end up in a totally different setting without all the worrisome logic of travel, etc. Helllooooo feudal Japan.

  4. Comment by Gamerprinter

    This is the concept creator and cartographer for the Curse of the Golden Spear intro mini arc to Kaidan – reviewed above. Thank you for the review. I did want to comment on your points regarding atmosphere, horror and lack of creepiness. All the horror mechanics are for the GM only and is solely kept in the introduction, appendixes and gray box text. The player experience is only slowly hinted at and not given a full exposure at any time in the adventure.

    For the demented reincarnation mechanic, for example, the halfling experiencing mind fever and a few other subtle hints are given to the players about it, but only if PC Death occurs is their a need to fully expose these rules to the players. With this kept in mind, the creepiness of the Haunted Ryokan and the Pool of the Sunken Well, are designed to be especially creepy and disturbing. If properly presented as the setup text, haunts, monsters are followed properly.

    The intent is that the GM is a storyteller, and he won’t need to ‘wing’ anything should PCs trigger some event or setting mechanic – everything is provided so the GM can best present the information.

    From the players point of view – this adventure features a gothic horror flavor that should be thoroughly creepy and atmospheric – I actually felt we did a good job presenting that.

    Thanks!

  5. Comment by Gamerprinter

    Also wanted to point out that in many ways Kaidan resembles Ravenloft in being a partially closed demi-planar bubble, but coexists with the prime material – once within its misty borders Kaidan has its own cosmology and rules regarding portals and extra-planar travel – once cannot teleport, plane shift, walk ethereal in the nomal sense. It is not Ravenloft, but captures the best themes and concepts, but done in a strictly Asian quality, both dark and unique.

    Once in Kaidan, you’ll know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

  6. Comment by Ed Grabianowski

    I love the idea of an Asian-themed Ravenloft demiplane. Hell, you could just make Kaidan a demiplane within Ravenloft if it fit your campaign better that way.

  7. Comment by Billy Gibbs

    D&D Cosmology Headache GO!

  8. Comment by Gamerprinter

    Cosmology of Kaidan

    1. Kaidan – prime material
    2. Yomi, land of dead – ethereal plane
    3. Jigoku, hell – actually one of the levels of the Abyss

    That’s it – and planes #2 and #3 only connect to Kaidan and no other plane.

    Cosmology in Kaidan is pretty simple.

  9. Comment by Billy Gibbs

    And that’s why I love it, I don’t want to jam it into Ravenloft.