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Courts of the Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)
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Courts of the Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/23/2020 09:50:49

Originally posted here with more details and links: https://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/09/shadow-week-courts-and-realms-of-shadow.html

What is your favorite edition of D&D? Doesn't matter. This is the adventure you need to try. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the end, go back to the beginning and work our way back to now.

Kobold Press has been around now for a bit and has put out some really quality products for various version of the D&D/Pathfinder game via the various open licenses available to them.

The Shadow Fey are a race of elves known as the scáthsidhe, or shadow fey. Great name. I wish I had come up with it. These fey are an elitist, snooty bunch, the worse qualities of Elf to be honest and that is what makes them so great. They are not really related at all to the Shadow Elves of Mystara nor the Shadar-Kai of the Shadowfell and not even the Drow of many worlds. But it is easy to see they all live in the same sort of world. If we are to use D&D 4 & 5 terminologies they live in the area where the Shadowfell intersects the Feywild. Or the darkest areas of the Land of Faerie.

The shadow fey are present in a number of books from Kobold Press, most notably their two large monster tomes for 5e, The Tome of Beasts for 5th Edition and the Creature Codex for 5th Edition. Even without knowing much of their background, they are a very interesting race. They look a bit like a cross between an elf and tiefling. So members are elven, but many also have horns. I suppose that a satyr is a better comparison. But it is a reminder, visually, that these are not your Grognards' elves. They can be medium or small creatures.

Courts of the Shadow Fey

This adventure began as a 4th edition adventure for Paragon Tier characters designed to take them from 12th to 15th level. So remember what I was saying yesterday about an entire 4th edition campaign taking place in the Plane of Shadow? Well, this can be a significant part of that.

The adventure was then converted over to Pathfinder (with some little oddities here and there) for characters of 7th level to 10th.

Sometime later the adventure was rewritten for 5th edition D&D, with new art and layout. Still for characters level 7th to 10th.

All three were written by Wolfgang Baur. Ben McFarland aided in the Pathfinder conversion, Dan Dillon helped with the D&D5 rewrite. The first two versions featured fantastic art by Stephanie Law (which makes me want to convert it to Blue Rose!) and the 5e version features art from Marcel Marcado, who captures our two shadow fey sovereigns.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition version, 101 pages. Pathfinder version, 130 pages Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition version, 150 pages

This is part adventure and part sandbox, which is really fantastic because there is so much potential here. Much in the same way the D series introduced us to the drow via an adventure, this introduces us to the Shadow Fey. We meet their sovereigns, the Queen of Night and Magic of the Summer Court and the Moonlit King of the Winter Court. These are NOT the Seelie and Unseelie of Earth's Faerie Realm, although there are comparisons. We begin the adventure with the town of Zobek against a backdrop of the King and Queen in their exchange of power. The adventure kicks in when a Priest of the Sun God is nearly assassinated. This has my attention already. Zobek is occupied by Shadow Fey and to find the culprit(s) (who soon make an assassination attempt at the PCs!) the party will need to not only navigate the treachery of the Shadow Lands (Shadow Plane, Shaowfell...) they must also navigate the treachery on the Fey Courts!

One of the key features of this adventure/product is the number of NPCs. This is not a list of names with professions, these are fully stated out NPCs and each version of the adventure takes advantage of the rules being used.

Ok. Pause. At this point, there are several good reasons to get this. There is the mystery. There is the Shadow Plane deal. There are Fey Courts. Plus there are plenty of mechanics involved to aid the GM and Players in navigating the labyrinth that can be high court intrigue. In some ways it makes me happy to have all three versions since I can get different points of view on how to handle different things. Granted the 4e and Pathfinder versions are similar enough to make the differences be system-specific, but the 5e rewrite really gives me a newer point of view. Yes, in each case I am seeing a lot of repeated text. That is what I am supposed to see. What idiot is going to buy all three versions except for me?

So we have all that, and we have not gotten into duels of honor (there is a dueling system!), various factions jockeying for control, and how the PCs fit into all that. New creatures. New demons! New magic. Survive a duel? Dude...you are not going to survive diner!

The Pathfinder/4e versions are a little basic to look at since the was the start of Open Design/Kobold Press. But Stephanie Law's art is so great to look at that I don't care. The 5e version is several orders of magnitude better in terms of design. The art is still wonderful but I miss Stephanie Law's vision.

This is one of those adventures where I always find something new with each reading. I have been pouring over this for the last three weeks and each time I am blown away by the shear potential that lays before me. I feel like I need to reread my history of the Tudors to get my courtly machinations down correctly, but this book certainly helps.
The party's climax comes with gaining an audience with the Moonlit King himself! What happens? There are many potential outcomes and possibilities.

If I ever run a Shadow themed campaign then this is at the top of my list. If I ever run a pure 4e game, then this is at the top of my list.

I plan to steal ideas from this for other adventures even if I run it as is.

I purchased all three of the PDFs just have them. It is that much fun. Also whenever I feel the need to run it I am likely to grab the Print version of the 5e rules. Though I might instead print out the PDFs and collate them so that the material I need/want is where I want it. Use colored sticky tabs for various plot points.

For example, if I were to merge these with other fey related products then maybe I would consider Autumn and Spring courts here instead of Winter and Summer. Why? The shadow fey are creatures of well, shadow. Half-light and half-darkness. I am reviewing this on the Autumn Equinox, half-light, half dark. I did this on purpose. If I use the Summer and Winter courts for the Seelie and the Unseelie then these could be the Spring (Queen of Magic) and Autumn (Moonlit King) courts and little it lost. In fact, much is gained. Most of my players, thanks to years of Ghosts of Albion, have come to expect certain things out of the Fey courts as I run them. Dangerous to assume really, but still, they do. By renaming these into Spring and Autumn I can change those expectations. And it gives me four equal and competing courts.

Regardless of which edition you choose, there is a great adventure/sandbox/resource to be had here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Courts of the Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/22/2015 08:31:25

Beautifully illustrated and presented, this is a massive adventure that takes the party into the realm of shadows and embroils them in the chaos and intrigue that accompany the transistion between the Summer Court of the Queen of Night and Magic and the altogether darker machinations of the Winter Court of the Moonlit King. You cannot trust the Fey, never more so than here...

It all begins as the Moonlit King discovers that House Stross no longer holds sway in Zobeck (he's a bit behind the times, poor dear) and so all the arrangements and treaties that he had with House Stross are now null and void. Unsurprisingly, he's rather cross about it all!

The adventure itself is constructed as five segments that would take a party from 7th to 11th level in the course of some 30 encounters (although they need not have them all to complete the adventure successfully). The key to it all is a neat mechanic for determining Status - because the Fey are nothing if not snobbish and elitist, and if you are of insufficient Status they do not care how reasoned your argument is, how strong your sword arm is or even how big your bribe might be! A party that successfully rises in Status will get their audience and be able to put their case to the Moonlit King.

All starts abruptly as the party is called away from whatever they might be doing in Zobeck to aid a senior cleric who is being attacked - in his very temple, no less. A tough fight is followed by a quest to find out why the poor priest was being attacked and this will lead the characters into the adventure proper. A series of strange events beleaguer the people of Kobeck, and so it all begins.

To succeed, the party needs to be smart and diplomatic as well as adept with spell and sword... and that's before they venture onto the Shadow Road and attempt to navigate their way through the Courts of the shadow fey! Then they will really need their wits about them! Strange things happen in the shadow realms. The encounters reflect this well, with some truly memorable and outright wierd events to throw at the party. This is where the Status mechanic comes into play: everything they do (or omit to do) affects the party's standing: to the level that some encounters only become available as they rise in Status to a sufficient level.

The Court is massive and the party will be able to roam around, and perhaps interact with those denizens who deign to actually notice them. Eventually (we hope!) they will gain sufficient Status to be treated as guests rather than intruders, and the place comes alive about them. There is a great feast, the menu of which is part of the adventure in itself... and then it's time for the Duelling Season. The fey, it seems, love their duels. Mechanically, a Quick Duelling system is provided - and of course it also links back to Status.

The climax of the adventure comes when the party gains an audience with the Moonlit King. And the outcome? There are several possibilities, including supplanting him and taking over the shadow realm! The most likely conclusion sees the party returning to Zobeck, with many tales that mere mortals may find hard to believe!

Much is twisted, distorted, wierd... and as GM there is a lot to keep track of, so prepare well. Everything's well-presented (apart from a tendency for the text and the fancy borders to encroach on one another at times, so the odd word is hard to read), and most of the information is just where you need it. The PDF version is well-bookmarked, if running from a book you may want to put in some markers of your own.

Bringing out the sheer otherness of the fey, this adventure is like none other and should provide a memorable element of your campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Courts of the Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/29/2013 05:58:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This mega-module is 130 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 123 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This mega-module Kobold-in-Chief Wolfgang Baur was originally released for D&D 4th edition, but I can't comment on that once since I don't have it - I only have the PFRPG-conversion done by ennie-award winning designer Ben McFarland. That being said - I'll break my usual format for adventure-reviews - to pieces. I'm not going to go through this step-by-step - the review would become redundant fast and extremely long to boot. Instead I'll just say one thing:

GET THIS NOW. Seriously. Buy it. Give it as a gift to your DM. If you're a DM, get this NOW. If you, for whatever reason, want to buy only one Kobold Press-adventure - BUY THIS ONE.

... .. .

You're still here, aren't you? Ok, I guess I have to do better. First of all, let me address that this book features skill-challenges, i.e. obstacles your combined group can surpass by combinations of skill checks, with each player contributing (hopefully) something to the fray - they are designed in a way where even fighters will have something reasonable to do. Furthermore, above and beyond and a great help for DMs a bit weak on the fluffy roleplaying side, suggestions for the respective argumentations on why the skill in question works/doesn't work are given. Beyond these even, class abilities, spells and feats feature into the respective checks and get covered in a level of detail I've never ever seen in any publication - without bloating the book. And if you don't like skill-checks, you could still use these pieces of information as simple roleplaying guidelines. The same holds btw. true for incantations, which, while a part of the module, do not occupy a crucial role and can be abstracted rather easily. Ben McFarland has done an astounding job of translating the module into the context of Pathfinder-rules. It should also be noted that the module is relatively light on Midgard-specific fluff, i.e. it can be transported to Golarion or any other world you choose with minimum hassle - you just have to switch out cosmetic terms like "Zobeck" for another big city name and there you go.

And that's about it regarding the formal qualities of the crunch - next up follows a VERY BRIEF synopsis of what you can expect - and thus from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Players, do yourself a favor and jump to the conclusion. You don't want this one spoiled, believe me. I'd actually love to play this, but having read it, that is out of the question.

All right, we kick off when Zobeck (or another big city of your choosing) experiences a swift occupation: One day, everyone wakes up and finds that the shadow fey now run the town - and who violates their capricious decrees has to contend with their harsh, humiliating repressing punishments. Turns out after some research and diplomacy with the envoy of the scáthesidhe (shadow fey) and some reading between the lines, that an obscure deal between the former ruling family and the shadow fey has expired and that they now consider the city their domain - with an almost unstoppable Statthalter on the way.

In order to reclaim mortal sovereignty over the city, the PCs have to research a ritual to send them off on the perilous journey towards the home of the shadow fey - and should they survive this journey into the very heart of shadow, they'll be surprised: The Scáthesidhe have made elitism a form of art and at first, the courts seem empty - those of too low status actually can't even perceive the upper ones of the layered, fey-glamour-clad echelons of the courts and in order to gain an audience with the queen of the fey, they'll have to first rise in status. From lowly goblin servants, lantern dragonettes and fey rakes to the higher echelons of court, the PCs will require all their wits and capabilities to survive the perils of the dueling season and slowly work their way up through a court enamored with the theft of memories, illusions and deception. Courtly intrigue and harmless and not so harmless pranks abound even before the PCs become aware of the existence of the Demon Lord of Roaches as a fixture in the court, of the various deadly factions (which include a celestial and old weaving crones that are more than they seem) or of the alluring courtesans and courtiers that can play a pivotal role in the rising through the ranks of the courts - if the PCs can manage to win (and keep) their favor. And yes, the affections of the shadow fey may very well turn out to be something rather problem-laden, as some of the numerous NPCs, both mortal and immortal that frequent the courts can attest to.

Even before the Black Prince's favorite quickling swordmaster challenges the PCs, even before the factions start actively recruiting PCs, we actually get a codified, complex and thoroughly rewarding rules-framework for the depiction of rising through the ranks of a court, a system, which when reskinned towards mortal courts, could be used for Song of Ice and Fire-like machinations. And I have only scarcely touched upon what there is to come - what about e.g. a hunting trip with the hostile and antagonistic Black Prince and a chase for the immortal firebird, represented via a cool, mapped mini-game? The very best banquet-scene I've ever seen in an adventure - easy to run, complex and thoroughly weird? A roach-like, loyal warrior who just wants to find a nice place to lay eggs - which have to unfortunately hatch from a body? The lists upon lists of events, intrigues etc.? The glorious maps?

What about the fact that the finale, when the PCs may finally get their audience with the Queen, requires them to find the insane Moonlight King in a maze of light and unique dangers and either kill him (in a fight that challenges brains and brawns) or convince him to abstain from the claim to Zobeck? Have I mentioned the potential to transcend the bounds of mortality in the aftermath of this module?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the one weakness of this module - while not bad by any measure, I did notice a couple of editing glitches that could have been caught and here and there a small conversion relic in places where their presence is not crucial in any way. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard and the provided handouts and maps should water the mouths of any aficionado. The artworks are original b/w-pieces that fit thematically well within the context of the book, creating a seamless, unified impression. The pdf is extensively bookmarked for your convenience, though I'd still recommend getting dead-tree for this one.

Wolfgang Baur and Ben McFarland are immensely talented designers and authors - that's no secret. But even as a fan of many of Wolfgang's pieces, I can't recall any one that blew me away like this one did. Not one. This is the 123 page refutation of the claim that social interaction in Pathfinder is boring, the triumphant sneer in the face of all who claimed that d20-based systems with their combat-focus don't lend themselves to social interaction, court intrigue or any scenario, really, that requires subtlety. "Courts of the Shadow Fey" is a legend, one I slowly digested over multiple months, because every single page herein had some idea, some spark that made me cackle with glee, a pervading sense of jamais-vu pervading the pages - more of it than in the whole catalogues of some companies. I have no doubt that this module will become one of the must-have-played pieces of Pathfinder with its complex sandboxy structure, its attention to details. Its inventiveness and its elegant, at times beautiful, at times creepy blending of themes serve to more perfectly evoke what being "fey" is all about, it redefines evil in the context of fey as a form of elitism that may very well be justified.

Even if I tried, I could have never conveyed the sheer scope and awesomeness of this module, cover all the ideas herein, short of copying about 90% of the module. This is the gold-standard of what an ambitious module should be like and while perhaps not recommended for novice DMs, this is incredibly good - almost painfully so. And much like its unconventional ending that resounds so well with the theme of returning from the lands of the fey, turning the last page of this book left me with a sense of loss that it had ended, that there were not another 100 pages of shadow fey waiting for me. If I could, I'd rate this 6 stars. I got this book this year, so it will feature on my top 10 of 2013-list. It's one of my favorite Open Design/Kobold Press-books released. It's one of the best adventure-resources out there, either as module or setting and in scope, quality and detail on par with Coliseum Morpheuon. I'll repeat it again: GET THIS. Even if you run Golarion, not Midgard. Want a break from Kingmaker? Get this. Run another setting? Get this. Don't have a group and want a good read that is inspiring? Get this. Need ideas for fey tricks, hazards etc.? Get this. This is my unanimous recommendation towards anyone who even remotely is interested in the topic of fey: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? GET THIS! Final verdict? 5 stars +seal of approval - this might be the best things Wolfgang Baur has written so far - I know I consider it the best one, and Ben McFarland has gone above and beyond to make this work in PFRPG. When do we get the courtly intrigue handbook for mortal courts?

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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