The Five Deadly Shadows Review

The Deadly Shadows gang have recently assassinated the magistrate of Kudoku, and only the characters can be bothered to do anything about it! The Five Deadly Shadows is the adventure for this month's "asian" theme, and I gotta say I was expecting something a lot better to showcase the whole thing. The fact that the adventure is intended for late heroic does not mesh well with the fact that the content we have seen so far plays best with low heroic, not that much about the rest of the adventure was particularly compelling for me.

For starters, the backstory does not make a lot of sense. From what I gather a gang called the Deadly Shadows shows up in a town called Kudoku and goes about corrupting the place in stock fashion; the monks leave, the merchants take their trade elsewhere, and so the government responds logically by dispatching one person to handle it. To his credit he manages to parse their numbers down to five and convinces one to join his cause (despite not being Liam Neeson or Chuck Norris), but ultimately loses and has his soul bound to this world. Oddly it's not the people leaving, murder, or extortion, but the soul-binding that caused the townsfolk to think, "Oh shit, we are fucked."

Not only does the plot confuse the hell out of me, but the adventure hooks are pretty weak. It starts out by recommending that you tie character involvement with character backgrounds or themes, which while good advice is also the bare minimum that I expect from a DM. From there the suggests are having a governor ask the characters for help, a merchant sending them over to figure out why shipments of "fine silk" are no longer coming in, of the characters has a dream. Out of all of these having a government official is the most solid by technicality. I mean, the plight of the village should be well known once you learn how it got the way it did, so a merchant wondering what the hell going on just makes no sense. And the dream? At best it is a cliche, and at worst it is passive-aggressive railroading.

It is not just the background and hooks that bug the hell out of me, but the rest of the adventure. The characters start out in Kudoku and after earning the trust of the villagers, learn that the last magistrate tried to stop the Deadly Shadows and was killed, and that the Deadly Shadows haven't made a move to consolidate their power (despite having nothing stopping them from doing so). Presumably the characters go visit the new magistrate, who despite readily admitting that he sucks will not relinquish his position of power, and basically serves to direct the players to the tea house to fight the first boss.

On the way to the tea house the characters run across a monk trying to carry some wood. I guess they are supposed to help him as part of the virtue of honor (?), but they basically need to in order to get some orange robes that are important later (special characters appear on them as they progress through the adventure).

The only difference is that a laser-shooting sword has some
obvious applications.
Aside from the robes he also provides some very basic story information about being unable to fulfill the tasks given to him by his master, that his master (who I call Second Boss) is cruel, and so is the First Boss at the tea house. It is at this point that the characters can choose to hit up the tea house or go to the monastery (I guess do deal with the douche of a master).

At the tea house the characters have the option of going through a tea ceremony skill challenge in order to gain a very minor benefit during the following battle. Basically they have to strip down, put on white kimonos, and succeed on some skill checks in order to succeed. If they botch it then they are attacked by First Boss,  and if they succeed then the boss's cronies literally just leave with some parting words to the effect that "they have shown courtesy so fuck you". Oh yeah, if the characters stripped down their gear just teleports back on whether or not they beat the challenge (though they have to burn a healing surge in the latter case).

As little sense as that whole scenario makes, the monastery is not any better. In fact, I think it is worse. The monastery is in a bad state, you see, and as part of the benevolence virtue they can opt to repair it while they climb (not that anything really hints at the fact that repairing the monastery is in keeping with the virtue). If the characters pick up on trying to fix up the place, they are constantly taunted by Second Boss. If they manage to go through enough repair-montages, then they gain a flight ability during the combat challenge. Otherwise they do not get it, and the water deals poison damage when they enter it.

Without some heavy maintenance I can just see my group plodding through this adventure, brows furrowed in confusion as to what they are doing, why they are doing it, and why NPCs are making them do things. Ever watch an anime and ever get confused when a character says and/or does something? It is like that, but stretched out into an entire adventure.

1 comment:

  1. I can see the difficulty you would have in taking an established group through this. However, in my mind, it would be a fantastic one-shot adventure. The author's goal doesn't seem to be DnD Adventure (which is unfortunate, because that's what I was expecting) but instead, a series of encounters that create a kung-fu movie.

    I personally thought the same thing about the skill challenges: how the hell would anyone know to do this stuff? What the virtues of Bushido were, and how they were being applied?

    I think with some set up, though, (I'd do it with pre-gens, since my campaign is not Oriental themed at all) it would be a completely badass wuxia battle. The high heroic tier makes sense for that as well - some good options to fly around, powers to recharge, etc.

    Until that happens though, I'll be happy to just poach the individual encounters - several are very interesting mechanically, and thematically.

    I had a few issues with the set up as well (armor teleporting back on? bah - the water in the monastery deals poison damage either way, 5 or 10, the farmer with magical minotaurs (?) etc. But I do admire Dungeon for trying something outside the box, even if the execution is off.


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