Friday, December 7, 2012

Review: "Shadowsfall: Shadow Plane Player's Companion"

Okay, so I recently bought the Shadowsfall: Shadow Plane Player's Companion by Jon Brazer Enterprises.  I bought it partly as more grist for my campaign world design mill but also because I thought it looked like a cool setting all on its own.  Ever since I began learning about the various planes in the D&D universe (multiverse?) I've been intrigued by the idea of adventures on the Plane of Shadow.  It's an entirely eerie, shadowy, spooky place--probably like the inside of Tim Burton's head.

The pdf is 34 pages, including the full-color cover and two pages of advertising/legal/table of contents/etc.  First off, the cover artwork is great and appropriately conveys the atmosphere of the Shadowsfall setting.  There is then a good introduction/overview of the plane.  Next are chapters on races, classes & archetypes, animals, strongholds, feats, equipment, religion, magic, magic items, and a section on altered items.  The package includes full-color and black-and-white versions and also Herolab files (a very cool extra, since I have Herolab).

The main thing I liked was the strongholds section.  Due to the dangers posed by roaming undead, Shadow Plane creatures, and other monsters, life for "people" on the plane is centered mostly on the main fortified strongholds.  Each stronghold has its own unique character which provides good jumping-off points for player character backgrounds and DM plot lines.  Actually, this section was the main reason I bought the guide.  I'm looking for cool ideas to help me build my new campaign world and a ready-made setting I can use for games in the meantime.

The guide also provides the new feats, archetypes, class options, spells, and equipment which one expects with a new setting guide.  These all seemed pretty good at first reading, however there aren't what I'm looking for in a setting guide.  As a general comment, I really feel that adding these elements--unless they are very setting-specific--tend to add to the rules bloat which was a problem with the old D&D 3rd edition.  Pathfinder risks running into that same bloat at some point.

The guide has a great section on the races for the setting.  This being the Shadow Plane, there is a more evil and monstrous mix of races here--and they are playable races!  They include dhampir, drow, duergar, dwarves, elves, fetchlings, gnomes, half-elves, half-orcs, halflings, hobgoblins, humans, orcs, ratfolk, tieflings, and wayang.  This is important to me because I come from the school of thought that feels that humans are boring and that a fantasy setting should have fantasy races which you can play.  The guide comes through with flying colors here.  Okay, well I should say that I'm not too sure about the Umbral Kobolds.  Several settings out there have kobolds as playable races but I just think they're kind of silly.  That said, the Umbral Kobolds are written up well and are a fine option if you are into them.

One area that I'm not sure about is the new deities.  The guide has a full new pantheon of deities for the Plane of Shadow.  Since this is a Pathfinder system product, I was expecting it to use the default Golarion setting deities.  So this was a nice surprise.  However, if a DM is adding Shadowsfall to an existing setting, such as making is a major campaign arc in a game based on Pathfinder's default Golarion setting, then this bit needs to be removed or integrated.  Luckily it's not so heavily interwoven into the setting and so adaptation should be easy.  It's also not clear whether these gods are just on the Shadow Plane or are gods of many planes who also happen to have a presence here.  The nature of the Plane of Shadow is that it touches many other planes and thus the question of deities on multiple planes needs to be worked out by a GM.

So, overall I'm very happy with this product and recommend buying it.

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