today I’ll take a look at the final installment of the critically-acclaimed Kaidan-trilogy!
The final part of the epic Japanese horror saga by Jonathan McAnulty and Micheal Tumey is 62 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD, 3 pages of advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 53 pages of content for your perusal, so let’s check them out!
After the lurking estrangement and the despair-ridden darkness of the second installment, the PCs, cursed and on the run, finally have allies and will reap the seeds they have sown in the two predecessors on their way to the climax.
And boy, the introduction already serves as an epic lead-in to the things to come, first offering a brief bit of creepy IC-plotting and then moving on to elaborate the legend of Oni, Yurei and Kaidan and how it came to be the way the players find it. As a nice nod to people versed in Japanese folklore and history, the story does draw heavy inspiration and even shares the names form the conflicts between the Taira and the Minamoto clan. This review is based on V.4.0 of the pdf, in v.3.0 there was a formatting glitch here that has been taken care of.
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive SPOILERS. If you’re planning on ever playing this excellent saga, please refrain from reading on.
Still here? Do you want to SPOIL the awesome climax?
Ok, here we go!
As the PCs are still suffering from the curse of the golden spear, they’ll have to find a way to infiltrate the daimyo’s palace, retrieve the artifact and then get as far away as possible from the dread lord. After a brief respite from their ordeals in Part II in the Hengeyokai village they hopefully saved from an almost-insane kami and the depredations of a fiend in disguise. The allies the Hengeyokai promised, though, turn out to be up for a challenge: 4 Tengu (be sure to check out RiP’s excellent In the Company of Tengu, if you haven’t already – while not necessary to run this adventure, it is still an awesome file to have to customize further the avian allies.)are on the side of the PCs in this foray, or rather, they might be: First the PCs will have to prove their mettle in battle or otherwise leave an impression on them in order to lead them into the lion’s den.
The planning of the infiltration of the daimyo’s treasury might be a bit challenging for the DM, but thankfully the Tengu know of some underwater tunnels, which might provide an access to the palace that does not initially involve alerting the vast amount of guards to their presence. The infiltration via the river proves to be not as easy as the PCs might hope, but it is better than the otherwise extremely well-defended Shiro (that gets its own map) – after entering the palace via this secret route, the PCs will have to contend with a short 3 level-mini-dungeon. Braving the disease-ridden sewage-system, the PCs can stumble upon a potential ally among the prisoners (though they’ll have to heal the poor sod first). Among the horrible experiments they’ll have to brave are necromantically-infused wax-cocoons containing dread samurai zombies, barracks full of corpses that are the hunting ground of a terrible swarm of apocalypse spiders to undead hung from hooks that serve as a macabre sort of alarm as well as a silent-hill-style door that is held shut by a crucified corpse that is torn asunder by opening the doors and instantly regenerates when they are closed, serving as a kind of promethean punishment for the poor creature as well as having an unpleasant surprise in store for the PCs. Once they have finally braved the treasure vault’s guardian, the PCs can reap the plentiful rewards within the treasure chamber, among which new spells (2 from 101 3rd level spells) and the reason for their infiltration can be found: The golden spear is once again theirs! If the PCs have managed to trip the alarm, their escape will not be too easy as they’ll be hounded by the daimyo’s killers.
Spear in hand, the PCs will have to make the trek through the mountains, preferably via the name-giving Dark Path. Should the PCs choose to take another road, easy modifications are presented to avoid creating the notion of undue railroading. Commendable design! The daimyo’s hounds this time are nothing to be trifled with and a duo of deadly killers seeks to intercept them. To add another complication to the already quite oppressive situation of the PCs, the oni will try to eliminate the threat of the spear once and for all, confronting them with a deadly snare by a Jorogume, a spider-like fiend with illusion-based abilities. The encounter comes with a beautiful map and features the STUNNING cover-art as a nice full-page illustration, perfect as a handout once the mask falls. Braving this trap, the PCs hopefully reach the entrance to the Dark Path, where another duo of the daimyo’s deadly killers lies in wait to prematurely end their exodus from the lands of Kaidan.
The navigation of the lava-tubes that lead through the mountains proves to be perilous and oppressive in atmosphere, symbolizing the path to damnation and serving as a dread echoing amplifier for the things that stalk the tunnels. The plethora of wandering monsters (and their dread frequency) as well as the array of complications and mood-enhancing elements perpetuate and drive home the sense of danger and panic the PC should gradually become more and more convinced that they have stumbled into their smooth, black stone-encased grave. The blind, eyeless ghouls that will menace and attack the PCs are far from being the worst creature to hound the PCs – that honor belongs to a dread snake-oni (whose b/w-artwork is awesome!) which not only is a tough adversary, but also is rebirthed when slain, thus necessitating the hasty departure of the PCs. If they manage to find its lair, they can at least take its little hoard, which contains, among other things, a magic Kaidanese longbow. Even the sunlight that might greet the PCs once they have traversed the Dark Path offers no respite from their ordeals, though, as Jadoko, the hebi-no-onna that has hounded them since the first module, makes her final stand.
If the first two parts of the trilogy were any indicator, this would mean the end of the tribulations of the PCs, but those who would think so are in for quite a shock once they reach the deceptive tranquility of Gaijinoshima. Tranquility, oh yeah, there was something I forgot to mention: Of course, the PCs first have to procure a means to enter Uesaki and take the ferry or otherwise take a boat to their harbor of destination. Several possible courses of action are provided for the PCs to follow, ranging from the theft of a boat to disguising and sneaking abroad the ferry. Once in Gaijinoshima, the scarlet harlot awaits the PCs to ferry them out of Kaidan. Well. It awaits them. Along three of the daimyo’s elite Danmastumabatsu-killers cleverly disguised and a squad of undead. The fight (featuring a nice map of the vessel) among the massacred remains of the erstwhile crew that will strive to include the PCs in their undead ranks serves as the furious finale of this rather breathtaking climax of the Kaidan-saga. Hopefully the PCs have the means to acquire a crew…fast.
In tradition of the first two parts, we get several appendices. While the reincarnation mechanic is not reprinted, you should probably already know all about it from the two sequels. More interesting, at least to me, is the appendix featuring the new beasts: From the poison-spitting bachi-hebi snakes and their big oni brothers to the supremely creepy Jorogumo (spider women), we get 3 cool new critters that fulfill my personal desire for unique monstrous abilities.
The third appendix details the Danmatsumabatsu, the dread Daimyo’s cadre of elite assassins, each possessing a set of unique and distinct abilities that set them apart from regular NPCs – I love them! They are efficient, deadly, creepy and just about all I expect from elite foes like them. If all NPC-write ups were like this, I’d never have to complain about bland NPCs ever again. These necrotic warriors are indeed fine specimen, though I admit to wanting MORE.
The pdf closes with 4 pre-generated characters as well as a two-page glossary.
Editing is excellent, I only noticed one typo and formatting is good, though I did notice a couple of minor mistakes (like a box instead of a dash) – summa summarum I only found 4 glitches, not enough to justify the loss of a star. The pdf is extensively bookmarked and comes with the beautiful, bamboo-lined full-color layout we’ve come to appreciate in Kaidan-releases. The artworks are nice and feature the style we already know from its predecessors and the cover artwork by Jason Rainville, thankfully reprinted as a one-page-version sans borders in the book, is in my humble opinion the best of the three – beautiful, creepy, atmospheric and one of my favorite pieces from him.
Jonathan McAnulty has managed to once again deliver another facet of horror-gaming that is hard to pull off – a brooding sense of being chased, potentially neck-breaking in pace and fueled by a justified paranoia, the infiltration and subsequent escape from Kaidan offer opportunities galore for dark and deadly encounters, all while being underlined by a foreboding, subtle symbolism that might have the PCs wondering whether they are about to escape the darkness or rather wade straight into it. The at times claustrophobic imagery and the silent-hill-esque nods during the infiltration serve to enhance the multitude of fears this adventure conjures up: Indeed, one could scan the pages of this adventure for some of the primal fears inherent in all of us and find an instance of each one having a kind of representation. The development from subtle horror over despair to the disturbing end of the saga has had me more than satisfied with this part. Standing in no way behind its two predecessors, I can happily pronounce a verdict of 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval and wholeheartedly recommend the whole saga to just about anyone even remotely intrigued by the premise – these three premium products stand in a line with RiP’s by now almost legendary, premium product Coliseum Morpheuon and I hope to see more additional material for Kaidan in the future, perhaps even more adventures -the unique, cool setting deserves it!
And it seems like there will indeed be more: The current Kaidan kickstarter means that we’ll see more in this dark setting. If you like what you’ve read so far, please check out the kickstarter for the setting guide.
As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,