A Review of the Role Playing Game Supplement Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv

Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv is the first, #37, in the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path from Paizo Publishing. This is an adventure for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and, as such, is covered by the Open Game License with some parts being considered Open Game Content. This is an adventure for 1st level characters, who are expected to be 4th level by the end. The Adventure Path then continues in Racing to Ruin. This adventure sees a starting group of characters shipwrecked on an island with a poor reputation and no means of leaving it.

The adventure is available as a PDF from the Paizo site for $13.99, although it was purchased at the reduced price of $10.49, or as a softcover book, primarily now from sites such as Amazon.

Souls for Smuggler's ShivThe PDF is the version reviewed. It has 100 pages, of which two pages are the front and rear covers, two pages are the inside front and rear covers, two pages are the front matter, one page is the Table of Contents, around two thirds of a page is the Open Game License, one page is an advert for the Pathfinder Chronicles series, one page an ad for the Gamemastery Guide, one page a product list and order form and one page an ad for the Advanced Player’s Guide.

A Tale of a Fateful Trip is a brief, two page introduction to the adventure, which also mentions the Oak Island Money Pit, an inspiration for one of the encounters. What to do if a character dies is also covered; important, as they won’t be able to get a replacement from the mainland.

Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv is the actual adventure. It begins with an introduction and adventure summary. The adventure is in four parts; the first sees the players, and several NPCs, awaking on the island with their belongings near them after their ship was wrecked. This is a brief section in which they will set up a secure camp.

Part Two of the adventure sees the players exploring the island and includes some lore about it. There are many locations on Smuggler’s Shiv, and this part is fairly open ended, essentially being a sandbox exploration, perhaps similar to old adventures like The Isle of Dread.

Part Three details one of the major locations on the island, and one of the more dangerous ones, a camp belonging to cannibals descended from the survivors of a shipwreck and the ghoul leader. Characters should have advanced to 2nd level prior to entering the camp, but they may well have encountered, or been captured by, the cannibals on other parts of the island. The camp also has a mostly-complete lighthouse; completing it will allow the characters to signal for help.

Part Four: Temple of Blood is the conclusion to the adventure. The characters have to make their way through a temple to the demon queen of vampires and cannibalism. The temple is the reason the island is. The NPC whose actions resulted in the shipwreck, a female serpentfolk cleric who is the primary foe for this part of the adventure path, is ahead of them and exploring the temple. Clues as to the main focus of the adventure path can be found in the temple.

Finally the adventure section concludes with how to escape the island and expanding the adventures available, including three very short encounter hooks.

Shipwrecked! has some rules on surviving on the island – or anywhere else – including setting up a base camp. There are also stats and details on five NPC castaways who survived the shipwreck. each of these has a side quest that can be completed on the island, assuming that the NPC isn’t killed off, each of which will give a permanent minor benefit to the characters.

Ecology of the Serpentfolk gives some history of the serpentfolk race, their downfall and their current position.

Plague of Light: 1 of 6 – On Glowing Wing is a piece of fiction that will presumably connect with the adventure path at some point; characters have not reached the location covered as yet.

Bestiary provides a wandering monster table for the island and five new species of monster, with fourteen new monsters in total. There is a section on jungle monsters and how to deal with them.

Return of the Serpent Empire gives some more details on the serpent empire than were given in the ecology, and an outline of all six chapters of the adventure path.

Characters provides four pre-rolled characters for players.

Finally, around a third of a page gives a preview of some other supplements, starting with the next chapter in the adventure path.

Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv in Review

The PDF is very well bookmarked with all major and minor sections covered along with all the different locations. The Table of Contents simply provides page numbers for each major section of the book. Navigation is therefore above average. The text maintains a two column format and was almost entirely error free. The supplement is also well illustrated, with many appropriate colour illustrations up to around two thirds of a page in size, including monster illustrations. There are also a number of full colour maps of various locations. The overall appearance and quality of the supplement is therefore very good.

The adventure is rather less linear and rather more freeform than is sometimes seen in the adventure paths, with players being able to explore much of the island, and no particular order is required for most of the areas. The exceptions are part three and part four; characters really need to have advanced prior to attempting these – and preferably gained the benefits from helping their NPC castaway compatriots; a good reason for keeping the latter alive – or they will probably come of quite badly. In fact, some of the major encounters in parts three and four have the potential for a Total Party Kill when run as written, even if the characters have advanced. Perhaps some more encounters on the island would be a good idea. A GM is definitely advised to read through these carefully before running them.

As is common in the adventure paths, this one provides new background material and locations for Golarion, Paizo’s default Pathfinder setting, and new rules and monsters. Given the Golarion setting for the adventure paths, using them in other settings is not always easy. This is perhaps one of the easiest to do this with, as it is on an island with little connection to anywhere else. Whether the same will be true for the rest of the path is another question.

Pathfinder in general and Golarion in particular have got at least some influence from the works of H. P. Lovecraft and those who also contributed to the Cthulhu Mythos. In this adventure, this would appear to be the serpentfolk which would appear to bear a resemblance to the serpent men created by Robert E. Howard and which were incorporated into the Mythos. This may become more certain as the path progresses.

The sandbox method of play for much of the adventure removes the railroaded feel that adventure paths can sometimes have, but there is also a definite progression to a conclusion as well. Essentially, a good combination of both worlds; a definite storyline but a flexible run up to the conclusion. This is a nice adventure with a sandbox feel but one that can prove rather dangerous, even if players are careful. Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv is an interesting start to the adventure path.

 

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