XP4 The Land of the Silver Lotus (2016)
Morten Braten (Xoth Publishing)
Level 4 – 6
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True S&S adventures, as is Known, are few and far between, maybe rarer then S&S rulesets. There is of course the excellent Lost Treasures of Atlantis. There is the great Gabor Lux. There is Temple of Lies. There is, in fact, another module by a certain author that certainly merits inclusion in this august and exclusive company. The Real Deal is a hard find. Today we speak of another, for fucking Pathfinder 1e of all places.
Some much needed tinkering has been done to make Pathfinder feel like Sword & Sorcery again. A seperate PF has been published. The tiefling sex-workers and genasi trans-activists have been tastefully euthanized and all record of their existence has been properly rewritten, replaced with bare-chested Nabastissean dancing girls, Pygmy cannibals, sinister Lamuran sorcerers and iron-thewed fighting men of pitiless and grim aspect. “This book makes occasional references to mature themes such as human sacrifice, slavery, drugs, racism and perverted sexuality. Such themes, which are staples of the sword and sorcery genre, are simply assumed to be unpleasant but undeniable facts of life in the grim fantasy.” A zesty cheers!
Pathfinder 1e is an outdated format, proper for a true believer of this calibre. Statt blocks are enormous, mechanical complexity and modifiers exist as a thick and woolly shell between the players and the game, and few people who have tasted of the forbidden fruit of 5e tend to move back to it. I was understandably skeptical. Much has been done to overcome some of the usual hindrances. Tasteful reference is made to the appropriate bestiary, with some light reskinning to keep things fresh. The D20 era mistake of boring linear maps and set piece battles is at least somewhat avoided. Instead we get a hex-map of the Island of the Silver Lotus, with random encounter tables (!) , somewhat nonlinear maps, encounters with hordes of enemies that must be fled, faction play, concealed treasure and all of it brimming with sword and sorcery atmosphere. I keep forgetting I am playing Pathfinder until some ugly Perception DC 20 roll momentarily staggers me, only to fade without memory two words later.
You are given various reasons to explore the Isle of the Silver Lotus, anything from getting shipwrecked, forced to land on shore for repairs or even escorting smugglers of the terribly addictive and sorcery-enhancing silver lotus to the corrupt port of Iraab. The reef is perfunctory and as there is no described effect it is more or less assumed that the PCs will find some way to get to the island, either by means of a Pygmy guide, or if they have prior knowledge. What matters is that you get to the island. The game had me worried for two seconds when it presents a 7 part linear adventure format but this is done perfunctorily, in the manner of a parent fulfilling the promise to a willfull and stupid child, and takes up all of half a page before presenting the module in its true and proper form; A sandbox module covering several locations with a central mystery that is optional to the process of exploration. The idea is that 7 rainbow gems holding the essence of a dead sorcerer are the source of an ancient feud between two pygmy tribes, but re-uniting them will cause the Sorcerer to be reborn. The module is a healthy crossbreed of Jewels of Gwahlur, Red Nails, Queen of the Black Coast and a whiff of Iron Shadows in the Moon and C.A. Smith’s the Charnel Seed and it carries its influences on its sleeves, going so far as to occasionally intersperse quotes from those two greats between its descriptions.
The first two locations are weak compared to the rest, it is like Land of the Silver Lotus needs some time to get up to speed. The Lotus Caverns represent but one of several places where the rare and elusive Lotus may be harvested but it does immediately start you off on the right foot by placing the Cavern on the other side of a 60 foot deep chasm, then placing hostile cave crickets in the cavern walls, and then placing a hard to find but safer path amid the vegetation if the players are smart enough to look (just excise the DC something Perception roll). Natural hazards, an oft omitted but crucial feature of adventuring, is in Silver Lotus with full force. Pools of quicksand, slippery stones covering rapidly running rivers, caves filled with silvery spores, scalable rock walls, it is part of the Sword & Sorcery aesthetic, man against nature, and adds to the remoteness and danger of the location. It FEELS like you are adventuring, and the various ways in which PCs will consider using ropes or other equipment to circumnavigate these dangers is a vital component of DnD. There is a giant chasm in the back of the cave that cannot be explored and exists for no seeming reason, neither as potential hazard nor as thoroughfare into a place of further danger.
The cavern proper is a bit standard compared to similar locations later on. The window dressing is nicer then usual but it amounts to several empty caverns, some skeletons, and a few cave monsters, which are tasteful selections from the Pathfinder Bestiary consisting mostly of giant insects attacking from some sort of ambush. This should be contrasted with, say, the Temple of the Slugs later on, where our heroes explore the burial catacombs of a tribe of slug-worshipping swamp pygmies in search of eerie rain-bow colored stones and will readily encounter Giant Slugs, or near endless swarms of giant leaches, or restless spirits of the pygmy dead, which they will likely have to flee from in a panick.
Encounters in Land of the Silver Lotus are not just good because of the atmosphere, or the new monsters (the Daughters of frog-god Yibboth, or the Silver Lotus, or the Guardian of the Nameless City) and the way a curated selection of standard monsters with minor descriptive paint-jobs can effortlessly carry the brooding, primordial atmosphere of hyperborea, but also by utilizing several tricks that should be familiar to oldschool GM’s. There are monsters that are too tough to fight which must be avoided, there are proper hordes of monsters (12 cockatrices, 22 skeletons, 400 pygmies, 2d20 crocodiles if you fall in the water), it feels weighty and it means that combat is not always the best option. Immediately interesting!
There are multiple factions on the island, and again, the first one gives you the wrong impression. The Taikangian pirates of The Ghost Turtle have a diligently mapped ship (boring) but mostly lack a clear purpose on the island, and despite the inclusion of a secret Ghoul Ambassador among their ranks, they serve little purpose and negotiation with them is not truly considered. This stands in complete contrast to the two major factions on the main land; The warring pygmy tribes of the Baranas and the Djaka; These are rich areas, with multiple fucked up NPCs; The avaricious and degenerate pygmy chief, the secretly possessed sailor, the lustful hag queen of the swamp pygmies, the mistrustful shaman who can cast divinations by talking with the shrunken skulls of his ancestors. Both areas are fully statted out, meaning the PCs can enter them either to negotiate, fight a hasty incursion, attempt to break in and rob the place, or whatever else they can conceive. It is wonderful! I love it! The swamp pygmy guards communicate with fake bird calls (!) and defend their swamp village with poison blow guns and by throwing buckets of crabs (!). Certified fucking bangers!
Magic in Lands of the Silver Lotus is the proper kind. Dark and cryptic. THRILL as you explore the lost shrine of Yibboth. There are TWO areas where you can perform hideous blood sacrifice in order to awaken slumbering daemoniac powers. Free the petrified Daughters of Yibboth (and possibly exploit the enmities between their two leaders)! Perform unhallowed rites in an antediluvian circle of standing stones, marked with glyphs. Fucking with dark magic is dangerous. Learn of a way to destroy the Sorcerer Kwalu the Rainbow Stealer by spending a night in the embraces of the Hag Queen Y’xatu. You arrive at the Temple of the Death Cult and the priesthood appears human by day. Huecuva. You get inducted in the rites and then they attempt to throw you in the fucking river. That’s all that’s needed. Your imagination. There’s even a nasty trick where some of them are actually Wights, not Huecuva.
Treasure is fine for a game that mostly eschews gold for xp. Again a modicum of description, an elegant simplicity, preserves the more primal feel of S&S where reading the words +3 screaming defending spiked chain would have had me projectile vomiting it is elegant, bronze weapons with occasional +1 pr +2 enchantments, bronze bowls, serpent shaped armbands, stone lion statues, amphorae of olive oil, jars of incense! Fine work. Who do I have to kill to get a ASSH conversion, or actually, nevermind, it would be TRIVIALLY EASY to convert this. The one unique aspect is the set of rainbow stones, the 7 of which are some sort of corruptive artifact which probably could have used an ego score, but as written it is fine work. The substance and feel of the adventure takes precedence over the obvious candy. Also a note, that much of this treasure is even hidden, or you have a chance to miss it.
I imagine balancing CR in a tweaked pathfinder version would be tricky to do, but if anything gives me motivation to try, it’s shit like this. A fine, FINE, adventure, possibly ending with a hell of a smackdown with an undead sorcerer called Kwalu the Rainbow-Stealer, open-ended, lethal if you did not gather particular knowledge, with deadly traps (properly placed), natural obstacles, fights with giant insects, cannibal pygmy savages, evil sorcerers and hideous monsters. You can BARELY tell it’s Pathfinder, the best kind of Pathfinder.
I have two other entries like this one. My coffers floweth over. Recommended even if reading Pathfinder makes you throw up. Could (and maybe should) EASILY be an OSR module. Just needs a random encounter frequency, Reaction Rolls, Morale and Gold for XP. Check out here.
Minor Edit: Lest I be accused of slacking off, there is a minor point to bitch about; most of the maps are without scale, which is of minor annoyance, especially in a fairly precise point like Pathfinder. This is by no means a dealbreaker.
 Lacking a frequency, which is a pity