Tabletop Review: The World of Fatherail: The Shadow’s Dungeon (Pathfinder)

The World of Fatherail: The Shadow’s Dungeon (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Zombie Orpheus Entertainment/Dead Gentlemen Productions
Cost: Free to backers of $50 or more (PDF)/Free to backers of $100 or more (Physical)
Page Count: 40
Release Date: 03/02/2014 (PDF)/TBD (Physical Copies)
Get it Here: Kickstarter Backer Exclusive (For now?)

The Shadow’s Dungeon is a Kickstarter exclusive reward to people who backed the movie: Gamers 3: Hands of Fate. With over 4,300 backers, that’s a lot of PDFs and/or softcover adventures to dispense. This is actually the third adventure released for the “World of Fatherall,” which The Gamers movies apparently take place in. The first was The Mask of Death for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, published by Goodman Games. I’ve personally never seen a copy and it’s quite expensive and rare. The second is also The Mask of Death, but this version was rewritten from the ground up and was made specifically for Pathfinder. The second Mask of Death adventure was also a successful Kickstarter campaign. I reviewed that version back in August of 2012 and I found it to be a lot of fun as well as a nice homage to the film, Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about The Shadow’s Dungeon as it’s basically a collection of all my gaming pet peeves wrapped up into a single adventure. Now whether or not this could have been prevented by giving The Shadow’s Dungeon to the same team that did The Mask of Death or if this adventure was doomed to be terrible from the beginning is a question that will never have a answer, so instead, let’s just focus on the content at hand and why I found it to be pretty terrible.

First up, The Shadow’s Dungeon is for 7th level characters. However, The Mask of Death was for Level 9 characters. As this adventure is meant to be after The Mask of Death and, if you follow the movies, played with the same characters, then the adventure should be for higher level characters, not lower level ones. On this same line, The Mask of Death contained stats for the characters from The Gamers movies, where this doesn’t. That was another strange decision and big disappointment. Third, this adventure was nothing but a very generic, run of the mill dungeon crawl. There’s an attempt to flesh out the world by having some modern day technological aspects bleed in, but it comes off like a third rate Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Fourth, the adventure repeatedly makes references to other Pathfinder books that you will need besides the core three rulebooks instead of providing full stats for antagonists and monsters here. This means to actually play the adventure you’ll need to spend a lot of money. It’s bad enough that Paizo tends to be the most overpriced game right now, but from The Shadow’s Dungeon you’ll need the three core rulebooks, which in and of itself is quite expensive. THEN you’ll need Bestiary 2, Bestiary 3, Bestiary 4 and the NPC Codex. That’s a total of SEVEN books just to run a single adventure. That’s uncool by so many standards. It’s okay to reprint stat blocks for Pathfinder, so why be that lazy? Fifth, there’s the big problem that the adventure isn’t funny at all. It lacks all the laugh out loud moments and trademark wit that we see in Zombie Orpheus Entertainment and Dead Gentlemen Productions products. This thing is dull, lifeless and boring. None of us found it to be amusing or even fun in the slightest. It was just painfully generic aside from a few trappings, and even then, you wouldn’t realize this was a Gamers product from those pieces. In fact, if you removed the Gamers art or pictures from the film, the only inkling that this was related to the Gamers world would be the references to and the appearance of The Shadow.

Which brings the adventure to the absolute worst part of the piece. The adventure is simply one players can’t win. It’s designed in such a way that the bad guy wins with no chance of the players winning. That right there is terrible in both design and idea. You should never make an adventure where the core idea revolves around the players losing horribly and then the printed content…just tapers off with no true resolution. It gets even worse when you realize that The Shadow is far outside what would be possible by actual Pathfinder stat building, which means this adventure isn’t just DM Vs. Players (always a major red flag of bad adventures, DMs and writers) but it’s Publisher Vs. Players which honestly, is as bad as things can get.

Now if the adventure just let your 7th level characters fight the Shadow properly, it would be one thing, but the adventure is designed to be a slaughter and not just of the characters, but the players themselves. What happens is that on The Shadow’s first turn, the PCs are transposed with the actual players themselves. Each player is then given a character sheet based on themselves with NPC classes and stats (ranging between 8 and 13) who have no weapons, armor or magic…and then have to do battle with a Level 15 Character with Mythic stats and abilities who WILL wipe them out almost instantly. That’s the adventure. I honestly can’t think of a more terrible gaming experience. Really? The DM has the main antagonist kill the PLAYERS? That’s a little too Mazes & Monsters or Dark Dungeons for me. There’s no humor or fun in that. One player we did this said that whoever came up with the idea for this adventure was either sociopathic or just a complete dick. None of us found anything fun or amusing in the climax and considering we ALL loved The Mask of Death, you have to wonder what the disconnect was between the two and how ZOE/DGP actually approved of this going to print in the shape it was in.

The adventure tries to salvage things with an equally terrible idea of the characters are now trapped in the real world. Not only is that a bit cliché, but again, it’s not very fun. Yes, let’s have a Lizardman warrior or a dwarven cleric trapped in our world, where they would be killed rather quickly by our superior technology. Again, you have to wonder who thought this was a good idea or even remotely amusing. It’s so far off the mark from previous products by these companies that I can only assume the people who count weren’t paying attention to this release at all. Honestly, this is one of the worst Pathfinder adventures I’ve ever read and it’s definitely the frontrunner for the worst adventure I’ve had to review this year. This thing is that much of a train wreck. It’s so bad that I feel like I should be asking for my money back even though it was free. God knows when my physical copy is made available, it’s going right up on Ebay because I’d be embarrassed to have this in my physical gaming collection.

So yes, The Shadow’s Dungeon completely misses the mark in every way possible. It’s an extremely dull and generic dungeon crawl, it’s not fun in the slightest, it’s not funny at all (which you have to expect going into a Gamers themed product), it tries to be either cute or completely dickish by placing characters in a situation where they absolutely cannot win and gets extremely creepy with the resolution of things. The Shadow’s Dungeon is not only a prime example of how NOT to write a Pathfinder adventure (or any gaming adventure, really), but also how to reinforce all the negative stereotypes and tropes about the system in one fell swoop. I’m sure there will be someone out there that thinks this thing is blast or will vehemently defend it simply because they are zealously loyal to the branding attached to this, but I honestly can’t think of anything positive to say about this adventure – I found it to be THAT terrible. Thank Cthulhu it’s not available to the general public, that’s all I can say.

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