Any of you still remember Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved? Well, this adventure, while originally written for Arcana Evolved should be considered compulsory reading for DMs planning to do their very own AP. Why? Let's take a look!
This pdf is 46 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 42 pages of content, so let's check this one out!
I've been wanting to review this module and its sequel for quite some time now and I finally felt like it was not only an option, but something I had to do now. So what exactly is the "Rituals of Choice"-AP? Essentially, it is Rite Publishing's patronage-based AP set in Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved setting of the Diamond Throne. If you happen to not be familiar with this d20-variant and its peculiarities: The Diamond Throne-setting is unconventional fantasy to say the least. The lands of the Diamond Throne feature not only different base-classes, but also little fey-like PC-races, lion-humanoids and genderless, immortal reptilian creatures that can be considered the heirs of the dragons. Moreover, the setting emphasizes personal choice over predestination and mortal heroics over plans of strange entities. Furthermore, the setting is one of grey morality, featuring no clear-cut good-evil distinction and no alignment per se and several unique ideas, like the Akashic's, individuals that can tap into the collective unconsciousness of the world and thus unearth information about magic items, individuals etc.. It should also be noted that AE's basic ideas have probably featured at least somewhat prominently in the development of Pathfinder and, admittedly, while I loved many of the rules, I never really got into the Diamond Throne-setting.
When I got my hands on this module, though, things changed, but now that the intro is out of the way, I'm going to delve into
SPOILER-territory. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right! Before the Pathfinder-APs did so, this adventure starts with integrated reasons for the PCs to adventure. These reasons can be considered a kind of combined hook/early trait-system, but is based on the whole group! And then, right off the bat, you'll realize why this adventure gets my attention: The very first scene. On a balcony of glass, a female Verrik (a magical/psionic race with a terrible racial curse) is unleashing deadly magical powers on a golden jackal and the PCs, while muttering excuses for her behavior. The Verrik witch vastly outclasses the PCs, but they may yet prevail...and arise from the strange dream - an epic battle as a great in medias res introduction to the central figure of this first adventure:
Immensely talented, Zewthra's powers killed once a Litorian and in order to not hurt anyone with her gifts, she chose to seal her powers. This act, though, combined with the Verrik's racial curse, has led to a severe case of Autism on behalf of Zewthra. Her father, the aristocrat Vethkar, is unfortunately old and dying and his daughters latent powers have gathered the PCs here, in the town of Far-rough at the edge of the floating forest. The old man is concerned about Zewthra and wants her escorted to a mystic side called Tesham's Landing to perform a ritual. It is also here, that a peculiar magical item is introduced, which enables non-akashics to delve into the collective unconscious and gather information if such a class is absent from the group.
If the PCs concede with the escort mission, they will embark as soon as possible. On the way, though, a downpour will have them stranded on a floating island and there, spined grapplers will make for the first danger to avert and the first choice, for the creatures have laid eggs - the destruction or preservation of these unborn a symbolic foreshadowing of the choices to come. More interesting, extensive information on the ritualistic behavior that allows Zewthra to function and is necessary for her is detailed extensively.
Things start to become rather grim soon afterwards - the group is attacked by Staj, eye-extracting predators and might also make for the death of Vethkar - the man will not see the end of the journey after losing two eyes and Zewthra will also be mutilated, but not overtly concerned by it.
And then there's The Kallethan - 6 undead dragons bound into one human skeleton, one of the most powerful entities in existence (CR 28) - and it is helpless at the PC's mercy. It can be captured via magical shackles. It can be left to its fate. It can be healed. And the PC's action will have very significant consequences in the things to come.
The PCs seem to have stumbled into historical events and indeed, even the centaur and his mojh travel companion they meet (the former taking a fancy to Zewthra) and their interactions will have repercussions - though not ones as significant as the encounter with Amoncirith, the messianic son of god among dragonkind and his guardsmen.
And then, there's the first encounter with a rune-animal Deinonychus named Solange, which will feature more prominently in the second module - whether the PCs manage to save the dinosaur's noblewoman prey or not - consequences again are sure to surface along the line.
In the Mire of lost souls, a will-o'-wisp, unable to communicate wants the PCs to find its body and bury it, which might provide to lead them into conflict with the local muckdwellers and then, finally, the PCs reach the leafless wood, where Witchravens misunderstanding the situation, might attack the PCs and the ritual will commence - if the PCs manage to coax her into performing it. Said ritual comes with full in-game information and seems to make for an interesting climax, as aforementioned centaur returns with allies to make Zewthra part of his harem. If successful, all witching sites will be linked and Zewthra cured of her autism and the PCs will just have inherited Vethkar's mansion and put in my motion a chain of events that will resonate throughout all of creation.
The pdf also provides appendices with suggested secret magic items - a total of 9 are included and each item gets 10 pieces of information for purpose of akashic loresight - very nice! The appendices also include the new Kismet witch and the cursed spirit creature template.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a BEAUTIFUL 2-column, full-color standard and the pieces of full-color, original artwork are awesome! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and 5 (!!!!) labeled and unlabeled maps by Jonathan Roberts, which are not only included in the pdf, but also in special high-res packs. Oh, and they, even among Jonathan's excellent oeuvre, belong to his best pieces in my humble opinion.
On the surface, this module feels like a rather straight escort-mission, an overland journey, but, and I don't say that lightly, "A Witches Choice" is probably as close to art as an adventure can be. Unobtrusive symbolism, foreshadowing, helpful designer's notes and a caring, sympathetic and mature take on autism and the freedom of choice as well as the philosophic questions raised by a shades of grey-mentality conspire to create not only a great module, but a unique experience. And then, there's the immediate sense of epicness pervading the whole storyline. While at this moment, it is not sure whether we'll see the whole AP completed, I do think that most PFRPG-DMs can use this module and scavenge parts. While straight conversion might provide difficult due to the peculiarities of both the setting and the classes, I maintain that there's an easy way to utilize the material even in a PFRPG -game: Make this whole module a kind of dream, or even just scavenge some parts. hell, I'm convinced that a GM who checks this out can learn quite a bit about effective foreshadowing and adventure-crafting. And there are the stellar maps. This module makes me realize once again how much I crave more adventures of this top-notch quality penned by Steven D. Russell, who has created a thoroughly original, awesome adventure oozing passion. My final verdict will be 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval.