Our friends at GearGames sent us an evaluating copy of their brand new adventure The Shadow of the Squid, obviously created for their acclaimed steampunk RPG Vulcania. If you don’t know it (so bad!), you can get an idea by reading our review.
The Shadow of the Squid is the second chapter of the Xhuul Saga, started with The Usual Suspect, the introductory adventure contained in the corebook of Vulcania. And we’re ready to bet it’s not the last episode.
A first overview
The product is a fifty-page PDF that contains the same quality and layout already found in the Vulcania manual. Illustrations are of high quality and have the already known color palette that attracts me like a comic book.
The paragraphs are easy to read, the layout is clear and well structured. As in the previous adventure, The Shadow of the Squid also has parts called “If the chatacter…” to help the storytellers navigate the multiple plot developments without getting lost by browsing pages.
Steampunk is more than simple smoke!
All right, the product has been properly packaged, but what the masters and players are looking for is the substance, the adventure, the pathos. It is always difficult to review an adventure, not wanting to spoil the surprise to potential players. I will try to give you an overview.
Since the Vulcania manual containing the previous adventure is required to play The Shadow of the Squid, it is almost certain that the latter was played. Similarly, this review also has to take it into consideration.
The Usual Suspect is an excellent adventure which, while forcing the master a bit towards railroading, does his job very well. On the other hand, since it is an introductory adventure, it must almost necessarily follow a linear development. But the setting and mood are truly effective and the result is more than good.
It should be noted with great pleasure that the prologue for the narrator occupies 5 of the 30 pages of the adventure, describing an interesting starting point, which in fact is the fulcrum on which the whole saga evolves.
The Usual Suspect was a pleasant read, with intriguing and classic (in the most positive sense of the term) scenes: if certain clichés of adventure have worked for decades, there must be a reason and experiencing them in the adrenaline-filled world of Vulcania is a roleplaying experience to try. I was hoping that the sequel was of the same level, I am happy that it’s even better.
The Shadow of the Squid in detalis
The Shadow of the Squid takes the Xhuul Saga to another level. Now that some of the cards have been unveiled and the plot mechanisms have begun to spin, the authors have further raised the quality level. The adventure is truly built to make Vulcania‘s strengths run at full speed. Rhythm, tension, cinematic scenes and scenarios that make the linearity of the plot appreciable because they are part of an excellent story that continues to open up to ever greater possibilities.
The adventure is well written, the tone is colloquial and modern, almost giving the impression of a chat between the authors and the future master. Language and names are always light-hearted and funny. This time you will hear about Ghiger (R.I.P., genius!), Robb N’Huud and Guillermo Telles, just to name a few. There is more than one tool provided to keep the pace up and the players glued to the chairs.
The story, although linear, actually gives great freedom to the players’ approach, granting a freedom that I didn’t think would have been possible after reading the epilogue of the previous adventure; but above all it lays the foundations for a potentially even more interesting third chapter. I am eager to find out if GearGames will surprise me again and raise the quality level with the next adventure. Because there MUST be an upcoming next adventure!
My final considerations about The Shadow of the Squid
Let’s assume that Vulcania is a great game, with a fresh and manageable system and an eclectic world to be discovered. Setting a saga in it is potentially very simple, but the risk of trivializing is high.
The authors instead demonstrated two things. First is that they have the experience and talent to take classic elements and reproduce them very well. The second is that they enjoy doing it. While reading the adventure, the feeling of pure fun was transmitted to me.
It doesn’t have to scare, but this isn’t really an easy experience for a novice master. Some details are not written and ready to be used. There are narrative sequences and moments of tension that must be managed and communicated adequately to the players if a correct mood is desired. For less experienced masters it could be an excellent test bench to try managing these dynamics, because the whole contour is of an excellent level and therefore would surely help to improve. Even storytellers need to experience!
In my opinion, those who bought the Vulcania basic manual should strongly consider the idea of buying The Shadow of the Squid, if they are not already experiencing a completely different campaign in this world. Or if they are not under the effects of toxic gases of Abarabazem. Now there is a more substantial adventure to follow up on the introductory one and to open scenarios for an epic campaign. All that remains is to decide when start playing!