Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/20/tabletop-review-shadows-of-esteren-the-monastery-of-tuath/
The Monastery of Tuath is the fourth release for the critically-acclaimed Shadows of Esteren series. Each of the four Kickstarters has been more successful than the last, with The Monastery of Tuath bringing in 1,053 backers and raising $137,000. Not bad for a fifty page supplement and adventure combination, eh? Well, it deserves it. You might remember that back in 2012 I wrote glowing reviews of Book 1: Universe and Book 0: Prologue. The series would go on to win three awards in the 2012 Tabletop Gaming Awards like Best Art, Best New Game and Best Core Rulebook. 2013 only saw a single release for Shadows of Esteren – Book 2 Travels. While I personally wasn’t impressed with the content of this book, especially not compared to the high quality of the first two releases, the art was still some of the best we’ve seen in years, and the release easily picked up our Best Art award in the 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. Now here we are with the first SoE release of 2014, and I’m happy to say that The Monastery of Tuath is a return to greatness for the series and well worth picking up even if you never plan to use the adventure or location it contains.
The Monastery of Tuath is comprised of two sections: a supplement describing the location, the history and the background of the Monastery, and then an adventure that runs twenty some pages. The adventure is heavily influenced by In the Name of the Rose, which has also spawned a film starring Sean Connery and a poorly done video game rip off, Murder in the Abbey. Of course, the adventure isn’t a straight homage. It has its own unique Shadows of Esteren twist, involving magic, monsters and curses. At its core, though, the adventure is very much a whodunit style murder mystery with false finishes and a Rogues’ Gallery that will keep players busy for quite some time.
The first half of the book will see the most use, as it gives a lot of information not just on Tuath’s monastery, but monastic life in general for the Shadows of Esteren setting. The prologue is a two page piece of fiction depicting how this particular monastery came to be, along with the origins of its particular saint. You will also see how the number six pervades everything in the religion of the One. Six prayers, six notions, six vows and so on. It’s an interesting mix of Masonic and Christian homages. The six vows especially provide some great role-playing opportunities for any character who is a servant of the One. If you’re looking to play one of Soustraine’s adepts, you’ll definitely want to pick up The Monastery of Tuath for all the content and potential story seeds you and your GM will find in it.
I absolutely loved the section entitled “Monasteries of the One,” as it gives you an amazing amount of detail on monastic life within the game. In fact, it’s so well done, other low fantasy games could easily pick this up and use the content provided with only a little bit of modification. There’s so much info about daily life, chores, potential health and income issues that come with such a secluded life, and of course – church politics.
The first half of the book concludes with information about the specific monastery the book is named after – providing a small map, a detailed look at each room (21 in all) within the monastery, and a set of thirteen NPCs that currently reside within. I was really impressed by all aspects of the piece. The art and content were top notch and the topic is one that most games really don’t give you an in-depth look at. Generally, monks in tabletop RPGs tend to be more of the eastern variant, and getting over two dozen pages on the classical western version made for a very fun and interesting read.
Then there is the adventure. Although Book 0: Prologue gave us a set of really nice adventures, the one within The Monastery of Tuath is the best so far. If this is any indication of how the upcoming Ghost Stories adventure collection will be, I think Shadows of Esteren will be up for a few more awards this year as well.
The adventure is entitled “Vengeful Words,” and the piece says it should take you five hours or more to complete. The adventure contains three acts, each of which is comprised of multiple scenes, so the adventure could run a lot longer depending on how intricate investigations get or if your players are more used to hack and slash style gaming rather than adventures where success lies with wits over die rolls. “Vengeful Words” focuses on a murder mystery that takes place within the grounds of the monastery. At first it appears to be straight forward, but it is anything but. Sure, you have corrupt religious officials and a nebulous big bad who doesn’t actually make an appearance in the adventure itself (there are allusions to him though), but it’s got all the makings of a great horror story as well as a whodunit. You have a cursed book and vengeance from beyond the grave, and it’s definitely an adventure that will keep players entertained from beginning to end.
Besides the playing of the adventure, I also have to comment on how well laid out the piece is as well. While the Shadowrun Missions format of adventures is by far the gold standard in the industry right now for ease of use and flow, the SoE adventure layout is a close second indeed. There are little icons to help clue a GM in to certain things that will/should happen when they appear in the text. These include the Gore, Supernatural, Suspense and Psychology tags, along with cues for music or text in red that highlight the most important aspects of the adventure. “Vengeful Words” is just really well done in all respects, and even if you have no plans to play the adventure, it’s still a lot of fun to read through as well as to see how SoE adventures are laid out, allowing even inexperienced GMs to run them smoothly.
All in all, The Monastery of Tuath is a terrific piece and one well worth picking up. Although it is only fifty pages long, your money might be better spent picking this up as a PDF rather than in physical form, as this is a short supplement rather than a full sourcebook or core rulebook. Regardless what version you pick up though, The Monastery of Tuath is terrific and a fantastic addition to an already awesome RPG line. If you’ve missed out on the previous Shadows of Esteren releases, this might be the time to jump in and see what you’ve been missing.