Saving Sujeira’s Soul Critique/Review

Saving Sujiera’s Soul is a 15-page adventure by Ben Gibson. It’s written for pathfinder with notes on conversion to OSR systems (it’s unclear which one) and 5e. This is a disappointing adventure, as all of the component parts are excellent, but the arrangement presents issues. There are powerful and imaginative scenes but poor adventure design. The adventure is intriguing, nonetheless, as it exists at the line between generic and flavorful which I find inspires ideas without making massive setting assumptions.

This is a linear adventure consisting of an initial hook, three adventure locations, and a predetermined finale. Unfortunately, the adventure locations and factions lack flexible relations to each other and the adventure pulls some bullshit about “maybe the players won’t end up accessing the finale, who knows, players are crazy, right?” There’s nothing wrong with a linear adventure, though I believe that they are usually more difficult to design well than a sandbox. Writing out decision points/nodes helps to make the structure of the adventure clear. The Alexandrian has an explanation of this here.

The adventure begins with the players being hired to investigate the disappearance of Lucia, a local herbalist/witch impersonator. Unfortunately, she’s been kidnapped by a disgruntled patient and actual witch, Catia. The questgiver is the priest of Sujiera, Olavo. He offers gold and if the party isn’t interested, he begs. Other hooks are offered but not well supported. It’s a questgiver paying the party to adventure, which is lame, but whatever. The real adventure is finding the three parts of a sacred relic, putting them together, and accidentally releasing Catia’s demon patroness who steals the souls of the townsfolk, forcing the party to travel into limbo and defeat her. I am so down for that premise, it’s the tits. The only issue is that the adventure reveals rescuing Lucia to be a McGuffin instantly and crudely.

When the party meets Olavo, he’s being harassed by a mercenary, Goncalo, who has a name but no personality or motivation beyond being a mercenary. He’s tearing up the church to find a piece of the relic for a nearby alchemist. For some reason, the adventure assumes that the party leaves to investigate the disappearance of Lucia.

Here’s where the problems begin. Solid linear design interrogates the adventure to find decision points and accounts for how the adventure can reasonably continue regardless of the players’ decisions. This doesn’t mean that the adventure continues in one specific direction, just that it can continue at all. While reading the module, I can see exactly what decisions the playtest party took because there’s little support for other directions. What if the players join the mercenary? Sorry, we don’t actually know why the alchemist is searching for the relic. What if the party detains or kills the mercenary? Instead, the party must leave to investigate Lucia’s hut. The investigation is decently written, I’d like more detail but considering how crammed everything is on the page that might be impossible.

Assuming the party interacts correctly with Goncalo, he returns with men to tear apart the church until he finds the artifact hidden within. He has a noose around the priest’s neck and pushes him off a ledge when the party enters, which is cool and adds a time pressure to the fight. But here we don’t get any tactics or flavor. Does Goncalo flee when his men are killed? Does he hate priests? This is all left to the DM. We could have had something interesting, like a german mercenary who despises the papists and screams at his men that the finger of St. Paul, which he seized from the sack of Rome, will protect them. Maybe he sets fire to the church on his way out after his men are killed and returns with greater numbers to sift through the rubble for the relic in a few days. Instead, we have a miniboss and some mooks. Once the party kills him (there’s no other real decision), they can either use the clues they’ve found to search the nearby swamp for Lucia or track down the alchemist at an old nearby tower.

From here the adventure consists of three locations, each with a piece of the relic. There’s the town of Sujiera, but why would you return to a “cleared” area, a swamp which houses Lucia’s body, and an alchemist’s tower, where the mercenaries originate. There’s little to no motivation provided to anybody in the adventure. The villagers stare slack-jawed into the sky until the party returns and are irrelevant after the introduction. The alchemist searches for the relic for… reasons? Catia sacrificed Lucia’s soul to her patron and hides in a tree near the portal to Limbo. As inanimate as her hiding spot, she waits for the party to show up so that she can fight them. There are issues with the areas, mostly a lack of required information due to the writer struggling to include information in a two-page spread.

Once the three pieces of the relic are gathered from the tower, swamp, and town the pieces become a magic item that opens a doorway to limbo and releases the demon there. As written, there’s little possibility of anyone other than the players doing this but also little motivation. If this doesn’t happen, Lucia is rescued but remains a vegetable since her soul is stuck in limbo. Faced with this ending and defeating a demon, I think most DMs would be tempted to railroad.

However, this adventure lends itself well to faction play. Each area has multiple groups which can be given agency and goals. This means that the groups and NPCs can have dynamic interactions with the party and can continue after an NPC is killed (as written it’s unclear why the mercenaries still do stuff after the alchemist dies or how the adventure can continue if Catia is killed early). The adventure will still be somewhat linear as the relic must be assembled, but if each group has some interest in the relic (either proactive or reacting to another group) then it’s much easier to make this happen. Once the demon rises up, whether the party decides to ally or defeat her is fairly easy to anticipate and prep for.

The factions in the adventure already have asymmetric abilities, meaning that with some motivation and description, fun shenanigans are likely to occur. With some depth added to the NPCs and the game design problems fixed, you have a flavorful not!portugal adventure with an emphasis on folk tales and Catholicism. Everything is well characterized and has tons of atmosphere. With a bit of a rewrite, this would be a fine adventure. Check it out if you aren’t afraid of making some slight changes, adding detail, and are willing to parse through the dense layout.

 

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