Hello, everyone! It’s been a long while since I’ve written a review, but I received a copy of Storm Bunny Studios’ recent release, Trade War, an adventure path for Mists of Akuma, for review. Kickstarted along with Imperial Matchmaker in September of 2018, Trade War ties the existing six Mists of Akuma adventures into a single overarching narrative, spanning from levels 3 to 12, culminating in a final battle to defeat the Pale Master, a centuries-old necromancer, at Hone-Noroi Keep, freed by the return of the eponymous Mists of Akuma.
Like other titles I’ve reviewed by the author, the first thing you’ll notice is the sheer volume of Trade War. Clocking in at 375 pages, it dwarfs published 1st-party adventures, so you’ll undoubtedly get a lot of game content to digest. Trade War blends the dark visual style unique to Mists of Akuma with a mix of new art and period ukiyo-e pieces. Unlike Mists of Akuma, Trade War is not quite as careful with its page spreads; sometimes a given spread will contain clashing visuals, an unfortunate consequence of using period pieces without a means of replicating the style.
There are a few editing gaffes which will sometimes affect your experience of the book – some textual descriptions of combat encounters list game terms inconsistently, such as combat encounters referring to “half a dozen” monsters in one sentence, and 14 in the next.
The six adventures within the path are arranged into a traditional three-act structure, with sandwiched “connection” chapters meant to bridge them – monsters’ stat blocks are rounded up at the end of each chapter to keep them close to relevant portions. It may be stylistic nitpicking on my part, but my personal preference would be to go ahead and position stat blocks exactly where they’d come up in gameplay to try and minimize page flipping for storytellers running their game directly out of the book.
A Continental Adventure
Trade War will take your players to the extreme ends of the continent of Soburin, giving them a broad view of the Mists of Akuma setting. Players will have the opportunity to explore small niches within prefectures employing all three approaches to coping with the Mists and everyday life, from magically and martially protected prefectures to ones with a more scientific inclination(despite its controversial views in the setting). When running these adventures, you may want to consider alternative ways to introduce your players to situations – each adventure(barring the finale) begins with the players being beseeched, coerced, or hired by a bengoshi NPC to perform a given task, which can feel incredibly stale after the second or third occurrence. You can mitigate this using the connection adventures to blend the distinct chapters less jarringly, but stubborn players will likely be conditioned to assume that if a bengoshi is anywhere near them, they are certain to be on a short leash from the main adventure. With some careful consideration of your party’s makeup and origins, you may find it easier to adapt and tailor compelling hooks to your players’ characters on the fly, offering a carrot when the campaign suggests a stick.
Cartography and Tactical Maps
One of the more problematic parts of the adventure path is the quality of the tactical maps provided. None of the maps have a scale(by design), meaning that you’ll have to use your best judgment to assess the sizes of towns or areas of a tactical map. These maps are not consistently gridded, and when they are, the grid becomes a nuisance rather than an aid. For example, in Robai Shita Basement, none of the map’s features align to the provided grid, nor does the map warrant a grid, considering that there are no tactically-involved encounters for the players to experience. Several of the book’s maps would benefit from no grid altogether since they are intended as a reference for a storyteller to have an understanding of the locales being explored. Furthermore, the contrast on several maps lacks the depth to communicate negative space. The maps probably would be better served at a much smaller scale in a minimalist style, saving space and design time.
The big takeaway from this adventure path review is that your mileage may vary, and I feel you’ll get a little more content out of this than you would for Deep Magic: Rune Magic, as the adventures will last you for a decent amount of time with much less homework to incorporate them into your games than Rune Magic. The land of Soburin makes for an incredibly rich backdrop for your campaigns, focusing on themes of tradition versus innovation and intriguing characters to meet. However, the overall thread of the narrative feels slightly disjointed as a result of combining the six adventures, which I think stand better as isolated adventures (and honestly, some of the connection segments felt more compelling to me as a storyteller than the adventures around them). If you’re a fan of the setting and are confident you’ll use all six of the adventures(plus the connections, side-quests, and the finale), then Trade War is a good buy, but if you’d rather have your players explore Soburin on your terms, you’ll likely get more mileage from buying the adventures a la carte.
The adventure path is available in both PDF and a hardcover color book via DriveThruRPG. As a PDF, Trade War will run you $20. Due to how large the book actually is, its price in print is about $45 USD(before shipping). In terms of utility for your money, I think this adventure path is one that you’ll find a better deal at the $20 PDF level, provided you’re comfortable with using a digital copy at your table.
Reviewer’s Note: Mike Myler, the adventure path’s author, generously provided me a copy of Trade War for this review.