Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – Review Part 2

An RPG Module Review

Module NameThe Secrets of Shirakawa Castle

AuthorsRCG Harlow/Rosemary CG (Same person. First link goes to her stuff on DM’s Guild, second link goes to her twitter.)

System/Character Level – DND 5E for 4-6 Level 4 players

Price – $4 (We were given a review copy for free.)

Well, there was a three week gap between this and our part one review, which is… sub-optimal. But life happens, things go on, and most importantly, we did finish the adventure!

If you want to read the first part of the review, you can find it here.

If you want to read our DM’s thoughts on running the module, you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Two brief notes before we really dive into this article.

This article will contain spoilers for the module. We’re reviewing it, and we can’t review it without talking about the content. Which means spoilers. You have been warned.

There’s also one part of the module that’s not quite fair for me to review. I’ll go into why later, but to put it simply things went a bit off the rails as the end. Who’d have thunk?

Overall, my opinion on Shirakawa remains more or less the same as it did part one: it’s a strong module where the NPC’s are written well, and it has a bunch of interesting monsters that are outside of the traditional fare of role-playing games.

The module’s primary weakness is that it gets a bit linear near the very end. It also feels like most of the combat gets a little less brutal as things go on.

I say ‘most of the combat,’ because my players didn’t actually do the final fight. They mostly just surrendered to become slaves/concubines of the big bad. So yeah, guys, I love you, but god damnit. I even made custom tokens for the fight and everything. And then you all just surrendered into slavery to quasi-immortal fox demon in the shape of a women.

Really?

Really guys?

Even after she told you that she EATS PEOPLE? And was going to eat the 13 year she had taken hostage?

This is why I don’t feel super confident assessing the combat: because it’s quite possible that if your players don’t fall head over heels for this fox lady, it’s going to end up being a brutal battle.

I wouldn’t know because mine offered to be her slaves and/or concubines. I think a lot of stories have a hero who falls to the dark side, but I don’t think many of them have heroes who just fall for the dark side.

In either case, everyone enjoyed playing the module. If you have a few bucks to spare, I’d highly suggest picking it up. The ending is well written, as long as your players at least like… try to defeat the final boss, but I wouldn’t know. It does set up another one shot, Return to Shirakawa Castle, where I’m gonna make them face off against their old PC’s.

Other then that, I don’t have too much else to say. I’m gonna close out this article with some uploaded images of the maps I made for some of the fights. Feel free to use them if you end up running the module on your own.

Central Castle Area
River running through small forest with bloody footprints
Large destroyed house in middle of grove, with dead trees above it, and alive trees and a path leading to the house below.

Running Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – DM Thoughts Part 2

We finished Shirakawa Castle! Here’s where I screwed up running the game.

Whoof. Secrets of Shirakawa castle, finally finished. While the module is strong, there are a few places where I feel like I massively screwed up, or could have run things much better. Our actual review is up over here, but lets talk about running the module shall we?

This post will have specifics on running the module, and spoilers. While the other post talks about the module as a whole, this post is just talking about things that I wish I had done differently.

#1. Sei – The Friendly NPC
One of the things I feel like I really suck at the most is having NPC’s with the party, and Sei is a fantastic example of this. Sei’s role in the adventure is to be sorta guide/hint source to the players, while also providing flavor, a bit of lore, and in one situation, combat backup.

However, because I was afraid of using Sei too much, I didn’t actually use them in a single combat encounter, which meant there were multiple encounters where they were just sorta…. standing to the side, and then going “Oh yeah, that thing you just fought. It was a X/Y/Z.” I think that if I wanted Sei to be a more active part of the game, I needed to include them in combat, and to actually have them be a critical part of the team, so that their reveals of their backstory and other such things feel meaningful.

What would I do differently? I think I’d try to have Sei help the party more in certain situations, and decide how they’d react to various things in advance. The players need to care about Sei for some parts of the story to be meaningful, and that means including them in combat. It might even be possible to turn them into a semi-PC if I was to run the module again. I don’t know if this would solve the problem, but I think it might be better.

#2. Managing the NPC’s
Being a social deduction module, Secrets of Shirakawa Castle has quite a few NPC’s, and they’re written quite well, including a very strong list of relationships and such at the back of the module. Each of them has information, secrets, and other such knowledge….

So when I forgot about two of them that was a problem. A big problem, when they’re supposed to be used as a key part of revealing the last bit of the mystery.

Whoops.

What would I do differently?
There are a lot of NPC’s. If I was to run the module again, I’d would make sure to introduce all of them, and for the ones that the players don’t encounter, have them run into them either at the bath house, dinner, or some other point. The players need to meet them. And since there are only a total of seven NPC’s, it wouldn’t be that hard. I’d want to give the players more time to investigate, meet them, and actually get to know them. So when they die, it feels worse.

#3. Running the Module with a Three Week Break

This one wasn’t really my fault, but it was something I failed to consider, and led to some pretty…. rough parts near the end. The module is built on making you care about the NPC’s, and it uses the first half of the module to do this, building up them, their relationships, and their secrets. The last quarter or so is more combat, encounters, and fights, and the weight of those encounters relies on you caring about those who have been murdered.

What would I do differently?
This one is simple. Secrets should be run as either a 6-7 hour one-shot, or if split into parts, the DM needs to find a way to bring the players back, and make them care about the NPC’s again. This might mean improvising or filler, but not using the NPC’s is a big waste of potential of the module.

Final Thoughts – Running Shirakawa well requires the players to buy into the story and the world. As the DM, if you screw up the people, you screw up the module. If I were to run the module again, I would want to focus on the people, their stories, and make sure I don’t miss anyone. Running a game is always a learning experience, and I hope next time I do a better job.

Take care of yourself folks.

Legends of Runeterra does some really cool shit every single other digital card game should copy.

More drafting. Buying Actual Cards. A tool that shows you how things resolve. Now you don’t have to read the rest of the article if you don’t want to.

As a brief disclaimer, I’m a massive fucking Dota fan. It’s my most played game. I watch TI every year, I play almost every other night. I’m one of like 12 people who loved Artifact, and I actually bought a playset of the cards in the game at like…. full price.

I do regret that last thing a little bit.

I mention this because I feel like some people might feel like I’m shilling here, and I’m gonna be honest. The odds of me shilling for Riot Games are abysmal. They are abyssal. I also suspect that the odds of Riot Games ever actually giving me anything ever are lower then the odds of me winning the lottery on the same day that the LHC creates a black hole.

So I don’t really have any special love for League of Legends, Runeterra, or the associated worlds/lore/etc. I only downloaded it because a friend told me that the games equivalent of drafting was way less expensive and you got to actually play it more.

So when I say that every single other digital CCG needs to steal these features, I mean it. I don’t mean “Oh these are cool.” I mean if you’re making a digital card game, just copy these straight over. So lets talk about them shall we?

The Oracle’s Eye

Right to side of the board for Runeterra is a small blue icon that looks like an eyeball. When you mouse over it, it shows you what will happen when the current game state resolves. Resolving in this case means spells on the stack, blocks vs. attacks, player life totals at the end of it, etc.

This is fantastic because it makes it much easier to see if you have lethal/will dodge lethal/board state when effects resolve, etc. And you have to spend a lot less mental time on those things. It’s also great because it makes it much easier as you’re learning the game to double check how mechanics will work and resolve.

Digital Card Games have the ability to really funky and complex, with neat and weird effects. There’s no reason not to take some of the mental load off the players for the boring stuff that the computer will do anyway, and to let them focus on the actual gameplay.

Actually Buy Cards Instead of Glorified Lottery Tickets

I like opening booster packs in the same way I like eating Oreos. Just because I want to do it doesn’t make it good for me. And one of the things that we should probably all just admit is this: booster packs are more or less just gambling.

Video games are at a weird place right now regarding in-app purchasing, whaling, and other bullshit. However, as regards physical games, Magic: The Gathering has been around since 1993, and it’s been selling boosters since then. And let’s be honest. Unless you’re playing a draft format, boosters are more or less just lottery tickets with a booby prize. Anyone who has been playing magic for any given amount of time has probably attended some sort of event where the excess commons and maybe even uncommons have just been left out on a table, or even just hurled into the trash.

There isn’t a real reason to port over the format of booster packs to online digital card games, unless you want to be encouraging those sorts of purchasing patterns. Runeterra does away with all this. While you still unlock and earn cards randomly, if you want to spend real money, you just buy the cards you want.

Maybe they did this out of selfless love for their community. Maybe they did it because Riot is smart enough to see the writing on the wall regarding randomized digital purchases, and is just making a smart long term choice.

I don’t really care why. I just like that if I actually want to buy and play a given deck, I can.

Run Two Drafts, Score Prizes for the Best One

I love drafting. I don’t mind if I get to keep the cards or not, but I do love to play the format on the whole. And one of the big downsides to drafting physical cards is that it’s always gonna cost money. Yes, you can put a cube together, but then you still need to find 7 other people who want to play a cube with you. So in theory, digital CCG’s would be great drafting, except most of them have put their draft mode equivalent behind a paywall.

Runeterra does sorta do this, but perhaps most importantly, each time you buy into a draft, you get to do two runs. You then receive prizes for the best one. In addition, you get to do three runs a week with payout rewards, and after that the drafts are free, letting you practice the mode.

But seriously, the two drafts thing per entry is great. Drafting is one of the few formats in CCG’s in which all cards, yes, all of them will get used. It’s a lot of fun to be able to play cards that might otherwise be too slow, ineffective, or die to removal in other formats. And letting you try twice means if you have a terrible early run, you get a chance at redemption. And if you have a great one, you can choose to use that second run to just mess around and try something riskier then you might otherwise.

That’s all for today, stay safe folks.

Riddled Corpses EX – A Review

Nothing amazing, but a fun shmup with good co-op.

Riddled Corpses Ex is a twin-stick bullet hell game. You wouldn’t know that from looking at the cover, but there’s nothing lewd within the actual gameplay aside from the title screen. This may or may not be a disappointment for you. If you hate anime and its assorted tropes with extreme prejudice, then pass on this game, but I’d say you are missing out.

Yeah, it’s just a shoot-em up. Yeah, I know, the cover doesn’t make me think that either.

In a nutshell Riddled Corpses Ex is a 10 hour long fun, but grindy up to 2 player roguelike bullet hell. There are six gunners to unlock, with different bullet patterns, and a few different mechanics. While it’s a alright solo, if there was something that was going to make it a must buy, it would be the co-op. 

Overall, the game can be broken down into its four main features: sub-par story, great couch co-op, fun gameplay loop, and decent stage design.

So let’s just go through them shall we?

The Story: It Exists. That’s really the best thing you can say about it.

Story-wise, the game is rather corny and predictable in an endearing way. Nothing earth-shattering, nor deep and complex in this game; there are zombies and all you know is that you must kill them. 

My view for most games is that story is the least important factor in enjoying a game. That isn’t to say it can’t be a differentiating factor. Everybody knows Undertale, Earthbound, and Cave Story precisely for their respective narratives that brought a unique fresh take into their genres. But this isn’t any of those. It’s just sorta there.

Couch Co-op – You can also just play with yourself. (Wait a minute.)

Couch co-op is truly where this game shines. and sets it apart from other bullet hell games as you can call out when to use power ups, from dynamite to deal massive damage to all enemies on screen, to time-slow to dodge mobs/projectiles, to a turret for wave clear over time. Saving each other feels clutch and overall provides a more hectic and rewarding experience due to higher clear speed as the game doesn’t seem to implement multiplayer hp scaling so conversely if you want a harder experience just play solo.

Core Gameplay – 3 Modes. Story, Survival, and Arcade.

The core gameplay loop is simple: shoot, loot and get as far as you can. You’ll start by picking one of the three modes.

Story mode allows persistent progress per stage. (So once you beat stage 1 you can start at stage 2 and so on.) Story mode and Arcade mode both include the cut scenes, but you might find it easier to see the whole thing in Story mode.

Survival mode is a non-stop, wave after wave onslaught of monsters. Even if you don’t love the idea of the pure holdout theme, you might end up playing it anyway. I found it was more efficient for grinding gold than playing through the first two stages over and over.

If you want the true roguelike experience, try out Arcade mode. Here, you’ll always start with your character at level one. You’ll scale faster by collecting power ups and leveling up. There’s also an item shop between stages, but you can only buy consumable power ups like the time stop, or dynamite. Also, in true rouge like fashion, you’ll keep none of the gold or levels earned when you finally do die in Arcade.

Regardless of your skill at the genre, you’ll most likely be able to see the whole game with Story mode. Even if you find yourself unable to push through on Arcade, and you can always grind the first two modes if you need to power, which you might find yourself doing because…

Stage Design – New and interesting mechanics are routinely introduced, but a punishing difficulty spike in the end game feels real bad.

As for stage design, the game progresses at an even pace throughout, layering new mechanics on top of each stage, right up until about stage 3. This is where I ran into one of my bigger issues with the game, as everything suddenly felt way faster, and far more lethal.

The first three stages feel like they’re designed to teach you the general gameplay, but the stages after straight up smack you in mouth right out of the gate. I spent about 70% of my time just grinding gold for upgrades to force my way through stage 4.

To be fair the old adage of “Git Gud” is probably true here but the damage check is real. Creative and complex, but it felt like a bummer, especially if you don’t realize that the first few stages are mostly just tutorials.

Overall – It’s solid, but maybe not worth 10$. If you can pick it up on a sale like I did for $5, you’ll get a few hours out of it, and the co-op and other modes should offer some repeatability.

Risk of Rain 2

A roguelike that is a lot of fun, but is mostly just a shooter with random gear if you don’t bring friends.

I was gonna pass on writing about Risk of Rain 2, mostly for two reasons. One was because it has been out for forever. Then I went and checked, and its actually been just a bit over a year.

Huh. 2019 and 2020 have been really long haven’t they?

Then I didn’t have anything I thought was interesting to say. So.

So, some background if you haven’t played. Risk of Rain 2 is a sequel to Risk of Rain except not really. Risk of Rain was a 2D side scrolling game, and Risk of Rain 2 is a 3D third person shooter. Both are rogue likes, but the difference made by third D in 2 is pretty massive. The gameplay loop is something like this: start a game, pick a character, run around for loot while trying to finish the level. If you do finish the level, congrats! Proceed to a new level with more death and loot. When you die, and you will, rinse and repeat, but now you might have unlocked some new stuff.

Now do it again. And again.

One primary advantages that Risk of Rain 2 has over its predecessor is that the net code actually works this time, which makes playing it in multiplayer much easier, and also brings up the big thing I find interesting about the game: I think Risk of Rain 2 is actually a better roguelike in multiplayer than it is in singleplayer.

Here’s why: in singleplayer, there are very few situations where you actually get to make build defining choices. Unlike Immortal Redneck, pretty much every single item you might find or pick up is good. Outside of a few edge case items you get with a special currency that holds over between runs, no item is even a side grade. The worst an item can be is useless. It’s never going to really penalize you.

This matters because in Risk of Rain, the primary thing that is going to kill you is time. As a run progresses, the difficulty of the game ticks up, scaling the damage, health, etc, of bosses. So in order to get the most out of a run, you more or less want to be constantly pushing forward. You don’t really want to spend time farming money or items on a given level, because that will just make things harder in the long run, and the benefit of a single extra item doesn’t outweigh the time it took to get it. Instead, the game plan usually becomes scoping out a few items you can grab quickly, fighting the boss fast, grabbing those items, and charging ahead.

So again, in singleplayer, here’s what will happen: you’ll just grab every single item you can get your hands on. A given item won’t make you worse, so there’s no reason not to.

But in multiplayer, suddenly the builds become important. There are two reasons for this. One is that a fantastic item for one class might be at best mediocre on other. Everyone having a little bit of attack speed might not be as good as one person having a ton. And some items just stack poorly. So now when you open chests, the question being asked is no longer “Should I pick this up?” to which the answer is always “Yes,” it becomes, “Is this item more effective on me, or on my teammates, and if so, should they commit time to coming to grab it?”

I’ll give an example: Bustling Fungus. Bustling Fungus is a fairly straightforward item. When you stand still, after about 2 seconds, a field around you will appear, and will restore health to the source of the field, and any friendly allies standing in it. As a player, standing still will get you pulverized, so Fungus hot trash most of the time.

Unless you play Engineer. The Engineer puts down turrets have two important properties when it comes to Bustling Fungus. First off, the turrets function as if they have copies of all the items the Engineer, and… they never move. So the Engineer with Bustling Fungus suddenly becomes able to place down self healing turrets that also heal allies who just stand near them, even if the ally is running around. Suddenly the Fungus is pretty good.

The second thing is this that the number of items per player in a game of Risk of Rain 2 is mostly linear. So if you’re in a one player game, let’s say you get about 4 total items per level. Well, in a 2 player game, you’ll get about 8 total items per level. And either of the players can pick those up! Before, your build was likely to be pure luck of the draw, but now you can plan with your teammates to put those items where they’ll do the most good. Some like Bustling Fungus are straightforward, and some are more complex, but the increased variety and choices means you have a much bigger pool to try to build out of.

In either case, I think the key takeaway here is as follows: Risk of Rain 2 is pretty great. Steam says I’ve played almost 60 hours of it, so yeah, I like. But perhaps more important, if you do decide to risk those rains, bring some friends. It makes the game much more fun, and makes the building aspect much more strategic.

(Or you could just unlock and use the Artifact of Command, which lets you pick which item you want from a given tier, but I’m not counting that here.)