Shore of Dreams by Florian Emmerich (@PoisonPotPress) & JVCParry (@JVCParry)
This truly is a beautiful looking and beautifully crafted adventure full of stories, some true, some not, but all exciting, entertaining and accessible.
The first thing that crashes upon your like a mighty wave, stealing your breath, is the spectacular cover art by Raluca Marinescu "Pisca Ahlorsath enthralls Rolen Moonbrook, Chung and the Highbarrel siblings. The writers are not responsible for harsh labor conditions or loss of life." What can I say? This is seriously mind blowing art! Marinescu's interior illustrations are captivating and serve as a perfect reflection of the quality of the adventure.
Shore of Dreams
This is a 3-6 hour (depending on elements encountered) adventure for 5th-7th level players, which can link to Princess of the Apocalypse, Tomb of Annihilation, or be used in any hoek setting. Essentially, it can take place anywhere a remote island could be found with advice for amending the adventure setting to the Sword Coast.
Rumours abound of undiscovered pirate booty near the Mistcliff of Chult, unclaimed despite then whispers of the treasures that lay within. A last port of call along the way, the tavern The Shore of Dreams, managed by a most welcoming Triton.
Sadly, the rumours are false and a ruse concocted by the outcast Triton and entrepreneur, Pisca, who seeks to enslave adventurers that stop at her tavern in order to force them to discover an ancient hidden temple and the powerful magic item it houses.
I know I'm on to a winner when the adventure background contains lots of exciting elements that draw that me in right away, rather than waiting for the adventure's story to really get excited, but it's hardly surprising coming from this dynamic duo!
Four tantalising hooks are provided, ranging from following rumours of pirate treasure to searching for lost explorers, stopping off at the tavern on the way back from adventure or heading towards chult and getting caught in a storm.
The village is filled with life, NPCs and a refreshing East Asian influenced aesthetic, conveyed wonderfully by the gorgeous Marinescu artwork. There are a number of places for PCs to explore, which all have ties to the remoteness of the island, the various plot hooks and the plot around the Shore of Dreams tavern. With a little text box and further description, Emmerich and Parry manage to make each location truly feel alive and grounded, with a sense of life before the PCs arrive, rather than seeming load up and come to life for them to interact with.
There's also something fishy going on, and it's not the catch of the day from the coracles, with everything pointing towards the lavish Shore of Dreams...
The Shore of Dreams
A wonderful overview of the tavern is provided, including the description of Pisca's nightly enthralling shamisen performances (brought to vivid life in Marinescu's cover art), as well as the secrets the pantry holds
The dramatis personae are described with encapsulating details.
Pisca is the beautiful and adored "femme fatale" antagonist of this adventure. Described lovingly, as her bearing deserves, in spite of the wicked deeds those who work, worship or are scared of her. Her rumours and lies tie back into the hooks.
Breena "Scorch" Sizzlepork
Where Pisca is cool, Scorch is unsurprisingly hot. A small ball of paranoia that is terrified of her past catching up with them.
Information is provided for this paranoia to play into an optional encounter, which could definitely cause some excitement.
The heart of the tavern and unsure about the operation, especially as her feelings complicate matters, which are the basis for s subplot.
Handsome but deadly. Larisa is the right hand woman and bodyguard of Pisca, infatuated with the cunning and cruelty of the exiled Triton. Ready to take down Murasa's empathic misgivings the old fashioned way - thugs and violence.
Events at the Shore of Dreams
There are a variety of services and events that can occur during the party's stay:
If seeking information and services from Pisca, there is great advice on how to play her and a lot of different snippets of information, rumours and services she can offer are detailed. Not surprisingly, they mostly lies and falsehoods to stoke the PC's interest in the 'treasure' and allay any suspicions about missing adventurers.
If dealing with Pisca, the party can stay for free and there is an opportunity for minor downtime and "mundane activities that can range from small talk, to gambling or helping with fishing and farming."
There is advice that the following events take place, before the PCs set off for the 'treasure', as they are essential to the unfolding story. Leaving a busy tavern isn't exactly a quick and easy thing to do, and it's very easy to get caught up in things beyond your control as they take place in front of the party, so you shouldn't have too much trouble ensuring that. On top of this there's no reason why the party cannot be tempted into staying on the island for a few days to explore and experience the culture, even to just sit back and enjoy the Shore of Dreams ambience.
Thugs and Waitresses
This is an exciting and chaotic event involving kidnappers kicking off in the bar. Who are they? Who do they claim to be? How does that effect certain members of staff? How are they after and who hired them? There's a chance some of this can be learned from survivors, but this is a ridiculous and fun rumble that really could go many different ways. I do love an encounter on which you just need to sit back, see how the players react and the dice lay.
This also potentially introduces another variable into coming events, depending on the actions of the party, which is always fun.
Pisca puts on a special entrancing show on the party's honour. It's a truly distracting spectacle, which along with the night's feast, could put them all in a 'food' coma. There is advice about having the all important Wisdom Save rolled before the game starts so the PCs will be unsuspecting, which is evil and brilliant.
This is another encounter with multiple endings covered with them all converging on the next part of the adventure, it just depends how they arrive there, and whether they do it consciously or not...
The party find themselves waking up in a cell, divested of all but their clothes, and in the company of a fellow adventure whom they have heard of during their time at the Shore of Dreams. They have a variety of information they can provide about their predicament and how they came to be here. There are various ways to attempt escape, before or after they are set to work digging at the Temple.
Temple of the Storm
The temple and its sections are covered in a manner that makes it easy to follow and explain however the party found their way there, as well as how things proceed.
The various aspects of the temple and its grounds pose their own challenges, which are of an interesting variety, including battling a Tempest Beast, which can be found beautifully illustrated beside its stars in the appendix, but I think it's fair to say is a black and purple lightning crocodile!
The Cartography by Dean Spencer (@DeanSpencerArt) is wonderful and depicts the temple in a beautiful thematic manner.
Hall of Olhydra
Once the party makes it into the temple, however they did, the are confronted with a bizarre and wonderfully described room complete with convenient armoury and secret stash. However, there is also a handing DM tip that it could be wise to recommend PCs to return to the village to get all their gear (if they were drugged and captured), as we are heading towards the final encounter and this temple is with some sneaky, puzzling traps and hidden enemies that understand the importance of school uniform. I absolutely love creatures busting out of statues, and if it's because you're not wearing your surfs up blazer then all the better!
There's also a short, but sweetly written note on Olhydra, one of the four Elemental Evil.
This is a huge conch shell of death!
But seriously this has traps on top of traps and spits out the newly created Storm Mepthis! It can be dealt with and negated by a prepared and organised group, but this is some seriously awesome, that could do some serious damage, especially if the party are in their long johns and clutching ancient, barnacles-covered poky sticks. The description of the room and the sudden feeling should give them a heads up though...
This puzzle-opened room contains a wealth of knowledge about the Olhydra's Cult of the Crushing Wave and their history with the island, as well as a nice horde of treasure to keep everyone happy.
A note advises that if you are planning to tie this adventure into Elemental Evil you could include scriptures mentioning the Dessarin Valley among the records. It's also noted that this room contains a blocked off passage that would take a month to clear, and that this is a space for your further adventures, if you wanted to expand on this adventure. Personally, I love touches like this and I'm always eager to take an adventure and add to it.
Concluding the Adventure
This section address all the hooks and elements the players may have discovered and interacted with, whether they came to seek the lost, find treasure, found themselves victims of circumstance and/or worked to stop Pisca's plans...
Pisca, Herald of Olhydra
This section covers the devastating events that occur if Pisca gets to the Crown of Black Pearls before the party, as well as great advice and various options for handling the encounter if the party decide to take her on.
A Harsh Reality
Despite the no doubt heroic end for the party, this adventure deals with the fallout and consequences for the island and its inhabitants, which are varied and realistic. These are refreshing details, especially as so often adventures and adventurers just blow in and blow out without the camera panning to the locals and how they are effected by all the heroic, and often destructive and disastrous adventuring.
The two unique creatures, the Storm Beast, loving brought to terrifying life by Marinescu, and Storm Mephits (you can never have enough Mephits!) are included with description and full statblocks, as are the NPCs: Scorch, Temerity and Pisca's with their unique statblocks.
The unique magic item, the Crown of Black Pearls is included, along with its foreboding and mighty form rendered by Marinescu.
Also included are the beautiful Marinescu art handouts, Spencer’s amazing DM and player maps of the temple and the wonderful TrashMob Minis (@TrashMobMinis) of Pisca, Temerity, Murasa and the Tempest Beast!
This truly is a beautiful looking and beautifully crafted adventure full of stories, some true, some not, but all exciting, entertaining and accessible. Having the scenes, events and possible encounters laid out so clearly, with blue text expertly linking each seed and event, it should make it possible to do this truly magnificent adventure justice!
I'm at a loss for words. Writing and craft this refined and engaging is something truly special. No wonder Emmerich and Parry continue to make some of the most wonderful and arresting adventures today!
This is the full package and truly sets the bar for DMs Guild content astronomically high. It's a true joy just taking it all in. You love to see it!
I reached out to Florian Emmerich (@PoisonPotPress) with a few questions on Shore of Dreams:
CoS: The story at the heart of Shore of Dreams is comprised of many different stories, some more true than others, which I think is what makes it feel so alive. What inspired the framing story of the exiled noble luring adventurers with tall tales and fine dining to excavate an ancient temple and do you have any personal favourite characters and their stories, besides Pisca?
FE: What motivated me the most, was the trope of a lot of adventures start at an inn, but not revolve or being located at an inn. There are some other quiet nice examples, like JC Stevens Dragon’s Breath Tavern, though I learned about that after the release of Shore of Dreams. It was definitely not me breaking new ground here, but I like to think that it’s a setting that does not get employed that often and thus it’s always a nice addition. Another addition was going to an exhibition that explored the Japanese way of eating throughout time and how it has been influenced through the historical events. So, when I sat down, food was already on my mind and the setting was created.
For favorite characters besides Pisca, it’s Breena, hands down. Actually I really loathe that so far there is no art for her, but I really want to hear from Breena how she got to hang around with Pisca.
CoS: This is a wonderful work of collaboration, which all roleplaying is at its core. What was it like working with JVCParry and sharing the responsibilities? I know you've worked together since, but was this your first time working together or working in collaboration at all?
FE: So, the creation was split, first I provided the framework of the story with some core locations and NPCs, Pisca was already fully fledged out and so were some of the supporting cast, like Breena, though everyone besides Pisca was lacking a name. Also the general story was set, with Pisca’s ultimate goal in mind. Joshua gave everything great polish - and if you have the opportunity to work with him, don’t say no - and I had just to course correct minor details or rewrite partial lines I was adamant about keeping it the way I envisioned. It was also my first foray, so I gave a bit more liberty to Joshua, as he is more seasoned than me and especially at that time.
CoS: Raluca Marinescu's art is absolutely breathtaking and truly adds a dimension to the adventure, especially with the ability to share the beautiful handouts with players. What was it like seeing your characters staring back at you and looking so good?
FE: I was gobsmacked, especially since she elevated everything. To my shame, I must admit that I intended for Pisca to have more pinkish clothing. Thanks to Raluca she is more capable woman she is now. And she did it with every piece of art. It really felt so good seeing everything coming to life. Though I also want to highlight Dean Spencer, who sometimes get swept under the rug when talking about art, because his map is killer and he makes the adventure location (I don’t want to spoil too much here) tangible. So please, give some praise to Dean Spencer as well, who completed the whole package with his addition.
CoS: The East Asian aesthetic and inclusion of the wuxia names for weapons add something very different to a lot of what is seen in 5e. How was that decision come to and how did you approach it, in light of the less than sensitive way previous editions have handled East Asian elements.
FE: So obviously I stated the visit to the museum, so apart from the food, that already was heavy on my mind. The next thing is that I have wonderful friends in Japan and having an interest in that country and language also played a huge part in it. So, for me it was a tribute to my friends and creating something I love with people I love. However at this point I have to say that I did not do a good job either. I should have made it stick to a specific culture and not kitbash, especially the names, together. While some of the names has been suggested by JVC Parry, I should have in the end changed them, so the failure lies with me. I hope that people can forgive me here, I know that especially the TTRPG community is transforming to be more inclusive and mindful about this and I should have led by example. So, if you run Shore of Dreams, please be mindful about that, and at least change the blacksmith’s name to be more fitting.
CoS: Finally, I have noticed that your adventures seem to have a modular nature to them, with options for different eventualities actually written out. Obviously, you don't write out every eventuality, but it can definitely be helpful as a DM to see things from different perspectives, especially if an adventure has two rather different ways of coming to the same location. Is this a conscious effort and does it reflect how you plan out your own sessions when DMing?
FE: Actually, when I am DMing I am a nervous wreck, who really does not want to derail a story, but it also stemmed from seeing good examples that offered more solutions and or outcomes, but also having experienced bad modules, where I wished some more guidance. While, yes it becomes easier with each time you DMing, and some are even natural talents who pick it quite easily, I imagine there are more nervous DMs out in this vast world, who are happy to have more things on their hand.
As you pointed out, you can’t cover everything, because let’s face it, a lot of TTRPG players are very, very creative, at least I would love to give a DMs the information to make informed calls on the fly if they have to. So I really want to give a lot of agency to the DM and player’s so everyone can have fun on the table.
The other benefit is that it’s easier to fit in any campaign or to keep the story going, if you know what the villains are setting out to do, or will do further, once they reached their ultimate goal within the module. If there are other factions (like in Warriors of Sehanine), these can also further a campaign, if a DM or the players want to invest in that and NPCs can tag along or become friends for a lifetime for your PCs. For example, I wonder if there is a party that actually brought Syllin from Warriors of Sehanine to Candle Keep, I sure do hope there is one iteration of Syllin that was floored by all the books.
Warriors of Sehanine: https://www.dmsguild.com/m/product/283029?affiliate_id=1507682
My Five Star Review of Warriors of Sehanine that got me started reviewing: