Being a campaign book, I expected the build quality of the book to take a step back from the prior two tomes, and that is in fact the case here as well. Similar to Book 1: Universe, there are two sections to Monastery of Tuath. The first portion is focused on the monastery and life around it. Like the earlier books, Monastery of Tuath exudes character and flavor for the world it is written in. This is ably helped by the writing and the art, which continue to be excellent. It plants plenty of points for inspiration (especially the vows).
The latter portion of the book focuses on the campaign adventure, which is the best the series has put out yet. Small bits of inspiration found in Books 1 and 2 did not live up to the campaigns found in the Prologue, and here The Monastery of Tuath leapfrogs the quality of those small campaigns as well. The murder mystery in this tale actually posed a bit of a challenge, because I felt like I had a lot to live up to if I hoped to do the adventure justice. Some of the creeper sounds and tracks from Syrinscape modules helped the process along, thankfully.
While the physical build quality of the book struck me as slightly lacking, the layout of the materials is excellent. The flow of events is logically laid out and everything from small icons to help locate things at a glance to the pace of the campaign made potentially complicated material easier to deliver to my gaming audience than I had expected. At fifty pages, there is enough content here to make for a solid adventure, but it does not take so long to complete as that it overstays its welcome.
Shadows of Esteren has proven to be an excellent series for gamers who prefer plot over dice rolling. Of course not all situations can be resolved with just words, and there is some minimalist use of luck to help solve certain types of challenges and confrontations, but I have been a part of far too many tabletop sessions that devolved into little more than an afternoon of accounting that was punctuated by dice rolling and additional scraps of paper for notes. Here the mechanics are meant to guide, but not overwhelm the actual story being presented.
The religious tones to the story offer some excellent diversity for the campaign. In a world dominated by humans where generally the more fantastical elements are kept out of the spotlight, the religious aspects to this story are a welcome addition. Add to it some political undertones and you have a really solid story to work through with your friends.
Shadows of Esteren will not appeal to everyone. It is a great experience for people interested in role-playing and sharing a narrative, but for those looking for more action and a faster pace, the burn might be just a bit too slow here for them. The materials presented in Shadows of Esteren: The Monastery of Tuath are expertly laid out however, and should give novice and veteran Game Leaders alike plenty to work with. I am looking forward to seeing Shadows of Esteren continue to broaden its horizons.
Review by Nick