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skinsaw-murders-the-cover

“By the gods, this is painful.  Can’t you do anything about him, Ezrin?”
“Even my magic has its limitations.”

Ah, look at that lovely picture of Merisiel.

It’s been a long 3 months’ wait, but Big Finish have at last returned to the rural climes of Sandpoint for another visit with everyone’s favorite adventurers, who for lack of anything better to designate them as, we’ll refer to as the Pathfinders.

Yeah, well, go ahead, come up with a better name, I dare ya.

“This is why I’m atheist.  No god worth its salt would put us together.”
“Unless it had a sense of humor.”

Valeros (Stewart Alexander) spends his post-Thistletop days in drunken storytelling, spinning self-serving tales of heroic glory much to the dismay of both plucky innkeep Ameiko (Yuriri Naka) and slinky if ill tempered elven warrioress Merisiel (Kerry Skinner).

Leaving the tavern in disgust one dark evening, she encounters a hysterical local (one ‘Maester Grump’, essayed by Salford Cat Sean Connolly) who tells of scarecrows who walk…and eat the living…

A series of horrific murders has overtaken the quiet hamlet of Sandpoint, and dead bodies are being marked with runes and sewn into scarecrows.  Is it all some twisted spell to win the love of Merisiel?

With hideously undead ghouls spreading their zombie plague, liches, revenants, lamias, blazing manticore haunts and ‘carrionstorms’ (“birds who have fed on the flesh of the undead”) infecting Valeros himself, can Ezren (Trevor Littledale), Harsk (Ian Brooker) and Sheriff Hemlock (Toby Longworth) rescue their kidnapped elven compatriot and heal the stricken Valeros in time?

Author Cavan Scott (of The Church and the Crown and all those nasty Project: Fill In The Blank gore-torture fests) here breaks away from regular writing partner Mark Wright to deliver something of an odd change of pace.  Where Wright’s Burnt Offerings kicked off the line with a strong dose of humor and, despite the subtext of familial discord and dysfunction, marked by a generally lighthearted tone, Scott brings more of his standard grimness and grue into play.

“There’s only one cure…I’ll take his head.”

On the plus side, much of the hard-to-translate-to-audio fighting that put a bit of a drag on Wright’s tale (cling clang clash only goes so far, after all, with or without accompanying visuals) is absent here.  With a more intricate storyline jam packed with twists and turns, plots and counterplots and one unexpected occurrence after another, the pace is simultaneously more languid and far more busy than our last meeting with the adventurers.

This time around, the more direct, Boys Own feel of Burnt Offerings is set aside almost in its entirety, in favor of a creepy if not downright gruesome tonality that simultaneously fits the subject matter and drags it kicking and screaming from the comparatively more lighthearted realm of Tolkien and Howard-derived fantasy roleplaying straight into a headspace heavily informed by the ick factor of modern horror.

“What’s worse than death?”
“You’re looking at it…”

While nowhere near as harrowing or literally sloshing with gore as the various Project: What Have You installments he and Wright delivered to Who and certainly appropriate to the subject matter (and as amusing as happy, dancing ghouls and depraved, lovelorn schizophrenic pervert black magicians would be, that’s not exactly the standard take on material involving them), The Skinsaw Murders is still quite a noticeable tonal shift from how the series opened a few months back.

Is it worse than Burnt Offerings?  Better?  Neither really – both stories and styles prove equally valid, hitting all the right marks and keeping things moving along swimmingly, albeit in markedly different ways.

Even with the much darker feel Scott brings to bear, this is a fun series, particularly for those with interest and experience in this style of adventure roleplaying, whether tabletop, computer/console or otherwise (as a nod to all you LARPers out there).

While I can’t speak to any measure of faithfulness to the source material (as I do understand from readers that these may derive in some measure from actual modules or adventures in the Paizo Pathfinder gaming system), I can assess this as a fan of audio drama, sword & sorcery and fantasy based literature, film and gaming, as well as being quite familiar with the efforts of Big Finish per se.  And as such, here’s the verdict, and all you really need to know.

With likeable, generally amusing characters and a good balance between action, characterization and laughs, as well as an ongoing story that leaves listeners waiting with baited breath for the next (arguably quarterly) installment, you really can’t go wrong with Big Finish’s Pathfinder Legends.

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/rise-of-the-runelords-the-skinsaw-murders-966

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