Designed to be the opener of the Haarlock's Legacy campaign (although it could be run as a stand-alone adventure), this adventure comes in three parts which begins in survival horror, then sweeps the party through investigation and intrigue to the need to fight for their lives. Faint-hearted Acolytes need not apply!
The adventure can be used to start off a new group of Acolytes, but notes are provided for those who wish to use existing characters. It's based on a planet called Quaddis and is based around long-held secrets of the Haarlock rogue trader family and the lengths some people will go to get their hands on them. There's plenty of background on Quaddis which is an unspoilt pastoral world given over to noble estates, a complete pervesion of the orderly colonisation process handled adroitly by an early Haarlock. Even the so-called city that is its capital, Xicarph, is more a collection of palaces and town-houses than a real city. It is home to many pleasures and host to plenty of intrigue... and dark secrets lie beneath. Xicarph is also home to a great carnival, the Festival of Tattered Fates, that occurs at the time of a bizarre astronomical conjunction in the home system. The central point of this, which fortunately only happens once every few decades, is a period of darkness during which what rule of law there is here is completely suspended, anything goes.
The action begins in media res, the Acolytes being thrust abruptly into a situation where their only objective is to survive... some players may be none too happy, but the very shock of the opening is best presented as is to get the full flavour both of the opening scene and the rest of the adventure. The Game Master is advised to read the adventure thoroughly in preparation for running it: there's lots going on and plenty of scope for allowing characters free reign in their reactions, to which the GM will then have to respond. Even if they feel railroaded by the opening, the Acolytes have plenty of options to find their own responses to the situation, and there's plenty of detail provided to enable the GM to deal with whatever they come up with.
Needless to say, once the Acolytes have escaped their fate, that dread carnival is in full swing, and they'll have to navigate Xicarph through its chaos as they seek the answers they need. This again is quite free-format, with a whole bunch of events and NPCs that they can encounter but no set sequence or timelimits imposed. Hopefully they'll find out where they need to be when darkness falls before it actually does! Amidst this swirl of events, it may be difficult for the Acolytes to figure out what is actually going on, the GM will need to be well-prepared and ready to gently steer them into finding the answers should they begin to flounder.
The climax of the adventure is, of course, the falling of darkness as the astronomcal conjunction reaches its height. In a weirdly-warped estate that has at its heart the mysterious Steel Clock, they should find their answers... but need to be prepared to fight for them as of course they are not the only people on that quest.
By its nature, this adventure can be sprung on existing Acolytes whenever you please, or can be used to start a new campaign in dramatic fashion. However it is approached, those who survive will appreciate the sheer heights - or depths - to which nobles can attain, and have glimpses of some of the stranger things underlying the most established. A fine cinematic caper with scope for plenty drama and excitement and, if played as part of the Haarlock's Legacy trilogy, one which leads to a growing realisation that even greater horrors might be unleashed.
[5 of 5 Stars!]