It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that The Haunting of Hinojai is a scenario full of haunts.
If the title weren’t a dead enough giveaway, the preamble delivered by Amara Li is pulled from the minutes of the Midnight Society. The venture captain requests that the players explore a purportedly haunted mansion in a far corner of her native Tien Xia. The house, known as Hinojai, was occupied by a beautiful noblewoman named Minasako until her disappearance over a century ago. Rumours of hauntings, shadowy figures, and disappearances have been rampant in the neighbouring town of Nagura since.
From a game master’s perspective, I enjoy the inclusion of haunts in The Haunting of Hinojai. Haunts can convey plot points in imaginative and often chilling ways – a welcome alternative to long-winded monologues.
Players are often of a differing opinion. Haunts are unwieldy to disarm and impossible to identify by spamming detect magic and perception checks. Even with a well-prepared cleric in the party, it can be difficult to circumvent a haunt without triggering its deadly effects.
This unavoidable danger is what lends haunts their narrative weight, but it also leads to rather unsporting strategies being improvised to deal with them. After being harassed by spectral images on the front steps of the manor, my table began sending expendable summoned creatures and animal companions ahead as minesweepers for the deadly poltergeists that lay in wait.
Out of all the haunts in The Haunting of Hinojai, there’s only one I would consider unfair enough to warrant such a macabre precaution. At the high tier, the tainted love haunt on the atrium balcony relentlessly unleashes a 90 damage finger of death spell when triggered. This is a save-or-die roll for all but the tankiest of characters.
The other haunts are far more balanced. The moon gate haunt, with its potential to exhaust an entire party, only succeeds in sending the Pathfinders back to the inn for a night of rest before trying again. The bathing room haunt can deal some respectable area-of-effect damage at both tiers, but I doubt any party is stupid enough to stick around in a room full of drowning ghosts for very long.
I can’t appraise the wine cask haunt because no one in my party could muster the courage to delve into the spooky basement of the haunted manor.
In my opinion, the encounters in The Haunting of Hinojai pose a much larger threat then the restless spirits. Dagagal is a monster. Beginning the encounter with greater invisibility and fly active, the churlish wayang evoker can easily demolish a party with a well-rolled chain lightning spell. If no one at the table has a quick means to reveal and ground the wizard, this fight can end in a few rounds.
The skeletal champions pose an enormous threat as well, especially at the higher tier. They are critical hit machines with their iterative attacks and magical katanas. The pair of them easily dropped the fighter at my table – somewhat of an empty victory though, given it was a pregen.
Minasako herself, now transformed into an immortal penanggalan, is the capstone encounter. I actually consider her the easiest of the three main fights. The restricted geography of her bedroom clips her fantastic fly speed, and she relies entirely too much on save-or-die spells for her own good. Still, black tentacles and mass pain strike are nothing to scoff at.
Regardless of her prowess in a fight, Minasako makes a great villain. The players first hear the noble’s name in the superstitious folklore of Nagura’s peasants, but they soon learn to fear her spectral visage as the sign of a deadly haunt being triggered. Investigation of all the nooks and crannies of Hinojai reveal her maddening quest for immortality and her betrayal of the Way of the Kirin – an organization that Lantern Lodge players should (retroactively) be very interested in.
It’s rare that a villain receives such a satisfying backstory in a Pathfinder scenario, and even rarer that the writers at Paizo dive into such bleak narrative waters.
The Haunting of Hinojai is an unorthodox scenario to say the least. The abundance of haunts may frustrate some players and honestly does present some glaring mechanical and balance issues. But those willing to spend a night in a haunted house will be rewarded with numerous challenging encounters and some of the most compelling storytelling offered in a Pathfinder scenario.