Neverland, a Fantasy Role-playing Setting, review

By Andrew Kolb
Andrew McMeel Publishing

EXPLORE THE ISLE OF MISCHIEF & MYSTERY: Many have heard of the island of Neverland. Stories of pirates, mermaids and Peter Pan are told by parents around the world to send their children off to a happy, dreaming sleep. But, it’s been a long time since the Darlings first flew to Neverland and a new story is about to be told. Your own.

This 171 page booklet details the island of Neverland, from Peter Pan, and it’s 26 hexes, politics, and creatures. Pretty strong usability support a deadly, yet recognizably whimsical/twisted place. It falls down on both evocative descriptions and Adventure Motivation, the later of which is essentially handed by an adventure generator. I think I’m terrible at reviewing campaign settings, but, really, if its organized as a hex crawl then what’s the difference? If I wanted to run a darker Peter Pan themed game then this is worthwhile with substantially more usability than your typical fluff-based campaign setting.

Not that there’s anything wrong with fluff. I like it too, but I don’t think it’s very reviewable. Thus the focus on this thing as a hex crawl. And, in fact, it’s organized as a hex crawl, making it substantially more usable than most settings. It has about 26 hexes, all with something going on in them, and about half or so with some kind of dungeon/lair in it. The last forty or so pages of this book are fiction, so you’re getting about 140 pages of actual content, most of which are new monsters. 

The very first content page of the book gives a general overview of what’s going on in Neverland, organized by the group/faction. This is GREAT. It’s a large book, with a lot going on. Having a one page summary orients the DM to what’s going on and gets their framing together. Now, when they look over a hex that talk about spiders they have more context in to which to place the information; their allies, enemies, goals, etc. Providing context, up front, is a great tool to get the DM s mind in the right place for the follow up information to come. Disney does it with their line queues. You could even think of the “room name” or a keyed encounter doing the same thing. 11 (text) or 11: Library or 11: Spooky Library or 11: Gloom-filled Library might be thought of as various ways to present a key to a DM, with, as it should be obvious, degrees of orienting the DM to the coming content. 

The hexes themselves are laid out one to a page. You get a short little description of a couple of paragraphs, few sentences, a map showing it in context to other hexes, a little isometric art view, and note of some window dressing of what happens in the hext during the twice a day “the chimes” go off, as well as about four or five tables to generate content for the hex. Hex travel time is covered up front, each hex being 2 miles, taking four hours to cross as dense jungle … which solves most of the problems of “what can i see in the next hex.” Encounters can be dense, with things generally rolled once an hour or so in a hex, with some significant variation to that timeline through a specific mechanic mentioned. Still, good service of hex travel and encounter generation.

The creatures have a good lore section each, mostly just a tacked on sentence, that is GREAT! Undead dwarves need to be turned face down to keep them from re-rising, for example. This sort of brief hit specificity is present all throughout the setting. Oracular portents, etc, get the same treatment. It’s consistently done at a pretty high level and that creates a campaign setting that FEELS like a place, because of the specificity, but doesn’t feel overwhelming to run … for the most part. The setting comes alive and you are, I think, excited to run it with the possibilities. And the darker twists, like what actually happens to the kids that come to neverland, are generally present throughout, making this a good setting for role-playing. 

There are alwo, however, numerous misses in the adventure/hex crawl. Cross-references are non-existent. This means that when a hex encounter tells you that you find the dungeon/lair in that hex then you must then dig through the book to find the page it is on. SOME of that can be handled by the Table of Contents, but a simple cross-ref would have worked better. Plus, “the farmer” and “the gatehouse keeper” seems like they could an explicitly cross-ref, given their lack of inclusion in the ToC, yes? Not the end of the world, but not great.

Monsters/creatures, also get some piss poor descriptions. For all their great “one sentence lore” inclusion they essentially have no descriptions at all. Maybe a brief illustration, but the first line of nearly every monster entry in every product should be some visceral description for the DM to use on the players, or inspire the DM when the players encounter the creature. Not here; there’s essentially none. And that lack of evocative description spills over in to the locations, encounters, etc. While the general setting details are present for how Neverland works, the locations themselves are presented in a very fact-based manner [using bullets, so the information is quite easy to find in most cases. This thing is, but for the cross-references, a triumph of organization and ease of use.] But facts themselves do not inspire.

And, of course, it’s really a setting, so there are no real adventures. There’s a table for generating some ideas, as well as another one with about twenty more specific ideas. But, it feels … empty? As if everyone in Neverland is simply repeating the same things and going through the motions. Go find X for Y, or keep an eye on Z and report back to A. The lack of specificity in the room keys is also an explicitly decision the designer made and I don’t think a good one. 

And then there’s the supplemental tables. These are wedged in to the back section of the book, but not the VERY end of the book. AT the very end they would have been easy to flip to and find, in a print version. And some, like, what is the creature in the hex doing and why, are critically important to locate quickly during the game. These sorts of tables should be at the end, beginning, middle … someplace they are easy to locate during play.

Finally, the notion of themes. Going Home, What it Means, Parents. Themes from Peter Pan, the book. This is mentioned in one brief paragraph at the beginning. This could have been strengthened quite a bit with some examples, or, even, examples in the individual NC”s, creatures, or hexes/locations. That would have made the thing MUCH stronger and, even, I think, solved some of the “what do we do now” syndrome that the generic adventure generator tries to solve.

I don’t usually review settings, but, this is more hex crawl with a strong setting element, some hybrid of the two, perhaps. More cohesive than a normal hex crawl but less specific in the actual adventure possabilities. It’s a great work and, brining your own ideas for adventure, could be the basis for a great campaign. But, as a stand alone resource for a hex crawl it leaves too much to be desired. 

The pdf is $20 at DriveThru. The preview is ten pages. You get to see the overview page I like, as well as some of the specifics of the island and that should be enough to give you a general idea of the flavour and writing style. Alas, the hex formats and dungeons differ greatly, and the preview would benefit by showing a page each of those instead of, say, the title page of the book.

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3 Responses to Neverland, a Fantasy Role-playing Setting, review

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the review, this is unique because of the mainstream publisher involved so we all really appreciate your work on this.

    Bryce what does Hot Springs Island do that this doesnt?

    • Brandon H. says:

      I’m not Bryce, but I have both books, though haven’t given Neverland as close as a read as I’d like to. However, I think for me one reason Hot Springs Island is superior is something Bryce alluded to: the factions and characters in HSI are defined by what they *want,* while in Neverland they are defined by what they *do.* Its author described HSI as a powder keg waiting for the PCs to strike a match. The PCs stand a real chance of upending the status quo. By contrast, Neverland and its characters are mostly as they ever are and seemingly as they always will be. It is Neverland, after all. The exception is the Darling children, who, IMO, are the the most interesting part of the setting.

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