By WR Beatty Rosethrone Publishing S&W Levels 1-3
Goblins are pillaging farmsteads; bandits are attacking caravans; and Baron Wrymslayer’s forces are already stretched too thin. A call to arms has been issued for the brave and the cunning to rid this upstart Baron’s lands of these villains and sons of darkness.
This is a 100 page adventure setting describing a small region, about eight miles on a side, with a keep being rebuilt and about a dozen adventuring sites and numerous machinations going on. This is The Real Deal, a D&D sandboxy setting that has enough going on to keep the party busy busy for months, and overarching plotlines that could lead to a kind of endgame siege of epic proportions … all without feeling forced. It also needs about two more pages and/or some summary notes to help the DM fit everything together.
The key to a good sandbox is having a lot going on. This can mildly unrelated to each other, as in WIlderlands, or with stronger ties, such as the various Stater projects, or more directly related to some underlying plots, such as in Scourge of the Demon Wolf, or this. A local boy returns home after ten years, being a successful adventurer. After drinking, he’s challenged to clear out the old ruined keep, and he does so, setting himself up as the local worthy and repairing the place. The locals like him, though hes an ass, because he’s spending money freely to improve the place. The local rulers around him have various motives, with the high king not wanting chaos to ensure as the power politics among his lords change due to the new guy in town. And then there’s the dark cult, with plots within plots. Surrounding all of this eight mile on a side area are various dungeons, creatures foul and fair, and little problems to be solved. There must be, I don’t know, a dozen, sixteen, different major or medium things going in this area with a lot of smaller ones to round things out. It’s a lot, and it’s exactly what SHOULD be going on in a sandbox setting that is used as kind of home base for the party.
You show up, based off of eight or ten little hooks, none of which are throw aways. They contain they few xtra details required to bring them to life but don’t overstay their welcome and drone on for multiple paragraphs. They are supplemented by two to three pages of rumors, in voice as I like them to be, that provide even more fodder for the party to investigate. There might be a dozen different adventuring sites, more than half of which are quite extensive with twenty or more rooms/encounters in them. It all fits together and has a vibe somewhat reminiscent of Kramers works, although perhaps a little less LotR fantasy and slightly more B/X style, or maybe tonally, some of the better Castles & Crusades works, walking a line between mud-farmer fantasy and almost high fantasy.
There’s os much going on here that I don’t really know where to start or how to relate it. Let’s take the cult of the old gods. They are led by one of the new wrothies adventuring buddies and close advisor, in secret. He’s organizing them to raid the keep and cause trouble Bandits, and goblinoids, in his hire keep the wilderness busy and keep the new guys troops to the keep protecting it, since they hit it when they venture too far from it. For the expeditionary force sent out didn’t come back and now troops are low … a perfect opportunity for our mercenary party to find some fun. He’s got bandits in a camp, goblins in a lair, all orking for him. He’s got followers, both his personally and agents of The Cult allied with him secretly, in plac ein the keep … decent number of them. He’s also got a necromancer down below creating an army of undead. One of his followers is accidentally a demon worshiper, being controlled y them. And, he doesn’t give a shit about any of it, only wanting to cause chaos so he can steal a minor artifact from the worthy while he’s otherwise mentally engaged with controlling the chaos. Then you’ve got a couple of agents of the high king, keeping an eye on things, at least on of which is quite ruthless, in order to keep the political situation with the surround lords calm. (This entire subplot doesn’t get in to enough detail though, it’s need another half to quarter page of support,) The quarry mining the stone for the repairs has issues. The logging camp has issues. The merchants have issues with caravan raids. There’s fairies in the woods, running a mini-tavern you have to shrink yourself to get in to (who know just about fucking everything and are a great source of information if you ply everyone with enough drinks.) There’s a giant looking for his missing brother. A basilisk (or two!) are wandering around. Griffens prowl the wilderness looking fo horsemeat. Ghosts and undead abound, and make sense how they are used. (A favorite is a ghostly mule, the remains of a mule train accident, who the local woodsmen shout “Go on home Lucy!” at, to get her to disappear again) A spider infested forest … the local cemetery with recent graves, older graves/momuments, and still older tombs of the Northmen, ready to explore. It goes on and on and on and on. A reward for goblin ears? A few of the locals have cut off their own ears to try and claim it, the reward being so out of bounds with their own meager lifetime earnings. And it could all end with a chaotic siege of the keep, well supported with a couple of pages of notes.
There is so much going on here that you’re unable, i think, to hold it all together. And that’s where my major criticism comes in. There are a few minor issues, a few NPC’s are mentioned as being in the appendix, and are not. It looks like one map is missing. Certain things could be expanded upon just a little to support the DM in play, like the high king/local politics angle. And it’s missing a bit of “on the ground” support. I might make this a wild west town, especially aroun dthe goblin ear reward, and this could, for example, be supported more through the text. Or, giving a strong feeling of just how tenuous and weak the local worthy is, how out of his league he is, and, in general, a few more words on his, his actions, and his support or lack there of the party. But, the size is the major issue.
It’s too big to hold in your head. There’s too much going on with too many connections to effectively guide the party and provide that sort of riff-on follow up and the consequences of their actions. The rumors contain no cross-references to what they point to. When do things reach a point where the siege becomes the cult leaders go to? You can make this work, but its going to cause you to have to study this thing, extensively, for quite some time, to become as familiar with it as the designer no doubt it. Notes upon notes and page scribble upon scribble. This is where the few extra pages would come in, along with appropriate cross-references. You need that, provided by the designer or yourself, in order to run this in the way it deserves to be run.
Beatty knows his shit. And, thisis, I think, the first true series of products in the oSR that could be used as a well supported campaign. Kramer got very close, but if you were to get ALL of the Rosethrone products, then, together, you’d have something akin to the OSR”s first full ine of well supported, and good, adventuring area, across several products. Sprinkling in the other adventures (locations well notes already by the designer) in to this, as a home bas/surround area to have those adventures in, you would have a great down-time environment that leads to more. Need to bury a hireling that died in another products, like Bonepickers tower? The graveyard is here … and has more than its fair share of secrets to explore.
So, fan-fucking-tastic, but needing a lot of study to bring it to its full potential. I’m excited to run a Rosethrone campaign!
This is $4 at DriveThru. The preview is fourteen pages and gives you a good idea of the kind of writing to expect in it, and the kinds of encounters and the level of detail to rely upon.
This has been Episode five of “Bryce Reviews everything on his Wishlist, in order.”
Bonus Feature: A Broken Candle – A Kingdom and it’s Laws
Twenty digest pages with a lot of whitespaces that amounts to notes on a setting. “Here are some things that you could use.” It’s all loosely tied together and, I believe tries to inspire you to create a setting from it, rather than being a setting. A land thrown in to chaos trough strife, a number of factions, some archetypes of the locals on each side and the populace. If you were sitting in a bar and took thirty minutes with your friends to come up with a setting, everyone chiming in, then you’d have the level of detail that this offers. Far too generalized to be used without a lot of work.