By James Mishler & Jodi Moran-Mishler James Mishler Games Labyrinth Lord Level ?
Jordvann was once a land dedicated to Law and Good, until the rise of Eldisor, the Devil’s-Son, who together with his hordes of giants, dragons, trolls, ogres, orcs, and goblins conquered the land, reduced the people to slavery, and brought down Fimbul Winter, which caused empires to fall world-wide. Eldisor ruled for 400 years, until he was slain or brought low during a rebellion of his captains, the Old Evils. Fimbul Winter ended, and civilization rose again elsewhere, while the survivors on the Isle of Eldisor sought to stay alive between the warring Old Evils.
This 76 page hex crawl might better be described as a regional setting. And, maybe, I’m actually reviewing a regional setting instead of a hex crawl. I note, however, that the hex descriptions are lacking in situations and are more places to explore … if the DM has time to quickly make a three level dungeon map.
So, Let’s take our own world, in, say the sixteenth century, in terms of geopolitics. But, lets set it in time of the norman invasion of England, in terms of tech, etc. And let’s add in dwarves and elves and shit. And then word gets out that ATlantis has been discovered and everyone races to colonize the new world … then advance the timeline by fifty years or so and go adventuring there. That’s what you’ve got here. I’d call this a campaign setting, more than a hexcrawl. As such, I’m not really going to cover MUCH of it, since I don’t review campaign settings. I don’t know how.
So, yeah, there’s a lot of talk about The Colonies. And you start as a part of the The Colonies. The framing of this is strange. I’m all for a West Marches game, and Points of Light and so on. But when you use the word Colonies it brings subtext and meaning with it. You want that in your game? Maybe? I don’t know. I usually just want to stab shit in the throat.
This thing is listed as a hexcrawl, Cyclopedia and Gazetteer. It is a gazetteer and cyclopedia for sure. You get some backstory, a description of the major parts of the island and surrounding seas, some weather, the local population and so on. The monsters are a little reskinned, so “Hobgoblins look a lot like small to medium-sized carnivores or omnivores, such as black bears, large birds, baboons, chimpanzees, crocodiles, large dogs, goats, panthers, and so forth. Their bodies resemble those of twisted elves.” Meh, I was down for the black bear thing. I’m also down for the twisted elf thing. I dn’t really know what the two together mean, but, our humanoid pals are reskinned and very Dr Moreau … without the good doctor around.
Eldisor is an ok place. Nothing super interesting and freaky stands out in the campaign guide. Just a solid fantasy setting that deviates a little from the Greyhawk/FR baseline.
Hexcrawling is a different beast. The hex descriptions take up about 27 pages of this 76 page adventure. Each is a short little entry. And, this is where I take exception.
I don’t think this is a hexcrawl? If so, its a bad one?
Hexcrawls are a different beast. You want something that has a lot of situations in it. You want the party interacting with folks and doing things and solving problems and making things worse and leveraging shit. Wilderlands is the classic example. For more, I do a comparison of Wilderlands, the Stater crawls, and Isle of the Unknown where I go in to more detail on what makes a good crawl. This, alas, is not it.
“WRECK OF THE ZEESLANG. This sunken large sailing ship houses 56 Drowned Zombies, 7 Brine Ghouls, 5 Sunken Wights, and 2 Deep Sea Wraiths.” That’s not a situation. That’s monsters at a location. And the vast, VAST majority of hex descriptions fall in to this category. There is a decent number of “village” or “stronghold” listings as well, with 450 orcs and two chifeten types things going on. But, again, they feel static. Like “here they are!” and not much else going on. This is the Isle of the Unknown style of “in this hex is a rock.” sort of descriptions.
There is a random ruins/strongholds generator for the DM to use. FOr each hex roll and see if there’s a minor village/settlement or stronghold in it, and then roll a few more times to see what race, if there’s a monster, etc.
This is ok, but, again, I think it would be nicer if a little more thought were given to it. Asa DM you’re going to need to roll up a few of these in advance … there’s little chance you could do something on the fly in a meaningful manner. So, as a designer, roll up a page or two othem, like, two lines each, and give them a couple of words of descriptions. Keywords or something, I don’t know. Just something to get things kickstarted.
And, our hexes proper, follow this example. We’re told, A LOT, that there’s a three level labyrinth, or some such, in this hex. Obviously the DM is going to need to do something with that. In advance.
So, is it a hexcrawl? It says it is. I’m going to say no. This is a campaign setting. And the map is a hex map. And major settlements/sites are on the map. And there’s a way to put some other stuff in hexes. But, it’s not a hexcrawl. There are not situations going on. The hexes don’t really interact. And, in fact, I might say that the hexes themselves are not the most interesting hex descriptions in the world.
I might liken this to Blackmarsh, from Conley. And I don’t mean that in terms of quality … I think Blackmarsh is quite well done. But, rather, I don’t think of Blackmarsh as a hexcrawl either. (I think it IS one, but it doesn’t occupy that space in my head) I think of it as a regional campaign setting … with a hex crawl. The hex descriptions are there to augment my own dungeon placement and stuff. IE: Just add your own shit.
This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages and shows you a lot of the hex descriptions. Good preview! Even though the hexcrawl is not the point of attraction, I Think, in the product. 🙂 Maybe I’m just like my mother; she’s never satisfied either …
Why not breast? Sounded like you enjoyed this!
What separates this from Mike’s world or black March? The amount of prep is higher?
I think what separates an adventure and a setting is the provided goals/hooks/interactions. If a document just provides me with locations then it’s a setting. If these locations interact with one another and play a role in a hook, then it’s an adventure. Most hexcrawls fall under the setting category, almost as if the designers where afraid to provide goals, quests and interactions between their designed hexes.
Perhaps there is an analogy between just listing the monsters in a location and painting a painting. The monster-list is the underdrawing (sketch) that eventually gets finished over with paint. It’s not intended to be the finished product.
Appreciate you mentioning Blackmarsh.