The Mythic North

By Isaac VanDuyn
Esoteric Ludology

There are no wizard guilds, no orcs or dwarves. Monsters exist, but only as legends haunting distant reaches. The ascendant Church hunts down any hint of magic, and witches and enchanters practice their forbidden arts only in secret. Lords command, knights ride to battle, and peasants die in the mud.

This 320 (!) page supplement is not, as it suggests, a hex crawl but rather a regional setting complete with sandboxy elements and hidden locales and “dungeons” to explore. It’s fucking DENSE man, and needs some reference docs. It’s also a fucking WILD ride, with the most Darklands vibe I think I’ve ever seen. 

Mudcore motherfuckers! Errr, no, not mudcore. And not quite Darklands. But, closer to both of those than The Forgotten Realms. The setting here is, as the designer tells us, vaguely Scottish in the … 1200’s? Let’s not take what I just said there too seriously … We need to emphasize the vaguely part of that sentence. Anyway, it’s a regional setting with a healthy sandbox component and dungeons. It’s unlikely you would need anything other than this to run a decent length campaign.

We’ve got this island, with a wall running over the a chunk of it in the north. To the south are the south are the southerners ruled by Edward and to the north … well, he rules there also. But the northern tribes/lords don’t like it and are vaguely in rebellion. At least a smooch as they think they can get away with. There’s the catholic church running around here also. And, the Romans ruled everything a thousand years ago. So far we’ve got a pretty mundane setting. Except, demons are real. So is magic … but don’t get burned as a heretic. There are a few mythic creatures, although no real Humanoids, as we know them in D&D, except for some giants. And some Old Ones, the Rishae, which resemble, in temperament and technology, the Engineers from Alien. Oh, and there’s a fucking dragon. Just don’t roll a fucking 00 on the wilderness wandering table while off the roads. (+20 to your die roll off the roads … meaning you rolled a 120. And that’s not great … well, I mean, it is for the dragon …) 

The region map is about thirty hexes across and about … forty tall? With each hex being 2 miles. Yes indeed. Mountains on the east with a pass leading to the civilized lands, a wall on the south cutting off the north from the same. An ocean on the west (with a couple of islands … not Ireland) and frozen/glacial mountains in the north. So, not exactly Scotland. But, whatever. It’s a nifty little region map. Roman roads, trails, a couple of coutposts and places of note (twenty, in fact! 🙂 and eight hidden locations. Its supported by some hex generation tables to help the DM out in populating hexes when the party searches, with some name generators and such. In addition, the wandering table is relatively extensive, with each entry taking from half a page to a page. The entry for “guarded prisoner”, a half column ot so, gives us some options on where the prisoner is being transported to, the numbers of prisoners and guards, what the prisoner is accused of, and a cute little “Desperate offers of prisoners” table, with “riches beyond anyone’s wildest imagination” and “dark powers” being a couple of the options. And thus we can also see the tone of the setting. It’s not quite grimdark, but it leans towards a human-centric historically accurate setting, with a little snark and fun thrown in. I think it’s a great fucking tone. 

There are six or so primary factions, with each taking a couple of pages to describe. Who they are, what they want, what they think of the others, and some dark secrets they have. This is the primary driver of the region. Those groups are working with and/or against each other and almost every locale is related to that subtle, or not so, power struggle. And by now everyone should know how I like Katey Perry,. Baby, the party’s a firework … and they are adventurning a gas factory. 

The hooks here are interesting as well. Hook may be the wrong word … it’s more how to get the campaign started. Each lasts a half page or so, maybe a third of a page. There’s a prison riot, with good advice to get the party started and how to get them off of the prison island … without it being a railroad and WITH giving them some entanglements in others affairs to drive further adventure. Another has them being tasked with doing Night Work by .gov … a perfect reason why the local knights aren’t doing the work given the hotbed political situation. And so it goes, with a good variety and some really good advice, for each of them, in how to get the party started and entangled in things. I appreciated that a lot.

Several of the sites have “dungeons”, which just means floorplans, to one degree or another. A couple, such as a spider lair or the alien masterminds, are more of a “real” dungeon, with others being closer to “well, fuck  it, lets loot the abbey!” but all have a reasonable potential for the party to be murder hobo’ing in them. These are not full of exploratory dungeons, but neither are they site based. The maps tend to be more simplistic than a full of exploratory dungeon and more focused on the functionality of the site. 

These dungeons are pretty good. The Shrine of Shulls reads “Skulls piled upon skulls. Giant skulls, human skulls, rishae skulls, skulls of strange beasts. The cup on the altar is made from a skull and the curate wears a skull as a hat.” Place a skull upon the skull throne and receive the Blessing of the Dead. (The chalice fills with black blood. If smeared upon the forehead, it allows those thus daubed to see and speak with the spirits of the dead for 1 watch.)”  Come on man … is your soul dead? That’s fucking rocking. The chalice fills with black blood? Smear it on your forehead? I’m an SOOOO in. There’s a little bit of an over-reveal in the read-aloud/summary text, but when it happens it’s pretty light. “The rear wall glows hotly, the rock nearly molten. Before the wall, an enormous pile of ash. Before the ash, many jars of metal containing sacred oils.” Pretty kicking, even for some sacred oils. Did I mention the thing is extensively cross-referenced? And hyperlinked? I couldn’t really find anything mentioned that I thought “ i wish I knew where to find that at …”

So, I think this thing is really fucking rocking. A nice mundane-ish world punctuated by moments of pure terror. And I fucking hate it also.

Mother fucking white text on a black background. Extensive use of italics in sentences. And some goofy ass fucking font choices that seem custom tailored to make the fucking text hard to read. Fucking faux-gothic shit. Red fonts on a black background. You can go FUCK YOURSELF! And, man, those factions. I need like a one pager to keep the major shit straight for all of them. And the same again for the locations. Maybe both on the same sheet. So that when the party meets someone or I’m hacking something up from the wandering table I have the major shit ready to go, rather than thumbing through. 

You are ABSOLUTELY going to have to put a little work in to this. Roll some wanderers up ahead of time and think about them a bit. Same for the “explore a hex” sites. Roll up thirty or so. (Gee, sure would be nice if the designer had this on their website/discord …) I’m pretty ok with this amount of work, given that this is a regional setting. 

This is for some medieval OSR rpg. I might check out the main rules. Mostly, I think the OSR rules, chargen mainly, fit on one page, but, I might be down for this as a setting. In any event, this is a GREAT supplement for anyone with those rules, or anyone looking for a more human centric world … but with some monsters in it. 

It’s also 321 fucking pages long. Wanderers start on page 35 … with most of what comes before not particularly useful, but for the extensive faction information that I already wish were shorter. Wanderers run 100 pages. Ouch. The main civilized locations are just a little too much. There is GREAT lite sections, bulleted, with quest-like things from some factions, etc, ranging from “i just met you “ to “ok, so, now that we’ve killed someone together, lets talk about some serious shit you could do for me …”  I can’t help but think, though, that the formatting and layout used for the more civilized locales detracts a bit from running them well. I fucking lvoe towns/cities/etc and I’m not sure I could do this one justice, running it, given the way the information flow is organized. Could be, also, the use of whitespace and bullets, while generally a fine choice, is clashing somewhat with the goals of comprehension and reference in these sections. I don’t know. It’s just so fucking dense with gameable content. I need a little more formatting to get the shit flowing right. 

This is $35 at DriveThru. The preview is a one pager and shitty. For $35 for a fucking PDF you can reach deep and give me a slightly better preview of what I would be, potentially, buying to help me make an informed decision.

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38 Responses to The Mythic North

  1. Thanks Bryce! I’m thrilled you reviewed it, thrilled you liked some aspects of it, and… I swear it looks beautiful as a printed book 😉

  2. Isaac says:

    Thanks Bryce! I’m thrilled you reviewed it, thrilled you liked some aspects of it, and… I swear it looks beautiful as a printed book 😉

  3. Yolande d’Bar says:

    Looks like print copies are sold out. When will they be back in stock?

  4. The Heretic says:

    Bryce, this is so unlike you to give a campaign supplement “the Best” rating. This shit must be good, or you’ve been replaced by an Intellect Devourer.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not surprising. For the mass of people who decry that “there’s no good modules these days”, Bryce’s The Best list is pretty fucking long! There are literally hundreds of “The Best”, even if the term should consist of a singular entry, etymologically-speaking.

      • The Heretic says:

        Bryce is an adventure module reviewer. He tends to get mad when campaign settings get advertised as adventures, so I was surprised he didn’t get annoyed with this one.

  5. Faoladh says:

    This is almost exactly the sort of thing I am looking for. I could do with something similar but with a less pseudo-Christian approach as well, but having witch hunters is definitely on my list of Good Things in a setting. Not for every setting, for sure, but some of them. I’d also really like to see more adventures that use such assumptions (no/limited nonhumans, limited-but-still-present magic, etc), ones that I could import into my own setting that has similar ideas. $35 is a lot to spend on a PDF when what I really want is just to rip off some ideas.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Isaac this looks great!
    I am excited to prepare this!

    What’s the best timeline for the reference docs Bryce mentioned?

    Please let us know where we can find them

    Awesome work

  7. Steamtunnel says:

    Holding Bryce to his standards: I think this should be a “no regrets” given Bryce’s “art-haus” complaints and the observation that elements require severe prep to make it “ready to go” at the table.

  8. Commodore says:

    This sounds like really good content but I cannot imagine ever buying this with those formatting choices.

  9. Isaac says:

    Also – thank you for the heads up about the single page preview. I have a pretty large set of pages specified for preview, but for some reason DriveThruRPG is choosing the roleplaying advice single page handout as the file the preview works on, and my attempts at changing it are failing. Will work on fixing it!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like Isaac is good people though, like Malrex works to make stuff better with playtesting and feedback

  11. OldSchoolClassmate says:

    Yeah, next one will be made of solid gold bricks.

  12. Knightsky says:

    This actually looked to be of interest until I saw the part about white text on black background. Instant un-sell. I don’t care how beautiful the book is if I can’t read the damned thing at the gaming table.

  13. Dimitri says:

    Don’t want to take anything away from the product – clearly, it is very good! However, I would echo others’ surprise at this getting a The Best. Normally, products that have great content, but still require significant work and prep do not get the coveted The Best (or even a No Regerts) – because any product can be great if enough work and prep are put in beforehand. Evidently, this content really hit Bryce’s sweet spot.. and to quote Bryce – he is nothing if not a hypocrite! 🙂

    • bryan says:

      I’ve been running a campaign since getting my KS copy in the summer and haven’t done really any prep at all before any of our sessions… it’s pretty usable out of the box.

  14. Prince says:

    Expecting some prep for a 321 page behemoth is hardly suprising, given how much gameplay you are likely to get out of it.

    Sounds like you picked a winner. Very nice!

    • Dimitri says:

      For sure! But nonetheless, previous reviews have differentiated between great modules which need minimum prep (eg. Stonehell) and great modules which require much more than minimal prep (eg. Night Wolf Inn). Both get praise for their content, but only the former get a The Best (appreciating that useability is not the only factor considered by Bryce, and that you, O Prince, have questioned the need to focus on useability so much). Now I may have been too hasty with my earlier comment – perhaps this module is in fact much easier to run than is implied by the references in the review to the things which Bryce typically hates and/or maybe Bryce’s weighting of such things has changed.

      • Prince says:

        Lets hope this ‘no prep’ trend gets phased out without abandoning it entirely. Selecting mostly on utility has been pretty bad for adventure quality.

        • Gnarley Bones says:

          Hear! Hear!

        • says:

          Agreed. But I think how much prep the DM is going to have to do to make something work before Bryce disqualifies it is a bit grey and ambiguous. This is probably the part of Bryce’s review standards that I can’t quite figure out. This seems like it’s going to take a lot of work, so did Melonath Falls, which had good content but got canned straight away.

    • chainsaw says:

      Yeah, agree. Prep because “no actual model/material” is one thing (bad), but prep in general is something I always do. There’s literally no module I would ever run blind – meaning without reading in advance, noting things important to me, and customizing a little bit.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The updated preview (thanks for that!) appears to be in two page spreads, not individual pages. Is the actual PDF formatted like this, or is it just the preview that’s messed up?

    • Isaac says:

      If you buy it, you get both versions. Single page and spreads.

      • The Heretic says:

        Have you considered including a printer friendly version? That would mitigate the reticence over white font in black backgrounds.

        • Isaac says:

          Nah if you want it in print I’d like you to buy the nice version that matches my vision of the product. Annoying to some I’m sure, but I gotta be an artiste like that. The print copies should be back in stock as soon as Exalted Funeral can get them produced, and then they don’t plan to let them go out of print again for a good long while.

          Obviously black backgrounds are controversial on this site, but I think they look good, and I used them when the art that Kim and Lex provided was on a black background itself. It would be highly labor intensive to change this, and wouldn’t match what I wanted to do with the books anyway.

          Can’t please everyone all the time, I’m afraid!

          • Anonymous says:

            You could consider pleasing potential customers, particularly those of us with visual impairments

          • Knutz Deep says:

            Controversy, or lack thereof, is irrelevant. As I get older, my eyes can’t handle black backgrounds. You can be an “artiste” if you choose to but know that you are limiting your audience somewhat. I would say go first for overall utility. I’d hate to have to pass on a good product simply because the author chose a background color I can’t handle. That would be a waste.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been running this for about 6 months now and it has been an absolute joy to GM and a big hit at my table. The setting books format was a bit difficult at first but through use at the table I’ve gotten used to it.

    The stories that have emerged from the random encounters, site locations, and the parties actions are something my group will be talking about for many years, I think.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m a bit confused about Bryce’s criticism of the “dungeons” in this adventure. Are they good? Do I need other dungeons to add to this or not?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Will there be a way to *just get* the Mythic North book in print on its own?

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