By Isaac VanDuyn Esoteric Ludology OSR
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.