Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: The Majestic Wilderlands

Going along with my recent posts about sandboxes and Wilderlands, I thought now would be a good time to do a review for a product I recently got in PDF and print that I was very pleased with.  Rob Conley's Supplement VI: The Majestic Wilderlands is an example of one of those campaign settings that was born out of the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy I mentioned in last week's post.

Before I get into the thick of things, I have to first admit I am not very well versed in the lore of the original Wilderlands.  So for me, it was hard to know where Bill Owen and Bob Bledsaw end and Rob Conley begins.  The piece of the name 'Supplement VI' comes from the idea that this product is a continuation of the original supplements from the original D&D ruleset.  The Majestic Wilderlands are what Rob Conley's Widlerlands campaign turned into, and within you'll find character options, spells, items, and lore.  One curious thing I found was that Rob thanks Matthew Finch for putting together the Swords & Wizardry Core Rule, but the book reads as something to be used with the 'White Box' rules. Rob has informed me this product was made with the S&W Core Rules used d6's so that explains that!  You'll see this with the references to d6 as opposed to the other types.  Any crunch of this book could easily be made read for use with S&W Core/Complete and other old school games pretty easily though.

The book first describes character options, such as new types of fighters, clerics, and magic-users.  All the new class options are interesting, however Rob makes a point to say they are NOT balanced.  This was by design, a mere reflection of 'reality'.  However, there are some obvious class choices that there is almost NO reason not to take.  The Mages of Thoth for instance, have a Magic Shield making them invulnerable to many types of spells.  You'd have to hope your players have a desire for exploring character types, because you could easily find yourself a cabal of Thoth Mages.  That said, the new class options can be used in most other campaign settings, especially the Fighting-Men options.

Next, races are covered.  Nothing major here other than a few new races, with some house-ruled modifiers.  I DID like the flavor and lore descriptions for the origin of races.  Whether this is Rob's creation or otherwise, a very cool background for the races.  Rob also has a whole section on 'Abilities' which come off a lot like skills from 3.x D&D.  Useful for transplanting those concepts into the older-style game, though I'm not sure I'd want to use them.  If I want a game dictated by skill points, I'd run my other favored rulesystem (Pathfinder).  There are some neat combat house rules included here as well.

Next up are sections on magic, which include some flavor reasoning on why magic works the way it does and some new spells.  Then you get the monster and treasure sections.  Short, sweet, and full of really neat stuff.  I really enjoy the lore for vampires and lycanthropes.  The magic items are cool too, easily transferable to another setting.

The rest of the book then covers Rob's version of the the Wilderlands.  Rather than a hex map with no filling like the original Wilderlands, this book goes into some detail of each region of the world.  Cultures, religions, and geography are discussed.  For such a short book, you get plenty of information to start running a campaign.  You can run a very varied one at that, there are 'Northlands' type regions, Middle-East/Egypt type regions, and more.  What is considered the 'main campaign' area are the regions of the famous City-State of the Invincble Overlord.  Again, enough detail is given to get the story going, but still plenty to be filled in my your own game.

Overall, I think the Majestic Wilderlands is a great book.  I read it cover to cover.  The print version comes in a size close to the LBBs and won't take much space on your bookshelf.  You can get the PDF and Print together for pretty cheap.  If you go and get the basic Wilderlands of High Fantasy maps (and even the old books with hex location descriptions) you are ready to roll for a campaign.  Even if you just had this book, it's plenty to get a world set up for your players to explore.

Verdict: Get it if you want a light-weight campaign setting book or just want some inspiration for your own homebrew world.  It's a quality book with a lot to appreciate.

I really like Rob's work.  I hope to post some reviews of his Points of Light books available from Goodman Games at some point.  They are really neat books too. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On sandboxes and Wilderlands Part 2

Last week I wrote about the influences of railroad and sandbox campaigns.  It's important to understand that creating a sandbox was sort of implied by the original rules of D&D.  You built your milieu as the players expanded their explorations and what you ended up with was a fleshed out world.

Very early in the hobby's lifespan a company called the 'Judges Guild' began producing licensed material for D&D.  What could be considered the first third party publisher for the game, they crafted a number of products that have shaped many player's game worlds and is still used today as the setting of many campaigns.  If you're not new to the hobby, you already know all about this but I think it's important to write about here.  My continuing theme of blog posts that are upcoming will reflect this.

In case you don't know the famous campaign setting I'm talking about, it's the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.  Though this isn't a review (it wouldn't feel right to try to review a piece of history like this) I want to discuss what made this book so incredible at the time.

For those who could not draw maps very well or hadn't quite developed the imagination to build whole regions of a world, this book was great.  Right as you open the book you find tables for rolling your d6, to randomly create caves, lairs, dungeon dressing, and more.  The real chunk of the book though, is the details of the campaign world itself.  As opposed to today's modern technique of publishing a 300+ page campaign setting book and numerous supplemental material, the Wilderlands itself was a 30-odd page digest packed full of useful tables and information.  It had a few sister-books that detailed other regions of the campaign setting but those too were relatively thin books.

Of course when I use the word 'detailed', I do so carefully.  There isn't much detail to be found here at all actually.  What you find is listing of cities with some rough statistics, as well as lairs/caves/encounters with descriptive text of what is going on at that location.  Their keyed location on the enormous map that came with the book was a great technique.  Not only did you have a huge map of hexes ready-to-use, but you already had city names, adventure hooks, and more already placed and easily referenced.  As opposed to the book painstakingly describing each city and region, these details are largely left to the DM to flavor in the way they choose.  Is Telegonist of Kest the ruler because he used his magic to enslave the villagers?  Or is it because they revere him as a god?  It's up to the DM and the players to paint the story here.

What this has led to is a number of different 'Wilderlands' settings exist, each personalized by the DM.  One of these I'll be discussing in a future post, but I really think this was part of the magic of the Wilderlands.  Sure more material would detail the City-State of the Invincible Overlord and other areas, but this book by itself could be used for endless gaming hours.

Now the format of the book could be considered a little cluttered and disorganized to the modern eye, but I would still recommend taking a gander at the book's contents.  The best part is, it's still available as a PDF!  Not to mention a large sampling of other Judges Guild classics.

Whew, I still write a lot.  The importance of the Wilderlands as a ready-made sandbox will be illustrated more as I continue my theme of sandboxes and campaign settings on this blog.  Next post, I'll be reviewing a product very relevant to this blog post.  Should be fun.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

On sandboxes and Wilderlands Part 1

Happy new year everyone!  I'm a week late but hey, holiday travel keeps you busy.  Before the holidays hit my last blog entry was about a decent hex grid I constructed in order to create campaign maps.  There was a particular purpose for this, which will be covered in new blog entries forthcoming.  For awhile there is going to be a running theme to my blog posts, mostly to do with campaign setting design.  Also, as a new years resolution, I want to bring write more reviews for the blog.  I have a large amount of gaming material I could review, some that I've used in my games and some I've just read through.  I actually have a review in the works I hope to push out very soon.  ANOTHER resolution is to try to make my blog posts shorter and cut them up across several smaller posts for easier digestion.  We will see if I can keep to that, I'm very long-winded.

Now that all that is out of the way let's get into the topic at hand.  Lately I've been into sandboxes.  In the OSR world and old-style play there is a good amount of focus on the sandbox.  I experienced it a long time ago but in the modern gaming scene railroading seems to be pretty prevalent.  I liken it to the MMORPG scene, where games like WOW and SWTOR feel very railroad-y (or in mmo terminology, amusement park style).  You go where the game expects you to go and everyone is along for the ride too.  Compared to say, the old Star Wars Galaxies MMO around first release (which I LOVED), which was a sandbox.  You went where you wanted, when you wanted, and the most important part: you made your own fun. 

When I think about the games I used to run when I was in high school and relatively new to the hobby, my adventures were very railroad-y.  This was okay, as my players were introduced to RPGs by me and it's all they knew.  A little structure helped them get their feet wet.  However, I didn't have much developed and had they wanted to go their own way I wouldn't have been able to do much.  There was a few occasions where I winged it, made up stats on the fly for things, but this was D&D 3.5 where things were supposed to be balanced.  Though those skills of crafting on the fly would help me today (throwing together HP, attack, and XP values), it didn't lend itself well to that system.

Paizo's Pathfinder Adventure Paths are pretty good railroad adventures.  Many of them allow for some sandboxing and working outside the rail-lines but there is always the overarching railroad.  Most published modules are like this, really.  There is an expectation of what is going to happen.  By contrast having a good sandbox developed means the world is at the player's feet and it is up to those players to 'make their own fun' and do what they want to do, not what you as the DM want them to.

Just some thoughts and for any grognard reading this I'm preaching to the choir, I know.  Long-winded again, but tune in next time when I talk a little more about sandboxes and one of the most famous old school settings in the hobby's history.