Adventures in the Borderland Provinces (PFRPG/OSR/5e)
Adventures in the Borderland Provinces
This massive hardcover clocks in at 166 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/product overview, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of back cover, leaving us with 160 pages of pure adventure…so let’s take a look!
This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purpose of a fair and critical review.
“Welcome to the Borderlands. You’ll probably die here.” – Ari Marmell’s first sentence of the introduction of this book is pretty much amazing…and it makes clear from the get-go that this book provides old-school modules, in the slogan of FGG: “Modules worth winning!” – i.e. challenging, hard modules that test your mettle and not just CR-appropriate hand-holding exercises. As such, this massive book obviously represents a collection of adventures, all new ones, I might add – so even completionists with a huge NG-collection like me get all new material here…
…and since this review covers said adventures in detail, I strongly encourage players who want to play these to skip ahead to the conclusion. From here on, the SPOILERS reign.
All right, still here?
The first module presented herein would be “On a Lonely Road”, penned by Anthony Pryor, intended for 2nd level PCs…and it makes perfect use of the Borderlands and the notion of travel/sandboxy nature of the region: Situated in the city of Troye, the PCs are contacted by Professor Sarrus Togren to act as muscle during an important journey: The scholar weaves a yarn of the fabled Ancient Ones and their civilization, lost to the ravages of time and the reputedly dangerous Yolbiac Vale – it is for this expedition that the PCs are hired by the professor and his research assistant, one half-elven beauty named Nymea Goswynn. Obviously, there will be more people on board: Wilderness-experienced Maissee Tlivant and arcane student Gedney Foulkes as well as several other students are supposed to accompany the troupe – which coincidentally may be a nice way to replace PCs that have met their ultimate fate, but that just as an aside. The adventure proceeds, on a daily pace, to set the mood – there is plenty of time to allow the PCs to become invested with the NPCs – the journey is fraught with peril, obviously, with bandit ambushes and the like, but it is the slow escalation that makes this module work:
Slowly, but steadily, distrust is sown; weird dreams haunt the participants and the proof seems to accumulate that not all is as it seems – and when strange beings, white claws and chaos erupts, when people are going missing and the PCs have to explore a concisely-presented, thematically consistent dungeon to prevent a rite most foul…you could actually mistake this for one of the better CoC or LotFP-modules, as its blend of the fantastic, weird and horrific comes together in a truly fascinating experience that makes ample use of the grand sense of antiquity suffusing the Lost lands. More importantly, the module’s pacing, crucial to anything horrific or darker in theme, as well as the read-aloud text, are impeccable in their effects. A superb, unpretentious genre-piece of a module and certainly one that deserves being played.
Illusion and Illumination by Rhiannon Louve, for characters of 6th level, is a completely different beast and frankly, with its whimsical tone, it very much is appropriate for play with younger players. A pair of fey from the city of Mirquinoc, has been troubling candle-maker Yannick…and everything is confused due to the pixies getting horribly drunk and confusing the orders bestowed upon them by their queen due to somewhat magical, local beer! The candle-maker’s a good person and can fashion somewhat magical candles, 7 of which are provided. Alas, the rules-component of these candles is pretty messed up – lack of CLs for spell-duplicating effects, minor deviations from the rules-language – while only tangentially-relevant to the plot, I was pretty disappointed by this sidebar. On a plus-side, unraveling the chaos is pretty fun, since it becomes slowly apparent that the pixie’s pestering is supposed to make the candle-maker confess to sins he has not committed. In order to fix this situation and prevent innocents from getting hurt, Yannick beseeches the PCs to help him embark on a quest to talk to the fey queen Twylinvere. On the way towards the queen, through the wilderness, the pixies and their stealthy antics as well as the original target of the pixies, one nasty fey called Oromirlynn and the thralls need to be defeated to clean up the misunderstanding.
The Mountain that Moved by Gwendolyn Kestrel is written for 9th level characters and takes place within the Cretian Mountains, which have a nasty reputation for in-bred settlements, cannibals and strange disappearances. And indeed, within the settlement of Yandek, strange mutations abound among the folk there and various angles provide for different means of entering the module. If you take a look at the Yandek folk template, you’ll note an angle not unlike the flavor of the horrid ogres of the Hook Mountain – a Hills have Eyes-vibe suffuses the module. Hilarious for me: The inclusion of a character named Blind Piet…I don’t seem to be the only GM who has a recurring theme of a rogue of that name… The deadly and pretty nasty cannibalism-angle suffuses the wilderness-section of the module, but there also would be a mine to explore, one that features a very strange property of the place….oh, and have I mentioned the mountain that walked’s secret, which is, indeed, very evocative and makes for a potentially brutal showdown…just sayin’.
The Two Crucibles by C.A. Suleiman, written for 8th level characters, is something completely different and blends deductive investigation, social politicking and dungeon crawling in one evocative combo: The Vanigoths may seem like barbarians to the more civilized folks of the Borderland Provinces, but they do have several intriguing traditions: During the crucible of blood, a kind of moot/Þing, there is a very real chance of an election of a Warhalac, a warlord independent of the overking…which may mean war among the vanigoths and with the kingdom of Suilley. The PCs basically stumble into becoming honored guests – and potentially, participants among the savage customs and games associated with the crucible and the adventure also requires the PCs to deal with a powerful adversary in his dungeon, undermining mystical power and dealing with a capital letter ARTIFACT of nasty proportions. This module drips flavor and its focus on roleplaying and cultural tidbits make sense. Amazing module.
The War of the Poppies by Eytan Bernstein, for 10th level characters, is a pretty freeform investigation scenario and takes place in Mana, capital town of Suilley – where blue poppies are swaying the taste of local addicts and shadow wars to retain control of the opium trade still abound. It is here that noble scions, fresh from the grand tournament of the lilies, have vanished after partaking in the novel, blue opium…and it is up to the PCs to find the truth, as magical means seem to fail to properly locate them. Here, the module excels with a significant array of flavor text, clues to unearth and people to interrogate, as the mystery of the blue poppy and the truth behind it beckon ever more…though the module goes one step beyond and actually talks about dealing with the addicts, helping rehabilitation, etc. – sample Q&A-sections help the GM run the module and render this yet another full-blown winner.
A Most Peculiar Hunt by Ari Marmell is intended for 12th level PCs and takes place in the unclaimed lands as such, it makes perfect use of the region: Three communities (Avrandt, Corvul and Vath) not particularly far from the Aachen border have went to war – which, in itself is not remarkable. The solution proposed, though, was: Instead of wasting resources and lives, the 3 quasi-lords have agreed on a competition to solve their difficulties by trophy collecting of exotic animals…read: Monsters. Unfortunately, this competition has had untoward consequences: Hiring several adventurers has caused a kind of monster migration towards Aachen. In order to bring peace to the region and stop the potentially dangerous migration of monsters towards more populated areas, the PCs will have to explore the region and unearth the truths behind the motivations of the three “lords.” Beyond uncovering intrigues (and a particularly cool BBEG), the PCs will have to deal with both a dragon and a very powerful group of rival adventurers…making this definitely one of the most challenging modules in the collection…and that’s saying something! Still, an amazing sandbox indeed!
Ectarlin’s Last Ride by Scott Fitzgerald Gray would also be intended for 12th level PCs and takes place at the coast of Eastwhich and more than one vessel has recently gone missing there, the holds ransacked and crews massacred. So far, so common – the region is not haunted by the usual issues with pirates and cutthroats – instead, the matter at hand is far more complex. In order to unearth the truth behind this mystery, though, the PCs will have to take part in a salvage operation (cool!) and a threat that may well steal memories, making for a truly amazing experience when presented to experienced roleplayers…and beyond a flow-chart, the PCs may actually witness the deadly threats duke it out with ghostly riders, potentially participate in the massive battle for literally the souls of a village, explore ruins, understand the fractured nature of the eponymous spirit lord drawn back to the mortal spheres and finally, defeating the powerful evil behind the horrid happenings.
After a brief appendix, the book provides a TON of maps – and all are prevented in proper, full-sized versions for both GMs and players, with the latter purged of secret maps, etc. – which is awesome for going the extra mile.
Editing and formatting are almost perfect, great on a formal level, with some minor hiccups on a rules-language level, but not enough to drag this down. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the book comes with a ton of amazing b/w-artworks, all new and shiny. The pdf iteration comes fully bookmarked for your convenience….but the true beauty if the dead-tree hardcover, which is bound in the usual, high quality we have come to appreciate and love in our Frog God Games-books.
Eytan Bernstein, Soctt Fitzgerald Gray, Gwendolyn Kestrel, Rhiannon Louve, Ari Marmell, Anthony Pryor and C.A. Suleiman have written an amazing compilation of adventures. This is, quality-wise, all killer, no filler – each of the modules in this book has its definite strengths and distinct narrative voices, while still retaining the consistency that the Borderland Provinces book established. More importantly, while the module here should definitely provide ample fodder for fans of old-school dungeon-crawling and aesthetics, I was positively surprised by the emphasis on smart players, on roleplaying and unearthing information – this is very much a ROLEplaying compilation that featured a ton of gorgeous scenes and truly astonishing vistas to explore. Cloak and dagger intrigue, deception and politics provide a level of investment for PCs and players alike to set this book apart from other compilations.
In short: When used in conjunction with the massive sourcebook, this book provides one of the most immersive sequences of adventures I have witnessed in a while…while still, thankfully, losing none of its plug-and-play-components. Suffused with the fantastic and the weird, a sense of fantastic, Gygaxian realism and some angles I have not seen before, the modules herein MATTER. They affect the lives of the people of the provinces and the diversity of challenges is amazing; I was positively surprised regarding the interaction of cultures, investigations, politics – all modules herein have the theme of indirect storytelling in common and use it perfectly. The book is amazing and very much represents the best of the Frog God Games that has transcended and surpassed the legacy of Necromancer Games. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and yes, this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.
You can get the PFRPG-version, on which this review’s based, here on OBS and here on tabletoplibrary.com!
Do you prefer old-school S&W? That version can be found here on OBS and here on tabletoplibrary.com!
Like 5e? That version can be found here on tabletoplibrary.com!
You can find the print-versions here on the frog’s homepage!