EZG reviews The Five Families: Criminal Organizations for Every Campaign World
This pdf clocks in at 43 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 40 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
We kick off this pdf with a short introduction and then delve into generating an organization – which is surprisingly simple: Organizations receive stats, just like characters. These would be Force, Response, Resources, Information, Magic and Influence – if you haven’t noticed by now: They are rather self-explanatory and analogue to a character’s attributes. Now hit points for such organizations are interesting – they are calculated via members, strongholds etc. and high-level members provide more hit points. Loss of members via events etc. is covered with concise rules, as is an organization making skill-checks. Since it represents a pooling of resources, skills used take longer, but quite probably also yield rather nice results. From obtaining a mount to diverse levels of military support and making requests, the list here is pretty concise, makes sense and in-game, turns out to be working rather well. Much like characters, organizations may take feats – organization feats. A total of 15 of those are provided and my only gripe here would be that I would have loved to see this expanded much, much further. So these basic rules out of the way, let’s take a look at the sample families created, shall we?
The first would be the House of Nath, which, like all organizations herein, comes with full stats and background information. This one would be a powerful criminal syndicate, appropriate for a large city or metropolis. The curious reader will also notice that no less than 4 sample NPC-builds with full stats are provided – from the lowly street-thug to the boss. While the statblocks lack the respective CRs, they do come with XP and all other relevant information. Beyond these nice builds, we also get information on the manse of the family, their signature sleep-inducing magic saps and 4 adventure hooks provide even further inspiration. While the manor’s maps in full color are aesthetically perhaps not the best maps one could ask for, the sheer fact that the stronghold is mapped already is a nice bonus in my book – so kudos!
Now if you were looking for something more out there, what about the second organization, the Carnival of Air – devoted wholly to the grand game of cons. With dreamweavers, fireworks and illusions galore, this mobile organization brings something completely different to the table – once again, with fully mapped carnival’s grounds, an AWESOME piece of b/w-art for the kitsune lord of the place and two damn cool signature magic items. And that’s before the neat hooks. Two thumbs up ! (Even though no carnival will ever come close to my love for a certain evil one in the Scarred Lands…)
The third family is no less awesome – the “Daughters of Repose” as a secret organization of all-female assassins in service to the Deity of Death – you can’t contact them, you donate and pray and hope they’ll hear your prayers and end the target – especially if said target has been brought back from the dead. After all, we can’t have those folk try to prolong their allotted time now, can we? Now these killer-nuns become even more awesome once you realize they can meld weapons via a new special quality with their bodies…Lethal, iconic in imagery…neat.
Now the Minders could be considered a conglomerate of academics, scholars and those embittered by those in power – all devoted to dragging the ugly, pesky secrets into the open and profit from them. Think “The Riddler”, Wikileaks or just an extortion ring meets paparazzi, all combined with massive intelligentsia. Yeah, if the DM plays these guys right, the result will be nasty for the players…Have I mentioned the magical tape recorder brooch?
Now the final organization would be the Skrinn – think Warhammer’s Skaven ratfolk gone full-blown sewer-drug-dealers – living in subterranean cities long buried and build over, this syndicate deserves special mention for a small array of nice traps to add to the 3-pages of dungeon levels that constitute their warrens. plus, I always liked evil ratfolk, so this is another winner for me. Add to that grappling liquid and sleep-inducing smoke and we have another neat one.
Editing and formatting are better than in most Adamant-books I’ve seen so far and actually good – not much to complain on that end. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the b/w artworks range from stock art to beautiful pieces I haven’t seen been. The maps are okay and do their job, but come sans player-friendly ones, which is a pity. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a major comfort detriment.
Author Peter Aperlo delivers an easy-to-grasp, concise system for handling organizations, any organizations, really, herein and then trumps it with 5 awesome sample organizations full of interesting statblocks and even maps to supplement them. I…I didn’t expect this, but I really, really loved this book. Sure, there could be more organization feats. (And why stop there – go for TRAITS as well – only dwarves, only elves, drug-focus etc. – the possibilities to expand the system are endless!) And what I’d give for proper synergy with the downtime-rules from Ultimate Campaign to get a full-blown organization stronghold-kit… Or for a guideline for Prestige Awards/tie-in with the request-system…
But honestly, you can make this synergy work out yourself. The organization-as-character-system is simple, easy to grasp, remains firmly in the DM’s control and does not invalidate characters, but allows you to depict full-blown shadow-wars, campaigns in which powerful organizations are the adversaries of the PCs, etc. This book is surprisingly glorious. Yes, it has some glitches. No bookmarks. And overall, these formal nitpicks add up. But it’s still just…awesome. Inspiring and immensely useful. Note that these rules can easily make a village, a thorp etc. a character-like entity as well!
This is one of those humble, overlooked underdog pdfs I just love – and it should have so much more exposure. While I can’t rate this in the highest echelon due to formal, NOT writing/quality-issues, I still can recommend the hell out of this damn fine, cool supplement – even if you ignore the organization-creation-rules and just go for the organizations themselves, this offers ample bang for your buck due to the cool ideas, neat characters and generally iconic options these families bring toa campaign. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at an unusual 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 and still add my seal of approval as a sign of my personal love for this beast.