EZG reviews GM’s Miscellany: Village Backdrops
This compilation of Raging Swan Press’ critically-acclaimed and well-received Village Backdrop-series is a massive 101 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page author-bios (read those, fellow gamers – if only so you remember who wrote your favorite supplements), 1 page ToC, 1 page advice for novice DMs on how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 91 pages of content – so let’s get this on, shall we?
Well, first of all, we kick off this massive compilation with a list of all the statblocks in this book and the respective villages in which the beings reside – thus we know in which chapter the respective entry can be found, which is relevant for while the book does have a column of page-numbers, unfortunately the page-numbers themselves seem to have gone missing. So, as a courtesy to my loyal readers, who endure rambling review after rambling review, here are the page-numbers, from top to bottom: 96, 84, 84, 53, 36, 41, 54, 89, 34, 28, 89, 36, 77, 54, 65, 71, 41, 90, 78, 70, 40, 35, 53, 72, 29, 60, 65, 48. You’re welcome. 🙂
Back to the review: Want a good example why Raging Swan Press is one of the major players among 3pp? They listen to their customers. In one of my reviews, I mentioned that support for Ultimate Campaign would have been the icing on the cake. What do we get here? Essentially an Ultimate Campaign-style breakdown of all the villages and development options etc. – that is AWESOME.
What’s also awesome would be the following section of the book, which I term “So what’s the village like, anyways?” – not content with simply providing an array of iconic villages, we get a full-blown village design-guide/generator: From basics like conflicts, flavor etc. to tables to determine government, alignment, prominent features, industry, population, notable buildings, conflicts and secrets, to 100 sample village names, 20 generic events and even 20 traditions, we essentially get all the tools to create iconic villages on the fly. Better yet, we also get a massive array of no less than 32 sample market place-entries containing magic items that can be bought in your village and even 20 sample sellers to add flavor to the purchasing experience. This chapter is gold for the time-crunched DM: Literally, with just a couple of rolls, you can craft the basics of just about any village – this is preparation gold!
So…next would be the respective villages: From bee-centric Apia over plague-ridden Ashford to Bossin in the grasp of bullies, Denton’s End, where the dead rise to the Golden Valley, a settlement in the declining stages of a gold rush and lovecraftian, decadent Hard Bay; Hosford, where people have been disappearing; disputed Longbridge; xenophobic Oakhurst; Roake with its troubled past and fragile idyll; Thornhill’s dreary mood to finally White Moon Cove, the seaside village featured in “The Sunken Pyramid” – the villages are essentially all characters of their own, coming with lavish mapped, each and every one studded with rumors, market places, personalities, events and awesome maps. (Of which you can find player-friendly versions on RSP’s homepage.)
Want to know more about the respective villages? Well, I’ve written an in-depth review for each and every one of them, so check those out – I’m not going to repeat myself and bore you.
Editing and formatting, aside from the unpleasant glitch in the statblock-summary-table, is superb and just about flawless. Layout adheres to RSP’s 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an array of thematically-fitting b/w-artworks, many of which actually take up a whole page. Cartography is universally awesome. As a pdf, the book comes in two versions, with one being particularly printer-friendly and one optimized for screen-use. The print edition, which I’m holding in my hands right now, is of top quality with nice, solid paper. I would have loved to have the book’s name on the spine – to find it easier. The pdfs come fully bookmarked for your convenience.
The authors John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Eric Hindley, Ben Kent, Greg Marks and Marc Radle have all contributed their fair share and talent to making the Village Backdrop-series as awesome as it turned out and this book, not content with just compiling the first 12 installments of the series, this pdf instead adds additional material galore – extremely useful, cool additional material that helps with the use of Ultimate Campaign and with the generator, this should allow beleaguered DMs to create a nice array of on-the-fly villages. Not only is this a great collection of iconic villages, it adds so much more value and for the fair asking price, should be considered a steal. And with only one gripe tarnishing what otherwise should be considered a simply stellar collections of iconic locales, this book leaves me no real choice but to recommend it at a full 5 stars + seal of approval. If you already own all the backdrops, this is better than printing them out thanks to the added material, but probably should clock in at a star less. If you only own half of them, then this should still be considered an excellent purchase and well-worth getting.