This installment of the Village Backdrops-line is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page advice for novice DMs on how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Ashford may once have been a place brimming with the quiet, simple life of small towns – but no longer. Reduced to a shadow of its former state, Ashford is ravaged by the bubonic plague and the empty shells of houses stand among sad remnants that are inhabited by survivors of the plague – people with broken spirits and no hope, waiting solemnly to join their deceased friends and family in an early grave – or drowning their sorrows in alcohol.
The village priest has failed to contain the plague and so hatred, rage and despair abound, as plague pits filled with the corpses of the fallen litter the landscape and the local ruler ignores his citizen’s plight. The local wizard met the interruption of her studies with a fireball into the enraged mob and no help is coming on that front either. Worse, one of the village’s priests not only succumbed to the plague, but hasn’t been interred in the chapel, thrown instead into plague pits and now has risen from the grave, seeking revenge as a ghoulish priest. Events in the village center on enhancing this sense of desolation and collapsing buildings and feral dogs paint in thick strokes an image of anguish and end-times-like circumstances.
Sidebars depicting abandoned and burnt-out houses, whispers and rumors and lore as well as 4 statblocks should help any prospective DM in properly conveying the sense of dread evoked by this settlement.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s 2-column b/w-standard and as always, a high-res version of the map can be downloaded at Raging Swan’s homepage. The cartography of the village is top-notch and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two different versions, one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer.
Mastermind of Raging Swan press Creighton Broadhurst is a master of depicting dreary, gritty, grimy locales with concise writing and vivid prose – and this pdf is no different. Indeed, if anything, it is a prime example of what can be done with a scant few words – supplemented by a glorious map in b/w, Ashford is a town you want to include into your campaign, evoking a sense of ending that doesn’t need a scream, but comes with an oh so much more powerful whisper – there’s no villain to be fought, no monster to be defeated to make all well – this is an exercise in combating human nature, a chance for the PCs to make a point that the “g” in their alignment is not about killing things with “e” in their alignment – here’s a chance to rekindle hope against all odds, combat despair and try to save not lives, but a town’s very soul. We need more supplements like this and while reading it, I was constantly wishing for a true plague-outbreak module or even better, an AP in that vein. And every supplement that can get me, after the countless books I’ve read, this excited and invested, deserves 5 stars + seal of approval. Get this!