Fields of Blood
#9 of my Top Ten of 2015!
Fields of Blood is a massive sourcebook/adventure-book that clocks in at 221 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 216 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, first of all: What is this book? Simple: Fields of Blood is the latest terrain-centric hardcover-book by Frog God Games, a tome detailing perhaps the most neglected environment in adventuring and fiction in general, EVER. Plains. Don’t believe me? Well, name 3 fantastic stories that use plains for more than a backdrop for an epic clash of armies or for the flair they hold. I mean, there are copious desert-themed and mountain-themed modules with epic backdrops out there; there are explorations of the underdark and swamps…plains? Not so much. Perhaps it’s because they’re so plain….*chirping; tumble-weed rolls by* Sorry. I’ll hit myself later, but I had to get that one out of my system.
Kidding aside, if you thought plains were just too plain a terrain to make them awesome in your game…well, then this book should more than remedy this misconception. How? Well, let me once again ramble a bit and tell you a personal story: When I first got my hands on a particular book, it not only blew me away, it changed my conceptions of what to expect from the Underdark – this book was the classic, old Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide, which, to this day, remains one of the books I pull out time and again, regardless of system: It made me appreciate caves and caverns on a whole new level, educated me and, beyond knowledge from which I directly benefitted at school, ultimately is the reason I even contemplates spelunking as a fun means of exploration, both in fiction and real life.
Similarly, when your notion is that plains are boring, lack proper, interesting environmental hazards and sport not that much of narrative potential, of plains being plain, well, then this book will forever change your perspective. For one, we receive a careful, precisely researched discussion on the different types of plains you can adventure in, their seasonal cycle and their very meaning within the frame of a concisely-presented campaign setting. However, the level of realism, unlike in most such supplements, extends to lengths that generate something I only rarely encounter – a presentation that concise, it manages to enlighten and teach and yet does not feel bland or boring; better yet, the serious and compelling presentation, including e.g. different toxins and diseases encountered, manages to slowly transition from the mundane to the fantastical. As a European, I was for example not aware of hazards like Black Blizzards actually existing – so beyond mosquito-swarms (including, as mentioned before, diseases) and earthquakes, we slowly move into the fantastical, generating a sense of immersive cohesion that can only rarely be encountered in supplements these days sans becoming dry – which the book never becomes.
Strange as that may sound, I found myself soaking up information on diverse plains-types, their repercussions for settlements and the importance of e.g. horses, the dangers of grass fires and the environmental challenges that hardy travelers face. When you’re gunning (haha) for African-themed or Wild West-campaigns, you’ll have your work cut out for you here as well, providing a spotlight for environments almost unanimously neglected. Easy random temperature generators and tables complete perhaps one of the most inspiring introductory chapters I’ve read in such a book in quite a while.
This being also a crunch-book, we go on to present various feats, which, for the most part, are interesting and reflect the local cultures one may encounter on the plains – teamwork feats building on Snatch Arrows that allow you and your ally to flip weapons around to thrown them at foes past their defenses and the horse-themed feats you’d expect alongside means of substituting Perception with Sense Motive for noticing Disguises. Over all, the feat-chapter provides a solid array of feat-options, most of which sport a narrative component, though they, on their own, did not completely blow me away. Where the previously stunning level of quality, however, is once again reached is with the copious array of survival gear, both mundane and magical: While never trivializing the challenges posed by the environment, the numerous mundane objects you can find herein lend an added sense of realism and a sense of accomplishment for well-prepared PCs to the fray. Similarly, the magic items, of which there are A LOT, are characterized, surprisingly, not by simply providing spells-in-a-can, bland +x weaponry or the like.
Instead, this chapter showcases two components I thoroughly enjoyed: First, while masters of atmosphere and adventure-crafting, early Necromancer Games and Frog God Games-titles did sometimes get the crunch-crafting somewhat less well done. Secondly, there is a tendency for regional supplements to make either the environments trivial via magic items or provide reskins. This book falls prey to neither of these issues, instead providing thoroughly inspired items that resonate with a sense of the mythical, the magical, while supplementing the regional fluff by virtue of their existence. What do I mean by this? Well, what about magical pelts that convey powers upon you? Magical beanstalks? Braggart’s Mugs? Yes, the respective items are inspired, feel magical and yet realistic for their context and generally are mechanically sound and do not replace currently existing items, showcasing perfectly a crucial, yet imho under-appreciated component of Frog God Games as a company and the team in general.
The next chapter, then, would contain a pretty significant array of new monsters, a component in which you can, if you’re like me, observe a similar growth: Most adversaries contained within the pages of this book sport unique abilities that set them apart: Whether it’s knuckle-running gorilla-men or stirge-like, sleep-inducing and shape-changing bloodsuckers, the monsters within these pages, even when not drawn from real world mythology, do sport a narrative sense of cohesion that represents well the resonance of central themes of the conditio humana that we appreciate from our real life monster tales: When e.g. an undead creature, born from a betrayed and slain pregnant woman can not only execute sadness-inducing touch attacks via the undead unborn reaching through the elastic skin of her belly, can only be released from undead torment by a kiss of her lover, then we have not only a nightmarish adversary, we have practically the work cut out for us. When a person’s perverse notions transcend death and render the villain even worse than when alive…then, of that I’m sure, not only I will be among the grinning DM-population of this planet we call home.
Now the sense of realism and internal cohesion is also maintained among the various spells and archetypes found herein, which, with one notable exception, represent mostly useful utility-spells, interesting buffs that represent a chaotic, yet powerful representation of Blood Brotherhood, necromancy-based duplications of the effects of dreaded ergot and, yes, more fantastical representations of magical might. Similarly, the archetypes provided herein are characterized mainly by their modification of rules to fit within the context of plains-societies, providing thus an array of options which may actually be relevant in other settings as well by virtue of the concepts they represent.
Speaking of a truly distinguished narrative cohesion and immersive presentation: Following the tradition of the environmental supplements of Frog God Games-manufacture, we also are introduced to a significant array of unique deities for the plains and savannahs – and here, usually, I’d be groaning; after all, I’ve read so many regional deity-write-ups…but I didn’t here. Why? Because I have rarely read an array of this well-written deities – with creation-myths aptly summing up a feasible context of mythological genesis, we once again underline the overall feeling of holistic realism this book manages to convey – to the extent where this huge book left me with ideas to base whole campaigns around the content presented within these pages – and overall impression that is not even mitigated by the downright broken Time domain (with the other domains being solid) presented herein, which nets you 3+Wis move actions as free actions per day.
This module, much like its predecessor in spirit, the superb “Dunes of Desolation”, we also receive three rather extensive adventures. I will not go into the nit and grit of those, but I will provide you with a general idea of the modules in question.
From here on out, thus, the SPOILERS will reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? If you’re a player and read on, Tsathogga may eat your soul!
Only GMs left? Great! The first module, Feats of Fury, intended for 1st level characters, is a tale of tragedy and woe: Vumira gave once birth to twins: Atsu and his sister Ramla; wonderful children they were, but, alas, on the last feast of their childhood, tragedy struck as tokoloshes attacked: Ramla, was badly wounded, while her brother emerged from this ordeal as the true hero of the settlement – but the aftermath of the tragedy saw Vumira emotionally scarred and deranged, the mother believing due to a strange birthmark erroneously her daughter to be in league with the dread adversaries – and, as so often, her campaign of mistrust and hatred drove her own daughter to ultimately become what she dreaded most, the instrument, at least potentially, of the village’s demise. Years went by, and now Atsu, in love with none other than his disguised twin sister, is away from the village and revenge is at hand…or is it? To uncover the tangled web of fear and superstition, the PCs will need wits as well as brawns, investigating, roleplaying, hex-crawling and finally braving a dungeon to secure the future.
The second module, Red Wedding (intended for level 4 characters), is a rather interesting one that highlights interactions between settlements: Namely, the racially intolerant humans and the barbarous orcs – two settlements defined by mutual mistrust and violence, potentially to be bridged by the burgeoning love between two star-crossed lovers amidst the populace – when Crystal Biltumur was slain by her father for her love-affair (and the illegitimate child she was carrying) with the intelligent and rather sophisticated orc Stolen Tongue, what could have become a golden age dawned into burgeoning all out warfare, with outsiders being summoned by the bitter orcs from nearby Zabladai’s ruins (which, alongside the hex-crawling action, provides a damn cool ruined city-feeling) – only if the PCs manage to defeat the ancient evil stirring then and ultimately, manage to unite the lovers in life or death, can the undead monstrosity that once was Crystal be truly put to rest.
The final module, Madness Grows, takes place in Akados’ massive haunted steppe and is intended for 7th level characters – overall, it may be the story-wise most straight-forward of the modules, though it does make up for that via several interesting side-quest seeds: The general idea is pretty simple: The PCs arrive at a sacked town, realizing that the centaurs and other marauding (and surprisingly pretty aggressive) adversaries seem to be following a mad course – and madness may be spreading…but how? If your reply was “Demonic influence!” or “Machinations of the Great Old Ones!” or “A weird spell-plague!” – you’d be wrong in all three cases. What’s the source of the insanity and violence that threatens to spread? Well, I am not going to spoil that component here, mainly since I believe that it is the coolest component of the module – and I want you to read it for yourself.
The massive book then closes with a significant array of random encounter tables that list creatures alphabetically by name, CR, resource, etc. (extremely handy!) and some nice random plain events you can use to supplement what you hopefully already have dressing-wise in Raging Swan Press’ superb GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing-book.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with a slew of evocative, original pieces of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The hardcover book is stitch-bound and adheres to the exceedingly high quality of FGG’s big books, meaning that it’ll still look good and not fall apart in 10 years.
Tom Knauss’ Fields of Blood is a book our hobby needed; beyond dabbling in themes of often under-represented cultures and mythologies, this book actually makes adventuring ion plains not only exceedingly sexy, it makes it an endeavor that should not be underestimated. Never again will your players consider plains the ride-through-terrain en route towards the “interesting” locations; this book makes plains be anything but plain, to use for one final time the lame pun with which I’ve punished you throughout this review.
This book, to me, represents old-school philosophy in a crucial manner: It treats the reader as an intelligent being; it educates without boring the reader; it inspires campaigns and narratives by tapping into the collective consciousness of our species and the vibrant mythologies we have, putting a new spin on them and making them fantastical. On this framework of realism, a fantasy is grown that feels surprisingly different and fresh, concise in its narrations and rewarding in the results of its craft. While, much like in Dunes of Desolation, there are a few scattered crunch-options herein I’d consider problematic, but the vast majority of material provided within these pages is exceedingly inspired and ranks among the best you can find.
Beyond this level of realism that truly inspires and makes you want to go out into the steppes and savannahs, this can be considered a superb resource not only for Pathfinder: The vast amount of awesome fluff herein will never date and I’m keenly aware that I will be taking out this book in years to come, whenever any module or supplement features plains – much like the massive Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide in 2nd edition will once again find its way into my hands whenever I need material for the underdark. Yes, it’s that good.
In fact, Fields of Blood may be the best environmental book I’ve read in ages, for a biome that NEVER gets any love; for the life of me, regardless of edition, I couldn’t name a single good Plains-book…but this little masterpiece. Guess what? This is a must-own, superb and thoroughly inspired book, a glorious tome well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and yes, this book gets a nomination for my Top Ten of 2015 as well – get this superb book and never again mistreat plains – the endless seas of grass and prairie require respect…and this book will make you convey that!
You can get this massive, glorious tome here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Oh, and Richard Pett’s much-anticipated huge crooked city is currently in the last days of the KS – take a look here, if you haven’t and blast those stretch-goals!