This campaign guide clocks in at 60 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 52 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
So, this would be a new regional sourcebook by Raging Swan Press, but of a different kind than what you’ve seen before in the Lonely Coast. Beyond the obvious scope that is evident from the page-count, the focus is different – you see, Gloamhold is very much a mega-dungeon sourcebook, but it is not one that, in presentation, would be akin to how one usually encounters these. This is not a depiction of a room-by-room dungeon; it is a sourcebook depicting the mega-dungeon in its entirety, a kind of gazetteer, if you will.
A mega-dungeon does not exist in a vacuum; in the case of Gloamhold, it is firmly situated in the duchy of Ashlar, which is represented in a lavishly-illustrated isometric map that is downright gorgeous to behold, and it does actually supplement a more regular map. Duchy of Ashlar? Sounds familiar? There is a reason for that. Raging Swan Press fans and veterans with realize that Dunstone, Ashford, Wellswood, Hard Bay, Greystone and Thornhill, for example, can be found in this region – this, you actually are rewarded for keeping true to Raging Swan Press’ offerings, which is a big, big plus! And no, if you do not have these supplements, you won’t lose out.
You see, the pdf does feature a significant assortment of information on the duchy – from trade and industry to the respective regions, its ancient history and notable locations and NPCs. These NPCs contain brief notes on the suggested classes they may have, providing a general idea of their power-level without compromising the system neutral nature. The regional information also features an assortment of 12 rumours.
In this section, beyond contextualizing the villages, we also receive a significant assortment of adventure sites beyond the complex of Gloamhold. It is here, we learn about the cavern of the forbidden dreams, where unspeakable rites are performed; the shunned valley of the adventure’s fame beckons as a great starting point. Close to Coldwater, the sunken stair beckons and the shadowed keep, also known as Valentin’s Folly, indeed does offer for yet another easy synergy you can employ to start running the material. Have I mentioned the forlorn dwarven hold of Vorngyth or the fact that the core races come with notes on their representations as well as sample male and female names and similarly, the classic classes and their roles within Ashlar are similarly included. Finally, the section also sports an assortment of 6 different deities commonly worshiped overtly and covertly.
Okay, so beyond the amazing and interesting region, what are the design-paradigms of the pdf that set it apart? Well, if you’re a veteran of Raging Swan Press, the following will not surprise you – this is, in aesthetics, very much an old-school book. This does mean that the tone is down-to-earth; that not every room has to have a perfectly balanced encounter. Show, don’t tell, resource management, having players map and using brains instead of just rolling the bones – the pdf’s design aesthetics make use of the best the old school has to offer. Similarly, magic items are not lying around on every corner. At the same time, the book is very much a champion of fairness – a vastly underestimated component that more than one old-school offering forgets. Hard and difficult modules are great; unfair modules are not. beyond that, it should come as no surprise that this is extremely detailed, but not to the point where it gets lost in minutiae.
As for the complex, we have wandering monsters; we have strong leitmotifs and the classic descent-motive: The deeper you go, the higher the risks, but also the greater the rewards will inevitably be. There will be sub-levels, multiple connections between the levels and all should make sense – though realism should similarly not be over-exerted. If you need a tone, think about the non-over-the-top aspects of Greyhawk – gritty, down to earth adventuring. There are dark fantasy/horror elements, but they are not the central leitmotifs. Another important aspect would pertain a relevant and discoverable backstory and the way in which it’s presented – there is no exposition-dump and instead, we get the infinitely harder indirect storytelling which works via details, via context.
So that’s what you can expect regarding the theme. And yes, these aspects are actually explained in detail to the respective GM. The pdf goes further than most dungeons in how it is presented to the reader; we have an established theme for the dungeon and it is designed as an internally consistent location that is designed to be able to carry a full campaign. The pdf does mention how to run the campaign for both experienced and new players and what to expect of a sandbox style gameplay. The book also provides a series of considerations/hooks to prompt the PCs to go down into Gloamhold; similarly, motivations for going into the complex are included alongside a significant and wide array of reasons to adventure, including hidden motivations.
The complex itself is detailed in a rather impressive manner, including temperature in both °C and °F (THANK YOU), water temperature, ceiling heights etc. This presents a baisc level of detail to fall back on – but the pdf goes one step further and introduces quite a bunch of tricks to generate the illusion of detail. Better yet, we also get unique 2d20 tables for minor events to generate an organic feeling, with a table of the same size providing a dressing table. Now this is a campaign guide – and NOT, let me emphasize that, a fully depicted room-by-room mega-dungeon (though that should have been obvious from the get-go).
What this instead represents is a toolkit, which sports, beyond the copious material mentioned before, 20 sample room and corridor descriptions, 3 detailed adventuring bands (fluff only, obviously) and a whole generator for making wandering monsters actually make sense: This would present agendas for wandering monsters, making a distinction between explorers, organized denizens and scavengers, etc. – as a whole, the presentation of these sections can be considered to be an amazing boon for GMs, not only those that intend to use Gloamhold.
Now, I’ve been postponing for quite a while talking about the details of the complex of Gloamhold – and that is due to multiple reasons: For one, the complex is VAST. I mean it. Atop a mountain lies the tower colloquially known as the shard, and below it, no less than 5 levels of Rivengate lie next to both the shard’s cellars and the splintered stair. Below even that, one can find the twisted warrens, the murkwater, the three sisters and the twilight city – and an amazing side-view map that screams “make me a PoD-poster-map” can be found – gorgeous and impressive . And I haven’t even yet mentioned the Pens or the aptly-named breathless narrows.
Hard Bay as a base receives its basic coverage, enough to yield sufficient detail, but not enough to make the detailed pdf redundant; Similarly, Greystone is included in just such a way.
The respective environments of the dungeon then proceed to receive gazetteer-like sections that include notes on lore as well as whispers and rumors. From the dilapidated ruins of the ghost tower, we move into the depths of the erstwhile defenses of the twilight city, the Rivengate – mystery to most, where grand stone landings, cracked with age once saw the steady stream of slaves and loot shuffle hopelessly past the flagstones. Here, twisted pillars adorned with intricate and disturbing designs can be found among the aptly named “Echoes”; here, the slave pens can be found and sinkwebs hunt – semi-sentient strands of animated spidersilk, death comes silently in these places.
Below even these haunted halls, there lie the foam-flecked waters of the murkwater, whose remorseless tides are responsible for many a wet grave for those daring to navigate its depth; it is here that half-sunken wrecks beckon with promises of loot and doom and it is here that the fane of bones may be found…and beyond this place, the three sisters, stone locks that regulate the flow of water to the realms beyond, have seen few surface-dwellers pass their gates voluntarily…
Within the labyrinthine depths of the twisted warrens, Codath’s Mine lies waiting, while black pits and the sepulchre of the afflicted one lurk within; the strange tribes that inhabit these tunnels, though, are not kind o those that brave these twisting tunnels. Worse yet and probably close to the apex of deadliness, the aptly-named breathless narrows are mostly flooded and only the unlucky and brave (or foolish) dare tread; the glimmering grotto (of despair) bespeak of the horrid fate of those that fell here…and within the murky waters, albino eels are ever hungry for new meat…
The fallen twilight city, now home to the degenerate troglodytes, hosts a lot of majestic ziggurats and bespeaks of ancient cultures once lost, allowing for a lethal environment with its very own politics, one that breathes the spirit of Clark Ashton Smith or R.E. Howard, with the whispering fane concealing the daemonic maw, a magical and strange sinkhole of unknown depths that may conceal even worse… and beyond the Screaming gate, the Ebon Road and the underworld beckon, presenting a subterranean frontier that can yield untold adventures beyond the regions covered herein.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a LOT of amazing, gorgeous b/w-artworks and the cartography, with side-views and gorgeous overview maps, is phenomenal and up to the highest quality standards. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks galore. Additionally, the pdf comes in two versions, with one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use. Kudos!
Creighton Broadhurst is a true master of concise writing: The sheer attention to detail and evocative concepts evoked within these pages is amazing. Via a scant few words, he manages to conjure up the weight of aeons, the gravity of history grinding down the accomplishments of bygone eras. If anything, this, to me, feels like the design-incarnation of the old Ozymandias-sonnet. The sense of an ancient world waiting to be explored, of untold stories long gone, the sense of antiquity that is so incredibly hard to convey – Creighton nails it absolutely perfectly. Gloamhold is a ruin; it is a place where the world has moved on; it is not a deserted remnant, though. Instead, this book provides a toolkit to make the overall complex your own; it establishes the tone and themes of the complex perfectly and provides a wide array of diverging challenges you can start pondering, as the complex and its depths beckons.
This does *FEEL* like an old-school dungeon in the best of ways, exemplifying the virtues of old-school, while not shying away from the advancements made within the gaming-world. In short: This is an amazing sourcebook for the complex; it has me rather stoked to explore the premises and the Ashlar’s wilderness and promises to be an excellent representation of what a mega-dungeon could and should deliver. I should also mention that this is a great read. I am not kidding when I’m saying that I actually had fun reading this book, and when you’re reading as much RPG-material as I do, that’s not an occurrence you’ll feel daily anymore. In short: This is amazing. Support it. Get it. I can’t wait for more Gloamhold. 5 stars + seal of approval. If you’ve been looking for that traditional, old-school, Greyhawk-ish style (not Castle Greyhawk – the setting!), then this will have you smile from ear to ear.
You can get this amazing gazetteer here on OBS!
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