This compilation of Raging Swan Press’ critically acclaimed Village Backdrops-series clocks in at 95 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial,1 page ToC, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks for novice DMs, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 87 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We begin this supplement with an acknowledgment I wished more pdfs sported – author bios. I mean, come on, these are the people who make the supplements we love and generating some name recognition is definitely something I consider a positive thing. Beyond that, a handy table lists statblocks by CR, village and page, complete with short details for easy navigation. It should also be noted that the glorious pen-cartography receives its due place to shine, with each village sporting the name of the cartographer alongside the author- which is also nice, seeing what a great job they do in capturing the uniqueness of the settlements.
Now if you’ve been following my reviews, you won’t be surprised to hear that I have covered most of the villages herein – Agraviane’s Rest, Chasm, Hjalward, Hulw’ma, Prayer’s Point, Refuge, Riverburg, Star Run Falls, Sumemrford, Trickletrek, Vulgruph’s Hollow and Vulcanbridge all have their own review, so if you are looking for detailed information on any of these, please take a look at the respective reviews.
Now if you are not familiar with the series, to sum it up – the village backdrop-installments come in excessive detail: From settlement statblocks to rumors and whispers, signs, local nomenclature etc., the amount of detail and local color provided for the respective villages make it extremely easy for the DM to bring these places to live. Now unlike the first compilation, we receive no development options for Ultimate Campaign’s rules – but surely, we do receive new bonus content? Yes, we do.
First would be Kingsfell – penned by Raging Swan Press’ master Creighton Broadhurst and cartographed by one of the best and most versatile cartographers around, Tommi Salama, Kingsfell is situated at a strategic, historic location and is governed by the paladin-lady Mira Lankinen. Situated atop a collection of ancient burial mounds, more easily defended thanks to the rivers and with docks, it makes for a versatile, interesting settlement. In a nice change of pace, the place does not necessarily sport a BBEG who wants to destroy everyone – instead, the narrative potential is very much found within the hidden history of the burial mounds and the potential issue springing from the PCs (or someone…) potentially disturbing the rest of the dead buried below the village…and they don’t rest easy. Tables for local food-prices etc. further complement a great village, especially since it hints at one rather impressive array of villages and surrounding areas that I hope will see further detail in the future.
The second new settlement herein would be Robert Brookes’ Rifthammer – he btw. also provided the cartography for the settlement! – situated within the 2-mile deep Arnafiq Rift. In a cool way, the village’s map not only sports a top-down, but also a sideways representation of the settlement. Rifthammer is inhabited by noble, yet insular and prideful dwarves and somewhat subverts expectations – haunted by a recurring disease (or is it a curse?) called stoneshame, the settlement sports quite a few secrets,a s the dwarves endeavor to hide the afflicted from outsiders. Now, the temple stands empty, the priest having succumbed to the dread affliction and the only healer is an actually GOOD witch with the death patron. And yes, the disease and its origins are fully depicted – as is the reason why dwarves become infected. A glorious, iconic settlement with quite a lot of adventure potential – nice!
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to RaginG Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard with thematically fitting b/w-artwork and most importantly, drop-dead-gorgeous b/w-cartography. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, though at least in my version, they point towards 1 page before the start of the chapter of the village instead of the first pace of the village. The pdf does come in two different versions, one optimized to be printer out and one optimized for screen-use. I can’t comment on the print version since I don’t have it.
Authors Christian Alipounarian, Alexander Augunas, John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Robert Brookes, Alex Connell, Greg Marks, Brian Wiborg Mønster, Colleen Simpson, Mike Welham should be proud – as should be the cartographers Tom Fayen, Robert Brookes, Michael Tumey, Ryan Boles and Erick Frankhouse – why? Because the maps are gorgeous, awesome and simply beautiful and really help these cool settlements come to life.
The first village backdrops-compilation was very good – this one is better. Why? Because the villages are infinitely cooler, more versatile and there is not ONE in here that is not narrative gold in some way. These villages practically beg to be used and their attention to detail and diversity should allow just about every DM to find a glorious village to insert into their games herein. Quality and production-value-wise, this pdf is definitely one glorious supplement.
Now if you already have the component pdfs, the new material makes for a good reason beyond simple convenience to get this collection, but whether or not that and the convenience gained is enough for you, only you, dear reader, can decide. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.