This massive campaign setting clocks in at 214 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 219 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Porphyra…Purple Duck Games’ in-house setting is massive, it’s regional (and extremely crunchy) player’s guide clocking in regularly at 60+ pages…and unlike most campaign settings, this world was not crowdfunded…it just slowly, steadily, came to be…which is an impressive feat in my book. Anyways, Porphyra’s details and unique components are many and have been suffusing Purple Duck Games-supplements for years: Whether it’s the unique mini-game arabakmpsi, the lovecraft gaming toolkit or other offerings – never obtrusive, but the hints, the nods were there. More so than the player-option-centric “…of Porphyra”-series, both the great Purple Mountain dungeon-crawl-AP and books on deities and elemental lords, all open content, mind you, have already shown a vast potential.
Then again, such a wide variety of different environments and ideas could be jarring, right? Well…no. You see, there is a reason Porphyra is called the patchwork-planet…and it’s more pronounced than in similar settings. Let me elaborate: When TSR generated some of the grand classics we all have come to know and love, from Planescape to Ravenloft, they split their customer-base…which was one among many factors that led inevitably to the end of the company. (And yes, I am aware of the other countless number of issues…but that would go beyond the scope of this review.) The lesson that most RPG-companies took from this was simple: Focus on a core world, but allow for maximum customization within that world. Most famously and successfully, we can see that approach in Golarion: There is Ravenloft-country, science-fantasy country, magic metropolis, pirate-country, Greyhawk-ish borderland/bandit kingdom-ish regions…you get the idea. Golarion, while certainly not perfect, ended up being a truly astonishing, fascinating setting that maintains a level of consistency in spite of this tonal patchwork. Not the best consistency, sure – but that’s a system-immanent issue; one can’t have the cake and eat it, too. What I’m trying to say here is, that I like Golarion. It’s a patchwork, but a nice one. Which brings me back to Porphyra…which is *also* a patchwork…so what’s the unique selling proposition of Porphyra versus Golarion?
The answer to that question is more complex than one would expect it to be. In order to answer it, I’ll have to go a bit into the history of Porphyra, so bear with me while I give you the woefully oversimplified cliff notes-version of the setting’s history, all right? The history of Porphyra features a dominance of the faith in elemental lords in the past as well as a successful effort to smash the invading forces of the Great Old Ones – from these wars and the faith in the forces of the elements, the Zendiqi erected an empire that dominated the small planet…until a coalition of orcs and elves spoke THE WORD to fight the oppressors. THE WORD beckoned and sundered dimensional barriers, issuing the so-called “Calling” throughout the multiverse, speaking to deities and calling them to Porphyra – for the first time, the gods had come to the world and the elemental lords were no longer uncontested masters of all they oversaw…for the deities did not arrive alone. The gods from worlds far and wide brought with them a plethora of lands, forever changing the nature of Porphyra itself, tacking them on with the eponymous mystical mineral porphyrite…purple glowing borders, seams now were part of the daily reality…and a religious and cultural clash of heretofore unseen proportions shook Porphyra to its very core, as the NewGod War raged and the armies of genies and elementals fought the deists and their outsiders. The war was brutal, bloody and its effects can be seen to this date, more than 800 hundred years later, in the lands of Porphyra.
It is due to the porphyrite borders that arctic environments can exist alongside simmering deserts…and, GM’s willingness provided, the borders can limit e.g. bacteria or similar micro-organisms as well, allowing for potentially interesting explanations on why and how a given place managed to stand the test of time with superior, hostile forces nearby. Basically, this is a twist on domain-borders taken to its logical extreme in a high-fantasy context…and it works. Instead of trying to hide the discrepancy between lands and their themes, Porphyra embraces them, highlights them in a big, purple marker and makes them part of the storyline…which is a big, big difference in comparison to Golarion.
Similarly, the time-scale of the settings is different: Porphyra’s current equilibrium does not change the fact that it has, per default, not a ton of fallen empires written into it. It’s, as far as a campaign setting is concerned, a pretty young world. But isn’t it missing out on something? Well…no. The patchwork nature of the world allows GMs to pretty seamlessly integrate e.g. different serpentfolk empires. “Yuan-ti? But I thought Serpentfolk were the Valossians?” – “Well, they are…in that landed territory over there. Here, on this side of the porphyrite border, we fought the yuan-ti…” The very nature of the setting makes plug-and-playing even relatively lore-heavy modules a relatively simple endeavors. And yes, I’m one of the GMs that takes longer for the fluff-conversion of modules than for the conversion of their crunch…I’m that picky in this regard and I know that at least some of you out there are as well…so yeah. Porphyra does this very well. Passing such a border, just fyi, can be accomplished by a 1st-level spell…usually.
The second component that sets Porphyra apart, and more so that the aforementioned patchwork-component, would be the direct consequence of the nature of its form: With all those deities and their lands, we also obviously have introduced races to Porphyra. Beyond the new races featured in the respective regional player’s guides, the setting has its own racial hardcover, Fehr’s Ethnology, which actually does feature a couple of my favorite PC-races alongside some less interesting ones. Speaking of races: Erkunae? Yup. Included here. And the sciene-fantasy component I mentioned? Well, there is the Advent Imperiax, born from the crash of a powerful space-ship, but I’ll go into more details regarding that region in my upcoming review of that area’s Player’s Guide. The plethora of origin myths and stories thus mean that the setting, from the get-go, assumes an organic, pretty concise baseline to make the vast array of races and cultures work in an oddly sensible way. Know hoe obscure new half dhampir/half construct race XYZ never popped up before in your campaign, but how a new book introduced it? Well, in Porphyra, the sudden appearance of such individuals and new races can be rationalized much easier than in most settings.
From the blistering Siwathi desert to the classic and less weird Middle Kingdoms or the Birdman Mountains, the respective regions of Porphyra are depicted with sample intrigues (adventure/campaign hooks) to make use of them – from the empire of the dead to the swampy Fenian Triarchy, Freeport, the Hinterlands of Kesh and the Frozen North, Porphyra has a place to stick basically any module or supplement, any type of module but those reliant on geopolitical struggles without any hassle. (And frankly, even these are relatively easy to insert…and you could always judge parts of the world to have been ripped to Porphyra…) While the massive map of the world has btw. not been included (but can be found for PWYW here), the book sports an ample array of full-color maps of the respective regions and current events for the regions paint a picture of a world in flux.
There is another thing that makes Porphyra interesting in my book: Know how Dreamscarred pPress’ campaign setting and Third Dawn AP is stalling and taking a long time to finish? Well…Porphyra has psionics integrated into its framework from the get-go. You can ignore it, sure…but seriously, Ultimate Psionics is one of the best books you can get in the crunch-departments..so personally, I’d suggest running Porphyra as intended, with full psionics support. Similarly, animal-headed anumi and the other remarkable races by Alluria Publishing are actually part of the Porphyra-canon. With so many races, a summary of races by region (with distinctions of landed and native). Rules-wise, the pdf also provides the Pantheist cleric, who gets more domains (3) and favored weapons, but at the cost of spells per day. The book also sports brief sketches of the deities (though, for more information, you should really check out the gods-book!) alongside their holy symbols. These religions also come with numerous new faith traits – none of which sported any significant issues, though different authors become very much apparent here – some lacked the proper trait bonus type, while others had it, showing a discrepancy in rules-language handling skills.
The time on Porphyra, the days, trade and the basic value of spells cast provide components you can easily scavenge for other games, with alternate currency ideas, unique flora and fauna and detailed information on the languages spoken lending a level of credibility to the setting as a whole, despite of its patchwork premise. Holidays, including rules-relevant effects and weather phenomena, from hurricanes to glass seas, are similarly covered, and moon-based magic, chaos magic, rune magic, covenant magic, word magic – you name it, it’s probably here. Beyond an array of domains and subdomains, basic advice on psionics and several organizations complement the vast panorama depicted in this book: From the Brothers of the Blue Star to the Cordionic Knights-Errant or the Illuminates of Chaos, there are quite a few organizations in this book; something all too often neglected in campaign settings.
Beyond 3 PrCs (think tanky deist quasi paladin-knight that only needs to be lawful; juju-gunslingers and self-destructive fanatic, zendiqi), the pdf sports a vast array of traits and campaign traits (with similar minor hiccups as mentioned before). Beyond these, sketches of personalities to interact with, including items of note, notes on what the NPC is famous for and mini-hooks.
As many a campaign setting, this one also features a brief introductory module, for 1st level characters. The module is set in the Middle Kingdoms, perhaps the most traditional region of the world. Similarly, the module as such is pretty traditional in its structure: By exploring the eponymous ruins of Greencastle, the PCs may manage to unearth the truth of how the fortress fell and a rather dire secret I am not going to spoil here. The enemy-choices are my highlights here, giving some seldom-seen foes a chance to shine, though I should mention that, in general, this is a pretty straightforward, solidly challenging dungeon-crawl. Not more, but also not less. The full-color maps are nice, though player-friendly maps would have been appreciated.
The pdf also provides a list of Porphyra-related books, explanations on porphyran nomenclature, elemental and protean lords as well as a massive, detailed index – which is incredibly important for a book of this size and information density.
Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good. While I noticed a couple of typos and minor hiccups here and there, the book generally proved to be an enjoyable read that was not marred unduly by glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ printer-friendly two-column full-color standard with a lot of full-color artworks and cartography being part of the deal. The very user-friendly standard means you can easily print out this tome, which is a big plus for me. Fans of 3pps may by now know quite a few of these artworks from other publications, since Purple Duck games sells art, but generally, the artwork herein can be considered neat indeed…particularly when considering that this is NOT crowdfunded! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Okay, so these authors made Porphyra a reality: Project lead was Perry Fehr; Contributions from: Ken Austin, Thomas Baumbach, Carl Cramér, Daniel Denehy, Perry Fehr, Mark Gedak, August Hahn, Noble Hays, John Hazen, Sam Hing, Sean Holland, N. Jolly, Chrstopher Kaiser, James H. Lewis, Chris Longhurst, Liz Mackie, Josh McCrowell, Christopher Mennell, Scott Messer, Angel “ARMR” Miranda, Julian Neale, Daniel M Perez, David Pryzbyla, Marc Radle, David N. Ross, Treyson Sanders, Justin Sluder, Todd Stewart, Stefen Styrsky, Mike Welham, Jeremy Whelan, Patricia Willenborg.
Porphyra is a massive setting; a setting that breathes a spirit of eclectic high fantasy, with a metric ton of things to enjoy and do. Porphyra is inspired in that it consciously inorganic – like its namesake. Instead of trying to put a layer of consistency over the hodgepodge nature that campaigns become when one allows a ton of material, it embraces the theme and makes it internally consistent; Porphyra’s central achievement lies in the sheer guts of managing to properly depict a world that is rooted in a can-do attitude, in a design philosophy that embraces the diversity of tastes and themes. The restrictions imposed still allow for tonal consistency, while basically inserting a semi-permeable membrane. Porphyra is an exercise in cultural osmosis within our hobby; it is a world that operates in line with many a campaign – diffusion of ideas through a semi-permeable membrane; in this, it mimics how a GM’s brain is working, by making the exclusion/inclusion decision a part of its very design.
Don’t get me wrong – Porphyra is not perfect; it may not be for everyone. But personally, I am certain I’ll gladly return time and again to this patchwork planet…whether to scavenge ideas and cultures, items, crunch from the player’s guides or to actually play there. Porphyra is, in short, a fun, evoctiave campaign setting that particularly time-starved GMs tired of BSing a reason why cultural context xyz doesn’t work, will come to love for its plug-and-play nature – it is, in short, the USB-port of campaign settings. My final verdict, alas, also has to take the glitches that are here into account and thus will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5…and since I really like the premise and have come to appreciate Porphyra’s diversity, this also receives my seal of approval.
You can get this unique campaign setting here on OBS!