Places of Power: Fort Vigil (system neutral)
This installment of the Places of Power-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Fort vigil, situated in a forest, would be an unremarkable fortification, manned by a skeletal crew. It is mainly known for being under the command of the veteran knight Sir Arnhelm Langeson. The fort, as a whole, is picturesque, and not a bad place to visit – it adds much sought-after security to the surrounding lands, and seems to be a safe haven. However, locals will tell that the fort is steeped in history, having seen diverse masters, and unbeknown to most, at night, silver shades roam the castle, spirits and echoes of things long gone…but it’s not really ghosts or the just echoes.
You see, Fort Vigil is situated next to the Wealdmere, a lake that serves as a transition point between the material and spirit world, particularly regarding the realms of dream. As such, the presentation actually takes this unique aspect into account in the formal structure: Beyond the by now classic whispers and rumors and the notes on nomenclature employed and dressing habits, we have a split between the daily life and the dreaming in the dressing table, a choice that nets 10 evocative dressing entries per table.
This is relevant, particularly since the pdf actually provides a small selection of concise notes and rules to remember the uncommonly-vivid dreams experienced here. As a plus, these rules had their DCs modified to reflect the different realities of old-school gaming. You will have already noticed the potential issue here: Remembering dreams is handled via a check that employs ability score modifiers as something to be added to the check, when many OSR systems instead opt for a roll-under mechanic instead. Getting a variant here, with penalties to the check, would have taken a grand total of one sentence and added to the immediate usefulness of the supplement for many games. Granted, this does not put the referee at much of a disadvantage, as conversion of the system ought to be super-simple, but as a reviewer, it’s a potentially rough patch I felt obliged to note. As before, we do get flavorful read-aloud sentences that describe the keyed locations here, and one place in particular comes with its extra, custom dressing table to account for the haunting you can encounter here.
Now, dreams, beyond those that the PCs may experience, are personal and often archetypical, as we all know; this focus is mirrored in the presentation of the NPCs: We get an uncommon amount of different NPCs – 5, to be precise. These come as fluff-only entries that are surprisingly detailed regarding mannerism, background and distinguishing features, even for Raging Swan Press’ supplements, making them feel rather well-rounded.
These, btw., not only include the aging knight, who wishes to help the shades and phantoms move on, but also the Medium – a ghost, warden, caretaker and guardian of this sacred locale, a ghost who may be noble, but the unending task has started to take its toll on the otherwise noble soul, adding a sense of melancholia and gravitas, of duty and sacrifice to the supplement, a sense of a bookend that is cleverly contrasted via e.g. Signy, a character hoping to become a hero. The book thus feels like an encompassing scope of the condition of adventuring – the reminiscence and longing, the wide-eyed hopefulness, adding a second level to the duality inherent in the supplement, increasing the appeal and viability of the book in the most crucial of ways: In the themes, in the way it’s structured and the stories you can tell with it.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups, though on a rules-language component, the solution to the dream-recalling component could have been slightly more encompassing in the approach taken. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks. The cartography, as always, is really nice, and the pdf comes in two iterations – one intended for screen-use and one made for the printer. This deserves as much applause as the full bookmarks presented, which render navigation comfortable and easy.
Amber Underwood’s “Fort Vigil” is a culmination of an author truly coming to terms with writing top-tier, evocative supplements. Fort Vigil is not a one-note place -. It feels tangible and real, courtesy of aesthetics that can be bent towards full-blown high fantasy if you want…or, if you prefer a more low-key approach, if you want to touch upon the human element, upon aging, mortality, different perspectives, the negotiation of dreams and reality – well, then this can deliver just as well. This is one of the most versatile and evocative installments in the whole series, standing shoulder to shoulder with greats like John Bennett and Mike Welham in delivering a place that puts referee-agenda and uses first, without compromising the integrity of a vision that is intelligent and compassionate.
This is an amazing place that will be used in a huge amount of different ways – they all, however, have one thing in common: They work and make this a phenomenal addition to a referee’s toolkit. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars. While the system neutral version still retains a truly evocative piece of writing, the needless limitation of the crunchy bits make this slightly weaker than the other iterations of the file.
You can get this excellent supplement here on OBS!
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