Village Backdrop: Greystone
This installment of RSP’s Village Backdrop-series is 12 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look at the settlement!
Sharp-inclined hills huddle together in the deepened shadows of the Mottled Spire, where, once upon a time, settlers from nearby Languard founded a fishing village and outpost for a watchtower/lighthouse. Linked by steep and narrow, inhospitable inclines, the village that was here may once have housed up to 200 people…but nowadays, greystone is a shadow of its former self, with not even 70 souls remaining…and whether they’d constitute humans ultimately depends on your definition of the term, for there is a reason the almost palpable shadow of fear clings to this settlement, seemingly clouded in the spire’s looming shadow in perpetuity.
Astute fans of the series will notice that no settlement statblock in the traditional sense is included here as a concession (probably) to the transition to multi-system support the series has undergone, though frankly, I am missing it. That being said, the settlement does come with the traditional notes of villager nomenclature and dressing as well as local lore…which does make for an amazing warning, as the houses are supposed to contain tunnels, shielded from the light of day, tunnels that allow the degenerate inhabitants to move from place to place unseen by the light of days. Some murmur about the massacre that once took place here, when the strange antediluvian structures were found beneath the manor that belonged to none other than dread Dagon, who gets a basic deity write-up here.
I already mentioned the deformities, which are represented by a 12-entry strong table accompanying a template. The template also sports 12 cosmetic deformities (erroneously headed by a d20 instead of a d12 in a cosmetic hiccup). Beyond Tommi Salama’s superb cartography of the village, the pdf comes with a second gorgeous map drawn by the Finnish master of cartography, which depicts the labyrinthine caves below the hills, allowing for easy two-step functionality here. In short: This is basically a great set-up for a truly creepy village, with the closest analogue I can think of being a blending of the village in Darkest Dungeon and a backwoods horror movie flick à la Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Strange carvings, mostly rendered unintelligible, weirdly mixed architectural styles and two tables to depict minor details for the caverns or add in small events can be found here as well, though the die to roll is d12, not d% as noted here. These cosmetic glitches, however, should not be taken as an indicator that this pdf contains anything but the most impressive of prose, which generates an atmosphere so thick you can almost cut it.
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP’s patreon. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.
Creighton Broadhurst, master of Raging Swan Press, is an absolute master at depicting desolate places, decrepitude and a general sense of a world that has moved on, to paraphrase the classic King-sentiment. Indeed, even among the offerings he has penned, this stands out. Seen from a neutral point of view, I should not be half as impressed by this as I am – from a rules-perspective, the template didn’t blow me away and the lack of a statblock for the village is a minor detriment…though frankly, here it is less relevant.
Why? Because this is, in short, an adventure in disguise: Throw the PCs in and have fun. Haven’t prepared anything? Whoop out this pdf, read it (5 minutes, tops), make a few notes…and bingo, you’ll have an adventure on your hand. Just watch the PCs interact with what they find. The atmosphere is amazing and in my mind, I can almost hear the voice of Darkest Dungeon’s ancestor say “Ruin has come to our noble village…” In short: This is an installment that lives by virtue of its phenomenal prose. In fact, were it not for these minor complaints, I’d consider this on par with the very best of all offerings in the series, as the atmosphere evoked is perhaps only rivaled by the brilliant Kennutcat. Still, there are a couple of uncharacteristic minor hiccups herein and, while the prose is pure amazing, the crunch supplementing it feels slightly less inspired. Hence, I will rate this at 5 stars, with an explicit recommendation for anyone looking for a truly atmospheric settlement.
You can get this, the best version of the village, here on OBS!
You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!