Village Backdrop: Hopespyre 2.0 (system neutral)
The supplement depicting the village of Hopespyre, available for the first time in its system neutral iteration, is 13 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 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look at the settlement!
The expanded edition of Hopespyre includes plenty of the things we have come to expect from the series: We get information on local lore, notes on the appearances and dressing habits of villagers, flavor-centric write-ups of key NPCs, some rumors to unearth, etc. The write-up for the village does feature a proper general marketplace section, with price properly adjusted for old-school games in scope and prices – i.e. less available than in PFRPG, higher prices, etc. One of the keyed locales does offer different items, which includes a +1 flame tongue longsword.
When I read “Hopespyre”, my first association was that of a rural, gothic place, of dark fantasy – a religious tyrant burning unbelievers (or those in his path) at the stake; I thought about a place of oppression. Pretty much the obvious is the case. Hopespyre was founded by a visionary half-orc blessed by the flame as a refuge from the sins of his former life and now represents an enclave of per se nice people, who are still considered heretics by the vast majority of outside forces. Still, the Church of the Redemptive Flame seems to be benevolent, claiming that the eternally blazing pyre in the middle of the place actually burns away past sins. The system neutral version that describes the magical effects of the magical pyre is pretty well-executed, and speaking of which, the class-names etc. have been properly adjusted.
Interesting: Hopespyre is not fixed in a specific environment – instead, the supplement presents advice on how to make it work in forests, hills, islands, etc. This is a good idea, but the implementation is somewhat ineffective: No GM needs it spelled out that some low hills conceal the village; having some terrain-specific hooks here instead would have been a wiser use of wordcount imo. On the plus-side, the deity-write-up has been properly adjusted.
The dressing table has been expanded for this version, now sporting a total of 20 entries for dressing and events where the original had only 6, which I most assuredly appreciated. The addition of notes on local customs and traditions also was nice to see.
Now the brilliant component of this pdf ultimately does not lie in this inversion of expectations evoked by the name, or the sample NPC provided – to me, the compelling nature of this place lies in the truth behind the pyre and the theme. You see, these people have seen horrible things and now, they have found solace, peace, if you will – and much like real world adherents of some of the more bonkers religions, they will fight to retain their place.
When handled correctly, this settlement may provide a thoroughly compelling example of “good people doing horrible things” – especially, since there are forces seeking to destroy the place or use it for their own nefarious ends. From the benevolently creepy to the truly blessed, Hopespyre provides a number of different interpretations a GM can use, blend and play with, for an individualized experience – and this is what makes it great.
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any serious glitches on a formal or rules-language level. 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. We get pretty neat b/w-artwork. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.
Jacob W. Michaels is a damn talented author and this pdf pretty much showcases some of his talents – by being as versatile as this pdf is, the village of Hopespyre actually constitutes a fun, unique place that utilizes themes and motives in a rather complex, interesting way – and yes, this settlement can actually end in heart-rending tragedy, allowing you to explore quite a few themes not many supplements explore. Hopespyre is a crown-jewel in the series. In many ways, this is a great supplement, and the system neutral version executes the concept well indeed. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.
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