Village Backdrop: Skaalhaft (system neutral)
This installment of the Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Skaalhaft is an utterly unique place – situated in the aptly-named blood bay, the place is a whaler’s village unlike any you’ve seen – instead of the more mundane prey, this should be considered to be a draker’s village…or a magical beast-er’s village…for while other places may be content with hunting mere animals, Skaalhaft’s population makes a living of much tougher and deadlier prey. The kills brought in by the powerful hunters (5 sample vessels with their own specialties are provided). It should be noted that we get information on local nomenclature, dressing and mannerisms, which adds some nice depth to the settlement.
Strangers come to this place to purchase all kinds of strange ingredients for alchemical and arcane practices, some of which are less than wholesome. PCs that do their leg-work can unearth some lore about the village and there even is a wayhouse, where two of the wealthiest patrons of the settlement can be found – these, alongside 3 other NPCs, come with an expanded NPC-write-up: Sans stats, but with mannerisms, distinguishing features, etc. And yes, there is a proper market place section of items to procure, adapted for the more conservative old-school playstyle. It should be noted that the wizard-class is referenced once, not magic-user – while most folks won’t care here, some of the more diehard traditionalists may.
6 whispers and rumors and 6 sample events can be employed by the GM to further add spice to the exploration of the village…but the pdf actually goes one step beyond what we usually get in these pdfs: We get a massive 20-entry dressing table to add further life and color to the village…and the unique customs and traditions of the village are also provided – including the collective mourning traditions. The surrounding environments also are mentioned and discussed, allowing the GM to fit the village properly. As a place defined by fantastic economies, there also is the black room – a pocket dimension where dark magic is practiced….and that made me recall Twin Peaks. The main plot brewing here behind the scenes is interesting, though it does pale in comparison with the thoroughly amazing premise of the village.
Adding a sense of the grim and pre-industrial aesthetics of e.g. Dishonored, there is the Grey Mill – a place where the carcasses of the fallen creatures are processed by grim women and children, all in the name of the strange traditions of this place, for, while Svaad Ruun nominally runs the village, it is in truth shackled by something stronger: The bonds of tradition and the way of life here – even though the run-off of the Grey Mill has transformed the local fauna into hideous and potent mutants, making the bay even more dangerous.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with a really nice b/w-artwork. The b/w-cartography by Maciej Zagorski is great, as pretty much always in the series. The pdf comes not only fully bookmarked for your convenience, but also with a second version: One version of the file is optimized for screen-use and one is optimized for the printer.
Jeff Gomez’ Skaalhaft is a thoroughly inspiring little settlement: Its unique premise is employed in a rather evocative manner and makes sense – in a world where fantastic creatures abound, it is bound to be a matter of time before the humanoid races find a way to standardize and specialize in their hunt and consumption. Skaalhaft, as such, is a window into an all-too-often neglected component of fantasy games and adds serious depth to the game. While, to my knowledge, there is no OSR-book focusing on the use of the remains of creatures for added synergy, this still remains a great installment of the series, well worth its place in the exalted array of settlements the series provided. In short: This is a great, inspiring little pdf, well worth 5 stars.
You can get this cool village here on OBS!
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