This Village Backdrop clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Star Run Falls, if the name was not ample clue, is a village primarily inhabited by an elven population. Constructed via magic thanks to the rather famous small academy of wizards, the place, while otherwise rather peaceful, also sports a certain fame beyond its borders and usual capacity.
However, it may very well be that the peace of the village is about to see an abrupt, unpleasant end – the so-called “Crimson Shadow King”, whose hunt is heralded by the chirping of crickets, is gathering goblinoids in the woods, stealing elven babies…all for some nefarious purpose. (Alas, said purpose is explained and…well, is nothing to write home about, alas.)
Beyond the plot around human refugees, we also receive 3 statblocks – one for villagers, one a ftr3/wiz 3 and a half-gold-dragon unicorn (!!!) -rather cool. As is the implied duality of classes between refugees, the potential for racial tensions etc. – any Dm worth half his salt can make this village a compelling and cool place to visit and work in -especially if you add the potential for magical shenanigans the academy adds to the mix.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s superb, streamlined and printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard. The pdf’s b/w-cartography (of which you can download player-friendly versions on Raging Swan’s homepage for free!) is just as awesome as I’ve come to expect from the series. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.
John Bennett is a glorious author – he knows how to craft neat settlements, is well-read and has quite an array of tricks up his sleeve to inspire DMs using this village. Star Run Falls is more than one would assume from the cliché of the elven happy-idyllic-village and the monumental falls add an iconic landmark as well. However, the implied threat to the town…made me groan. I’m sorry, for the rest of the village is just breathing great ideas, but I can’t get over the implied villain. The threat he poses feels contrived, the moniker somewhat cringe-worthy (also: Don’t cite the Crimson King unless your king is just as epic…) and over all, this ONE component almost spoiled the whole village for me. I know, it is a nitpick, but even with more than a week between draft 1 and 2, I can’t find it in me to ignore it and still cringe. Rest assured, though, that, from rods that produce dancing lights to the rest of the hooks and demographics (including two souls that share one body in the headmaster/mistress of the academy!), the village *is* worth a visit. I just wished the villain and his master plan had remained opaque or at least, been more imaginative. While these constitute only a fraction of the word-count, it is enough to make this slightly less awesome than what I’m used to by John Bennett. Hence, my final verdict will “only” clock in at a good 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.