Village Backdrop: Underdell (system neutral)
This installment of RSP’s Village Backdrop-series 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!
Situated near the Salt Mire, the halfling village of Underdell, has been seriously impacted by the plague that ravaged Ashford (a classic Village Backdrop!); while paranoia ran rampant, an evil halfling bandit named Vihtori has seized both the day and control. Now, fear is the defining characteristic of this place. This village, if you’ve been following Raging Swan Press’ releases, is thus one of the places situated in the Duchy of Ashlar, but can easily be inserted into pretty much any game.
As always, the supplement does provide information on local nomenclature as well as dressing habits; PCs doing their proper legwork have the chance to unearth more about this place and find, among lore and other things, one of 6 rumors. The theme of fear that has taken a hold of the settlement is a strong one, and one that is reflected in the 20 dressing/event-entries provided: The PCs can, for example, witness halfling children chasing an old woman down the street with stones – but is she infected? Is this an instance of racism? Either way, the PCs will probably want to interfere.
Speaking of events: This pdf goes beyond the usual array: There are 8 keyed locations provided, and all come with their own paragraph of read-aloud text. 4 of these locales have their own, specific event tables, adding further direct adventuring options to the fray. The system neutral version does not have a marketplace section for the entire village, but does provide adjusted notes regarding items for sale in the individual locations. Several of the keyed locations also feature some rather cool adventure hooks, which truly benefit from the context of Ashlar, allowing the author to spin some more complex scenarios that extend beyond the confines of the village.
We also get a total of 4 NPCs, depicted, as usual, in the fluff-only iteration that paints them as viable characters, noting mannerisms, background, etc. The system neutral version does have a remnant, where “wizard” is used as a class-reference instead of “magic-user”, should that be relevant for you.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any 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.
John Bennett’s Underdell is a pretty nice, gritty little fantasy village. In theme and style, it reminded me of the Bandit Kingdoms in Greyhawk, which I’ve come to love courtesy of Casey Brown’s awesome work at providing a kind of RPG-archaeology/chronicle. That being said, this does lose a bit of its appeal when taken all on its own – it’s very much a puzzle-piece for the Duchy of Ashlar, and particularly in comparison with the author’s other work (seriously: John Bennett wrote some of my favorite village backdrops and GETS dark fantasy/horror like very few do…) , I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed. This is a cool village, and it’s easy and painless to implement, but it’s not as nuanced or unique as the author’s usual work.
This may be a strength for you and the purposes of your game – as a place that won’t hog the entire spotlight, this does a good job. The system neutral adaption of the supplement is solid, though I couldn’t help but feel that, particularly in this version, it sports more overlap with other villages, courtesy of there simply being more out there to choose from. Still, this does not suffice to rate this down. As such, my final verdict will be 4 stars.
You can get this village here on OBS!
You can directly support Raging Swan Press here on patreon!
Please consider leaving a direct donation or joining my patreon. It keeps the lights on.