Villages of Ashlar (system neutral)
This massive compilation of the villages situated in the Duchy of Ashlar clocks in at 71 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, in case you were wondering: the Duchy of Ashlar is the region that features Raging Swan Press’ Gloamhold dungeon, as well as several important locations – like the phenomenal city of Languard with its intricately detailed and amazing quarters, fully detailed in the City Backdrop and the associated Languard Locations-pdfs. The slightly smaller towns Dunstone and Dulwich, both featured in their Town Backdrops, can also be found in the duchy. The region, in case you’re new to it, has a very cool, gritty old-school Greyhawk-ish vibe, and this book collects the individual villages you can find in the duchy.
This means that this book does not contains the towns or the city of Languard, nor the Gloamhold book’s information, and instead compiles all the villages in Ashlar that have previously been released in the Village Backdrop-series. Since the individual Village Backdrop pdfs don’t denote the like on the cover, and since the Village Backdrop-series also features a ton of villages not situated in the duchy, this represents a pretty nice comfort bonus – you now have one book that will contain all villages of Ashlar.
A handy and well-drawn map of the whole duchy is provided, ad since cartography is handled by Tommi Salama, you know that the maps herein are pretty gorgeous to look at. On a content-level, the pdf sports some pretty nice internal consistency regarding nomenclature and the like, differentiating between ethnicities, etc. The villages featured are presented in alphabetical order, and since I’ve covered all of them in individual reviews, I’ll be brief:
There is plague-ridden Ashford, and nearby Underdell; the latter ravaged indirectly by the fear that the plague fostered; there are Hard Bay and Coldwater, two places that feature a somewhat Lovecraftian undertone, with deformities, ancient secrets and former pirate angles; there is Kingsfell, atop an ancient battlefield, perpetually haunted by a strange sense of unease; there is the amazing and hotly-contended bridge-town Longbridge, the isolated swamp settlement Thornhill; there is the backwater Woodridge, where ambition of the local lord festers, and Wellswood, riddled with wells, that hide many a thing beneath its surface – proverbial and literal. Finally, there is the by now classic White Moon Cove, where the “Sunken Pyramid” adventure has its start.
I have written more detailed reviews for all of these village backdrops, so if you require further information on them, please consult those.
Now, this is a compilation, but if you expected a bit more than just a sequential depiction of the villages, then you won’t find that here – the book misses the chance to e.g. include information on how long it takes to travel from village to village, does not elaborate on overarching plots or the like – the book only compiles the villages.
Utterly grating: The system neutral version has not deemed it suitable to unify the class-references – some villages refer to “rogues” or “wizards”, while others use the old-school parlance of “magic-user” and “thief.” On the plus-side: The PFRPG versions’ templates have not simply been cut, but replaced with flavor text/tables – nice!
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, if, alas, inconsistent. Layout adheres to raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the book features plenty of nice b/w-artworks, quite a few of which I hadn’t seen before in the individual village backdrop installments. Additionally, the book comes in two iterations – one optimized for screen-use, and one made to be printed out. Huge kudos for Raging Swan Press doing that – this practice should be industry standard. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is excellent and b/w. I can’t comment on the virtues of the print version.
Creighton Broadhurst, John Bennett, Greg Marks and Marc Radle all are talented authors, and it shows – the villages herein have a great, subdued and palpably gritty feel to them, all without devolving into grimdark territory – this is a region suitably for dark fantasy, but you can just as well play a more heroic angle; the region is in need of heroes and it shows, but it does not devolve into a pit of misery. I love Ashlar as a region and very much enjoy the settlements therein; at the same time, this book misses the chance of tying the villages more strongly together, of making this feel more like a setting sourcebook than a compilation. That being said, on the plus-side, I did check for a couple of minor snafus, and this book has obviously seen a clean-up, so that’s a plus – that and the convenience. Now, personally, I’d love to see a big “Duchy of Ashlar”-hardcover, with travel distances, political angles, region-spanning events, encounters, etc., but for now, this makes for a handy tool to have. That being said, I was a bit saddened by the annoying inconsistency regarding class references. As such, this version only gets a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this compilation here on OBS!
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