Town Backdrop: Wolfsbane Hollow
This installment of Raging Swan Press’ glorious Town Backdrop-series clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page author bios (including a handy list of stats by CR), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We begin this book not with the town, like you’d expect – instead, we are introduced to a gazetteer of the surrounding region of Wolfbane Hollow: Fro Ashenblade Forest to the Dankwood, this pdf provides an interesting example from the get-go -namely that you *can* write multiple, inspiring short descriptions of forests and, with the wonders of properly chosen nomenclature, evoke a sense of wonder from the get-go, one btw. supplemented further by the nice b/w-map included for the region. And yes, one of my favorite villages in this series’ smaller brethren-series, the iconic locale of Hjalward, can be found in the vicinity, allowing for a nice sense of narrative cohesion, if so desired. And yes, I’d really like to see the Greatshadow Gorge, where the Orlo-gutang flows… So yes, much like the Lonely Coast back in the day, this brief gazetteer made me immediately long for more.
The town of Wolfsbane Hollow is not a nice place – a danger-rating of 15, the cursed condition – even a cursory glance at the provided statblock immediately makes sure that yes, there is sufficient material for adventurers to cover. And indeed, the town lore provided does mention, beyond the proximity of the hordelands, the dread Redclaw Reaper, a werewolf serial killer, whose shadow still casts a pall on the town. At the convenience of GMs, not only are notable locations depicted, but a concise list by category also immediately provides just what you require.
Beyond the information of magic items for sale in the marketplace, we also learn about local fashion, native ethnicity and nomenclature. The town, with its neat b/w-cartography, can also be relatively easily incorporated into your game, with plentiful advice on customization being provided.
A fluff-only GM-cheat-sheet that lists all movers and shakers of the town on one handy page further eases the use of Wolfsbane’s Hollow. Following the tradition of this series, we also enjoy a rather pronounced array of 50 whispers and rumors – but whether the rumor that the sun-goddess has cursed the town for burning the Redclaw Reaper…and her cathedral to the ground…I will not tell.
The life of the town is governed by the river, but beyond this information, local color galore renders immersion into the streets of this town easy – with sample festivals mentioned and information on law enforcement, Raging Swan Press’s trademark attention to detail makes the town come to life – and beyond the general pieces of information provided, a full table of 50 events and things provide further detail, further hooks – you can, literally, just queue these and look where things are going. If your players are in any way like mine, they will take an interest and there we go -adventure!
Now, I have forgotten to mention yet another massive table provided herein – no less than 50 sights and sounds complement your descriptions of the life in the town, allowing you to paint with a variety of colors on the canvas of emotions – unlike many thematically-fixed locales that have a distinct, easily identifiable leitmotif and thus become predictable to the discerning gamer, the diversity here provides an intriguing array of moods. From the horrific to the beautiful, there is a nice amount of oscillation going on, with the subtle effect of rendering this town a surprisingly vivid experience to play in.
And yes, if you’re afraid that there is not enough divergence from a pseudo-medieval background, well then looking at the geographic situation and the hints of the empire of Arvollis here, still alive in some linguistic relics, and you’ll still get a sense of otherness, of exploration: The erstwhile conquerors are still here, after all – and the secret, true history behind the failed inquisitions and the wars against the indigenous werewolves that once haunted these lands makes for a smart read, but not one I’ll repeat in this review.
Beyond these, brief write-ups on the somewhat elemental-themed 5 locally-worshipped deities are provided before we dive into the meat of the town, into the detailed description of the points of interest. From the one-handed, depressed netter who may have an insight into the truth of the town’s shadowy underbelly to taverns with noted prices for accommodations and rooms, there is a lot to see. Why not, for example, visit the Foxhound and see the Red Reaper’s blackened skull mounted over the wooden hearth and convince yourselves that all is fine? With agents of the hordelands (ones you would NOT expect) in town and a shadowy guild stalking the streets, Wolfsbane Hollow is definitely in need of adventurers. And yes, in case the name was not ample clue – here there be werewolves.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports numerous thematically-fitting b/w-artworks. Cartography is nice as well and the town does come in two versions – one optimized for screen-use and one optimized for your printer. Kudos for this. Oh, and yes, they are extensively bookmarked.
Robert Brookes knows how to write a town that feels unique, that feels alive – and he succeeds in this town to an extent I would not have expected. Indeed, the rather obvious name did not elicit too much excitement from yours truly, but the sheer amount of adventuring potential within this town is rather impressive indeed – whether by internal or external threats, by conspiracy or blatant conflict – there is a lot to be found and done and taking an interest in the people comes with its rewards. Wolfsbane Hollow is very much a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing in that regard – it looks harmless, but is not a place for the faint of heart. Add to that Julian Neale’s touches in statblocks et. al and we have a town that indeed can be considered a more than worthwhile buy. I, for one, look very much forward to sending my PCs to Wolfsbane Hollow – and then lean back and wait what happens, what strikes their fancy. Few settlements manage this depth without succumbing to the issue of going for the one big threat, the one prevalent leitmotif – this does achieve just that. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.