Town Backdrops: Wolverton
This pdf clocks in at a massive 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page statblocks by CR-index, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
First of all, this is a kind of full circle for me – when I started reviewing, Raging Swan Press’ free mini-setting The Lonely Coast immediately grabbed my attention and made me buy Retribution, their first module. Now, hundreds of reviews of Raging Swan Press-supplements later, this book provides the fully detailed information on the largest settlement in that remote stretch of land, the town of Wolverton. Hence, it is only appropriate that we begin this book with a proper introduction to the stretch of land, including traveling distances, weather etc.
Now, if you know the village backdrop-series (and you SHOULD!), you’ll be familiar with the formula used for this town – we receive a full-blown town statblock, information on what magic items can be bought, town lore, nomenclature, dressing habits, etc. However, as befitting of a larger settlement, Wolverton is more than just a village on steroids.
This becomes readily apparent from the extremely detailed map to the sheer number of notable places provided. (As always, player friendly maps can be downloaded on raging Swan Press’ homepage.) 28 different notable locations at a glance are provided, and for conveniences sake and to help navigation, we also have them grouped by type – see, THAT is considerate! Wolverton is a walled city at the coast, situated atop some cliffs and the castle of the local pseudo-aristocracy, the Lochers, situated on a promontory. The town features a quarter separated from the rest of the town by cliffs (keep the rabble out) and sports a massive river flowing through it, the Arisum. Hence, the town also features several bridges that span the river and the town is fortified with solid walls.
So far, so good – but what is going on in the place? Well, a metric ton of things: let’s begin with whispers and rumors – as opposed to just 6 for a village, we receive a FULL PAGE of 50 rumors, each of which has the potential to spark a full-blown adventure! Another example for this pdf going above and beyond would be the inclusion of information for kingdom-building and using Wolverton in conjunction with such a campaign. Festivals and traditions like “Wolf’s Night” provide more than just a bit of local color, in the aforementioned example, townsfolk bake wolf-shaped biscuits and children get to eat fang-shaped sweet bread while adults in wolf skin walk the streets to scare children. Now if you can’t use this festival to e.g. convert something Halloween/samhain-themed or make a lycanthrope-plot more interesting, I don’t know! Weekly markets and a total of no less than 50 entries of sights and sounds (think of them as mini-hooks, dressing, etc.) spanning two-pages further enhance the unique and detailed perspective one gets of the glorious town.
Of course, if you prefer hooks to be less subtle, perhaps the 50-entry strong, two-page spanning table of events might do – from street urchins trying to steal from the PCs to being recruited for the theatre to pouring rain that renders the muddy roads difficult terrain, these events not only are interesting, they are, most of the time, downright inspiring, especially for the brevity with which they have to work. Oh, and if THAT still is not enough, you’ll be happy to know that properly and fully developed hooks are interspersed throughout the whole book.
Now the town itself has plenty of truly interesting locales and places to inspire the prospective DM – take an inn, ” The Hare and the Ass”, which has recently been taken over by a half-orc. Said half-orc was raised by dwarves and thus knows the recipe of the Thunderhammer clan’s famous beer, seeing quite a few visitors as a result – in spite of the latent xenophobia exhibited towards the green-skin.
While at no point obtrusive, fans of Raging Swan press will rejoice at e.g. small Easter-eggs and tie-ins with Hosford and other locales in and around the Lonely Coast. What this pdf acts like, can be best described as the massive linchpin that ties the whole of the Lonely Coast and its peculiarities together, rendering the whole picture more concise – while adding flourishes to just about every component of the area.
The various taverns, people controlled by intelligent helmets – we have *a lot* going on here – including strange experiments, no less than 3(!!!) major smuggling gangs (including their own conflicts, moralities, leaders and headquarters), burgeoning sorcerous power among those that should not e able to exhibit it (and some intrigue there…) – we have * A LOT* going on in this town – enough to cover a bunch of PC-levels!
Beyond this extremely detailed town, though, we also receive statblocks of its inhabitants – from merchants and peasants, reeves and high priests, rulers, veteran watchmen and a whole slew of smugglers and low-lives can be found herein – including the signature detailed fluff to supplement all of the named NPC-statblocks – background story, personality, mannerisms, distinguishing features and character-specific hooks – anything you ask for, it’s here.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I did not notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to raging Swan Press’ b/w-two-column standard, is printer-friendly and generally nice to look at. The artworks range from thematically fitting stock art to pieces I haven’t seen before and the cartography is awesome – the town makes sense and looks rather neat. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use, one to be printed out, and both come excessively bookmarked.
I can’t comment on the print-edition since I do not own it (yet).
John Bennett delivers the final missing piece of the puzzle that is The Lonely Coast and much like many a puzzle, this one piece makes the whole picture seem all the more enticing. As a hub full of adventuring potential, Wolverton elevates the other pdfs in and around the Lonely Coast by serving as a plausible, cool town full of local color, nice customs and adventuring potential. Even when used on its own, though, the town shines – Wolverton has taken to heart all the little improvements of the “small” series- extremely detailed, with rumors, sights and hooks galore, it also provides a multitude of flavors of adventuring it supports: Wilderness? No problem. Dungeon? Why not. Coastal caves? Covered. Courtly intrigue? Possible. Shadow War? Jup, feasible. You name it, this place has the means to provide an extremely detailed canvas for your brush.
Wolverton is more than just an oversized village backdrop – it is a full-blown, thriving, pulsing town rife with adventure potential, a place filled to the brim with details and local color, expertly crafted to serve as a hub for PCs, to support a plethora of playing styles…and still retain a unique identity. An impressive feat indeed and well worth 5 stars + my seal of approval, as well as a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2014.