Village Backdrop: Don Galir (5e)
This installment of the Village Backdrop-series clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This village can be found in the duchy of Ashlar that also serves as a backdrop for many of Raging Swan Press cool offerings, including the Gloamhold mega-dungeon; to be more precise, what we have here, is the last dwarven hold in the region, situated right under Wellswood. As usual for Raging Swan Press supplements, adapting this location to your own game should not be an issue – it is a pretty easy place to adapt to your own games, with the tone, as usual, being in line with the grit we’ve come to expect from the Greyhawk-ish aesthetic that Raging Swan Press so successfully has cultivated.
Don Galir literally means “Lakeside Fortress” in Dwarven, and the settlement certainly faces its issues – which include exiles intent on recapturing their home, and the interaction with Wellswood’s notorious leadership. Structurally interesting: Don Galir is actually split, with the main halls and the other lake adjacent sections both coming with their own individual maps. Indeed, the angle regarding the subterranean lake is one of the cool things here – statues and mighty dwarven doors mirrored in the blackened waters most assuredly are neat visuals.
I rather enjoyed seeing the set-up and two maps, though I do have a bit of an issue with the main halls, which are depicted in a dungeon-like manner, with the map sporting a grid, but no scale. The lack of a scale makes the experienced GM default to 5-foot or 10-foot squares, depending on the system, and in both instances, the halls thus can feel very small and claustrophobic. I am all but certain that the scale should be higher and noted here, as it really flustered me for a second there.
Anyhow, as always in the series, we get the usual quality of life benefits for the GM that render this series so beloved: We receive notes on local dressing habits, nomenclature, and some sample pieces of information for PCs that actually do their legwork. A plus: Dwarves have an easier time here, getting advantage on their check. 6 rumors are presented as well. No global marketplace information regarding magic items for sale is provided.
We do receive notes on the local trade and industry, law enforcement, and the customs practiced here, which make great use of the unique situation and numerous wells here: Picturing the dark waters illuminated by the full moon filtering through the manifold wells from above? That’s something I’d love to see in real life, and any GM worth their salt can evoke a sense of wonder and awe in this context. From edible moss to semi-blind cavefish, there is a sense of plausibility here that I enjoyed seeing.
The pdf also features a table of 20 small events and pieces of dressing to add further character to the settlement.
Speaking of character: 4 NPCs are provided in Raging Swan Press’ usual, flavor-centric manner (in 5e, these make use of the NPC default stats), and as always, the keyed locales come with neat read-aloud text. The supplement goes a bit farther than usual, though: Contained herein are brief notes on the assumed dwarven pantheon worshiped in the duchy of Ashlar, and the supplement features a new martial weapon, the thunderaxe, which basically a combined axe/hammer. I have less issues with this iteration of the weapon than with the one presented e.g. for PF1, but I think its execution is a bit odd: It’s considered to be a non-versatile weapon, and only becomes versatile when trained in it. Wouldn’t it make more sense, considering it and comparable weapons, to make it heavy unless trained in?
More importantly, the new material, Tordel, the soul steel, is problematic: The material is said to trap the souls of the slain and gain power with the wielder. Okay, so does it detect as necromancy? Are there any mechanics? Adamatine reduces critical hits, mithral is more flexible – so, what does this do mechanically? No clue. This is an idea – and that’s all it is. It is NOT a functional material as far as PFRPG is concerned.
On the plus-side, the second appendix does net us a whole page on the lost hold of Vongyth, which does provide not only cool lore, but also some adventuring potential.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the same can’t be said, as both components introduced have some flaws that render the new material, for example, inoperable as written. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and includes quite a few nice b/w artworks. The cartography is b/w is per se nice, though, as mentioned before, the lack of scale noted can render the place a bit more opaque than what I’d have liked to see. The pdf comes in two versions, one intended for screen-use and one for being printed, and supporters of Raging Swan Press’ patreon receive player-friendly versions of the maps, at least to my knowledge.
Steve Hood’s take on the dwarven hold (additional design by Martin Webb) is interesting indeed: Making Wellswood’s setup a backdrop for a cool subterranean village is clever and incredibly efficient – particularly in the details: From fishing rods available to the monthly festival, this place feels fantastic in a grounded, plausible way, and really captured my imagination. The 5e-iteration feels a bit more refined than the two ones for the Pathfinder editions here, and while the map-situation somewhat irked me, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this pdf here on OBS!
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