Village Backdrop: Don Galir (system neutral)
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. 6 rumors are presented as well. No magic items for sale suggestions are provided – particularly odd for a dwarven settlement.
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, 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 exotic weapon, the thunderaxe, which basically a combined axe/hammer –interesting here would be the fact that this indeed does use the old-school proficiency mechanic, should you be using it. The new material, Tordel, the soul steel, is still only featuring a more or less flavor-centric depiction, but…well, it’s the system neutral version. I can’t well complain about that here, right?
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 I can’t complain in this version either. 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. In many ways, it is a remarkable success, only slightly tarnished by the settlement’s scope feeling more opaque than it should be. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.
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