[C&C & Wilderlands] Review of XXXI by James Mishler
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Post Posted: Thu Feb 14, 2008 3:20 pm 

Title: XXXI (AGP00102)
Line: Wilderlands of High Adventure Gaming Aid (town of Tell Qa)
Author: James Mishler
Published by Adventure Games Publishing
Adventure Details: PCs of any level (abbreviated Castles & Crusades stats)
Book Details: 48 pages saddle-stitched, black & white cover and interior; black & white map (2 page, on center spread)
Price: $10.00
Limited to 310 copies; released for Gen Con Indy 2007

Link: http://www.adventuregamespubs.com/

This is a review of XXXI, a fairly recent publication released by James Mishler's Adventure Games Publishing ("AGP") for Gen Con Indy 2007.  I consider myself independent for purposes of this review as I have no affiliation with AGP and have only met James once, at Gen Con Indy in 2007.  We have corresponded occasionally since last year's Gen Con as I have placed a couple of orders with AGP.

Adventure Games Publishing's current publishing endeavors are primarily for a swords and sorcery fantasy campaign setting called the Wilderlands of High Adventure (WoHA), a campaign setting with deep roots in and strong genetic ties to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign setting originally published by Judges Guild back in the 70's and 80's.  WoHA is based upon James' personal campaign setting, which started out with the Judges Guild Wilderlands campaign setting, but which has evolved differently.  

Adventure Games Publishing's products are primarily written for Castles & Crusades, a d20-based fantasy role playing game published by Troll Lord Games.  Castles & Crusades, or C&C, draws on the history and flavor of fantasy role playing games from the early days, while utilizing some game design elements and mechanics more representative of recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons.  Many of the advocates of C&C see the game system as a bridging rules set that allows for a very flexible and customizable game engine.  

However, I would like to emphasize that with this release, AGP seems to have designed their game materials to be dropped into any existing campaign setting, be it published or homebrew, and used with a myriad of RPG rules systems, from OD&D to D&D 3.5, and of course for C&C.  I find XXXI to be very DM-friendly, meaning that the publication will likely see lots of use.  Indeed, this author will be using James' products for my AD&D campaign world based upon the Judges Guild Wilderlands campaign setting that has spanned almost 30 years of active gaming.

With that introduction out of the way, let's move on the review of the publication itself.  

Review In Detail
XXXI is a black and white publication that has no art pieces gracing its pages, save for the very nice black and white line drawing done by Peter Bradley on the front cover.  The format of the publication is the standard two columns with half-inch side margins and a scant quarter inch center margin. The font size and white space of XXXI looks pretty good to my admittedly old school eyes.  A few small drawings here and there would have been welcomed additions to break up the text.  However, to have done so would have no doubt added to the cost of the publication, which would have in turn driven the very reasonable price up.  James is definitely going for that old school feel with XXXI, and as far as I'm concerned, he's hit the nail squarely on the head.  

As far as what's in XXXI, here's a quick summary of what makes up the 48 pages:

•        A page for regional history for the area surrounding Tell Qa
•        A page summarizing the town's population, cultures and currencies of the empire
•        Two and a half pages detailing the town's defenses and the physical structures of those defenses
•        Almost a half page's worth of very detailed information, including comprehensive profiles of two significant NPCs
•        Two and half pages of information about the town itself, the streets and sections of the town
•        Fourteen pages detailing out specific locations within Tell Qa
•        A half page of Tell Qa rumors
•        An absolutely gorgeous two page map (the center spread) of the town of Tell Qa
•        Five pages of specific encounters that could take place in Tell Qa
•        Fourteen pages detailing out the Mycr and Mycretians and their religious practices
•        Two and half pages of new creatures
•        A page for the OGL and publishing mumbo-jumbo
•        There's also almost a page and a half of totally wasted space interspersed in between the specific sections of the publication

Tell Qa History and Population, Cultures and Currencies Sections
These sections of XXXI give a brief overview of the history of the region where the town of Tell Qa is located, provide tie-ins with the history of the capital city, Viridistan, and provide insights into the diversity of the population of Tell Qa.

The Population and Cultures section describes Tell Qa as a town of 3,300 resident adults and 1,106 resident children.  In describing the population mix of the town, the publication gives brief overviews of the various Wilderlands-specific races of man.  For those not familiar with the racial diversity within the human race of the Wilderlands setting, this is a good rundown of some of the more common human ethnicities found in the northern provinces of the Wilderlands and includes physical descriptions of the various ethnic subsets represented.  

Towns Defenses
The defenses of Tell Qa are very elaborate and quite detailed in the publication.  The town is a walled town, with a series of massive gates, towers and walls designed to withstand extended sieges by would-be occupiers.  Specific troop counts (and bare bones stats thereof) for each segment of the defenses are detailed out and provide the GM with enough specificity to allow quick utilization of the forces, should the need arise.  

There is a paragraph detailing each of the thirteen main towers of the town's defense network, usually with some explanation of the purpose of the tower and some background information on the current occupant or resident of the tower.  

Several of these descriptions provide adventure seeds to the creative GM, setting the imagination in motion.  For instance, one tower, Tower L, is detailed thusly:

Tower (L) is the Twilight Tower, and is home to the elf-lord Angwyn Aharawn, Lord of the Exiles, Archon of the Aelvoress (CG male Aelvoress elf 9th level fighter/9th level wizard, SL Noble 14). This ancient elf was but a squire when the Tharbrians invaded the Sidhe Hills, slaughtered his people, destroyed their many-towered cities, and sent the survivors in fight, south across the Plain of Lethe, there to settle among the gnomes of Shimmertree Vale. He remembers when vengeance was had a thousand years later, as the rain of Tharbrian blood satiated his hatred at Glint Valley. He witnessed the Great Plague, the terrible fate of the gnomes, and the rise of the Greenscale kobolds. Today he seeks only to protect and nurture the Aelvoress elves, the remnant of a once great people. He sponsors expeditions to the north, seeking to find ancient elven treasures that might make his people great again.

This kind of descriptive detail has the makings of several adventures right there on the page, just ready to jump up and be used at the next gaming session.  Who wouldn't want to undertake an expedition to recover rare antiquities of elven origin at the behest of the elf-lord Angwyn Aharawn?

This section even provides some details of the Inner Citadel and the Shah's Palace, though leaving the finer details to the designs and whims of the GM.  It's just enough background to get you to started thinking about it, but not so much detail that you're locked into what's written on the page.  That was the Judges Guild approach, and I think James has recaptured that spirit well here.  

NPC Profiles
XXXI profiles two NPCs in greater detail. The first is Milos Taanikos, a High Viridian (human) fighter that is the Captain of the Guard, while the second is Narkissos Pampajas,  a High Viridian that keeps watch over the Water Gate and the town's docks on the River Flee.  These two profiles provide a solid background and an ample amount of detail, enabling the GM to use these NPCs in game as written.  

Given the number of high level NPCs in the town of Tel Qa, and there are several, I think it would have been nice to have seen this kind of two paragraph profile treatment for several more of the notable NPCs.  I would have found that addition to have potentially been a time saver.  However, the very absence of such write-ups may be viewed by other readers as a positive thing, as that gives them maximum flexibility in deciding how best to use XXXI in their home campaigns.

Streets and Markets
This section of the publication provides details of the major and lesser streets and roads crisscrossing the town as well as the various markets that can be visited by residents or visitors to the town of Tell Qa.

The street descriptions provide a general overview of what the traffic patterns are for both daytime and night, while the descriptions of the markets give an overview of the kinds of goods are usually found therein.  There are also some guidelines for running random encounters on the streets and at the markets. These encounters could easily be woven in with an adventure hook to springboard the unwary party of PCs on to their next adventure.  

This is one of the two bigger sections of the publication, which is as it should be since this is where the nitty-gritty role-playing is likely to take place. And while this section contains a lot of potential encounter locations for the DM to make use of, XXXI details maybe only one third of the possible locations within the town of Tell Qua.  There is a lot to work with here, folks!  

XXXI provides location details for no less than 83 specific locations across the town.  These range from Barwain's Ale Shop to the Apothecary to a House of Healing to Wyldigra the Witch.  Each of these 83 locations gets a paragraph of details, including abbreviated stats for the proprietors and shop keepers that claim Tell Qua as their home.  Prices for goods available are given in most shops, as well as some unique features or fixtures present.

And, just like in the Towns Defenses section, the descriptions in this section of XXXI contain numerous possible adventure hooks.  Just the kind of thing that make this publication very useful for the imaginative DM.

Rumors and Encounters
XXXI has a rumor list that contains 20 random rumors that could be used to spark an adventure for the party visiting Tell Qa.  Naturally, these rumors have tie-ins to the location descriptions and to the encounter descriptions that follow the rumor table.

The Encounters section provides 20 very interesting encounters that could be used in this town or in any other fantasy gaming town or city.  The descriptions provide abbreviated stat blocks for any NPCs or monsters present, as well as a simple disposition system for determining the disposition of the NPCs in question when encountered.  

These encounters include such essential folks as an Armor Vendor, a Courtesan, a Gem Merchant and a Spice Merchant, as well as a few unique personages unique to James' Wilderlands setting.

Mycr and Mycretians
The section dealing with Mycr and Mycretianism is an extensive look at the god Mycr and his followers.  Mycr is a singular god, claiming to be the One True God of all manner of creation and life. Within this section of XXXI, there is a subsection dealing with Mycratian Sects generally, and another section detailing out the Tell Qa sect specifically.

The publication also details out a class devoted to Mycr, the Mycretian. This part of the book covers the abilities, experience and level progression and spells (gifts) of the Mycretian class.  

New Monsters
The publication then provides detailed write-ups on two new monsters: the Duck Folk (Nguak) and the Liowan.  These write-ups cover physical descriptions, personalities, racial affinities, environmental preferences, naming conventions, racial traits and abilities and other attributes.

I like new monsters for my games. I have more monster books than I can shake a stick at, and yet, more is definitely better.  That said, I get the impression that the inclusion of the Nguak detail is either because that is a classic Wilderlands monster with which I was completely unfamiliar, or else it is part of some long standing joke that originated in a game a long, long time ago, in a campaign setting far, far away…

The Map of Tell Qa
The Map of Tell Qa takes up the center spread of this publication, and I can't think of a better way to show off the wonder and beauty of this town map. The amount of detail on this map by Peter Bradley is stunning, yet at the same time it doesn't seem cluttered.  The lines of the city are clear, and the locations detailed in the publication are clearly labeled and numbered where appropriate.  The various gates, walls and towers of the town are labeled with references to the text and a simple legend is presented along the bottom edge of the double-page map.

There are references to other nearby locations around the perimeter of the map, which helps when thinking about directions to lead treasure-hungry adventuring parties. There is a one inch grid superimposed on the map, making the quick measurement of distances a snap. What's more, the grid has its two axis's labeled to make it easy to cross reference specific locations within Tell Qa.

XXXI has the added feature of having a players' map available for download from the AGP website.  This players' map is a wonderful handout for use in game, drawing the players into the heart of the town and into the action.

Strengths of XXXI
To summarize, I think there are several real strengths of this publication. These strengths include the following:

•        XXXI follows the Judges Guild approach of attempting to find the proper balance between not providing enough detail and providing too much detail, giving the imagination a jump start while allowing for GM creativity.
•        James' writing style is very usable and unassuming. His characters seem real enough that you should be able to find a way to use them in your games.  In fact, you want to find a way to use them very soon.
•        The town map is one of the best maps I've every seen or looked forward to using.

Weaknesses of XXXI
I also think there are a few areas that could be improved upon which would make the publication even better than it already is now. These weakness include the following:

•        Wasted space -- as I mentioned in my introduction to the publication, there is almost a page and a half of totally white space across the 48 pages of the book. I could see this being better used to either (a) mix in a little more white space evenly throughout the book, or even better (b) write up a few more of the high level NPCs that could eventually be encountered in or near Tell Qa.
•        I'm not necessarily a gamer that is big on a lot of art in my RPG products, or find that I have to have a lot of art to inspire the imagination.  However, the overall lack of small art pieces or geo-doodle designs to break up the pages of text makes the text a little tiring to read page after page.  Having a simple geometric design here and there, every couple of pages, would be a fine addition in my opinion.
•        As noted above, I'd like to have seen a few more significant NPC profiled out in XXXI.  I don't necessarily intend to use that many high level NPCs, but having them outlined would be a helpful thing to this DM.  What's more, my current group is progressing up the power curve, so having a few more high level contacts for them to interact with would help in planning the campaign's direction.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that I really like this product.  A lot.  James has done a great job of presenting a town that I would like to put to use in my campaign at the earliest opportunity.  The book has an old school feel about it that I can and do appreciate.  The new release by AGP of material for the Wilderlands campaign setting is great for us Wilderlands fans and is a welcome addition to my gaming library. I highly recommend this product.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5 stars

Jon Hershberger
February 14, 2008


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Post Posted: Thu Feb 14, 2008 3:35 pm 

Nice review.



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Post Posted: Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:58 am 

bumpity bump

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