|1||Part I: A Little Background|
|2||Part II: The Terror of Ages Past!|
|3||Part III: How Were People Still This Racist in the 70s?|
|4||Part IV: Playtesting? Spare Me Your New Age Mumbo Jumbo!|
|5||Part V: Not-So Popular Mechanics...|
|6||Part VI: Points of Light|
|7||Part VII: Only Valon was on the Nice List for Some Reason…|
|8||Part VIII: The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Wilderlands|
|9||Part IX: What He Meant is Monster Island is Actually a Peninsula!|
|10||Part X: Now With More Rivers!|
|11||Part XI: Mostly Me Getting Punchy and Rambling About Setting Design|
Hi, I'm KingKalamari, you may remember me from such FATAL & Friends reviews as...none of them, really, I haven't done this before! After reading through the F&F archvies for the millionth time I figured I'd actually try my hand at one of these things. For my first attempt I have decided to jump into the deep end face-first and examine a big wooly mammoth of an RPG property...
Now, there are a lot of weird, wonderful and creative settings that have been created for RPGs over the years: From the post-modern weirdness of Numenon to the Transhuman space future of Eclipse Phase to the unnerving masturbatory fantasies of a beardy fantasy nerd that were repurposed for Forgotten Realms, there is truly no limit to the types of worlds one can play in...Which is why it's all the more baffling that more than a third of these settings are basically the same thing!
You can probably guess what I'm talking about : The "Default OSR" setting. The one that is basically just Conan but some of the names are different and maybe there are Elves. This is the setting a fantasy game is invariably set in if it is described as "grim", "gritty" or "low magic". It's the de-facto setting of people who long for the old days of Tabletop RPGs when everything was encounter tables, characters died if they were looked at funny and most of your ability scores did absolutely nothing.
But what is the setting that these guys are really trying to emulate? It's easy to look back to things like your Greyhawks of 1st Edition AD&D, the Known World of BECMI or even the Blackmoor of...several editions that never really gave a concrete definition, but there's one setting that has been overlooked and probably had more influence on the modern conception of the "old days" of RPGs than people think. Folks, let me take you back in time to explore...
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy!
Part I: A Little Background
So, what the fuck is this thing? This is the original third party D&D campaign setting! The version I'm going to be looking at is the updated version released for D&D 3.5 but this setting goes back to the days of OD&D: See, back when D&D first came on the market you had pretty much two companies you could buy game supplements from: If you wanted to shell out some extra cash for something that was legibly printed but of a limited sleection you went with TSR. If you were on a budget and didn't mind books printed on flashpaper you went to Judges Guild.
This is either a scene of epic fantasy action...Or Timmy dropped his colouring book in the toilet again.
Judges Guild was the first company besides TSR that really got onboard this whole "D&D" thing and began publishing things like encounter tables, adventures and other supplements for the original edition of the game. Before long the scope of their products became more and more ambitious until they released "The CIty State of the Invincible Overlord" in 1977; the first setting book for what would eventually become The Wilderlands of High Fantasy. What followed was a ridiculous number of maps, charts and supplements detailing a fantasy campaign setting roughly the size of the Mediteranean published over the course of the next five years or so.
Unfortunately the good times would not last forever for Judges Guild,: As the mustaches and OD&D rulebooks of the 70s gave way to the feathered haircuts and AD&D books of the 80s they faced competition from other companies trying to get into the RPG supplement market. Faced with this choice consumers opted for books printed on paper that was actually designed to accept ink and Judges Guild collapsed, taking The Wilderlands with it!
Fast forward to the far-off future of 2002, when the God Zeus commanded Judges Guild to rise from its grave so that it could rescue his daughter Athena from the evil demon Neff by transforming into a series of increasingly muscular man-beasts! And by that I mean Necromancer Games acquired the license to The Wliderlands and decided to re-release an updated version of the setting for 3rd Edition.
While the rules were updated for a new Edition the setting remains largely the same, only condensed into a single book instead of spread over dozens of little booklets full of encounter tables and crude sketches (Which is the main reason I'm doing this guy and not the original 70s releases).
So, come join me on a magical journey through a crazy fever dream of 70s fantasy, where well-oiled barbarian warriors wander through a giant hex-map until they find the spot where they get to fight space robots riding the backs of sabre-toothed tigers!
Sorry for the slight delay in getting this up, this book turned out to be very front-loaded. But I have slayed the mighty beast that was chapter 1 and am once again ready to take you on a journey into the...
The Widlerlands of High Fantasy | Part II: The Terror of Ages Past!
So, the D20 Wilderlands setting was released in two books: "The Wilderlands of High Fantasy" proper, the book intended for the GM containing the full hex map of the Wilderlands as well as encounter listings for every single hex location, and "The Player's Guide to the Wilderlands", which gives all the relevant setting info the players will need condensed into not a gigantic hex map. In the interest of giving some context to all this before diving into outlining a hexcrawl, I'm covering the Player's Guide first.
The guide opens with a short introduction to get players hyped up for the setting and tell them what they're in for: Things used to be pretty rad a few thousand years ago but the world has fallen into a dark age after a war between the followers of magic and the followers of science. Nowadays life is pretty much shit all over, to quote the book:
Life in the Wilderlands can be summed up for the average commoner as follows: Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.
The average life expectancy is twenty years unless one lives in a walled city or town such as the City State, Viridistan, Thunderhold, Modron, Warwik or other large cities, in which it is only a little higher.
Hey, did someone say racism and dull minutiae? I don't know why but that makes me think of...
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy | Part III: How Were People Still This Racist in the 70s?
So, the book starts the race options section off by telling players that they a character created using the rules in the 3.x PHB should be fine to play in the Wilderlands but also offers a bunch fo extra races and options to make a more "Wilderlands tailored" character.
Humans, or: "I don't care if you're black, white or purple..."
The human section starts off with...A treatise on skin color?
Rather than being some sort of weird aside into Robert E. Howard style racism it's instead a pleas from the creators to not drop the fact that a bunch of the humans have weird skin colours like blue and green because...It's truer to the material that inspired the original Wilderlands? I'm not a real scholar on oldschool pulp fantasy but I've seen this same thing come up in one or two OSR games, is there an actual source behind this? The only thing I can think of is the John Carter of Mars series with the variously coloured Martians?
Following that we get a quick general overview of Humans as a whole, which begins with the following line:
"Strictly speaking, the human race has no sub-races, only cultural and ethnic divisions—of which most humans unfortunately make far too much of a difference."
I hope you all are ready to break the game in both directions, because it's...
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy | Part IV: Playtesting? Spare Me Your New Age Mumbo Jumbo!
Alright, so, last time we dove into the various race options offered in The Wilderlands and discovered a whole bunch fo latent racism! Today let's take a look at the setting-specific class options, which I assume are going to be filled with latent classism! HA HA! It's funny because the fantasy genre has a lot of unfortunate baggage from its early days that has still stuck around even into the modern day!
I should probably preface this section by mentioning that as far as crunch goes 3.x is probably the edition of D&D I'm the least familiar with: I got onboard in the 4e days, have played a ton of 5e as it's been the hot thing for most of my tabletop career, played in a couple of AD&D campaigns and have looked pretty heavily into the BECMI rules but never really got into any of the 3rd edition derivatives. I tried a couple of times with some Pathfinder one-shots but could just never get my brain to sync up with the rules. I say all this as this is probably the chapter that goes most heavily into the 3.x mechanics and, while I'll do my best to judge this, I don't have as solid a reference point as other people in the thread may.
We kick things off with a little intro blurb telling us we can use any of the standard classes in the PHB but that some have been tweaked fluff-wise to fit and are also encouraged to throw in the stuff from The Complete Psionics handbook because the original Wilderlands came out in that golden age when psionics were new and exciting and no one had yet realized how game breaking their original incarnation was!
We then get a little sidebar presenting an alternative XP progression track as, apparently, a bunch of the old guard were up in arms about the revised experience by level table because it meant their characters didn't spend enough time as pathetic shit farmers. The new one is meant to give more of an "AD&D Feel" to character progression:
I feel that if you're the type to want this, you probably don't need a book to lay it out for you...
So, we then dive into a quick little write-up for each of the PHB classes and how they're suitable to The Wilderlands. And, wouldn't you know it, all of them are perfectly suited to The Wilderlands! Who would have guessed this D&D supplement trying to sell itself as being a very accommodating setting would tell you all your existing material is totally well suited to it!
There's not too much of interest in this section but it does give one or two decent jumping off points as to what parts of the setting a particular class would fit in to.
Finally, we dive into some new content with our first Widlerlands-specific class:
"The Philosopher's Stone is a metaphor for enlightenment. So in a way, yes, I am searching for it. And the cure... for AIDS."
Alchemists are pretty much what you'd expect: They're weird old guys who make potions and poisons and other magical ingestibles for your tripping pleasure. We're told you're going to want a high Intelligence to actually know how to make potions, a high Constitution so you don't accidentally kill yourself when you're making poisons (Only practice alchemy in a well-ventilated space, kids) and a decent Charisma so you're better at selling the crap you brew up and convincing the cops you were just holding that potion of Hill Giant strength for a friend.
Here's their stat block:
You get a piddly d4 as your hit die and Craft (Alchemy), Craft (Whatever the hell would be useful for constructs), Craft (Poisonmaking, Knowledge (Arcana), Knowledge (Nature), Knowledge (Physical Universe)*, Profession (Alchemsit), and Use Magic Device. You also get proficiency with simple weapons and you can use the Craft (Alchemy) skill without being a spellcaster.
* - Is it just me or does Knowledge (Physical Universe) make this skill seem hilariously broad? "Can I substitute Knowledge (Nature) with Knowledge (Physical Universe)? The Beholder is technically part of the physical universe..."
The Alchemist gets more skill points to work with than a Wizard or Fighter but they're still looking at a mere (4 + INT) x 4 at first level and then 4 + INT skill points per level which seems...Kind of low given the nature of the class? I mean I understand the reason Wizards get so few skill points is to balance out the fact that they're ridiculous demi-gods in 3e but they also don't really need them what with effective spell use making pretty much the entire skill system obsolete. But Alchemists don't really have that luxury and are dependent on Craft skills to make their actual class features do anything...
As far as class features go you start off with resistance to potions, poisons and other alchemically created items due to all the fumes you are constantly ingesting as part of your work. I am now picturing every alchemist as being a magical Van Gogh, driven mad by the lead in their magical paints...
So, at level 2 you get the ability to brew poisons, this allows you to use the Craft (poisonmaking) skill in order to-Wait, hang on a second...You don't get the ability to actually brew things until 2nd level? And you can't start brewing potions until level 3? What the hell do they expect you to do until you get there? At least the wizard can cast a few spells at first level, all the Alchemist gets is that he's harder to poison!
Alright, so, provided your Alchemist survived the slog of being dead weight until level 2, followed by an additional level of just brewing poisons, you finally gain the ability to do what the class is actually based around at level 3: Potion-makin'! The Alchemist himself is not a spellcaster but can brew potions to mimic the properties of spells. They know a number of potion formulas per level that can mimic spells up to level 3, and can make potions based on spells in the Wizard, Cleric or Druid spell li- Wait, the spells you can use for potions only go up to level 3? Jesus H. Christ! I guess we have to be careful, if we throw too many features on top of the NOTHING they get up to this point the class may be overpowered.
Okay, at 4th level our Alchemist finally gets something to make up for the crap-ass features they've been getting up until this point: Craft Homonculous. The write up for this feature basically consists of "Uhh...It's basically identical to if they had the 'Craft Construct' feat and if the process for making one involves...Oh shit! My pizza's here! Just look up Homonculous in the Monster Manual!".
5th level lets the Alchemist identify alchemical items as though they were using the Identify spell! Unless, of course, it's a unique/one-of-a-kind item, in which case they can only tell it's unique. Woo.
7th level brings us "Craft Wondrous Alchemical Items" which lets you craft...Whatever other consumables aren't covered by potions of poisons. It works identical to the Craft Wondrous Items metamagic feat but without the caster requirements. I should also note that the book specifies that The Alchemist needs to use an Alchemical lab to use any of their crafting features and specifically doesn't get the +2 benefit from the lab when doing so.
This class, more and more, sounds like the type of guy who would never go out into a dungeon and would just pay a bunch of other dudes to go delving for him...
At 8th level you get the ability to craft a Golem! You can first craft a Flesh Golem but work your way up to clay, stone and iron at higher levels. We are given no description of how to do so and are told to just read the entry for Golems in the Monster Manual! This book was worth the $60.00 you spent on it!
We then get nothing except variants on existing features and more alchemical formulae slots for 10 levels until we hit 18th at which point we have ingested so many trace amounts of hazardous materials that we are immune to all poisons! I am pretty sure there's just a magic item that does this that can be found at a lower level than this!
And our final capstone, at level 20, we can construct a Philosopher's Stone. This wondrous item can turn lead into gold and brew an elixir of life that works like the True Resurrection spell. Not the biggest game changer but the resurrection is nice, I sup-Wait, it then tells us brewing the elixir takes a month's worth of work and requires us to expend 5,000 XP and permanently lose 1 point from one of our attribute scores!
Or, you can be a Cleric and get the functionality of the immortality elixir as a spell that you can cast in 10 minutes without having to expend months of in-game time or permanently gimp yourself AND get a bunch of nifty spells and class features that could have prevented the person you're trying to resurrect from having died in the first place!
Hey, have you been itching to play as that naked lady with the jaguars that Frank Frazetta was always drawing? Well boy howdy do I have a class for you! I am not being hyperbolic in any way.
"Come on, it's shooters night down at Hooters..Or is it hooters night down at Shooters?."
Not content to only make big boob-ed Amazons a race option, The Wilderlands of High Fantasy went ahead and also made them a class! They're very Fighter-like in their proficiencies, hit dice and skill point distribution but have the added caveat that they can only be played by female characters who either have Amazon as their race or have taken the Amazon Blood feat. Because being naked in combat is a genetic thing, I guess?
Here's the class table:
At first level they get proficiency with all simple and martial weapons, as well as shields but their only armor proficiency is with Amazon Armor. What is Amazon Armor, you ask? Why they have a helpful sidebar for it:
To summarize: This is the kind of armor that perverts mod into their games of Skyrim. The kind that is really effective if the enemy attacks the Amazon's vagina and nowhere else!
The weird part is that the entire class is kind of based around the idea of stabbing people with your tits out as a lot of their features only work if they're wearing Amazon or no armor. For instance, at first level they have the class feature "Fast Movement", which adds an additional 10 feet to their base movement speed provided they're wearing Amazon or no armor.
Also at level 1 they get the "Woman Warrior" feature, which gives any male opponents fighting them a -2 circumstance modifier to hit them if they're wearing any of the Amazon armors but Torc and Rings, and an additional -4 circumstance modifier to initiative if the Amazon is wearing Torc and Rings or no armor. The book tries to frame this as the men of the Wilderlands being sexist dicks who routinely underestimate the prowess of The Amazons if they have not fought them before (The feature specifically doesn't work on people who have previously fought Amazons because yay minutae) but I really can't read this any way besides everyone getting distracted by the Amazon's giant tits swinging in the breeze.
The final feature you get at first level is the "Fight in Unison" feature, in which a group of Amazons who are all wearing no armor or Amazon armor can tap into their "inherent psionic abilities" to...gain the ability to use the "Aid Another" action as a free action. And they can only do this a number of times a day equal to their WIS modifier. Kind of underwhelming but at least it's not The Alchemist.
At Second level they gain Battle Dancer that lets them add "Ω of her amazon warrior level"* to her AC (With the usual handful of situational caveats) provided she meets her class' usual armor restrictions (Those restrictions being "Gives the developers boners").
* - Is this 3rd Edition jargon I'm not familiar with or a misprint?
Third level gives her the ability to Speak with Animals as per the spell a number of times a day equal to her WIS Modifier.
At fourth level she gains an animal companion: She selects her companion as per a Druid of equal level and can also choose from the alternate animal companions list in the PHB but we are told most prefer big cats because Frank Fraz-Wait, she gets an animal companion that works identical to the Druid's options rather than the Ranger's? That...Actually seems pretty damned good for once! My brief foray into Pathfinder had me p[laying a Ranger and being frustrated that their companion was so nerfed compared to The Druid, especially considering the Druid also got to turn into animals and cast spells, while all The Ranger got was a piddly bow. Finally, a spot of sunshine!
Sixth level gives us Uncanny Dodge, which grants our DEX bonus to AC even while flat-footed provided we have our boobs out.
At eighth level she can tap into her latent psionic ability to activate the power "Combat Prescience" a number of times per day equal to her WIS modifier. This power allows her "awareness to extend a fraction of a second into the future, allowing her to better land blows against her opponent.". This takes the form of getting a +2 insight bonus to attack rolls for 1 minute/Amazon level. I feel like that's a lot of supernatural rigmarole to justify a minor to-hit bonus...
At tenth level she can use the psionic power Mindlink once a day to establish a telepathic link with a willing creature within 30ft. They have to be within 25ft + 5ft/2 levels or the bond is broken and it lasts for 10 minutes/Amazon level. Meh.
12th level sees an improvement to Uncanny dodge that negates the sneak attacks of Rogues within 4 levels of her (Because those Rogues are the real big danger you'll be facing at this level).
14th Level gives the Amazon damage reduction of 2/-. And she doesn't even specifically have to have her bazongas out for it to work!
16th level basically gives the Amazon permanent Freedom of Movement as per the spell.
18th Level lets her use Shield of Prescience as a class feature a number of times per day equal to her Amazon level. It grants a +5 bonus to AC for 1 minute/Amazon Level and explicitly stacks with her other armor bonuses.
Finally, at Level 20 she can activate the power Iron Body once per day to get DR of 15/- (But it doesn't stack with her 14th level feature). There are bunch of other situational considerations that are probably easier to quote the book on:
"She also gains immunity to blindness, critical hits, damage to ability scores (other than from psionic combat), deafness, disease, drowning, poison, stunning and all powers, spells or effects that effect her physiology or respiration because she has no physiology or respiration while this power is in effect. She suffers half damage from acid and fire of all kinds. However, she becomes vulnerable to all special attacks that affect iron golems. She gains a +6 enhancement bonus to Strength, but suffer a -6 enhancement penalty to Dexterity (to a minimum of 1), and her speed is reduced in half (despite her freedom of movement ability). She cannot drink (including potions) or play instruments requiring breath. Unarmed attacks deal 1d6 points of damage and she is considered“armed”when making unarmed attacks. Her weight increases by a factor of 10, with resultant effects on swimming, etc."
Overall the Amazon...could be worse I guess? Mechanically, at least. I feel like a class based on using sexy but impractical fantasy armor could be interesting if presented in a tongue-in-cheek fashion (And if it wasn't gender-restricted. Lemme play my sexy dude who distracts his foes with his impeccable codpiece!), but this class is unfortunately completely deadpan and thus full of some majorly sexist cruft. That said it at least seems a bit more powerful than your standard fighter, which is an admittedly low bar to jump over!
"...Or how about Ancient Greek?"
If the Wizard is the nerd power fantasy class, this guy is the nerd power reality class. These guys are presented as being scholars of forgotten secrets with forbidden knowledge man was not meant to learn, but at the end of the day they're just that dork who stayed in the library during recess.
We're told their major attributes to focus on are Intelligence, Wisdom and nothing else! Their class skills are Concentration (Con), Decipher Script (Int), Knowledge (all skills, taken individually) (Int), Profession (sage) (Wis), Read Language (Int), Speak Language (Int), Spellcraft (Int) and Use Magic Device (Int) and they are also, notably, the only class that is literate by default in this setting.
The book really wants us to believe the Sage is a useful and contributing member of the party. Why, just look at all the features they get:
Now look at how many of them aren't spellcasting!
The Sage suffers the same problem as The Alchemist in that so many of their class features require a huge amount of time and effort invested in getting them to work:
The explicitly need a Library in order to get a number of their features to work, and I don't mean a public library, I mean they have to drop a minimum of 1,000GP on a library (Which adds a +1 bonus to Research checks) to even start using their level 1 Research and Retry Knowledge Check skills as outlined in the book. They can get additional bonuses to these checks by spending more gold on their library (5,000 for a +2 to research checks and 10,000 for a +3!), and don't think you can get away with bumming off the library of another sage: doing so results in study times and costs being doubled because the library is "unfamiliar to the sage".
So, we've talked up these "Research" and "Retry Knowledge Check" features/skills a bunch, but what do they entail? Well, research is basically a Knowledge check that takes longer and needs a library: For every set of hours equal to the DC of the knowledge check x 2 the Sage spends researching he gains a +1 bonus to the check, up to a maximum of +3.
Retry Failed Knowledge Check is basically what it sounds like: If the Sage fails the check for the above feature they can try again...With a penalty to the DC equal to how much the sage failed by in their last attempt and only after spending a number of days equal to the new DC researching the question AND only after spending money equal to 5gp x the New DC! And they can't use this feature if they rolled a natural 1 on the initial check because of course crit fails are a thing!
I take back all the mean things I said about The Alchemist, The Sage is so, so much worse!
The other major class feature Sages get at first level is Familiarity levels. It basically means that there's a field of study in which the Sage shows a particular aptitude that gives them a bonus to that skill. They gain Majors and Minors as they loevel up they can spend on Knowledge skills in a similar manner to a Ranger's favored enemy feature. Majors give a +1 bonus to one knowledge skill selected by the Sage and Minors give a +1 to a narrow subcategory of a Knowledge skill. You can spend new Minors and Majors to skills you have already selected and the bonuses will stack. This is honestly such a piddly bonus I'd find it laughable if the entire class weren't so heavily focused on it!
The Sage's other big feature is Languages: They gain proficiency in a new language (Both spoken and written) every other level. I imagine after the third the player will have rapidly run out of useful options to choose from.
At 3rd level they gain the ability to Read Magic as per the spell at will.
At 5th level they gain the amazing ability to...accurately transcribe any document. I feel it's a new low when an adventurer's big class feature can be replicated by tracing paper. This has at least some use in that Sages are explicitly allowed to use this ability to transcribe magic scrolls without expending them. Which could be useful but isn't especially exciting.
We are then given a long section concerning how to hire a Sage, as though the developers realized no sane player would want to bother with this class and it should be relegated solely to NPC use.
We finish up The Sage's section with a big sidebar on Tome of Knowledge, which are basically special books The Sage can find and read for stacking bonuses to their respective fields of study. Much like the Necronomicon, some of these tomes may inspire madness when read and require a Will save to resist losing ability score points to their perverse knowledge!
The book encourages GMs to come up with tomes of their own but helpfully provides a page of examples. The examples run your usual gamut of Kings in Yellow and Necronomicon-inspired works that are to be expected from an RPG, but one in particular bears quoting in its entirety:
"Aquaducts and Water Flow: Written in Logii (the language of pure logic invented by the ancient Philosophers); Madness: Will save DC 18 (0/1d6 Wis) due to the razor-sharp logical precision and bizarre principles (calculus); Areas of Knowledge: architecture—modern building principles—aqueducts +2; Spells: None; Availability: rare, though several copies are believed to be in Rallu; Market Price: 25,000 gp. This perfectly square folio details with mathematical precision using principles lost ages ago the perfect way to construct aqueducts. It is perhaps noted more as a source of the rare language Logii than for its rather mundane content since so few written works from the age of the Philosophers survived."
Yeah, one of these is just an engineering book that you need to make a madness save against, supposedly because of the language it's written in but more likely because of how boring the subject matter is...
"Witches ain't shit but sorcs and tricks..."
So, do you want to play a Halloween decoration and think giving your Wizard a broomstick isn't cutting it? Does The Wilderlands have...Well, not exactly what you're looking for but they have something.
This one isn't as mechanically useless as the Sage but feels especially phoned in in terms of design: The book all but tells us upfront that this class is basically just the Sorcerer with some extra shit tacked on, it doesn't even bother giving them the full class progression table the other entries had and just tells you to reference The Sorcerer in the PHB. Per the book this is "A very limited and focused class, the witch combines elements of sorcerer, cleric and druid." As we are about to see, the book's idea of "limited" is very different than mine.
So, while the class is 75% just The Sorcerer there are a few notable differences: Your hit die, weapon/armor proficiencies and skill points are the same as a Wizard, rather than a Sorcerer and you get some additional class skills on top of the usuals for the Sorcerer: Disguise (Cha), Handle Animal (Cha), Heal (Wis), Intimidate (Cha), Knowledge (fauna), Knowledge (flora), Knowledge (nature), Knowledge (planes) and Knowledge (religion). Your spell list is the same as a Sorcerer's but with some additions from the Druid and Cleric spell lists. The list of extra spells is actually pretty hefty, taking up roughly half a page in paragraph format, so I won't bother to list it all out here but they get some seemingly decent things tacked on. Limited and focused class, remember.
In addition to the class features of the Sorcerer, The Witch picks up a few additional tricks as she levels: At first level she gains the Ebb and Flow feature. The Witch has to choose some sort of natural cycle that occurs in a pattern that can roughly fit into less than a year and has a high point and a low point (Day/Night, the phases of the moon, The equinoxes, etc.), while they don't specify your menstrual cycle as an option I am pretty sure I'm not the only person who would think of it. The basic idea is that on the high point of this cycle (Say, Midnight or the Full Moon) you are at the peak of your magical abilities and gain +1 effective caster level, while on the low point (Midday or the New Moon) You are weakest and suffer an effective -1 caster level. The book tells us that roughly daily cycles have high and low points lasting one hour, monthly cycles have their highs and lows last 1 day and yearly cycles have these periods last for a full month. You know what GM is going to hate you when you get this feature? All of them! That is some weird bullshit to keep track of.
At 3rd level The Witch needs to select a patron (Oh, hey Warlock, you're showing up much earlier than I expected...), we're told that in most cases this is an evil deity like Hel or a powerful demon but Witches may rarely select a neutral or good patron provided the patron is affiliated with nature or magic. From her patron The Witch gains one Cleric ability from their domain and can add domain spells of that patron to her spell list.
At 5th level they get the Circle Magic feature, which is explicitly just the Circle Magic ability from the prestige class section of the DMG, but without the Tattoo Focus feat requirement. The Witch can't perform circle magic on her low point.
At 9th level the Witch can use the Evil Eye to curse people once per day with effects as per the Bestow Curse spell. The target can make a Will save with a DC equal to 10 + The Witch's level + CHA modifier to negate this. As with circle magic the witch can't use this feature on her low point.
At 12th level The Witch gets a magic broom she can use to fly on 3 times a day as per the Fly spell (disabled at her low point, unlimited during her high point!). We're given some info on creating the broom: It involves an animal sacrifice, 1000gp in materials and 500XP, which seems like chump change compared to what The Sage was paying for a library at first level.
At 16th level the Witch gains the ability to shapechange as per the Druid's Wildhape. Using the feature the Witch may transform 2 times a day (disabled at low point, unlimited at high point) into any creature of size Large or lower. Now, this may be poor wording on the book's part, but as written that description suggests the large size or lower restriction supersedes the usual restrictions of the Druid's Wildshape, meaning at 16th level the Witch can turn into literally anything in the Monster Manual, provided it's of Large size or lower. Even I recognize how game-breaking that is!
Finally, at 20th level, the Witch gets the Timeless Body feature like the Druid or Monk. That feature is underwhelming under normal circumstances: After the broken as fuck shapechange feat from 16th level it's like the Kindergartner's talent show performance following Johnny Carson...
So, overall the new classes Wilderlands offers are all over the place: From the unplayably useless Sage, to the under powered Alchemist, to the passable Amazon on to the utterly game-breaking Witch, the only really consistent thing about these classes is they don't seem to have been particularly well thought out, mechanically. I'm going to point the finger at Necromancer Games rather than Judges Guild as this was all d20 stuff not part of the original OD&D products and would thus have fallen squarely on Necromancer's shoulders. Anyone have any insight into what else they've produced?
Tune in next time when we finish up character options with Prestige Classes and Feats and see if the hits keep on coming!
Time, once again, to delve into darkness: A horrible, savage land ravaged by the horrors of the D20 system. I return you to...
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy | Part V: Not-So Popular Mechanics...
Previously on The Wilderlands of High Fantasy: We learned that whoever adapted this thing to the D20 system had no idea what they were doing! We were introduced to the unplayably bad Sage; the slightly less unplayably bad but still useless Alchemist; the Amazon, who was also under-powered but to the degree that the existing martial classes in 3.x were; and the Witch, who was seemingly designed with even less thought than the other three yet somehow managed to be so overpowered it broke the game right in two.
Today we're going to finish up character options by diving into Prestige classes, skills, homelands, languages and feats! Let's see if these things continue the tradition of careful balance and mechanical consideration the rest of the book has shown a complete disdain for!
Prestige Classes a.k.a. "It's 4:50 on a Friday, just throw some shit together!"
We're told that, as has been standard with the rest of the book, all the prestige classes in the PHB and Psionics Handbook are viable in the Wilderlands though NPCs with prestige classes (In keeping with the general "Life is hard and it takes twice as long to level" sentiment) are very rates but the game suggests some minor modifications or bits of lore to better fit them in:
Arcane Archers: These guys are mostly either associated with the Viridian Emperor or are associated with the Elf kingdoms. Any others are probably independent weirdos who are wandering drunk and crazy through the woods with magic arrows.
Sidebar: Elven Superiority
Elves have come up a lot in this setting: It's been pointed out that, even compared to other settings, there are a lot of different Elven subtypes in The Wilderlands and they're generally treated as being really rad. I think this is probably a remnant of the era in which this setting was originally published: Back in the days of OD&D your only consistent option if you wanted to play a nonhuman were the standard Tolkien races: Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits (Later renamed "Halflings" after threats of litigation from the Tolkien estate) and Elves were far and away the most powerful option...
Elves were the original Gish class of D&D (OD*D had a very fuzzy distinction between "Race" and "class" that would eventually split into the more concrete "Race and Class" of AD&D or "Race as Class" of Basic) and were specifically supposed to choose whether they wanted to play as a Wizard or Fighting Man before each individual adventure. This, on top of the fact that they lived a super long time, got a bunch of generic bonuses and were generally rad is probably the major reason Elves are so highly represented and powerful in this setting.
It's an interesting note that hearsay has that Gygax included the Tolkienesque races as options only on demand from his players: Gygax was much more a Sword and Sorcery guy as opposed to a Tolkien guy and originally intended players to mostly just be humans ala Conan and his imitators. Non-human races had a bunch of weird limitations to how high a level they could reach, supposedly as a "balancing" mechanic because Gygax had a weird mental block when it came to nerfing things (See also: AD&D's method to handling poison).
Arcane Trickster: A bunch of these guys work as spies for the Invincible Overlord (For all the good that's done him thus far...)
Archmages: After giving us an unnecessary repeat of the general idea of this class as seen in the DMG (Why doesn't the book do this for other prestige classes?) we're told that being a generalist magic user in this setting is fairly rare: Most of the big name wizards down in Tula (aka "Magictown USA") are specialists (Or "Chromatic Wizards") and the mages of Valon are mostly about water and ice magic. This means Archmages tend to be random, magical hobos who wander the land so they can learn magic shit. It's also said that wizards from Karak aspire to be Archmages, but doesn't specify if that means there is actually a contingent of these guys in Karak or if Karak Wizards actively hate their homeland and want to lead the hobo life.
Assassin: Common among the secret police forces of the various major city states. We're told multiclassed Rogue/Achemists often pursue this prestige class (Which, from what we've seen of the Alchemist in the previous installment and what we know of the Rogue's general effectiveness in 3.x means most Assassins in this setting suck really bad). Apparently the original Orichalans of the Dragon Empire had the best assassins ever before everyone hated them into extinction.
So, the Orichalans have come up a bunch thus far in the book but there's a lot that has yet to be explained: I believe I may have skipped over this a bit in the History section given how long and boring it was, but The Orichalans were believed to be the rulers of the Dragon Empire of yor who have been hunted to near-extinction by the other civilizations for reasons we've never really been given. All we really know about them beyond that is that they were purple and their descendants are really self hating. Hopefully we gets something resembling an explanation of these guys and why everyone hates them...
Blackguards: With all the evil deities of the Wilderlands setting and the general corruption of authority there are Blackguards aplenty. Particularly notorious is "Lokaug Vishnak" and his band of assholes who apparently wander the area Southeast of the City State.
Dragon Disciple: These guys mostly hang out in the Valley of the Ancients where ruins of the Dragon Empire are most common (And all the weird 70s sci-fi stuff is most prevalent). While not a requirement to take the class, many are descended from Orichalans.
Duelist: You're most likely to find these guys in cities or on pirate ships (Which the book seems to regard as surprising, apparently having never seen an Errol Flynn movie). There's a rumour that the Azurerain Pirates are all Duelists and Warwick is teeming with them (A line presented in a way that seems to present the old Grognard idea of "Game mechanics as how the setting actually works on a metaphysical level").
Dwarven Defender: Apparently one of the most common prestige classes and the one all the high level Dwarves gravitate towards because Dwarves are a generic, gestalt mass in every single fantasy setting ever.
Eldritch Knight: Common to Valon and the Elves (surprise, surprise)
Hierophant: Common among the upper clergy of the church of the god Mycr. This is again presented in a way that makes it sound like Prestige Classes are a literal, objective thing people can be in the setting rather than a loose thing for mechanical purposes.
Horizon Walker: This one actually presents a new mechanical restriction rather than just telling us where these guys congregate! Before you can become a Horizon Walker you need to gain familiarity with one of the planes (Does the material plane count? The book refers us to the "Gaining Familiarity section later in the chapter, so we'll see but I like how useless the restriction is if the plane in which the setting takes place counted for the requirement). Most common amongst Rangers and Sages, which means very few people probably take this prestige class as I don't think your average Sage is going to make it to a high enough level...
Loremaster: You'd expect this to be a Sage thing, but we're explicitly told that most Sages never meet the magical requirements (Translation: Sages are terrible at everything and will never reach prestige class level).
Mystic Theurge: Not too much interesting information here, just a list of deities (Hecate, Thoth, Mythra and some Druidic gods) whose disciples would be drawn to this prestige class.
Red Wizard (aka Chromatic Wizards): Hey, it's those guys that got mentioned in the Archmage section! Hailing mostly from Tula, they're called Chromatic Wizards in The Wilderlands because the robes they wear are the color of the school of magic to which they belong. The requirements for this class are changed a little bit: You can be any race or alignment but when the book says they hail from Tula, they mean that as a universal constant. Taking this class requires the character to travel to Tula for training. The associated "Tattoo Focus" feat is also regionally restricted to Tula.
Shadowdancer: We're told that this is the ultimate "rogue acrobat" prsestige class, with the writer apparently forgetting that the class was called "Thief-Acrobat", which was a 2nd edition class kit whose only appearance in 3.x was as a prestige class that would have been mutually exclusive to this class. Unless maybe they meant "rogue acrobat" in the sense of an acrobat that's broken off from the circus and gone Rogue? They're often spies, particularly for the city of Tarantis.
Thaumaturgist: Popular with Witches (Who are apparently not satisfied with the godlike powers and versatility their class already gives them and want to throw some summoning action on top of it) and...Mystic Theurges? I feel the writer doesn't understand what a prestige class is considering the Mystic Theurge is already a prestige class, and one that requires you to already be multiclassing as both an arcane and divine spellcaster. So basically it's saying there are enough people running around this setting who are doing a terrible four-way multiclassing experiment that it was worth pointing out.
Psionic Prestige Classes: The game tells us that, like Psionics in general, these are entirely optional based on the DM's preferences and, even in games where Psionics are allowed, are exceptionally rare. They're also mostly the domain of Female Altanians and...Amazons? Hang on a second there, Wilderlands: Back in the section for Racial options the listing for Amazons specifically said, and I quote:
"Favored Class: Amazon warrior or druid. Despite their innate psionic abilities, Amazons are rarely psions or psychic warriors."
Fear not, RPG-starved masses! I have travelled many a mile from the far off kingdom of “The 70s” and come bearing...
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy | Part VI: Points of Light
Last time we finished up the loose bits and bobs of character options and, while they didn’t hit the comically inept levels of the new classes, it was still very clearly made by people who had no idea how the D20 System was even theoretically work.
The good news is that we’re done with all of that mechanically broken nonsense for the time being and are about to dive into the fluff hardcore in the Map Overview section! Despite entering into this with flashbacks to the calendar system and impenetrable timeline that the book opened with I was pleasantly surprised by this section!
Not only did it give a clear and concise overview of the general locations and civilizations of The Wilderlands, it also sprinkled in some nice little hints at things we haven’t directly encountered that players can expect to face and, in all honestly, did a pretty good job of getting me hyped to fuck around in this setting. Why didn’t they put this in the first chapter?!
Now, I can hear some of you readers out there jabbering amongst yourselves: “What map?”. This map:
And this map that splits it into separate regions:
This thing’s sort of the centerpiece of the Wilderlands box set this book is part of: a 19"x28" printed hexmap of The Wilderlands setting as a whole. We’ve yet to get there, but the other book in this big ol’ boxset is a 500 page doorstopper intended for the GM that is almost entirely composed of descriptions of what is in each and every one of those 30,000+ hexes. Judges Guild may well have been staffed by the criminally insane but damned if they weren’t thorough…
But all that comes further down the line. Right now we’re just getting a rough elevator pitch about each of the 18 regions the map is divided into, starting with the top lefthand corner of the map and…
The Elphand Lands
The big point of interest in this region is the Irminsul Forest, which we’re told is the largest in all of the Wilderlands and serves as a general symbol to how wild and untamed this area is, even by the low standards of “civilized” established in The Wilderlands. Towns are few and far between and most of the human population not living in villages are cavemen. That’s not a description of their level of advancement or anything, I mean they are literal club-swinging, triceratops riding cavemen.
The biggest epicenter of civilization within this region is the city of Damkina, which lies on an island in the middle of the Vast Lake. This area is ruled by the Lord of the White Throne who is said to be a remnant of an ancient empire.
This area also shares its southern border with the kingdom of Viridistan, who you may remember from previous installments as being ruled by some weird green asshole nobody likes. Said green asshole has established some of his forces in the South of the Elphand Lands where they have learned how to ride mastodons and be generally awesome.
A lot of Amazons also hang out in this area, riding sabretooth tigers and posing for Frank Frazetta paintings.
This region is named after its most major city state: Which happens to be the place where those smug-ass blue wizards we read about in the Races section hang out. The Wizards of Valon are generally tight with the local Sea Elves and their mystical undersea kingdom (Which I’m assuming is just The Little Mermaid 24/7).
While the other two northern sections of the map also border The Great Glacier north of the Wilderlands, Valon is notable as being the inhabited city that lies closest to The Glacier.
This area is pretty heavily focused on sea travel so there are a few island-faring cities to the south that are good hubs for adventure, including Malikarr “The City of Alchemists”, which, from what we know Alchemists, I assume looks like the industrial district of New Dehli on a good day...That’s apparently not enough to keep everyone away, though, as the city is also home to the renowned band of pirates: The Brotherhood of Sea Tigers.
There’s also rumoured to be a lost Dwarven city of legend somewhere out in the mountains, but overland travel is especially rough in this region, so good luck.
The Valley of the Ancients
Remember all that weird nonsense from the timeline about dragon empires and Markrabs and other stuff that happened tens of thousands of years before your characters were even born? This is where all the detritus from that got dumped!
This place is often shrouded in fog of varying levels of mystery and is crammed full of ruins of ancient civilizations. We’re told only Rangers and Druids really tend to go particularly deep into this area because we’re told much of the land is supposed to be “poisoned” with no further explanation. While it’s not called out in the blurb in this section I have it on good authority that this is the area of the Wilderlands that has the most 70s Sci Fi bleed-over in the form of ancient astronaut-style ancient spaceships and stuff.
This area is also home to the Glow Worm Steppes, named for the species of gigantic, bio-luminescent worms that make their home there.
This is where that green asshole folks call a World Emperor hangs out! He and his wife are the last of the Viridians (And presumably have more chromosomes than the entire cast of The Hills Have Eyes) and rule the area with an iron fist but their empire has been in a state of slow decline for centuries now. Owing to the whole “established dictatorship” thing, this is one of the few areas of The Wilderlands that actually have roads that are maintained and patrolled sometimes!
There are a few other political powers of note in and around Viridistan that aren’t directly associated with the World Emperor: Deep under the Trident Gulf live the Merfolk of the Kingdom of Sea Laamer, who presumably are doing pretty well because The World Emperor can’t breathe underwater, while The Marmon Witches make their home in the swamps North of Viridistan and are freaky and powerful enough that even the World Emperor gives them a wide berth.
While Viridistan is still incredibly wild and untamed by modern standards, it’s probably the closest you can get to “urban” or “settled” in The Wilderlands.
The City State of the Invincible Overlord
The first region detailed in the original Wilderlands products and the region from which the entire setting was birthed. This place, despite supposedly being more primal and untamed than Viridistan, is absolutely ripe with important locations: You’ve got the City State itself, as well as the cities of Warwick, Thunderhold, Modron, and Ossary. Also of note is the great Dearthwood forest, where those racist barbarian woodsmen from the character options section are perpetually duking it out with Orcs.
The plains to the South are home to the nomadic Tharbrians, who you may recall from the timeline as “Those guys who sacked the City State of the World Emperor so much he had to summon a bunch of demons to get rid of them”, and once you get out along the coast you’re probably going to run into a bunch of patrolling Skandik ships because why not throw vikings into this mess while we’re at it?
This area was supposedly once an important part of both the Empire of Kelnore and the Orichalan Empire, and is thus littered with ancient and ruined structures, perfect for wandering murderhobos to go exploring! Overall it’s pretty obvious this is most parties’ assumed starting point and they’ve made sure to throw a bunch of fucking story hooks and cultures within spitting distance.
We’re not given too much info on this region: It consists of the titular city state of Tarantis and a bunch of surrounding provinces ruled by sultans. A major trade hub, it is home to btoh The Tarantine Merchants’ Association and a shittonne of pirates, notably the infamous captain known as The Sea Hawk.
On the shore opposite Tarantis is the remains of the former capital of the Empire of Kelnore, probably full of wizard treasure. Tarantis also does a lot of trade with the far off (As in “Not on this map”) kingdom of Karak and thus gets a bunch of magic shit from them.
Having apparently run out of actual names for these regions at this point, the production team stuck a vague placeholder title on this one and called it done. The only real things of note here are The Holy Cities: A place of great spiritual importance that is currently occupied by The World Emperor, and a group of humanoids called The Dorins who hang out in the deserts and are apparently adapted to such conditions.
I was secretly sort of hoping there wouldn’t actually be any deserts in this place, just to be cheeky.
Presumably named by a Judges Guild employee who relished the chance to push up his glasses before smugly correcting people every time they called it “Barbarian Atlantis”, this area is home to a bunch of Conans with skin like the guy on the Red Hots box. While most of the Altanians live in small villages and nomadic tribes the area is littered with ruins suggesting a more advanced civilization once lived here. Most people assume it was part of the old Kingdom of Kelnore but I choose to believe the Altanians used to have skyscrapers and shit and just sort of got bored with it.
We’re told the area has “a varied terrain” with forests to the north and...jungles to the south: I feel like those area basically the same terrain, just at different temperatures.
Uh oh, I don’t like the sound of that name. Does more Robert E. Howard-style racism lie within these foreboding lands? Apparently not! This region is heavily forested and home to a bunch of deposits of stuff like petroleum,, coal and peat with which the locals make explosives! There are actually a bunch of roads that have been extended into this region so neighboring areas can get their hands on those sweet sweet boom sticks. The description really goes out of its way to describe this place as uncharacteristically safe and well patrolled, though I’d assume their definition of “safe” has the caveat of “If you ignore all the explosions”.
It was one of the Ghinor successor states but has kind of fallen into the shitter, though the blurb doesn’t give us details. I assume it has something to do with the general topography being classified as “murderous”. A desert to the north keeps the area isolated and a combination of jungles, volcanoes and something called the “Churning Sea” make this a nightmare to travel through. That said they apparently export a lot of herbs and plants and shit for Alchemists to get high on!
Isles of the Blest
Basically imagine someone took Earthsea and fit it into a small sea: Just islands as far as the eye can see. You pretty much have to sail through here if you want to get anywhere so it’s a major hub of sea trade with all the pirates that come with that. The peninsula in the North of this region is believed to have once been part of the land of Orchan, original home to the Orichalans who created the Dragon Empire and are hated by everyone for vague reasons.
Isles of the Dawn
The region gets its name because locals believe that Apollo’s chariot emerges from the nearby sea each day to ride through the sky, in actuality there’s just a bunch of glowing fish that live out in that area that everyone assumes is the sun because they’re stupid. That’s about all there is to this region: It’s mostly ocean, there aren’t any major political powers in the area, and the most action it tends to see is the occasional trader sailing from the Kingdoms of Karak to the East.
Sea of Five Winds
Another region that is notably wild and unsettled, even by the standards of the Wilderlands. Most of the mainland is covered by dense as fuck forests that only the foolish dare to traverse. The Vastern Canyon in the northern part of this region is supposed to be rich in mineral deposits but nobody’s been able to reliably trek out there to find out. The only major point of interest is the City of Tlan, which was once one of the Ghinor Successor States but is going through a crappy period ala Lenap.
Hey, it’s that place from what sprang all those successor states! These Successor States were created when a prince of the Kelnore Empire united a bunch of cities and split off. If the descriptions from the other regions are to be believe this didn’t work out so well in the long term: Basically the only remnants of the Successor States are the ones mentioned in other regions and the City State of Chim, which was abandoned ages ago and has only recently been resettled by a bunch of weirdo Dwarves. The surrounding jungles are teeming with the ruins of the toppled Ghinoran States and also those crap-ass cannibal Dwarves no one would want to play as.
Silver Skein Isles
There are two major factions in this region: The CIty of Ralu, a formerly hidden city that has only recently emerged into the public eye and become a major player, and Tula, the place where all the Wizards live and things considered weird even by Wilderland standards just casually walk the streets. Ralu is perpetually in a standoff with Tula, presumably because they are just fucking fed up with those whack-ass Chromatic Wizards and all their Wizard shit!
Remember kids: Wizards have no concern for good or evil!
The Southernmost point in the territory of the Altanian nomads (Which is a hell of a territory considering Altanis was, like, eight regions ago!). This place is a wild, desolate wasteland of forest, mountains and tundra. Demons from the Demon Empire to the far South or the Demon-Giant kingdoms to the far West used to trounce through here to raid the rest of the Widlerlands, but it’s been ages since anyone last saw them.
Home to the proud Ironfoot Dwarves, who believe themselves to be the one true rulers of the region but are pretty chill if people want to hang out. I guess it’s just a status thing for them?
This place is also home to the Joyful Demon Hills, which were named when a bunch of imps who had been exiled from the Demon Empires to the South showed up and were all “We live here now! I hope you’re cool with that!”. Exiles from the Demon Empire are supposedly reasonably common in these parts.
Finishing off the Wilderlands in the Southeastern corner is the Southern Reaches: A region that has pretty much nothing of note to say about it! Seriously, the book outright tells us this place has been peaceful because there’s nothing here for the Demon Empire to raid!
Off the Map!
There have been a few regions alluded to in the above write-ups that aren’t actually on the map. The book helpfully groups them together here and gives a little bit of detail.
The Kingdom of Karak
The Empire to the far East that is basically a mashup of Mongolia, China and other parts of Asia. In contrast to The Wilderlands this empire has been going strong for the past 20,000 years and generally thinks of The Wilderlands as being a savage and backwards place.
The people around these parts are 110% about horses: They learn to ride pretty much before they can walk and I am assuming their economy is heavily dependent on the production and sale of inspirational horse posters. When not making and selling these posters they also like making magic-shit like scarves and robes that change colors.
They most commonly worship gods from the Indian pantheon, though the evil ones are apparently the most popular. The book seems to keep mentioning these guys are usually Neutral or Evil but I don’t really get that impression from the write-up as they just seem like rad horse fetishists who don’t really give a fuck about The Wilderlands.
The Great Glacier
This is what you’ll find to the North of The Wilderlands: A giant-ass, “v”-shaped glacier that nobody can cross. This thing is massive, to the point that it’s rumoured to spread to the end of the world, though there are rumours of lands that lie beyond it. While The Glacier is daunting, it has been slowly receding over the years.
The Ice Wizards of Valon apparently carved a school into this thing at some point and there’s supposed to be a hidden shrine to the avalonian ice god Aram Kor. Other than that we’re told it’s mostly just filled with “Ice worms, shaggy cavemen, yeti and other monstrosities”...
The Demon Empires
So, these guys came up in the blurbs for the Southernmost regions as an empire far to the South that used to regularly raid the Wilderlands. That title is not actually symbolic or metaphorical, this is an empire populated entirely by demons. Sorry, let me correct that: This is TWO empires populated solely by demons.
So,. this civilization supposedly got its start when the demons bred by the ancient Markrabs had enough of that shit and rebelled. They fled to the south where the planar membrane is weakest and fire elementals occasionally leak through to the material plane. This place is actually pretty diverse and creatures of almost any stripe will be tolerated as citizens so long as they’re down with the empire.
However, things are not all sunshine and lollipops as one might expect in the Demon Empires: There’s an ongoing civil war between two factions that keeps the populace pretty occupied. The Empire as a whole is centered around the gigantic impact crater of a meteor that struck the planet in ages past.
On one side is the western kingdom of the Horned Lands, ruled by a God of Chaos who used to war with the gods of law in ages past but apparently got bored of that and decided to just rule over a bunch of demons.
Meanwhile, in the east, we have the faction inhabiting “The Abyss” aka “The Chaos Lands” (Yes, the faction inhabiting The Chaos Lands is the one not ruled by a chaos god) and is the faction that actually retained the “Demon Empire” epithet. They’re also on the side of the crater that’s been filled with water and, due to the underwater cavern that constantly disgorges a naptha-like substance into it, become known as The Searing Sea.
The Demon Empires are usually too busy with their own internal struggles to pay much heed to the kingdoms to the North and are not much of a sea power due to the nearest body of water being almost constantly on fire but Gordzu-Kor, the most recent emperor of the Chaos Lands, has apparently been building a fleet to cross the Searing Sea to make trouble in The Wilderlands. While this is supposed to be an ominous note I somehow don’t see this ending well what with the Searing Sea being constantly on fire.
So, it only took a third of the book but we’re finally getting to stuff that actually sounds interesting and like something players would actually care about! Let’s see if they can keep this party-train rolling in the next chapter where we look at the cities of The Wilderlands in a bit more detail, starting with The City State of the Invincible Overlord...
I’m back from the holidays! I’m happy to report that Santa managed to fight his way South from the Great Glaciers and was able to deliver to all the city states of…
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy | Part VII: Only Valon was on the Nice List for Some Reason…
You may remember that last time we were given a quick overview of the 18 major realms of the Wilderlands and some of the interesting landmarks contained therein. Today we’re going to be narrowing our focus a bit more to take a look at the six major City States of The Wilderlands.
A brief overview of structure
So, for each actual city state we’re given a few common points of information, most of which I’m not going to repeat for every city, however I thought I’d outline what general topics the book thought was important to note and why I am or am not including it:
Population: I shouldn’t have to explain what this is. I will be including the total population of each City State but am not going to bother listing how many of them are classified as “able-bodied” as the book felt the need to.
Technological Level: This is supposed to be an indicator of what kind of gear your character will be likely to find in this region but the system they use is a needlessly granular 10-point system that works on the assumption that technological development works in a straight line and ends up being meaningless for the City States as they’re all between 7-10 on the scale anyway. I will not bother including this.
Racial Composition: Fantasy population demographics! I’m not going to bother as it’s mostly just “Mostly humans, maybe some Dwarves”.
Alignment: So, being a d20 system product, this thing was released right in the heyday of the 9-point alignment chart being a huge, ubiquitous thing for D&D as a whole, so every developer was trying to wring as much as they could out of that damned chart. Trying to apply an alignment to a city or region was a surprisingly common practice in 2nd and early 3rd edition, so this wasn’t unheard of, however The Wilderlands as a setting predates the nine-point alignment chart. This leads to some interesting cases of the writers trying to squeeze a bunch of square pegs into one of the nine, round alignment holes with amusing results. I’m including this.
Average Citizen: In which the writers try to extrapolate what class and level the average Joe Chumpus you run into on the street will be, because this is apparently important information? Not including.
Ruler: Self explanatory and I am going to include because these guys have titles to rival the most pompous of Third-World dictators.
Other Important Figures: I have no idea what this is supposed to serve as we’re given no information on these people beyond their name, title, class and alignment. I’ll include any of the ones with silly-sounding names
Resources: Who cares
Enemies: See above.
Also, as a general bit of overall setting lore, we are told that the rule of each of these city states is not exceptionally far-reaching, being limited to however far they can reliably ship their armies to. As a result, even with these six major powers, most of the map is wild and unconquered. The book also helpfully tells us:
Political power is largely an illusion and the will of the populace often determines if any or all will respond to a call to arms.
Valon is one of the few places where outright slavery is prohibited, though there is a very complex and just system of indentured servitude.
Unlike the Viridians, Avalonians are a peaceful people, never given to conquest or colonization. As a result, their bloodline has remained true.
I feel like there was something I was supposed to be doing for the last two and a half months...Oh, that's right! I was supposed to be doing a write-up of...
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy | Part VIII: The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Wilderlands
So, today we're covering a fair bit of content, all of it consisting of write-ups of the mid-sized and minor cities scattered throughout the Wilderlands. In the interest of keeping a brisk pace I'm going to spend maybe a few sentences at most on any given city...
Actun (Altanis): Elf shit.
Antil (Altanis): Has a temple to the sky god.
Armagh (City State): Ruled by an asshole Druid. Has nice hot springs.
Bisgen (Altanis): Has nice horses.
Blackspell (Elphand Lands): Halfling ship-building village. Has a seaweed problem.
Borsippa (Tarantis): The "capitol" of the Jarmeer Province. Totally nondescript.
Breem (Valon): More Elf shit.
Bress (Elphand Lands): Town founded by a bunch of Dwarven iron miners in the middle of the woods.
Bridshin (Southern Reaches): A frontier town with some stuff actually worth mentioning: There's an academy for fighters here and "a City Hall where citizens can debate politics or philosophy. To prevent fistfights, a contingent of amazons is stationed here."
Byrny (City State): Named for the Fighter who founded it (Presumably so he could get away from his parents who obviously hated him) that is famous for its smiths who make chainmail coats, also called "Byrnys". Byrny is apparently the setting's equivalent of "smurf". Has a longstanding Orc problem, who I suspect are being paid by Gargamel so he can turn the local Byrny into gold.
Caer Cadwen (Viridistan): A citadel of the Viridian Empire ruled by the tyrannical Shah; Shaw Satyrbis. He will totally have you hanged if you make fun of his redundent name.
Chim (Ghinor): That one city that used to be part of Kelnore, got abandoned and then was resettled by Dwarves. Noted for being the setting's only source of rubber.
Croy (City State): A Skandik splinter city that is only nominally allied with them. Has rad craftsmen who can make anything thanks to a lost library to the god Odin.
Damkina (Elphand Lands): Their free market is the backbone of the regional economy, with folks coming from all over to trade their. The Lord of the White Throne (Who runs the place) won't tolerate no violence at his market.
Dorel (Ament Tundra): Boring town only notable for its magicum mine (Or is that amisprint and it's supposed to be "magic cum"?)
Dragonsaddle (Southern Reaches): A minor market town.
Dragonscar (Isles of the Dawn): Another market town founded when a bunch of Skandiks got shipwrecked there. The Skandiks almost accidentally wiped out the local Elves with their various Viking diseases. The remnants of the local Elven civilization fled to the southern tip of the island and are still pissed at the Skandiks for almost killing them all. Elven ghosts apparently haunt the local hills.
Flaking (Isles of the Blest): Viridistan merchant outpost. They make ships. The temple of Armadad Bog has been trying to use this place to gain a foothold to spread to the Viridian Empire.
Greenswabs (Valley of the Ancients): Even the book thinks this place is a boring dump. The only notable thing is its location at the mouth of the River of the Ancients, which makes it a major disembarking point for folks looking to explore tthe valley. The fact that it's been taken over by mercenaries gets barely an offhand mention.
Greenwax (Isles of the Blest): City that was built next to the ruins of the ancient, Orichalan city of Sotur. While Sotur is said to be filled with rad shit the locals claim it's also full of monsters so few people go in there. There's a magic tree North of the city that Druids like to worship. The city has a ton of taverns and gambling halls but the book notes a dearth of "halls of ill repute".
Grimlon (Viridistan): A Viridian town built around a castle and a common stopover for traders. Three two-headed giants hang around to keep the peace. There's a suit of magic armor hanging in the main hall with a froo-froo poem etched into it. The description notes: "The open air market at the center of town is busy with negotiations for such items as sacks of beans or chests full of swords." which is weirdly specific.
Brindwell (Desert Lands): Another minor market town that's mostly a stopover for people looking to explore a more interesting, nearby location (In this case the Underwing Jungle or the Holy Cities).
Grita Heath (City State): Crappy little town that's too small to even show up on maps. It's notable for being right next to the marshes where those Witches hang out and for being the only source of Thirnya Spice, which is the best food preservative ever. The population is weirdly monotheistic.
The Holy Cities (Desert Lands): Actually consist of 5 separate villages and the winding underground caverns there-under that get a (comparably) huge write-up in the book. This is the home of the Mycretians, who you may remember as those religious folks whose shit got wrecked by the Green Emperor when he rose to power, and things have been pretty tough for them for the past 150 years; they've just now gotten back to the point where they can send missionaries out to the surrounding areas. The locals are said to "live gently, practicing their spirit gifts and traveling in all directions to spread their beliefs to all who will listen." when they're not making "Desert wine" thanks to "the expertise of the hundred or so orc slaves"...Mixed signals here, game. The Holy Cities are economically sustained by trading the ore they mine as well as a particular species of mushroom native to the caverns that has aphrodisiac qualities.
Kauran (Altanis): Town full of Druids and Elves. When the Skandiks came trouncing through the area the locals just sort of collectively shrugged and figured they'd throw their lot in with those guys because why not?
Lenap (Lenap): What used to be a crappy, little nowhere town in the old Kelnore Empire is now the only real town of note in the area! Not notable enough to get any interesting tidbits in its write-up though!
Lightelf (City State): Actually contains few to no Elves. This is actually Gnome town that was named after a vision the founder had (Which presumably involved light and/or Elves)
Longbottle (Sea of Five Winds): Yet more Elves! These ones have longboats!
Ludgates (Isles of the Blest): Evil Elf Shit! The Amiondel Elves were a bunch of dorks who "delved too far into uncovering the secrets of the earth and now desire not to work with the earth but to master it". They set up shop in the area a century ago and have been conquering and enslaving nearby settlements ever since. pretty much the only thing the Invincible Overlord and the World Emperor agree on is that someone should probably do something to stop these jerks...
Malikarr (Valon): Trading hub where alchemists go to get all their good, black market shit. It's also a place where outlaw qizards like to hang out to lay low. Overall it's not a place for well-mannered folks, it's even rumoured there are Orichalans living here who aren't shunned as pariahs!
Millo Fortress (Viridistan): Used to be a stronghold against invaders from the desert, now a layover for visitors to the Holy Cities. A bunch of werebears have been getting up in their business lately.
Modron (City State): After 62 pages of references to it we're finally told how this place is supposed to be pronounced (You say it as "Maw-drun", and not like it rhymes with "moron" as I assumed). Used to be a thriving port city that fell to civil war and Orcish raiders, got refounded recently to protect merchants based out of the City State. There's rumours of sunken treasure in the bay as well as rumours of "a river of incandescent lava beneath the wavelets, sea-bats, a Triton Treasure House, sea-frogs and deadly clouded water".
Mysk (Altanis): Another trade hub given far too much of a write up to say far too little.
Onhir (Altanis): The Elves keep comin' and they don't stop comin'. These ones like gems or something...
Ossary (City State): A surprisingly well-populated city state on the "Pagan Coast" controlled by several dozen Skandik clans that are always fighting everyone. The Invincible Overlord has beef with these guys and they are always duking it out.
Renth (Altanis): You like making ropes? The people that live here sure do!
Revelshire (Ebony Coast): Elf Shit...But actually interesting this time! This place is a tree-top city a bunch of ELves built around a Treant to "protect" it (No word on how down the Treant was with a bunch of Elves building houses all over him...). Once trade routes started to become a thing in the area the Elves started to interbreed with the human merchants and, before you know it, the whole place was crawling with Half-Elves. The Elves, probably egged on by their equivalent of Alex Jones, up and moved out of the place when the non-Elves started to outnumber them. Remember kids: Elves be racist!
Sacred Rock (Southern Reaches): We're told this is a crowded town, but the editor seems to have forgotten to include a population like the other listings. Because of the geography there's little room to expand, so the locals just keep building on top of the existing structures as more people move in.
Sae Laamer (Viridistan): The mercity where the merfolk live. Currently subjugated by the Viridian Empire. The Queen is a "guest" at the World Emperor's palace at the moment...
Sea Rune (City State): A city built on top of a ruined harbour of an ancient civilization discovered by Amazons three thousand years ago. Skandik raiders eventually showed up and conquered the town, driving the Amazons into the ruined Markrab fortress nearby (Where they still hang out to this day). The Overlord kept trying to drive the Skandiks out, but the last time he tried to do so, Thor himself came down from the sky and wrecked shit up.
Sotur (Valon): Formerly a major city of the Orichalan Empire, this palce got its shit wrecked when two Orichalan wizards decided to duke it out...with MAGIC!!! The place is now filled with magically conjured monsters and treasure, but before you pack up your things to go grave-robbing you should know about the "rotting plague" that's affecting the place: Anyone who stays inside the city for more than 12 hours starts to melt into a puddle of green goo. As a result that city has been abandoned for ages and is reportedly full of treasure and powerful artifacts...and probably a lot of green goo.
Sunev (Ghinor): A town whose populace has a thing for the ostentatious. We're told "Slavery is common, but slaves are treated well to ensure their loyalty".
Tak Shire (Viridistan): The description opens by telling us this place is "Located between trolls and quarrelsome pigherders" and ends by telling us "Twenty gaseous bodies haunt the moat". The rest of the description is nowhere near as interesting but apparently the ruler is a rad little fat guy with a weakness for "fine women". Now if you'll excuse me, I have a vacation to plan...
Targnol Port (Viridistan): Another decadent city within the Viridian Empire, this one has a bunch of rich people shit scattered around. During the description of the grand hall we're told "Tears shed in the Garden of Tears have been known to change to diamonds" with no further context or explanation...
Tarsa (Elphand Lands): Mostly Elf Shit.
Tarsh (Valley of the Ancients): Pretty much the biggest settlement in the Valley of the Ancients, this place was built on top of the ruined "capitol" of the Tenifell Lords. The book hasn't had a great track record with capitol vs. capital thus far so I'm not sure if this place was built on top of an important city, or just the building where the Tenifelil Lords met and got shit done. The Tenifell Lords were a group of long lived humans who "[appeared] as flesh colored normal humans", I like they had to specify that they were "flesh-colored". The place has been slowly growing in power lately, maybe one day it'll be as big a deal as the actual city states?
Tegel (City State): Tiny-ass farming village that's only mentioned because it was the site for a popular Judges Guild module back in OD&D days: Tegel Manor. The titular manor is owned by the illustrious Rump family, whose crest is the Golden Hind (tee hee).
Tell Qa (Viridistan): Capital city of the treacherous Smyrsis Province; its ruler (Shah Kijdawr Aenekosii) is the token good guy in the Viridian Empire and "An enemy to all that is evil". The surrounding forests are lousy with Kobolds; not your post 3rd Edition lizard dudes but "spry, ugly, wizened, shaggy and ragged little creatures, not unlike hairy, bent old men who wear pointed hats". The phrasing makes it unclear if the Kobolds wear pointed hats or are just similar to people who wear pointed hats...
Thunderhold (City State): Founded by a band of Dwarves who had been driven out of their home in "Majestic Fastnes" by the backstory to The Hobbit, this palce is a close ally to the City State of the Invincible Overlord.
Tlan (Sea of Five Winds): Formerly the Southernmost portion of the Empire of Kelnore and later a Ghinor Successor State, Tlan was repeatedly fucked by the Child-King and later the Maid of Wonder. People still live here, but it's a pretty major dump.
Warwik (City State): The actor who played Wicket in Return of the Jed-I mean a fairly major city that was founded by exiled nobles from the CIty State of the Invincible Overlord.
Wenglor (Elphand Lands): Elf and Dwarf Shit: Together at last! Known for jewelry crafted by the local Elves from the silver mined by the local Dwarves. Teamwork makes the dream work!
Wortess (Desert Lands): Town at a fork in the major Viridistan roads. The people here are dicks but they make nice boats. There's a bunch of whales that live in the nearby waters but something's been eating them lately.
Yakin Ley (Viridistan): Populated mainly by Hill Giants who keep "Evil blink dogs" as pets. The giants themselves are apparently okay, even if they're " warty, blubbery and shy sort".
Zothay (Altanis): A town that was formerly allied with the City State and the longest-standing holdout in the area against the conquering Skandiks. The Skandiks finally conquered the palce a century ago thanks to some help from the Redrock Orcs, but there's been a growing underground movement led by worshippers of Athena to kick the Skandiks out and reclaim the town.
And that's all of them! Next up we continue with basically the same thing, only for geographical features!
Inkless Pen said I abandoned it, but in reality I was held captive by a tribe of cyborg amazons in…
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy Part IX: What He Meant is Monster Island is Actually a Peninsula!
In all seriousness, I’ve just had a bunch of real life stuff that’s been getting in the way and the next chapter I need to cover is particularly dry, but putting it off isn’t going to make it any easier so I may as well dive in…
This section is laid out much like the last one in that it’s just a big list of locations with one-sentence descriptions. In the spirit of brevity I’ll try to keep my summaries even more succinct!
This one deals mostly with peninsulas and coastlines, including:
The Antillian Peninsula (Altanis) - A small peninsula West of the Pazidan Peninsula
Oricha (Isles of the Blest) - The southern segment of the Pazidan Peninsula where the Orichalan Empire everyone inexplicably hates used to be. The Altanians fucked them up in the 23rd century and now a few of the major sea powerfs have set up cities.
Pagan Coast (City State) - Coastline on the Winedark sea east of the CIty State. So named for its “Pagan” Skandik inhabitants. Considering there’s no Christianity in this setting I have no idea what makes the Skandiks more pagan than anyone else…
Pazidan Peninsula (Altanis) - Hey, it’s that other peninsula that was referenced in the write ups for the other landmasses. It’s the bigass landmass in the center of the map that the City State is on.
Tharbrian Coast (City State) - The coastline North of the city state where the Tharbrians hang out. Also Skandiks.
FORESTS AND WOODLANDS
Astuack Jungle (Lenap) - The first entry is described as “Another” jungle in Lenap. Off to a great start here…
Candle Doom Woods (Ghinor Highlands) - An evil lich lives here.
Chamfly Forest (Ament Tundra) - The Elvish COuncil hangs out here and determines Elf Law. There’s also a bunch of Halflings who raise silkworms and are members of an evil, demon-worshipping cult.
Crying Wood, Forest of (Tarantis) - A forest named after the “many foul leucrotta that hunt the interior”, whatever those are…
Dark Woods (Valon) - Basically Mirkwood. The canopy is so dense that no light gets through, the trees produce black wood great for making magical arrows, there’s a bunch of spiders lurking about, there’s an angry Treant that hates fire hanging around and possibly an evil Necromancer who does Necromancer things and there’s an elf city deep within but the Elves are all evil jerkweeds…
Dangerous Jungle (Lenap) - A dangerous jungle on the Bay of Danger full of dangerous plants and insects. All the jungles have names like that in the valley of Terror!
Dearthwood (City State) - A forest near the city state that’s home to the Orcs of the Purple Claw, who’ve been causing trouble for the Overlord for the past 15 years. There’s a big reward for anyone who can find the Orc’s stronghold. Also a bunch of druids and the Dunael wood folk hang out here.
Dyrinwall Woods (Valley of the Ancients) - A forest with no major story hooks worth mentioning. It is bisected by the “River of Pleasure” though.
Elsenwood (Viridistan) - Wood Elf territory. The Wood Elves live in underground houses and are ruled by a pair of brothers. There’s also a talking snake who hangs out here whose venom is super valuable for its hallucinogenic properties. Deep within is a magic gate that transports people to the shores of the Burning Sea, only works one way, though.
Eyestones Jungle (Altanis) - A forest with a bunch of magic rock deposits.
Fallgon Forest (Southern Reaches) - Full of wig-fucking fairy people and an ancient druid shrine.
Firewine Wood (Tarantis) - home to brewer gnomes, a Gnoll warband and a hot spring.
Forbidden Forest (Elphand Lands/Valon) - Full of werewolves and evil treants.
Great Forest (Elphand Lands/Valon) - A huge forest we are given almost no information on besides that the local Druids take “precautions against beasts entering from the Forbidden Forest to the South”
Hutamah Jungle (Lenap) - Looks like an overgrown garden.
Irminsul Forest (Elphand Lands) - The largest forest in the whole wilderlands. We are given no clue on specifics beyond a bunch of creatures live in there and it’s mysterious!
Lagoldurma Jungle (Altanis) - A bunch of ALtanian tribes live here. Also “Headhunters”?
Overmist Woods (Ghinor Highlands) - A black forest full of undead. Legend has it if you fall asleep in here you’re doomed to wander forever.
Pearl Tower Forest (Southern Reaches) - containing the highest of high quality timber!
Sascat Forest (Ament Tundra) - Frozen forest full of orcs, hobgoblins and wolves.
Scarlet Forest (Sea of Five Winds) - Named for the many red maples and red flowers, also the color of the lumber from this region. Wood Elves protect it from evil.
Screaming Hyena Jungle (Ghinor Highlands) - The largest jungle in the world, full of hobgoblins, apes, panthers, leopards, spiders, dinosaurs, lizards and giant versions of all the afore-mentioned beasts. o hyenas though. There’s a field of oils springs deep within.
Skymidden Forest (Ament Tundra) - This is where those evil, flying monkeys that briefly showed up in the timeline came from. No one knows what their deal is. This place is also home to a society of good-natured, tree-dwelling orcs who keep getting harassed by a bunch of evil Dwarves.
Thistledown Forest (Viridistan) - A place good for logging due to the lack of fussy Wood Elves. It’s bad for logging due to it being the rumoured home of the Koses, a legendary beast with no arms, the body of a gorilla, four human legs and three monkey-like heads that likes to eat people.
Watchtower Forest (Ament Tundra) - Treants, a legendary druid circle, an old watchtower, some trolls, a few hellhounds, typical Wilderlands forest…
Wise Pillar Forest (Tarantis) - Infested with giant insects and named after the ancient, standoffish treant that lives at its heart.
Underwing Jungle (Desert Lands) - Your stereotypical disease and ruin-filled jungle, this one’s claim to fame is being shaped like a batarang and being home to Halfling barbarians that ride giant wasps!
HILLS AND HIGHLANDS
The layout editor forgot to put the title of this section in the title font so it just looks like regular text. Bang-up job there, White Wolf.
Ancients, Valley of the (Valley of the Ancients) - Filled with dragons, the ruins of their old weirs, giant insects and the rumoured ruins of the ancient Dragon Empire
Bendrigoth, Plateau of (City State) - Basically Rowhan. A big steppe where people ride horses all the live-long day. MInotaurs and wereboars are a constant danger and there’s a region called the Plan of SKulls because of all the old bones from old battles lying around, with all the skulls inexplicably facing east.
Brotbuckle Briars (Viridistan) - Filled with a maze of dense briar bushes where Wolves and Hill Giants hang out.
Dead Queens, Valley of the (Viridistan) - Most of the description consists of a boring legend about where this valley got its name. The important thing is that most people avoid this place because it’s full of monsters.
Demon Valley (Viridistan) - A very nice, uninhabited place. Well, nice except for the giant, horrifying demon gate in its center. Rumoured to be a doorway to the underworld protected by an evil demon-wizard, this place is bad news.
Filthenor, Hills of (Tarantis) - Home to the Split-Ear Goblins
Ghinarian Hills (Altanis) - Ending in the Cape of No Return this place is full of all the roughest, toughest and buffest criminals and outlaws.
Glow Worm Steppes (Valley of the Ancients) - The name is a major misnomer: It’s actually a plateau and highland! A plateau and highland filled with cavemen and giant, glowing worms. We’re talking Arrakis size here, people.
Govannon Scarpe (Lenap) - A big plain full of weird-shaped mesas.
Howling Hills (City States) - Probably named for all the wolves and werewolves (and trolls!) that live here, but the book doesn’t say.
Joyful Demon Hills (Ghinor Highlands) - Gets its anime-like name from all the howling noises that echo through the hills, thought the screams are actually those of apes from the Screaming Hyena Jungle. There’s a ruined shrine to Demogorgon here, who was rumoured to hang around the area in ancient times.
Kingssun Tower (Southern Reaches) - A big granite pillar with a giant crystal geode on top.
Lightedge Canyon (Southern Reaches) - A big canyon full of a bunch of other named locations that don’t sound that interesting. There’s wyverns that live here!
Picari RIdge (Sea of Five Winds/Ament Tundra) - Named for the mysterious tribe of goblins residing here, this mountain range is dotted with caves and its summit is covered in “ancient war engines” facing south that fall apart if moved.
Sidhe Hills (Elphand Lands) - A bunch of hills. SOme people live here but it’s mostly Elves. Supposedly home to ancient ELvish barrows.
Skywall Ridge (AMent Tundra) - A giant, wall-like mountain range full of Wyverns and hippogriffs.
Tupimare Hills (Lenap) - Home to goblins, nomads, wolves and wild horses protected by a centaur couple.
Vastern Canyon (Sea of FIve WInds) - A box canyon full of owlbears and other creatures made by wizards doing wizard shit.
Blackwell Isle (Ebony Coast) - Ruled by the same government as Moonstone Island (Featured later in this section) this island is famous for its dry-dock facilities, lack of natural predators and generally boring nature.
Brezal Island (City State) - “Just north of Croy is the Skandik island Brezal Isle and its capital city, Armagh.” Think you could stuff a few more ridiculous fantasy names in that sentence? Skandik island surrounded by sea monsters and submerged ruins. The book says it’s rumoured to be the tip of a submerged mountain range, but that’s kind of all islands when you really look at it.
Croy (City State) - Another Skandik island, though we’re told the Skandiks on this particular island are not aligned with the” warlike Skandiks at Ossary”. Has a bigass temple to Odin with a big-ass oak tree inside that’s supposed to be a seedling of the World Tree Yggdrasil.
Dawn, Isles of the (Isles of the Dawn) - aka “The islands that broke the book’s organization system”. They get their name from the fact that worshippers of Apollo believed that this is where his chariot emerges from the sea every dawn. Sailors also tell tales of seeing the Big A hanging out here, but they’re probably just trying to drum up some tourism because this place is boring as shit.
Ethereal Bells, Isles of the (Altanis) - So named because fishermen claim to hear mysterious bells around this island at night. It’s also home to pirates, pearls, an underwater cave system and “Aquatic trolls”.
Flame, Isles of (Lenap) - Weird blue flames are seen leaping from the peaks of these islands that might or might not compel sailors to run themselves aground. We are given no further information.
Gheulost Island (Viridistan) - Has an exceptionally long description that is mostly taken up by some kind of mermaid creation legend involving a mermaid boy who accidentally pulled a plug at the bottom of the ocean, died and made islands happen. The more relevant detail is that this island is suspiciously heavily guarded by the Viridian Empire.
Mantero Isle (Ghinor) - Also known as the “Island of the Scroll Makers” because a bunch of fuckwad wizards used to hang out here making scrolls. Their underground labyrinth is now buried under tons and tons of solid stone, so fuck you for expecting something interesting!
Moonstone Isle (Ebony Coast) - A naval base for the Kingdom of Karak. They make magic silk and tapestries but will have you executed if you let one touch the ground as it ruins the enchantment.
Pantagent Isle (Ghinor) - Has a deserted giant’s castle on a mountain and shadows come to life. The book gives exactly the same level of detail I did.
Pokrantil, Isles of (Valon) - Used to be ruled by some kind of singing queens, is now ruled by the pirate alliance the Brotherhood of Sea Tigers. The few descendants of the island’s original inhabitants are rad bards. Is home to a slave market and the island of alchemists.
Shillelah Isle (Tarantis) - The trees that grow here produce wood that’s good for making enchanted weapons.
Silver Skein Isles (Silver Skein Isles) - Has been in the midst of a civil war for the past 8 years over religious matters that are mostly political in nature.
Taphos Isle (Tarantis) - Just a big ol’ graveyard full of ancient barrows and burial mounds ripe for the enterprising graverobber/adventurer.
Tirnanog Isle (Sea of Five Winds) - Home to Halflings and humans. The book takes the time to describe its major exports and note it’s a stopover for migrating ducks before bluntly stating it’s “infested with strange monkeys“ with no further comment or explanation.
MAJOR BODIES OF WATER AND COASTAL FEATURES
Lord but this book is thorough.
Ament Horn (Lenap) - The big peninsula where the city of Lenap is located. It has a big, granite statue carved into it.
Cape Kumari (Desert Lands) - Where the city of Quizit is located. It also has a really tall tower and giant crabs.
Cayerva, Bay of (Valon) - Used to be a city that got swallowed by the sea, now it’s all just whirlpools.
Churning Sea (Lenap) - Another stretch of sea near the Ament Horn that is full of whirlpools and waves and is rumoured to have once been the site of an ancient city that sank beneath the waves. Sounds familiar for some reason.
Council Lake (City State) - Where all the nomads gather every year to trade and discuss nomad things. Why they chose this spot I don’t know as the surrounding woods are haunted and full of witches.
Crown Beast, Lake of the (Tarantis) - A freshwater lake full of fish, also a sea dragon that the locals have been giving nubile young ladies to for the past six centuries, but mostly fish.
Dahute Bay (Tarantis) - Serves as the natural harbor for Tarantis. The ancient ruins of Ivory City, former capital of the Empire of Kelnore, lies across the bay but it’s said no one who’s gone there has come back alive.
Deeprock Lake (Elphand Lands) - A big, deep lake with three weird pillars sticking out of it. Weird.
Devilstongue Peninsula (Ghinor) - A big, peninsula dominated by a big cliff and home to the city of Chim. It’s the only safe landing place for people looking to venture into the Screaming Hyena Jungle. There’s some caves here.
Doomall Lake (Ghinor Highlands) - The “Largest lake in Ghinor” the book says, damning this place with faint praise. Has what is basically the Loch Ness Monster supposedly prowling around.
Five Winds, Sea of (Sea of Five Winds/Isles of the Blest) - A sea full of major trade routes with ca-ca-coo-coo weather patterns.
Glazed Lake (Elphand Lands) - Named because the shallows are covered in a film of weird slime. Aoboleth’s have been seen around here lately, possibly explaining the slime?
Gods, Lake of the (Isles of the Blest) - Has a portal to the elemental plane of water just hanging out at the bottom.
Iso Monster Lake (Viridistan) - In the local tongue “Iso” means “Tentacle”! It’s named after a giant, horrible monster with the head of a human and hundreds of tentacles that lives in the center of the lake. Are there any lakes in this setting that don’t have giant monsters living in their center?
Maerstag, Straits of (Altanis) - Runs from Mysk to the Romillion Sea and are named after two giant, Lord of the Rings-esque statues on either end of the shore. Telepathic races steer clear of here for no given reason.
Ninuflan Bay (Valon) - Full of giant lilies in the summer and absolutely clogged with various fantasy sea life that makes it a pain in the ass to sail in.
Orichalan Straits (Isles of the Blest) - Some straits that the book takes far too many words to say “Are a pain in the ass to sail through”.
Pinnacles, Gulf of (Altanis) - Where the Cape of Kumati is located and a major pain to land on.
Quill Lake (Elphand Lands) - Home to poisonous rockfish.
Raglaroon, Mouth of the (City State) - A river that goes through the City State. You don’t need to call out every river if you can’t think of something interesting to say, book.
Romillion Sea (Altanis) - A small sea home to an island full of giant lizards, winged-people who live on the shorelines and the Strait of Clashing Rocks, which is exactly what you probably think it is.
Shadow Lake (Tarantis) - A lake. “Furtive shadows can often be seen crossing the lake at twilight”.
Temple Deeps, Lake of the (Altanis) - Is supposed to contain the sunken remains of an ancient temple to Neptune, the deepest chamber of which is rumoured to be the throne room of a god (Who I’m guessing is Neptune).
Trident Gulf (Viridistan) - The gulf separating Viridistan and Ghuelost Island. Contains the undersea merfolk kingdom of Sae Laamer, which is subjugated by the Viridian Empire because those guys are dicks.
Uther Pentwegern Sea (Valon) - The big-ass sea in the North of the Wilderlands. Treacherous, full of water hazards/monsters and home to an ancient castle that was sunk by a kraken in ages past, just like every other sea in this setting!
Vast Lake (Elphand Lands) - It’s a lake and it’s really big. The ancient city of Damkina stands on an island in the center of this lake.
Visions, Lake of (Isles of the Blest) - A mountain lake whose gases give people visions of the future...Or make them high as balls, it’s hard to say.
Winedark Sea (City State, Tarantis, Ebony Coast, Altanis, Valon, Valley of the Ancients, Isles of the Blest, Isles of the Dawn, Silver Skein Isles, Southern Reaches) - The bigass sea/ocean that makes up the majority of The Wilderlands. It’s named after the weird, deep, reddish-blue hue of its waters.
Alright, that section was a little long and tedious but it looks like we’re finally- Wait, what do you mean this section goes on for several more pages? What do you mean there’s still mountains, plains, rivers, roads, wastelands and wetlands to cover? Where are those cyborg amazons when you need them?
Join me next time for...More geography, I guess! Hopefully without a several months-long hiatus this time!
Do you not know that every tree and blade of grass has a name? Let me tell you about each of them, individually and in pain-staking detail, as we once again enter...
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy Part X: Now With More Rivers!
Aleion Mountains (Elphand Lands) - Lying just north of the Vast Lake, these mountains are home to hill giants, stone giants and hawkmen who are always dealing with harpies getting up in their business.
Amaite Range (Elphand Lands) - A super tall mountain range that is constantly being struck by lightning due to all the mineral deposits. There’s a shrine to Thor here, because duh.
Bendarloin Mountains (Reaches) - A range of “semi-dormant” volcanoes inhabited by Dwarves and Gnomes who are always fighting with the nearby forest Elves, and a bunch of evil Orcs.
Castellan Mountains (Altanis) - Lousy with Orcs who like to harass caravans and known for a sculpture of a sleeping Stone Giant that runs across the lower elevations of the mountains. Five bucks says it’s not a statue.
Cloudwall Mountains (City State) - The tallest of these mountains is over 17,000 feet tall and said to be the home of the “god of thunderstorms” (Thor?). The mountains get their name from the fact that they’re both tall enough to reach into the clouds and volcanic enough that fissures near their base are constantly pooping out a thick mist.
Cruaich Mountains (Ghinor) - Running all along the Isle of the Blest these mountains are said to be home to a ruined lair of the ancient Markrabs and the warren of a silver dragon.
Dissension, Range of (Elphand Lands) - To directly quote the book: “Some flora of this region exudes a noxious vapor which turns emotions sour. Good friends forced to stay for extended periods often become fast enemies.“ This mountain range is supposed to be considered impassable for a number of boringly mundane reasons, but I assume it’s mostly due to the plants that fart angry gas.
Ered Demivand (Desert Lands) - A low mountain range that’s gradually receding into the surrounding hills. Home to a bunch of the usual fantasy crap, though it’s noted that the orcs that live here mine ore and ship it to the City State, and I appreciate the presence of industrious orcs that aren’t just asshole bandits.
Ered Losthain (City State) - The first thing we’re told about this mountain range is that it’s home to many copper mines. Also there’s a legendary Elven palace made of crystal that countless adventurers have died trying to find, but mostly the copper mines. There’s also a sacred pool where centaurs gather to “exchange vows”, which I think is a euphemism for naked centaur bathing.
Ered Morghain (Valley of the Ancients) - Home to the delightful “Mount Doom”, which is home to Rock Trolls, Rock Giants and Non-Rock Goblins all of whom are presumably up to wholesome, good-natured things. Also home to a ruined Dwarven mine that was overrun by evil when they dug too deeply and too Dwarfily.
Ered Perack (Altanis) - Another mountain range that the wind has worn into weird shapes. The way the book describes them it’s pretty obvious they’re actually alive, or haunted by mountain ghosts or some junk like that. There’s also a bunch of crypts near the base.
Gigabolt Mountains (Viridistan) - In addition to an absolutely awesome name these mountains are renowned for their terrible storms and being home to druids and medusa. We’re then given a much longer than necessary explanation as to how the Druids manage to live alongside the Medusas (spoiler: by hiding from them.). There’s also something called The Silvery Fires that show up at the base and either signify great treasure or horrible evil.
Guarding Range (Elphand Lands) - A big mountain range along the Northernmost edge of the Wilderlands that basically acts to keep players from leaving the bounds of the map.
Haunting Range (Desert Lands) - A mountain range named for the terrible, ghostly howling noise the wind makes as it blows across its peaks. It’s coincidentally also full of ghosts, but I like to believe that’s a happy coincidence the locals didn’t know about when they named it.
Hoary Mountains (Viridistan) - Spends a lot time talking about the local sheep, alpacas and other wildlife before nonchalantly slipping in off-handed mentions of Frost Giants and Bugbears as though these are exactly as notable as the musk deer herds they finish with. There’s supposed to be a place called the “Valley of Diamonds” that’s only reachable by birds but has somehow made some men rich.
Lords Mountains (Elphand Lands) - “Created by the hands of the gods, the Lords mountains emerged after a terrible storm blasted the entire area, leveling forests and draining lakes and rivers.” Storms are not the hands of the gods, book.
Majestic Mountains (City State) - Named for being really majestic, below them lies the Majestic Fastness, the ancestral underground home of the Dwarves who founded Thunderhold. Said Dwarves were driven from the Fastness by the evil dragon Smaug Analegorn, who has since been Smauging things up in the general vicinity.
Molting Mountains (Lenap) - Home to harpies, gargoyles and a big angry Roc.
Ododharaun Mountains (Valley of the Ancients) - The nearby monks of Od say the legendary city of Haraun Holm (home to long-forgotten gods) sits at the peak of the mountains. They only say this because nobody’s been able to climb to the top to prove they’re full of shit.
Over Doom Mountains (Ghinor Highlands) - Another dangerous mountain range full of angry fantasy jerks. Brown Thorn Peak is supposed to be home to a family of red dragons that nest around a bunch of sigil stones carved in ancient Kelnoran runes.
Pinnacle Mountains (Viridistan) - Home to the Silver Elephan Mines, which is worked by cavemen, which I take issue with as I feel like when you develop the capacity for mining you’ve kind of moved beyond the “caveman” stage in your civilization’s development. One of the mines collapsed after being attacked by vicious birds for some reason. The Skandiks think this range contains the highest mountain peak in the world that leads directly to the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard.
Saddle Back Mountains (Sea of Five Winds) - A mountain range that looks kind fo like a saddle and has a hermit that lives on its tallest peak. That’s about all there is here.
Starrcrag Mountains (Viridistan) - A bunch of red-bearded, big-headed Dwarves who make magic jewelry live here.
Terad Range (Tarantis) - Home to the hilariously named Burntface volcano, where Dwarves mine iron and the Karzulun peoples ride around raising a ruckus.
Viceroy Mountains (Sea of Five Winds/Ament Tundra) - Home to the Dragonspate geyser, which is supposedly so large it looks like the breath of a dragon when it erupts, which doesn’t sound that large as far as geysers go, really…
Wilderland Mountains (Valon) - Basically a “best-of” of all the features we’ve seen in other mountain ranges: Dwarves, giant birds, some ruins and a hermit.
Wilderlands, you’re already struggling to give hooks for all the geographical features people actually care about, you don’t need to burden yourself by including big, flat expanses of nothing in this section…
Battleplain Gwalion (City State) - Barbarians and nomads used to fight each other here in ancient times, probably over the technical differences between the terms “barbarian” and “nomad”. The soil is fertile because of all the dead barbarians and Necromancers like to hang out here to “pry secrets from the many dead”. What they’re hoping to learn from a bunch of dead hunter-gatherers is anyone’s guess.
Beasts, Land of (Elphand Lands) - Okay, now we’re talking. This is a vast, rolling savanna where everything’s all “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” all day every day. Dinosaurs and dragons wander around doing giant lizard things while neanderthals and Frazetta-men do battle with footage of lizards green-screened onto the background to appear gigantic and lizard-men ride around on little dinosaurs. All Wilderlands game should exclusively be set here at all times.
Cairns, Plains of (City State) - Wild horses run between the clay cairns containing the bodies of ancient warriors for which the plains take their name. Also home to tombs from the ancient Orichalan Empire.
Carnelian Plains (Altanis) - The locals claim the red clay of these plains got its colour from the bloodshed caused by an evil wizard’s skeleton army from ages past. Experts think this is full of shit because they have apparently forgotten that this is the Wilderlands and skeleton armies wander around all the time.
Downland Plain (Valon) - Less a plain and more a wetland full of trolls, evil grass and mysterious, cat-like shadows that hunters are always seeing on the horizon that never seem to come closer.
Eba Aba, Plain of (Viridistan) - A mostly nondescript grassland plain with two notable features: Most of the patches of forest throughout inexplicably have treasure chests buried 10 to 20 feet below the ground and a local legend about a local king who found a “magical roc’s egg that controlled all the genies of the world” which apparently inspired him to collect all the lamps, rings and other assorted junk containing genies that existed in the world. He found all of them except 1 and still wanders the plain as a ghost trying to find that last lamp. Weird.
Eleph Territories (Viridistan) - Home to those mining cavemen mentioned earlier. They’re loyal to Viridistan for some reason.
Grimalon Plains (City State) - Tharbrian Tribes hang out here. Not much else going on.
Jarmeer Plain (Tarantis) - Home to the Paldorian tribe and the occasional ruined statue dotting the arid plains.
Lethe, Plain of (Elphand Lands) - Home to the “Elphand racing ponies”. The writers apparently blew all their good hooks on the Plain of Beasts.
Menuquet Plains (Lenap) - Home to yet another tribe of nomadic horsemen. Hey book, at this point you’re probably better off telling us which plains DON’T have nomadic horse-riders. There’s also faeries that sometimes cavort amongst the flowers.
Targnol Plains (Viridistan) - Hey! This plain DOESN’T have nomadic horseback riders! Just “gnolls, vipers, gargoyles and wights” and...a hunchbacked dwarf for some reason?
Ten Battles, Plain of (Tarantis) - Another ancient battle site that is now home to snakes and skeletons. The locals say you should never grasp one of the skeleton hands that sometimes stick out of the ground as they’re liable to grasp back.
Skulls, Plain of (Valley of the Ancients) - “Home to a massive battle” is right up there with “Home to nomadic horseback riders” as a cliche for the plains in this book. This one was the site of a massive battle during the Wizard Wars that left the place littered with various skulls.
Visick Plain (Ament Tundra) - Home to the Visick Barbarian. Yes, they are masters of mounted combat, why do you ask?
Zirzus Plain (Viridistan) - While this plain is home to the requisite herds of wild horses, it’s also the stomping grounds of “three-legged running birds”, lizards, blink dogs, beholders and giant apes that raise blind goats for milk. The Old Man of the Wood also wanders around these parts and likes to disguise himself as a person in need, then transforms the people who stop to help him into tress because...he’s a dick?
And here we hit the absolute nadir of the geography section: Most of the entries for rivers are dominated by a bland listing of the landmarks and regions they pass through, I’ll try to sort out the more interesting stuff...
Ancients, River of the (Valley of the Ancients) - Reportedly has gold nuggets the size of a man’s head along its banks and turns blood red in the summer for reasons never divulged, though may have something to do with the Dragons’ Heart Burial Mound that sits at the headwater. The legendary First Men supposedly considered this place sacred.
Azurerain, River (Tarantis) - Probably the longest river in The Wilderlands. The book spends way too much time alternatively rambling about the areas it passes through and providing rumours about what it’s named after, before finishing with the odd detail that there’s a section of rapids along its length with a bunch of giant statues of weird, four-armed Dwarves perched on boulders.
Conqueror’s River (City State) - Named after the fact that conquering armies always cross it when they attack the surrounding area. Not much else going on here.
Dark River (Lenap) - Named because the water is unusually dark and viscous (And makes a good adhesive!). Turns purplish in the summer because the trees drop so many berries into it.
Destathrone River (Sea of Five Winds) - Some magic throne in an old legend that let people read auras sank to the bottom of this river one time.
Don Jackal River (Southern Reaches) - Bugbear tribes like to hang out on the banks of this river.
Dor, River (Valley of the Ancients) - There is nothing noteworthy about this one except the other landmarks nearby and the other rivers that feed into it.
Dreaming Rise River (Ament Tundra) - Seriously, we’re only in the Ds and the book has already run out of hooks for these rivers.
Eldhraun, River (Tarantis) - Just endless descriptions of what these rivers flow past and that people can use them to travel between places.
Greatflood River (Elphand Lands) - It rained so much once that some local lakes overflowed and made this river. Whee.
Greyrush, River (Altanis) - This one splits into TWO rivers. Try not to pass out from the excitement.
Grinshatter River (Ament Tundra) - Apparently named after the legend of the “Laughing Titan” who was a big dumb jerk who grinned evilly all the time until a son of Athena “smashed the Titan’s face to a pulp with the a magical mace [sic]“
Hagrost, River (City State) - Okay, we’re getting back into rivers that actually have something to make them noteworthy. This one is reportedly home to a band of pirates that have been raiding the Estuary of Ragaloon and it’s supposedly named after a long lost explorer who was kidnapped by a minor deity of eternal youth that lives underwater.
Leander, River (Viridistan) - A dangerous river. The only way to cross it is a bridge near Viridistan or a place called “Shilly Shallows”. I think I’ll take my chances at Viridistan…
Lost River (Elphand Lands) - There’s glyphs and runes along the banks
Mageven, River (Altanis) - There’s piranhas here.
Mau Mau River (Ghinor) - And we’re back into “nothing interesting to say about this” territory. I now regret my decision to do all these landmarks one by one.
Olokon River (Valley of the Ancients) - The only source of water for the Plain of Skulls and features a 100ft tall waterfall at one point.
Quicksake, River (Southern Reaches) - A common water route for merchants
Roglaroon, Estuary of the (City State) - Runs between the City State and Modron and has been having pirate problems. A sea monster named Maelstron has started hanging out here and is rumoured to be working for the Overlord to crack down on the pirates.
Ruling River (Valon/Valley of the Ancients) - They keep mentioning that a bunch of these rivers fork, which (to my knowledge) isn’t how rivers tend to behave in real life. This one is mostly an entry about some legend about a bunch of kings that fought each other to the death in ancient times and also there are sometimes sprites that bewitch fishermen.
Severn, River (City State) - The deepest of all rivers, with the bottom of some areas having never been reached. Has a waterfall with some ancient statues and a legendary unicorn was sighted along its banks two generations ago (I think it’s safe to say the unicorn has moved on by now...).
Starlight River (Ebony Coast) - Look, if you couldn’t think of this many interesting things to say about rivers, maybe you shouldn’t have included an entire section for them in the book!
Stillring, River (City State) - River trolls! Nymphs! Wood Elves! Gnomes! Other fantasy things!
Tamesis River (Elphand Lands) - Book, we can figure out that boats can travel between two places by river by looking at the map! You don’t need to remind us!
Teithoir River (Desert Lands) - There’s crocodiles and tribesmen that live along here. Also Snake People.
Torn River (Elphand Lands) - The major trade route of the Elphand Lands
Trollhraun, River (Tarantis) - Another major trade route
Twilling Way River (Ament Tundra) - There’s Hobgoblins on the north side and Orcs on the south side who are always fighting. Some rangers are supposed to protect this river but the locals don’t trust them
White Worm, River of the (Altanis) - Mostly rapids.
Wildestride River (Se of Five Winds) - The (thankfully) last of the rivers, which mercifully has something to actually say about it: Legend has it some asshole barbarian hamstrung a giant who was trying to step over this river and the body eventually turned into a weird island.
Remember earlier when the book said reliable, major roads were uncommon in the Wilderlands? Yeah, they weren’t kidding. This section only has two entries and they’re both in the same general region.
Old South Road (City State/Altanis) - Pretty much the only safe overland route safe of the City State, though it gets treacherous near Altanis.
Rorystone Road (City State) - A cobblestone road connectin the City State to Thunderhold.
Dear god, it never ends…
Blood, Desert of (Desert Lands) - The lowest point in the Wilderlands at 150 feet below sea level, this desert is home to blood red sands and giant sandworms.
Infinite Desert (Lenap) - A mind-bogglingly vast desert full of nomads, giant monster bones and artifacts the book describes as “strange ‘technology’” in big ol’ scare quotes.
Oppressing Sands (Desert Lands) - A desert we’re told is even crappier and more dangerous than the not yet mentioned Patchwork Desert, this one houses desert elves, giant ants and “Giant Sand Fleas“.
Patchwork Desert (Desert Lands) - Hey, it’s that desert the previous entry compared itself to! It’s apparently named because the shifting sands are regularly broken up by patches of rock and is a hotspot for artifacts from ancient civilizations.
Ament Tundra (Ament Tundra) - Uh, Tundras aren’t really wetlands. I mean, they can contain wetlands, but it seems weird the entire tundra is a wetland. Then again I’m no geographer! Keeping to stereotype this place is 100% barbarian country and is home to mammoths, yaks and Amazon warriors, who I assume find it a little chilly given their previously established penchant for sexy boob armor.
Great Unctuous Swamp (Ghinor) - Ooh, “Unctuous”! Someone on the design team had a word a day calendar! Trolls and Lizardmen duke it out here and a disease called “filth fever” runs rampant!
Hollowcaste Moors (Desert Lands) - Where all the water that can’t make it over the mountains into the desert flows into. Full of wolves and will-o-wisps.
Marmon Mist (Viridistan) - Home to the three Marmon Witches (Chael, Phyth and Gaedd), who hang out with a bunch of frogs and do generally witchy things. Chael is the leader, Gaedd is the sensible one and Phyth is the wildcard who “prefers to molest or eat intruders“. Despite their notoriety they’re apparently recluses in the witch community who don’t take part in the celebrations at the Witches Court Marches.
Mermist Marshes (City State) - An ugly shithole swamp that’s supposed to have merfolk living somewhere amongst the giant toads, frogs and slugs. Housed a bunch of refugees who started worshiping “The Toad, the God of the Mermist” (Which I assume is just a big frog) and their religion became so popular there’s currently a temple to The Toad in the City State.
Moonraker Moorlands (City State) - A spooky, misty craphole that isn’t even listed on the maps. The people who live here are supposedly descended from the Orichalan Dragon Kings, which makes the fact they now live in a crap-swamp really sad. It’s also “remored“ there’s a hideous monster living near a sickly coloured stream.
Ravensdeath Swamp (Ghinor) - Supposedly home to one of those wizards doing research into stupid wizard shit, which probably explains all the monsters, giant crocodiles, evil plants and other assorted nastiness that hangs out here.
Witches’ Court Marshes (City State) - Where all the witches ever (Except the three in Marmon Mist) gather every All Hallows’ Eve to summon demons and do other witchy things. A witch named Mordridda is supposed to be the big crone on campus round these parts.
And with that we’re finally, thankfully done the overlong points of interest section! These past few entries have really felt like there are some good ideas contained in here that suffered from absolutely terrible presentation and editing: You have to remember that this is just the player’s guide and is supposed to present the information that player characters would be familiar with, all of these locations are detailed in full in the giant-ass GM’s booklet that outlines every single hex square of the Wilderlands map. As a result the fact that the book felt the need to mention every single named point of interest on the map just feels so needless for this book: If they’d omitted at least half of these locations and given more attention to the more noteworthy locations that player characters would actually be familiar with rather than feeling the need to give a two sentence description of every river and forest on the off chance a PC might have heard about it somewhere in passing this whole thing would have been a lot shorter and a lot stronger.
Next time things will hopefully pick up in a six page gazetteer chapter about the City State of the Invincible Overlord!
The Wilderlands of High Fantasy Part XI: Mostly Me Getting Punchy and Rambling About Setting Design
Last time: We finally made it through the unending quagmire that was the “Geographic Features” section.
This time: We get to a far more interesting and useful section, which gives a short gazetteer for the intended starting city, “The City State of the Invincible Overlord”. This section is not without its problems, which we’ll get to in a bit, but it’s at least far less of a slog to get through than the last section.
To start with we’re given a brief introduction on the CIty State as a whole: It’s one of the largest city states in the setting and is a major hub for trade and commerce. Most of the laws of the City State are specifically based around facilitating trade and there’s a fairly extensive judicial system set up to enforce said law. The major downside is that the final goal of the legal system is to make sure the Overlord gets his cut of everything that goes on in the city, so as long as you’re not trying to muscle in on his racket pretty much every sort of trade is fair game. Street violence and riots are also pretty common and the police aren’t particularly inclined to put a stop to it as it’s not keeping the cash from flowing into The Overlord’s pocket.
So it basically combines all the worst aspects of a totalitarian bureaucracy with an anarchic free-for-all into a very by-the-books hive of scum and villainy.
All that said, the combination of being a trade hub and having a police force that turns a blind eye on most run of the mill crime means the citizenry are a pretty diverse bunch of criminals: It’s pretty common to see the likes of trolls, ogres and demonic houris walking the street and keeping to themselves.
The City State takes some pretty obvious influence from Lankhmar from Fritz Leiber’s influential “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” stories, which will become more and more obvious as this chapter goes on.
This mostly deals with the various governmental and law enforcement groups that make up the backbone of The Overlord’s rule. We’re also told the type of armor and weapons a member of each of these organizations usually carries, because this is obviously a better place for that information than the Monster Manual section where we’d get their actual statistics:
The Constables are mostly composed of lesser nobles and the idiot manchildren of lesser nobles who have been given a token bit of lawful authority to keep them busy and away from the members of their family that actually matter. As you can imagine, the constabulary is mostly staffed by self-important dipshits who abuse their authority whenever possible.
While the Constabulary mostly worries about the business of nobles and matters of the court, The City Guard are the ones who handle the more “hands-on” aspects of keeping the peace. These are the guys who get shit done...when someone tells them to. The guards are notoriously surly and not particularly inclined to get off their asses and intervene unless their bosses are watching them. The thin blue line, ladies and gentlemen!
The Black Lotus are the Overlord’s secret spy police who are in charge of “taking care” of any conspirators, dissenters or other enemies of the Overlord. They are also actual ninjas if the artwork is anything to go by.
Pictured: Actual ninjas, a Dhalsim and some sort of fancy lad.
In addition to all the cops and spies, the Overlord also keeps at least 500 members of the Military around at any one time. We’re not given much info on these guys, but we are told that 500 soldiers is a “Vasthrong’!
Hey, remember when I said this city was basically Lankhmar? The Guilds are where that really shines through! They’ve got guilds for everything in this city: An Assassins’ Guild, a Thieves’ Guild and a Beggars’ Guild just to name a few of the organizations directly lifted from Fritz Leiber. It should be noted that something that’s sort of faded over the development of the fantasy genre (And had definitely been muddied by the time when the original Wilderlands modules were published in the 70s) was that Leiber originally intended the various guilds of Lankhmar to be a joke: That being that the city was so guild-happy that they even had guilds for ridiculous, illegal non-professions like thieves and beggars. Unfortunately, as more and more authours either took inspiration from or blatantly copied Leiber’s work the novelty of the Thieves’ Guild wore off and it became another normal piece of fantasy set-dressing.
So yeah, The City States has lots of guilds.
This section opens up with the bizarre and delightful fun fact that it’s illegal for any kind of business to make change for a customer in the City State without a license, so if you ever ask for change at a business they’re likely to threaten to sue you! And as soon as we’re through that the book starts to flounder again when we get into talk of SLAVERY!
Now, the idea of presenting slavery as a fact of day-to-day life in a fantasy setting is not, on its own, a necessarily stupid move: The setting takes a decent chunk of inspiration from ancient Greece and Rome where slavery was incredibly common and other settings have introduced similarly horrific subjects in a way that served the setting without glorifying or falling into weird apologetics. Dark Sun, for instance, had slaves all over the place and it heavily fit the themes of that setting.
Where The Wilderlands differs from Dark Sun is that it tries to go out of its way to downplay the horrors of slavery. Lemme quote the book directly:
“Slavery is both legal and normal in the City State. It is not considered evil and, although very low in social status, slaves do possess a modicum of rights and protections. In some cases, slaves are more carefully protected and cared for than commoners.”
A swing and a miss there, book. You tried to introduce a serious topic of historical relevance into your setting and you immediately fucked it up.
The book also falls back into that weird, Old School spirit of Gygaxian random rolling in this section when it explains that every business has 1d4 slaves on the premises at any given time and most (60%) have 2d4 extra slaves!
The topic of slavery is thankfully dropped after this paragraph, but the old school needless random rolls continue into the next one as we’re told that there are always 3d6 pedestrians and 1d6 horsemen on any major street during daylight hours, because this was an important thing to establish and not something that could be left up to the whims of the DM to offhandedly determine themselves. We’re also told that “No stranger will interfere with, or aid another, even if the law is broken.” which is an odd thing to declare as a universal constant…
The rest of the chapter is made up of a numbered map of the City State with short descriptions of the buildings each number represents. After the geography section there’s no way in hell I’m going through and summarizing every one of them, so please enjoy this highlights reel:
A wizard named Langwellan the Blue has built a keep in the Southeastern corner of the city and hires a bunch of amazons to guard the entrance so no one can get their grubby mits on all his sweet wizard swag.
There’s a bunch of temples all throughout the city, the most interesting of which is the Temple of the Spider God. It’s surprisingly not some sort of evil cult temple, but a temple to an unnamed “Goddess of Wealth” with a prevailing spider motif. Also a bunch of giant spiders hang out here and are left to just sort of wander around by the temple staff.
The city also has temples dedicated to a few of the other gods of the setting, including Odin, Thoth, Mananan and The Temple of the Toad that was mentioned briefly in the geography section. It still weirds me out that this decidedly non-Earth fantasy setting has a bunch of actual Earth gods making up its pantheon...
A large chunk of the buildings in the city follow the same low-key descriptive naming style as the city itself, as demonstrated by the local university known only as The School of Ancient Knowledge; the Sea God Temple to Mananan; the Plaza of Profuse Pleasures, which is essentially just the red light district; and the Park of Obscene Statues, which was either created by the perverts of the Plaza of Profuse Pleasures or just attracted said perverts to set up shop nearby, no one’s entirely sure..
The Silver Eel Tavern is a recurring location in Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories that has been unceremoniously lifted wholesale and dropped into this setting. To cover this blatant plagiarism the creators have crudely crossed out the word “tavern” on the sign and written “Inn” above it...And also added strippers! The majority of this write-up is dedicated to singing the praises of Djela, who is a really sexy stripper who performs here and has a giant black panther for an animal companion for some reason. Gonna be honest, they kind of won me over when they gave the stripper a giant cat friend!
A single stripper tavern was apparently not enough to satisfy the needs of the ogling, drunken public as the next entry is for the She-Devil Tavern, which apparently doesn’t have any strippers awesome enough to warrant individual note but is popular nonetheless! We’re eventually told of two more stripper-bars: the Happy Harpy (Which is actually more of a high-class brothel) and The Balor’s Eye which has a stripper of note like the Silver Eel in the form of Eudeina. Eudeina’s apparently the best stripper in town, “with such skill that men (and women) have been known to faint during her shows”. Props for alluding to LGBTQ people in the setting...I guess?
The social stratification of the city is very evident when one visits the actual courts, as there’s no less than four separate buildings, each dealing with the legal matters of different social castes.
In the write-up for the Temple of Pegana we’re told the weird legend of its high priest, Mung, who brought the temple’s pantheon to the CIty State from a far off land, incited a city-wide revolt of the local craftsmen and then unleashed the “Beast of Mung” during the resulting civil war. Mung’s still kicking around, by the way. Apparently all that unrest and beast-releasing wasn’t enough to get the Overlord to kick him out…
There’s also an entry for the Slave Market Plaza, which prompts the book to again remind the reader that slavery is perfectly legal and normal in the City State and pretty much every business owns slaves.
The last proper entry is for the “Litigation Tricksters Guild”, which lets us know that “litigation” is outlawed in the city (Despite all the earlier talk of the extensive legal system and people being sued for asking for change?) so this is a guild of ambulance chasing, “Totally not a lawyer, I swear” types who glom onto anyone who gets arrested to give legal advice.
The chapter ends with a brief blurb about the “Goblin Reservation” just outside the City State, which is basically a bunch of tunnels inhabited by a gaggle of unruly Goblins with a penchant for mining. They’re good enough miners that people often come to the City State just to seek out their services. The book also tells us it’s illegal to give a Goblin alcohol while within the city walls, which is a joke the writers should maybe have thought of the implications of a bit more before telling.
So, on the good side, this chapter is way more interesting and well laid-out than pretty much anything that’s come before. It’s only seven pages (One of which is just a map) but it manages to give a reasonably detailed picture of life in the CIty State without becoming boring or bogged down in minutia.
On the not-so-good side, there was way too much focus on strippers! I get that “sexy dancing girl” is a pretty deeply established trope of the Sword and Sorcery genre this setting is trying to emulate, but I feel like we could probably just condense the four different topless bars down into one big topless bar.
And on to the most glaring issue with this chapter: Slavery! The book screwed the pooch on that one! I think that this is the sort of thing that isn’t necessarily unwarranted in the setting given the media and historical eras it’s drawing inspiration from, but it fucks things up by trying to walk the horrors of the institution of owning other human beings as property back. While “barbarian hero gets captured by enemies and sold into slavery where he is forced to row a bigass boat while a fat dude beats a drum nearby” is a well-worn plot of the Sword and Sorcery genre, that exists so the hero can lead the other slaves in revolt and have an inspiring fight against the fat guy. Slavery is included in this sort of genre as an evil for the hero to overcome and putting in that waffling “Oh, the slaves don’t actually have it that bad, in fact they probably have more rights than some citizens” bit completely detracts from that!
Beyond even the basic moral objections to slavery as an institution (Which I don’t feel I need to go into too deeply as “slavery = horrible” should not be a controversial statement) that particular paragraph rubbed me the wrong way from a setting design point of view because it felt like it was a case of the writers realizing that the first instinct of almost every modern player is to immediately start freeing any and every slave they come across, and trying to nip that in the bud - Which feels like the exact opposite of what this sort of setting is supposed to be set up to do!
I mentioned previously that The Wilderlands has some parallels to Dark Sun in that it’s a shit-ass setting of isolated city states ruled by cruel despots that, through hard work and dedication, the PCs may be able to make their mark on and change for the better. Having something like slavery be commonplace and part of daily life supports the despotic tyranny of the setting, but then trying to discourage PCs from acting against that goes completely against the whole “grow strong enough to make your mark on the world” theme.
This is part of a larger problem I’ve seen a lot in RPG setting design - The creators being afraid of letting the players upset the status quo and fittingly enough it’s a problem that the afore-mentioned Dark Sun setting started to fall into hard in the latter years of the 2e era. This whole idea was probably best exemplified by the module “City by the Silt Sea”, which was covered by PurpleXVI in his FaF write-up of Dark Sun.
For anyone who hasn’t read through it, the module was a an entire book that detailed the city state controlled by the Dragon of Tyr and basically existed to horribly murder any players dumb enough to try to go there. Seriously, this module makes it likely that 20+ level characters will likely die before even getting within 200 miles of the Dragon’s home turf. This all comes to a head in the final section, which details the Dragon’s stronghold within the city, where the DM is explicitly told that if the PCs somehow manage to overcome all of the ridiculous save-or die, hyper-lethal bullshit that has been constantly thrown at them throughout the module and are in a position to actually kill the fucking dragon, to just pull some deus ex machina bullshit out of their ass to prevent the players from finishing the fucker off.
The degree of importance the module puts on never letting anyone anywhere actually defeat the dragon (And thus upset the status quo) was astounding, as though a group of neckbeards in a basement deciding to finish off their campaign by defeating the major, recurring baddie of the setting would somehow affect the overall metaplot at every table.
The entire point of a setting like Dark Sun or the Wilderlands is that it fucking sucks, but the players are given the chance to overcome that. It’s not an easy task, obviously, but makes for a very clear and motivating campaign-level goal got the game. The entire sort of idea of old school settings like the Wilderlands is that the players are simply plunked down in a big-ass hex map with no set end goal, free to wander and do as they please. But when the players are actively discouraged from trying to change certain parts of the status quo, when they’re prevented from freeing the slaves or slaying the dragon, that promise of player freedom starts to ring hollow...
Also slavery is an abhorrent institution that is inexoribly tied to racism and has had a long-lasting and pervasive impact on the socio-political climate of the United States, so if you’re going to include something like that in your setting you may want to give how you’re presenting it in the material a good, long think.
Next Time on the Wilderlands: Gods and Shit!