by Joe G. Kushner
Foul Locales: Beyond the Walls
Edited by Chester G. Douglas II
Published by Mystic Eye Games
128 b & w pages
Like everyone else, when looking over a book, I wonder about a lot of things. Will it fit into my campaign? Will it invalidate any of my other material? How easy is it to use? Well, Foul Locales: Beyond the Walls, a collection of encounters and locations coming out in a few weeks, is another great example of why I like Mystic Eye Games.
Mystic Eye has taken a simple idea, encounters, and added their own touches. Not only that, but they've used Open Game Content to augment the product and added to it. Each location in the book is broken down into different parts. Starting off with a brief description, each entry goes into location details, providing number-keyed encounters. NPCs and encounters are statted out at the end of each section along with the Adventure and Plot Hooks, eliminating page flipping. To help the GMs customize each location, there is a rumor section and finally, a "where it fits" section to slot each locale into the overall setting with a minimum of fuss and efforts.
Let's start off with the OGC part I mentioned. One of the locations described in Beyond the Walls is "The Bloodforge." Here, those who have Bastion Press' book Alchemy & Herbalists get to see some of that material put into play. An orc and his sons run a blacksmith used by many, including 'good' individuals, to forge special swords and weapons made out of different strengths of bloodiron. This bloodiron inflicts chemical burns, the more specific the target, the more damage the burn is. For example, aberrations would be +1 damage, goblinoids would be +2 and Orcs would be +3. As you'd expect, each type is more expensive than the previous one.
"The Bloodforge" not only provides the characters and bloodiron information, but an excellent example of how to use an item from the forge as a mini-adventure in and of itself. You see, this orc crafter, Burtrag, forged Cremisi, a dragon-slaying sword that has gone through several adventures of its own. In the process, it has become much more powerful than it originally was. Now, one adventure hook provided is that if the players want any of these special bloodforged items, they'll have to find this Cremisi. The details of the sword itself provide even more ideas, as it showcases the history of the sword and the events that have made it more than a bloodiron weapon. The end of the sword's section details the efforts of the priests who once held the sword. If the party takes on the job of finding the sword, they'll come across far more than they expected, which makes the whole section more user friendly.
So that's the first thing I think is cool. Right off the bat, I've got one location that ties into another product, with a map and ideas that save me a ton of time.
The next example is even better. See, in the Book of Eldrich Might II, Monte Cook wrote up a new Bard Core Class and its variant spells, the spellsongs. In "Dead Bard's Run", these elements are looked at and expanded. Long ago a group of bards failed in a mission during a war and in the process of dying, became sentient weapons now known as the Sentients. Simple enough, right? Well, the problem is that they kill everyone and anyone who comes through the pass. To make matters worse, they have the special ability of hurling other weapons through the use of telekinesis. Finally, just to spice things up, a dark elf wizard has used his magic to hide from the swords and uses them as guardians for his own lair. Not bad, eh?
Sure, you're saying, but where do the Spellsong goodies come in? Remember, these soul swords were once bards, so they have access to those old powers they had in life. From the BoEMII you get Momentary Disappearance, Off Balance, Songstrike, Sonic Dart, and others. To further augment that list, you get new spellsongs that are OGC, like Alert, Attention, Haunting Note, Sharp Note, Stuttering Note and Discord. Some of these are fairly simple in nature: Sharp Note places a sonic edge on weapons for an extra point of sonic damage; Stuttering Note breaks an enemy spellcaster's concentration. Useful, and different than the standard attack options we all know. There's a nice mix of miscellaneous abilities and attack abilities between the BoEMII and new spellsongs, so players and GMs should get some great use of it.
Now for those looking for something more "official" but still optional, how about a location that utilizes the psionic rules? "Shadowgloom Ranch" offers you the chance to break out both the Psionic Handbook and the saddles. Not everything is what it seems at this ranch. Characters could find out about this place in a number of ways: they could be looking for some exotic mounts; they could also be selling females of different species, humanoid or monstrous, to the ranch. Either way, the players will learn that there is a common heritage shared by many of those in the Shadowgloom Ranch. A nice thing about this location is that it avoids the pitfalls of putting a monster commonly associated with psionics into the mix, and provides rules for not using psionics at all if that's your choice.
The other locations vary both in size and temperament. The short section on "Knightwatch" involves the party exploring a tower haunted by the dead. Seems that betrayal and losing one's wife and child tend to keep one tethered to the material plane without hope of escape. Potentially a very simple dungeon crawl, the GM (and the characters) will get more use out of the tower once it's cleared of undead.
More expansive and less combat oriented, the encounter "Am'Elvat" allows the party to wander through an elven trade gathering. Unknown to most, the gathering is merely the cover that the elves use to insure an ancient terror is never awakened. There's a lot to do here, and plenty of NPCs to interact with in a fully mapped and statted setting. Need to have the party find a magical blade? How about some unique potions? Perhaps you've decided that the nefarious cult involved is able to free their demon lord without interrupting the elves after all. In some ways, that actually makes the best sense, as the party may be introduced to this fine locale at lower levels and use it for many things, perhaps slowly being drawn into the true reason why the place is constructed as it was. When they finally know, that's when things hit the fan.
The art contained in the book is generally top notch. Scott Purdy, Marcio Fiorito, and other fan favorites have done a great job on this book. The interior layout is the standard two columns of text broken up by images, with borders better than most previous Mystic Eye products, and even in the pre-release copy I've had a look at, the editing is pretty good. The maps are top notch, being easy to read and understand, with numbered encounters for GMs to reference during play.
From the sneak peak I've had, Foul Locales: Beyond the Walls is a very good product with some great art, additions to the OGC, expansions to existing OGC, and enough variety in 128 pages to provide GMs with weeks of encounters.