When the final PDF for The Blessed Lands appeared in my inbox earlier, it was like a belated Christmas present. Fun fun fun. So I began to put down a few notes with the intention of sending it privately to Henry Lopez (the author), but this short list grew and grew and grew to the point where it became a blog post.
What are the Blessed Lands?
This book is a source book for the Blessed Lands, a region of the World of Arcanis that contains a city blessed by the gods where all the major empires have held sway. The lands around are filled with magic and history dating back millennium.
This book was funded via Kickstarter back in December of 2013. So it took a full two years to land in our lap. After years of teaser, mostly through adventures, the material was tested, refined and inflicted on the players of the Legends of Arcanis campaign (among which yours truly is a dedicated - or is it rabid - fan and aficionado). I backed this book - as I backed most of PCI's kickstaters: because I knew I would get to play with the material (same reason I backed WitchHunter).
I am rather happy to see that this is present as the Codex Geographica Volume 1, meaning we can expect more of this series in the future.
Overall: A few high-points
- The maps: the maps are super-nice and very professional, they are definitely a highlight of this book for me.
- The art: as usual, awesome done by their regular artist, Pat Laboyko (whose art graced this blog in the past, his stuff is good and really give Arcanis its own feel). I was particularly excited at the views of the First City. The art really highlights that and make it come to life - oddly enough it is very much like I envisioned it when I played the various adventures - like looking at a postcard. MAJOR high point.
- The districts of the First City have their own section, each with a section of the map copied nearby.
- One thing I personally always look for in such a source book: is the material leave open for the GM to add and expand his own stories. While not adventure hooks per se, just by reading, I must be able to answer this question "could I run an adventure that uses this material?" While I have yet to read everything in details, the spot-reading I have done so far answers the question is a big YES!. And that raises the value of the book greatly. These hooks are not always obvious, but are tainted (yes, tainted is the right word for most things Arcanis) in the history or the current events in a good mix.
- There are a few special secret messages in the book. I'll let you decipher them. Took me about an hour to do it (watching old Superbowl recaps from the '70s). As usual great lore!
Codex of Heroes: The character section
Such a book would not be of value to players without at least a few new options. The options are fine. They mostly allow one to create a character that has more attachment to the Blessed Lands, but there are options for those of us with characters from other parts of the world.
I can honestly say that I found a few gems for my own character... The Order of the Laughing Viper could add a really funny twist (a gladiator harlot... "Why did you join the Order?" "Do you know a better way to get close to those hot, sweaty gladiators?" the laughs roll on and on). However, the requirements are too high (would take me literally hundreds of adventures to fulfill the requirements).
The spells are utilitarian, those I read were interesting and I could see myself use them (or see them used on me much more)
Bestiary: The Monster section
I will be honest and say I purchased the book to use as a player the vast majority of the time. So I did not spend a lot of time in this section at my first perusal. My second pass as I resolved to write this review warranted that I spend some additional time therein. The monsters there are flavorful and are a number of monsters that have been eating or beating on me for the past two years. Pat's art now puts a visual aspect to the creatures that have been plaguing me.
I was particularly intrigued and worried about the nightrunners. Those things were part of a massive attack during Gencon '15. A major event I took part in... lo and behold, there is a drawing of what it was like on page 132! Yup that's pretty much how that was...
Appendix A presents us with a few new gods present in the Blessed Lands. I am particularly interested in Aii, a Jesus-like monotheist faith that provides an explanation of the pantheon in a monotheist approach. Very well done by the way. As a philosophical enthusiast, that faith SCREAMS
Appendix B details the weather in the Blessed Lands. Now the weather there is MESSED UP. This section is something players who adventured there have... experienced (some would say, rightfully so "submitted to"). The terrors are all deadly, from the Banshee's Wail to the Blood Fog, to Saluwé's Caress, are nasty and not something you want to have happen to you. One trick: RUN. FAST. DON'T STOP.
This section could've used some art (I really would like to see what Pat-L could do with some of those. ), but as an appendix that's perfectly acceptable.
- There is one element I was not initially overexcited about and I quickly, and privately brought it up as "an annoyance point". Not something that would really prevent me from enjoying the book - it has too many good things in it. The well-detailed history of the Blessed Lands is separated into a number of logical sections (which I like). However, each such section has an entry for what people know
(Taken from the book) Req.: Ss’ressen, Followers of the Azure Way (10+ Fame) or Knowledge: History 12 So a character who is Ss'ressen (lizardfolk-type race), a member of Azure Way with 10 or more fame points with the organization would automatically know this. No issue so far, when you are a member of that race or a value member of the organization, they would tell you some secrets. A character with 12 ranks in Knowledge (history) would similarly automatically know. That's quite a lot but fine. Still no issue...
The problem is that there is no clear corelation between someone with 11 ranks and someone with 12 ranks.
"JP, you're reaching here" you say? And you would be right.
- The book is late, very late (it was initally promised for September of 2014). True that's annoying but I never felt like PCI abandoned us or and we received updates all the way through. Plus, seeing the end result: additional pages (~60 of them), it was worth the wait. But that's no longer a concern it's here, NOW.
As much as I tried to find issues with the book (I found the occasional typos here and there - I *was* looking hard!), I cannot find any fault with the book. It has everything I want: good writing, adventure potential, creative entries, great art, great maps, an index, character options, as much as I tried to find something, I could not. The issues (lateness, number of ranks to know something) aren't really something that affects the book overall or its quality.
I tried to find something I didn't like.
Because of that I have to score the book a 5/5 stars and a solid recommendation for it. Look for it at your local store, online or during one of the big cons attended by PCI (like Origins).
Great job guys! Great, great job.
PS: The cover art by Tomas Honz is copyrighted by PCI and used here without permission.