Full Disclosure, I received a free copy of the product described below in exchange for my unbiased review. All opinions below are my own. Note: The initial version of this review stated that the bundle for the POD and PDF combo was $29.98. This misunderstanding was due to a limitation in DriveThruRPG's product presentation. The bundle is $19.99. I also failed to point out the product is two PDF's, on for areas and one for encounters. This has been corrected.
One of the things with which GM’s will sometimes struggle is creating decent story hooks to launch players into their adventures. This is where Lands of Legends-Mundane Areas/Encounters, by Axian Spice, offers some help. The book contains a series of roll tables which contain system agnostic hooks for a GM to use in their campaign as launching points for stories and encounters. “Mundane” is a reference not to the excitement level of the narratives, but rather the types of environments which are covered. They’re arranged by terrain types like “Civilization,” “Forests,” and “Jungles” and each offers some creative launching points for aspiring GM’s 1. There are no actual mapped out encounters or stat blocks, these are narrative hooks only, and that serves the product well.
Layout and Design
Lands of Legends-Mundane Areas/Encounters is laid out in a book format, which each table being a two page spread. In a softcover book this is an ideal design as it gives a GM a full picture of each table without having to flip though pages. Unfortunately, the way each spread is laid out is detrimental for people who purchase the digital version, which is what I have. Titles span across the spread, so when flipping or scrolling through a PDF the terrain name which applies to the table appears on the second page. If readers are using a PDF viewer which can do a 2-up display they should be fine, but it’s rather difficult to read on my iPad in my chosen PDF viewer. I feel the design would have been better had the full title been displayed on the first page of the spread, and a piece of artwork been shown above the table on the second.
The font used for the story hooks is a heavy sans serif, and is easy on the eyes. This makes reading the blurbs pleasing, which is good as this is the heart of the product. Unfortunately, the choice of font for headers and titles is anything but easy to read. It is ornate to the point of distracting, and several of the glyphs look identical to my untrained eye. The font may look better in print, but on a computer screen it’s unreadable and detracts from the overall presentation. If I have a to think to decipher a title, I can’t give high marks. The problem becomes more pronounced in the Encounters PDF, when the contrast is reversed. The reverse contrast can be undone by Adobe reader, but on each of my chosen readers I was unable to do this.
There’s also no introduction to the book, which would have added both context and a starting point for new GM’s looking at these ideas. There’s nothing explaining that these tables can be used as roll tables, for example, GM’s are just expected to see the 1–10 design and make the, “Oh, I’ll roll a d10 to see what I get” connection on their own 2. An introduction detailing a bit of background to the product, and some advice on how to use the content, adds both color and depth. It’s something I expect in a commercial product and I feel it’s omission here.
The artwork is minimalist and, except for my suggestion on adding art to the header space on the second page of each spread, is very good. The black and white images flow though the spreads and evoke the feel for each of the terrains covered in the table. I’m a fan of the ornate works of art which adorn modern RPG projects, but the power minimalist artwork should never be overlooked. The windmill which adorns the “Plains and Valleys” spread is my favorite piece in the book.
The heart of the book is the tables found in each of the spread, and the sheer creativity on display is a joy to read. There are tribes which float on rafts and are friendly until their unspoken rules are broken, forests with hidden ravines which serve as wilderness traps, cities filled with infectious diseases, tidal waves, immoral trophy hunters, and obnoxious paladins. I even spotted references to the “Cobra Kai” assassins, which made my GenX heart applaud. Aside from the pop culture reference, I also spotted several homages to old school modules like The Lost City and Isle of Dread. I don’t know if these were intended, but it was fun for an old-timer like me to see tropes with which I’m familiar woven into these hooks. All in all, I found these to be well done.
Design issues aside, I found both the story and encounter hooks to be quite helpful and creative. There’s real value here for any GM who is wresting for ideas. Any one of these prompts can send an existing campaign into all sorts of new hijinks.
The PDF price on DriveThruRPG is $9.99, and that’s a reasonable cost for the value offered inside, which is essentially two distinct products. The print on demand version, which best serves the design, comes as a bundle with the PDF version for $19.99. That’s also a reasonable price for the bundle.
Flaws aside, if you’re looking for some creative story hooks to jump start a campaign, Lands of Legends is work checking out.