Posted on March 5, 2010 by Billzilla
Available at RPGNow.com
A number of entities have carved a successful niche for themselves creating support products for D&D. One of these, Open Design LLC, operates under an interesting model; direct patronage. They produce material, in part or in full, based on what their sponsors wish to see and are willing to finance. One of their more recent products, the Imperial Gazetteer, describes the region containing the Principality of Morgau and Doresh. This realm was once like any other, but is currently controlled by vampires and ghouls. As one might expect, most of the adversaries presented within are of considerable power; this region is not one on which 1st level characters could expect cut their teeth, by any means.
The book begins with a brief introduction to the subject material by co-author Wolfgang Baur. The first chapter details the history of the principality, giving a brief overview of less recent events while covering more current history a bit more closely. Crisp summaries of a few notable personages PC are likely to encounter in the region are included here, as well as information on a new race, the Darakhul, ghouls who have tamed their more bestial side with logic and reason. The chapter closes by covering the geography of the area — including thumbnail sketches of its major cities — religious cults, and aspects of daily life such as trade and commerce.
The second chapter covers the under-empire: the Ghoul Imperium. Run by the Darakhul who are ambitious, intelligent, and wield powerful necromantic magic, this under-empire exists in a kind of détente with the vampires controlling the surface; neither wants the other to gain enough power to hold sway, yet both recognize the threat from clerics and paladins of the outside world, so co-operation between the two realms is less grudging than one might expect. Here, too, trade is important; PCs who think on their feet might offer to trade surface items here for something more scarce on the sunlit world; unusual creatures, strange compounds and elixirs and foreign fungi and plants are all to be had in the markets of the Ghoul Imperium – if the price is right.
Chapter three covers locations to be found outside the sphere of influence of the Ghouls, the deeper, wilder regions of the underdark. This chapter more than any other is presented as a dungeon delve; by the less organized nature of the region, it offers greater opportunity for carnage with fewer direct consequences. Chapter four details the Darakhul city known as Darakhan, the City of White. Chapter five is predominantly given over to stat-blocs of the various creatures and adversaries found elsewhere.
What I liked about this book was its refusal to offer itself up for slaughter. The vampire and ghoul empires are well organized, intelligent and thoroughly capable of defending themselves from any band of outsiders short of a large army. They are presented more as a region to explore and with whom to trade, possibly also as a rest-stop on the way to the wilder, more delve-prone areas beyond these civilizations. I was also impressed with the amount of work put into the economies and ecologies of the regions presented; it’s clear they are intended not as simple targets to be plundered, but a source of much wonder, fear and adventure in any campaign. While the most common encounter will be a member of the undead, other creatures are numerous and potent threats that provide variety and prevent the PCs from complacency.
The area where I found this book wanting was the lack of any introduction to the world at large. The Principality and under-realm presented are perfectly adaptable to any campaign, and this is a point of strength for the book; I found myself wanting to know more about the entire world from which this gem was plucked – how the pieces of the larger puzzle fit together, as it were. While such information (or lack of same) does not detract in any way from the quality of the work as presented – and in fact may be a conscious choice on the part of creators Wolfgang Baur and Scott Gable – I can’t help but feel the Open Design team is missing an opportunity to reach a larger audience by making more information about other aspects of their setting readily accessible within the pages of this book – as an appendix, or an introduction.
The Patronage model, under which Open Design tends to operate, is similar to the way great works of art were funded in the Middle Ages and even up to the present day: The team offers an idea of work they’re interested in producing; those who wish to see that work completed are invited to subscribe to the project financially to ensure its success. It this way the publishers face far less risk in producing material that inspires them; at the same time the reach of such product isn’t as extensive as it could be under other production models. Regardless, the Patronage model has sparked admiration and renewed interest – so much so that Wolfgang Baur and the Open Design Team were recipients of the 2008 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming. http://www.dianajonesaward.org/about.html
At $15.95 for print version or $9.95 for a PDF, Imperial Gazetteer is an intriguing piece of work. A welcome addition to any campaign where the players are more interested in role-playing than smash and grab tactics, it will reward such players with plenty of wonder, intrigue and exhilarating experiences. It reminds me of the feeling I used to get playing D&D when it was still a new experience for me; around any corner could be mounds of treasure or perils to curdle the blood. I’m pleased to have that sense of wonder return for all of us in the form of Imperial Gazetteer: The Principality of Morgau and Doresh.
Review by Bill Bodden