Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: The Phoenix Barony

I was turned onto David Bezio's The Phoenix Barony by James Smith of The Underdark Gazette fame. He pimped it for the November 28th 2010 edition.

I would like to say whole-heartedly, Thank You Mr. Smith for tipping me off to this and thank you Mr. Bezio for writing it. tPB is exactly what I have been looking for. I wrote previously that my Darkling Ways campaign had come to an abrupt end. Much of the reason for that was, as much as I enjoy the concept of creating my own game world, the actual work involved requires much more effort then I am willing to put forward.

What I needed was a bare-bones world to place my adventures in. I wanted something generic. Now there are many "generic" worlds out there, but most of the more popular ones such as The Known World (or Mystara, if you must, but ONLY if you must), Greyhawk, Blackmoor etc.; however, a well known generic world comes pre-packaged with player expectations formed from years of supplements, be those professional or amateur.

I wanted, needed, a setting that was generic, but with no pre-expectations. Again, I could have gone to any number of sources available on the web, and many of them are well done. The problem with most is I have found very few that are well done for me personally.

The Phoenix Barony is a short work, about 30 some pages. The artwork is tasteful and suited to the subject at hand. I found few typos, if any. There are bits of flavor fiction through-out that are well done and add atmosphere.

I own the PDF of The Phoenix Barony which I picked up from Lulu here. There is also a paperback edition available here, that after having read and mucked around in tPB with my players a bit, I am keen on buying it for myself as a Christmas gift.

From the publishers blurb:

The Phoenix Barony™ is a high fantasy adventure setting for the Labyrinth Lord™ RPG or any Basic/Expert Fantasy Role Playing Game. It is a concise lighthearted setting covering an area 100 x 100 miles. In this book you will find details on the world the Phoenix Barony is set in, descriptions of all the major locations in the Barony, history, Religion, organizations, and NPCs that make the setting unique. If that isn’t enough you will also find the details of a smaller adventure area within the Phoenix Barony, hints of further adventures that take place there, and a complete 1st level adventure to get you started.(OSRIC friendly)

That is an apt description of what you get "out-of-the-box". It feels like a "high fantasy adventure setting" very akin to what a generic 0ld-school D&D campaign typically feels like. If you're looking for dark and moody with low-magic, look elsewhere. In the author's own words:

"(The Phoenix Barony's)...only real "unique" quality is that it doesn't try to be. This setting is hopelessly traditional vanilla flavored high fantasy...Still, it is my hope in sharing that it is just thing that some people have been searching for.

Mr. Bezio explains in his introduction that this has been a labor of love for him for 26 years. "I began role playing in 1981 with a basic version of the world's most popular role playing game. Through several years and several editions the setting you hold in your hands gradually developed". I assume from that statement that his world was used with Basic D&D, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, possibly first and second edition (hence the "OSIRIC friendly" comment from the blurb), as well as possibly 3rd edition. Reading through it, it seems obvious that this is a setting that grew organically. What makes it work for me, where other borrowed home-brew worlds have not, is he has kept it generic for 26 years. I'm sure there are details not included in his document that make his own personal Phoenix Barony unique then say mine, but he has made, I suspect, some wise editorial decisions in not including too many of those.

The Phoenix Barony is written with the intent of using Labyrinth Lord™ RPG. Mr. Bezio also states "or any Basic/Expert Fantasy Role playing game". I don't know if he ever intended Tunnels & Trolls™ to be included in that list, but I took him at his word and T&T 5th edition is my rules set of choice for my personal tPB game. My group and I are two sessions in and it is working wonderfully. I see this as more proof that Mr. Bezio has done a wonderful job of keeping his setting uniquely generic.

As promised in the blurb, you the reader are given details of an area 100 x 100 miles. These details are just enough to give you what you need, without overburdening you with superfluous details. A history is given that sets up the major bad-guy, Geltrod the Vermin Lord, and gives enough detail on the political situation to spark a DM's imagination. The same level of detail is given to religion, organizations and non-player characters. There are side-bars throughout that give more information for many of these topics. Mr. Bezio does all of this with a mere 20 pages.

From there the focus is narrowed to an immediate adventure area. In this section are three population areas along with three different wooded areas, lakes and rivers, roads and mountains. All of these are staples of such classic campaign kick-off modules such as Keep on the Borderlands. There is also a section titled "Places of Interest" which describe possible adventuring locals (some of which Mr. Bezio promises to publish adventures for).

The Village of Humble is given a thorough treatment as a default town to base adventures around or in (again a future adventure Vermin of Humble is promised). This section is well done. There is a map that is more then sufficient and all the shops that an adventure will need in his early career are included, along with the NPC's which run them.

Lastly, included is a short adventure meant as an introduction to the realm called The Lost Daughter. I am currently in the midst of running this for my players and will give more details on it at a later date. I will mention that The Lost Daughter is available separate as a free PDF, and it is generic enough to slide into just about any campaign.

All of what I have stated is praise, so I feel I must point out some faults. One glaring thing missing to me is a table of contents. That is forgivable, but it would have made page flipping easier; however, in all fairness, this is a short document. I will survive without a table of contents. I have read complaints in other reviews of some of the names being too generic or cheesy. I disagree, but there is an easy fix: change them if you don't like them. My main complaint, is hopefully not a complaint at all. Mr Bezio speaks of four adventures that will give more detail to the immediate adventure area. These are: Vermin of Humble, The Legend of Jub-Jub Lake, Dragon Head Peak and The Lost Keep. Of these, as of my writing this, only The Legend of Jub-Jub Lake is thus far available. It is my highest hope that Mr. Bezio will provide the other three adventures as promised and soon. I personally would love to see Vermin of Humble ASAP!

In summary, David Bezio has done a wonderful job of presenting a campaign world that is generic, yet doesn't feel generic. There is just enough meat on these bones to allow a DM such as myself to jump right in.

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