Saturday, February 11, 2012

Armchair Reviews: NeoExodus -- A House Divided Campaign Setting

Here's my review for this surprising document from LPJ Design: NeoExodus -- A House Divided Campaign Setting.
You should pick up NeoExodus. It should matter to me that it's written for Pathfinder -- a game system I don't follow. But in the modern RPG era of D&D retroclones, neoclones, alterclones and the multiplicity of game systems that evolved from the D20 explosion, it shouldn't really matter. It's a setting that is both packed with history and detail in almost every corner of its universe, but has been constructed to allow minor additions and major game changers to its setting.

Quite possibly the first thing that should be read is not the history, but Page 24: Unique Elements of NeoExodus. It gives the broadstrokes approach that was taken for the creation of the setting, and it feels like they kept referring to it as they lovingly created every bit of it. Here they are in condensed form:

NeoExodus is...

... a world full of magic.
... a world built on epic adventures, heroic quests, and valiant expeditions into the unknown.
... is a setting of unique empires and nations with their own sovereign rights, powers, and issues.
... is a world that is rarely a peace for long.
... mixes traditional fantasy, horror, magic, modern politics, and science fiction.
... is full of all new unique races.
... is a world built on conspiracies, deception, and intrigue.

Everything has a place in NeoExodus.

In terms of production values, I compare it favorably to the Forgotten Realms 3E setting book and the Forgotten Realms supplement Lords of Darkness combined, but infused with the subversive fantasy settings like Talislanta, the over-the-top high magic terror of Arduin, the epic feel of the early Exalted line, and the anything-can-show-up vibe of Rifts.

The art is fantastic and yet labors to give a real sense of an alternative fantasy world without straying too much from what you look for in the genre. The stat blocks and data tables for character classes, races, nations, and other information necessary for making this setting your own are nicely laid out and are very readable.

This isn't something you skim over. This is a book you read from cover to cover -- though I obviously have opinions as to the best sequence to read the chapters -- to identify the things you want to emphasize, and craft your campaign around those elements, leaving the rest of extraneous campaign flavor.

I want to go on longer about specific races that I find cool, about the nations that really speak to me in terms of campaign potential, about historical elements that would have a wealth of plot devices to kick off any number of adventures -- but I think I'd go on too long.

This is one of my favorite type of kitchen sink settings (a term I tend to in my blog -- -- to refer to settings that have been crafted to allow almost any type of element into it from its genre, or even from other genres). It is a kitchen sink setting that can manage to retain its own identity when other non-native elements are shoved in; any number of rationales -- from the Gates to the high magic running through the setting -- can be brought to bear.

And even if the setting isn't for you, you can mine it for monsters, races, and campaign ideas for years.

I do love the art, despite the tendency to become too cartoony anime-ish at times (I prefer the anime styles in fantasy that approach, but don't necessarily hit, photorealistic), because of the way it drives home the cross-genre, pseudo-gonzo feel of the setting. I like the stat blocks for the political entities, I like Cyneans (crystalline scholars), Dalreans (sentient, mobile plants that can apparently use bows and arrows -- sort of like humans attacking with primate bones, I guess), I like the succinct 5-level progression prestige classes in general. I'm not a fan of too many feats in a D20 / 3E game, but I did like the spells and the monsters in this book.

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