Friday, June 4, 2021

Draft Review of Into the Wild (Kickstarter Complete!)

Updated 4/29/2021. I got my digital copy and ordered my print on demand. This update changes very little, except to add the excellent artists names, page count and to provide links to DriveThruRPG. This one has also been added to my 5 of 5 star listings. Once I get my POD, it might shift to five gold stars.  

June Update - I need to re-review this based on the hardcopy I have. 

As happenstance would have it, I have been granted a couple of great opportunities this week. I have yet to back to a kickstarter and at no time in my decade or so on the web have I been able to review a product that is still in production. On Thursday morning, I got the chance to do both. God, I hope I don't screw this up. 

Let's have some transparency. Every since I was a kid, I have collected books. Not just any books, but galleys. These are preproduct books sent out to authors and editors so they may do their final proof before printing. Sometimes, they have to do this several times. This is essentially What Todd Leback has sent to me. I feel really comfortable with this format even though it is never something that you would see on a store shelf. 

Second, I have tested, playtested and been a part of study groups on a lot of consumer products. A ridiculously amount of products, everything from flossers to cameras to wargames. There is a reason why I am the way I am. :) 

And item C: I dropped a $20 on the Kickstarter. During this review, I am receiving updates from Kickstarter. I am ignoring those and focusing entirely on the presented copy for information. This will cause this review to age poorly in the next 28 days or so. Please check out Kickstarter for updates. 

Title: Into the Wild
Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback
Editor: Brian Johnson
Layout: BJ Hensley
Cartography: Todd Leback, Aaron Schmidt, Adrian Barber
Cover Art: Jen Drummond (jendart.com
Interior Art Adrian Barber, Dan Smith, Carlos Castilho
Artists: Is currently a stretch goal. TBA.
Year: 2021
Pages: 216
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

So, what am I reviewing: a Kickstarter or a book? Definitely, the book and only the book. Reviews, especially of unfinished products are best done by the numbers. Or the main questions: 

  • Who is the author of the book?
  • What is the idea of the book?
  • Was the idea delivered effectively?
  • What are the strengths?
  • What are weaknesses of the book?

You'll notice that none of those things have to do with stars or ratings, and unlike my other reviews I have not offered a star rating at the outset. And I might not do so by the end. I have only had 48-72 hours to review the material so I have spent most of my time digesting rather than playing or planning. 

Todd Leback is the author of a series of books on Hexcrawling. He has also written on topics such as domain building and authored a one page dungeon. He started playing with the Red Box D&D set and enjoys the OSR style of play with family. This is his second Kickstarter and he runs a great Patreon page which provides 5-8 pages of Hex based content to his patrons every 3-4 weeks. 

Previously, I reviewed Mr. Leback's Hexcrawl Basics

The premise of Into the Wild is to bring several other publications together in one book and link those concepts to kick an OSR style campaign up to the level of domain play. Into the Wild is a 200+ page book which marries hexcrawling to domain building. These ideas came from many of his previous works, but this is not simply a compilation of text. These separate works are merged together seamlessly and are amplified. While some parts of the text are recognisable as being from prior works, they have been edited in away that allows the reader to flow from one idea that was a single book to another, which is different from a compiled collection or an omnibus. 

The book is based on Old School Essentials, but that merely means a tiny bit of tweaking is needed to adapt it to other OSR rulesets. 

The intent is use hexcrawling to engage players into a more complex style of play by bringing domain building into the fold and expanding on it with additional features that would interest high level characters. Mr. Leback does this in 200+ pages with  maps created in Worldographer. While this document was offered to me "with no art", it contains over a dozen maps which are illustrative in nature. Additionally, he also includes many tables and charts to simply and clarify the ideas in each section. 

Like Mr. Leback's previous works, copious examples highlight the various details of hexcrawling, weather, domain management, wealth and character options. This is one of it's strengths. Another good point is the fact that it required a great amount of table time to develop these ideas. Into the Wild shows it's table time very well. It is the product of many years of work and playtime by both the author and his audience. He has merged player feedback with his writing style to produce tight product based on the idea of play. 

One weakness of this work is that it introduces new ways of using DM provided data, which is an inherent flaw of all hexcrawling activities. It's not something you can simply drop into a campaign mid-stream without some sort of introduction. That is not a terribly big deal because hexcrawling and domain building are now "things" that players will understand. 

You could use Into the Wild for low level characters to engage in all the guts and glory type things adventurers do while also running a domain level campaign where a handful of high level characters interact the lesser characters on a larger, more regal scope. This style of play puts the players very close to the DM when it comes to planning, while still maintaining the general mechanics of D&D. 

All and all, this is an excellent book that will only be improved by the stretching nature of a Kickstarter. I look forward to seeing the completed work. 

6 comments:

  1. Interestingly enough, I introduced my players to hexcrawling in our last session using "Filling in the Blanks" (a predecessor to current KS). We have been playing for 2+ years so it was simply dropped into the campaign mid-stream. I am happy to report that it took less than two minutes to explain. I don't think hexcrawling is that difficult to grock, regardless of your prior understanding (three of the five players had never played an RPG before my game).

    My general thoughts on the current KS are that I highly recommend backing it if you do not have the current versions of the existing works. As I do have the existing works, I am on the fence as to whether whatever revisions are made are worth the cost, or if that $10 would be better spent on other RPG purchases. That said, I might just back the KS as a way to support the developer, regardless of direct cost/benefit of the KS to me in the short-term.

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    1. I've uploaded the entire advance copy onto Drivethru so you can see for yourself here: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/345443/Into-the-Wild-Advance-Preview (unedited and unformatted).

      I recognize that people may already have some or all of the component pieces -- a couple are PWYW, with Random Weather Generation being the most expensive of the five -- so I've purposefully kept the cost of backing just for the compiled pdf low. The print version is more expensive, since none of the five supplements have been available in print, and it's not like people would be buying something twice.

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    2. Print is always going to be more expensive. I have this dream of producing something at the $9.99 price point I remember from childhood, and that is totally impossible now. You'd be paying people to take the book. Amazon would have you believe that you could sell any work at any price, so long as that price wasn't higher than $6.99. :)

      I scrubbed the text for matching text from prior editions and really couldn't find much of anything. The concepts are there, but reworded and amplified. I didn't have every book to work from. Maybe I was merely unlucky in my search terms, but I feel pretty confident that the editing altered the prior works significantly to flow seamlessly from one topic to the next for Into the Wild.

      I really try not to do comparisons of products in my reviews as each item is a snapshot of where the author was at a given time plus their new intent. I am making myself nuts by reviewing items that have the same theme, say hexcrawling, from week to week. As a reader, consuming like products is fine. As a reviewer, it becomes a hassle because there is the inclination to compare.

      One thing I did not try was searching for was charts. I'm old school and sort of think of charts as "artwork" or "helper docs", those really can't change. Maybe a line here or a replacement there, but they should be consistent from product to product.

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  2. In my post, I said I had a chance to do two things I've never done before: Back a Kickstarter and review a work in progress. There is actually a 3rd. I've never ordered a print book from DriveThruRPG, and this is a chance to compare.

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  3. Just saw this updated review. I hope you're happy with the first Kickstarter you backed!

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    1. More than pleased! The final product is amazing.

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