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 (Link to Kickstarter)
Editor: Brian Johnson
Artists: Is currently a stretch goal. TBA.
Pages: 200+ pages
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 build 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.