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Oathbound: Domains of the Forge

Ghostwind

First Post
Prepare to immerse yourself in a new world, one that has existed since before the consciousness of most cultures yet still holds mysteries that baffle mortal minds. Pulled from worlds across the cosmos, the Domains of the Forge serve as a strange mixing grounds of cultures, races, and ideologies. Those who visit the world come away forever changed, their hearts, souls, and bodies marked by their experiences while within the world of the Oathbound.

The Forge is a bizarre and godless orphan world in which only the greatest can hope to survive. Seven mysterious figures watch over the Forge and populate it with ambitious souls from thousand of different words and planes, pitting them all against each other in an eternal battle for ultimate power. For eons upon eons, mortals have battled on the face of the Forge, gradually building a rich world of powerful magics, massive ruins, forgotten secrets, and complex politics. Now it is your turn...

Oathbound: Domains of the Forge is a capstone setting designed for use with any d20 campaign world (or even as a world unto itself). Heroes are pulled into the world from their homelands for either a brief stay, extended visit, or a lifetime of opportunity. The choice is yours.
 

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GameWyrd

Explorer
Oathbound is a truly impressive book. Physically the book is impressive; a scary tally of 352 pages, solid hardcover, full colour and plenty of sinewy illustrations. Oathbound: Domains of the Forge is a campaign setting, a high fantasy, high powered campaign setting and done with elements of grit and tangibility that are so often missing from other attempts on the genre. Oathbound makes no attempts to hide the world’s secrets from the players. The reasons why things are as they are tend to be spelt out. I think this forthrightness suits the high fantasy of Oathbound for two reasons; the answers help define the setting, helping the players and the DM get to grips with the original world and also because at high character levels the players often like to know why the heroes they’ve worked so hard to mature no longer have things their own way. The Feathered Fowl are perfectly happy to strip powerful magic weapons from new arrivals to the Forge and that’s just one example of the sort of thing once all conquering heroes might encounter. This telling of secrets will continue into the review with the exception of "Dark Welcomes" the adventure at the end of the book which won’t be spoiled.

The name of the world is Forge but the name of the campaign setting is Oathbound. The seven bound servants of an ancient and powerful god forged the world (hence the name) around the prison of the captive god. These seven supremely powerful (but not divinely so) beings are bound by oaths (hence the name) to guard the prison and keep their master locked inside. Now, if your mind is anything like mine then you’ve probably already imagined a scenario where a powerful PC beats seven shades of crunchy out of one of these beings and thus wrecking the very premise of the setting. But no, this is the whole point; this is the very premise of the setting. The seven (well, some of them) want this to happen because their divine oaths are written so that they may only be freed from their position as jailer by finding a more powerful being to replace them. The members of the Black Flock, the name given to these creatures, actively search the Planes for heroes or villains with the promise of power. As it happens, one of the seven has already been replaced and a once-mortal now reigns in that part of the Forge instead. There are seven parts of the Forge since each of the Foul built their part to their own liking. The seven have access to different parts of the Planes through different star gates and so over the millennia the Forge has existed different races have come to become more dominant in these seven parts. The PCs do not need to play one of these "seeds", one of these promising individuals, since there’s also plenty of scope to play a local. This set up ensures that Oathbound is a robust campaign setting.

Other huge strengths for Oathbound are the cosmopolitan geography, demographics and even the biology of the Forge. There is just so much to do on the Forge, so many places to visit. If you want to leave the Forge then you need to put together a key of many parts, parts collected from all over the world and the key then vanishes if you use it successfully. There’s an inherent likelihood that even if the players fail to get involved in any local politics or drama that they’ll have the adventure all over the world just to put together the key they need to leave. DMs are likely to get their money’s worth out of Oathbound. The huge colour book doesn’t cost an arm and a leg either, $39.95 isn’t cheap but it is easy to see a much higher price tag on such a large book.

The first chapter sets about the ways and means by which characters can enter or leave the Forge. There’s plenty in the way here of quick summaries as to what the various parts of the Forge are like. Chapter one really is designed so that DMs can quickly get into Oathbound and quickly imagine ways to move their current campaign into Oathbound. You also get an idea of just how complete Oathbound is from these first twenty pages. The Forge as two suns and two moons and the cycles of these four are clearly explained. In a stroke of genius there’s a simple chart that shows the colour of the sky at any time over the most detailed of the seven areas of Forge, the realm of Penance. The sky can be black (i.e. night) or the sunshine might be tinted red, yellow or white. There’s a list of holidays as a part of the section on how the calendar works. If all this flavour is a put off to those more mechanically minded then the trailing section on the gifts the Foul sometimes leave for those they bring into the Forge will cheer you up. These gifts are fairly impressive, clear "power ups" for arriving characters but Oathbound is a high level game and there has to be because there is no room for mediocrity. Gift examples include "Ethereal Sight" which allows the character to look through walls or doors at a range of 30 feet or see creatures that existing solely on the Ethereal Plane.

The following chapter looks at the inhabitants of the Forge. There is a refreshing range of entirely non-human races too. The Ceptu, for example, really do look like giant jellyfish. It is impossible to demand that everything race that appears in quantity in the Forge be detailed in Oathbound but I still grumbled slightly that some of the main races appear in Minions instead. Later on we discover that access to e-Minions, Spells and Magic and Arms and Armour might be a good idea too. After I while I stopped grumbling about it and released that it actually quite a nice idea that my previous Bastion Press purchases and been tied together under the one (optional) auspice of Oathbound. The "Inhabitants" chapter does more than list the required statistics for these new races, it also makes the point of paying attention to the languages they speak, where they might speak differently, the general population distribution and religions too. The chapter also finds space to look at a few interesting animal and plant life too. Space isn’t a problem for Oathbound, none of its 350 pages need to be wasted on core rules and they all go towards the campaign world and the sizeable adventure at the back. You know there are plenty of pages to write the book when you find a full-page casserole (for one of the made up foods) recipe in it.

There are prestige classes too. They’re always prestige classes. Oathbound’s prestige classes are all detailed through 10 levels though and that’s not a thoroughness you can take for read in new d20 books. Oathbound has prestige races. That’s something new altogether. Your character can evolve in the Forge. She can evolve quietly deliberately and with carefully pre-selected results. The process isn’t quite so uninspired as levelling up though since this evolution can only happen on certain key locations in Forge. So, as with the exit key, the Oathbound world comes "pre-installed" with reasons why characters have to interact with it if they want to get anything out of it – even if they’re being entirely mercenary about their munchkinning.

The forth chapter, "The Seven Domains", is introduced with a double page spread map of the world. Unlike typical fantasy campaign maps the Forge is drawn to show that the world’s a globe. The chapter then runs through the different domains of the seven members of the Black Flock. Each domain is described in terms of its people and settlements, how easy it is (or how impossible it is) to travel around inside the domain, the economy and the politics of the area. Each of the domains are very different from one another, each one reflecting the personalities of the Feathered Foul. The Arena is a huge landscape where mighty pitched battles are commonplace because the Foul who calls the area home is known to pull to Forge whole armies at a time in her search for the greatest general. The Vault, on the other hand, looks as if it was once a lush and fertile land that was somehow flash frozen in its entirety and is now inhabited by legions of undead, barbarian tribes and insane Warlocks. The Vault represents the ways and means of the Foul, Nemamiah the Leper, who controls it. The domain of Penance is given the same treatment as any other domain but later on in Oathbound there’s very much more on the great city of Penance in the domain of the same name.

By this point in the book (a mere hundred pages in) I was desperate to no more about the Black Flock, the seven Feathered Foul, the jailers of the realm. Luckily, the editor has the timing spot on and the Black Flock is the very next chapter. As with the domains of Forge, this chapter simply runs through each of the Foul in alphabetical order and looks at their motivation and how they go about doing what they will. Some of the Flock are happy enough running their domains, many actively try and break the oaths that bind them and others just want to die. Each of the Foul has a section on their secrets and these are little gems in a treasure of a book. Actually, all but one of the Foul has a section on their secrets and it’s annoying that the most mysterious of the lot, Bathkol, seems to missing his. You’ll also find rules for the Avatars of the Flock here. It’s nice to see that written into the background of some of these are notes that some have been beating in combat or at their own game. This means that you can have a character group of epic level heroes that do manage to trump the avatars without your game’s storyline suffering the cliché of the party being the first ones ever in history to do this. On the other hand, there are some of the Avatars of who there are no records of ever been beaten at certain things and so you can have the party of players be the first people to do ever do something if that’s what you want. Only one Avatar actually seems to be statted in full and that’s rather strange. Israfel (Queen of Penance) comes in at Challenge Rating 30 and perhaps she’s statted because she’s the most likely to cause the players to bounce dice.

There’s then more than one chapter on the great city of Penance. This place makes for a remarkable setting. A city divided up by warring Lords but a city so great that vast areas of it remain empty save for bandits and beasts. Penance is a book in it’s own right. Penance is a campaign setting in it’s own right. The following chapters describe the rules (and as it happens – cunningly game friendly) by which the Feathered Foul Israfel allow these Bloodlords to compete for territory and then the Bloodlords themselves. The noteworthy and not just the powerful lords are described, often drawn, their politics, strengths and weaknesses discussed. There are some individuals of interest such as famous bards and crime lords and these people get similar treatment. Many of these key figures are statted in full. They’re far more likely to be encountered by characters and far more likely to need dice rolls. The actual geography of the city is examined in similar detail too; each section visited, described and fleshed out. Even then, interested locations within the city sections are described, drawn and detailed individually. There are maps too, plenty of colourful and number maps. It is hard to over state the sheer quantity of text on Penance. It’s important not to understate the quality of the writing, of the flavour or even of the mechanics either. Not counting the overview of Penance as a whole in the Seven Domain chapter there are some 137 pages for Penance and that’s bigger than many individual RPG supplements.

Chapter Nine, "Dark Welcomes", is the introductory adventure and it’s 65 pages long. I made the count on the hunch that it too would be larger than many of the pre-written adventures out there in the market place too. It is: beating the standard 64-paged book by 1. It’s a good adventure too, surprisingly non-linear for a pre-written high-level scenario. It divided up into a number of episodes and not only is this a good way to present the game to the DM and a well paced set of breathers for the players if the DM pauses the scenario after each one.

The font size used in the appendixes drops down slightly. It is strange but it seems to give the book even more of a professional air about it. Here you’ll find a sizeable list of spells, some feats and a mini beastiary of Oathbound flavoured creatures. I think they’ve got to be one of the heaviest illustrated appendixes that I’ve come across.

The Forge is a fantasy world but the huge amount of detail presented in Oathbound makes the place seem very much more real. This reality means Oathbound does what I thought was next to impossible and creates a high fantasy world with the same sort of richness and tension that is more commonly only found in low fantasy games. Oathbound seems well suited to very many different styles of playing and GMing too. If you want to get involved in detailed politics in Penance, or dangerous journeys through Wildwood or even mass battles in the Arena then there’s plenty in Oathbound for you. This scope actually makes Oathbound a little daunting but it’s the sort of book that wants to be read and then read again and I think most DMs will settle in. Oathbound’s certainly a campaign setting that players will want to visit. Oathbound is both entirely complete and full of promise. It’s a great success.

* This GameWyrd review was first published here.
 

Blacksad

Explorer
>I still grumbled slightly that some of the main races appear in Minions instead. Later on we discover that access to e-Minions, Spells and Magic and Arms and Armour might be a good idea too.

Could you expand on this comment please?
i.e. is there character with spell list that inlcude spells from Spells&Magic? do they propose alternate spell? a link toward a web-enhancement?
 

GameWyrd

Explorer
Actually, Spells & Magic isn't mentioned in the reading list on page 7. Even those ones which are rank only as "handy" rather than "must have". Although Minions really is needed if you want to have the stats for every single race of note mentioned in the "Inhabitants" section. I do still have Spells & Magic in mind though. It's certainly not the case that a spell list would be incomplete without the book. Perhaps one of the Bloodlords or interesting people in Penance have a spell which comes from S&M but I flicked around through the 350+ pages before replying here but nothing leapt off the page at me. I guess many people will want Spells & Magic for Warlocks in The Vault. Spells & Magic is really a different sort of book than a list of spells; it's a collection of different spell casting styles and they're certainly not made mention of in Oathbound.
 

Simon Collins

Explorer
Beware! This review contains major spoilers.
This is not a playtest review.

Oathbound is a campaign setting from Bastion Press. It is recommended for characters of 7th level and upwards.

Oathbound weighs in at 352 pages for $39.95, fairly standard for its size and type (hardcover, full colour).Use of space is good with little white space, a good font, and standard margins. Artwork is a matter of taste. Personally, I find most of it appalling, as I have in most other Bastion Press productions. It certainly has its own unique style. However, scattered through the book (all too infrequently) are some real gems, with great use of colour and a sense of personality to the characters depicted. Writing and editing are average, with occasional but regular errors.

Aeons ago, a god was imprisoned. Around the prison were set seven citadels that housed seven lords responsible for keeping the god in his prison. As time passed, these lords created worlds around the citadels. Each of the lords had sworn binding oaths to act as guardians to the prison, but they discovered that should any defeat them in mortal combat, they would be released from their servitude, and the victor would take over their responsibilities. So the lords drew powerful mortals in from outside their worlds and set challenges for them in order that they should grow more powerful, and eventually be able to defeat the lords, setting them free. These worlds have an intoxicating and exaggerated feel to them, enhanced by the ever-growing power of the imprisoned god, eager to attract those powerful enough to set him free.

Chapter 1: Arrival, gives advice on introducing the concept of the Oathbound campaign setting to your world. It gives information on how characters come to The Forge, the name of the Oathbound world setting. It gives an overview of the seven worlds, the planar atsronomy, temporal and calendrical measurements, and some of the gifts that are given to or achieved by heroic characters.

Chapter 2: Inhabitants Of The Forge, details both the main sentient races, as well as the flora and fauna of the setiing. Twelve suitable PC races are detailed along with a few other sentient species. The races are pretty weird, including winged tigerlike demon-types (actually depicted with a goatshead in the illo), telekinetic jellyfish, and sentient upright cats (puss-in-boots in the illo) as well as more 'normal' reptilian types. Some of these are given CLA's to adjust for their powerful abilities. Trees, crops, herbs and shrubs, and animals, as well as (oddly) a recipe for polenta casserole.

Chapter 3: Matters Of Prestige, introduces 6 prestige classes:
* Demagogue - gifted orator
* Hone - weapon master
* Inquisitor - religious fanatic
* Rafter - archaeologist/scout
* Stalker - spy and tracker
* Vigilante - mass combatant with danger sense
The book also introduces the concept of prestige races. This is where, due to the nature of the setting, beings evolve much more quickly than normal, mutating to their own benefit. These mutations are known as Foci, and these foci are detailed in the remainder of the chapter, each one costing XP. For example 'Sharpened Creature', where the creature develops sharper hearing and eyesight (+4 to Listen, Spot, and Serach checks, and low-light vision, at the cost of 4,000 XP and a prerequisite of 5th level). It seems strange that the prerequisites for most of these abilities are below the minimum recommended level for the campaign setting.

Chapter 4: The Seven Domains, looks to the geography of the campaign setting. Each of the domains is described in terms of settlements and inhabitants, travel, commerce and economy, and politics. Each land tends to reflect a particular geography. For example, Wildwood consists mostly of forests and jungles, Eclipse is underground, Kiln is mainly volcanoes, etc.

Chapter 5: The Black Flock, details the seven lords of The Forge, black-feathered bird-like creatures that are bound by an ancient oath, but seek freedom from their guardianship. The Lords also have avatars, whose powers are described, and an overview of the seven citadels of the Lords are also given. As The Forge draws characters from all over the multiverse, many religions are represented in the setting, and an overview of the main ones are given, but without detail.

Chapter 6: The City Of Penance, covers the largest city of the Forge, called Penance. Plenty of details are given, including politics, laws, NPCs, guilds, and the ruined Undercity with a great maze.

Chapter 7: The Bloodholds, details the nine domains of the city of Penance, and gives adventure hooks for each, as well as important NPCs including the Bloodlords that rule the domains, laws, politics, trade and commerce, and details of the geography of the city domains.

Chapter 8: The Hub Tavern, details an immense tavern set ouside of the Bloodlords' domains. It sits in the middle of a river, with various bridges linking to different areas of the city of Penance.

Chapter 9: Dark Welcomes, is a 65-page adventure set in Penance for 7th-level characters, whereby they must stop a plan by evil forces to destroy all heroes in Penance and to usurp the powers of the Bloodlords themselves. Advice is given for scaling the adventure for parties of a higher level, some adventure hooks are given, and the adventure relies on information given in previous chapters on Penance and the Hub Tavern. Further adventure ideas are also given.

Appendix A: Rules, summarises the rules changes that are applied to adventures for Oathbound. A new skill, City Lore, is discussed. Two new feats, Avoid Blow and Evolve are offered. 23 new spells, 17 magic items, 6 new weapon and armor qualities, 10 new weapons, and 4 new pieces of equipment are also described.

Appendix B: Monsters, offers 12 new monsters for Oathbound, although the book also recommends the use of Minions: Fearsome Foes from Bastion as an adjunct to Oathbound (but is not reliant on its ownership).

Appendix C: NPC Stat Blocks, gives stat blocks for Oathbound NPCs - a standard Bloodlord, Razor/Vanguard/Mercenary, Rafter, Stalker, and Zealot.

The book ends with a glossary and index.

Conclusion:
Its as simple as this. If you liked Bastion's previous releases, you're probably gonna love Oathbound. If you didn't, then you probably won't. Oathbound indulges Bastion's penchant for the bizarre, whilst benefiting from its proclivity for detail. The central concept just didn't appeal to me but (in much the same way as the art) this has to be a personal choice. Its not so much that there's anything particularly wrong with Oathbound so much as I believe you have to buy into the initial concept to find the rest of the book satisfactory. I found myself actually laughing at some of the drawings and this began to colour my view of the book. The mixture of archetypal names (e.g. Taliesin) with bizarro ones (e.g. Laocoon Lapithae) left me floundering to identify with the setting (or perhaps to come to terms with its breadth to look at it positively), and this theme is repeated with the geography and characters. For some, this lack of grounding in traditional fantasy will be refreshing, as it gives Oathbound a freaky sci-fi-fantasy ambience, reminding me a little bit of Planescape. Others, like myself, just won't care enough to ever use it.

Note that my score reflects my personal opinion. Make no mistake, this book will appeal to plenty of people out there.
 

At least you didn't give it a 2 Simon! :) I personally like the PREMISE but I will admit, not everyone will. That said, I liked your review, EVEN if I disagree slightly with the rating you gave. Still much respect for you opinion Simon.
 

Psion

Adventurer
"If you liked Bastion's previous releases, you're probably gonna love Oathbound. If you didn't, then you probably won't."

I don't think that's necessarily true. I thought the early Bastion stuff was a mixed bag at best, but I like Oathbound.
 

Simon Collins

Explorer
Psion

I agree absolutely, hence - "you _probably_ won't". Semantics, I know, but I did take into account that there would be people out there for whom the statement would not be true.

To clarify, I feel that people who gave previous Bastion releases a 3 or a 4 will probably give Oathbound a 4 or a 5. Those who rated them 2 to 3 are still unlikely to give Oathbound a 4 or 5 (but they might).

But hey, I could be wrong altogether! Its been known to happen ;-)

Simon Collins
 

This review contains two separate reviews by d20 Magazine staff members John Grigsby and Bruce Boughner. Consequently, it is quite sizeable in length but reflects the opinions of two different individuals. Both reviews are included so you may compare and contrast the differences between the two reviewers.

By John Grigsby, Staff Reviewer, d20 Magazine Rack

Sizing Up the Target
Oathbound: Domains of the Forge is a massive, 352-page tome from Bastion Press by Greg Dent, Jim Butler, and Todd Morasch. It retails for $39.95 and is liberally sprinkled with full-color artwork. It serves as the core rulebook for the Oathbound campaign setting.

First Blood
I feel it necessary to admit that I looked on this review with trepidation. I’d seen the product advertised and from the cover art alone, stunning though it is, it just didn’t interest me. As a result, I almost wanted to beg off of reviewing this one. Ah, but this reviewer is nothing if not dedicated, so with a heavy sigh, I opened the book and took my first steps into the Domains of the Forge.

As it turns out, passing on this one would have been a grave error. Once I began reading in earnest, I became enamored with the idea of playing a campaign set in this fascinating realm. I’m already planning on extending an “invitation” to my tabletop group when they come of age (they’re a bit low-level right now). The short of it is, don’t overlook the fantastic potential that Oathbound offers as a campaign setting.

Oathbound is a daunting work, perhaps one of the most daunting I’ve yet seen cross my review desk. That isn’t to say that it is difficult to understand, it’s just the size that puts me off. This is a big book and it contains some really big ideas! When I get something like this, I usually like to take a chapter-by-chapter approach, so I’m sure I don’t overlook anything.

I guess the first place to start is to answer the question, what is Oathbound? Actually, that might be more accurately phrased, “Where is Oathbound?” Oathbound is a campaign setting perhaps unlike any you have ever encountered before. It can stand on its own, certainly, but it is intended to function as a world to which other heroes from other worlds are drawn to adventure. It is a violent, dangerous place, where only the fittest survive, and those that do often emerge changed. Ideally, characters should be at least 7th level before their first introduction to The Domains of the Forge. It is also suggested that the DM have a copy of Minions: Fearsome Foes and Arms & Armor (both from Bastion press).

The introduction brings the DM into the world of The Forge. Besides providing details on terminology and the like, it is also rich in detail about the setting and its history, secrets, and adventuring in the Forge. A DM planning on using this material would do well to read the introduction carefully, then do so a second or even a third time, paying careful attention to details that they might have overlooked in the first read-through.

In the first chapter, Arrival, we learn how easy it is to enter the Forge. That is, deceptively so. Simply put, the Forge finds individuals of potential or talent and invites them in. Sometimes the invitation is offered, other times the individual is simply abducted, regardless of their will. Because heroes are drawn from across time and space, there are few restrictions on what manner of beings may enter the Forge. Of course, the DM and players may also choose to generate natives of the Forge. There are a wide number of options for such characters, including 12 new PC races, six new prestige classes, and a host of new skills, equipment, and powers.

Magic is much more plentiful in the Forge, but then, the opponents are much tougher as well. Further, all new arrivals gain a magical power called a gift. Gifts vary from one individual to another, but usually match the personality of the receiver in some way. Further gifts may be earned as a reward for great efforts while in the Domains of the Forge.

Chapter One also details the universe that is The Forge, including how to leave (which is not nearly so simple as entering). The cosmology is intriguing, with two moons, two suns, and countless fixed “stars” (actually gateways to other worlds). By coincidence (or perhaps convenience), the 364-day year is divided into 13 months of 28 days. Each day is 24 hours, each hour is 60 minutes, and each minute is 60 seconds. The Forge does have seasons, of a sort, changing from week to week instead of month to month. Each hour, day, week, and month has its own individual name. Years, however, go uncounted.

Chapter Two: Inhabitants introduces the peoples that populate The Forge. In all, 17 new races are fully described in this volume, in addition to the “stock” fantasy races contained in Core Rulebook I. Several of the races have ECLs (referred to as Class Level Adjustments (CLA) in Oathbound), which normally doesn’t sit well with me, but because the default starting character level for Oathbound is 7th, it actually works out well. The races range from the oddly familiar (such as the dog-like humanoid dovers or the frey, which resemble upright domestic cats) to the truly alien ceptu (think of a giant, colorful, jellyfish and you’re on the right track). There’s something here that will appeal to the taste of everyone, whether you prefer the traditional or the truly twisted. But just in case, the book reminds us that these are just the common races in the Forge. As the secret masters of this land have access to many hundreds of thousands of world, the DM is permitted, nay, encouraged to bring new races into the fold.

Of course, the intelligent races are not all that the Forge has to offer, and flora and fauna are touched upon in this chapter as well. You won’t find much in the way of game statistics here, it’s strictly background information (that’s covered elsewhere), but it’s just the kind of thing that natives would be aware of to tell to (or withhold from) newcomers. A small treatise on herbs and shrubs does offer a few metagame uses for these.

Chapter Three: Matters of Prestige deals with, what else, prestige classes. There are, in fact, six new prestige classes described in Oathbound. The demagogue wields the spoken word as a weapon, the hone is a warrior who has dedicated himself to the mastery of a single weapon, the inquisitor is a religious fanatic on a crusade to eliminate all other beliefs, the rafter is a solitary explorer of dangerous places, the stalker is a tracker and spy most at home in the city, and the vigilante is a very skilled lone warrior.

Also in this chapter is one of the most interesting features of Oathbound. So interesting in fact, that the February issue of Dragon magazine (#304) is running a feature that expands upon it. I’m talking about prestige races, the idea that a character can force themselves to evolve, becoming more powerful as they gain experience. Thus, one character may choose to follow the path of the beast and gain fur, claws, or a tail, while another may choose to follow the path of the deep and develop gills, fins, and a resistance to pressure. Truly ambitious individuals may follow multiple paths of focus, becoming insanely powerful (but also vastly changed). Evolution is permanent and bears a heavy cost in the form of unspent experience points, but for those looking to enhance themselves in ways never dreamed possible, it is definitely a path to consider.

Chapter Four describes the seven regions that make up the Domains of the Forge. Each is given a brief overview (along with a full-color world map), discussing the lay of the land, key settlements, notes on the inhabitants, barriers to travel and the best ways to get about, commerce and economy, and politics of the realm. If the first release for Oathbound, Plains of Penance is any indication, each realm will eventually be fully covered in a separate sourcebook, but in the meantime, there’s more than enough here to give the DM a good feel for each area.

Chapter Five describes in detail the Black Flock, the seven rulers, if you will, of the Domains of the Forge. But that description is a misnomer, for the Black Flock do not rule over their domains. They take no notice of political events, nor dictate laws. They hear and see everything that happens in their domain, but they rarely interact with the peoples of these lands. And this is considered a good thing, for when the Seven do intervene, the results are often epic in scope.

Each of the avatars of the Seven (for their physical forms are bound with powerful magics) is both described and shown in a full color illustration, though only one (Israfel, the one with whom newcomers are most likely to interact) is given game statistics. One can only hope that the others will be detailed in future sourcebooks, though to judge from Israfel’s stats, it is safe to label them as bordering on the divine. I’ll not reveal the secret of the Seven here, since it is a major part of the campaign focus, but this information is covered in the text. It explains why champions are summoned to the Forge and the roles of these godlike beings in the campaign.

In this chapter can be found also cursory information on the citadels of the Seven. Only minimal details are given, and in a way, this is good, because it means that each citadel will be unique to that DM. It also means a lot of extra work for DMs wishing to detail these places of immense power.

As strange as it may seem, the major religious networks of Penance are also touched upon in this chapter. Penance is the “default” locale for adventures within the Forge, so this makes sense, but I found it irksome that they couldn’t give the same treatment the other six realms. There is no solid information here, just snippets to help the DM (mostly because there are no real deities in the Forge), so there’s no reason that similar treatment could not have been given for all realms.

Chapter Six: The City of Penance expounds and expands on the “default” realm of the Forge, the one in which newcomers are most likely to arrive (coincidentally, it is also the most “friendly”). Penance is a city the size of a small nation (i.e., huge) and is described as a difficult place to navigate and dangerous to walk at night. A lot of detail is given to the city, including prices, layout, means of getting around, city politics, law and justice, guilds, and crime syndicates. There is enough here to keep a campaign going for quite some time without ever leaving the confines of the city.

A plethora of guilds and power groups provides for endless potential for quests and favors, while the lost city (regions of Penance which are uninhabited and in a state of ruin) offer a more conventional, “dungeon” environment for adventurers to sate their thirsts for fortune and glory. Some of the more interesting locales in the lost city include a great rift and a massive records repository known simply as the Great Archive. Because of the monster and bandit-infested status of the lost city, few people willingly venture there, making it a lawless and dangerous place.

And then there is the undercity, more colloquially known as “the Maze.” Penance rests upon a quarter-mile high plateau of ruins—the incarnations of the Penance City that came before. Thus, beneath its current layers of architecture lie the crumbling remains of previous centuries of building. This tangled web of lost streets, ancient buildings, and scattered rubble is the Maze, a realm of monsters, natural hazards, and rumored treasures. If Undermountain in the Forgotten Realms is big, then the Maze is indescribably huge!

Chapter Six finishes with write-ups for some of the better-known personalities of Penance. Each is given a detailed history and backstory, a stat-block write-up, and a full-color picture. The mix of characters offered is fair, though pitifully few are described. A crime lord, the head of the rafter’s (adventurer’s) guild, a well-known bard, a former Bloodlord, a powerful mercenary, the local seer, and a legendary celebrity are those given treatment here.

Chapter Seven: The Bloodholds discusses in detail the Alliance of Bloodlords that holds sway over the Pedestal (a section of Penance). The Alliance is five decades old and consists of a dozen local rulers of cantons (roughly equivalent to a city block) ranging in number from one to a dozen or more. Each faction within the Alliance has its own laws, borders, judicial system, and tax structure. The bloodholds were created to provide a place of relative calm within the torrent of the remainder of Penance and have largely succeeded.

Each bloodhold is given good detail, with backstory and stat blocks for the current Bloodlord, notes on trade and commerce, judiciary systems, and important personages. Each bloodhold is treated as a community within itself, which gives the DM a better feel for just how big Penance really is (considering that the Pedestal is a relatively small area).

Chapter Eight: The Hub Tavern describes perhaps the best-known location in Penance. It was once the palace of a long-gone Bloodlord and is not built within the boundaries of a single neighborhood, but rather is centered on the corner of seven great and rich cantons. Today, the Hub is tavern and inn, brothel and exhibition hall. It is a place where all are welcome and delights to every sense can be found.

The final chapter, Chapter Nine: Dark Welcomes, is an adventure intended to introduce newcomers to the Forge. This adventure alone could take several sessions to complete, and spans a good portion of the city, including the Hub and the undercity. It serves as an excellent introduction to the setting and I highly recommend that DMs at least read through it for themselves, if for no other reason than to get a feel for the campaign.

Chapter Nine is followed by three appendices. The first appendix details rules specific to the setting, such as how divine intervention is handled. It also provides some new magical spells, magic items, and two new feats. The second appendix describes ten new monsters unique to the Oathbound setting. The final appendix is a compilation of stat blocks for NPCs so that the DM has a spur-of-the-moment encounter if one should be needed.

Critical Hits
Obviously, the prestige races are an impressive part of the package, so impressive that Wizards of the Coast was moved to license them for inclusion in a current issue of Dragon magazine. Now that’s pretty darned impressive. The concept is a new idea and is well-balanced in terms of sacrifice for what is received. Though some players may balk at trading hard-won experience points for special abilities, it is entirely optional and the result is a more powerful, though ultimately lower-level character. Note that it is designed so that one cannot actually lose levels in order to achieve these abilities. They are earned over time.

I was also very impressed by the level of detail put into this work. Oathbound packs a lot of information, comparable to the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting hardcover that Wizards of the Coast released last year. Even if you never bought another Oathbound product (but you probably will, once you see this one), there is enough here to keep you and your players busy for years.

The artwork could go either way. My wife described it as “ugly,” while a close friend found it “really well-done.” I guess it’s all in how you look at it. There’s an array of artistic talent here, and I think that, overall, it adds to the quality of the work. Some pieces may disagree with individuals, but there’s enough variety that everyone will find something they can appreciate.

Critical Misses
I’ve already expressed my disappointment that more attention was not given to the role of divinity in the setting. I understand that there are no gods, as such, in the Forge, but it would have been nice to know more about what people use to fill that role in various domains of the Forge. The short of it is that any religion from any world can be found on the Forge if one searches hard enough, but I’d still like to know more details.

Perhaps the greatest failing of the work is that the title is not necessarily reflective of the contents. The title is Oathbound: Domains of the Forge, but it reads more like Oathbound: Domain of Penance. Four of the nine chapters concentrate on Penance, while only one chapter gives any detail at all on other domains (and that is pretty scant). Since Plains of Penance was one of the first releases for the Oathbound line, I wonder how much of this could have been saved for that work and the space filled with information on the remainder of the Forge.

Coup de Grace
I don’t like to see expensive game books. The cost of our hobby is on the rise and I hate to spend money unnecessarily, especially if what I’m getting is a rehash of old material. With this book, you get a complete campaign setting, startling in its immensity, though much of it is concentrated on one area. It’s a good work and worth the cost, but there could have, nay, should have been more on the setting as a whole.

There’s a good amount of Open Game Content here, roughly a third of the book, I’d say. All game-related mechanics are OGC (which is as it should be), but all of the flavor text is reserved (which I can fully understand). D20 Compliance is good, though the stat blocks are not in the standardized WotC format, which I found a little annoying (trying to locate ability scores when they weren’t where they were supposed to be left me searching the whole stat block for them). An abundance of the characters herein are very high level (though none above 20th; when, oh when, will the Epic Level Handbook be given OGC?), but that’s not a flaw, that’s a feature of the setting. This is a powerful campaign.

I have to say that Oathbound is very original. I’ve not seen anything akin to it in D&D before. The concept of planar travel is nothing new, of course, but the idea of a world where champions from other realms are brought to grow in power is brand-new. It’s as exciting and fresh as the 3E release of Core Rulebook I. Players and DMs will find plenty to pique their interests, though DMs are more likely to benefit than players (and in fact, most DMs would probably rather their players not do too much delving into this book, because of the amount of background information that is given).

Oathbound presents a brave new world, chock-full of adventuring potential. Whether you are seeking a brand-new campaign setting or just a temporary distraction from your standard milieu, this is worth looking into. You might just find yourself caught up in it enough to start a campaign set in the Forge.

In the long run, I give it an A-, because I did find that it paid a lot of attention to Penance and glossed over the remainder of the domains. It’s a great work, and that saves it from a lower grade, but I’d like to have seen more details of the rest of the world. I know that there are sourcebooks coming out to handle this, but I shouldn’t have to purchase supplements when the book is billed as a campaign setting.


------------------------------------------------


By Bruce Boughner, Staff Reviewer d20 Magazine Rack and Co-host of Mortality Radio

Sizing Up the Target
Oathbound is a 349-page hardcover world book published by Bastion Press. The authors are Greg Dent, Jim Butler, and Todd Morasch. The cover is painted by a’lis, and is reminiscent of Planescape and interior art is by a’lis and a number of others and is available for $39.95.

First Blood
I’ve heard it said that Oathbound is Planescape for 3rd edition. Boy, are they wrong. Planescape is about adventuring on the Outer and Inner Planes, Oathbound is more like Ravenloft or Dungeon World, where the characters are trapped on the world. Like Dungeon World, there is a way out, it is expensive and requires some searching for the components, but unlike Ravenloft, there is a way out.

Oathbound IS a prison world, but it is a prison for a god. The seven guardians of this god crafted this land and deemed it a forge as heroes from thousands of worlds are brought here and tests them to the extremes of their abilities. It is a world of violence and conflict. While it does require the usual list of D&D core books, Minions: Fearsome Foes and Arms and Armor by Bastion Press are recommended to enhance the book.

The unnamed deity imprisoned here was trapped by an army of gods, envious of his power and magnitude, shattered his world and chained him at its core. His seven chief followers as penance were sworn to guard the god in the remnants of the world. The seven cannot escape this penance until they find replacements even more powerful than they. So they search the multiverse seeking champions, magic and artifacts to maintain the prison and seek their release.

The god, however, does not slumber. His power is growing and he is chafing to be free. His power is leaking out, enhancing the emotions powers and abilities of all that are on the forge. These enhancements are not the chaotic mish mash that is generally assumed but designs of the trapped one. The seven, called the Flock, each rule a realm on the Forge. They pull in heroes and artifacts from many worlds. Upon arrival each character receives a ‘gift’, an enhancement such as pluses to skills and feats, ability boosts or unique gifts like youthful appearance or telepathy. Favor of the seven also can earn additional gifts.

The Forge exists in its own plane by itself with only its two suns, Storm (red) and Crux (yellow) and its two moons, Anahita (blue) and Zadkiel (rust red). The stars of the plane change as they are portals to other planes used by the Black Flock to bring their recruits here. It is never wholly dark on the Forge.

All of the core classes and races are usable on the Forge, but there are indigenous race available as well. Seventeen different races in fact, ranging from the jellyfish-like Ceptu to the feline Freys to the four-eyed, shape-shifting Lunars and the dragon-like Chromithians. All have their own set of special abilities and they are natives to different domains of the Forge.

Normal native flora and fauna are given in gazetteer form before moving into the next chapter: Prestige Classes. Entry level for these Prestige classes are set lower than normal to allow newly arrived characters a chance to blend in quickly. The political Demagogue, the religious Inquistitor, the stealthy Stalker and the vigilante are among the classes. As character improve in rank, they can evolve into Prestige Races. Adaptions to environment, extra appendages or thicker skin might be examples of evolution to an existing race. The character doesn’t so much change into another race, like from Elf To Halfling, but becomes MORE Elven.

The domains of the Forge are next described, with a beautiful, 2-page color map of the world starting off the chapter. As with everything in this plane, normal everyday things are amplified to their highest point. Following this is a chapter on the Black Flock, with each guardinal illustrated and delineated in great depth. Their individual citadels and domains are then described, over the next seven chapters, as well as religions on the Forge.

In the Appendixes that follow, new skills, feats and spells of the Forge are listed. Then come the magic items. The Flock searches the planes for artifacts and powerful magic items and seeds their domains with them, newly arrived characters may be stripped of items to have them replaced by more challenging, less powerful items.

Monsters round out the Appendixes, these are some of the most bizarre looking beasts I’ve ever seen in many years of gaming. The rubbish pile name Orts, the beastial Kith and the undead Lectors are the more mainstream monsters given here. The book closes with NPC stat blocks and an Oathbound glossary.

Critical Hits
Oathbound is a tight book. It was long in development and it shows in the richness of detail. It is NOT Planescape for 3rd Ed. But it is the same power levels and the potential for high octane play.

Critical Misses
God, I don’t know who does some of this art but I seriously hate the waif-thin character drawings with the faux-muscle cords (or even the muscle showing thru slashed skin). Give me an Elmore or Caldwell illustration any day. If there is one area Bastion can improve, it’s to get back to a more familiar form that can be related to. Not to say that this is not a beautifully illustrated book, it is. Its more like when Bill Sienkewitz took over New Mutants back in the 80’s, he changed his art style and everyone hated it, but it took Marvel almost 2 years to figure that out.

Coup de Grace
Despite the art, this is a strong book. It’s very pricey, but that can be expected for an entire world stuffed into one book. Unlike Sword & Sorcery who are portioning out Ghelzepad and Ravenloft in small chunks, you get it all here. I like that. Most of the new character races look fascinating; the Prestige Classes are pretty fair also. I waited a long time for a copy of this and I was well rewarded. I would have eventually picked this up, but it wasn’t as high on my list as other world settings have been, it is however, the best packaged one that I have.

To see the graded evaluations of this product, go to The Critic's Corner at www.d20zines.com.
 

Psion

Adventurer
"It is NOT Planescape for 3rd Ed. But it is the same power levels"

Which shows a lack of understanding of Planescape. Planescape is NOT a high power setting, unlike Oathbound. Oathbound recommends that you start the game at 7th level. PS assumes a first level beginning just like a normal game, and most adventures for the setting are in the 3-9 level range.
 

trancejeremy

First Post
Birds? Birds? A place ruled by birds? Ick.

That was pretty much my first impression of Oathbound (a d20 campaign setting from Bastion
Press
), because the world of Oathbound (the "Forge") is ruled by 7 feathery beings called the "Feathered Fowl" or the "Flock".

But rather than actual birds, they seem to be angels. At least, they have the same names as angels (with names changed just a
bit), and they formerly served an all-powerful (or close to it)
god.
Israfel,
Barbelo, Orifel, Nemamiah, etc, while not household names, are
generally considered to be important angels, usually archangels
or better.

In some cases, there is something of a connection between the
angel and the figure here - Hailael was the chief angel of holy
beasts - here, Haiel is the former "Defender of
Nature". Colopatiron had something to do with opening
prisons - in Oathbound, Colopitiron is the "King of
Thieves". But in many cases, they're quite different, the
Orifel in Oathbound has nothing to do with toothache relief.

As mentioned, these 7 were chief servants of a very powerful and
somewhat mysterious god. Angry and jealous at his/her power, the
rest of the gods of the multiverse fought with him, and
imprisoned him, as they couldn't kill him. They made the 7 into
guardians of the prison. (This is where the name of the setting,
"Oathbound", came from), but in many ways, they are
also prisoners.

Call me crazy, but a world ruled by 7 former angels (or similar
to them) is far more interesting than a world ruled by 7 bird
people. So once I realized that, I liked the setting a lot more
than I thought I would from reading the back of the book.

Anyway, The Oath that binds the 7 rulers to the prison has
something of a loophole - they can be replaced by a more powerful
being. So these rulers bring in people from other planes and
worlds, and try to test them, in the hopes that someone will
eventually replace them. This is why the world is called
"The Forge"

The world of Oathbound, the Forge, is something of a roach motel
- you can enter, but leaving is somewhat difficult. Not
impossible, or even that hard, but it does require some extra
effort.

It's a fairly original, interesting world. There are 7 pretty
distinct regions (1 for each ruler), and the setting allows for
just about any style of play - combat heavy, politics,
exploration, etc. It seems to be mostly set around Penance, which
is a large and ancient city. So old, it's built on the rubble of
itself, and rises into the sky.

Other regions include The Arena, which is a desert full of gold
that people fight over (which apparently explains the high prices
in the book - inflation); The Kiln, a giant semi-dormant volcano;
The Anvil, a mountain range full of skytop castles and hidden
valleys full of jolly green giants (er, not so jolly and green,
but giants and giant beasts, over 100 feet tall. Kaiju, or close
to it.); Wildwood, a tangle of forests; Eclipse, which is inside
a giant crater at the top of the world, for those that hate
sunlight; and the Vault, which is a wasteland full of undead and
lawyers.

The downside is, it's quite alien. Of the 10 or so new races
introduced in the book, all are pretty weird. 4 of them are
lizards or reptiles. One looks an awful lot like an upright giant
rooster, like that
Foghorn Leghorn
character. One is a floating Jellyfish. There's also a dog race,
and a cat race. The cat race is almost literally like housecats,
only they walk upright. Rounding out the selection is a goat race
(not like Satyrs, they're literally like goats that walk upright,
though the picture of them makes them look more like Elk), and
something that looks somewhat like a demon, but not a very
attractive one. A bit more gargoyle-ish.

If you're sick of elves, dwarves, etc, then this is a good thing.
But I found them to be very unattractive and uninteresting, too
close to real world animals than something truly original.
Compare them to say, the aliens of Star Wars. Sure, some are just
people in a fur suit (Wookiees, Ewoks, Ed Asner*), but there are
a lot of aliens that aren't like real world animals, but really
alien. Rodians, Ithorians, Bith, Sullustians, whatever the heck
Yoda is, etc.

For a d20 book, there's really not all that much new rules
material. There are stats for most of the major NPCs, the new
races (most of them), and some new monsters, but there are only a
handful of new prestige classes and only a couple new feats.
Something of a refreshing change, as those are generally things
that are overdone.

The biggest difference from this and regular D&D/d20 is
"prestige races" and gifts.

Prestige Races are somewhat similar to prestige classes, in they
are better than normal races, but they're just more evolved.
Basically, by spending XP, you get special abilities. In most
cases, I don't think these things are worth the experience points
they cost. They work somewhat like a chain or even class, you
have to buy the first change, then the second, and so, they get
better (and more expensive) the further up you go.

Gifts are what they sound like - gifts to characters. Because the
god imprisoned in the forge is so powerful, some of his divine
energy leaks out, giving people special abilities (a similar
thing happens at Graceland).

Characters get one gift when they enter the Forge. These gifts
are relatively minor - about twice as much as a feat - for
instance, an ability boost of 2 points, or a skill can get a +6
bonus.

Characters can earn more, but there doesn't seem to be any hard
and fast rules for this. Earned gifts are somewhat more powerful
(say 50% more powerful). Gifts of either type are lost when a
character leave the Forge to go to another world/plane (the
prestige races abilities stay).

Generally speaking, for d20 games, I don't like mechanisms like
this, because they make it difficult for the GM to gauge how
powerful a character is. Pretty much the whole purpose of having
a level system is so you know what you can and can't throw at
your PCs and have them survive.

The prestige races in particular, seem to be perfectly suited for
classes. As they are all chained together, and they cost xp, it
seems more or less what a prestige class is for. The only benefit
of doing it this way is that it allows characters to improve once
they hit 20th level (at the time Oathbound was originally
released, the Epic Advancement rules weren't released as open
content). So I can at least understand it, but it's hard to
figure out the proper CR for characters with lots of gifts and
prestige race improvements. Especially as not all the gifts or
evolutionary improvements are combat orientated - someone with a
+5 bonus to STR is better at fighting than someone with a +5 CHA
or a +10 bonus to Craft(Basketweaving).

It's a remarkably complete book, probably the single most
complete d20 setting book I own (which is quite a few, actually).
Pretty much the whole world is given fairly detailed atlas style
description, and one section, "Penance", is given a
very detailed description, about on par with most dedicated
location sourcebooks. So the GM has pretty much all the info
needed to run a game in Penance, and enough to handle visits to
other areas of the world.

The level of detail of the world is quite impressive, as is the
complex relationships between the inhabitants. This goes a long
way towards making the world feel real. Which I consider to be
the litmus test when using a setting for an RPG, for me there
really has to be a suspension of disbelief.

There's also a long (64 page or so) adventure. While the
adventure is well done, I think it highlights another potential
problem of Oathbound. The PCs in it are servants of a much more
powerful lord (a "Bloodlord", one of the rulers of part
of the city of Penance).

Basically, the PCs are given one task after another by the
Bloodlord to do. These tasks vary greatly, from working as tour
guides to exploring dungeons to diplomatic missions.

Do you want to be the main characters, or the supporting cast?
Most players would prefer to be the main characters. Going
through a lot of effort for the glory and enrichment of others is
not much fun (too much like paying taxes).

While some of that is probably just because the adventure was
meant to be an introduction to the world, it's also just a really
high powered world, and until the PCs reach 20th level or so,
they won't be powerful enough to challenge any of the existing
Bloodlords of Pennace, or even survive against them.

By contrast, in most settings, a 10th or so level character can
pretty much set their own agenda, maybe start a castle or
stronghold someplace. That doesn't seem possible in The Forge

At least in the main area of the world, Penance, you can't become
a leader unless you have 1000 people living in an area already.
Why? Whim, apparently. The main ruler of Penance, Israfel, has a
rule about ordering people around if you have less than 1000
people in an area. So you can't work up your way gradually. You
either have to gather up a whole lot of people, then colonize a
place all at once, or depose another leader.

(Actually, the Penance area of the Forge would be ripe for
something of a miniature version of Birthright or even Diplomacy
- rules for creating and expanding your territory, maybe with
troupe style play)

Physically, it's a nice looking book. Sturdy, well laid out, with
both a nice table of contents and index. The outer margins also
list the chapter, so finding something is a breeze. There's also
a handy glossary

The art didn't do much for me. There were some nice pieces, but
most of it was drawn in a very abstract sort of style - bodies
aren't proportioned properly, they have all these lines on them,
like you're seeing muscles without the skin (but it's skin
toned). Very very creepy, I think, though at the same time, it
makes me hungry for fried chicken (especially the foghorn leghorn
illo).

The sticker price is pretty high, but pretty reasonable for a
full color book this size (352 pages), and the amount of info in
it (lots!). You can also get it on Ebay for pretty cheap - I got
mine there for about 1/3 cover price. It's definitely worth that.
I personally am not going to use it as my campaign setting, but I
have used it as a place to visit (I have something of a
plane-travelling campaign) and it seemed to go over well enough.

B+. More if you like alien settings, it was a
bit too much for me in places. The new races, anyway - I'm just
not into hermaphrodite lizards (even if they buy me dinner).

Also as a note, they have a
free
introductory adventure
(around 20 pages) on their
downloads
section of their website, and they've supported the setting
pretty well. I think 4 or 5 supplements for it (in about a year)
and most of their other d20 supplements have some tie in with the
setting. Also apparently they have novels coming out.










* He's in "Knights of the Old Republic".
 


Oathbound is something completely new. It's a D20 fantasy world that bears only a faint resemblance to the standard imagery of AD&D. It seems to owe less to the works of Tolkein than to the fevered fantasies of Hieronymus Bosch. I like it a lot. There are a million "new" D&D settings out there and most of them are just endless variations on the same old thing. Got to have Elves, got to have Dwarves, got to have orcs and talking dragons or the fans get squirmy. A little Tolkein, without the morality, mixed together with a little Moorcock, without the subversive ideas.

Oathbound is different. It's a comprehensive and completely unique world in 350-some pages with a single defining premise, which still provides players with an unlimited number of possible adventures. There is a single "frame story" behind everything else, but it's so huge that the players probably won't be able to derail it with their own actions. The premise is roughly that a nameless god grew so powerful that the other gods feared and imprisoned it. They set up seven angelic guardians (whose names sound oddly familiar to us Judeo-Christian types) to watch over the God for eternity. The Seven resent having to be in effect imprisoned themselves, and have found an interesting loophole in their contract. Any being more powerful than they themselves are can take their place as guardians of the God. Creatures as strong as themselves are rare, so they have created a realm called The Forge in which to test other creatures until one or another of them grows strong enough to take someone's place. They draw likely looking heroes from all across the multiverse into this strange otherworld and test them to destruction, hoping that in time a champion will emerge.

This is a very strong premise and one that goes a long way toward explaining away all the puzzling things about most fantasy roleplaying worlds. Why are there so many monsters running around all over the landscape? Why is a typical PC adventuring party made up of such a mishmash of different cultures and species? Who built all those tunnels, stocked them with monsters and treasures? Why does this all feel so much like a game? Here it makes perfect sense!

As much sense as it makes, the world of the Forge is also designed to give you as wide a variety of adventures as possible. Each of the seven Oathbound angels rules its own realm within the larger world. They don't seem to do much intriguing against one another, since they all have basically the same goals, but each angel has its own management style, so the seven realms provide very different sorts of challenges. My favorite is the Anvil, where gigantic monsters a hundred feet high rampage across the land like something out of a Kaiju movie. Others include Eclipse, where the light of the sun never ventures, Wiildwood, an endless, trackless forest, the lawless desert called the Arena, a huge volcano called the Kiln and the haunted wasteland called the Vault, where the dead walk.

The most heavily detailed area is the city of Penance, so ancient that it stands atop a mountain of its own ruins. Ruled by the nine Bloodlords and divided into nine domains each with its own distinct features, Pennance is like a whole game world in itself. It's great stuff and I can even forgive it for the fact that all the player action seems to revolve around that oldest of D&D adventure hook clichés, a great big tavern.

Penance is as carefully and meticulously described as any whole city sourcebook, and its ready for use without your having to buy any new supplements. In fact, one of the great things about this setting is that the core book lays everything out in such depth that you really could just pick it up and start playing immediately, you don't have to buy a hundred bucks or so worth of supplements. This also helps offset the book's price, which at $40 is frankly a little high.

There are a number of new races, none of them anything like Dwarves, Gnomes, Hobbits, etc. There are dog-people, goat-men and others. Most seem to be based on talking animals and while some people may think this shows a lack of creativity, I think it's great, and lends a real fairy-tale quality to the atmosphere. My favorites are the cat-people, not n\human-sized cat people but housecats who stand on their hind legs and talk, like Puss in Boots.

The last section of the book is a 65 page adventure based in and around the city of Penance. The players undertake a series of errands and missions for a powerful overlord. That sounds simple, but each challenge is different and requires a different approach. It's really more like a stack of short adventures, each one highlighting a separate element of the system. Combat, stealth, diplomacy, etc. The premise is also designed to hold a party tightly together with a single goal and little room for backstabbing. The adventure works on all levels and it's as good an introduction to the setting for the Storyteller as for the Players.

I should add that the book itself is handsome and well produced, the illustrations are haunting and atmospheric and there are lots of them. Clearly this is intended to be a high and product and its designers have a lot of respect for it. And they should. This is the best setting (outside of the World of Darkness, of course) that I have ever seen.

Katsumi Approves!
 

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