Saturday, 12 January 2013

HCC1 - Valley of the Hawks

Note: This is a reposting of a review from Dragonsfoot with minor editing.

The Valley of the Hawks is only but the first instalment of the Hex Crawl Chronicles, a series describing different sub-settings (based on certain North American areas, according to the author). It is published by Frog God Games and written by John M. Stater (of whose NOD magazine both Melan and Bryce Lynch wrote a review). It uses the Swords & Wizardry Complete rules, but can be used with any old school D&D-esque system (for those who are interested: a Pathfinder version is also available).

The PDF consists of 24 pages, here is a breakdown:
- 2 pages for cover (the same cover art for the entire series)
- 1 page for credits
- 1 page for table of contents (which one, IMHO, will never use)
- 1 page for a colourful hex map (25x40 hexes, 6 miles wide each)
- 2 pages for other maps (a ship and a dungeon)
- 1 page for three new monsters (Automaton, Radiation Elemental, and Kill-Bunny)
- 1 page of legal appendix (i.e. OGL)
- 15 pages of text describing the actual setting

At the very beginning, there is a short description about the history of the valley. We come to know that among its inhabitants are dwarves (recently arrived tobacco-lovers dwelling in a fortress), elves (native to the valley, these haughty and proud folks resemble traditional fairies), golden men (once rulers of the area, now savage hunters or primitive nomads), northmen (ebony skinned miners and craftsmen), and southmen (olive skinned traders of furs and skins). Furthermore, there is where we find the Random Encounter tables (for Badland, Grassland, and Woodland areas) and a table for twenty rumours (each including a reference to a single hex).

For this area of roughly 36,000 square miles, we get 60+ shortly described locales, including monster lairs, dungeons, settlements, and other unique sites of the valley. The text - besides reading well - is extremely thought-provoking; most of the encounters alone could be the focus of a whole session, and many might be enough for short campaigns in themselves. There is a fair amount of established connection between particular places and people, and some recent history and what-is-really-going-on notes, as well.

Here are three personal favourites presented in an even briefer form:
- A tower in the woods inhabited by a highly intelligent giant spider, who challenges visitors to games of chess using zombie pieces.
- A couple of tall, conical spires topped by large stones; should they be removed, thousands of mechanical locusts would escape.
- Twenty zombies accompany their former master, whose corpse is dragged by his horse.

As I do not want to go into any more detail about the setting nor into praising, let us see what the downside looks like. First and foremost, the text refers to a few hex numbers which are not given even the briefest description; we can also find a few mistyped hex numbers. It is not as bad as it may sound but it still lessens the utility of the product somewhat. Second, as magic-users are characterised by their casting profile, I missed the detailed spell lists (or some short-but-clear hint on them; I blame Melan and his modules for developing such expectations). Third, which is mostly a personal complaint, I would rather the map gave the Referee more detail (as the ones in Points of Light) - this might be reversed and become a good point: we have a nice-looking player map!

Despite these flaws, this is a good product. I am fairly positive that it can be played "right off the box" as it includes every necessary detail, or be dropped into an existing campaign setting. Alternatively, you can just mine it for ideas; these encounters might be the spice in your fairly traditional fantasy campaign. You can buy it from Frog God Games, RPGNow, and DriveThruRPG (and maybe a couple of other places I am not aware of) in PDF or softcover format, costing 4.99 and 9.99 bucks, respectively.

For another review, check out Bryce Lynch's.

This is a product yet to be playtested. My home group is currently adventuring around the Wyvern Coast from the aforementioned Land of NOD, so this thing has to wait.

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