By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Torn Worldis 71 pages long, 1 page front cover, 3 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages advertisement, 2 pages SRD and 1 blank page, leaving a total of 61 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
After a 2-page introduction and a 1-page overview map of the Shadow Vale, we are introduced to the role of the races of the Vale – the inland kingdom surrounded by cliffs and inhospitable wilderness all around, making the Shadow Vale a somewhat isolated place. From the humans to the war-weary dwarves to the newcomer goblins and the dominant, yet splintered elvish people, we get a nice run-down of them, though gnomes, halflings, half-orcs and half-elves get the short end of the stick. The entry also includes an entry on the Vastersund raiders, a hodge-podge of raiders from across the sea.
After the racial run-downs, we move on to the classes and in what roles/belonging to which cultures in the vale they can be found -while these write-ups are ok, they also display a distinct lack of coverage for ALL classes of the APG, Um and UC. Especially the APG has thankfully become standard in coverage and honestly, I can find no valid reason for this particular omission. A total of 31 generally available traits is next, all of which do nothing particularly exciting, but serve their niche. It should be noted that a couple of them melt down to “You’ve been bullied, thus bonus X” – a bit more variety would have been nice here. The 13 race-specific traits (not alternate racial traits) fall in the same category, as do the 5 new regional-based traits.
The next section is something often neglected by similar supplements and covers the trade and bartering in the Shadow Vale in excessive detail – which is awesome due to one fact – the Vale does not feature a single coinage and rather subsists on bartering – including a table on slight modification to e.g. equipment qualities (with less hardness for example) as well as a market demand table to determine the flux of demand, a haggle-table and even a table that provides appraisal modifiers by professions – very cool. Even better, the pdf gives a comprehensive run-down that should make it easy for even the most novice of DMs to implement these new rules.
In order to get an overview of the respective settlements and the distribution of races across the vale, we get another version of the vale’s map, including color-coded areas of the respective ethnicities, before we delve into the respective settlements. While we don’t get settlement statblocks, we do get detailed run-downs of the respective location’s resources, government, enemies and allies, etc. It deserves special mentioning that each of the settlements comes with its own banner, beautifully rendered in full-color and that 6 of the villages come with their own beautifully-crafted, hand-drawn maps. It should be noted, though, that each of the maps bar one comes with annoying numbers denoting different buildings and one lacks them, making the maps feel slightly disjointed from another. All of the dominant elven ethnicities get additional toys in the run-down of their respective villages alongside beautiful artworks – from I Hecil knight blades and armor to Morë Aldu battle glaives, armor, bows and healing salves to Taurë Sûler laminated long-bows and armor and Tymara Ainu sun armors and mirroanwi blades, an evident predisposition towards elvish ethnicities and cultures is evident in this section, with the respective tribes getting rather cool pieces of non-standard equipment that help define them against the standard long-eared people one would expect.
The next chapter details the calendar of the World of Torn and it’s interesting to say the least – the Shattered Orb has 3 different measurements of time, one elven, one dwarven and one human, 2 suns and 2 moons, including a mysterious time in which the two satellites actually disappear from the skies. The very cool diagrams that illustrate the moon phases for the respective days of the month is awesome and should be standard for similar campaign settings – I hate tracking moon phases for e.g. lycanthropes and these diagrams do a great job of illustrating the passage of time. Even better, we get a rundown of the days, including the mythological significances between the naming-conventions of the days and months of the year – again, awesome, since our real-world measurements of time etc. hearken back to such ideas.
The final chapter details the religions and essentially the pantheon of the world of Torn: Emphasis is put on the link between followers and gods – unless a god has followers, he/she loses divine status, directly linking a gods power to the respective worshipers. While perhaps not assumed to be standard in all campaign worlds, I can name a few in which this very much holds true. That being said, the pantheon is familiar to those well-versed in Norse mythology – From Odin to Baldr, we get all the gods and villainous giants like Surtr even lesser known, cool deities like Forseti. Intermixed in this conservative pantheon are gods like Athena and Bast, which feel, at least to me, like impurities in an otherwise cohesive pantheon. Unfortunately, not the same level of detail provided for other sections of this book is provided for the gods, leaving the respective information cut down to a bare-bone minimum. On the up-side, each of the gods gets a b/w-rendition of his/her holy symbol.
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I noticed the awkward turn of phrase here and there and once in a while a minor glitch. I feel like I need to mention something, though: While the Pdf seems to adhere to a quasi-Norse nomenclature, it half-asses it, forgetting Umlauts while devoting e.g. circumflex accents to elvish nomenclature. The linguistic nerd in me was utterly annoyed by this: Either fully anglicize the respective names or keep them authentic – as written, the nomenclature of e.g. the Æsir (which is NOT the same letter as “ae”, as it’s written in this book) left a sour taste in my mouth. In that regard, Open Design’s Northlands did a better job. However, I will not fracture that into my final verdict, since I gather that most people would not care about these peculiarities.
Layout adheres to a per-se beautiful two-column standard, though I feel the need to mention the tendency to leave a lot of blank space between paragraphs. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is an inexcusable blunder at this length. The absence of a printer-friendly b/w-version is another major downer, since the pdf features a BROWN border with multi-colored jewels etc., executing a brutal toll on printers. As with all “World of Torn”-books, the cartography, especially the hand-drawn one, is beautiful and the full-color renditions of the elvish ethnicities in full battle-garb are awesome. More jarring, though, is the decision to include several, terribly ugly CGI-full-page, full color artworks that just look WRONG. Not only do they blow up the page-count and drain the printer, they also detract from a cohesive, uniform look. The banners of the settlements are beautiful, but the slapped-on run-down of the pantheon with its, once again strange art-choice (being b/w and not cohesive with the other artworks) feels, again, strangely disjointed.
Disjointed. It’s rather ironic that a setting called “World of Torn”, that is referred to as the “Shattered Orb” by its inhabitants, feels that disjointed, at least to me – on the one hand, we get an awesome calendar, cool bartering rules and intriguing elvish ethnicities. On the other hand, the other races remain painfully under-developed, the traits remain the blandest fare imaginable and are no way up to the standard set by e.g. Rite Publishing and then there’s the art direction. One thing I always enjoyed about the other pdfs by Torn World was the excellent art direction, the cool original artworks. And they’re here again. BUT: The ugly full-color CGI-graphics interspersed as well as the b/w-symbols of the gods make one feel as if the budget of the pdf was simply depleted. Worse, the copious amount of space between lines and the full-page CGI-crap feels as if they are here for the sole purpose of bloating the page-count. The hand-drawn maps also add to this disjointed feeling – the overview maps have been included directly from the map-packs and are CGI, while the hand-drawn maps are beauties and seem to be original – not even the maps are cohesive in style. Worse, while I love the fact that one village-map comes without numbers, the others do and not all of the villages get maps – again, a feeling of a depleted budget creeps in.
This pdf feels, unfortunately, as if its ambitions have been too lofty only to be crushed by a lack of funding. The potential for an epic book are here, but without bookmarks, the weird disjointed presentation and the glossed-over aspects on races as well as the lack of support for APG, UM and UC, this pdf can unfortunately only be classified as one thing: Sloppy. Glossing over the last years of development in PFRPG, providing boring traits, no new feats and no new archetypes and PrCs, this pdf is unfortunately also a failure on the crunch-side. Which is oh so bitter: The trading-section made me anticipate, even look forward to the rest of the pdf and my expectations were squashed. I also wager that by cutting down on the extensive use of blank lines and filler artworks, this pdf could easily be 20 pages shorter, delivering less content than promised and adding further to the impression of an artificially bloated book. As presented, this pdf feels unfortunately like a professional book was handed over to amateurs halfway through production, bloated to meet a page-count and then rushed out to make a buck. For fanboys of elves, people intrigued by the bartering rules and those interested in the calendar, this pdf has at least a bit to offer, though the majority still remains a heart-wrenching jumble. Don’t get me wrong, not all about this pdf is bad – in fact, the greatness herein only further serves to highlight the abject failure of a majority of this pdf’s content, making the result all the more bitter. And it is with a bitter taste in my mouth, I deliver my final verdict: 1.5 stars, rounded down to 1. As a player’s guide, this fails and can’t hold a torch to e.g. Headless Hydra’s FREE players guide to the Viridian Legacy AP, much less justify a price-point of 6 bucks for an unbookmarked, rushed pdf.
The Shadow Vale Player’s Guide is available from: