Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kingdom of Ierendi: RPG Items I Like

WHAT IS IT?
Region sourcebook covering a island confederation dedicated to "adventure" in the Mystara  setting. 

ON FIRST LANDING
I continue my reviews of the entire classic D&D gazetteer series. After a series of really strong entries in the series, we come to a weaker one. GAZ4: The Kingdom of Ierendi  feels like a throwback. Instead of the focused setting building of the previous three entries, Ierendi presents classic adventures and story seeds. Not that this is a bad approach, but it doesn't quite fit with the other books. It offers adventure sandbox- with the cultural details purely as flavor. The material on all levels depicts Ierendi more as a place for PCs to go to or through rather than come from. Again that isn't bad- just different. Still there's a great deal of inspiration- general and specific- to mine. I like the idea of a set of islands as a former fantasy penal colony. I've certainly used that. For more on the Mystara and gazetteer series in general, please see here 

PRESENTATION
Once again we get a tri-fold screen, with interior panels featuring a castle and a diagram of one of the key islands. There's also a color mini-hexmap showing Ierendi's relation to its neighbors. The fold-out hexmap enclosed shows all of the Ierendi island chain. It also has a decent and useful map of the City of Ierendi, with insets showing some of the port defenses. On the reverse side, it has a black & white hex sheet (strangely with black as the background). This is intended for use with the sheets of counters included with the supplement. These cover ships and navies from across the area so that DMs can set up grand sea-based battles. 

The 64-page booklet follows the same basic design as the three previous series entries. However, there's a greater use of white space here, and the font size has clearly been increased a point or two. Strangely, after the density of the other volumes, that actually makes this seem more empty- even though it is easier to read. Cylde Caldwell  provides another signature cover, and Stephen Fabian  provides interior illustrations. These are mostly atmospheric scenes from the various islands, plus a handful of NPC faces peppered throughout the book. Ierendiuses a good deal more boxed text than the other books- mostly to mark out all of the suggested adventures. The center of the booklet is a pull out section for the players, intended to offer a “tourist brochure” for anyone thinking of heading there. Anne C. Gray  wrote this, as well as several other D&D books. 


THE BOOK ITSELF
The booklet opens with a brief description of the contents, followed by the key background points for the nation: history, timeline, geography, key people, government, and economy. Ierendi has a strange layered history- beginning with conflicting stories of the origin. The Makai are described as aboriginal natives, but the “Islanders” seem to be the more dominant group. They claim to be the original settlers- exiled criminals from the Five Shires (covering in GAZ8: The Five Shires ). Those original criminals are said to have numbered eleven humans, four haflings, three dwarves, and five elves...which must have made for an odd culture. These criminals survived and flourished. When word got back to the Shires, they sent ships to stake a claim to the lands. However the exiles (along with the native Makai) managed to fight them off. The true stories a little more complicated- involving the Thyatian Empire who controlled the Shires at the time of colonization. It was a more formal penal colony (ala Australia), set free by a rebellion which established a monarchy. They managed to fight off Thyatian Naval forces with the aid of a local secret magical chantry located on Honor Island. That power keeps Ierendi as one of the most important naval forces in the world- hence the inclusion of the various naval game bits in with the supplement. 

Ierendi is made up of a number of islands, with a wide range of climates and terrain. That gives the DM a great deal of range to run in. Volcanic activity and magic can, of course, be used as an excuse for strangeness in the area. Ierendi also differs in being ruled by an “Adventurer King and Queen" elected in a competition every year. A council exists as well to advise- and there exists a kind of hereditary noble class on the island, with a hand in the Navy, the Royal Brigade, and the tourism industry- that being a key source of revenue for the nation. That's an interesting twist- and given the heavy use of magic for things like transport, it actually makes sense. And tourism was a historically important source of revenues and interaction- the Greeks toured the Ancient Pyramids, just as modern tourists do today (though perhaps with less creature comforts). The Ierendi book only offers a single page of key NPCs, six characters. It seems like an oddly truncated entry in the book- but the focus here is on session seeds and adventures. Ierendi society presents a strange mix of “Islander” traditions mixed with what I can only call “Adventurer” culture. It is a classic fantasy feudal society, with those rulers chosen yearly in a tournament. Some of the implications of that kind of power transition are mentioned, but only a little. The focus of the society is on tourism, with the wealth of that any local food plenty making this a tropical paradise. 

All of this material is covered in the first 17 pages. There are some interesting ideas there, and more than any of the previous books, the ideas seem aimed at offering DMs ready quick adventures. Several boxed story seeds appear within this section alongside, the societal discussion. It is worth noting that there's a significant section on The Eternal Truth, the religion of Ylaruam presented here (covered in GAZ2: The Emirates of Ylaruam ). It is odd and given more space than some of the more related material on Ierendi. the section depicts the faith as militant, joyless and demanding. That presentation's somewhat at odds with that of the earlier gazetteer. There's certainly historical evidence for greater militancy among Muslim groups outside of the Middle East, and I wonder if that's the analogue source for this. Perhaps it draws on the nature of Islamic trade groups in places like the Pacific. Whatever the source, it just stuck out for me. Finally there's almost nothing offered on making up a character from Ierendi, compared to the material given in the other books. 

The middle of the booklet has two different pullout sections. One offers a tourist guide to Ierendi, which- while more than a little goofy- will be useful for DMs using the nation "as is." The other provides four pages on Ierendi's military, in particular the Navy. It presents more detailed ship rules and naval combat options, intended to complement and expand the rules given in the Dungeons & Dragons Set 2: Expert Rules . There's some basic discussion of the different port capacities across the nations of Mystara, a combat resolution table, and a sea battle chance event table. The rules aren't deep- and while they have a wargamey feel to them, they aim to give a DM tools to play out such a battle, rather than to simulate precisely these kinds of conflicts. 

The rest of the booklet (19-28, 37-64) covers each of the major islands in turn. Though it varies from section to section, each has between 1/3 to 2/3 of the material devoted to adventures from seeds to dungeon locations. That's quite a shift from the other books which focused on background and mostly offer plot seeds (often a linked series) in a chapter at the back. 

THE ISLANDS
Ierendi Island: The largest island, and the one which most holds to the social material presented earlier in the book. The material focuses exclusively on Ierendi City, rather than the island as a whole. That's useful since adventures will probably use this place as a hub. The details here again play into a looser and more wacky kind of campaign: magical P.I.'s, a formal Adventurers' Club, and royal postings for quests. 
Safari Island: A nature preserve, wilderness tour and theme park. The parks offer arenas for adventurers- with spectators able to observe through well-protected galleries. Weapons give are non-lethal, with a Lazer-Tag like belt registering damage done and taken. Two separate adventures are presented with maps, one involving Lizard Men and the other Hill Giants. 
Alcove Island: A pirate nest among the islands. While people have now settled here, pirate still hide among the lagoons and there's a secret port for them here as well. 
Utter Island: A deliberately creepy place, it is the home of a group of genetic albino humans who have lived here for generations. They have a unique Immortal patron, but are otherwise pretty normal. The presentation seems aimed at making the PCs nervous.
White Island: A difficult to access island of white stone, it has a small Druidic abbey. Legends surround the local white birds and apes, and the practices the Druids undertake to keep an ancient evil from returning. 
Roister Island: An island exclusively settled by the Makai natives. It seems set up purely to provide a backdrop for adventures involving the Makai. 
Aloysius Island: A former penal island, host to sickness carrying mosquitoes (oddly called mau-mau). The recent discovery of mineral resources there have made it a target of increased settlement and development, despite the risks. 
Elegy Island: Site of ancient Makai burial grounds and ceremonial markers. 
Fletcher Island: A loose take on Fantasy Island (complete with Mr. Coarke who spins the illusions). Ugh. (*Yes, they make a "The Carpet, the Carpet!!!" joke. )
Honor Island: The second largest of the island descriptions, Honor is home to a secret cabal of mages. They're the secret behind Ierendi's naval success. They jealously guard their knowledge of their existance, with a chantry in the heart of a volcano. That actually conceals a passage to the Plane of Fire- with elementals and mages exchanging information and resources. 

OVERALL
The weakest of the gazetteers so far, The Kingdom of Ierendi still offers much for a DM. It adds some interesting color to the setting- and some global material in the naval discussion. It does raise the goofiness bar a little- if you like more staid and serious settings, then Ierendi may be well out of your comfort zone. I'm a little surprised at the absence of any West World references in the adventure theme park section. For my own campaign, I took some of the key concepts and changed them up signifjncaitly. Ierendi remains a naval power, an island nation, and a former penal colony. I've played up the tensions its existance creates between several different powerful kingdoms who see it as their “property.” I used the Honor Island concept, although that particular chantry was destroyed in an earlier campaign. I also think of Ierendi as a much larger set of island, dozens and dozens of them, some of them with magical micro-climates. Perhaps the biggest change came in my conception of the rulership of the nation. Given that our game world leans more towards fantasy combined with steampunk and swashbuckling, I ported over the concept of Al Amarja  from Over the Edge  to here. So Ierendi City is a kind of strange crossroads of magic and conspiracy, the 'Casablanca' of my game.