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Dungeons & Dragons: Oathbound - Wildwood

Oathbound: Wildwood

One of the seven regions of the Forge, the Oathbound world, Wildwood is characterised by rampant vegetation and wild beasts. This book provides sufficient information to base a whole campaign there, let alone visit it on your travels round the Forge - or, with little customisation, it can be adapted to create a wilderness setting somewhere in your own campaign world.

The first chapter comprises an introduction to the Forge as a whole, and is particularly useful to those who don't have other Oathbound books but intend to use this setting starting here in the Wildwood. It's a good summary even if you already know what's going on - and could even be used (cautiously) as a resource for characters who are researching the Forge. After a survey of the regions, some of the distinctive races found here are detailed - sufficiently so for them to be played as characters should you wish to have Forge natives (well, as near native as you can get) in the game. These races, seeking as they do to understand just why they've ended up here, have an interesting option: you can take 'racial levels' rather than conventional class ones. By taking a racial level, your character has sought to understand more about his race, its natural style and philosophy. Once you decide to take a class level, your ability to progress in racial levels is lost - the kind of introspection and self-exploration involved precludes the study of other subjects and skills.

This chapter ends with a discussion of the nature of the Forge. Being unnatural, the normal laws of nature do not apply. Virtually everything has been sucked in to this world from wherever they originated, a process known as the 'Pull' - and during this process, each individual may both lose possessions but gain a gift, generally an enhancement or special power. There is also mention of the 'key of binding' a personalised magical device that must be constructed from an item from each of the 7 domains to enable an individual to leave the Forge. Then there's a look at the seasons and the bizarre astronomy that drives them. Overall, this first chapter sets the scene well enough to run an Oathbound-set game without referring to other books, although naturally the game will be enhanced if you do!

Chapter 2 is an overview of Wildwood. To quote, it is a 'primordial world mixing unbridled savagery with pristine beauty' - a true jungle of exotic plants and ferocious wildlife amidst which live a few scattered sentient beings. In this setting, its ruler Haiel literally plays with those he sucks into the Forge, placing them into an elaborate hunt scenario where they will have to face off against chosen opponents. The victor may be rewarded before being dumped into the Wildwood, while the losers' remains are picked over for whatever Haiel might find useful or worth keeping. Unlike the other Domains' rulers, Haiel does not seek out beings with the potential to take his place as ruler, he is quite happy being in charge, enjoying his supremacy over the ultimate domain of nature gone wild. Instead, beings that spark his interest - perhaps for ferocity or barbarity, or for a particular love of (or distain for) nature. And, of course, there are those who enter Wildwood from elsewhere in the Forge - chiefly being those who have made some other Domain too hot to hold them, and who are seeking refuge here.

Next comes a detailed discussion of the geography and vegetation. For those who like their settings to make ecological sense this is a real treat! Much of what has been written makes biological sense and wherever 'normality' has been transgressed there's an explaination in game terms as to why. The descriptions are so vivid the DM could virtually lift them verbatim to tell players what they see around them. This moves on to details of the main inhabitants - scattered and few though they are - as well as the predominent wildlife. Religion is touched upon: here the teachings of druids are predominent, and most people revere nature above all; although different races cling to their own pantheons and newcomers often turn in desperation to the deities of their ancestors (much good that it usually does them!). A section on the availability of guides to take visitors through Wildwood leads on to a dicussion of the various terrains encountered and the effects on travel - and the suggestion that it might be worthwhile consulting game sourcebooks about wild terrain - there's a section in the Dungeon Master's Guide, of course, as well as books like Into the Green, Wilds, Nature's Wrath or Wildscape. Politically, most of the region verges on anarchy, with scattered groups exerting influence over just their own locality - but one thing that needs to be borne in mind is just how BIG the area is!

Chapter 3 continues a look at what you'll find in Wildwood by presenting a more in-depth look at the ecology of the region. Starting off with the temperate forest regions (with jungles, swamps, underground and even rivers and lakes and so on following) there's discussion of plant and animal life, the threats it may pose to the unwary traveller - and to each other! - with notes on climate and more to enable you to bring the region to life. While many of the plants and animals - in particular those which are predatory and carniverous - have been imported artificially, there are some which have migrated in from other regions and even some which appear to be almost indigenous. If nothing else, you could spend a lifetime here cataloging the flora and fauna...

Next, Chapter 4 looks at "The Taming of the Wilderness." It may be a wild wilderness place, but wherever sentient races have settled - or want to settle - they promptly start to mould the environment to suit themselves, with greater or lesser success. Most of this is driven by commerce rather than agriculture, as the native plants encroach far too quickly for sustainable farming to be practical. Settlements tend to be far more homogenous than those of more civilised parts, and are often quite unwelcoming to visitors. On the other hand, they tend to be more 'in tune' with the local ecology, and due to the abundance of food and other resources, poverty is rarely a problem in the way it can be in a 'civilised' city where things have to be bought in. After an overview of these general points, the chapter continues by giving more details of some of the major settlements to be found in Wildwood. While the written details and illustrations paint wonderful pictures, a few maps would have been helpful for those wishing to run adventures in these places.

Chapter 5 is entitled "The Forbidden Wilderness" and looks at significant locations in the wilder, more feral parts of Wildwood. In particular, the focus is on the really weird places where the normal ecology described earlier doesn't apply. This is both an artificial and a magical setting, after all. Things happen to people who visit these areas: often nasty things, so visit with caution if at all!

Next comes a chapter all about the predators that can be found in Wildwood, and as you can imagine there are quite a lot of them... yet the term 'predator' is used in a subtly different way from usual. Here, it refers to the one hundred or so beings - many sentient or semi-sentient - which have managed to carve out and control a territory here within the Wildwood. None have pretensions to rule or govern their areas, they are content to dominate them by brute force, just taking what they want. Very few are interested in actually influencing what goes on in even their own patch, let alone the Wildwood as a whole. A lot of this behaviour - a kind of greedy indifference - can be regarded as stemming from that of the Domain's Lord Haiel. Apart from Haiel himself, the most powerful predator is probably an evil green dragon called Mastuu Dargas. There is also a small pack of vicious werewolves in the north, a half-elf hunter called Tressen Gonaway in the swamps and several other noteworthy beings best avoided in your travels... but presented in detail so that if they are encountered matters can take their course.

Chapter 7: Lost Civilisations looks at the remains of various settlements which Haiel has established in his preverse quest to 'punish' civilisations which he feels do not hold nature in high enough regard. As mentioned earlier, his habit is to construct a replica of their city or town, then transport the people of the settlement into it before unleashing various vicious plants and animals into the area. So it's a kind of pseudo-archaeology, the remnants of artificially-created settlements to investigate and explore, and who knows what treasures or adventures may await those brave or foolhardy enough to visit there? Several of these settlements are described so that characters who set out to explore them - or just stumble across them in their travels - can take a good look around. For those who want more, there's history and background in abundance, so the more scholarly have a chance to discover information about the past of the original dwellers in the settlement they are exploring.

The domain extends beyond the land, as Chapter 8: The Bounty of the Sea describes. If your characters arrive by water, or prefer to get their feet wet, this short chapter will give a few ideas for things that they can do, discover, hunt or be hunted by. While the oceans boast communities of senient races, the rivers and lakes follow the more common Wildwood pattern of predator and prey species. However, if you are set on ocean exploration, you will benefit from referring to Oathbound: Plains of Penance for the Northern Ocean and Oathbound: Arena for the Central Ocean.

Next comes a chapter entitled "The Thrill of the Hunt." It's almost a philosophical discourse, looking at the underlying reasons why Wildwood is so dominated by the predator/prey relationship and analysing Haiel's reasons for promoting it in his domain. This last is somewhat sympathetic to Haiel's motivations, almost a defence of his world-view. For ordinary mortals too, the hunt as activity, and as status-symbol, has a far greater importance in the Wildwood than anywhere else, where it's generally merely a tool to alleviate hunger pangs or rid the neighbourhood of a nusiance. Some folks approach hunting as a mystical experience, and mourn those whose lives are taken by their efforts, while others hunt with voracious exuberance and relish their prowess. For some, it is not even a matter of hunting for something to eat but an opportunity to take a trophy - usually the victim's head - while the rest of the remains are left for scavengers. Following this discourse comes a discussion of the mechanics of hunting - both in 'real' and game terms. There are new feats and ideas for using existing skills to aid characters in the development of their hunting abilities - or to help them cope when under attack! These are worth looking at by anyone who is interested in developing a character or setting where hunting is important, even if they are steering clear of the Wildwood itself. Likewise, anyone planning a wilderness adventure here or elsewhere would benefit from the equipment section that follows.

Next comes Chapter 10: The Breadth of Life, which gives full details (including game statistics) for the sentient races unique to this area. There's plenty of resources for them to become well-rounded NPCs or even characters - not just foes to be slaughtered. Many have already been mentioned in earlier chapters, so the attentive reader already has some knowledge of their background and location within Wildwood, now here are the details of their appearance, usual behaviour and customs and expanded racial history as well as the appropriate numbers to build them into your game. Details of Prestige Racial Levels are also given: this presents the mechanics of how to apply the accelerated genetic developments granted by undertaking the enchantment of the flesh ritual. It's quite complex, and enables the character to develop chosen aspects and abilities to a far greater extent than is possible from spending time in the gymnasium, practice yard or library. All manner of weird and wonderful modifications are possible using this system. As if this wasn't enough, there are also a wide range of 'gifts' which a character might receive when initially pulled into this domain from, well, wherever it was he originally comes from. Other gifts may also be given at a later date when a character attracts the attention of the ruler of a domain.

Chapter 11: Symbiots looks at the vile practice of surgically melding two or more creatures together, something that takes place within the Wildwood (and not only to volunteers, although there are some who are prepared to allow it to happen to them!). Part magic, part physical surgery, a small group of Wildwood dwellers feel that this is the way forwards - and if your characters share their ideals or fall into their hands, here are descriptions and rules enough to let strange and exotic experiments take place. The availability of such procedures just adds to the 'otherness' of this setting, enhancing its differences from other worlds that your players may be more familiar with. Some characters may even become fascinated enough to wish to take up the practice of symbiotic surgery themselves.

Finally, Chapter 12: The Belly of the Beasts is an adventure set in the Wildwood. It's intended for characters of around 11th level who may come from just about anywhere - another domain within the Forge or from their own home setting elsewhere. It involves the exploration of one of the settlements reconstructed by Taiel for one of his experimental translocation of the entire population into the Wildwood... a translocation that resulted in the death, this time, of the entire population save one solitary wizard - whose poetic tales of his former home (and an exceptional artifact to be found there) inspire hearers to go and have a look for themselves. The characters serve as the explorers hired to go forth and find this artifact. Naturally, their journey to the settlement provides for at least as much adventure and deadly peril as the place itself...

Notes are provided to enable the DM to link the adventure to those previously published for Oathbound, should their players have participated in them; and to scale the adventure if the party is stronger or weaker than the 4-5 11th-level characters intended. To further enable flexibility, there are no less than 4 potential employers from which the DM can choose the one that hires the party to undertake this investigation. There's plenty of rumour and intrigue to contend with, as well as monsters, savage beasties and rival explorers with whom to fight... and of course there is a wonderous alien artifact to understand, not to mention finding out what Haiel thinks of it all!

Appendices include full statistics for featured NPCs in the adventure, core and prestige classes available to Wildwood dwellers, new spells and magic items, and finally statistics for all the new monsters to be found in Wildwood.

Overall, it is a fascinating read which brings this corner of the Domains of the Forge to vivid life. A few maps would have enhanced it immensely along with a decision as to whether Haiel's title is Blade of the Green or blade of the green... but there is so much detail there that it will be easy to create a host of wilderness adventures to keep your players busy. The provided adventure highlights the key features of this domain well, a showcase of what can be accomplished here.

Return to Oathbound: Wildwood page.

Reviewed: 25 August 2005