The Argyle Lorebook is an introduction to a new campaign setting, the Land of Argyle. It's one of the best thought out settings I've read in a long time, with everything building on everything else, internal logic hanging together, gods with genuine connections to those who worship them - who in turn have clear reasons for their choice of deity - and a vast back history that puts everything into context. Even if you don't want to adventure in Argyle, it's worth reading as a 'how-to' devise a setting of your own.
The Land of Argyle is, in the present day, a low-magic setting with a considerable amount of racial tension between humans, elves, dwarves, halflings and gnomes... never mind any 'monstrous races' that you may encounter. This is all soundly based in the history of the land, and lends itself to some excellent role-playing potential.
The book begins with a group chatting in an inn, with a human bard being put straight on matters of myth, legend and history by some of his non-human companions. This develops into a discussion of the actual history of the setting beginning with its creation myth, which links various deities to the races that each was responsible for, and then explains how a period of domination by human Mage-Kings gave rise to hardship and eventual rebellion by the other races subjugated during this period, cleverly using the different lifespans of the various races to differentiate between their views... there are dwarves and elves alive who remember those days, while it's rather dusty history, several generations back, to the short-lived such as halflings and humans. It's still not a good idea to use magic in public - difficult upon occasion if your magic is innate such as that of a bard or a gnome, as opposed to the result of study as would be the case with a wizard. Even clerics have to be cautious unless they are well-known in the community, as many don't trouble to differentiate between arcane and divine magic and attempt to lynch the caster regardless!
Next comes a discussion of the different races, looking at individual racial history, attitudes and customs as well as at game-related things such as attribute modifications (usually close to those of the Player's Handbook standard, but not always identical) and favoured classes. There are also notes on how each race views the others, which helps in setting up the racial tensions so prevalent in this setting.
This is followed by a similar discussion of the basic classes available (the standard Player's Handbook ones with the exception of the Paladin). For each, there are notes on how you get into that particular trade, the opportunities available, which races are more or less likely to follow that path and how it is viewed by society as a whole. One prestige class is also described, the Shroudwalker, who is a specialist slayer of the undead. This is accompanied by the lifestory of a renowned Shroundwalker including his statistics at several stages of his life.
Next it's time to look at matters religious. There is one creator, Ko, who made the world itself, the flora and fauna, and humans. He also made 4 subsiduary gods, the Scions... who quarrelled with Ko over the minor matter of them attempting to create their own sentient races, and either ran him off or imprisoned him - nobody's sure which, but Ko has not been around for a very long time. He still has some followers, as well as the Cult of Reckoning who believe that rumours of a horribly-burned man who appears before momentous events is actually Ko, and that sightings can be used to predict the future.
The four Scions, after one abortive attempt that resulted in the creation of a horrible monster (which went on in its turn to create the monstrous races), managed to each create one of the other races: Dwarf, Elf, Gnome and Halfling... known as a result as the Scionic Races. Each has been retained as a patron deity by the relevant race, although these are not the main focus of religious veneration. Throughout the ages, the Scions have observed the behaviour of all the created races and when an individual shows especial devotion to a particular ideal, cause or concept, that individual is raised to immortality or 'Ascended' and these Ascended are the ones around whom most religious cults have arisen. Several are described, with details about their lives and deeds which caused them to be selected, as well as about the cult which has grown up around them and information on their priesthood - including likely robes, beliefs and spells. Many of the Ascended have been devoted to 'evil' causes as well as to 'good' ones - the Scions appear to be guided by a need to maintain balance rather than to reward the worthy. Quite a few are described, but there is plenty of scope for DMs who enjoy such things to invent their own along similar lines.
The rest of the book is devoted to a detailed Gazetteer of the Land of Argyle, which is all hyperlinked to a world map right at the back. If you are reading while online, the map is also hyperlinked to a larger version on the Silver Oak Studios website; this map is also available for download if you care to visit. For each location there are notes on demographics, culture, the city itself and places of note within, major organisations, the surrounding area and regional history... and hearsay about the place for those who have not yet been to see for themselves! This last is a nice touch for those whose games include exploring the setting as well as more conventional adventuring.
Finally, there are notes on some of the major guilds and organisations which characters may wish to join (or with whom they might interact as patrons or enemies...), and, as appendices, the calendar, some noteable 'iconic' characters and a note on monstrous societies.
Overall, this provides an intriguing introduction to the Land of Argyle, with plenty of material to start adventuring there (although naturally one hopes there will be more!). It can be a little difficult to distinguish between what is 'common knowledge' that any character might know and what is the 'underlying truth' that really belongs in the DM's domain - I would recommend allowing players to read the history and the notes on their chosen race, religion, class and hometown, but restrict the rest until they have an opportunity to find out for themselves in the course of the game. It's an impressive debut work for new publishers and authors, and I for one look forwards to more about the Land of Argyle.
Return to The Argyle Lorebook page.
Reviewed: 1 May 2006