After an introduction in which Ed Greenwood paints an overview of Castlemourn which already makes me want to play there, there is a short story from his pen. This paints a picture of a world of small communities, united in distrust against outsiders. A world of traders, and travellers, and threats. A place where adventure and mystery and danger go hand in hand.
Scene set, we move on to the actual Guide. Unlike many published settings, where it is assumed that you are a local (and so players have to assimilate knowledge that their characters grew up with, or not understand everything that they should) it is possible to arrive via an 'estemel' from some other fantasy world... and so both player and character can enjoy exploring a new setting. But even if you are a local born and bred, there is not as much to learn as you might imagine. Some 360 years ago there was a massive cataclysm, so massive that nobody can even recall what form it took, that shattered the very land. Many people would like to find out what occurred, if only to ensure that it doesn't happen again, and this questing is at the heart of adventure here. This fractured land has a multitude of political/power groupings, which do not always get along - another source of adventure for the bold and for those fond of intrigue.
The Guide is a mix of gazetteer and highly-ideosyncratic commentary from one Master Tyheros, and it paints a picture of a land filled with contrasts, many small (but not in their own eyes) warlords and merchants vying for profit and control, with ancient mysteries and ruins to explore, and wild areas where terrible monsters hold sway. The map shows a land bounded by impenetrable mountain ranges and the sea, a vast bay scattered with islands - each of course with its own settlements and communities. Trade and piracy both flourish on the waters. Hidden amidst this are delights such as a city ruled by four courtesans and a gentle people whose reaction to invasion is to submit and undertake to serve their new masters, reacting with puzzlement as things just... go wrong.
Religion revolves around the worship of seven deities, acknowledged to a greater or lesser extent by everyone but often more as powerful beings to appease rather than noble gods worthy of emulation and honour. Worship is bound up with a well-developed astrology, and divine magic is far more common than arcane. This was not always so, before the Fall arcane magic was commonplace and nearly everyone could cast the odd cantrip at the least - leading some to speculate that the cataclysm itself was caused by magic gone wrong, and to regard its use with fear. Yet its secrets are sought after eagerly, and discovery of a new spell or artefact could make you very rich (or very dead).
The Guide winds up with a description of the estemels (stone archways which at certain times serve as portals to other worlds), the calendar, local currencies and a history of Castlemourn; before switching to game mechanics to describe how to create a character native to these lands. The standard D&D races (except half-orcs) are available, with minor differences that make them unique, and there are 2 new races to choose from: the golaunt and the thaele. Likewise, the familiar core character classes may be played, or you may choose to be a buccaneer, and there are some new prestige classes to aim for.
Designed both as an introduction to Castlemourn and as a teaser for the full Castlemourn Campaign Setting, this work certainly makes me want to find out more about these lands.
Return to A Player's Guide to Castlemourn page.
Reviewed: 26 November 2006