Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tommy's Take on Chronicles of Amherth



Hey, remember me? Got a new job, been crazy busy. So let me try to jump back into things here with Chronicles of Amherth, a Labyrinth Lord setting by Small Niche Games. As you may recall, I've done reviewed other Small Niche Games adventures in the past, so here we go with their first full setting.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This is actually two books: The Chronicles of Amherth setting and the Atarin's Delve adventure. You can purchase this for $4.95, Atarin's Delve by itself for $2.95 or the entire run of LL material by Small Niche Games for $9.95. The production values are pretty old-school, as Small Niche Games tends to do. Atarin's Delve is a mere 15 pages, and the setting book itself is 77.

Amherth is scaled for characters of 10th level or lower, specifically stating that NPCs at 9th level or beyond are exceedingly rare. Small Niche Games has exhibited a knack for putting PCs in situations seemingly beyond their "level", as it were, and making it work, so it is little surprise that Amherth takes this approach.

Amherth also introduces a pair of great new rules: Latent magic and arcane bleed. Latent spell-casters have a knack for casting spells, they just can't always control it. Arcane bleed, on the other hand, basically helps explain how magic items exist in such a lower-level, lower-magic setting: Latents can unknowingly bleed magic off into items, empowering them. For instance, a latent warrior may bleed power off into his long sword, gradually increasing its bonus. Personally, I have ALWAYS liked the idea of "your sword become powerful during your exploits" over "you find a kewl new magical sword".

Adventuring companies are also a big deal, governed by The Adventurer's Guild, which forces merchants to track all commerce with companies and so forth.

The world itself is painted in fairly broad strokes. Each kingdom gets a page or two of detail, with some adventure seeds to go with it. There are not masses of NPC stat blocks here, just overviews to let you hit the ground running. All of the previous Small Niche Games adventures are namedropped in the Duchy of Valnwall, as well as adventures from a couple of other companies.

The demihumans each occupy their own places, and the author notes that modern peoples have not explored many areas of the world, leaving it open for exploration...(the world is ancient, but a number of cataclysms have rocked it throughout its history, so there isn't a great, unbroken line of history).

There are many new monsters (some of which hail from the previous adventures by Small Niche Games) as well as a number of plants that each have their own unique properties, look a wood that is as hard as metal and requires magic in order to be worked into weapons. As well, a slew of magic items are included, two of my favorites being the weir-skins (which allow the wearers to transform into animals) and the Godmaps, which can "zoom" in on areas and provide a "live" map of the area...including creatures that are moving around.

There is also a page on how Monks incorporate into the setting, for those using Advanced Edition Companion.

Atarin's Delve is a fairly straightforward dungeon crawl, designed as an introductory adventure. It has a couple of plot threads intersecting in it, as the heroes are hired (via letter) to assist an archeologist who has gone missing by the time they arrive.

The adventure lacks some of the charm of the previous Small Niche Games adventures, although the enjoyable backstory threads that make the Small Niche adventures stand out are still present as they are in the others.

WHAT WORKS: I really like the Latents and the Arcane Bleed. Easily my favorite parts of the setting. Ample detail is provided to get your games rolling, while giving you more than enough room to stretch your creative legs. The callouts to the Small Niche adventures was a good thing as well, and I may have to check out those adventures tied to Amherth that aren't made by Small Niche, to see if they have the same "feel". There is MORE than ample value for $5, even if you left out Atarin's Delve.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Atarin's Delve is the weakest Small Niche adventure thus far, but a) I was never a fan of dungeon crawls and b) I really like what has come before. There is a section of the world on floating islands that seems a tad out of place given the "low magic, low level" approach to the setting. I would have liked trade dress similar to the adventures on the Amherth book itself. Just seems like its missing something without it.

CONCLUSION: Chronicles of Amherth never tries to reinvent the wheel, just put some tweaks on familiar D&D/Labyrinth Lord tropes. Small Niche Games provides a setting that not only accomodates their previous adventures, but room for most of your old school or retroclone adventures as well. In fact, I enjoy the adventures so much, that I plan (with the author's permission) to adapt them to Savage Worlds and post the conversion notes on my blog. Check it out if you like your fantasy a little darker and little lower level.