Game: A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Review Dated: 20th, August 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture is one of the most intelligent d20 books I’ve read. The fact that I nearly typed “A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture is one of the most d20 intelligent books I’ve read” perhaps shows that I’m not smart enough to give it a fair review!
This offering from Expeditious Retreat Press deals with world building. So many gamers love world building and I suspect all too often we’re left to articles in roleplaying magazines for assistance on this art and science. Expeditious Retreat Press make two early crucial successes. The first success is assuming we’ll want to build a magical world – but base the book’s intelligence on a mundane world (Earth, no less). The second success is wrapping the entire world building exercise up in an “in character” story. This works very well.
Kierian the Bold did quite well in a fight. Kierian slew Korgol the Destroyer, God of War. As a result we’re introduced to the book through an opening penned by Kierian the Bold, Petitioner for God of War and Bringer of Justice. As Kierian discovers it isn’t quite the simple matter of killing a god to become a god. He has to make a world too. He has to make a world and see if the other gods approve of his efforts.
A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture is Kierian’s work. The would-be god has recorded his discoveries and efforts in the book.
This is not a crunch book. There are no prestige classes, feats or new spells here. Some of the diagrams reminded me of school geography books – but in the good way. Other comments reminded me of snippets I’ve read from my anthropologist brother’s books – but in the good way. The worlds might be created by gods but they’re created in a sensible way. Want mountains? Slide your tectonic plates together! And yet we’re after a magical world not a mundane one. We can have a world on the back of a giant turtle. That’s relatively easy as Kierian notes. People will accept that their world is on the back of a giant turtle. It’s much harder to get them to accept water which runs up hill. And you know; that’s exactly what fantasy worlds are like in most RPGs. We might have worlds ruled by dragons, a strange Planar system that’s both heavily criss-crossed by travellers and simultaneously somehow a mystery to most. We don’t have worlds were apples fly upwards from trees.
We begin with a subject that many d20 gamers are familiar with – mapping. A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture carries the d20 logo. This must be marketing decision. It doesn’t need to. We’re not mapping dungeons – but worlds. I wasn’t joking when I hinted at tectonic shift either. That’s just mountains; we also look at the creation of islands and archipelagos.
It’s basic biology for the ecology chapter. I know how the food chain works around my neck of the woods; I’m at the top, above pizzas and pizza boxes (if left long enough) are above socks. Socks spend their time hiding in corners because they’re at the bottom of the food chain. I’m joking even as I flick through the book again – it might be reminiscent of a text book at times, but it’s never dull. We actually look at food webs as well as food chains.
Roleplaying teaches me stuff. I hadn’t used the word “Biomes” before. Now I can. I can use it to talk about tundra, grasslands, forests, caves, coastlines and other land features.
The book covers more than geographical features though. It also has the social side. A world probably doesn’t start off with kobolds, hobgoblins, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, orcs, elves and humans. It’s more likely to begin with a race that evolved into two separate offshoots and became kobolds and hobgoblins, another which split into three and became dwarves, gnomes and Halflings and perhaps man, orc and elf also had a common ancestor. These races would explore the world by the most likely means – pleasant sailing conditions would encourage naval travel whereas a tough natural barrier might force two nearby races to share the same habitat for generations.
Once the beginnings of the races – and their default locations (dwarves in the mountains, halflings on the grasslands, etc…) – the book moves onto the development of cultures. Well, it’s in the title. How does writing evolve? How does religion evolve? If questions like this sound terribly boring to you then I fear, despite being brilliant, A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture isn’t going to appeal to you. The book is something of an academic exercise but it’s one which is pitched at exactly the right level.
There’s more detail too. A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture finds time for flora and fauna. We have the usual and the unusual here too. At no point does the book loose sight of the fact that this is a fantasy world we’re creating. It doesn’t loose the magic.
I really liked A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture. I wish we had more books like this. This is a real supplement – something that makes almost every other look like a splatbook. I don’t think there can be many more books like this as there’s only so much ground books like this could cover (but perhaps people said that after the third prestige class collection).