Game: Corwyl: Village of the Wood Elves
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 20th, December 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
Corwyl: Village of the Wood Elves is really two books. The first book is an adventure setting and the second book is a companion for Green Ronin’s Bow and Blade.
Green Ronin have a winner with Bow and Blade and I’m interested in Corwyl being an extension for it.
I find Corwyl’s less attractive as a setting. There is a need for a supplement which helps GMs put together a believable elf village. When you have a race which lives as long as elves do, are as gentle on their natural surroundings and are as magical as elves are then their villages should be very different from ours. Would elves have villages at all?
In Corwyl the elves live in magically alive trees. These trees are planted when the elf is born and grown and matured with them. The home owner’s interests and that of the forest are interlinked. Also it’s handy when your tree house animated to whomp the hell out of aggressors outside.
Corwyl started with a tree. The dying wish of an elf king was that his memory tree was planted in a beautiful valley. The memory trees are one of the new rules/setting quirks introduced by this supplement. The king happened to pick a valley in which no elf lived and so a bunch of families moved in to care for the memory tree. The village grows. I like this so far; it’s original, it has to be since the memory tree is a new idea and the sort of elf secret that can be added to a currently running campaign without ruining the suspension of disbelief. Never heard anything mention a memory tree before? Not even an elf? Makes sense, no reason to talk to you about them. The second half of Corwyl’s history is less inviting. There’s an ill advised war with the Drow in the nearby Underdark. It lasts for ages and wipes entire families from Corwyl. The Corwyl Elders who advised against the war are now the revered wisdoms of the place. So now to use Corwyl I also need to have Drow and the geographical crapola which is the Underdark. It’s not as easy to re-write the history too as much of the current atmosphere in the village is due to this as is the relationships between certain NPCs.
And in fact once we’ve done the history of the place it’s the NPCs, their illustrations and stat blocks which take up a great big chunk of the book. You get 96 pages for your US$19.95 and about 50 of them are filled with NPCs. This sounds a lot – and is – but you do also get the plot bits which bring the village to life. In addition Corwyl is presented in Green Ronin’s usual good value for money layout; text as small as you’d hope for and more, great illustrations but not so that they become padding, quality writing and juicy sidebar information. There’s also NPCs from the surrounding area in here (but not too many) such as the leader of the nearby orc tribe and the reclusive treant.
I don’t tend to be a fan of NPC books (especially where the ranger NPCs have their village destroyed by raiding orcs and their parents killed when they’re just a child) and I don’t tend to be a fan of pre-written adventures as they’re restrictive and linear. But… when you build a plot rich setting by creating interesting characters then you’ve what you need for a non-linear adventure. Corwyl scores some points here but it doesn’t capitalise fully. It wasn’t written with that plot bubble structure in mind.
The Village of the Wood Elves has mixed successes with new core classes. Adding new core classes is controversial and tricky. It’s controversial because there’s a good degree of abstraction in the d20 core classes and it rather rocks the boat to ignore that. Nevertheless the Ancestral Speaker core class does have something of a niche which isn’t already covered by the standard classes. The Ancestral Speakers are a magical class who converse with ancient spirits. I would say there’s a greater degree of difference between the Druid and the Ancestral Speaker than the Wizard and the Sorcerer. As you’d hope and need we’ve the full spell lists required for the class.
I’m not so keen on the Trellian Knight core class simply because I think either a Fighter or perhaps Paladin class would do with an easy to qualify for Prestige Class. The Knights are fighters (small f) who have qualified for an elite group so surely that’s a prestige class?
Corwyl has prestige classes too; the Animal Master and Tree Maiden. Both are very Druidy but Druidy with added prestige and therefore, I think, valid and fairly interesting prestige classes.
Backing both sets of new classes up and adding an extra twist to the wealth of NPCs in the book there’s no shortage of new feats and magic.
There are some gems hidden away in Corwyl. There’s a great map of the treehouse village on page 61. It’s the sort of thing that you’d wish you could photocopy and show to your players. Elsewhere in the book sidebars and aside text boxes have some of the best plot bits, interesting items and observations.
Corwyl: Village of the Wood Elves works but doesn’t wow. It finds itself in this state because of the two-books-in-one syndrome it has. It isn’t an amazing setting but it’s good enough. It’s not an impressive companion to Bow and Blade but it does nicely expand Bow and Blade. I wonder whether we would have been better off with two books or whether neither idea would stretch the far. I’m quite happy to take Corwyl’s new spells, memory trees and prestige classes into Bow and Blade but I don’t see myself in the situation of ever being able to use the setting.