Game: Frontier Towns: Fort Griffin, Volume 2
Publisher: Dog House Rules
Series: d20 modern
Review Dated: 9th, July 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
Sidewinder: Recoiled from Dog House Rules is one of the d20 campaign settings that Gamers-in-the-Know know about. This is a wild west setting which get the best out of the d20 system whilst maintaining a realistic, strong and fun flavour.
Dog House Rules put a lot of work into the setting and flavour. We’ve already had Frontier Towns: Fort Griffin from them where we were able to tour Fort Griffin, read about interesting locales and the noteworthy NPCs there. Interesting locations combine with NPCs to form plot hooks.
This is a review of the next Frontier Town supplement and it’s for Fort Griffin. Oh? Again? Strictly speaking we’re visiting Fort Griffin and the neighbouring town known simply as The Flats.
If you’re a Sidewinder Judge (a GM or DM) and have neither Fort Griffin product then it doesn’t matter hugely which one you buy. It’s not fair to say that Fort Griffin 2 has the material rejected from the first supplement or that it has less important locations (this supplement has the layout and guard details for the bank, for example). Frontier Towns: Fort Griffin, Volume 2 does sometimes (though not often) refer back to the first supplement and for that reason alone it makes more sense to buy volume 1 before volume 2.
It could be a bit of a bugger if you’ve already thoroughly detailed Fort Griffin to your players to squeeze in some of these locations. I’m not sure I would have thought to include a Shave and Bathe house in any description I’d have offered and I’m fairly sure I’d already have had to deal with the bank. On the other hand it’s relatively easy to fit in some of the NPCs.
There are six locations in this gazetteer of Fort Griffin. We’ve the local saloon, the bank, the blacksmith, the shave and bathe, a hotel and a frontier house. The saloon is a rickety drinking den and I’m sure Fort Griffin volume 2 talks about game mechanics for the hardness of wooden walls and chairs just so players can take part in fights which feature bar stools broken over people or even people being thrown through the weak and rotten wooden walls of the saloon. We need a blacksmiths but characters will want to visit it far more often than they’ll want to explore the location or talk to the smithy about his family. The shave and bathe is the small bathhouse you might imagine it to be though I’m not sure how naturally you’ll be able to get PCs and a tempting plot there and at the same time. The hotel is, yes, a hotel and the frontier house is a cross between a theatre and a pub.
Sometimes it’s the NPCs in the location which spike the real interest – like the possibly wayward blacksmith’s boys or the possible outlaw working at the hotel. I use “possible” because these options are entirely up to the GM. One of the greatest uses of the NPCs, I’ve found, is the intelligence gleamed from their aggregate stats. Most NPCs are ordinary people, a few have a couple of levels of experience and only a very small number have any levels of hero. If you’re part of a level four group in Fort Griffin then you’ve very little to worry about and think this is exactly the level it should be at. There are NPCs more powerful than that but they’re few and far between.
Some of these NPCs are people which the players (not the characters) could go away and investigate. Dog House Rules make good use of actual wild west history for the Sidewinder and Fort Griffin setting. Some of the NPCs were real people – or “historical people” as Dog House call them. This isn’t a historical supplement though and we’re warned that cinematic license has been taken with many of the real people and locations. These actual/historical people are marked with a special logo in the supplement. I think the reality of the supplement will float some boats but I’m ambivalent. I don’t tend to like NPC driven settings but appreciate that some of the wild west lure is due to the famous cowboys and Indians we still know about today.
I think most gamers will be interested in Frontier Towns: Fort Griffin, volume 2 primarily for the locations than the NPCs though. It’s with the locations that Fort Griffin goes that extra mile and we have a couple of extra PDFs with this supplement. Dog House Rules spoil us with maps. In addition to the floor plan of each location given in the main PDF we’ve a compliment of three other supporting PDFs. It’s ideal that this support is entirely separate and published in a different PDF as this makes printing a doddle. We’ve two battle map versions of each location; one on the ½” to 5′ scale and another on 1″ to 5′. There’s another map just for the Judge and this is the one with all those secret nooks and crannies marked along with game notes.
In fact we’re spoilt with PDFs for this supplement as we can choose to open the black and white or colour versions of the main Fort Griffin product. This is a total of 5 PDFs for our money. Its deals like this which keep the electronic copy market going.
For me Fort Griffin is all about the blend of locations and NPCs. I don’t need help creating wild west locations – the stereotypes are inspiration enough. Fort Griffin is about the plot hooks and this is a truth that Dog House Rules know about. Whereas some plot hooks are weak (the players just happen to overhear something in the saloon) the skill and value for money come from the way the plot hooks are interwoven. As the supplement itself says, “no man is an island”. Much of the potential drama here is interwoven. If you come across an NPC in one location and you find yourself wondering what the connection is then further into reading Fort Griffin, Volume 2, you’ll find a plot possibility for a different location and another NPC which just so happens to involve the cowpoke or townsperson you were wondering about.
Fort Griffin delivers on its promise. We’ve a professional tour of (and return to) Fort Griffin. There’s little missing from the visits to the six featured locations and we’ve more cartography support than we should hope for. This is very much more of the same. If you’ve Frontier Towns: Fort Griffin, v1 already and want more – then buy this one. If you didn’t like the first then there’s absolutely no reason to buy this. If you’ve yet to decide whether volume 1 was a good purchase or not then it’ll be best to hold back buying this one until you decide. For the most part I’m sure that Sidewinder fans will appreciate this second walk through Fort Griffin.