Game: The Hamlet of Thumble
Publisher: Open World Press
Review Dated: 10th, June 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 19
Average Score: 6.33
This review is taken from the final draft of the The Hamlet of Thumble the day before it goes to the printers. Baring demon possessed printing machines, alien ink or yellow on white formatting choices we can be confident that this review represents a fair set of comments on the final product. This is good for the Halfling’s Hamlet because it looks rather good.
This is the first pre-written adventure I’ve seen for 3.5 rules and it’s more than just an adventure. The Hamlet of Thumble is the first stage of some World Building, the prefix “World of Whitethorn 1A” is the clue. Better still, through out the scenario there are points where the plot can be expanded into bigger, wider and more complex picture. Open World Press are the first new “d20 revised” company who’ve come into my radar they’re not a blip in the wilderness. Open World Press are one of Mystic Eye’s imprint partners and that’s a good start. Mystic Eye have a good track record with their imprint partners and it means that its likely Open World Press will manage more than just “1A” in their product line.
The Hamlet of Thumble is a new style of pre-written adventure for a new generation of D&D. Well. Kinda. The Hamlet of Thumble isn’t the inflexible, paced for the slowest wheel, linear pre-written adventure that I hate so much. The scenario here has a much better structure, one that allows for a more satisfying and more mature game. It requires a little more skill from the GM and activity from the players. I’d say that it needs proactive players but I’m going to try and avoid clichéd phrases like that. Since the Hamlet of Thumble is a scenario you should poke your eyes out now if you’re concerned about spoilers. The three new core classes, new spells and creatures that the book introduces will be mentioned towards the end of the review.
We’re given a summary of the set up; evil raiders are harassing the halflings of Thumble. We’re given more than just a summary of Thumble; we’ve the important halfings, what they know, what they want, what they’ve told other villagers (hamletters?) and their stats. We’re given a set of possible conclusions. And if I left it at that then I’d have done no justice to Open World Press whatsoever.
The Hamlet of Thumble is designed for four to six 1st or 2nd level characters. This can be a group of goodly aligned characters sent by the king to investigate why the halflings aren’t paying their taxes. These players could be the evil raiders sent by the local lord to harass the halflings, or you could have two groups of players, one good and the other evil and at odds to one another. You might even want two groups of evil characters; the raiders sent there to harass the halflings and the other to strong-arm the taxes out of them. This is great. I want to see more of this. If The Hamlet of Thumble was written in the linear way then none of this would be possible.
The introduction makes sense too. The halflings aren’t paying their taxes because they’re not getting protection from the local lord. This is exactly how the feudal system works. The king has sent the players to investigate (in the good party scenario) without telling the local lord because the fellow has the reputation for not passing on the king’s full share of the halflings’ taxes and this is exactly the sort of situation you’ll get in a feudal system. The local lord has hired kobold raiders to harass the halflings because he can blame the raids on the neighbouring and nearby kingdom and press his case for war. The possibility of war is just one of the “more to come” plug-ins in the Whitethorn world building from this scenario. It’s refreshing to find material that manages the medieval feudal system and fantasy races so well.
Whereas the possible war between the two kingdoms hints at what we might expect in Whitethorn as a whole, this book concentrates on the Hamlet of Thumble. The descriptions of buildings in it are good. There is more to each description than just a sliver of a paragraph, a token gesture, which you sometimes find. More importantly each of the NPCs has depth and flavour. The NPCs interact with one another, or rather, it will look to the players as if they do and have been for years. Since Thumble is a living-breathing place it allows the players to wander around inside it, talk to interesting halflings in any order, hear one side of the debate first or even become part of the halfling gossip. I think the players could become quite attached to the Hamlet. Unless, that is, they’re playing the evil characters in which case they’ll learn which of the halflings are mid-level (retired old fighters, etc) and need to be avoided. There’s a problem here, I suppose it’s not so much a problem as a shame. I think it’s possible that players investigating the lack of taxes will quickly find out about the raiders (whom the halflings call ‘yappies’), leave the down and scout around for a lair. I think some groups of players might just scout around the Hamlet before going in and then the GM will have to decide (or trust to the dice) as to whether any tracks or the lair is found. It would be a shame to miss out on the Hamlet.
There is a lair. There’s a kobold burrow in fact. The book is more traditional here. The burrow is a set of tunnels that are waiting to be explored and they’re filled with kobolds. Whether your gaming group moves in and slaughters everything in the name of goodness or whether there’s more of a dilemma than that is up to the nature of your gaming group. The burrow makes a good hide-away if the players are using the evil characters and I can see plot potential in the inevitable attempts by the players to design better defences.
The Hamlet of Thumble introduces a Reputation mechanic to D&D. This can’t be the first book to do so but that doesn’t invalidate this attempt. Very high or very low reputations result in permanent increases to the Charisma attribute. The logic in that is clear but it always worries me. Can you score those increases twice if you let your reputation fall from excellent to abysmal? The characters can gain reputation for reporting back to the King, gain more reputation for helping the halflings and they’ll lose reputation if they play evil characters and chase the halflings off.
The adventure makes good use of encounter tables. There are encounters for general areas – the road, the woods, etc and for day and night. There are special encounters too. Special encounters are best used when the GM feels the time is right (if, for example, the players are scouting around the Hamlet rather than going in and talking to the halflings) and deal with the more unusual inhabitants of the area. In one special encounter, a character could dream of the wicked treant in the heart of the forest, in another they may encounter it. It’s through the special encounters that the players may first get involved in the Greenstone of Ogre Strength. This plot looks likely to be expanded in a subsequent Open World Press book and it’ll be great if it is. It’s also worth noting that these special encounters aren’t tailor made for the group’s current strength. If they do meet the wicked treant and get involved in a fight then it’ll go badly. The point, one that Open World Press makes clear, is that the world doesn’t revolve around the characters. Running away is an option!
I’m not too keen on some of the to-read GM text for these encounters though. If you take the prepared text as something to be read allowed to the players in its entirety then you’d be dealing only with extremely terse NPCs. Sometimes this set aside text moves into third person summaries too. “On the road ahead, you see a very tall man with a long grey beard in a dark robe and pointy hat approaching. He appears to be about 10 ft. tall and is carrying a long, wooden staff. Taking great strides he walks toward you and bellows, ‘I am the great wizard Balrin! Bow down before me or suffer from my fury!’ He threatens to use ‘terrible magic’ against those who do not obey his command.”
I can’t help it. I get Baldur’s Gate vibes from this scenario. The reputation points, the busy hamlet, chance encounters, possible special encounters, the mini quests and even the sound bytes associated with key NPCs are strongly reminiscent of the computer game. This isn’t a bad thing. The format produced one of the least linear CRPGs to date; it can only produce an even more flexible tabletop game.
The Hamlet of Thumble has three new core classes in it: the shaman, the witch and cavalier. The cavalier is, in many ways, a less magical paladin and yet far from being nothing more than a lesser paladin. The witch and shaman classes have complete spell lists. There are many new spells too, some exclusive to either the shaman or witch, some available to both and others available to other magic using classes. Witches cast arcane spells in the sorcerer style and shape shift. Higher level witches can access monstrous strength. The shaman class is also different enough to be worthwhile. A shaman prepares and casts divine spells, but not those of opposing alignment to his own. They can rebuke or turn spirits in the way clerics turn undead and access powers of animal spirits. The new classes are backed up with new feats too.
I like all the classes. It just so happens that witches and shaman suit the lower, darker I fantasy prefer but this also means I tend to judge attempts to D&D-ise them more harshly. These conversions work for me.
In addition to the new classes, there are new magic items, creatures and rules. The new rules suggest that Whitethorn might just be on the gritty fantasy side. The section gets going with stats on mundane weapons; kitchen knives, broomsticks and farmers’ scythes. Morale rules help determine when a monster decides to flee (again, hmm, Baldur’s Gate comes back to mind). There are thorough but slick rules for adding dreams to your game; not just surreal scenes, but rules for combat in dreams, when the character realises that they might be dreaming and interpreting dreams.
I’ve a concern for Whitethorn as a whole though. I’m never fond of having to track down some obscure adventure just to get the rules for an important or interesting character class. Still, the OGL makes pre-printing key classes easy enough. This concern doesn’t affect The Hamlet of Thumble either.
I rather enjoyed The Hamlet of Thumble. There’s something it in for everyone; an adventure to play and then new classes, magic and rules to take into your game and use again and again. It’s clear from the book that the scenario was written for the roleplayer and not the roll-player. Towards the end of the book, in the GM Tips chapter, there’s even a section on how to avoid roll-playing. Open World Press will have to watch that gamers overly sensitive to that term don’t whine at them but I appreciate the effort. Hopefully we’ll see more of this quality from Open World Press.