Publisher: Bastion Press
Review Dated: 11th, February 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 9
Average Score: 4.50
I blinked when I opened up my e-Villains, moments later I was rather impressed. My collection of pdf rpg products is just growing and this is the first time that I’ve seen something with embedded bookmark links. Simply put you can click on the entry that interests you in the table of contents and you’ll be whisked straight to that villain. If you’re going to publish electronically then I think it’s important to make as much of the benefits of the new media as possible, otherwise it’ll be nothing more than a substitute for paper. If you want the bookmark side bar in your Acrobat Reader to appear or disappear press F5.
There are two basic ways to present a set of rules in the pdf format. Some companies give you a wash of text, everything clumped together and then save any pictures for a gallery at the end. This style is supposed to make the download easier to print off. The other way to approach the layout and design is to integrate colour and pictures with the text and rule mechanics. I prefer the latter and thankfully that’s just the format that e-Villains is presented in. If I want to print it off on my dying black and white printer then I’ll live with whatever it manages to do with the graphics. There’s nothing stopping me using the text-select tool and pasting bits to Word in order to print important paragraphs out, either. The whole textual content of the download is Open License too.
There is a grand total of four villains in the supplement, I might struggle to write very much in way of a review but the authors at Bastion Press have put together twenty-five pages on just these four. That’s a good indication of the wonderful detail that the villains are described and presented in. These people are villains, accidentally or otherwise, and are more than just random encounters. You can string a whole scenario or even a whole campaign off some of them. They’re not your usual clichéd examples either. Three of the four are female. One of the “villains” is Lawful Good and will still prove to be a bother for both good and evil aligned parties. All of the villains have sorry histories that go the way of explaining just why they turned out the way they did. You’ll be able to present your players with as clear or tricky moral battles to struggle though as you want.
Each of the four npcs are presented in depth and at different levels. There are paragraphs dedicated to how low, medium or high level parties might find themselves in encounters with the villains. Companions (minions), spell like abilities and interesting items are almost always fleshed out in full too. Each one of characters has around six pages dedicated to them.
Bryn Weslock – Lady Weslock of Magnamoor. Here’s you’ll find your “lawful good” villain who weighs in at Challenge Rating 4. The challenge rating is misleading though. Weslock isn’t really a combat encounter, although the players can pick as large a fight as they like. You need two active ingredients to use Weslock as presented by the download: a high fantasy setting and a world where adventuring is accepted as a life style choice. Weslock has banned adventuring in the areas she controls and therein lurks the conflict that sets her up as a villain. There’s more to it than that, of course, but although this review is not meant to be spoiler free I think there is always reason to conceal some of the better twists and turns.
Caeseara Willowmane – Arrowstorm. Challenge Rating 12 and a riding mount that’s CR12 in it’s own right. Scary. Arrowstorm has to be my favourite of the four in terms of moral and ethical debates to worry the players with. Is she right? Is she wrong? Can she be saved? Should she be saved? She’s also a great way to show your players that there are consequences for their character’s actions. As with Byrn Weslock you need both a high fantasy setting and the custom of adventuring for Willowmane to be used straight out of the box. You can tinker with Weslock so you could do without the high fantasy setting but this would be less easy for Arrowstorm.
Sara Anamander – Seira’kurakiri. A pretty lady with the scary challenge rating of 18. Sara is a Fox Maiden. That’s not something out of Oriental Adventures but one of the minions from Bastion Press’s e-Minions. If you really like Sara then you’ll probably want to dig up a couple bucks more to make that other purchase. The thrifty among us might sulk about that. However, no matter how rich you are there’s little you can do about spells such as “Kiss of unrequited love” which is deferred to the Appendix, which then never appears. My hunch is that I’ll find it in the main (paper) Villains book from Bastion Press. Unlike the first two villains in the book your campaign world does not need “adventuring” in order to use her. In fact, you might very well argue that you don’t even need to be playing in a high fantasy setting to use the Fox Maiden, however, when she’s combined with her bag full of magic items and her unusual minion-cum-ally I suspect you’ll find yourself firmly rooted back in the genre. Anamander has perhaps the best foreshadowing potential of the whole troop of villains in the download too. While your party of player characters are in their lower levels I think it’ll still be possible to use this CR 18 villain. She’s an assassin by trade and a good one at that. Lower level characters can still sort out the mess she aims to leave in her trail, prove other people innocent of her crimes and then as they slowly build up in power and as their encounter her handiwork again and again they might move closer to dealing with her head on.
Xanderwhal Drukin – Lord of Mirrorstone. I would love to be able to describe this villain as a Challenge Rating 20 halfling. Of course, though, it’s not quite as simple as that. Drukin is campaign material and a wonderful example of how a good villain can inspire the heart of a fantasy adventure. Guess what? Yes. You guessed it. A high fantasy setting would be ideal for Xanderwhal but you don’t need “adventuring” as such. In fact, Xanderwhal is great if you play your games as clashing Kingdoms, mighty armies, battles for boarders and control of trading routes. I think you could even use Drukin in a low fantasy setting, you could tinker the growing armies of giants and goblinoids if you wanted to, it would just take an absolute age before your players ever got anywhere near Mirrorstone or the truth behind this menacing half-pint.
The download itself is about 370KB unzipped. That’s about 0.4MB or in English “not bloated”. My screen is large enough to let me view the document at %150 size, as in half as large again as it was designed in. The resulting effect is bigger text, only the slightest suggestion of computer pixels in the artwork and a little bit of scrolling between the two columns of text on each page. If you view it as intended then you’re still not quite able to fit a whole page in one screen but you’ll appreciate the colourful and exotic sidebar artwork and the careful typesetting a lot more. Although the text does slide down around pictures you never find yourself squinting to read tiny columns of two or less words per line.
I tend to view downloads in the same was a chef might view spice. They’re both cheap and when used correctly can really make a huge difference. E-Villains is a good example of this. Even if you’re one of the GMs who would rather create their own villains – and I fall into this category – the download is an excellent source of inspiration and there will always be times when the players go off and do something unexpected.