Game: Into The Green
Publisher: Bastion Press
Review Dated: 17th, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
It’s ever so slightly ironic that Into The Green is one of the first Bastion Press products to stray from the glossy colour format and into black and white. The decision seems like a fair call. If you’re re-aligning your publishing style to better suit industry tastes and buying habits then I can see why the prestige products might keep their colour and the run of the mill ones covert to trusty greyscale. Is it cruel to call Into The Green “run of the mill”? Slightly. It’s a bit like calling the cake in cake run of the mill because the icing is your favourite bit. An RPG supplement about encounters, creatures and the environment of woods, plains, jungles and forests might not have the power-up appeal of a supplement which tempts your favourite elf wizard with new abilities but it strikes me as the more indispensable of the two products.
Into The Green is all about fundamentals. The book gives the DM enough material to keep the player characters occupied in the wilds. In the introduction we’re told that all too often forests and jungles are just green splotches on the map, places to travel through en route to bigger and better things. That’s very true. I think one of the reasons that DMs, especially new ones, struggle to break out of the dungeon is because the magnitude of the alternative is intimidating and potentially insurmountable. It’s all well and good when the characters can explore left or right but when they can pick any direction at all or, worse still, climb a tree and look around to see what might be ahead then running the game can be tricky. What’s a DM to do? Turn to Into The Green.
At least, that would be the perfect situation and it’ll surprise no one to discover that Into The Green is not the perfect book. There’s no such thing. Into The Green is good enough to lend the new DM some confidence and this is more helpful than a bunch of new creatures.
Let’s not get too focused on the plethora of new monsters in the book. They’re not why I’d buy it. Into The Green’s main success is the way it spices up the basics of green wilderness with high fantasy. Each section looks at the sort of plants that might be found there. This isn’t a pointless botany lesson; every plant, shrub or herb that gets a mention does so because of their game potential. There are toxins and antidotes, they’re the obvious game play enhancer but there’s a better scope than just the obvious. A few random examples include Maidenhair Tree which can be can used to reduce the effects of alcohol, the Last Chance Vine which is covered with needles and barbs but places itself strategy by quagmires, sunberries, vampire mushrooms, tripweed and even common but useful flora like teak and poppy. Since Into The Green was in development before 3.5 edition hit the shelves the text talks about Wilderness Survival checks. These are the DC values to know about rare properties of plants and where the plant itself might be found. The conversion to the latest edition of the rules couldn’t be easier; these dice rolls simply become Survival checks. A similar success is achieved with animals. Into The Green presents a page or so of paragraph entries on creatures ranging from moths to hunting cats. Once again every one of these creatures has enough of a twist or special interest to warrant the page space spent on them.
The bulk of the supplement is taken up with stats, descriptions and powers for monsters. The book is presented by environment; forests, jungles, woods and plains and so it is by environment that you have to take your monsters. An index on Challenge Rating would have been great but it’s not too much of a bother to jump to the appropriate environment chapter and page flick. I can quickly and roughly divide the monsters into three groups; the naturally occurring monsters, the corrupted (supernaturally) version of canon monsters and then the entirely magical but “green flavoured”. There might not be a CR index but the CR spread of creatures is pretty good, there are the low level fights, mid level and high level encounters too. The book does tend to favour large creatures for an encounter over small ones. Despite Into The Green making the effort to include “normal” animals and plants, or perhaps because of it, all these monsters started to threaten my suspension of disbelief in a way a simple bestiary book never has. It seems highly unlikely that you’d ever find a monkey or harmless mammal rummaging for food in a jungle. Any creature less than CR2 and which doesn’t travel in swarms would surely be nothing more than a passing snack. I don’t think this is Into The Green’s fault, the tendency to go for large creature encounters, this just seems to be the given approach for D&D fantasy.
I think other attempts to do a green wilderness book might settle for the above, Into The Green goes a step further. There are other sorts of dangers than tooth, claw and elemental blast to run afoul of in the jungle or forest. Into The Green includes fairly substantial sections, for each locale, on environmental hazards. It ‘s easy to come up blank for hazards on the plains but with a bit of lateral thinking Into The Green does well. There’s the weather, for one, you’re totally exposed out there. Blizzards, thunderstorms, lightening and tornadoes can all cause serious problems; the bullet point lists making it easy for a busy GM to inflict them on players too. Without the complex root system of a wooded area and with the numerous burrowing animals the plains can be the ideal location for dangerous sinkholes too. In fact, the supplement describes the ecology of all the locales. I might quibble at some of the facts; it’s claimed that rainfall for forests remains fairly steady in the autumn – but that’s because I live in Scotland and have plenty of experience of random rainfall conditions. Quibbles are small things though. The core facts of the book are right and they’re helpful. Woodlands are thinned out forests, either by accident (fire) or design (logging) and if they’re left alone then they’ll grow thick enough to be counted as a forest again. There’s little undergrowth in those forests where the canopy is solid but there’s a tangle of ground level greenery in open top jungles.
Chapter Five is where miscellaneous entries start to come together. We kick off with new equipment, both mundane and magical. Once again it’s good to see Into The Green bothering with the mundane and getting the level right. These items aren’t so mundane that there’s no point buying the book for them, they’re either spiced with just enough fantasy to be interesting or have an adventuring angle that makes them tempting. Bison chips, for example, are nothing more than lumps of bison dung, but they’re light, burn well and brightly and so if you can deal with the smell make an ideal source of fuel. Rosewood is an excellent material for instruments. Bloodfrog toxin is very rare. It’s here in chapter five that the extended and more complex uses for berries and salves mentioned previously are finally fully explained. I think ranger and druid players will be especially pleased; all knowledge of the wilds will finally pay off.
Chapter Six is a host of new spells. Crop Circle, Detect Fey, Resin, Pollen, Shade and even Primeval Insight are sample spells and from their names alone its possible to soak up the green atmosphere. Sure, some of the spells present a few more ways to kill things but a significant portion of them are better than that.
The appendices in Into The Green are wonderful. There’s a quick list of every poison mentioned. There are targeted encounter lists. Table B.1, for example, will let you pick a daytime or night encounter for a temperate forest. The book finishes with similar summaries for the weather and just manages to squeeze in the OGL legal foo.
I’m going back to my cake analogy for Into The Green. The book is the cake stuff, it’s not too light and fluffy but it’s not too heavy either. In either case, it’s not as tempting as the icing but we’d have nothing without it. There’s no wow factor for the book, but Into The Green could easily become the workhorse of any DM’s library.