Game: The Village of Oester
Publisher: Open World Press
Review Dated: 12th, October 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
This review is based on the pre-print copy of The Village of Oester. I’m only pointing that out in case a disgruntled employee at the printers decides to tip a bucket of yellow paint into the press at the last minute. I’ve seen pre-print copies from Open World Press before and they always turn out just as good as you’d hope for. Actually no, that’s misleading. I’ve seen a pre-print draft from Open World Press before. There’s only been one, The Hamlet of Thumble, and I rather liked that.
World of Whitethorn 1B: The Village of Oester follows on from World of Whitethorn 1A: The Hamlet of Thumble in the way their prefixes would lead you to expect. You don’t need The Hamlet of Thumble to use The Village of Oester and that’s worth noting. Without the first book you’ll be left to work out the minutia of the Reputation mechanics yourself but that’s easy enough. In some ways it might help not to have played through Thumble first, that adventure worked equally well for good or evil player characters but I think Oester’s plot works best with good aligned characters. Oester’s appendices include both good and evil pre-genned characters.
If you’re worried about spoilers then this is point where you should bid this review adieu.
There’s the ever so slight danger of an “You’re in the tavern when…” beginning for Oester. The PCs are in the city when a stream of distraught refugees fleeing their village, Oester, begin to get people talking. The most linear way to get the game going is to have one family of these refugees beg the PCs to go to Oester and help themselves to the contents of their abandoned house in exchange for some money. I guess it is permission based looting. I think it would be best to avoid having this encounter in a tavern. It would be better still if the players talk themselves into investigating the rumours about the village. The only advantage of steering the PCs to the city in order to meet the refugees there is that it’ll be easy to show how little the Crown cares about troubles in Oester. There are few reasons why the Crown, the Royal authorities, cares little for trouble in Oester and they’re all wonderfully tied into the plot. There are rumours of a brewing war and that’s one reason why troops can’t be spared to investigate the village.
I got Baldur’s Gate vibes from the World of Whitethorn 1A and I get them again from the World of Whitethorn 1B too. This is a complement. I loved that old D&D computer game. This time round the similarities between the CRPG and this pre-written adventure are clearer. There’s trouble afoot, there’s the build up to a possible war and it falls to the PC group to investigate trouble closer at home. Just like in Baldur’s Gate, if the PCs rush straight to the mine (or in this case the village) and attempt to “solve” the problem by hacking and slashing then they’re doomed to fail. Just as in Baldur’s Gate the game is far more entertaining if the PCs get involved in all the side quests and inter-connected encounters that surround the core plot.
The Village of Oester is a world-building scenario. The idea is, I think, that Open World Press put together the campaign world of Whitethorn through the locations and new rules found in this series of adventures. I think it’s going to work very well. Open World Press have shown game-wise foresight. The encounter tables, for example, aren’t stacked with melee opponents carefully pitched at the PC’s current character level. The encounter tables make sense for the area the game is set in. You won’t find wandering dragons here. There’s a small chance that the players will encounter a monster, but even then it’s likely to be something like a sleeping or rabid dire badger. Encounters with bandits or barbarians from the hills are more likely, especially at night. Some of the highlights of the book are the special encounters. Special encounters are those scenes that are foreshadowed elsewhere in the adventure, often by rumours, and can be missed out entirely, or might spawn entire campaigns in their own right.
There’s a possible encounter with Birna the outcast barbarian woman. The players might help her fight off some bandits. It’s up to them. The GM has the option of being evil and having one of the masked bandits actually being the King’s son. If the group helps Birna then she may turn up later to return the favour. Another encounter, this time with a Paladin, might also earn the group a handy ally when the going gets tough. Veptuna the Seductress is a great encounter. It’s especially twisted given that the demoness is in the process of drowning a little girl the players might be trying to rescue even as the scene starts. If the players hang around and chat to the seductress then the poor girl drowns. Veptuna is also a great way to give a player who’s annoyingly too easily distracted by a bit of eye candy his comeuppance.
It’s more than likely that quite a few of the special encounters, or rare random encounter, are too much for the characters to deal with. They’ll have to talk their way out of some. Characters may very well need to flee from some fights. Of course, there are some plot crucial scenes that do need to be carefully gauged to the PC’s abilities and The Village of Oester does this very well. Important scenes have a choice of Effective Levels for the GM to pick from. One encounter with a group of thugs allows the GM to pick and mix from a list of NPC thugs to find the right EL for the scene. Another encounter allows the GM to swap zombies for ghouls or ghouls for ghasts as needs be. There are separate stats for each possibility. The level of detail is impressive.
To get the best from The Village of Oester you need nicely pro-active players. The group needs to be one that’ll go off and investigate things – even if it’s just the promise of experience points, reputation, or gold. Your players might talk about encounters from this adventure for months. However, even if the players avoid the best bits of the book the GM will be able to use all the new spells, templates, feats and items from the appendices and save them for later. There’s nothing wrong with the core plot either; go to Oester, discover it’s awash with undead horrors and sort out the mess. Sorting out the mess will be trickier than most players are used to. I doubt they’ll be able to vanquish the curse by force of arms and will probably find themselves trying to get a member of the royal family to offer an apology. Ouch. Tricky.
I’m not a fan of pre-written adventures. I find them horribly linear and that they break too easily if the players show any lateral thinking. Oester does a good job at winning me over. It’s not particularly linear and will thrive on lateral thinking players. The game still makes some of the pre-written adventure errors that annoy me though. Some of the ready to read dialog tells the players what their characters are thinking and that shouldn’t happen. I’d never read “To your horror” or “You are astonished to see” – I’ll let the players be astonished, or roleplay astonished characters, if they want. At one point we’re told that if the pre-genned Dwarf PCs is being used that he’ll go over and introduce himself to some NPC Dwarves. Let’s leave that to the player to decide. In most cases, though, The Village of Oester shines with successes and avoids all the common pit traps for pre-written adventures. If you’re looking for a quality adventure then The Village of Oester and the World of Whitethorn series should be first on your list.