Publisher: Green Ronin
Series: Mindshadows: d20
Review Dated: 29th, November 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
I was really looking forward to Mindshadows. It wasn’t so much the promise of a psionics heavy campaign world that had whet my appetite but the flavour seeping through the crunch of the bestiary Monsters of the Mind.
Monsters of the Mind managed to do that “similar but spookily slightly different” and get it right, Mindshadows manages only “similar but slightly different”. It’s a good book. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not Testament good.
There’s an Eastern flavour to Mindshadows, not the Far East but the Near East. If your historical geographical references are a bit shaky: I’m talking about India and the subcontinent. We have ourselves a trade in silks and spices, cults, mind mysticism (psionics), palaces with golden domes, three headed gods, assassins and fighting schools. The Caste System alone has an atmosphere that’s strongly reminiscent of the old Indian feudal system. The Brahmins hold the highest station, next highest are the warrior caste, the Ksatriya, then the merchant caste, Vaisyas, and lowest in the caste system are the Sudras. The Untouchables are outside the system, below it, these people take lives – human or animal. So hunters and fishermen as well as street cleaners are Untouchable.
I find the subcontinent theme appealing. I’m not sure I’d have added magical mech suits to it; as the Juggernauts of Naranjan are. After reading through Mindshadows a couple of times I’ve adjusted to their presence. I think the Juggernauts might well be the most appealing aspect of the campaign setting to many players.
There’s a rule of thumb quotes by quite a few gamers in my neck of the woods which states that you can tell quite a lot about an RPG if it begins by giving you character generation mechanics (ala D&D) or begins with setting and flavour (ala World of Darkness). Mindshadows begins with the world details and gets into the mechanics. Of the two strategies, I much prefer this approach. I want to know what sort of character I should be thinking about and creating before I know how to do it. But I’m a fusspot. Mindshadows dives headlong into Naranjan’s interesting history. At least it would be interesting history if it were not for a case of too much too soon. For the same reasons why I like to know about the campaign environment before I see character creation rules, I like to know about the campaign environment before I read about its past. Defining the present by detailing the events of the past always seems to be something that gamers publishing their home grown adventures and world setting on the Internet seem to do. I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m reading a shiny, polished and professional take… of someone’s homebrew Mindshadows campaign. That’s not quite what I want.
I suppose you could summarise the Mindshadows campaign setting by explaining how the dwarves swept forth from their underground empire and established themselves as the rulers of the surface world. Some woman goes and “discovers” psionics and it catches on. Empires crumble and decay and pocket kingdoms replace them. Nothing much changes. In fact, part of the over all feel to Mindshadows is that their island world hasn’t changed very much at all and it seems unlikely it ever will.
Mindshadows uses the standard d20 player character races. The exceptions are half-orcs, which aren’t native to the island, and the yuan-ti which seem as if they could and should be a PC race but which the book doesn’t offer that sort of support for. One of the winning moves for Mindshadows in my view is the very much Naranjan flavour each race has. The elves are wild and primal, the dwarves regal, gnomes favour the fighter class and halflings favour monk!
The core classes are present in Naranjan too, some more so than others. Barbarians are rare but the class mix, as you might expect, is jazzed up with the addition of the Psion and Psychic Warrior. You’ll need the The Psionics Handbook for those two. New prestige classes include the akarupe, beastmaster, guru, jatyash, juggernaut pilot, karajee master, serpentine assassin, snake cultist, Sumalin adept Sunniraj adept, Upeshpa adept, Vendhar adept and wizard killer. Despite that long list of prestige classes I really don’t see Mindshadows as being prestige class heavy.
Those “adept” prestige classes come from the various sects that play an important part in Mindshadows. Naranjan is an island where the power of the mind is plainly evident. It is no surprise that in addition to religious cults there are schools of mediation and training. These sects aren’t always psionic in focus either; Naranjan martial arts have their own place in society.
It is a little frustrating. I can’t find anything I really don’t like in Mindshadows. I can find lots of pieces that I really do like; the attempt to do something different, the emphasis on psionics, the twist on the d20 races, the yaun-ti threat from the wild forests, the martial arts and the usual Green Ronin shine. But… it doesn’t quite come together. In this occasion the over all effect seems to be less than the sum of the individual parts. It’s a good book; the frustration comes from the feeling that it should be a great book. Mindshadows might appeal most to gamers used to playing in high fantasy and heroic environments but who are looking for a gentle step towards something different.