This companion-tome to the Kobold Press-project "Journeys to the West" is 48 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 43 pages of content, so let's check this out!
The pdf kicks off with memorable NPCs to add to your campaign, for example Ernst "Goldtooth" Galway (Rogue[Pirate] 13), who hides a grim secret, Evain "Sea-Bellows" Saol, a Sea Singer and his druidess gnome wife Ré Saol - pirates that actually can be considered a reliable good guy. Or take Keng Hakon, archivist/oracle from Kathay, whose massive flotilla still scours the seas. And Rushara the raven, the mysterious mistress of the "Seastrider" is looking for gold, yes, but also for memories...and not her own.
Beyond these mid-level famous rapscallions, we also get a selection of more low-level individuals, though that does not mean that they are less interesting - The Oracle called "The Brine Pauper" could definitely hail from the Iron Isles - his artwork alone made me think "What is dead may never die." And if they get hurt, well, just entreat your PCs to a visit at the friendly white necromancer...troll-lady! Or take a brilliant idea: A dragon who uses his own body to carry premium cargo, essentially working as a one-reptile air mail system! Of course, an evil siren, a pirate haunted by strange, cursed (or are they?) magic items, a sahuagin-scoundrel, a kobold druid and his pet snake and a rogue morphoi are also in this book, providing us all in all with a gamut of interesting characters, cool ideas and plenty of hooks for them to add them to your campaign.
Next up is a section that details the Island of Palau Kelaparan, where, as legends have it, the demon-lord Mechuiti entered the world and where his cannibal pygmies reign supreme with their demonic allies. Coming in the form of a sketchy description by areas, detailing crunchy environmental features and ideas by major locations as well as featuring sample traps, 3 fully statted sample NPCs as well as an encounter-table. The second Island included in the deal would be Umbrascara, which, as the name suggests, is close the realms of shadows and essentially has rather suffered from an influx of both shadow fey and intruders via the phenomenon called Darktide. Umbrascara feels more like a gazetteer than of a shortened adventure-location, making for an interesting contrast with the first island. What's also cool is that we get 3 different other ports of call in a gazetteer-style, almost player-friendly write-up. If you're like me and were a fan of the 3.5-setting, you may like that the upcoming SpirosBlaak-setting-update by Misfit Studios seems to be an official part of the Midgard world via this book - for there's a write-up here! Now that's cool! What I kind of missed was a similar nod to Freeport, but I still hope we'll get to see the Open Design-project some time and anchor the city of pirates in Midgard.
Speaking of good write-ups - we also get 3 distinct different pirate bands, tables of driftgood, CR 4 mandrill-headed evil humanoids, Cr 1 rum gremlins and more importantly: Ship-tremplates!
YES! Thank you so much! We get the amphibious, dragon turtle, fiendish, flying fish (short term fly over land!), nautilus and arthropod and keel-sung ships and, what can I say, they ROCK and cover iconic things that should have been covered before. This is simply stellar! Two thumbs up for these!
The new spells herein are also rather nice, though there are some fillers in here, like elemental surge, but we also get a spell to enhance a ship's hardness and generally, I don't have anything to complain about the new spells. Among the new magic items, we get one particular book that will never see use in my game and which I already didn't like in the design-process: The manual of island survival provides 10 different spells that help with survival, essentially taking away island survival problems and the investment of spells into it. However, we also get a sail of wonder and enchanted figureheads as well as an enchanted plumage. There also are 3 new traits.
And then, the sourcebook becomes all-out awesome: Using rules analogues to the runes of the Northlands-supplement, we are introduced to 6 Aboleth Glyphs and 11 feats dealing with them, marrying content from sunken empires and northlands and expanding it. I LOVE it! We also get concise advice on Glyph creation, a three-step, rather complex and cool Thalassic creature-template and even the thalassic bloodline. Damn, I wished we got a whole sourcebook on this delightfully twisted topic!
The pdf closes with a 2-page map of the Western Ocean.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout is beautiful, full color and adheres to a 2-column standard. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and the full color and b/w-artworks adhere to the highest standard you could ask for.
The characters and locations are awesome, the locations iconic, the Aboleth Glyph magic genius and the new islands rock. However, this pdf is not perfect, as much as I'd love to proclaim it to be. The islands get no maps (which is relevant if you don't intend to buy Journeys to the West), which is a minor bummer and the cool NPCs are all rather simple builds. Their fluff is great, but build-wise we don't get cool templated foes or complex adversaries. While the ship-templates are nice, I wished that there was perhaps a unique vehicle for the characters. The spells per se, while nice, didn't blow me out of the water. Well, at least the pdf didn't fall into the Spell/feat-glut-trap and instead focuses on useful, exciting content and good organization write-ups, which in my book help alleviate the minor issues I have with the pdf. I'll be honest with you: My first impulse was to rate this pdf at 4 stars. But the thing is - it does not deserve to be rated as only "good" - it is a stellar pdf, but one whose quality wavers slightly, like the waves on which it sails. Thus, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, but sans the seal of the approval.