Neiyar is not your normal game setting. The typical male gamer will have to completely rethink his attitude, because it is a matriarchal world (at least, the human civilization, anyway). The gender role reversal isn’t along the lines of the evil-drow-sacrifice-unwanted-males-to-lloth variety, but it is readily apparent and permeates the world. Nor is it the femi-nazi sort of GYRLL POWER thing you would expect. The social structure isn’t portrayed as good or evil, it just is what it is.
There is a sort of cold war going on in the setting. The enemies of the Neiyar culture, the Krakodons, are almost the polar opposites of the human culture. The Krakodons are a draconic sort of race that is highly patriarchal. The Krakodons control most of the southern half of the island, and while there is trade between the two groups and the war is officially over, both sides wage a subversive war to keep the other in check. Also thrown in the mix are the Mahaultae, a race of cat people, who more often than not side with the Neiyar, but sympathize with the Krakodons. The Amphikin are a frog race of con artists and opportunists that play both sides against each other. Auronnes are a swan race that are mostly loyal to the Neiyar, but try to stay out of the political fray.
There is a lot going on with the setting. Of course, you have your prerequisite assortment of ruins and abandoned cities to explore. There are also a lot of special organizations, secret societies, and sects waging political wars with each other. Joining an organization has distinct advantages in game play. Many of the churches are on the verge of fragmenting due to internal squabbles over dogma, and players can get caught in the middle. Add to the whole mix the fact that prophesy claims that the Demon God Nephar will rise and launch another Demon War soon and you can need a scorecard to keep track of who is on whose side.
Some of the prestige classes resemble similar stuff that has been produced elsewhere. There are a few really cool spells and feats, but nothing earth shattering. There is a spattering of new magic items as well. The Hearth Magic system, however, totally rocks. It’s simple and makes perfect sense considering the flavor of the setting. The monsters section includes some sweet critters to throw at players. A swarm of fleshcutter ants (carnivorous ants that are the size of a dog) will definitely strike fear in the hearts of adventurers. The Sleeper Bat can serve as a familiar, and there are special rules that allow it to learn and cast spells independently of its master.
The real strength of the book is the flavor of the setting itself. The island isn’t just an exotic jungle. There is a distinct Ravenloft vibe (I actually used the setting as a domain in a Ravenloft game I was running). See, elves, dwarves, and such are not native to the island, but sometimes end up there due to shipwrecks or magical backlashes. And once you end up on the island, it’s almost impossible to leave. Teleportation magic doesn’t work. Scrying often fails. And there is a big, nasty, immortal sea monster called the Green Death ready to crush any boat foolish enough to try to leave.
I like the look of the revised format over the old edition. The new design makes it easy to read onscreen, and easier to find information quickly. There is some nice new art added, though I wish there was more of it. The maps are the same ones from the old edition, though. They are OK, but not stellar.
A disclaimer. I bought a copy of the old version of this book from a now defunct vendor two or three years ago. When I saw the publisher’s press release about the new version being available at RPGNOW and that RPGNOW customers could get the new version free, I contacted them because I wanted my freebie, too. After some back and forth, I found my old confirmation e-mail to confirm my original purchase, and the publisher sent me a coupon to download a free copy of the revised edition. After thanking her and giving her my thoughts on the new version, she asked if I’d think about leaving a review. So I thought about it, and I did. Since she went to the trouble to help me get a new copy, the least I could do was write a review.