First, I am completely in love with the design aesthetic James & Robyn George use for their products. This booklet looks like you could have bought it 30 years ago at a garage sale: old typewriter font, simple formatting and layout, and all black and white art. It may simply be nostalgia but I WANT to read this in a terribly bad way. So I printed out a copy to read by the pool with a cup of joe.
One thing I noticed immediately upon printing this out to read was the subtitle on the cover - "An Adventure Setting" and this truly is more than a simple adventure. While the booklet does have an adventure of a ruined abbey at its focal point, this booklet goes to great depth to present the lay of the land and really does provide a starting point for an entire campaign setting.
The Ruined Abbey
The first half of the booklet details the ruined abbey, providing two maps with twenty-eight locations for exploration and pillaging. All the rooms are fleshed out adequately with enough details for GMs to provide an engaging encounter and adventure
Here I would like to take a moment to discuss something I find unique about the booklet. Each encounter area is described as seen in the picture below. A quick paragraph the GM should have knowledge of, but not the dreaded "Boxed Text" unpopular by many. These paragraphs provide a basic overview of the location the GM can use to describe and 'operate' within the room. Traps and basic layout are discussed here. There is also a block of lines for additional notes the GM might make. I find this interesting and likely very useful for GMs as they read through this in preparation to run the adventure. I found myself coming up with ideas on the room and wanting to drop quick notes to myself here.
You may notice that creatures, treasures and the like seem to be missing here and you would be correct, these are listed out later in the book:
I find this an interesting method for describing the abbey. At first read I liked it, a good deal in fact. I was able to read through the abbey and get a solid feel of the layout, the former and current uses for the rooms. I felt I had a good mental picture of the ruins and could run a group through the place. Then I got to the "Matrix" as it is called and that all changed. I found the two locations of text, pretty far from each other, to be a tad annoying as I flipped back and forth.
This could just be me as I like to read the room description and then look at the map. I tend to use my visual senses to to piece information to tie text to image in my mind (I know this from my military training and reading mission orders and maps). So I found myself having to flip from the description text, to the map, then to the matrix to get a clear picture of what the room is like. This is not terrible, but certainly a design choice that I would think twice before using myself. I certainly DO LIKE the empty area for GMs to write notes, this is brilliant and something I may incorporate into my own publishing material.
Overall, the Abbey is nice but man I think it will be deadly. The details laid out in the Matrix are pretty tough, and numerous enough that it will take a pretty good, and smart, group to make it through the place alive.
The 'Setting' Part of the Adventure Setting
The second part of the book is a combination of a setting, the Matrix and a local lore section, adding up to approximately half the book.
The setting is great, this part of the book truly shines. Normally some adventures have a page or so about the area around the dungeon but this is about ten pages and details the locations, the religions a good section on the important NPCs in the town. This section is simply stupendous. It follows the same format as the Abbey section: a short paragraph with details on a location or place and a section for notes form the GM.
This may seem trivial to some but I can clearly see it being used and being very useful during the game. Perhaps the GM drops in the name or detail not in the booklet when his players visit the chapel, he can write it directly there. Most GMs I know keep a notebook for notes they take during the game, I myself have horrible memory and run the game by the seat of my pants, so having a spot right there in the book for me to take notes? Brilliant!
Below is the only map you are going to see of the town. I love it. Has the feel of the rest of the artwork in the book and certainly evokes the feel that this book is going for. You know I love maps but this one is perfect. I think it fits in with some of the Carcosa-ish maps you see floating around as well.
After reading this book I really feel the setting portion of the book is a winner. The adventure is good as well but I felt this part of the book really shined. It hits just the right level of details, provides enough interesting facts for a GM without becoming some massive historical guide for a fantasy world. I particularly love the historically sound bits about a newer religion absorbing and slightly changing the pagan religion it replaced to help it gain acceptance.
I really like the booklet and think it is a great product. While I am not enamored with the splitting of the treasure/monsters from the description of the rooms (too much flipping) it is not something that would make me not like the product. The layout is perfect, the art is fitting and they have done a great job on writing and editing this booklet. As P&P is simple but still old school, this adventure setting can easily be translated over to another game system. In fact, I am thinking of running for my group which is currently enjoying D&D 5e, the switch over would be a very simple thing to accomplish.
There is nothing outlandish or crazy or off the wall here, so do not go in expecting a homosexual hydra with laser for eyeballs or giant space rocks that cause people to sprout a penis in their forehead. This is an old school, straight laced adventure of heroes vs monsters.
I would recommend this to others, especially those who like Pits & Perils and old school games, but even to those who enjoy other game systems. I would say 4 out of 5 stars.