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Isle of the Unknown
 
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Average Rating:3.7 / 5
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Isle of the Unknown
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Isle of the Unknown
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Jukka S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/15/2012 05:11:10
Review originally posted at http://nitessine.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/review-isle-of-the-
-unknown/

Along with Carcosa, last Thursday saw the release of Isle of the Unknown, a 125-page full-colour hardcover setting book. Like Carcosa, it is written by Geoffrey McKinney and published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and it is a sandbox setting.

The pages of Isle of the Unknown are liberally sprinkled with art, from small monster pieces by Amos Orion Sterns to the full-page magic user illustrations by Jason Rainville. It is laid out in a clear, readable fashion and is nice to look at. Unfortunately, the full-page pieces have printed out rather dark, which is clear when comparing them to the PDF version, which looks much nicer.

The PDF is not as nifty as Carcosa, in that there are no hyperlinks in the text or the map, but what it does do better than Carcosa is pagination. While Carcosa’s page numbers do not match up from page to PDF due to each page spread being counted as a single page, this has somehow been fixed in Isle of the Unknown. I have no comprehension of the wizardry required for such feats, but evidently it can be done. This is the one thing that Isle of the Unknown does better than Carcosa. Mind you, the lack of hyperlinks in Isle of the Unknown is not as bad a thing as it might be in another type of book, because the only thing you would want hyperlinked is the hex descriptions, all of which are easily accessible via bookmarks.

The two books are good examples of how PDF publishing should be done in general. You have all these interesting options to increase usability that the dead tree edition is lacking, so why not use them? I think the bare minimum should be an option to turn off background art so stuff can be printed without wasting any printer ink, a liquid that, by weight, is more expensive than human blood, crude oil, or gold. At least nobody is trying to peddle us files without bookmarks anymore, though I own a few examples like that as well.

Ruleswise, it’s old-school D&D and ought to be compatible with pretty much whatever version you want. Armour Class is expressed in terms like “as leather”, so you won’t even need to figure out whether it’s counting up or down or where the starting point is.
The Lay of the Land

Isle of the Unknown is a sandbox setting. We have an island, slightly under 35,000 square miles in size, divided up into 330 hexes, each of which covers the area of some 86 square miles. Each hex has something of interest. Broadly speaking, these can be divided up into monsters, magic-users, statues and towns. The latter are of the least interest, at least to the writer, and we’re only given population figures and perhaps a plot hook for each.

The book’s setting defaults to a sort of medieval Mediterranean. Architecture and statues are described as Greek or Roman, a few NPCs referred to as Turkish or Arabic and references to the real world are abundant. However, as the preface explains, everything can be changed easily, which is also why no proper names are given. Nearly all of the clerics on the island are described as wearing red surcoats with white crosses, which is how the Knight Hospitallers used to dress at one point in their history. Incidentally, the introduction also mentions that “the societies, flora, and fauna of this predominantly mountainous and wooded isle resemble those of the French territory of Auvergne circa A.D. 1311,” where the Hospitallers controlled a grand priory. While I am not certain and there’s a woeful gap in my education here, I suspect that McKinney is trying to work in a reference to Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne. I wonder if reading the stories would give some sort of context to the isle and its weirdness.

Anyway, the three other things this island has in abundance. Weird monsters! I haven’t counted, but I think there are over a hundred different monsters on the isle. These range from giant parrots that are on fireand humanoid swans with human faces on their chests that shoot strength-draining feathers to a vaguely lizardlike creature that “looks like a slightly elongated raspberry”, and koalas with suction cups. All of them are illustrated, which is nice, since some of them (like the raspberry thing) would be really difficult to visualize otherwise. They don’t have much in the way of context or ecology or any sort of explanation. That’s all up to the GM. What matters is that they’re there, they’re weird, and most of them are hostile.

Then there are magic users. Here and there, scattered across the isle, are secluded magic users with strange and unique powers. They are mostly not hostile, and indeed, fighting them is almost certainly a losing proposition. Not all of them are illustrated, but thirteen of them are illustrated in a series of zodiac-themed, full-page art pieces that I like very much. They are also weird.

Finally, there are statues. Scattered across the isle are mysterious magical statues with strange properties. Some of them are hot to the touch, some of them grant blessings, some of them stand a good chance of killing you. The only illustrated statue is the one on the cover.

There isn’t much in the way of history or background to the isle and its high strangeness, just a list of legends that may or may not be true. The hexes do not exist in vacuums, though, and construct small implied stories of their own. For instance, the villagers in this hex consider the forest in that hex a taboo and may get cross if the PCs go there. Such detail is sparse, however.

In conclusion, Isle of the Unknown is a very good-looking book. It’s an interesting sandbox setting, though the weirdness wanders into the realm of absurd comedy a bit too often to remain effective. The cartoonish art style of the monsters does not exactly help. Still, a capable GM knows what to keep, what to drop and what to adjust, and though it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere, I get the feeling that the setting isn’t even meant to be used straight out of the book.

For a full disclosure, I received my copy from the publisher as thanks for helping him unload the pallets of Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown, and am probably strongly biased.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Isle of the Unknown
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/22/2012 07:22:05
originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/02/22/tabletop-review-isle-of-
-the-unknown/


I fucking hate Tolkien. More concisely, I fucking hate the role-playing game legacy of Tolkien. I have no use for grandiose magic hurling wizards, polymath elves, and stand-offish rangers with roguish gruffness covering hearts of gold. That so much of the RPG community spends their precious imaginations and time retracing the ponderous path towards Mt. Doom breaks my heart.

What I want from a fantasy setting is the exact opposite of the Hobbit. I want a world that Dio would sing about. Give me demons who fly about on leathery wings and towering giants who stomp whole villages to dust on a whim. This is my desire, my dream, my wish. Too much of the D&D community is stuck with gnomes and anime scale swords. Spare me.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess have thus far proven to be reliable purveyors of fantasy that lives outside the elves and longsword +1 paradigm. The Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Game is a witty, strange take on the 70’s style D&D I grew up on and it has quickly become my favorite system. Carcosa topped the Grindhouse edition of LOTFP with a setting that can only be called bracing. Wind-swept, chaotic, and blasphemous, Carcosa is a world apart from Forgotten Realms dreck I have grown to loathe. Then came Isle of the Unknown.


As with every other LOTFP product, the cover is eye-catching. Ghostly colored, with an eerie glow, the cover painting is quite unlike any I have ever seen. Cynthia Shephard really out did herself with this piece, as it is evocative without being as blatant as most RPG book covers. The blue figure playing the harp may only be a statue, but it gives the impression that on the Isle of the Unknown, even this can be a startling encounter. It becomes very clear from the outset that this is not a bunch of happy companions striding to the Shire.

The front and back cover interiors are festooned with hex maps of the Isle. What really makes the Isle of the Unknown come to life is the interior art. There are over 100 monsters and each of them is given a full color illustration. This is a far cry from the days of the Monster Manual, when only a percentage of the monsters where drawn and all the art was black and white. There are several full page paintings, as well, and each is as good as the cover. The colors are often lavish and bright, which some might not care for, but I find the saturation refreshingly different.

It might go without saying, this being a Lamentations of the Flame Princess book and all, but the binding, paper, and production values are amazing. The paper has a nice heavy feel and the spine is well sewn. This is a book that is made to last. It is the same size as Carcosa, though it is a much slimmer volume. This is the third product of theirs I have reviewed and each has been made with extreme care. In an era when RPG products are increasingly either digital downloads or made for short edition cycles, it is a pleasure to encounter books that are built to last.

The actual gaming content of Isle of the Unknown is quite different from anything you may have encountered prior. Each and every one of the hex panels on the map is described, some with a couple sentences, others warranting fairly long paragraphs. The encounters each hex contains are beyond varied, drifting from brutal combats with fairly normal opposition to Dadaist situations that play like a D&D version of a Dali painting. There is no over-arching meta plot to be explored in the next book, no sensitive portrayals of the life cycle of orcs. This is old school encounter style gaming.

Much will be made of the more madcap monsters within the book. Yes, there is a pyramid shaped eagle monster that resembles a bird that swallowed a four sided die. Why wouldn’t there be? This is the Isle of the Unknown, after all. If fighting a 24′ tall deer monster isn’t what you want, go play Greyhawk or something.

Gaming use for the Isle of the Unknown is an interesting conundrum. There is enough weirdness and verve to fill a whole campaign, but I have a hard time imagining someone using the Isle of the Unknown as a full time setting. In my humble, and largely irrelevant, opinion, the best use for Isle of the Unknown is as a setting for a handful of adventures, be it a one off or a short story arc. By reducing player exposure to the Isle, the otherness of the monsters and setting is maintained.

Ultimately, the value of Isle of the Unknown is as a source of inspiration. This is a work of fantasy in the vein of my high school notebook, a genre I quite enjoy. This is 128 pages of madness and fun with no peer. For the enterprising and creative DM, this is a rich resource that can be mined for years. If you want something off the shelf to drop into a campaign whole cloth, this Isle might be a bit too Unknown for you. Every time I turned the page, I expected to see Dorito dust fingerprints on the page. Few OSR products truly evoke the spirit of 70′s D&D, but Isle of the Unknown is as close as I have come to those halcyon days.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Isle of the Unknown
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by David B. S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/02/2012 23:17:36
Simply put, Isle of the Unknown offers a wealth of ideas suitable to drop into any fantasy campaign. The isle can be used as such, but creative GMs can also use this resource to pepper their existing world with various encounters, rumors, and adventure location incentives.

The isle is divided and numbered by hex, with various encounter descriptions described with just enough detail. The creatures have a non-typical twist to them, giving the isle as a whole, a weird-fantasy vibe- not too dark and not too whimsical.

A very pleseant product overall. I highly recommend it.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Isle of the Unknown
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Alexander O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/19/2011 08:20:36
Something with the title Isle of the Unknown conjures up an island far from the outposts of civilization, shrouded in mystery, brimming with strangeness and wonders. In this case, only the first aspect is untrue since the island in question is 35,00 square miles in size, broken up into 330 land hexes (each 86 square miles), and each hex is keyed with a central point of interest which includes a number of towns and one city (ruled by a king). But there is mystery, strangeness and wonder aplenty on it.

The island in question is 35,00 square miles in size, broken up into 330 land hexes (each 86 square miles), and is described in much the same way that the Carcosa sandbox setting was -- each hex is keyed with a central point of interest.

Comparisons to Carcosa are unavoidable because Isle of the Unknown is written by the same author, published by same publisher, and is presented in roughly the same format (which is not a bad one) as Carcosa, though it does lack the extensive hyperlinking. So let's take a look at what some of those similarities are.

Like Carcosa, the hexmap is numbered -- each numbered hex corresponds to a location or entity of interest. Like Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown is not a sourcebook that deals in minutae, but provides sufficient information for a GM to flesh out (or even run a fast-and-loose game, since Hit Dice, hit points, and other key information are provided without resorting to stat blocks).

Unlike Carcosa, however, Isle of the Unknown is less concerned with emphasizing the non-standard nature of the setting. On the contrary, Isle of the Unknown takes great pains to allow easy slotting of the setting into an existing campaign -- the culture and political structures of the cities and towns and churches are tackled with the lightest of broad strokes.

Instead the book focuses on three primary types of encounters / hexes of interest scattered throughout the island: magic-users, statues, and creatures.

* The magic-users are clearly non-standard ones: they tend to wear armor not normally associated with their kind, have special innate abilities above and beyond normal mages, and tend to enjoy painted full-page, full-color depictions (which are quite evocative).
* The statues are strange, powerful, and attired in clothes and armor evocative of a fallen Roman Empire (though clearly, one can insert the attire of another great fallen empire appropriate to one's campaign) and can grant abilities, aid or curse visitors, or attack them outright.
* The creatures are primarily chimerical creatures, ranging from larger versions of normal animals (a 6' tall roadrunner), twisted versions of normal creatures (an 8' tall humanoid swan with sleeping human faces on its torso), and -- of course -- mix-and-match combinations of creatures.

Taken individually, these encounters can be used as a magical rogues gallery, a statue encounter list, and a large monster's manual. Together, it suggests something else: perhaps the last flowering remnants of a vastly powerful empire, or a land touched by forgotten gods. The magic-users as described and depicted evoke the feeling of Greek or Roman gods, playfully skirting direct analogues and clearly being less powered; the statues smack of powerfully wrought enchantments that once served some greater purpose, and the creatures seem like echoes of an age when rampant magical experimentation on creatures was the norm.

There are, of course, other types of encounters, but the preponderance of these three suggest that a campaign geared towards exploring the unknown nature of the island would do well to focus on these elements.

Isle of the Unknown wraps all this up with the keyed map, printable Player and GM maps, and appendices that list the locations of all magic-users, all statues, and even provide a visual listing of all the creatures grouped by HD rating.

All in all, a rich setting with a lot of usable material the could have perhaps benefited from a few more hints on the origins and nature of the mysteries of the island -- without necessarily setting it in stone, of course.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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