The Argyle Lorebook is a 160 page pdf d20 campaign setting, the first product from a new publishing company called Silver Oak Studios. It's always good to see new publishers step into the d20 market, and Silver Oak studios have done well with this campaign setting that details the land of Argyle, a land with an interesting background and scope. Silver Oak Studios have already populated their website with additional material for the lands of Argyle - it's good to see publishers give good settings the support they deserve.
The Argyle Lorebook comes as a single pdf file, including both extensive bookmarks and a full table of contents. On top of that, there is a wonderfully useful glossary and index at the end of the pdf. It's a beefy pdf to want to print out, but the borders, background and art is light enough that it should easily be possible. Artwork within the pdf ranges from good to excellent, and there are some interesting and provoking images within the pages of the pdf.
The main map of the lands of Argyle is a little disappointing in that it doesn't detail a huge amount of the campaign setting, mostly the major cities and a few other locations. Their website provides a download for a higher quality map, but it still lacks a lot of detail. I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not, or even whether it was intentional in the light of perhaps future products. Empty maps provide DMs with the opportunity to fill details in as they like, whereas full maps make less work for DMs that want to get started. Given the amount of detail put into the areas of the pdf that are on the map, it's disappointing to see very little said about the rest of Argyle. The geography section thankfully does provide a little more in the form of smaller maps describing the immediate lands surrounding the major cities of Argyle. A neat feature of the map is that it is hyperlinked to the relevant text in the pdf. A good presentation idea.
Writing and editing is good, the latter only revealing some minor errors scattered throughout the pdf. The writing is fluid and vivid, and easy to read in a way that captures the imagination. The Argyle Lorebook as a campaign setting details a huge amount of material that is largely 'fluff' in nature. There is very little 'crunch' which is probably a good thing since most of the mechanics that is in the pdf is based on the 3e ruleset and not the 3.5e ruleset. Given the small amount of it, it should not be too difficult to make the minor changes involved. There were one or two instance where the mechanics weren't the best, mostly in reference to giving races a +1 modifier to an ability score rather than +2, which is generally not the best design.
The pdf is divided into seven main sections, each covering a different aspect of Argyle - history, races, classes, prestige classes, pantheon, geography and guilds. Most of the material is applicable to both DMs and players, although DMs may wish to not reveal some of the information about Argyle to all players. Argyle is a low-magic setting, for those players and DMs interested in that type of campaign setting, and does a good job of presenting a grim and struggling land wishing to escape the clutches of a past brought about by the powers of magic.
The first section of the pdf presents a history of the lands of Argyle as told from the perspective of a fictional tale involving members of each of Argyle's races. Not only does this give a brief overview of the land's history, but it also indicates how the race relations have developed. I quite liked reading through this, as it immediately set the tone and scope for the setting, and the roleplaying opportunities that the land provides. One of the excellent features of this chapter is the timeline - so few campaign settings provide one, and I personally find it immensely useful as a brief summary of major events. Argyle's history is largely dominated by the Age of Dominion, an age where the mage-kings of the land enslaved the various races and cultures of Argyle, eventually resulting in a devastating plague. The 'end' of the mage-kings has resulted in a land that fears magic, and is very tense about its use.
Section two details the races of the lands of Argyle as well as how these races relate to each other. All the standard races are present within the campaign setting - dwarf, elf, halfling, gnome, half-orc, half-elf and human. Each race is detailed in vivid detail describing its history, its location and culture, religion, relationships to other races, suitability as adventurers and mechanical details. While only the core races are used, the background and history provides something that it tantalisingly different to the norm, and should make for good roleplaying opportunities.
I particularly liked the creation myths of the races. For example, each dwarven race was created associated with one type of ore. When the god of the dwarves completed his creation, he wiped his hands clean on the forests of Argyle, scattering his divine creative power and accidentally creating a new race of dwarves. Sidebars scattered throughout the section detail such things as the Forsaken (elves cut off from the other elves by severing the Cord that connects them), languages in Argyle and Dwarven Slayers (expelled dwarves). It's a good and often fascinating read, and captures the feel of the setting within the races as well, making them part of the campaign world in tangible way.
The third section details the races as considered from the point of view of the various classes of Argyle. All the standard classes are present, and each is discussed in impressive detail regarding races' attitude and applicability to each class. The write-ups also serve to expand on further racial tribes, groups and cultures that are scattered across the lands of Argyle. One of the fundamental aspects of Argyle is that magic is feared and its users hated. This is touched upon in this chapter when discussing various spellcasting classes, such as the cleric, wizard and sorcerer, but it would've been nice to see a chapter devoted to magic, its nature, etc.
The fourth section presents a new prestige class, the ShroudWalker, and a NPC based on the prestige class. The Shroud is a undead filled area of fog in Argyle's North Cape, and none know of its origin or purpose or nature. Shroudwalkers are devoted to eradicating undead on Argyle, and gain a whole host of undead-related abilities making the Shroudwalker the ultimate undead-destroying machine. A strong prestige class, but very focussed.
Section five details the pantheon of Argyle. The gods of Argyle are divided into two groups - the scions, gods created by the creator and responsible for destroying the creator, and ascended, mortals that have ascended into godhood. The pantheon describes each of the gods in terms of their dogma, followers and mechanical details. The scions include Argarath, Barana, Chorolos and Mirimil, each responsible for creating the races of Argyle and some of its foul beasts and gods (Grollob, a god created by the scions, not the creator and hence a 'failed' effort). These are also very powerful, in the sense that they allow worshiper clerics access to all domains, something which in concept seems like a good idea, but might not be in practice. I'd have preferred to have seen them given domains associated with their creed or tasks, rather than simply all. The afterlife is also discussed, providing a rich indication of what happens when creatures die. The ascended are also described in rich detail, and this pantheon should provide an exciting description of the gods of Argyle.
Section six is the largest in the pdf and details the geography of Argyle, for the most part the major locations and cities where Argyle's races reside. As mentioned earlier, the maps are disappointing in that they do not contain a lot of the information within this section, making it difficult to find any specific location on the map. Only ten locations are described in detail, but wonderfully so, and give a rich flavor to the campaign settings, its cities and its regions. It contains some interesting and innovative descriptions and areas. The ten locations described each contain details on demographics, culture, city/location, places of note in the city, organisations, surrounding lands, regional history, and rumours regarding the city and its lands.
The ten cities described are Aberdan (a human city without a king), Argon (home of the dwarves), Caern Tor (a human port city on Argyle's Halod Isle), Estellond (the elven homeland), Hemdale (a dangerous human settlement near the Shroud), Hozz Le'Dayth (the gnome homeland), Nirre (a mixed race trading city), Port Hope (a largely human port city), Shroudgard (another bastion against the Shroud), and Soberdan (a city of brigands and thieves). Each city and its local lands is described in wonderful detail, giving the DM and player a good indication of the life in the city and its relationship to Argyle. Cities sometimes come with maps, which would allow DMs to easily run city-based campaigns in Argyle. The meatiest section of the pdf, but also the best, with tantalising reading, interesting cities and locations, and many ideas for adventuring.
The last section gives a detailed overview of the guilds of Argyle. Mayn of these are touched upon in the various city writeups, but this section gives a complete overview of the guilds, including such details as members, emblems, fees, admittance and background. A fascinating read with some good and useful guilds, including BoneWatch (warriors of the North Cape), Dire Hounds (ruthless bounty hunters), and the White Mages (devoted to changing the perceptions of the populace regarding mages and magic). A total of 11 organisations are detailed, each receiving about one page of attention and expanding on already given information.
The pdf concludes with a set of appendices, which contain details on the Argyle calendar, seasons and festival days, iconic characters of the campaign setting (with exceptional art), and a monstrous society, the Black Renders, a group of troglodytes.
The Argyle Lorebook is a fascinating glimpse at the lands of Argyle. It's very well detailed and interesting, and for the most part very complete. This is a flavorful book contains vast amounts of detail on all things pertaining to Argyle. The history, cities, races and organisations tie together nicely to form a useable framework and a strong campaign setting. The setting combines a good mix of roleplaying with low-magic adventuring and combat, as well as intrigue and much mystery. It's well written, solid, and well worth a look for those interesting in trying a different, solid setting. I certainly look forward to seeing what else Argyle and Silver Oak Studios have in store. For a first product and setting, this is very good.<br><br>
<b>LIKED</b>: The Argyle Lorebook presents a flavorful and detailed description of the lands of Argyle. Once a land dominated by mage-kings, it is now a place haunted by its past and with a hatred of magic. The races and history blend in well, as well as the numerous extensively detailed geography elements. An unique setting with an interesting flavor. Very good art and writing throughout the pdf.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: The maps was slightly on the sparse side, and didn't contain a fraction of the detail presented in the text. More smaller maps would've made the maps more useful. The setting is not strongly supported by new mechanics, and that which is there is mostly based on the 3e ruleset. I would've preferred to see a stronger mechanics base, something that will hopefully be evident in upcoming releases from Silver Oak Studios. A few minor editing errors here and there.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Very Good<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>
[4 of 5 Stars!]