Whilst all the noble houses are engrossed in the Game of Thrones - and those beholden to them get caught up in it, like it or not, especially when scheming turns to open skirmishing - there is one group that remains aloof, dedicated to a higher purpose. That purpose is the defence of Westeros from those that dwell in the far north, and that group is the Night's Watch. Clad in their distinctive black, they live an almost monastic existence - only men are accepted, and they are not permitted to marry - leaving home and family to serve until death on the Wall. This book contains all you need to know to create characters who are members of the Watch, run a Night's Watch campaign or otherwise have them feature in whatever is going on in your game.
The Introduction gives an overview of the Night's Watch and its role in Westeros society, and talks about how a Night's Watch campaign might appeal - especially to those who fancy exploration and combat (including combat against supernatural powers) over intrigue and scheming. There is a timeline showing the history of the Night's Watch and the Wall they are sworn to defend - it's been standing for over 8,000 years.
Then Chapter 1: The Night's Watch looks at every aspect of the organisation. It starts by looking at why anyone might take the black (as enlisting in the Night's Watch is commonly termed) - some by choice and some perforce... it is often offered to convicted criminals as an alternative to execution. One of the few truly egalitarian organisations in Westeros, it's somewhere that you prosper by your own merits alone without reference to your birth or status. Some younger sons who feel they'll never get a chance at heading up their house take this route, but so do some smallfolk who reckon they have the capability to be knights but lack the social standing. It can also provide better prospects for a bastard son than remaining at home ever could in the fiercely dynastic society of Westeros.
Once arrived all potential recruits undergo a common training. No matter where they come from or what their background might be, they learn to use a longsword and a heavy shield. Only those who were annointed knights before taking the black are excused - and they are expected to teach their martial skills to others. Only once a recruit has passed this basic training does he swear his oath - by the deities of their choice, there is a sept and a godswood available - and become a sworn brother of the Night's Watch. Then they are assigned to one of the various branches of service. Rangers go out into the wilderness north of the Wall, exploring and patrolling. Stewards practise crafts, hunt, farm and undertake administrative duties. Builders look after the fabric of the Wall itself, and of the castles built along its length.
Next we read ideas for running a Night's Watch campaign, beginning with some plot seeds to enliven the journey north and the training period should you decide to begin with the party having just decided (or been forced) to take the black. This is followed by a considerable amount of detail about the three branches, peppered with sample characters, and a look at society amongst the Watch and the ways in which they perceive status - seniority, length of service and accomplishment. The few actual offices - Lord Commander and the Firsts of each branch - are elected for life. There's quite a bit about desertion as well, more common than you might imagine given that it carries a death sentence. Notes explain how to incorporate this aspect into a more conventional game as a deserter or the Sworn Brothers chasing him interact with the party's house. The rest of the chapter covers creating specifically Night's Watch characters from scratch, as well as some archetypes to start you off, serve as exemplars or to use if you're in a hurry. Use these in conjuction with the regular rules to create characters best suited to take the black. There are also notes about creating castles along the Wall, perhaps to serve as your party's base of operations.
Moving on to Chapter 2: The Wall and the Gift, we read about the Wall in more detail - its history, what it's like and even how to get over it, not to mention defending it and the castles dotted along its length. Chief of these is Castle Black, the Night's Watch headquarters. Plenty of detail here to make it come to life in your game. Most of the others are abandoned, but there are short notes about each which may be expanded if you decide to reactivate them. Then we learn about the Gift, land immediately south of the Wall granted to the Night's Watch to enable them to be self-supporting. This chapter also contains information about day to day life and several mini-adventures based on ranging, as the patrols of the rangers are known, and other aspects of Night's Watch life.
Chapter 3: Beyond the Wall looks at those who live north of the Wall and the terrain in which they live. Read about the Free Folk and their society, the giants who ally with them, and the King-beyond-the-Wall who leads them, as well as other clans found in the frozen wastes. The geography is explained (as much as it is known...), and all the resources needed to create Wildling characters of your own are provided. You can also create entire tribes. Notes on combat beyond the Wall and the environmental hazards are followed by a selection of scenario ideas covering life amongst the Free Folk.
Finally Chapter 4: Lords of the Long Night addresses the Others, supernatural beings thought by some to be mere legend but who - as winter approaches - are beginning to appear again. There are more scenario ideas, but a word of warning: unlike virtually everthing else in this game, this section draws more on the authors' imaginations than the setting provided by George R.R. Martins! Purists may wish to leave this aside, others may find it a logical and worthwhile expansion - up to you to decide.
Overall, this book brings the Night's Watch to life and provides loads of scope for adventure. My only complaint is that venturing this close to the Wall is too darn cold!
[5 of 5 Stars!]