The Shadowsfall Shadow Plane Player's Guide from Jon Brazer Enterprises is one of those pdfs I have been looking forward to, and initial scans through the book do not disappoint, as this is one very professional looking project. Filled with a blend of color and B&W artwork, and one piece of B&W cartography that very much reminded me of long ago days of drawing up maps of fantastical lands for games with friends, the formatting adheres to the standard dual column approach. 34 pages total, with only four of those going to covers, OGL and TOC...leaving 30 pages to the material itself. Well, almost, there's an intro, and a cool coversheet of sorts (a “letter” with illustration) that starts us off.
So...Shadowsfall. Much anticipated as a setting, and here I have yet another piece of this puzzle, this time in the form of a player's guide. And what pray tell does Mr. McCoy choose to cover in this guide? Read on my friends, and I will do my best to cover the pertinent reasons you NEED this book.
Right off the bat it is important to understand that in the Plane of Shadow we are not the top of the food chain when it comes to playable races, nor even the densest population factor. To put it short humans are pretty much outnumbered. In terms of most per capita, the title belongs to the walking dead, as the Shadowsfall setting is about as close as one can get to playing a zombie apocalypse setting without abandoning the fantasy genre. There is a very real underlying threat of the undead permeating this setting, which brings with it the obvious darkness that makes this setting a real treat for those looking to add some Gothic horror to their standard campaign. Second, Shadowsfall, or the Plane of Shadow if you prefer, is an immense realm filled with the forgotten and lost material, places and people of countless worlds and realms. The possibilities for a campaign are insane in that there are so many different cultures worth of items, material and locations all tucked into one place, just waiting to be discovered.
Introduced in the player's guide we finally get stats for the beautiful Umbral Kobold that graces the cover, and that Dale has been teasing us with. An offshoot of the standard kobold race, they are the descendents of a clan of kobold who found themselves trapped upon the shadow plane, and with no heroes to cull their numbers grew and evolved to survive their new home. Also introduced here is the Wanderer, an intriguing player race for a fallen angel essentially...but think more in terms of City of Angels as opposed to Fire and Brimstone here...these celestials asked to leave service for whatever reason, and were granted their leave. Both new races are also accompanied with an archetype suited not only for them, but the shadow plane specifically.
New class options include a new order for cavaliers, new bloodlines, evolutions, hexes and schools continue to provide more options to truly fine tune your character to the shadow plane before delving to deep into these lands. Of these options, the new school of elemental magic was probably my personal favorite, Shadow. Quoting straight from the text, as I think this really speaks for itself...”Shadow represents the memory of what was, the loss of what is, and the broken dreams of the future. It is the lifelessness and despair that comes from a former glory wasting away...” Starting to get the idea that perhaps the term Shadow Plane is referring to more than just that thing you cast on the wall yet?
New plane of course gives us new familiar options, some being shade variants, others being new to the list entirely...giant nightcrawler anyone? Or perhaps a riding dodo?? Nothing says don't mess with me like riding into combat on a dodo...lol
As is the standard within a player's guide for a setting, we are given a brief description and write up for several communities and settlements, their people and basic traits. The immense difference here in looking at how these communities interact is that they essentially don't. Outside the walls of fortified structures lies the undead hordes. Wandering through what is known as the Outlands, or the lands between strongholds, the zombie population and random critters make sure that travel between strongholds is a dangerous enough proposition that one does not partake of it for no reason short of dire importance. Which is why it is easy to see how each of these stronghold settlements have become as vastly different as they have. Each coming to be as a means of defending a place to settle and live against raiders, monsters and the undead in general, they all have adapted a different outlook on what is the best path to take in doing so. Strongholds such as Blackbat – in business with vampire lords trading captured zombies to be used as labor in mines collecting material; Bloodchain – ruled by kytons, the humanoids within these walls pay for their safety by giving in to the sadistic desires of their masters; Kingsgrave – a once mighty stronghold complete with magical orchards providing plentiful food and a contingent of golems protecting them from the undead hordes. All was perfection until the golems turned on their masters, leaving this once mighty region into a ghostland still filled with plentiful foods and treasures for those willing to brave the still patrolling golem guardians. These are but a sampling of the settlements and strongholds detailed here, and truthfully, each has an interesting enough flavor that I would love to see them all expanded upon in future volumes.
Thirteen new feats flesh out the next section of the book, with such offerings as Shadow Style (Combat, Style) – increasing base land speed, and adding your Wis bonus to Fly and Stealth checks. Additionally we are given 2 feats that chain with this combat style to further add to the enhancements. Augment Undead does exactly what you might be thinking it does, adding to STR and HD for undead you create. Fighting Retreat stood out to me as one of those feats that I can see a great deal of intelligent players taking, as it allows for an attack action during a withdraw action...and let's face it, sometimes you just have to run rather than die. And it is always a good idea to be able to fight as you go until you are clear enough to run.
New equipment options include the wartrident, a variant pike style weapon, and several alchemical items like the deathburn and holy orb. Deathburn is a liquid that after application to an undead will change their physical damage to acidic, or cause acidic damage when applied to living tissue. The holy orb is essentially a glass grenade filled with holy water. Two vehicles are presented here as well, one strictly realistic in its design, the other following the eldritch/alchemical route.
Four pages are dedicated to laying out the pantheons of the Shadow Plane, explaining the portfolios of the gods, the viewpoints of their followers, and the subdomains associated to the former. Here within are the Kyton subdomain (Evil, Law) and the Shadow subdomain (Darkness). We're also given a new mystery for oracles, Joy.
Six new spells are introduced with a section opener explaining that within the shadow plane many spells more common on other planes are less effective...I would have liked to have seen perhaps more detail to this statement in game mechanics. It states that fireball would be one of those less effective spells, but does not give us any stats to show this. I am assuming this information will be within the setting guide itself for GM's, as opposed to the player's guide...so I shall be looking for it. If the statement is going to be made that common spells are less useful, and the subschool of shadow is in fact more powerful on this plane (which makes perfect sense) I would think some form of demonstrating this would be extremely useful.
As with the spells, we are given six new magical items as well, with a brief intro stating that very few magical items are actually created within this plane, as most people are concerned more with the task of day to day survival. Amongst these items we have a Cowl of Undead Command, a Kyton Slavery Whip and a Cloak of Darkness. Now in direct contrast we close the book with a chapter detailing several common magical items that have found their way to the plane of shadow, and been altered. And by altered, well, I mean altered...lol. Take the Necklace of Exploding Beads for instance, appearing as a standard type IV necklace of fireballs the beads on this necklace explode instantly upon removal from the strand, not giving you the chance to throw them at a foe....I so want to drop a few of these for my PCs to find...(insert evil laugh)...But, as cool as this section is, I think it further supports my problem with the new spell chapter. The plane changes things, and the time was taken to show that for a few magical items to help clarify this, but the same level of attention was not afforded spells. By stating that spells don't work as effectively, but not detailing any of what is meant by that, I feel a little shortchanged...especially after reading through the excellent magical items section.
OK...final tally of thoughts here. PDF is fully bookmarked, which always makes me happy. TOC was not linked, which makes me frown, but truly, that is a personal thing since bookmarks handle that anyway. I managed to find one editing error in 34 pages...one. That's pretty good, good enough I'm not even considering it as a negative. The art ranges in quality, with a few pieces being truly excellent, the writing was all of good caliber. The idea that has grown into Shadowsfall is interesting and original enough in its approach that it feels brand new without losing the touch of familiar that a setting needs to truly be inviting. That alone deserves it high praise, as that is not an easy task to pull off. So...my feeling that a more expanded explanation of why/how some spells are not as effective would be helpful being my only true negative...and seriously, if that's all I can find to dig at you should have realized by now that this is an excellent player's guide to a fantastically written setting.
I am going with a rating of 5 for this book, as my only complaints came down to personal preferences, not actual issues with the product itself.
[5 of 5 Stars!]