Very rarely do I find a product that I makes me want to use every part of it. Sometimes I find a good feat, or a fun looking class, but for the most part, I tend to pick and choose bits ad pieces from a variety of products when creating a new character, or ploting a new campaign. Baba Yaga, the first product in Dog Soul Publishing?s Folkloric line is the first product in a long time that makes me want to use everything in it. And there?s a lot of good stuff in here.
For those who might not be familiar with the legends of Baba Yaga, she is a legendary witch/hag who haunts Russian forests in her chicken-legged hut looking for children to devour. But it?s not really important whether or not you?re familiar with the Baba Yaga stories, because after reading this product, you will know everything there is to know about the hag.
The fluff to crunch ratio of Baba Yaga is perfectly balanced. The book opens with a fiction piece that sets the tone for the entire product - Dark, grim (should that be Grimm?), and mysterious. The book starts of by presenting all the elements of setting in strictly vague terms. This is an excellent technique, as it allows the DM to allow the players to read these parts and get a feel for the setting without having everything spoiled.
After the opening fiction we dive right into the inhabitants of Rassiya, the setting locale. Again, these really stand out. There are plenty of characters here, and each one is just dripping with plot hooks. From the Three Maids who were all changed by their encounters with Baba Yaga, to great monsters like the Three Horsemen, the Leshye (blue-skinned satyr-kin), the Lebedinoe (swan people), and the Bolotnitsa (evil snake-tailed mermaids) the inhabitants of the lads of Rassiya are vividly described, and again, each of hem is brimming with plot hooks, as well as a host of different ways to connect them together.
It?s worth commenting here on the connectedness of this product. Everything and I mean everything in this book is connected. As a DM this is ideal for me. I can have the PC?s meet a few townsfolk in the village of Derevna, and no matter who they speak to, there?s a reason for them to seek Baba Yaga, or go on some quest that eventually will lead to encountering the hag. Even the more random monsters like the Bolotnitsa have reasons to connect to other creatures and locations in Rassiya. This is for me the strongest aspect of Baba Yaga. It makes my job as DM so easy! No matter what plot hook I want to spring on the players, I can be assured that they are likely to find more and more reasons to adventure. This isn?t a ?fire and forget? product. This is a book that is likely to form the foundation of an entire campaign, or more likely several campaigns.
The locations detailed are as well done as the characters and monsters. The maps are top notch, and each area has a clear and easy to read encounter key. Again, no matter what location the PC?s choose to visit first, adventure awaits them. Want to purchase silver weapons from Sir Yebriniy's Silvers? He?s sure to tell them of his ancient quest to slay a great beast. Need a good night?s sleep? Those who stay in Padushka?s Snatvornaye Inn are certain to get just that, and a little adventure thrown in to boot. There are random encounter tables for each location as well, which once again makes this book easy to use and very DM friendly.
Of course the product wouldn?t be complete if it didn?t finally get around to delivering the straight dope on the title character ? Baba Yaga. Again, the work here is outstanding. Suitably horrific stats are provided for Baba Yaga, along with a back story that really explains who this hag is, and gives some suggestions as to why she does what she does. More importantly, there are excellent instructions for how to handle encounters between the hag and the PC?s. This is a big help, especially for DM?s who haven?t dealt with creatures of this power level before. (And Baba Yaga is just as powerful as she should be! CR: 20!) Every possible encounter the PC?s might have when visiting the hag is fully detailed with stats and plots galore. Everything from the magical talking creatures and items that guard the witch?s yard, to the precise DC for a Bardic Knowledge check to know the proper form of address for the infamous chicken-legged hut is laid out in exquisite detail.
Another feature of this PDF that really lends a lot of utility, as well as ?replay value? to the file is the random chars for traps, treasures and magic items that might be found in Baba Yaga?s hut. These charts are simple to use, but can generate a massive amount of variety. Best of all, these charts create items that fit the mood of an encounter with this legendary hag. Is the potion she gave the PC?s a blessing or a curse? Should they risk poking around in her pantry? Or is that a recipe for disaster?
Author Michael Fiegel really goes the extra mile with his NPC?s. Not only do we get stats for all the major players in Rassiya, we also get a section covering some sample dialogue and reactions these characters might have with PC?s. Again, this is a big help to DM?s. It?s great to have a well developed character fleshed out in a book. It?s even better when the author explains what you?re supposed to do with this character. This has always been a pet peeve of mine in setting material. Sure, I know Mordenkainen and Elminster are powerful magi. But how am I supposed to use these goons in my game? No such problem here, everyone from Baba Yaga herself, right through Kookla the living doll, and her mistress has enough detail to use right out of the box. These characters have personality. They aren?t just a collection of numbers and feats, they have personality and motivations. It makes a world of difference.
The file closes with three appendices that continue to add value to this book. The first is a full racial description for the Lebedinoe swan-folk. All the information needed to use these fey as a LA+3 PC race is included.
The second appendix is the very much needed glossary and pronunciation guide. Let?s face it, with names like Koschei the Deathless, Misha Skomorokh, and Chyorniy, it?s quite helpful to have some idea how to actually say these words.
The final appendix is an excellent segment on Rassiyan naming conventions. This is well researched, and will be very helpful for a DM who wants to create Rassiyan adventures of his own, or for players who need suitable names for their Rassiyan PC?s.
And before I forget, the artwork is just as good as the writing. Reuben C. Dodd has done some great work here. The cover (which in my opinion is the weakest piece in the book) is an eerie image of a young child?s face cradled in a marled crone?s hand. The interior illustrations perfectly capture the mood of the dark Russian forests that spawned these legends. The portrait of Baba Yaga on page nine conveys an air of malice and cunning that perfectly suits the old witch. Evocative moody stuff to be sure. I?m looking forward to seeing more of his Dodd?s work in the future.
There you have it. From start to finish, this is a first class product. Whether you?re just looking for some new monsters to spice up a game, or a handy village to drop into your world, or even a full-blown campaign setting Baba Yaga has what you?re looking for. If you?re an old grogard like me, you?ll appreciate seeing this old favorite get a new treatment that handles these old legends so thoroughly and in such a playable manner. The random traps, magic items and treasure charts also have a real ?old-school? feel that I enjoyed.
<br><br><b>LIKED</b>: What DIDN'T I like about this product? From top to bottom Baba Yaga is first rate. The witch herself is suitably powerful, and many an adventure could be built around her. I really enjoyed how well connected everything in he book is. The characters all have plot ooks that lead to locations. The locations have plot hooks that lead to items. The items lead back o characters, and it all circles back to the old crone herself.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: I really can't find anything negative to say about this book. It's that good. The cover left me a little cold. It's moody, but doesn't really portray any action. That's a very minor complaint about a superb product.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Excellent<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>
[5 of 5 Stars!]