Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Thumble Review 2.0, first draft

The Hamlet of Thumble (Review 2.0)

This is actually the second review of Thumble I've written. The first was actually sort of a preview review, and was a capsule review (not playtest), from a manuscript.

I've actually been meaning to write a followup review for quite some time (6 months, I think), but I've always found it somewhat tricky writing adventure reviews. To a certain extent, reviewing sourcebooks (or capsule reviewing adventures) just describes the contents, and the gist of how they work. Adventures often require ficion writing, which I'm not great at. (Otherwise I would be writing short stories and novels, not writing reviews).

Anyway, it came out in the summer of last year, and was one of the first 3.5 D&D modules available. I call it a module, but it's really more of an "Adventure Setting", which is basically the authors word for a setting built up by several adventures/sourcebooks. Basically how the old D&D Known World setting came about (only not as haphazardly in this case).

This adventure is set around Thumble, a small hamlet of Halflings. Really, they're not halflings in the 3e sense, they're really hobbits. Somewhat round, somewhat rustic, quaint.

The first time I ran the module, was as part of my normal d20 game, which is something of a SF/Fantasy cross-over, with some Call of Cthulhu thrown in. My campaign is set about 500 years in the future, on Carcosa, which is a planet revolving around Aldeberan (and so in the setting, was named for the HPL stories, it's not simply a coincidence). Anyway, as part of a Star Ocean 2-ish accident, an entire research colony was transported into a fantasy analog or parallel universe. I mostly use a combination of Blood & Space (tweaked a bit)and Traveller 20 (tweaked a lot) classes, gear & feats from Dragonstar, and some other misc stuff (like the Quintessential Witch)

So anyway, what I'm getting at, is the initial party I used was a somewhat higher level than the module was meant for, 5th level or so. And they had guns. And grenades. About half of them. The other half was a Witch, and two Fighter/Sorcerer types.

Also in my game world, I don't really use alignment per se. I do use it, but races and such tend to not have any inherent ones. Thus, Halflings are not necessarily good, and Kobolds are not necessarily bad. Both tend towards neutral.

So, this changed things considerably. Although I did up the power level of the yappies in this, it's really really hard to compete with grenades. So the Yappies surrendered, and a fairly equitable peace was made between the two. That might not be so easy in the more traditional sort of D&D world or the one that module envisions. But is still possible.

There actually was some combat at first, and I used part of this as an example for my review of Torn Asunder, which is a critical hit system for d20. This actually sparked off a controversy over whether or not kobolds have tails, because I always thought they didn't, largely based on an illustration in Dragon magazine, and some of the pictures in this. (See the comments on my first review for more info on this)

The second time I ran it, was when I first play-tested SG-1. In it, I changed the Halflings to humans, I forget which type, something weird, and the yappies to rogue Jaffa. As I wanted to test the combat system, it was pretty bloody for a while, but eventually the leader of SG-13 was able to defeat the leader of the rogue Jaffa in single combat, and peace was made.

The third time I ran it, which was recently, actually, I used in a more normal setting and it was played from the point of view from the kobolds. I still didn't want any halfling bloodshed, so I played it from an angle that the kobolds wanted to frighten the halflings into paying tribute. In part, I used some of the spells from the Gnome book I reviewed last month.

As I mentioned in my first review, the second half of the book is really more a sourcebook. 3 new core classes (The Witch, the Shaman, and the Cavalier), a bunch of spells, an advantage/disadvantage system, new magic items, new weapons (just mundane items like household wares). And beyond that, all sorts of advice and tips aimed at begining DMs.

One paper, the classes all looked to be well done rules wise and balanced. And while I still haven't tested them extensively, I have used them as NPCs of varying levels, and they do seem to be pretty solid. Considering Mongoose sells a single class for $3.50 in an 8 page minibook, these 3 classes by themselves make Thumble worth buying (or a bargain if you buy it for the adventure. But then I have a thing for core classes).

Since I was working from a manuscript the first time, I just gave "Style" a 3. However, the actual book is a lot better than I had expected. Not to put down Mystic Eye Games (who this is published under, it's one of those affiliated publishing deals), but while their adventures were enthusiastic, they were really ugly in terms of layout and art and such. I was expecting the worst.

But it's actually a really snazzy looking book. The layout is a bit crowded, because it's packed to the brim, but it's very easy to read and to find things. In a really neat touch, instead of the standard grey background you normally find used for tables, it uses greyed out illustrations from the book. It's hard to describe, but it's really cool looking.

As I did mention in the first review, the art is good, and the cartography is simply stunning. Best cartography style ever, sort of isometric, and hand drawn. Definitely an antidote to the ugly, dark, hard to read computer-ish blobs that is the norm for maps these days. Though ironically, it is a bit pixelated (I guess it must have been a jpg or something at one time, or suffered a bit from the scanning in process). But you really have to look close to notice.

It's a really special book. If I were going to put out a beginners boxed set today, I would put The Hamlet of Thumble in it, much like The Keep on the Borderlands was in the old Basic D&D boxed set.

In 2003, there were 3 d20 books that really stood out to me in quality. This, Lords of the Night: Vampires, and Redhurst: Academy of Magic. It's hard to choose which one is better, as they are all so different, but this definitely gets an A+. It's still not for everyone (I mean, it is about a village of Halflings), but I think if you remember