I’ve been writing this review for a few weeks now, and I want to let you in on why it took me so long.
The first iteration of the review was held up because all I could focus on was what I didn’t like about the product. There’s not a lot, as you’ll see below, but it was so distracting I couldn’t “see the Isle for the shore”.
I then realized my trepidation came from the lack of negative reviews I’d seen for RPG products. So for my second iteration of the review, I did what any logical internet dweller would do – I wrote a rant. I called the RPG reviewer community some names. I used the words “equines” and “manure”. I used the words “gushing” and “shill”. I was not polite. Just opening the document on my computer and a wagging finger would appear.
And then I bumped into some more reviews. And they were not universally polite. How I’d missed them the first time I don’t know. So I’m retracting the rant you never saw. If you really like to be insulted let me know and I’ll put it up.
Thank you. That was cathartic.
This is a Review: Isle of the Unknown
“This book describes an island nearly 35,000 square miles in size. Using traditional fantasy role-playing rules, the Referee can conduct adventures upon the Isle of the Unknown. It can be placed anywhere in the Referee’s campaign world, or it can serve as the basis of a new campaign, or as the setting for one-shot adventures.
One point of interest is described for each of the map’s 330 land hexes. None of the monsters, magic spells, magic items, etc in this book has been taken from any previously published role-playing game product. This will help ensure freshness and a sense of wonder and newness as your players explore a realm that is truly unknown.”
excerpt from Introduction for the Referee, page 4
and it comes with an excellent Preview! (PDF)
What I like
• It provides exactly what it advertises. Each hex has something in it – something interesting. Monsters are obviously unique. Statues are fascinating and mysterious. Magic users have made a mark upon their surroundings.
• The art is fantastic. The monsters are colourful and vibrant, and the humans are interesting and engaging. Many are stunning.
• The indexes at the end are useful – monsters by hitdice, magic users, clerics, statues and towns by location. I especially like the use of thumbnail pictures for the monster index.
• I said it before, but the monsters truly are unique. Many are weird (unusual). Nothing so weird as a sofa-fish, but there are some that push the limits – like the pyramid bird on page 63. I also like how, generally, it is not obvious how “dangerous” each monster is. Those that look benign are often the most lethal, and vice versa. How many HD do you think mister Koala has above hmm? I’m not gonna tell you – buy the book.
• It has lots of content – you’d be hard pressed to use it up.
What I don’t like
• The map is, well, boring. Nowhere on the island looks interesting or stands out. Another review suggested it was a printing problem. The colours (of the map) in the book do seem muted compared to the pdf. But let me put it this way: This is an exceptional map.
• The cartography is missing basic elements. There are 16 towns and cities on the map, the largest at 19,100 people. But there are no roads. Maybe they don’t need to be on the players map, but the GMs map should have them.
• The geography is wrong. The rivers go from coast to coast. And there’s a river that forms a loop in the mountains. And this wasn’t just a one-time mistake, every one of the rivers connects to multiple coasts.
• There’s no background story. This is most likely deliberate, seeming as it is meant to be dropped into an existing campaign, but it makes the book seem unfinished. Why are there so many statues sprinkled all over the island? Is there a reason for all the wizards? I’d rather a simple 2 paragraph backstory was included, and I could chose to ignore it, use it, or adapt it to my needs.
The bottom line
If you’ve run out of creative juices and need something to drop into your campaign, this is your book. Bonus points if you’re already running an OSR game, but I don’t think it’d be hard to adapt to other versions. There’s still a little work to be done, like drawing in roads, coming up with treasure and perhaps an overarching backstory, and an explanation for the statues, but those are things don’t have to be handled immediately. A great supplement for those looking for inspiration or a little campaign help.