So. Isle of the Unknown. What is it?
I was going to do some corny-ass hype, but I thought instead I should quote a few things from the emails Geoffrey and I exchanged after I received the draft of the book and we discussed what form the book should take.
Isle of the Unknown is a hard-core and pure old-school product. I write the sort of thing I wish other people would write and publish. I love, love, love the format of Judges Guild's Wilderlands products. This sort of thing moves my imagination, and it has (to my druthers) very little wasted space. It's 99% pure gold.
That's what I am aiming at with Isle of the Unknown. I want all the wonder of the old Wilderlands, with none of the "OK, I've seen that before." Orcs and shit were new back then, but not now. So I've done a Wilderlands[-style] product that is all fantastic and no nostalgia.
Of course I wanted more nuts and bolts detail about the island:
You've got several entries that are "in motion" such as: "2408 A 7th-level cleric in a red surcoat with a white cross is mounting his horse " with a situation then described. I think maybe the "in motion/situation" entries should be part of encounter tables with more permanent features (lairs, statues, settlements, etc) being part of definite hex descriptions.This is what Geoffrey thought of these ideas:
I think the utility of a product like this is its ability to be used "out of the box" - and I think the "civilized" stuff, and encounter tables, is important to do that. Not saying to nail down names and things like that, but...
Keep on the Borderlands spent "equal time" on the Keep and the Caves of Chaos, for example, all without using names or defining interrelations between people and factions beyond the broadest of strokes, and I think this could benefit from the same approach.
The sort of additions you suggest have always seemed to me wasted space. Even the Keep was little used by us (in contrast to the heavily-used Caves of Chaos).
I remember that James Maliszewski regretted that you didn't give any D&D stats to the people of Pembrooktonshire, and he regretted that you didn't include more mundane stuff in Weird New World. What were you supposed to do? Give stat after stat that said "S 10, I 11, W 10, D 11, C 10, Ch 11"? The Pembrooktonshiretonians are all 0-level guys with 1-6 hp. They need stats about as much as do their chickens, goats, and pigs. It'd be wasted space. And Weird New World doesn't need stats for seals, penguins, and mundane Eskimos.
Similarly, virtually all the people on the Isle of the Unknown are 0-level nobodies with 1-6 hp and stats in the 9-12 range. It matters not whether they are priests, scholars, knights, peasants, bandits, or what-have-you. And do we really need or want a table giving a list of the types of nobodies that might be encountered wandering around the isle? Even their equipment is all common sense: priests don't have weapons or armor, knights have both, peasants are "armed" with pitchforks, etc. I would regard such information in a product as worthless or even kind of condescending.
Hamlets, thorps, dorfs, etc. are also a dime-a-dozen: "The hamlet of _______ consists of 102 people living in 12 thatched, single-room cottages. They are all subsistence farmers. They own nothing besides humble clothes, tableware, and pitchforks." And for the details of the larger villages, I think that's a job for Zak's Vornheim product.
I can't over-emphasize that each hex in Isle of the Unknown covers over 86 square miles of territory. That is HUGE. Thus any encounter table that was even remotely "accurate" as far as giving a realistic chance of encountering the fantastic spot within the hex would look something like:
01-10 It rains.
11-20 You seen some rabbits.
21-30 You meet a peasant digging for mushrooms.
31-40 You step in cowshit.
91-99 A dog barks at you.
00 You encounter the fantastic thing described in this product.
(Players would have a truly boring time of it!)
If, for example, I were to erect a man-sized statue in a forest of 86 square miles, it would take forever and a day for someone to find the damn thing. You could probably walk 100' away from it and still not notice it. And that's assuming you knew it was there and were looking for it. If you were ignorant of its existence, you could probably walk through that forest 100 times and never stumble across the statue.
Except for the "OMG, Carcosa has children getting raped!" thing, perhaps the most common complaint I heard was that it was too world-specific. I want Isle of the Unknown to be able to be dropped into any campaign with little or no fuss.
... and then a few nights later I got this email from Geoffrey:
As I was falling asleep last night (in that half-awake half-asleep state) the following idea occurred to me. Then at 4:30 this morning I woke-up and couldn't fall back to sleep because of this idea. As I type this sentence it's 5:09 in the morning.How am I going to argue with that?
More than anything else, art in an RPG product needs to be useful. I think back to my early RPG days, and what "sold" me on a product more than anything else? Monster Manual-style art. The day I bought my Holmes Basic set, I also purchased the Monster Manual. It was a no-brainer purchase rather than the PHB or the DMG. Why? Because of the multitude of monster illustrations.
Some months thereafter I went to the store, money in hand, to buy the PHB. Ha! The Deities & Demigods book was sitting there, brand new on the shelf. One look at it (with its MM-style art) and there was no debate: I bought the DDG instead. I could sit for hours looking at the pictures in the MM and the DDG (and, in the next year, the Fiend Folio). The PHB and the DMG? Not so much. Sure, drawings of adventurers are cool, but how can they compare to the compendia of drawings of monsters in the MM, DDG, and FF?
Consider two monsters from the MM that nobody ever uses: the masher and the slithering tracker. (Hell, I literally never even noticed the very existence of the masher for about 20 years!) Why does nobody ever use them? What do they have in common?
What if the interior art of Isle of the Unknown is devoted solely to Monster Manual-style (by that I mean relatively small drawings of just the monster itself) drawings of the 108 or so monsters in the book? That's a lot of drawings, but they'd be relatively small. The drawings would make the monsters come alive, unlike the poor masher and slithering tracker.
Plus, the drawings overall would be cooler than the drawings in MM, DDG, or FF. After all, how cool can a drawing of an orc or a brownie be? In contrast, all the monsters in Isle of the Unknown are weird and relatively hard to picture.
... so suddenly we had a big art book project and at the same time a balls-to-the-wall hardcore old school Judges Guild-style adventure/setting.
And it's almost here.
Previews from the actual book and looks at the limited edition extras in the days to come.