Sunday, 12 March 2017

[REVIEW] Secrets of the Wyrwoode

Secrets of the Wyrwoode
by Luigi Castellani
Published by Artikid Arts

Although D&D draws heavily on the historical and mythical legacy of the British Isles, the exploration of this rich corpus has often been very superficial. Subsumed into the “generic fantasy” of Greyhawk, Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms, the magic of the British countryside has been diluted and bowdlerised until it doesn’t seem distinct or exciting at all. Fortunately, the real legends and folklore were always there to rediscover – and Secrets of the Wyrwoode re-adapts them to a mid-level AD&D adventure which does both them and the game justice. Either way you look at it – mythical adaptation and something characteristically AD&D – it works without compromising on its ideas. In handling the historical details of a land reminiscent of mediaeval Britain and folk stories about the faerie, Luigi Castellani has written an imaginative, structurally sound and pleasantly non-linear module.

Secrets of the Wyrwoode
There are many ways to begin this adventure, and many ways to play and finish it. Its contents can be reconfigured to accommodate very different plotlines – a quest to return the victim of a faerie kidnapping, the recovery of a mcagical ingredient, or the chase for someone who has disappeared on the other side. The Wyrwoode – an ancient woodland haunted by various iconic elements of British legends – is a flexible framework to let things happen and complications develop. It is a small area straddling two worlds, the two sides loosely connected here and there at odd sites. Whereas the mortal world is inhabited by bandits, druidic remains, and the lairs of inhabitants who have been to “the other side” and somehow came back, the land of the elves is a dark and treacherous otherworld, filled with magic. The elves are not Tolkien’s noble folk, but the amoral, capricious and cruel (but always fun-loving) guys and girls of the old legends. Their interactions with our world mean trouble, while their own is haunted by repressed tragedies and lingering deceit which could come to the forefront in the adventure.

This adventure doesn’t really deal in a plotline, even an implied one (in the way most old-school modules do – e.g. nobody tells you what to do with In Search of the Unknown, but you kinda get the idea what you are supposed to). It is truly and effectively non-linear while retaining a sense of cohesion. What it deals with are NPCs, situations and conflicts which may develop as the characters start to interact with them – particularly when they cross dimensions and long-building conflicts spill from one world to the other and vice versa. In the fairly cool way the adventure is set up, the same characters will be allies in one way the scenario could develop, and implacable enemies in another. They have simple but solid motivations and systems of behaviour which can connect in many different ways, and are set up to generate conflict.

There is also a nice sense of wonder and spirit of discovery in the module. This goes for the Wyrwoode’s two sides (which are linked in more and less obvious ways), but also the motivations and hidden stories the characters may end up uncovering. It can play as comedy or tragedy, and it has some really inspiring backdrops – a castle built of thorns, a bottomless nixie pool, the domicile of a hermit haunted by his memories on the other side, etc. These encounters usually also work seamlessly with the AD&D rules, making sense in the game’s context.

This adventure module is one of the genuinely impressive things to come from the old-school scene, and while it may ironically be too particular, “too British” for some campaigns (even generic fantasy ones), it is excellent in all respects.


Rating: ***** / *****

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