Posted by: NiTessine | June 10, 2012

Review: The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary

I recently got my hands on a most curious book. The Unofficial Living Greyhawk Bandit Kingdoms Summary is perhaps a unique work in that it discusses the World of Greyhawk, an intellectual property owned by Wizards of the Coast, yet it is self-published by Casey Brown (and available print-on-demand and for Kindle from Createspace and Amazon).

Brown himself has described the book as more of an academic work discussing the campaign rather than something copyright-infringing. Indeed, a certain remarkably disagreeable member of the Greyhawk fan community mailed about the book to WotC’s legal department, who issued a DMCA notice and got the book removed from Createspace. It looked for a moment that my copy, then winding its way over the Atlantic to me, might become a rare collectible indeed. It was not to be, however, and Mr. Brown was vindicated, the notice withdrawn, and the book returned to Createspace.

The book itself, then. It is 81 pages in length, with a cover illustration from a 14th-century illuminated manuscript that I’m afraid is rather pixellated. The contents are what it says on the tin, an overview of the approximately 150 rounds of adventures that the Bandit Kingdoms region produced in the eight years of Living Greyhawk.

It begins with a discussion on the tone of the region, titled “I had to save the bad guys from the other PCs,” quoting a paladin player from another region upon his first foray into the Bandit Kingdoms. The BK is rather like our own Principality of Naerie was, in their lack of clear-cut heroes and focus on moral grey areas. While Iuz was always the bad guy, the PCs might find themselves in the employ of, say, the church of Nerull, the death god. The BK player characters don’t seem to differ a lot from Naerie PCs, except that ours dressed better.

This is followed by a critical analysis of the Average Party Level system, experience and Encounter Levels in Living Greyhawk and their problems.

The majority of the book, however, 52 pages, is taken up by a variety of summaries for the adventures produced by the Bandit Kingdoms. The book is not comprehensive in this—it includes only those scenarios that somehow affected the Bandit Kingdoms plot arcs. This mainly excludes special missions, only one of which is discussed in the book, and mini-missions. There’s a general listing of modules; longer summaries of each with their level ranges, adventure series, blurbs and Casey Brown’s comments; and listings of the modules according to location and adventure series. The book is rounded out by a timeline of Bandit Kingdoms events, a reproduction of an in-character letter sent by a player character to a major villain, a selection of quotations from Bandit Kingdoms (my favourite is “This would get your PC pulled in most regions.”), and a listing of Bandit Kingdoms Triad members.

The book is tagged “BDKR1” and promises to be the first of a trilogy, followed by BDKR2: Rogues’ Gallery of the Bandit Kingdoms and BDKR3: A Mercenary’s Guide to the Bandit Kingdoms.

So, it’s a book full of information on a campaign that ended four years ago, whose scenarios are no longer easily available and which includes no rules items whatsoever. Is it of any use?

Well, the timeline will be handy for DMs wishing to run a game in the Bandit Kingdoms. However, what the book is about is documentation. It details and discusses a slice of the largest roleplaying game campaign that ever was and sets the information in print before it is lost. It is about the history of our hobby (and more than a little about nostalgia), and it is well made. The production values may not be all that, but the writing is good and the book has been edited with an admirable attention to detail, with a hundred footnotes. Some of them are impressively long. The only things I feel are missing are a complete scenario listing, including those mini-missions and special missions that did not warrant longer summaries (turns out even my collection has one, a Year Four mini-mission titled Two Gentlemen of Veluna), and perhaps an entry in the longer summaries for the original designation of the module in question. For the purposes of clarity, the author has dropped the original, often discrepant, module codes for intro, special, interactive and mini modules and introduced his own.

It’s good stuff. I would never try to do this for the Principality of Naerie, but it does give me some ideas for the next revision of the Principality of Naerie Gazetteer that I’m still occasionally working on. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the trilogy.


Responses

  1. yeah… NO ONE would dare make one of these for perrenland or (in the last 2 years, ratik) …

    on the other point of view, wasn’t bandit kingdoms part of the iuz metaregion? which would have the benefit of having the storyline of what happens to iuz bringing himself back🙂

  2. Yes, it was part of the IUZ metaregion. As the person who had to edit and approve all those Perrenland mods, I know what you mean! There was so much information in those mods that it would be a nightmare to catalog.

    A couple of notes: I helped Casey fix the resolution of the cover image in the later editions. Anything after the DMCA notice has the fixed image. Also, Casey is right that it is not infringing, but not quite for the right reasons. That’s a huge discussion on its own, though.

  3. So me and Jukka (I bought him one for birthday) have some sort of “collectors editions” with crappy covers?🙂

    Time to put mine to plastic wrap then and make zillions when I auction it away. Muhahaa!

  4. Bah. Looks like I’ll have to settle for the book with the non-crappy cover.😉

  5. Yep, I got one of those “collector’s edition” ones myself. Glad to know that the issue was fixed in later printings of the book.
    Casey’s offered to send me a signed copy of one of them-thar new-fangled copies if I offer up a little art for the second volume of the series.

    Nice review, and we’re glad that the efforts of “a certain remarkably disagreeable member of the Greyhawk fan community” came to naught but validation and vetting for the book. Can’t *wait* to see the rest of them.

  6. Thanks for the review! I’d like to comment on just a few of your questions/points, all minor stuff.

    Re: the front cover issues: my Photoshop-fu is weak. As Britt said, he helped improve that problem and I really appreciate that he did. It probably has to do with some rastering or vectoring setting that is beyond me. Part of the reason for the book’s low cost is that I did not pay a pro to do the layout and design. I will strive to do better with the covers of parts 2 and 3 (by sending them to Britt! hehe).

    Re: not including the special missions and mini-missions: Quite frankly, I do not feel that the special missions not included are of any historical significance. This is because they were, almost exclusively, written to be played once by one table of PCs to grant access to various Limited rules items (spells, feats, etc.) or, much more rarely, for some role-playing background validation. As a result, they often barely had stories (some of which were half-baked or quite silly) that were sometimes barely written, and were not important at all to the region or its narrative. By summarizing them, I felt I would be aggrandizing the actions of six players as opposed to discussion adventures available to the entire region, so I didn’t.

    HOWEVER, several people have recently expressed interest in this kind of information so I may reconsider my stance and consider putting together a quick supplement to BDKR1 which contains solely this information. Web enhancement? Print-on-demand booklet? Let me think about it.

    Re: mini-missions, I don’t think I missed any. As I state in the apparatus, the term “mini-missions” actually meant two different things during the course of LG: 1) at first, they were just encounters in an interactive. As my goal was to not detail every encounter, they were left out on purpose. 2) Mini-missions which could stand on their own are detailed in the book with the “m” designation. If you feel that I did miss one, please let me know.

    Thanks again!

    Casey

  7. This sort of reminds me of what I have heard of “replays” of gaming sessions being sold in Japan.

  8. Good on ya, Casey! I still miss the BK & my weekly dose of Greyhawk. For all its warts, there’s been nothing like LG before or after. All those authors, all those triad members, all those con coordinators, and endless judges will have to share what thanks I can provide. Those’re some incredible memories!

    I’m looking forward to reading my copy when it shows up and I’ll pick up the other two installments when I’ve word they’re on the market.


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