TL;DR: The Bitter Reach is a great alternative to the original Forbidden Lands campaign, with a very different feel due to the nature of the winter wilderness environment. The presentation of the book is excellent, and it hangs together well. I think that the GM may have more work pulling the threads of the campaign together than in Raven's Purge, but all the tools necessary to do so are present provided the players are willing to engage with the motivation of being treasure seekers from the start. An excellent addition to the line.
I didn't back the Kickstarter for The Bitter Reach, partly because one of my friends was already running Raven's Purge and I saw the Forbidden Lands RPG* as his thing, and partly because I was behaving myself at the time. However, one evening my fellow GM wished that there was a way for him to actually play in the setting, and that set me thinking. I ended up pre-ordering the expansion just before it was released.
(*link to my initial review)
Physically, it is a 310-page hardback book, sized like a novel the same as the rest of the line. It has the same 'old-school' basic text with black-and-white line illustrations. This makes it slightly larger than digest, but not so big as the D&D 5e books. The inside cover shows the map of the new campaign area, 'The Bitter Reach', an icy, wind-blasted, snowy wilderness that encompasses the former elven kingdom of Rodenvale. The sections of the book before the adventure sites suffer from a number of annoying typos which should have been caught, but you can count them on two hands and they don't affect the content.
The book opens with considerations on how to get to the setting, and the challenges of living in a frozen wilderness. There's a brief description of the kinds of settlements which can be encountered, the various kin present, and an overview of the regions. Most campaigns will start on the Silver Coast, in the town of Northfall, the most significant human settlement.
A new profession - the Champion - is presented with three new talents. There are three more general talents, including mountaineering and warm-blooded which are likely to prove very useful for travellers. Two new magic disciplines - Elemental Magic for Sorcerers and Ice Affinity for Druids - are presented. Both of the disciplines fell apt to the setting.
Ten pages are dedicated to expanding the rules for journeys reflect the significantly harsher natural environment; there's no blood-mist but the keeping the cold at bay will be a constant battle.
The campaign, Wake of the Winter King, fills the bulk of the book. It's constructed in five pages, but these are more like the escalation steps in a Dungeon World campaign front. The setting is a sandbox (or maybe a snow-box?), and the GM will need to steer the campaign around the character's actions. In principle, they will have to chose between freeing the land from the magically imposed winter that it finds itself in, or preventing others doing so. It's possible that they could end up riding the cold winds of change, like snow driven by the wind, but it's more likely that they'll end up on one side or another. There are three major factions, plus other groups who could be united and make a significant change.
The campaign guide describes the eight key players who will drive the campaign with stats to allow you to use them in combat or as social encounters. They've all got their own motivations to drive change in the snow-box. One of them acts as a direct GM agent to stir up the plot, in a similar way to Merigall in the Raven's Purge campaign.
The state of play for the various kin is discussed, and eight new creatures are presented, some of which will be quite a challenge if used correctly. Example artefacts are given, nicely tied to the setting.
The adventure guidance section opens with unique encounter tables for the setting, and then pages covering random creation of the main adventure site types: ice caves, elven ruins and settlements. This is followed nearly 150 pages describing ten significant adventure sites ranging from the settlement of Northfall (unique in that it has a fixed location) through to the Winter King's Palace. Each site has a map, background, details of locations and people present, and suggested events. This is in the same style as seen in the core rules and the Raven's Purge campaign. There are legends for the GM to use with most locations to draw the characters on. The GM will choose where the various adventure sites may be found to best suit their own game.
The book rounds out with a section called 'The Endgame' which presents a number of ways that the campaign can be brought to an end as guidance for the GM. Copies of all the legends are in an appendix, followed by a short index.
You will have to buy the Map & Cards pack (available separately if you want the colour map and stickers like the one for Ravenland in the core box. This also includes cards for use in the game.
So what do I think?
The Bitter Reach is a great alternative to the original Forbidden Lands campaign, with a very different feel due to the nature of the environment. The presentation of the book is excellent, and it hangs together well. I think that the GM may have more work pulling the threads of the campaign together than in Raven's Purge, but all the tools necessary to do so are present provided the players are willing to engage as being treasure seekers at the start. An excellent addition to the line. It didn’t quite reach the “I must run this” feel, but it’s definitely one I’d like to run.
21 June 2020