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Reviews - Backdrops
by Matthew Pook

Backdrops cover


Publisher: Atlas Games
Written by Will Hindmarch
Illustrated by Steven Sanders, John Davis, and Scott Reeves
Price: $8.95
32-page saddle stitched soft cover

It is difficult to review Backdrops, the latest release from Atlas Games under their d20 Penumbra imprint, without using words such as good, solid, dependable and the like. This is because this is what Backdrops actually is: not spectacular or exciting, but really, it is not meant to be...

This is a collection of some fourteen ready-to-use locations, suitable for almost any d20 fantasy setting. Each location, or 'set' as author Will Hindmarch terms them, is presented in the same format throughout: a two-page spread, with the descriptive text, including any rules particular to that set, on the left hand side and a nicely detailed map on the right. All of these are superbly drawn by John Davis with the aid of Scott Reeves, and are marked in five-foot scale squares. As all of the buildings are of different sizes, each comes with a note at the bottom of page, which tells you the exact percentage you need to enlarge the map in order to give you one-inch squares suitable for use with miniatures.

The mixture of 'sets' runs from the mundane, like the City Dungeon and the Emporium Fleet Ship, to the interesting location with a secret to hide. The Stables described in Backdrops can occasionally offer surprisingly intelligent steeds. A few times each year, the Smithy hosts strange fiery dwarves that craft items of an arcane nature. This is not to make light of the mundane locations, which are still well described and they are the kind of place that every DM can find a use for.

Actually, some of these locations are just ever so slightly unusual, and therefore useful. Prime among them are the City Baths, the Caravanserai and the previously mentioned City Dungeon. This latter set is not the archetypal subterranean 'dungeon' of Dungeons & Dragons fame, but rather a gaol house to hold pickpockets, burglars and other petty felons.

Besides the accompanying descriptive text, each set comes with something new to the Open Gaming License. Some of these additions are magical in nature, such as the Malcriptium, a nasty disease transmitted through written and spoken communication and thus likely to be found in a library such as the Athenaeum. The two types of mystical candles found in the Temple (of Guidance and of Insight, respectively) also contribute to the new magic. In other sets the additions are quite ordinary, such as the effects of smashing items on sale when caught the Bazaar, guidelines to making meal-winning performances at a Tavern and the dangers of moving around a rickety old Wharf.

Each of these sets could be placed wherever the DM desires or might need them. Alternatively, they could just as easily be placed all together in a single city, should the DM want to help create a base for their campaign.

At the start of this review I described Backdrops as being solid, dependable and also good. I should add to that short list by saying that this is a pleasingly professional package, reasonably priced and as useful as the DM wants to make it.

The author would like to thank Roj at Wayland's Forge for his assistance


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