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Reviews - Westbrook
by Justin Mohareb

Beginnings: Westbrook cover

Beginnings: Westbrook

Published by 3am Games
Written by Don Bessinger
126 pages, b & w softcover

It is a truth universally acknowledged that to run a D&D game, you need at least three books: the Players Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and the Monster Manual. Once a group has those three books, the DM and his players are equipped to start, but may not know where to start. For experienced players and novices both, this can be an imposing task.

Westbrook is part of the Beginnings line from 3 a.m. Games. The Beginnings books are designed to serve as a fourth book, helping DMs start D&D campaigns. They provide a basic campaign setting (in the case of Westbrook, a trade city), several adventures and assistance to help a GM to start his game.

Seeing the sights
The city of Westbrook is a well designed one, and perfect for a low level party to cut their teeth on. Westbrook is on a major trade route. There are taverns and merchants in the city, farmers and woodsmen who work outside of it, and the city's history is detailed in the book to give a sense of how it grew organically.

There are a number of NPCs who can interact with the characters, and a number of organizations to run afoul of or possibly join. These include the town watch; the Greenwards, an undermanned group of Rangers who patrol the king's roads; and a thieves guild. Westbrook, at 2,000 people, seems a bit small to have a thieves guild (even one that could charitably be called a street gang), but there you go.

The town is well detailed, with businesses, organizations, and personalities outlined. The only flaw with it is one of layout; there should have been a town map included near the front of the book, instead of back in the appendices.

One improvement I would have liked to have seen in the book is the inclusion of a short listing of the town's climate. The book does say Westbrook has a temperate climate, but weather is something I always like to see more detail on. Does it have cold winters? Mild summers? Warm year 'round? That's something I'd like to see in every location book (Freeport, for example, gave a good coverage in only a two paragraph blurb), and it isn't found nearly enough.

Westbrook is a fairly good generic fantasy town in a standard generic fantasy setting; DMs would have no problem building a campaign around it, or placing it into pretty much any standard fantasy world (Forgotten Realms, Scarred Lands or Greyhawk would all accept it readily).

The GM's section is a great tool for novice DMs. It helps the players before the game even begins by giving advice for building a cohesive adventuring party. The section also provides a series of backgrounds for all the members of the group. Did they move to Westbrook to start a business? Are they the children of a previous generation of retired adventurers? Criminals pressed into service?

Depending on which group origin the party chooses, the characters begin the first adventure appropriately, which gets them started on the mini campaign. The campaign is three adventures: one setting up the villains of the piece (a pack of wererats); one setting up the means to combat them; and the third taking the battle to their burrow.

Visually the book is strong, though the cover is unfortunately one of the weaker aspects of the book. It gives almost no sense of what the book is about, instead being an unforgivably generic shot of a group of adventurers walking through the woods towards a ruined tower. Interior artwork is crisp and pleasing to the eye, and the cartography is well done (though again, I'd be inclined to have the map in the front of the book for ease of consultation).

The idea behind the Beginnings books is a clever one. With Beginnings, DMs don't need to worry about starting a campaign; they're given an initial concept, and can expand it in whatever direction the players would like. The adventures give options for getting the players deeply involved with the setting, establishing them as important people within Westbrook, which can then allow them to expand their sphere of influence to whatever campaign world the DM chooses.

While it is a d20 supplement, Westbrook could be easily adapted to any mid-level fantasy setting. Westbrook is a great product for both new DMs, and busier DMs who want a good campaign framework to start building a larger game on. I look forward to seeing a variety of products in the Beginnings line.

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