by Gerald Cameron
Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea
Published by Goodman Games
Written by Robert Conley & Dwayne Gillingham
64 page perfect bound soft cover, Full-color cover, B&W interior
Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea is the second installment in
Goodman Games' series of generic setting books for D&D-like fantasy
games. Where the first installment focused on mainland regions, PoL II
looks across the Sunrise Sea at areas that the mainland's major
political entities are colonizing. There is also a fourth segment that
describes an extraplanar location related to events in the other
The Points of Light series sticks to basic tropes of the genre,
and does not provide much in the way of game statistics. They are meant
to be easily adapted to any appropriate system without much more than
the appropriate rulebooks. A DM may have to come up with original
monster or NPC stats once in a while, but most monsters can be drawn
from the monster section of any dungeon-fantasy RPG.
The regions presented in Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea are:
There are clear ties between the segments, showing that they are part of
a single setting, but they are loose connections. DMs can take only one
part of the book, tying it to their own homebrewed material or another
published setting, and leave the other sections alone.
- The Golden Shore - "A land of embattled forces, struggling to establish a home."
- Amacui - Home of the descendants of a fallen empire, there is both gold and danger waiting here for would-be colonizers.
- The Misty Islands - A vaguely Caribbean-like chain of islands that hold a variety of secrets, as well as sugar plantations.
- Mazatl - Volcanic home of an evil, demon-loathing god. Not a sandbox setting like the others so much as a mini-module.
PoL II's introduction invokes B2: Keep on the Borderlands
as an inspiration, and each section except Mazatl is presented as a
"sandbox" setting; a locale where PCs can wander freely in search of
adventure and treasure. Old Judges' Guild books like Wilderlands of High
Adventure appear to have been an even larger influence than Keep,
though. PoL II uses numbered hexes on the maps - plus major geographical
features that are larger than a single hex - to key its descriptions.
Those descriptions are also in the ultra-minimalist vein of the Judges'
Guild books. Where Gygax only placed lairs as keyed items on Keep's main
map, PoL II also has keyed events, such as people cornered by predators,
that are a lot like wandering monsters.
Speaking of wandering monsters, each section includes its own Wandering
Monsters chart, featuring about a dozen different encounters. There are
also charts of a dozen or so rumours that the players can dig up before
heading into the wilderness. Each rumor is labeled as True or False (or
a mixture of truth and lies) for the DM's benefit. This is pretty
typical old school practice, although I think these settings (except
Mazatl) are large enough that longer lists would be more practical.
I want to laud the map design in PoL II. A lot of new products
feature computer-generated, full-color maps that are hard to read at a
glance. Points of Light 2: The Sunrise Sea uses old-fashioned, black and
white iconic maps, and they are a relative model of clarity. While it is
a little odd that forests are plainly marked in black while hills use
grayscale icons, they can otherwise be read quickly. As mentioned, each
hex is labeled with a row and column number, so the map can be
cross-referenced with the text in a snap. The only flaw in the
presentation is that PoL II's layout uses a map-like background texture
that creates visual static within the maps. I would be ecstatic if this
kind of map, minus the background graphic, became common practice again.
Colonialism is a major theme of Points of Light 2: the Sunrise
Sea. While it is never explicitly stated, the assumption seems to be
that PCs in these locales will be from the colonizing kingdoms and
empires, too. Colonialism is, understandably, a touchy subject for many
people, so it is important to point this out to would-be purchasers. You
should make sure that this is not a sensitive topic for your players
before going ahead with a campaign in these locales.
While there is not much outright oppression of the indigenous nations by
the colonizing powers, they do exploit the territories for precious
metals. In the Misty Isles they are also starting up sugar plantations.
Two of the three colonizing nations are described as despotic to some
extent, but there is no hint, at least in this book, of fighting against
them. There are a couple of especially nasty individuals associated with
the colonizing powers PCs can overthrow, but they are not full-blown
symbols of colonial authority. Of course, individual DMs are free to
turn their campaign against the colonials, there's just no help for it
in the book.
Until recently, sandbox campaigns had been out of fashion for quite a
long time. The "Old School Renaissance" and online writings like Ben
Robins' West Marches campaign series have brought sandboxes back into
the gaming consciousness, however. PoL II tries to feed into this, at
least in the Golden Shore, Amacui and The Misty Isles, but unfortunately
two of them are largely devoid of a key element of successful sandboxes.
While the Golden Shore and Amacui offer a wide variety of encounter
sites, there are few adventure sites. PCs can easily find isolated
fights, but there are few objectives larger than winning a fight. There
are virtually no larger lairs or dungeons, either.
Each of these settings instead has a single, dominant conflict for the
PCs to discover and investigate. These dominant conflicts feed into some
subsidiary conflicts, which is good. It would feel more sandbox-like to
me, though, if there were half a dozen or more conflicts, quests and
dungeons waiting for the PCs. In my opinion, a sandbox is made up of
these sorts of smaller, bite-size adventures, not just a collection of
locations. There is nothing wrong with what the PoL II settings offer,
but it's not what the book presents itself as. I think there are better
ways of presenting settings like Amacui and the Golden Shore, too.
The Misty Isles, however, is much more like a conventional sandbox.
There are a handful of interesting adventures scattered throughout the
islands. While there are a couple that are intended to be more important
than the others, no single thread dominates the setting. If the rest of
the book followed the example of this section, I would recommend it
virtually without reservation.
One other odd element, especially to DMs that are only familiar with
modern D&D (3.0+ editions and D&D contemporaries), is the juxtaposition
of encounters of wildly different level. For example, the Golden Shore
Wandering Monster chart has encounters with 1d6 level 12 creatures in
the midst of a series of encounters with level 1 to 5 opponents. This is
in synch with the old notion that fights should not all be tailored to
the level of the PCs, but is out of step with current adventure design
practices. Mazatl even features set encounters that are practically
side-by-side that are almost 20 levels apart in Dungeons & Dragons:
Fourth Edition terms.
Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea is a book that has an interesting
idea at its heart, but the results are flawed. While it is a model of
clarity and ease of use, it is not as focused on sandbox play as it
wants to be. Instead, three of the four locales come across as
unconventional adventure modules. In two, players noodle around until
they hit upon the overarching conflict, while a third is a
straightforward extraplanar adventure site. The Golden Shore and Amacui
are also pretty bland and uninspiring, with only a couple of elements
that a DM might want to pull out for use elsewhere. The colonial theme
could also be problematic for some groups.
The Misty Isles setting tries to redeem the product. It is a genuine
sandbox, with a handful of interesting adventure seeds, and colorful (if
not completely original) sites. You could use it to good effect in
almost any campaign that is not completely landlocked, perhaps mixing it
with X1: Isle of Dread (which was clearly an influence on it).
Mazatl is also pretty good, even if it is clearly not a sandbox. It
could be retooled as the home of any fire-oriented planar being, and has
a couple of interesting touches. At the end of the day, though, it is
just a slightly underdeveloped module, and perhaps not an especially
easy to use one, due to the disparate power level of the encounters. It
would work better as a separate $3 impulse purchase PDF.
I would only recommend picking up a copy of Points of Light II if you
expect to make heavy use of The Misty Isles, since $20 is a bit much for
a handful of good wilderness maps. The setting material in Amacui and
the Golden Shore aren't noticeably different from or better than what
any DM could whip up in a couple of weekends, and Mazatl is a highly
specialized set piece that still needs home development for a session or
two of material. Better yet, just pick up a copy of X1: Isle of Dread or