Supplement Review: Journeys to the West by Christina Stiles and Open Design, Part I

Just to let you know ahead of time, I was a supporter of the Journeys to the West project through Kickstarter so I’ve had an interest in this collection of locations and adventures in Midgard since I first heard about it. And I’ve even had the opportunity to ask Christina Stiles and Adam Roy a few questions here and there while they were working on it. That said, though I was a project patron I really didn’t have any time to participate in the design process at the Open Design forums.

Journeys-to-the-West-Cover-Final-SMALLSo when I received my copy of the book, I was very excited to start digging into these strange places in the Western Ocean of Midgard. But I am choosing to take a slow and steady approach with this book like I’ve been doing with the Midgard Campaign Guide. So this first part of the review is going to focus on “Barsella, The City at the End of the World.” The section on Barsella spans 11 pages of the 140 page PDF.

Barsella seems to be a bustling community of pirates,
merchants, sailors, and other more mysterious creatures living together on the edge of the world. It may not truly be the edge, but it’s a point in space that sailors can reach consistently. Once you pass Barsella, the odds decrease dramatically as to whether you will return to the known world again.

Who lives there? Nearly 85,000 beings. Who rules the roost? The Founding Houses. Each of the nine founding houses of Barsella has a piece of the pie and there are other houses trying to gain a foothold as well. Each family has skin in the game and agendas of their own to pursue. Trust is hard won and easily lost. Alliances rise and fall regularly. And innocents often get caught in the middle.

What really impressed me though was the city location descriptions. There’s something about the ability to take fewer than 5 or 6 sentences to give a single entry flavor and mystery, possibly even a NPC or two. It’s a talent. Combine that with the beautiful full-page map of the city and you have something really beautiful to behold.

One of my favorite locations shows the character of the city… “St. Scaletongue (32)” is a Kobold who died manning the crow’s nest during a hurricane. He perished, but not before saving the ship and crew. In return, the the captain and crew paid for his resurrection. He now lives in the “Saint’s Lot” area of the city. Such a minor story, but it gives this city filled with sometimes disreputable and superstitious people a heart.

In addition to all the great places in the city, you also get a collection of traits that can help tie characters to the area and a couple of adventure seeds. Traits like “Fragmented One,” which deals with the mystery of people losing their memories in the area. It adds a truly X-Files-like aspect to the city that GMs and players can latch onto easily.

As I expected going into the book, Journeys to the West is going to be chock full of great ideas whether you play Pathfinder or not. The next chapter on the Morphoi is even more exciting!

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