Supplement Review: Wilderness Dressing: Ruins by John Bennett from Raging Swan Press

Ruins seem to factor a staggering number of different gaming scenarios. Whether you (or your potential enemies) choose to camp in or on the ruins, explore them and find some secret passageway leading to adventure, use ruins as high ground in a battle, or use them in some other way, they seem to show up in every fantasy campaign at some point and even a few science fiction or modern campaigns as well.

Wilderness Dressing: Ruins - Raging Swan PressIf you want to get picky, ruins can sometimes get overused. Check out TVTropes.org for some examples to avoid… Have you seen The Ruins? Or maybe you injected some ruins into your campaign but didn’t think about *why* they were there in the first place (see Ruins for Ruins’ Sake)? Or possibly there’s that one guy (or gal) who’s dancing in the ruins like they’re happy the place is gone (see Dancin’
in the Ruins
)… The ways they get used in books, film, television, games, and RPG campaigns vary widely.

But it all boils down to one thing: having a cool place to set a scene. Regardless of what brought you there in the first place, having a way to describe what the characters see and not having everything use the same boring description (“rubble everywhere,” “fallen columns litter the landscape,” “walls outline what used to be rooms…”) becomes VERY important. And that’s where Wilderness Dressing: Ruins comes in from designer John Bennett and Raging Swan Press. This short (14 page PDF, 7 pages content) supplement offers descriptions of small ruins and large ones, plus adds ways to help dress them up further.

Table A (Small Ruins) and Table B (Large Ruins) collectively offer 100 different descriptions you can easily adapt into an encounter location. Some are simple and direct like suggesting that a farmhouse was dumped into a small hole (screams tornado to me, but could just as easily have been a giant) while others are more freaky like finding four obsidian pillars at bizarre angles and covered with arcane symbols, claw, and bite marks. Each of those has detail I could quickly create an encounter around. The scope is different between the two tables, which is great. And it’s not just size, but the context of seeing whole towns or large complexes in ruin vs. smaller locations.

If that’s not enough to inspire you, Table C (Ruins Dressing) offers one hundred additional bits to toss in for good measure. Imagine if your PCs hear a sudden cry of pain that stops short and is followed by laughter. Or what happens when your players realize that night has lasted twice as long as it was supposed to while they’re resting. Though the broader details of the ruins are great for inspiring locations, I find the little details even more compelling and challenging.

And lastly you get a collection of six “Haunts” offering CRs of 2 to 8 to add to the fun. Why not collapse the ruins while the PCs are walking through or send a ghostly visage screaming through the empty streets to rattle them? Nice ideas, though I wish there were more of them.

My one gripe with the supplement is that it doesn’t offer some ideas on *why* the ruins were there in the first place. It’s one thing to describe a place that must have been spectacular at one time, but what happened to make it fall into disrepair? Was there a war? Some disease, pestilence, or famine that drove people away? Did bandits or monsters move in to displace the original people? People don’t build ruins. They build livable spaces for use. So what was that use and how did it get from used to ruined? I would like to see an additional table for “reasons for the ruins” to at least offer some ideas an enterprising GM could build from.

Even so, I think Wilderness Dressing: Ruins offers some solid ideas in a compact package and fits in nicely with the rest of the series. More great work to help inspire GMs to greater things. :)

For more about Wilderness Dressing: Ruins, check out…

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