Fantasy worlds often overlook the little people. Elves, humans, and the bigger races always seem to get the spotlight. Dwarves occasionally get attention, but often gnomes and halflings are left on the outskirts panhandling for loose change.
In The Clockwork Wonders of Brandlehill, designer Mike Myler takes care of that by giving you a quaint little world complete with a Steampunk/It’s-A-Small-World feel that has a political twist. Oh, and there’s a bit of interplay between intelligent species. Gnomes made a deal with a local tribe for a key ingredient to their mechanized magic and when supplies dwindle and the suppliers get a bit stabby, they need some help to solve their problem. That’s where the PCs come in. But any group of 4 or 5 4th level Pathfinder characters has their work cut out for them.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. From the quaint painting of town on the cover to the narrative-heavy layout, I was intrigued but a bit lost at first. As I got my footing a bit, I figured out Myler’s writing lends itself nicely to telling an intriguing story that involves combat, roleplaying, and diplomatic challenges to the players across a few landscapes.
The opening caught my attention right away, turning the traditional “you meet in a bar” adventure intro into more of a sales pitch for a traveling bard. The bard plies the PCs with beer, wine, and a story of why the town of Brandlehill really needs their help. It’s a matter of supply and demand really… The demand is high for the gnomish clockwork creations, but the supply of a strange substance from the bogs nearby needed by their creators has stopped coming. And the grippli, a tribe living in the Zeranoth swamps, aren’t being very kind to the gnomes seeking more of the stuff. They seem to be afflicted by some strange condition rendering them unable to rationally discuss anything and wishing bodily harm on their gnomish neighbors.
As the adventure progresses, the PCs get to tour Brandlehill, talk to the mayor, and try to figure out why all this is happening to the small folk. They’ll be reimbursed handsomely of course…
Really it’s a fun adventure that I think would be cool to play either as the GM or the players. But I have a few issues with the way it’s executed.
First, the narrative approach muddled things quite a bit for me. Though the adventure is broken into several sections of 2-4 pages (in the 37 page PDF), those sections just run on and on with only italicized text and the occasional column line or illustration to break it up. I think the addition of a few more headings would clear it up for me, but I had a hard time delineating between the encounters in each section.
Second, though there are maps and NPC descriptions with stats at the back of the book, I became very lost trying to find them. The TOC labels each of the maps, but they’re not labeled on any of the map pages themselves, so it was unclear flipping through the book what encounters they belonged to. I would have liked to have seen a small version of the map at the beginning of each section it was used for in the text itself, along with a link to the full page map later on. The same holds true for the NPCs described. I didn’t even know they were at the back of the book until I flipped back there.
Beyond that, the mix of single and double-column layouts worked well throughout, offering a pleasant border pattern and enough white space to make it fairly simple to read. I have to admit I found the print-friendly version a bit easier on the eyes than the colored version, but that’s probably just my own failing eyesight. It’s nice to have the options however.
And I love many of the breakout boxes throughout the text. Each offers great advice for a GM running the adventure, from using exaggerated facial expressions for the many froggish characters in the story to finding a looping background track of chirping crickets as the party explores the swamp. Little flavored ideas like those go a long way to making a more memorable session at the game table for everyone.
Overall a fun adventure and I look forward to seeing where things go in the next installment – The Mysterious Peaks of Baranthar.
For more about the adventure and designer Mike Myler…
- … check out his products at DriveThruRPG, including The Clockwork Wonders of Brandlehill.
- … check out his web page for more about current and upcoming projects he’s working on.