|Covers: Lands of Legends : Fairy|
©2021 Axian Spice
Authors: Giuseppe Rotondo, Mauro Longo
Publisher: Axian Spice
Lands of Legends are thus far is a series of zines. Each volume has two issues one presents ten locations and the other ten encounters each for ten different terrain types commonly used in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Making each volume a total of 100 encounters and 100 Adventure locations; each described in a single paragraph. These are often completely System Neutral, but roughly a quarter of them have mechanics - usually saving throws - for an OSR game. They include the OGL5 license in the back of the 'zines.
I reviewed the first two volumes of Lands of Legends: Grim and Mundane here. Lands of Legends Grim offers bleak, horrific, or tragic encounters for a grimdark Dungeons & Dragons campaign or a game of Mork Börg. While Lands of Legends: Mundane focuses on Low Fantasy encounters and locations that do not rely on magic or the supernatural to function.
The third volume of the series is Lands of Legends: Fairy. This pair of Zines offer 100 strange, magical, and whimsical encounters and 100 strange and wondrous locations inspired by Faerie Tales and Phantasmagoria.
What I Loved
I have said this of the previous volumes of Lands of Legends, but I am again staggered by the level of creativity that has gone into the creation of Lands of Legends: Fairy. The amount of energy it takes to come up with 200 items along a single theme takes dedication, energy, and focus.
Layout and Design
Another repeat item of praise: I love the funky, artistic layout of the zines. They have a comic book design that keeps you reading and gives you a sense of energy and motion. The use of a soft light blue and black together in particular was very enjoyable to look at.
While I made some mention of specific encounters in the past, I wanted to overtly mention my favourites here in no particular order. There is definitely stuff that I am going to mine from these books for my campaign.l:
Cart, Land of the Fiery Corsair, Land of Changeling, Lord of the Clouds, Iron Spiders, Three Heron Fencers, The Great Mountaineer, The Alchemist, Ship's in the Sky, The Black Servant, Entrapped!
I do honestly believe that almost anyone is going to find something they want to use in these books.
The guys at Axian Spice know how important visual interest is. There are slight changes the background pattern, variations to the layout, and artwork everywhere you look. You're never bored looking at these zines. Federico Martinetto and Matteo Ceresa deserve honourable mention for the incredible graphic design and artwork included in the book.
Faith to Source
This is a book that focuses on Faerie Tale inspired and counters and locations. Rather than going with the Dungeons & Dragons "Sylvan Creatures" approach.
There's lots of strange curses placed on characters for careless Acts, Bizarre old people with strange magical afflictions, witches with terrible powers and armies of minions, riddles, and tests of the characters virtue. Accordingly, this one feels a lot more like something strange, frightening, and whimsical all at the same time then you would get with the more common OSR take on fairies.
A New Look at Curses
I also want to give special attention to how curses are deployed in Lands of Legends: Fairy. There are over a score of instances where player characters can get themselves cursed in some horrible way or another.
Some are short-term, and some are lifelong. But they definitely do not follow the model of being a penalty to die rolls or a change the character stats. Some of these would look perfectly in place in a collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales or the Red Fairy book.
One of my favourites involves a thief who is being turned into a magpie while retaining her skilks. The only way to free her is to successfully steal from her, though she doesn't know that. Another curse that comes as a punishment for stealing a coin from a pond, causes all treasure gathered by that character to be transported to the bottom of the pond until the stolen coin is returned.
Yet another encounter features a character who must eat swamp muck until he discovers the source of his curse and sets it right, but with each meal he turns more and more into a carp. If you are looking for interesting ways to use curses in Dungeons & Dragons, this is possibly one of the best sources I have seen to explore.
Fun Pop Culture References
It's no surprise then the guys at Axian Spice drew a lot of inspiration from different works of literature and pop culture source. I'm sure I didn't catch half of the cultural references they have snuck into their work . But here is what I managed to catch on to readings:
Alice in Wonderland, Animal Farm, Frank L. Baum's Land of Oz, Spirited Away, The Princess Bride, The Neverending Story, The Star Wars Ewok Films, Labyrinth, The Chronicles of Narnia, Hilda, Xanth, the Monkey Island adventure games, Pinocchio (at least two!), the Octonauts, the Golden Bough, microfiction by Franz Kafka, and a splash of Gabriel Garçia Marquez.
II love intertextuality. I have a sense of delight and discovery every time I catch one text making a reference to another that I recognize. This is probably the reason why the Simpsons has had such endurance. And given the sheer scope of these projects, I am not at all surprised that day borrow heavily from all over the scope of pop culture.
While many of these encounters are going to be unusual one-offs, or encompass a single Adventure there are a few items in Lands of Legends: Fairy that can be used to make a full-sized campaign. "The Wish Tree," "The Gates," and "Entrapped!" In particular all demand that you dedicate multiple Adventures do resolving the central conflict of these encounters. "The Gates" will require a massive multi-adventure hexcrawl. "The Wish Tree" requires numerous voyages to different Faery courts to gain information, and "Entrapped!" involves investigation, trying to find the source of a curse, then breaking it before the characters can leave the small village they having magically trapped in.
With the sheer volume, not to mention the fact that they are drawing on Faerie Tales, which are ultimately metaphors for human psychology, it's no surprise that you see certain elements repeated multiple times. Strange lonely old people with blessings, curses, or lore to share is one thing you see repeatedly. Witches with terrible magic is another. So is alchemy gone terribly wrong. And, as I have said above, a huge number of these encounters involve player characters becoming cursed if they give offence or fall into temptation.
Looking at how the encounters were done, it's clear that they had a template in mind for each environment, are they tried to include one campaign builder, one curse, one strange old person, etc., . And, given the scope of the project that was a smart move. At the end of the day, you are not wanting for ideas, and I can't say as though I was disappointed by anything I read. But, if they had any leftovers, it might have been wise to go through and make sure that the template encounters were trimmed in favour of the odd ones out. Just it to scramble it up a little more.
And again, I feel as though this is me searching for things to criticize, in a product that is excellent in order to have something worth saying. If this is the biggest gripe I can come up with, then you are looking at a damn fine work of Indie RPG material.
I Could Use Some Quotations
One repetitive element that appears throughout the encounters book is annoying creatures that endlessly blather on once they are encouraged by the party even a little bit. There are talking birds that know only the truth, moralizing crickets, and jabbering talking monkeys all of which that can end up being tag-alongs adding endless noise and irritation for the player characters.
I love the idea, and I'll use something like it in my next campaign to be searching. But, it would help me immensely if there were some sample quotations from a given creature to build on as a start. Five one-liners would be enough material to inspire me to plague my characters at every turn.
On the technical side, Lands of Legends suffers from the bane of all beautifully laid out PDFs: poor compression.
Lands of Legends takes a long time to load, especially if I'm switching back and forth between the document end my notes. Processing and loading it repeatedly drained my Dragon Touck 10 tablet's battery and choked it's feeble 2GB RAM.
I love looking at this book, but there were times where it was a chore to read on my device. In part this is because there are multiple layers to work with, including a black and white layer you can expose to make the book easier to read and printer friendly, as I learned while discussing the last two volumes. For a phone or a tablet, those extra layers can require a lot of work to process. This is definitely a product best viewed on a higher-end device or a PC, and not your second string Android.
A Few Layout Glitches
The other thing about having a beautifully laid out Zine is that there's always going to be a few glitches. There are a few spots where the art is behind the background and seems to disappear as the page loads. And a couple places where the texture of the background can disappear depending on how you are browsing the book. The most notable problem, however, comes with a specific encounter: Freshwater Encounters #10: "It's That Day of the Year," which does not have the blue text box behind it, leaving it black text on a black background. Because it is not well lined up with the number it took me quite a while to find it so I could highlight it and read it. And because of how an Android select text, I still have not read that counter in its entirety
Let's be honest here, I was having a hard time finding things to criticize. The lands of Legends scenes are 100 locations and 100 enounters using the 10 terrain types used in OSR Dungeons & Dragons. They show creativity, cleverness, and wit. Each volume of them has had something new to add to how I play Dungeons and Dragons. And each one has had at least a dozen items I want to port into my campaign.
Personally, I have never bernshort on ideas coming from my own deranged imagination. But, as of late I have found myself much more pinched for time. And having something already developed that shows this level of creativity is a fantastic resource.
Almost all the complaints I have have either being technical issues, the inevitable glitches of creating something with this volume in such short order, or necessary evils of the process of making something this ambitious and this big in such a short time period. I received this Zine a little over two weeks ago and I consider its review long overdue.
And somehow they already have a fourth volume available! Here's hoping that they will forgive my slow delivery on this review so that I might see the next one in action!