|Cover to Lands of Legends : Holy|
©2021 Axian Spice
Publisher: Axian Spice
Lands of Legends: Holy is the fourth volume of the Lands of Legends series by Axian Spice. Each volume consists of two zines with either 10 encounters or 10 locations for each of the 10 Common terrain types used in OSR retroclones. This means each zine has either 100 counters or 100 locations in it.
If you haven't read my previous reviews of volumes 1 and 2 here and volume 3 here, they are well worth your time. I would love to know what the guys that actually and spice are taking and where I can get some, because the creativity that goes into these scenes is absolutely stunning. And this one is exceptional.
While I have criticized some of the past volumes as having a lot of similar encounters, this one has very little that is repetitive. Even where there are multiple encounters that offer characters away to atone for sins or cleanse wounds and diseases, they are all very different in terms of execution, with some atonements requiring sacrifice, some quests, some simple prayer. Healing might be gained automatically, or by simply allowing a magical effect to happen, others might require religious conversion, or drinking sacred water.
Holy is by far the strongest of the four Lands of Legends volumes released so far, and that is saying something.
What I Loved
Many Meanings for "Holy"
My biggest trepidation about looking at a product labeled "Holy" is that there are many ways of understanding the word. The Divine in fantasy role-playing games seems to change constantly from one setting to another. Rather than hone themselves in on any one of these definitions, Lands of Legends: Holy offers a little bit of everything. Some encounters or locations involvedmiracles from far and distant gods, some involved angelic visitations or Divine inspiration, some are wise and enlightened mystics. In other cases the gods are trickster spirits manipulating people, or immortal monsters, and in yet others we see selfish regional deities jealous of their worshipers. We see everything from Christlike nativities to Buddhist mystics, to Nordic paganism, to animistic Spirits scattered throughout the book.
Many New Gods
If you go by the typical Dungeons & Dragons notion of gods as powerful beings with influence over a limited sphere of the world, such as a god of death or a god of still waters, or God of fire and chaos, then Lands of Legends: Holy has numerous great ideas ranging from two-faced gods of madness to goddesses of growing things that curse miners, to ancient and jealous storm gods with clergy that control shipping and sailing along a seashore. There are easily a dozen gods to be found throughout this book that you could add to a campaign's pantheon.
Some figures, like Death's Accountant and the God of All Snails are developed over multiple encounters, giving them at least a little depth to work with.
Stand Out Locations
With 100 locations to choose from, there's going to be something you're going to find in there you'll like. These locations aren't mapped, only described and left your imagination, sometimes with mechanics for the area's effects.
For me these ones stood out as being unusual or very creative in some way that makes them worth stealing for my campaigns:
"Moriana, The Dual City", "The Graveyard Town", "The Gods' Sandbox", "A Place to Die", "The Tree of Worlds", "Snailwood", "Mystic Flow", "The Valley of Mirages", "The Face of the Gods", "The Guardians", "Valley of Forgiveness", "The Pale Prince", "Caurom's Island", "Midway Upon the Journey", "Stone Rings" "The Void Lord Plateau", "The God of Dislike."
Stand Out Encounters
In my previous reviews I have said that the Encounters I the Lands of Legends zines could be repetitive ; that is less the case in Holy, and there are a lot of outstanding encounters here. These ones in particular jumped our at me, and I could happily build an encounter around them.
"The Time of Love", "Lazarus, Come Out", "The Reverse Sphinx", "The Prophetic Vulture", "Goldberries", "Green Poetry", "Death's Accountant", "Angel of Light", "Portent!" (the bell), "The Fire Sermon"
Pretty Much All the Holy Civilization Encounters
The Holy Civilization encounters are next level! Each one of them is interesting, evocative, and could be used as inspiration to build a solid adventure.
World-Building Tool in the Guise of Encounters
With myriad of different approaches to interpreting the idea of "Holy", Lands of Legends: Holy requires you to think about what the role of Gods, Angels, Devils, Spirits, and Sylvan Creatures really are in your game. Do you want abstract "higher powers", flawed man-like deities, animistic spirits, or monsters that demand human worship as your campaign's gods? By deciding which encounters or locations you want might like in your world, you will discover a lot about how the Divine works in it. There is even an encounter that suggests that the gods are projections of powerful psionic whales... Which would make for a hell of a campaign.
I have a soft spoy for Dionysus/Bacchus and the Maenads/Bacchae... So much so that I am in the process of building an entire campaign about a God of Drunkenness taking over a city. I was delighted to see this wonderful, oft-neglected monsters make an appearance. That encounter would go perfectly in my upcoming The Lost Amphora of the Wine Lord.
Creative Play Challenges
A few encounters and locations such as "Green Poetry", "Reverse Sphinx", and "The Water Nymph's Riddle" offer a kind of role playing challenge I have never seen before, and was delighted by: player characters aew expected to share or help create poems and riddles. If successful, they are offered rewards for their creativity.
Grand Challenges & Sacrifices
Several of the encounters and locations in Lands of Legends: Holy offer incredible rewards, but only after PCs take on great quests, go through great hardships, or sacrifice. These encounters really do feel Epic in scope and make religious concepts like redemption and sacrifice feel more meaningful in game. Some great examples include: "The Valley of Forgiveness", "The Voud Plateau", "Death's Accountant", "The Secret of the Polestar", "Maidens at Bath", "The Saint of a Fisher"
Lands of Legends: Holy offers a very wide variety of encounters and locations. There is very little repetition at all in this one in the structure and design of the encounters. A vast improvement!
Lands of Legends sets out to offer DMs 200 pieces of inspiration. It accomplishes that goal beautifully every volume. Given what they are doing, it is hard to find fault, and this time around they have addressed my single greatest criticism of the first three volumes.
In the past I have heaped praise on their layout and design people, Aside Studios, too; literally not a page in Lands of Legends lacks for visual interest. But this time around I feel I can only critique the visual design... Which feels like quibbling, if I am being honest, because these guys make some incredibly beautiful work. But here we go, anyway.
The heading font is, to be honest, illegible. It is too ornate for its own good, especially in small font. I struggled to read it. And when the titles are in Latin in places.? I just stopped trying and copy/pasted them into keep so I could read them.
My Feelings About the Layout is Mixed
In most of the Lands of Legends volumes, Theme and Format are interlinked. The Grim volume used Dark, unsettling colors, and scattered paragraphs. In Mundane it used simple Black and White and arranged things in a way that felt like a Map. In "Fairy" a whimsical electric blue was used, and the arrangement was strange and Chaotic. All felt like form and theme were unified.
Lands of Legends: Holy is less cohesive. Everything in Locations and most of Encounters are laid out in columns of varying widths, with text spilling over column breaks. Everything is in black and yellow, but where yellow is the background for text, it is simple highlighting rather than a text box.
On the one hand this suggests Order and a "Divine Plan", but that doesn't really suit the variety of sorts of "holiness" explored in the zines. A soaring, climbing layout might have better suited the book. Nor do I understand the choice of colors; I would have thought a proper golden hue mixed with black or silver, white and blue, or maybe a Crimson might have better captured the themes. But that is of course, built on my own semiotic baggage. Treat it like all art criticism.
It looks good, I just feel it doesn't have the Unity of the previous volumes.
I Hope We Will Get to See a Next Level?
You know what I would love to see down the road? The guys at Axian Spice and Aside picking their favorites 10 encounters and locations per terrain from, say, the first 5 or (hopefully) ten volumes (they deserve to get there!) fully fleshed out with maps, stat blocks, items, spells, etc., for OSE or OSRIC. Just to let the laziest among us be able to grab this stuff in a hurry.
I have been amazed with just how much creativity goes into these zines; they always stun me. But this one has been a cut above. If you are looking for new locations, cool encounters, and want a divine twist on them, this will gave a few things you will want to steal.
This series is meant to start you off, not give you the whole encounter or location, mind you. You must willing to take the time to flesh out the items you want to get the most out of them. But then, in an OSR game that is 90% choosing hit dice or treasure type and stealing or randomly generating a map. In general, I think that extra bit of work is worth it to bring this stuff to the table.