Warner Holme Review: Erik Granström and Henrik Rosenborg’s Forbidden Lands: the Bloodmarch

Review by Warner Holme: Erik Granström and Henrik Rosenborg’s Forbidden Lands: the Bloodmarch (Free League, 2023) is an interesting volume expanding on a pre-existing setting. Expanding on the previously known setting, this volume details a disturbing region which includes large portions of forest with disturbing red foliage.

Most of the fantasy standards exist in this world. Orcs, elves, dwarves, humans, demons and more. Some of them are fairly in line with the genre expectations for them, particularly the dwarves, while others have strange and detailed cultures and cultural conflicts explained. Fortunately the setting starts, largely, from a point of view that should make it easy for a reader to jump in even to this development in it without worry about feeling truly lost. Potential alliances, conflicts, and hidden agendas are all discussed in a fair amount of detail.

One complication when dealing with an overall high quality translation like the one created here by Niklas Lundmark is a question of comparison to the original. While a great deal of the strange, weird, and wondrous nature of a dark fantasy setting can be seen throughout this book there are moments which suggest a certain amount of tongue in cheek. And obvious one comes with the adventure seed on page 160, wherein “Muder, Madam” focuses on a particular character’s death. This would be a normal idea for a fairly basic type of event, however the individual who died is named Madam Munna. This is stated repeatedly with both words throughout this small section, and leaves one with a strong suspicion that either one of the original writers or the translator was in fact a fan of the Muppets. Knowing which would be quite nice, and neither it nor some of the other jokes keep the overall tone from something that can be taken reasonably seriously. These include wordplay like naming a deity Kolor who is claimed to be responsible for shades other than red, and a group calling themselves “The Inglourious Butchars” on page 42.

The illustrations are in general high quality, done in the style of drawings and maps which might exist in universe of the people, objects, or places one might encounter. This is overall extremely effective, even to an extent providing justification as to why certain illustrations like that on page 69 seem to devolve into the earliest stages of sketching while large portions are incredibly detailed. Neither is exactly bad, however if they were made to compete with very stylistically different illustrations it might be somewhat less impressive.

In such volumes, specifically going back to the early era of gaming, organization was often one of the biggest problems. While this book overall maintains a fair bit of quality in that regard, the index might be a little sparse to some. And although it does include entries for most of the important individual concepts, it will often leave only a notice when they are the subject of a section rather than merely being mentioned.

As a gaming module it will be very much take it or leave it both for fans of the franchise and more general gamers. Still, it represents a high-quality release, with a lot of interesting ideas that can be incorporated into games or simply get the mind pumping for those who enjoy manuals on fictional worlds. With interesting world building, creatures, and character concepts there is a lot to recommend it.

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