The Castle Keeper's Guide to the Haunted Highlands
The Return to the Haunted Highlands Kickstarter was TLG's most successful fundraising campaign to date and this book is the jewel of this project. Years ago, as the original modules were being released, there was talk about expanded the setting introduced through Chritofferson's writings. When TLG published the Eastmark Gazetteer and the After Winters Dark folios, fans clamored for a Haunted Highlands folio. Admittedly, I also thought it would have been a great idea at the time. Then, the conversation turned to the idea of a Haunted Highlands boxed set, much like those classic setting boxed sets published by TSR in days long past. Box sets are cool after all. Somehow, the Highlands got put aside as other projects demanded a greater measure of attention until (pretty much) the Kickstarter itself -- the goal of which was to, as many felt, give the Haunted Highlands the treatment it deserved.
If I were to describe this book to others, it's a wonderful beast of a book. The Haunted Highlands is a gritter setting than some people may be accustomed to and what started off as a micro-setting being pieced together by the release of adventure modules has evolved into something greater. The Haunted Highlands also gave way to the Free City of Eskadia (I review it HERE) which is now part of a larger whole. The book is complete with a gazetteer component, a section of deities and fiends, previously published adventures DB1 - DB6 which have been updated and expanded, the addition of three more adventures (DB7 - DB9), and a bestiary section. This mammoth book is 400 pages!
The first section, the gazetteer, gives a nice overview of the setting but remains true to the concept of what a gazetteer should be -- entries are numerous but short and concise. However, between these entries and the supplied, a clear enough picture is presented and, given that the majority of the book is an assembled collection of 9 adventures, many things covered in the gazetteer will be visited in the adventures as well. This will certainly help to create a lasting impression upon the players participating and playing through the campaign. Of course, in a land of myth and magic where gods and demons vie for influence, a good fantasy setting would be incomplete if this was ignored. These really help add flavor to the setting and provides further inspiration to draw from when painting a narrative for the players to immerse themselves in.
The second, and by far, the largest section is the collection of adventures for the Haunted Highlands. It is important to note that most of this material can be used as needed, or which ever path the players dare to tread. There is nothing that forces the players to start and go on advancing through the modules one at a time starting off at DB1 through DB9. In the first of these, goes on to describe the areas in DB1 as:
... not listed under a level of difficulty for their use. The areas of adventure detailed herein may be considered to be fluid and every-changing based on your style of play, thus handicapping them with level adjustments would proved foolish at best.It continues to state:
Certainly a hydra's lair may prove too difficult for low level characters, but may be though of as "just right" for higher level play. Likewise, a warren of goblins may be considered too easy a challenge for higher level adventuring hands, but just right for low level parties looking to cut their teeth on high adventure.In other words, the material is truly an assortment and much of it can be described in a similar way and it feels much more open ended than other published adventures.
On the subject of the adventuring material presented, the only thing I wish that could have been added in is some sort of mass-combat rules to go along with the large combat scenarios which started to be presented from DB4 and onward. When DB4: Dro Mandras was first published, the module had alluded to the 'Tides of Battle' system for Mass Combat. Fields of Battle was published sometime afterwards and a condensed version of the rules appeared in the Castle Keeper's Guide. I would have loved to see the inclusion of the condensed rules in either this volume or the Player's Guide to the Haunted Highland. Of course, the present book is already 400 pages...
The completely new content serves to broaden and link up other previously mentioned material but follow the same kind of format previously established. All in all, the 9 adventures along with the gazetteer really shines in this manner of presentation. To make the book complete, the last section is a sizable addition of another 70 pages of monsters for the C&C game. Of course, some of these are not entirely new having been previously published in the original six Haunted Highlands adventures but it's always nice to have these all in one place. Some of these creatures will also be familiar outside of C&C as many are conversions of the creatures made available through Necromancer Games' Tome of Horrors.
Compared to the Player's Guide, this book seems to have gotten the lion's share of attention where this project was concerned. There are, simply put, fewer problems as far as layout out and editing is concerned though these are still present. One thing is certain, I found them less intrusive over all. Any of these issues here may be more a layout issue than an editing one. An example of a layout issue can be found on the map spread on pages 234 - 235 of the book -- the header on the top of page 235 is obscured which leads me to believe it should not have been there.
Overall, I highly recommend this book and value it far more than the player's guide. The player's guide, though nice, isn't strictly necessary to enjoy the Haunted Highlands. The Castle Keeper's Guide to the Haunted Highlands is, on the other hand, a great way to kick off a new campaign in a slightly different setting that has a strong, swords and sorcery vibe to it. Take a trip down the Bowbe's Roadhouse and have yourself a pint... new adventures await for you!
As I mentioned before, the MSRP for the book, once released will be $40.00 but, if you prefer or like the idea of a digital alternative, consider the PDF available HERE for $27.99.