Emer I - Hæstra and the Emerian Empire

A review by Bent Dalager
<bcd@pvv.ntnu.no>

This document may be distributed freely as long as its contents remains unaltered.

I have read through the latest installment of the Shadow World series, Emer I, by Terry Kevin Amthor. The following sum up my impressions and comments on this product. I have attempted to give as objective a view as I can, but my own personal feelings will have seeped through here and there.


A Note

In the very start of the book, the author writes;

"As for earlier Amthor writings, there is little inconsistency. However, there may or may not be conflicts with other Shadow World books (e.g., Amthor has never read Curse of Kabis); therefore only the Atlases, Jaiman, Iron Wind, Cloudlords and Eidolon are considered Canon."

This seems to mean that one should be very careful with the older products, in particular with Curse of Kabis, which is a shame, as that was a most excellent source book. Still, it does not seem like Emer I has touched upon the inside of the Scorpion Ridge at all, so keeping all those lovely goblins, demons, dwarves, and water/fire beings in there seems safe. I liked those :-)

Cosmetics

I have the spiral bound hardcopy version, which looks real handy for lying open, and which is probably a lot better than the alternative cloth binding.

Cover

The cover art and design is real neat, and takes the front page design of SW books a long way away from the earlier modules. Where the earlier SW books looked a bit sterile with the single-colour background, etc., this one just looks ... nice. The inside covers are blank, technical reasons I suppose. In stead of the normal self-advertising on the back, there is a version of the Emer map. I suppose you don't have to advertise on the back when you're selling over the net anyway ...

The cover is made of a thickish cardboard which has a nice feel to it.

Art

The interior art is of overall good quality. Aside from having lifted several historical-looking pieces from various public domain sources, there is an amount of original art specifically geared towards the contents. I most particularly like the ray-traced sceneries, some of which can also be admired on Terry's Shadow World web site. Some of the interior artwork is in georgeous colours in the PDF file, these are sadly grayscale in the hardcopy (colour printing - boy would that have raised the price). They are still very nice though.

Maps

With the book comes a loose A3-size insert (no need to rip it out of the book) made of a oldish looking thick paper with the Hæstra map on it. This map is real nice, with three pieces of insert art along the side. It is also in full colour. It shows all the major cities and sites in Hæstra, and several of the other towns. The PDF version has this map in a seperate PDF file, which looks just the same. If you have access to an A3 colour printer, go for it!

As I said above, the main maps look good. The main Emer map is the same one we have seen earlier - a quite good artistic map of the entire continent. An additional goody for those who buy the PDF format is a PDF of the large world map (you know, the large one - glossy, comes in two parts, and all that). I was a bit funny to see the text 'one inch equals one mile' on the worldmap on my computer screen though - I would think that depends upon the printout size, eh? :-) Anyway, I can finally cut and paste world map portions directly into my adventures! Oh joy! Both the Emer and the world maps are available on TKA's Shadow World site, but in much smaller format.

There are also a large number of black/white maps inside the book, at the very end. These do a zoom-up of the Hæstra region and give quite detailed information. Although they are nowhere near as detailed as the one in Cloudlords (admittedly, that was one of a kind), they do show all major towns, highways, and several undetailed adventure sites and should prove to be immensely useful to the GM centering his campaign in the area.

There are also city maps of several large settlements of the region. This includes Artha, Aquitar, Sarnak and the Port of Izar. Not counting the city maps or the region maps, there are 6 pages of map zoom-ups in the book.

I have a slight gripe about the fact that the zoom-up maps don't overlap much (or, at least, not enough), and it seems that some small plots of land are not covered, but overall I am quite satisfied with the amount of maps in this product.

Layout

The layout is altogether similiar to the one in the Grand Campaign (which is available for free, so check it out), and works very well. The book is very pleasent to read as a result. There are a couple of places where there are some stranded '???'s in stead of a reference. The author probably never got to updating those particular words, which is a shame. Still, there are only a couple of these, and it is quite obvious what was intended if you have read the rest of the book.

Contents

Much of the start of the book is used to reiterate things we already know. Tech levels, the timeline (with some added events), telling time (although he has added names for the ten weekdays), etc. This tendency is evident throughout the book, as organisations such as the Ahrenreth are described briefly (seen it before). However, there is a wealth of new information in this book, and I do not at all feel that the author has taken the opportunity to sell 'old info' in a new packaging. If the old info were not repeated, much of the new stuff wouldn't make any sense unless you spent an evening cross-referencing Eidolon and the Master Atlas with Emer I, and that I would really hate to have to do. Now you have one comprehensive listing of events, which is nice. Until the next update anyway :-)

The book is about evenly divided between a history of the Emerian Empire (which had its seat of power in Hæstra) and describing today's nations and peoples in that region. Although the region description might have suffered from sharing the book with a rather detailed account of Emer's history, I feel the history section offers a lot in the way of knowledge and plot elements for a campaign anywhere on Emer.

Introduction

The introduction goes through the usual motions. Tech levels, subsistence patterns, telling time, etc. There are some new elements, however, and I found it valuable to read this section in its entirety, in spite of having read much the same in previous products. One of the things it does is touch upon the topics of crime and punishment in general, as well as give some more details on telling time.

History

The timeline is very large; it takes up a total of almost 30 pages. In addition to the same old material, it introduces some new plot elements, including a very large, powerful, mysterious organisation that even has the Loremasters befuddled. Noone even knows if these people are good or bad. Details are added to several other plot lines, the history is brought along a couple of months, and the aftereffects of the loss of the Northern Eye are given.

Hæstra

The book goes on to describe the climate, flora and fauna of Hæstra, as per standard procedure. The native races are described (we've seen them before), and then the realms are covered in more detail. Some detail is added to what little can be found in the Emer atlas about the periphery realms such as Danarchis and Sarnak. Then the central Hæstra region as well as the Komaran Cluster (the islands off the west coast of the Scorpion Ridge) and Bodlea are described in much greater detail. The cultures are given due attention and several towns are briefly visited - enough to make each town a potential starting (and possibly focal) point for a campaign. A couple of 'new' cultures are also introduced and placed in the mountains (you just gotta love those Dyari). Some passing reference is given to the Shinh archipelago and the Barellis and Rashelle islands (NW of Hæstra, in the open ocean), just enough to give the GM a good idea what goes on there. Although the info on Sarnak may well collide with that in Curse of Kabis (I haven't really checked, but the author not having read Curse, it would be a miracle if it didn't), the latter should be able to give some good info on what kind of nasty stuff you can put into the Scorpion Ridge, as Emer I focuses a lot more on the central, eastern and northwestern parts of Hæstra.

The 'places of interest' section is filled up with short descriptions of various interesting sites that can be found in the region. None go over the top, like the tomb complex in Jaiman, but give you just enough to go on. I far prefer this way of doing it as opposed to giving complete layouts and maps for only a few places. I can always make a map once I have a general feeling what kind of place it is - making up the concept is a bit harder. Of course, I would much rather have a 1,000 page supplement with everything in it, but we've got to be realistic.

On the zoom-up maps, several sites are given with location and name. Only a few of these are mentioned in the book, and then only very briefly. This seems to give the GM a lot of 'free' spots for adventure sites that he can expand upon himself. For instance, the 'Tower of the White Sorceror' is placed on the map and named, but nowhere in the book does the author refer to this place. The conclusion; make of it what you will. I think this a very nice addition, and one that may spark quite interesting discussions between players of different campaigns as they talk about what each group found in the tower of the white sorceror. ("How was your Tower of the White Sorceror like?")

The 'powers and personalities' section describes the Changramai, gives more insight into the Imperial Orders (a lot more), a new organisation called the 'Alliance' (dubious types), as well as a number of minor factions and the neighbouring lands (Sel-Kai, Lankanôk, etc). One or two minor (local) gods (at least, they could be) are described, as well as a small number of low-to-medium level NPCs.

The 'adventures' section is nothing grandiose, it gives two adventure ideas over as many pages, and hints to four other possible ideas.

NPCs

Early in the book, the author states that he will concentrate more on low-to-medium level NPCs in the future as opposed to 20th level Navigators and Loremasters. He is true to his word, and the NPCs presented seem quite interesting.

One gripe I have here is that in the master military charts, no note is made of how many troops each nation has, only what their stats would be. In my mind, this is a bit lacking, as it then doesn't give a very good idea about a nation's military potential. Of course, one could cross-check against the Emer atlas, but a number of new cultures have been added and the military units aren't altogether the same as in that atlas. I just hope this was an oversight and not a deliberate omission as I would like to see such numbers in future products.

PDF or paper?

...or both? :-)

The PDF version gives you the advantage of fast look-up of the book if you have a computer with an acrobat reader - very convenient. Especially considering the fact that the book pretty much contains the entirety of the Emerian history. It also lets you see all the interior graphics in their natural colours, which is nice. Further, it makes it a lot easier to make handouts based on the text in the book (copy/paste) or even the graphics (same procedure ...). Printing the book results in a very good result, even if the front and back covers aren't there. You won't miss them that much even if they are pretty.

The paper version, however, is a lot handier to read through, look up things you know where you will find, and, most of all, it's actually quite easy to bring to a session (unlike your P266MMX with its 21" monitor, etc :-). It also gives you the A3 Hæstra map, which is nice to just sit and admire in the flesh.

Myself, I have both, and I kind of like it that way :-)

Conclusion

I am left with a distinct feeling that Emer I supplies the GM with everything he needs to set up a successful campaign in the Hæstra region with not too much work on his own. The book does not tell you everything, but more than enough to get you started. It also gives a very good idea what happened during the rise and fall of the Emerian Empire, from which many of today's plots were born. This is definitely a recommended buy.
[Back to the Shadow World index] [Send Mail] [Top of Document]

bcd@pvv.ntnu.no
Last modified: Tue Nov 18 21:49:07 MET 1997