Saturday, October 3, 2020

REVIEW: Planet Eris Gazetteer

I have a complicated relationship with published Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings. On the one hand, there are settings, like the Wilderlands of High Fantasy or the World of Greyhawk, for which I have a great deal of affection. On the other hand, I feel very strongly that the best campaign settings are the ones referees create themselves. That's why it's been close to fifteen years since I made use of someone else's setting rather than simply making my own. Neverthelesss, I remain an ardent admirer of interesting and well made settings for D&D and, when I find one, I like to let others know about it.

The Planet Eris Gazetteer is both interesting and very well made. Written by Jimm Johnson, this 64-page, digest-sized booklet describes the titular planet, its history, peoples, and lands. Eris is "the 10th planet of a yellow sun known as Sol," inhabited by several different humanoid races, ranging from Earthmen who fled their dying world at the dawn of the 33rd Æon; to Barsoomians, elves, dwarves, halflings, and other staples of fantasy. That might sound like a chaotic jumble, but it's not – or at least it's no more of a chaotic jumble than is D&D generally. If anything, the Gazetteer leverages the game's mélange of fantasy and science fiction literary sources to good effect, presenting a setting that is both immediately accessible and ready-made for the kinds of fantasy gaming that Dungeons & Dragons (and its derivatives) do so well: rollicking sword-and-sorcery with a healthy dose of science fantasy. 

The book provides brief overviews of the planet's climate, seasons, history and calendar systems, races and languages before launching into the gazetteer proper. The first (and largest) entry describes the Empire of Sparn and its capital city. The Empire is a Lawful, authoritarian realm akin to the Roman Empire of old Earth – if the Romans had had magic. Sparn's subject realms also get their own entries, as do the lands outside the reach of the Imperator Sparnorum. Every geographical feature on the map receives short descriptions, generally a sentence or two – enough to fire the imagination but not limit it. This is a good time to show off said map, which is absolutely beautiful and available as both a PDF (provided with the purchase of the Gazetteer) or as a 24" × 36" poster map. Gaze upon its glory!

The book also describes the gods and demons of Eris, starting with the pantheon of Law worshiped by the Sparnians. Other deities, some of them having come from old Earth, appear, as do creatures of Chaos and the elemental powers. Again, it's a hodgepodge, but a well chosen one that buttresses the Howard-by-way-Burroughs feel of the setting. 

Though clearly intended for use with OD&D, the Gazetteer is largely rules-free. The only exceptions treat overland travel, random encounters, and seafaring and none of are mechanically complex; even calling them "rules" might be a stretch. Instead, the emphasis is on presenting an engaging setting full of adventure possibilities. The book's OD&D heritage is even more clear when you look at its layout and overall presentation, which is broadly reminiscent of that of Eldritch Wizardry. With a cover by old school favorite Peter Mullen and interior artwork by Rich Longmore and Luigi Castellani, the booklet does a very good job of evoking its clever take on sword-and-sorcery.
In short, the Planet Eris Gazetteer is fun and inspiring, particularly if you're a fan of the pulp fantasies that inspired Gygax and Arneson. It's the kind of setting in which I'd love to play, as well as being a great example of what a single individual or small group of people who share a vision can achieve. I would be very happy indeed to see more RPG books of this sort produced: concise, focused, and inspiring. Whether or not you're in the market for a new campaign setting, I still recommend the Planet Eris Gazetteer most highly. You can buy it as a PDF or in print from Lulu or from DriveThruRPG 

3 comments:

  1. I purchased this book and supporting map earlier this year. Best world I've bought since my original Greyhawk Folio. The map you show doesn't do the Full Color one I recieved. I guess you'll just have to purchase it for yourself to see it in all its glory.

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    1. My copy of the map is on its way. I'll probably do a separate post about it once I have it in my hands. From everything I have heard, it truly is wondrous.

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  2. Good to see Captain Garrovick again.

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