A Review of: People of Pembrooktonshire by James Edward Raggi IV

The Old School Renaissance (hereafter OSR) has spawned quite a bit of hobbyist gamers into becoming RPG designers, pundits, publishers, etc. This is nothing new. The hobby has pretty much had folks that have created their own additions, house rules, divergent systems, etc since the inception of the hobby. And even with the seemingly cyclical “sky is falling” doomspeakers that always seem to predict the end of the hobby, it is precisely because of the very inherent grass roots nature of the hobby that no one will ever to be able to effectively kill it. As the hobby has grown over the years, the flagship title or the game that stated it all created by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, has gone through several iterations; morphed beyond the original concept; become an industry success and a darling in the public eye as well as almost disappearing totally due to financial mismanagement and being reviled by many as a gateway to all kinds of alleged aberrant behavior. But quietly, the original grass roots gamers were still out there working with their preferred editions, adding house rules, and keeping the original spirit alive.

Whew, having prefaced all of that, James Raggi is one of the hobbyist gamers releasing his own flavor of Old School gaming supplements through his game publishing company Lamentations of the Flame Princess. His approach is decidedly different from the standard OSR dungeon delve, or high fantasy, or even swords and sorcery approach. Taking a “weird fantasy” approach, Mr. Raggi’s work is something altogether different. People of Pembrooktonshire is a town supplement for Old School style games. Being as there are no game statistics, this supplement could be easily ported to ANY gaming system. The thrust of the book is to provide a town and its inhabitants that can be used in any way the Game Master sees fit. Since there are no statistics, the book is all “fluff” (I do not mean that derogatively). Pembrooktonshire and its inhabitants definitely deserve the weird fantasy tag. Pembrooktonshire is a completely self absorbed and functioning bunch of misanthropes. What Mr. Raggi provides can be used whole cloth or piecemealed out. Pembrooktonshire definitely appeals to my sense of the absurd. The citizens are totally disdainful of the outside world. Indeed, they even shun any of their own that have contact with the world outside. However, Pembrooktonshire depends on the outside world for its prosperity. That just sets the stage for the insanity that lurks inside (and there is quite a bit of it). What I really thought was well done was that on first take, the personages listed within this book would for the most part seem rather normal. It is only upon continued exposure to them that the deep seated character flaws emerge. It seems that when game designers feel the need to portray insanity, that usually means violent sociopaths, gibbering psychopaths, or some other twisted and overt personage. Not so here. Indeed, many of the inhabitants have much more subtle disturbances that really sets them apart. This gives the town a whimsical yet sinister feeling of depravity. Take the glassblower that is highly skilled, but gets his kicks from creating highly detailed and realistic glass replicas of items (such as food), places them with the real food items at a market stall and watches as an unsuspecting customer bites into the food item only to get a mouth full of glass. Or the town barber that has his own standards for approved grooming and appearance. Anyone that does not conform that comes to visit said barber, he diagnoses with a severe dental problem (he is also the town dentist) and then proceeds to perform painful dental surgery. Yes, there are a total of 137 inhabitants detailed in such a fashion. While this might not be everyone’s cuppa cuppa, it certainly does not conform to the same boring lists for typical pseudo-medieval fantasy personages.

Bottom line, not everyone is going to benefit from this supplement. Not everyone is going to want to include such a highly disturbed town in their campaign. However, for those that are looking for something different, those that want to have the feel of a town that is just not quite right, this supplement has a lot to offer. Play it straight, play it for laughs, or add a very dark and troubled tone to it; it works on so many levels without having to change anything to achieve a particular feel. Just add emphasis to whatever element you want to play up. On the whole, I give this supplement nine out of ten stars due to originality, adaptability, and overall flavor. I didn’t give it the full ten stars due to my personal preferences and the fact that I don’t know that I would be able to sustain the “weird fantasy” for an extended period. Overall though, great work and highly recommended to those that want to flesh out their NPC town folk beyond the standard cardboard cutouts. I’m looking forward to reading through the rest of Lamentation of the Flame Princess’ products.


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