I wrote here recently about the struggles I'd been having getting my head into a new game. I kept waffling about what I wanted to do, and what game system I wanted to use to do it. I am happy to report that I've made some decisions at last, and I couldn't be happier with the game I've settled on. It's a wonderful D&D-derived game called BEYOND THE WALL AND OTHER ADVENTURES, by John Cocking and Peter S. Williams, from Flatland Games. I wrote a review of it just about a year ago, and I can't recommend it strongly enough. Buy it.
The reason I came back to BTW after so long is that Flatland Games recently released a pair of new supplements for this excellent game. Not only were they filled with great ideas and gameable content, they were free downloads on DriveThruRPG. (I am astonished that they don't offer such high-quality content on a Pay-What-You-Want basis, even if they're short, and I would be happy to pay for such things in the future. But I digress.) Since I was getting these supplements gratis, I purchased another game that Flatland Games sells, just to send a little cash their way and assuage my guilt. After I settled down and read through the supplements, I found myself remembering just how delightful the original game was, and went back to reading through the main rulebook. On a second read-through, it was just as flavourful and inspiring as the first time I picked it up. I found that I'd made my decision, at long last, and moved on to read in detail the second core book, FURTHER AFIELD.
You could run a short campaign (or a number of one-shots) of BTW very easily, using just the core book, but if you're interested in running an ongoing campaign of any length, you will want this book. Not because there is anything included in it that is absolutely required for the game, but because it gives you so many useful tools and options that it feels practically essential.
A large chunk of the book is devoted to developing the setting of your BTW game more fully, literally giving you the ability to take your adventures "further afield" from the village that is always the heart of the game. There is excellent advice about how to make your campaign a true sandbox, giving the players the maximum amount of freedom to explore and pursue their own goals (something that I've been very interested in), and doing it in a nifty new way: collective creation.
This is one of the things that makes BTW so marvellous -- it seamlessly marries a very new idea (collective campaign creation, sharing the authority to develop story in the game with your players) with a very old one, sandbox gaming. This has the advantage of giving players a feeling of connection to the setting and, at the same time, reducing the workload of preparation on the beleaguered GM. A perfect marriage of new thinking and old.
The second really important idea in this book is the addition of Threat Packs. These are basically toolkits that allow you to add a major enemy to your campaign and manage how it develops and grows more potent over the course of play, if unchecked by the player characters. It shares some things in common with Fronts from APOCALYPSE WORLD and some of its variants, but takes the form of a modular unit that you can customize and develop whatever way you like. Each Threat Pack (it's suggested you use two in your campaign) also has a table at the beginning that at least two players must roll on. The idea here is that at least two characters are connected to every Threat, so that they have a personal motivation in opposing it. Excellent idea. My main problem was choosing which Threat I would want to use, because most of them are really flavourful and would make a great focus for a campaign.
There are also a number of excellent optional rules you can use to change up your BTW game a bit, but none of these add extra crunch to the game's sleek design. It's all simple, straight forward stuff that makes you wonder why you used all those clunky extra rules for so long. Just the meat, none of the gristle. There is also some additional content about magic, especially rituals, which are big, slow, powerful magic that is especially appropriate for a long-term game.
As a whole, this is interesting reading for any GM interested in a fantasy game, and most of the campaign design elements could work for whatever game system you please. I'm crazy about tools like the campaign map design system, and anyone who loves that kind of thing will enjoy that part of this book especially. For someone who has already enjoyed BEYOND THE WALL AND OTHER ADVENTURES, this book is absolutely a must-purchase. But I suspect that if you read that book, like myself, you already know that. The quality on all of Flatland Games's products is absolutely top notch.
This book is terrific, and you should really get it to see for yourself. They're currently on sale at DriveThruRPG, but they are more than worth the full price, any time.