Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden KingdomIf you are like me you are always looking for new material to inject into your games.  The more versatile the source material the better, and Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden Kingdom is just that: versatile source material that you can easily plug into your current campaign.  The Hidden Kingdom is the first print offering from Nevermet Press and according to the press release for the product’s launch it is a “110-page 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure setting for 5th level characters.” but I suspect that GMs will be able to adapt it to different level characters and even different game systems with very little work.

Should you buy The Hidden Kingdom?  What are its selling points?  What are its flaws?  To find out read on, as I give you a brief tour of the world that is The Hidden Kingdom.

Full disclosure: Nevermet Press’ staff approached Gnome Stew’s authors to review The Hidden Kingdom, and for doing so I received a free PDF copy of the product and will be sent a print version as well.

What is “The Hidden Kingdom?”

The Hidden Kingdom is an organization of monks who wear red robes, gloves, and golden masks that hide all traces of their flesh.  They travel to cities in need of aid and work tirelessly to help the poor, sick, and downtrodden masses in whatever way they can.  When the monks of The Hidden Kingdom enter a city it is usually with the blessings of the local government and with the gratitude of the people.

Yet the secret of The Hidden Kingdom is that its members sacrifice everything to its service, including their very lives, to serve without question their founder – Brother Ptolemy.  Brother Ptolemy, who is indistinguishable to outsiders from the other monks of his order, hides a horrible truth from the world.  Brother Ptolemy desperately wants to save everyone not just from the pains of hunger, disease, and poverty but from the very cruelty of life itself.

Which is why Brother Ptolemy created a horrible magical plague that he unleashes onto unsuspecting people, so that when the monks of The Hidden Kingdom arrive to help them the people are more inclined to join The Hidden Kingdom’s ranks.  Brother Ptolemy puts a whole new spin on the phrase “Kill them with kindness.”

I could reveal more details behind Brother Ptolemy and The Hidden Kingdom, but this is such a well written product that readers will enjoy discovering those details for themselves.

Best Qualities

Overall The Hidden Kingdom is a good product that delivers exactly what it promises – The City State of Corwyn a setting and an adventure.  I have read plenty of setting books that were more about maps and locations.  That is not a true setting, but merely a travel guide for a fictional world.  A true setting is a smattering of characters served up with a dash of dramatic tension and a side of plot potential which is what The Hidden Kingdom focuses upon.  The maps and the locations are a much smaller part of what a complete setting is, but you get that too in the form of the city state of Corwyn to which chapter 3 is dedicated.

Chapter 4 is the adventure and it is the bulk of this product consuming 64 of the 110 pages.  Titled “Uncovering the Kingdom” it is a strong blend of skill challenges, combat encounters, and role playing opportunities.  The combat encounters are tough and will challenge the players, but the opportunities to role play and investigate will provide plenty of challenges where dice are not needed.

Even after the players have finished the adventure a GM will have plenty of hooks and material to build more adventures with where Brother Ptolemy and The Hidden Kingdom can challenge the PCs again.  The Hidden Kingdom has the key ingredients needed to build an intriguing campaign with.

Throughout the product you will find plenty of interesting and inspiring artwork that immerses you even deeper into the setting of The Hidden Kingdom.  Some of it is rather simple, but none of it is what I would consider bad artwork.  None of the artwork appears to be generic fluff or filler either.  Every piece of artwork helps to define the setting and to illustrate the potential of the adventure.

Worst Qualities

Unfortunately there are some things about this product that I do not like, and while I appreciate that Nevermet Press is a small organization made up of RPG enthusiasts I would be letting fans of Gnome Stew down if I did not address two flaws in particular.

The Hidden Kingdom’s PDF has no bookmarks and no index was included in the text.  The lack of an index can sometimes be overcome with a more detailed table of contents, but the table of contents provided for The Hidden Kingdom will only help you find the start of a chapter or the single appendix within the product.  You will be flipping through this product quite a bit come game day.

Perhaps the lack of an index and keeping the table of contents short helped to reduce costs for the printed product, but no publisher of PDFs should skip the process of providing bookmarks for their product.  When you consider that the adventure is over half the product not having bookmarks to the individual encounters really limits the usefulness of the PDF if you run your games from a laptop.

The other big flaw of this product is that it has several typos and simple errors.  None of these errors make the product unusable, but they stick out like sore thumbs compared to how well written the product is overall.  An updated version of the PDF was released when I was halfway through reading my copy of the product that did correct some errors, but I did not have a chance to read that version from beginning to end and what I did read still had errors.  The errors that I found are excessive for a product of this page count.

Conclusion

Despite its flaws The Hidden Kingdom is still a good product overall for its price ($9.99 for the PDF, $14.99 for the print version).  For their money GMs will get a good challenging adventure with a rich setting that is intriguing and easily placed into any Dungeons & Dragons 4e campaign.  A GM could also adapt the materials provided to be used with other systems and even other genres to use in their game of choice.  In the end I say buy it if you like games full of political tension, conspiracies, and good old fashioned challenging combat.  Nevermet Press is also giving the PDF for free to those who purchase the the print version by November 30th and post a picture of the product to the Nevermet Press Facebook fan page.

Do you have a copy of The Hidden Kingdom?  Need more information before deciding to buy a copy?  If so, share your own review or questions in the comments section below.

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?



8 Responses to Spotlight Review: The Hidden Kingdom

  1. Nice review, warts and all. I might actually buy this one, even though in a print setting I *wantwantwant* maps, and good quality ones at that. Good job not spoiling too. The setting sounds like a great way to boot-up a larger campaign for mninimal pain. It’s the right price too.

    Do they offer a bundle?

    On Maps and stuff:

    Maps are the sole reason I bought the otherwise highly unattractive “Swords and Glory” version of Empire of the Petal Throne (which was cheaply made and poorly bound, and printed using what look like mimeographed typewritten pages but at least it had no index). But the maps were a work of art and worth the cost of ownership.

    A good quality world map lets me voyage in the world myself in the long hours I spend trying to get players interest up.

    While I’m here I’d just like to put in a word in support of the long-dead foldout. We were playing (and, finally, enjoying) Dresden Files on Friday and spent a while flipping in the “Your Story” rulebook, when I said that what the book could usefully have included was all the play aids on a fold-out page, so that they could be referenced while reading another part of the book.

    This is what really old textbooks used to use, and the very best military history books came with the battlefield maps on a foldout so you could read the multi-page account of the action while having the map readily available, while at the same time avoiding the problem that a loose map always has – that it will fall out of the book and get lost.

    I’d even be willing to see those foldout pages at the cost of losing some of the background-imaging that is prevalent in the game publishing industry today. Yes, it gives the books a lavish, atmospheric feel but it also costs a fortune to do.

    Just a thought.

    A mapophile, me. 8o)

  2. I reread the article and saw that they do indeed offer a bundle at no extra cost. I can see no downside to owning this fine product.

  3. @Roxysteve – I don’t want to rain on your parade, but there is the map of the city state of Corwyn and then some maps of an island manor later in the book. So this is not a mapophile’s dream. It is a very good setting though, and I still suggest that you pick it up.

  4. I’m curious about the adventure layout — is it in the usual, terrible (in my opinion, at least) new Wizards of the Coast format with short summaries of encounters and locations in the front, and then a ton of two-page tactical combat spreads that make up the bulk of the adventure?

    Or is this a more classic adventure layout, where the author trusts a DM enough to give him one map, a list of monsters and lets him set up combats on his own?

    I loathe the standard WOTC adventure format. If this book breaks that mold, AND the adventure has a cool premise (which it sounds like it does), then I’ll definitely check it out.

    Would you say that this is a single, long adventure that takes the party through multiple levels all in one shot, or can it be played in parts (for example, run the first several investigation encounters, focus on another plot, then come back to the city and pick up where they left off)?

  5. @Throst – The book does not follow the typical WotC adventure format of trying to cram everything into a single page with stat blocks for enemies. It is more like the approach used by older adventure modules.

    In some sections no tactical map is provided on purpose, and instead the GM is advised as to how the battle will progress from the NPC’s point of view. I liked this approach.

    The adventure is written as a single long adventure. I did not do the math to see what level the PCs would reach if the encounters and skill challenges were all played through. It could be broken up nicely though with a little work if you wanted it to be integrated into a larger campaign.

    It definitely is a multi-session adventure. 4e combats take far too long to play this adventure in one sitting.

  6. Jonathan Jacobs here from Nevermet Press.

    @Throst – Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden Kingdom is laid in chapters – Chapter 4 is a 60+ page adventure that is a healthy mix of roleplaying and combat. NMP’s motto is “the story’s the thing” so that’s why we focus on RP and not rollplaying / tactical miniatures style combat. Only one encounter includes a tactical map, and even then it’s not needed. The Von Brandt Manor and regional map of Corwyn are all mapped out in detail in the book – and also available full color direct from our website here. Scroll down – there’s interior page previews of the book as well.

    The other chapters are intended to support the adventure in a larger setting / campaign of the DM’s choosing (homebrew or otherwise) and provide enough material that the adventure “Uncovering the Kingdom” could be completely ignored and you would still have tons of cool stuff to run with. NMP is just starting out as a micropress – so I encourage to stop by and check us out. We’re aiming to provide maximum value to our fans – and I think we have delivered with this first offering. Hopefully – you’ll agree.

    @Roxysteve: While we don’t normally offer a bundle of Print+PDF – this month we are having a promotion where if you purchase the PRINT version, we’ll send you the PDF for free if you upload a silly picture of the print book to our Facebook fan page. Details about that promotion are on our blog here – but you’ll have to order the book before 12/1 to qualify. We are also a member of Bits & Mortar – so once our book enters retail distribution, hobby stores that carry our books will be authorized to give their customers free copies of the PDFs on the spot.

    @Patrick: Thanks for giving us a fair shake! Your points about the TOC are well taken, and in the future we’ll make sure to make an effort to include those features.

  7. @jonathan – Thank you for the copy your product. I am happy to hear that you will consider my points for future products from Nevermet Press. Good luck with The Hidden Kingdom!

  1. Check out all the reviews for Brother Ptolemy! | Nevermet Press

    […] Gnomestew.com says “… buy it if you like games full of political tension, conspiracies, and good old fashioned challenging combat.” […]

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