If 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.
Overall The Hidden Kingdom is a good product that delivers exactly what it promises – 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.
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.
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.