Setting Review: The Shadow Vale Player’s Guide by Alyssa Faden and Torn World

World design is the proverbial rabbit hole many of us fall into as gamers. I have started down many a winding road only to get lost in the ebb and flow of heroes, nations, and continents… Long story short, it’s hard to get right and I have many worlds that haven’t translated to paper and pictures well. So I’m always on the lookout for folks who can do that translation well.

Alyssa Faden and the rest of the gang at Torn World managed to do just that with The Shadow Vale Player’s Guide. Within this 71 page PDF, I found it easy to get the gist of life in Shadow Vale. As a GM, I could see where the conflict and isolation would create plenty of adventure-worth material.

Within the unique confines of Shadow Vale, you have a world relatively untouched and left alone by outsiders. But that world is far from peaceful. Goblins below. Raiders and monsters above. Religious and political disagreements. Relationships ripped asunder when things got tough and certain people ran. Plus you have swamp, cliffs, large lakes, deep forests, and more. All the comforts of home!

The book layout is gorgeous, with easy to read fonts, a good use of white space, and plenty of art to feast your eyes on. The whole affair has almost a hand-written or illuminated manuscript feel to it in places, which is awesome.

Structure-wise there’s plenty to like here as well. The Player’s Guide does what I think more player-focused materials should – focus on the creation of PCs within the world, not putting the cart before the horse. The setting is important, but it has less a part of the story in the long run than the heroes who live there.

The book begins with races and classes, describing the various folk in the area – humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings mostly, with a few half-elves and half-orcs tossed in for good measure. Gnomes and tieflings are rare. Less rare are the goblins who are moving in like out-of-towners on vacation you just can’t send away… Then you add in the Vastersund Raiders from across the Silver Lake. Have to love it when Viking raiders show up in fantasy worlds! (I was only slightly disappointed to read that there are no gnomes who live in Shadow Vale itself. They’re one of my favorite races to play as a GM, so I’d have to find a way to insert a few for my own devious schemes!)

The other thing the “Races & Classes” section talks about (besides classes, which are pretty standard) is a great list of character traits, much like the campaign or adventure traits I’ve seen in some of the Paizo-produced PFRPG “adventure paths” modules. These traits are great to encourage background bits that tie characters to the setting a little more. There are quite a few, broken into different categories like “Basic,” “Combat,” “Racial” and others. If I was going to create a character, I liked the “Theoretical Magician” magical trait that gives a +3 Spellcraft check bonus if the character isn’t a spellcaster.

The next few sections detail areas of everyday life like the items available in the area and the barter-based economy. I really like the barter bits simply because it encourages much more roleplaying doing mundane tasks like shopping. It’s not just shoving coins around, it’s figuring out what an item is worth and coming up with a worthwhile offer. The book includes basic mechanics for these exchanges as well, which was pretty cool. From there you learn more about the major settlements, the calendar and important celestial events, and even the list of local deities and how they are admired and worshiped by the locals.

Though it is obviously designed for D&D, I suspect it could be repurposed for any fantasy system very easily. So whether you’re looking for a new setting or some inspiration, I think The Shadow Vale Player’s Guide has something to offer you! Grab a copy at RPGNow and check it out when you get a chance!

For more about Torn World, check out and their Facebook page.

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