Adventuring through an old-school-style sandbox setting, or mapping your way through a sprawling hexcrawl? The biggest challenge of playing a game where the characters can go any direction they want is making sure there’s something worth finding in every direction they can possibly go – even more so if the world is functionally boundless. From vast ancient cities consumed by the forest to a monastery of living mummies, from a desert falling into a black hole serving as the hourglass for the world’s life to a barge-bound casino-temple to the god of luck and gambling, there are plenty of options to be found in the Lands of Legends from Axian Spice!
Lands of Legends has actually crossed our desk before, but you’d be easily forgiven for having missed it, since it was part of the absolutely overwhelming deluge that was ZineQuest 3 earlier this year. Technically, Lands of Legends isn’t done being fulfilled, but that’s because it is not just one product – it’s a series, a total of five releases (a sixth is Kickstarter-backer-only), and we’ve got our hands on four of them so far. Actually, if you’re working with the PDFs like we are you might think you have twice that many products, and in a way you do. Each zine in the series offers two different categories of content: areas for adventurers to visit and encounters for them to, well, encounter. There are 100 examples of each in a given zine – in PDF form you get two separate files, while in physical form the zines will be flip-sided so that the front of the book has the areas and the back of the book has the encounters.
Each zine has a theme, and then each type of content is divided further into different types of regions: Civilizations, Deserts, Forests, Fresh Waters, Jungles, Mountains & Hills, Plains & Valleys, Seas & Islands, Swamps & Marshes, and Wastelands. That means ten options for each region (10 areas for Forests and 10 encounters for Forests), so of course each region type basically functions as a 1d10 random table, although there’s nothing stopping you from picking an option you like.
So, what sort of things are to be found within these Lands of Legends? Let’s roll a few d10s and find out.
The first entry of the series is not named the way it is because anything in it is humdrum or dull; rather, Lands of Legends: Mundane contains situations and beings that you can run into in any type of campaign without any supernatural chicanery needing to be involved. Low-fantasy or what passes for ‘normal’ in a high fantasy one, basically.
For instance, you might be traveling through a forest that is full of caves, caverns, and passages winding between massive rocks, making the region a cross between forest and underground. There is plenty of plant life, with the openings in the rock allowing for a particularly rich undergrowth that may hide all sorts of things: random encounters for this area could be those typical to a forest, but may also include anything that pops up from the underworld. Perhaps instead you find yourselves in a jungle warzone as the Blackfly, Feathersting, Apefoot, Rothand, and Bloodlouse tribes fight over territory and fill the entire area with traps, pitfalls, turrets, and patrols. It will be your choice whether to try and avoid everyone, pick a side, or try to end the fighting.
You might come across a muddy inn out in the moorland, whose owner greets the party with an unending barrage of insults (“Welcome you dogfaced, slugsucking son of a mule!”). He treats all of the poachers, prospectors, bounty hunters, and brigands who serve as his regular customers that way, though; give as good as you get and you’ll have a quiet night and a good meal, take offence and everyone in the place will draw on you. While in the swamps and marshlands you may come across a traveller on stilts, or find a pair of stilts left behind by some unfortunate soul. If you can salvage, make, or buy similar pairs for yourselves you’ll get to treat the swamp as normal terrain, speeding across it – provided you’re dextrous enough.
Things get a fair bit darker in the second entry in the series. Lands of Legends: Grim is for the horrifying, the gothic, and the dark – everything is either spooky as all get out, looking to knife you in the back, or both.
For a theoretically freshwater example, you might find yourselves on the shores of a lake of blood, smoking and bubbling. The ‘waters’ and the red-mist-shrouded islets scattered throughout are teeming with all sorts of demonic minions. Try not to die, for the simple fact that you’ll make it worse: you’re likely to come back as a ghoul, wight, or other semi-intelligent undead. Continuing the watery theme of these grim examples, up in the mountains there’s a lake that shows a night sky during the day and a daylight sky at night, as well as a twisted and deformed reflection of anyone who looks into it. It’s not just a funhouse trick, however, as the distorted version of the viewer will come to life at the bottom of the lake in a few hours, emerging to chase down and dismember whomever generated it in an effort to ‘complete itself’.
You might think you’d be safe back in civilization but that’s not the case, especially when you encounter a locked room mystery. It’s got all the classics: a room locked from the inside, with the body of a man not seen in several days maimed with strange bites and missing all his blood, and no sign of forced entry. The twist? The man was a werewolf. With fleas. Who sucked his blood out while he was turned and have become terrifying monsters… and they’re still in the room, back to normal, waiting for the next full moon and a new host. Out in the desert you could fall in with a clan of nomads hunting wyverns for their skin and poison glands who are more than happy to welcome you to join the expedition and share the profit of the hunt. Of course, what they’re really planning is to use you as bait, hiding and attacking from a distance while you get slaughtered, then stepping over your bodies to harvest the prize.
At the opposite end of the supernatural spectrum from Mundane, Lands of Legends: Fairy is all magical all the time, whether it involves actually fae creatures and their territory or something out of a fairytale story.
One locale found in the forest is a fairy graveyard, where new trees are born every time a fairy dies. There are all sorts of fairies, so there are all sorts of trees: bright trees filled with beautiful flowers alongside terrible killer plants, and some of the trees even retain some of the powers of the creatures whose death caused them to grow. Meanwhile, an enchanted freshwater lake would seem to host the mirage of a city under its surface, but on the nights of the new moon the waters vanish and the city becomes real and reachable. The spirits that dwell there have to be kind to anyone who is kind to them, so if you’re nice you may even be able to get curses removed, but if you’re ill-mannered the city’s denizens will simply call the water back and let you drown.
A visit back to civilization might see you come across the funeral cart, driven by a hooded coachman ringing a bell hung over the cart as it passes through the city streets. At the sound of the bell all who died during the night rise to follow the cart, leaving their mourning relatives behind. They follow the cart to the graveyard, then bury themselves. It’s an odd and fey arrangement but it’s the local custom – interfere with the ceremony because you think it’s some sort of necromantic disturbance and you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law or attacked by relatives incensed at you for disturbing their dearly departed’s internment. Out on the plains, some sort of magic experiment may be to blame for the querulous, cackling, and blathering crow following you around. When he’s not pestering you for food, he tries to be helpful, he really does, but with 1 WIS and the constant jabbering let’s say the odds aren’t in your favor.
Enter the gods and all their portents and peoples. Lands of Legend: Holy takes on the divine – “benevolent, whimsical, indifferent or cruel” – from actual deities to the relics they leave behind to the followers, whatever their divine portfolio may be.
In a flowery valley sacred to the goddess of nature, a bitter enemy of the god of the underground and mining, it might be a good idea to have left your gold in a vault before visiting. Every single coin on a person entering the valley turns into a seed. That’s not great right away, but the seeds are considered blessed, so you might make back your coin and then some by selling to interested or desperate farmers. Out in the wastelands you can find The First Battlefield, where the gods won their battle against the Titans. Petrified and amorphous remains of the titans dot the landscape, and while clerics and other faithful beings will receive a blessing so long as they are here, everyone else has to pass a saving throw in order to avoid taking penalties from being shaken by the power of the gods.
Back in the woods, the party may witness the birth of a wild treant, who as a result picks one of the adventurers as its ‘foster parent’. It may start off small, no larger than a wooden doll, but soon enough you’ll have a 10’ tall living piece of woodland divinity following you around. Across the seas and among the islands you might instead encounter a group of chanting fanatics of the Lord of Waters, either gathered on the shore or sailing a ship of their own. They’ve somehow managed to get ahold of a burning brazier from the temple of the Lord of Fire, and are planning to sacrifice it to their own master. The party may try to interfere, but they’ll have to contend with a high priest of Water on his home turf. They may instead choose to join in, receiving a blessing related to water and sea travel, but to say that the Lord of Fire will react badly is an understatement.
The final entry in the series is about 2-3 weeks away from going live we’re told, currently waiting on the last few bits of art before it can go ahead. Lands of Legend: Primeval will show where the “brute force of Nature is at work at its utmost power.” Some Primeval content has gotten the Twitter preview treatment, ranging from quasi-sentient sand dunes trying to drain you of moisture to a primal tribe willing to be allies if you pass their trials, from a nexus of earth and fire magic guarded by magma elementals to a stampede of albino girallon below and among the jungle trees.
Production Values and Final Thoughts
Now, I’m only working with the PDFs, so I can’t fully speak to the quality of the printed product, but I’ll say this much: the layout is crisp, the text dynamic, the stark difference in color makes everything stand out (especially in the encounters sections, which are mostly black with the colored text popping out), and the art is straightforward but very fitting for the given zine it’s in. If you want to print out your PDFs, they’re a bit on the ink-hungry side, but there is a print-friendly version (which also serves the purpose of making it more accessible to those who might struggle with the visuals a bit). The trick is, that version (as of this writing, anyway) exists in the form of removing a layer from the full-color PDF, which may or not be possible depending on the tech you’ve got at hand. Something to keep in mind.
Taken as a whole, Lands of Legends does exactly what it promised to do back during ZineQuest 3: provide a literal thousand different and interesting options for your player characters to experience across five different flavors. Not every single one will appeal to every single gamemaster or group, but when you could roll the hypothetical d1000 to get a result to use your odds are pretty good. If only one of the aforementioned flavors appeal to you, excellent, then you need only get the one zine, and then you’ve still got a d200 worth of options. While it’s billed as an OSR product, and that feel is definitely there, it’s actually pretty much system agnostic. A few options come with a saving throw or a hit die or even a level, but they’re few and far between and easily put aside if they don’t line up with the game you’re playing; if anything, I found the sparse intrusion of mechanics a little jarring, given how open everything else is.
As of this writing you can get Lands of Legends: Mundane, Grim, Fairy, and Holy in PDF form for $9.99 each. Mundane is already available in softcover Print on Demand for $19.99, and the proofs for Grim and Fairy are being looked over; you can add the Mundane PDF to your PoD order free of charge, which I expect will be the case going forward.
Whether your adventurers are traveling to civilizations, deserts, forests, fresh Waters, jungles, mountains, hills, plains, valleys, seas, islands, swamps, marshes, or wastelands there’s plenty to find and experience among the Lands of Legend!
Thanks to Axian Spice for sending us PDF copies to review, as well as answering a few questions about the series!
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