I've finished reading Kenzerco's most recent Hackmaster release Frandor's Keep, and as promised here is the review. I'll try to walk the fine line of keeping things spoiler free while giving in depth information to those of you on the fence about buying this product.
Chapter One: Introduction
Not much to say about this. It includes a quick little narrative, has an introduction, explains how the book is to be used, etc. They also mention the downloadable content and introduce the little icon that denotes when DLC is available on a topic or graphic.
Chapter Two: The History of Frandor's Keep
As the tittle indicates this chapter deals principally with the history of the Keep. It includes information on why the keep was built and the various events that have surrounded its bloody history. The history is interesting and well thought out, but is closely tied to Hackmaster's Official setting of Kalamar. That having been said, it wouldn't be too difficult to move the Keep and the surrounding area to your own setting while keeping most if not all of the history intact.
Chapter Three: The Earldom of Reyifor
This chapter deals with the Earldom that the keep is found in. Details on local towers, geographical information, rivers, and roads are all available here. Areas later featured in adventures are given a brief overview here. A quality map of the Earldom is included in this chapter.
Chapter Four: In The Vicinity
Chapter four presents the area immediately around the Keep. Another great map in this chapter provides a more detailed view of the few miles around the keep. This chapter introduces both major geographic features, such as The Shelf, as well as important man made sites, like the nearby Quarrytown.
Chapter Five: Quarrytown
Quarrytown is a rock quarry turned seedy town. Those unable or unwilling to reside in Frandor's Keep live here. The map of Quarrytown is a bit different from the others presented in the book, but no less useful. A vast number of rumors and NPC knowledge information is presented in this chapter. Each important building and person is gone into with a good deal of depth. One of FK's more interesting antagonists is intorduced here. His group, the Ravens, make excellent and cunning adversaries for the PCs. Quarrytown is an excellent addition that provides an alternative to the orderly environment of the Keep. I love the detail in this chapter, though unwary PCs will most certainly not.
Chapter Six: The Palisade
Chapter six is short and deals with the Palisade just outside the Keep where the Smithy and Stables are found. There is a map of the interior of the Palisade, but there isn't much to it. Info on guards stationed in the Palisade can be found in this chapter as well as information on the Stable Master, Markin Binsaro.
Chapter Seven: Frandor's Keep
By far the largest chapter in the book, Chapter Seven deals with Frador's Keep itself. The detail here is exquisite. It breaks down each section of the keep and offers in depth information of people, buildings, and even the history of the section. The map gives you an idea how much larger and detailed FK is than the old Keep on the Borderlands. A number of smaller maps of each section offer a three dimensional view of the Keep's various sections. One of my favorite maps is called "Elevations at the Keep" which is on page 45. It really gives you a three dimension picture of the keep and shows you just how high those towers are compared to things in the middle bailey. Like this map the whole chapter just flat out rocks. This is the reason I bought the book, and believe me I was not disappointed.
Chapters Eight though Eleven
These chapters provide the various adventure opportunities in and around the Keep. I don't want to say too much here because it would spoil things for players and GMs alike. The adventures range in length from very short single encounter opportunities to much longer multi-encounter full dungeon adventures. Some adventures are straight forward requiring the PCs to go and deal with the problem in a typical violent fashion, while others are far more complex giving the players multiple options for success and/or involving moral or political choice. There is a very good mix to ensure that things don't get monotonous and your players will be able to focus on the types of adventures that they enjoy. These adventures provide the PCs with more than enough experience to reach level five, as promised.
Appendix: New Rules
This section includes rules for a new monster. I won't say which one for spoiler reasons, but I will say that it comes with a good bit of info on the creature, a picture, and a stat block. The rest of the information provided in this section is a compilation of the various rules and info presented in Knights of the Dinner Table and the various Hackjournals. Rules provided cover Mounts, and expanded equipment list that includes trade goods, a new skill (Jewelery Making), Proficiencies, New Quirks and Flaws, and details on both Poison and Disease. I love the decision to put this info in the book as there is no guarantee that anyone who purchases FK would subscribe to either KoDT or HJ. Even those that do will likely find it useful to have all of the information compiled in once place for easy reference.
NPC Quick Reference Chart
I love this chart. With so many NPCs it can be difficult to keep track of them. This chart makes it infinitely easier to do so. It lists the NPC by location in the keep, and it also lists their Sex/Race, Location, Position, Information Known, Places Frequently visited, Associates, and the faction to which they belong. Did I mention I love this chart?
Just about everything. Frandor's Keep offers a lot for a reasonable price. At $24.99 it provides you and your group with an entire HMB campaign and leaves the GM with very little work to do. This is the best suppliment I have bought in a very long time.
This book has very little down side to it. If I had to levy some complaints against it I guess I would start with page 95. Now, there isn't anything wrong with the content on page 95, my problem is with the lack of it. The entire right hand column is completely blank for some reason. Normally if there isn't enough text at the end of a chapter it would be filled up with pictures, but here there is absolutely nothing but empty space. Page 130 features the same problem, with the right hand column being empty for lack of content.
Some of you may wonder why I don't list among the negative elements the fact that Frandor's Keep is a softcover book, as I have been critical of many soft cover publications, especially Hackmaster 4th edition's core rulebooks, in the past. My answer is that this book costs $24.99, if it were hardcover that would have increased the cost around 10 dollars. Though there is a lot of content in the book, certainly enough to get characters from level 1 to level 5, it will not be used nearly as much as a core rulebook. Thus, I usually prefer softcover modules and supplements as it keeps the cost down. I would always prefer core rulebooks be in Hardcover. Now I may grumble about Hackmaster Basic being softcover because mine is already falling apart, but with a price tag of $20 it's hard to grumble too loudly.
Frandor's Keep is an extremely strong product, with a wealth of content and a reasonable price tag. Kenzerco already has some of the promised online content available. With more on the way it's safe to say that this product will only increase in quality and support in the coming months.
Kenzer and Company could have just created a nice little homage to the original Keep on the Borderlands, more in the vein of their 4th edition parody, but they chose a higher path. They chose to stay true to the feel of the original while creating something new and innovative. This product doesn't rest on its laurels, it get's up and charges forward down the path of progress. This is the kind of product that sparks the imagination and sends out a siren's song to those who's hearts crave adventure. In short, it is a product that original Keep on the Borderland's author, Gary Gygax, would have loved.