Castles of Orbaal
Castles of Orbaal Capsule Review by Gilbert Pili on 25/07/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Castles of Orbaal continues a trend of excellence, though a rewrite of old material is somewhat disappointing.
Product: Castles of Orbaal
Author: Edwin King and Tom Dalgiesh
Company/Publisher: Columbia Games, Inc.
Page count: 104
Year published: 1993
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Gilbert Pili on 25/07/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
Note: This review was originally written in 1993. It has been submitted "as is."
Columbia Games' Harn has managed to survive for almost ten years now, despite an irregular product release schedule, spotty distribution and an overly complex rule system. Even so, the island of Harn remains one of the most detailed, realistic and well-developed fantasy campaign settings available. Castles of Orbaal continues the trend of excellence, though a rewrite of old material is somewhat disappointing.
The supplement contains details of four castles in Orbaal, a fragmented, warring "kingdom" of vikings known as Ivinians residing in northern Harn. An overview of the entire region is included along with local color maps of each castle and the long-awaited (for Harn-philes, anyway) regional map.
The very nature of Orbaal -- petty warlords fighting for dominance amidst their conquered subjects, the Jarin -- makes for plenty of intrigue and opportunity for adventure. Ironically, the Jarin's cause is betrayed by their own cultural mixture of mysticism and fierce independence. The Jarin are a beaten people, yet they have not lost hope of overthrowing their Ivinian oppressors.
The four castles presented are subtly diverse, and, as is usual in Harn supplements, a sprinkling of local personalities, legends, political and religious intrigue, gives the referee ample scenario hooks.
"Arathel" is situated on an island off the rocky northern coast and is a favored Ivinian port. Sea mammal pelts are a lucrative business, and the clan is interested in expanding trade to nearby islands. Several attempts at colonization have ended in tragedy, but it is certain more ventures will be commissioned. The local clan head is known for his relative tolerance of Jarin subjects.
"Marby" is a hotbed of political intrigue and the center of a vicious, ongoing feud between two rival clans. Added to the troubles is a mysterious string of cruel murders.
A brutal overlord despised by his Jarin subjects and disliked even by his fellow Ivinians rules "Pled." He governs the area with an iron fist, and many suspect he will attempt to expand his territory by sheer force of will. A local plant, the Baneberry, provides an interesting adventure hook when tied to a nearby Jarin hermit.
The last castle, "Sherwyn," has the most interesting architectural structure, built on a back-filled reef and surrounded by seawater. A Jarin legend tells of the strange origins of the rocks upon which the castle is built.
The rewrite of an older article on Orbaal itself adds more information and is better-organized than its predecessor, and yet the revision was the most disappointing aspect of the supplement. Such things as a cultural map of Orbaal and a page describing the Ivinian military are useful, yet the fact that the writers chose to revamp old stuff rather than provide new material was dissatisfying. In the 16 pages devoted to the rewrite the article, they could have presented two more castles, a number of short adventure outlines or even ideas for running a campaign. With product releases as few and far between as they are, I felt a bit ripped off.
As always, Eric Hotz' maps are beautiful. The large, fold-out map of Orbaal is a wonder of calligraphy, and each of the local maps are small gems. The interior illustrations, though sparse, are also nicely done.
For referees who use Harn regularly, Castles of Orbaal is an essential buy. The four castles presented are excellent and will fill in critical information regarding the north lands. Even the revised Orbaal article will come in handy, though I suspect less so than the other material. For those who don't use Harn, the supplement still provides good source material. The castles could be transplanted to just about any campaign, and enough information is given to spark the imagination without steering you in a pre-programmed direction. For all my harping about the rewrite, I suspect that new Harn players will find the Orbaal article exceptionally useful, as it gives short notes on every settlement in the kingdom.