Settings that want to convey a sense of history often have an ancient, fallen empire or two in their past. This give a sense of the passage of time, a delineation of what was “before” and what was “later.” It also creates a far removed source for all kinds of things modern people in the setting might bump into.
Tombs of the Desolation delves a bit into the ancient Witch King’s kingdom and the ruins that remain in the north of the setting. The lands are the thematic source for all kinds of monsters that spread out into the world, and are the literal source of undead that attempt to pour into the Empire and feed on the living.
What Does Desolation Look Like?
Tombs of the Desolation is a 42-page PDF with artwork popping up about every two or three pages. The formatting is clear and easy to read. In appearance, this sourcebook, like many of the early “thematic” sourcebooks, varies its color schemes a bit from the core rulebook, while retaining a similar structure to them. In this case, it’s a grey and brown color scheme with a red border similar to the core rulebook’s. Overall attractive and professionally laid out, I have to admit, it looks kind of plain compared to the later books for the game line. I hate to ding a book for looking good until compared with other books in the same line, but it’s hard to unsee what you have seen.
People of the Desolation
The first section of the book goes into ancestries native to the Desolation and the surrounding regions. These are some varied ancestries, with Revenants, Salamanders, and Vampires as options. The new paths include ones to make you a better vampire, to take advantage of defiling the natural world, survive in a harsh setting, or hunt down undead. The spells introduce Blood Magic as a tradition, and expand options for air, celestial, curse, earth, necromancy, protection, and water traditions.
I have to admit, often when you see the ancestries section of these sourcebooks, you start getting an idea for the themes of the book. I guess this is true of this book as well, but “hot” and “undead” don’t seem to be as unifying a theme as some of the other books that have come out.
Despite that criticism, revenants, salamanders, and vampires do make for interesting player ancestry options, and they showcase how well the core rules work to allow for very customized characters. Blood magic is a great option for anyone that wants a spell slinging vampire, as well.
These Endless Wastes
This section details a few of the notable locations in or around the Endless Wastes, and then point out the special rules for reflecting the nasty weather conditions in the region, as well as some supernatural effects of a magically created wasteland.
Honestly, I wish this section was a bit longer. There is a very quick sketch of the Crusader States, which are mentioned a few times in the book as potential employers for adventurers striking it out into the wastes. Some more details on that region and a few more specific plot hooks would have been nice. The city of the Salamanders in the region is mentioned very briefly, but given that they are detailed as an ancestry native to the region, their local base of operations might have been better served with a bit more detail as well.
All of that said, it’s fun to have heat that can cause people to go insane or to have PCs randomly encounter a volcanic eruption.
Secrets of the Desolation
This section details some adventure ideas, relics that can be found in the region, and creatures native to the region.
The adventure hooks aren’t bad, but they lack the “twist” I’ve come to appreciate from the best Shadow of the Demon Lord material, whether that twist be flipping the situation or making the PCs make a hard choice to avoid a terrible consequence. Many of them rely on the structure of “you are hanging out in the Crusader States and . . . “ which reinforces my desire for more detail on the actual Crusader States.
The relics are very interesting and have some neat effects, but other than the Mantle of the Harrower, they are old and “universal” enough that they could have drifted out across the entire continent at this point.
The creatures nicely fit the theme of an ancient magical kingdom located in a desert wasteland, and it’s one of the strongest aspects of this particular books. Lots of traditional fantasy desert monsters detailed, with a few nice twists on how some of them work or fit into the setting.
Dread of the Desolation
The sample adventure involves a random dungeon appearing, the PCs going to said dungeon to explore it, and having a couple of encounters on the way to the dungeon. It’s not bad, and you could argue the Desolation exists for desert themed dungeon crawls, but again, some of the best Shadow of the Demon Lord material involves twists or hard choices. This feels like a solid dungeon crawl excuse, but without any particular spin other than being desert focused.
A Dread Lord Rises
The overall theme of the book is ancient kingdoms, ruins, and harsh wasteland, but it feels like a thin frame to hang a theme on. The sample adventure, and the example adventure hooks included, revolve around assuming PCs are standard fantasy roleplaying dungeon delving adventurers. The best parts of the book feel like they don’t need to be tied specifically to the Desolation for their introduction.
Slaying the Dead and Taking Their Stuff
The material presented, in each isolated case, is very solid and thematic. Every ancestry, path, magical tradition, relic, and monster seems like something the game is much better off having detailed. Individual components of the book are useful tools for the overall campaign.
Wandering Pyramid and Volcano Encounters
Overall, I like the content in this book. The problem doesn’t come from the content, but from the fact that it feels a bit unfocused. If this was a sourcebook on the Desolation, I think I would have rather just seen Salamanders as an ancestry, and gotten expanded information on their city and the Crusader States as bases of operation, and some better fleshed out adventure hooks. If the book had been about the ongoing legacy of the Witch King, I would have rather seen the undead material group together, thrown in with the ghoul material that was released in the Poisoned Pages line, and had some more material on how to play people still obsessed with the Witch King’s legacy, possibly detailing the city ruled by the last remaining bride of the Witch King.
As it stands, the product kind of looks like a sourcebook on a region, and functions more like a toolbox of general ideas for the campaign setting. The components are good, and worth having if you are a fan of the game, but the thematic focus of some of the later sourcebooks is lacking, which makes it a little less essential, unless you really want to make sure you have a few undead ancestries available for PCs.
*** (out of five)