Okay, so I downloaded the player's guide pdf for the Third Dawn adventure path From the Deep by Dreamscarred Press recently. I didn't actually know anything about the setting, but hey, free pdf, right? Actually I was very interested in checking it out because I'm still gathering ideas for the new campaign world I'm building right now. I figured this player's guide would let me see if the setting was interesting enough to jump in and buy more setting material to feed my creative beast.
First the boring crunchy info: the document is 21 pages long, including cover and two pages of credits/legal/etc. The art ranged from great (attention-grabbing cover and cool critter on page 7, for instance) to decent. The cartography was a bit disappointing as artwork, but clear and absolutely usable cartographically speaking.
Now the bad news (from my point of view). Right off I ran into a show-stopper in the second sentence of the introduction: the dreaded word psionics. My attitude to psioncs in fantasy-type RPGs is summed up beautifully in the immortal words of a post on the Gnome Stew blog: "keep your crappy sci-fi out of my fantasy". Okay, so right there I won't be playing this as an actual setting. I quickly checked the section on classes and found that the rot went even deeper than the simple inclusion of psionics. There were no arcane magic or divine classes at all. In fact it was clear that most classes were psionic users. Apparently they're going for the "keep your crappy fantasy out of our sci-fi pseudo-fantasy" approach. However, there did appear to be psionic-based classes with enough similarity to the wizard and cleric so that if you arrived at the table with your heart set on playing a "wizard" you wouldn't have to storm away from the table, taking your whole bag of Cheetos with you, dammit.
Anyway, moving on, all-in-all there were fifteen classes listed, which allows for a good range of choices. On the races I was very pleased to see that they had some new, setting specific ones. The descriptions were a bit sketchy and without artwork (this being just a player's guide) but several sounded pretty cool, such as the Orcans:
"Standing taller than most humans, orcans have pointed ears, a pair of sharp incisors and a wet snout, not unlike that of a bear. They are covered in body hair, which they take great pride in. Some orcans grow their hardened nails long and sharpen them, giving them the appearance of a cross between a bear and a human. Exceptionally strong, orcans are canny hunters with sharp eyes." I was also pleased to see that the people at Dreamscarred included two cool new riding mounts instead of just going for the traditional horses.
The Regional Environs section, giving geographic, political, and social background information for the players, was decent and certainly enough to give players material for character crafting. This was really the section I was most interested in from a campaign design angle but there wasn't a lot of depth for me to draw on.
The guide also has a lot of other good details on the setting's unique races, traits, equipment, languages, and godminds (psionic semi-deities) for the players to work with.
Overall it's a well-done product: good detailing, covers the bases for character design, good artwork, professional layout, and good writing.