Sunday, March 31, 2013

D&D Next: Thoughts on the Classes

Okay, so I downloaded the most recent packet (21 March 2013) from Wizards of the Coast for D&D Next.  I've begun reading through it and wanted to toss out a few impressions.  So I immediately went to the info on classes.  D&D is all about the classes players can choose and so it seemed the logical starting point.  Probably the best change overall is that even though they've retained the crappy "Vancian" spell-slot system, it's implemented in a much more flexible way.  I may even adapt this to the Pathfinder rules I'm running my campaign with now.  Another thing I like is that all classes automatically start with full HP for their hit dice (e.g., a barbarian with a d12 hit die starts with 12 HP plus any Constitution modifier).  I'm glad to see this as standard because it's very annoying when a player goes to all the trouble to make up a character only to have the character die in the first level or two due to a low starting hit die roll. 

The Barbarian
I'm not a fan of the barbarian class ("Hulk smash!").  I've always found the "rages per day" mechanic to be very artificial and fiddly to keep track of.  D&D Next still has the rages per day.  I would prefer to see some sort of saving throw each time the barbarian rages, with penalties for failure such as a temporary HP or Constitution loss. You could keep raging if you want, but at some point even you are just going to collapse from the exertion.

The Cleric
Cleric is one of my favorite classes and I'm very happy with what they have in D&D Next.  I like that clerics don't automatically get armor and shield proficiencies--it all depends on which deity you follow.  Also, clerics get a very different set of domain spells, proficiencies, and other abilities depending on which deity they follow.  I consider this a huge breakthrough for clerics in D&D.  The problem with D&D clerics is that they've always been far too generic.  Not so in this playtest packet.  The cleric also benefits from the new "flexible Vancian" magic system.

The Druid
I've always had a liking for druids, probably because they're very similar to clerics.  Druids in this playtest are given the choice of going more animal-shifter or more spellcaster.  The animal types presented for shifting seemed a bit limited, but this is a playtest draft.  The druid also benefits from the new "flexible Vancian" magic system.

The Fighter
Fighters are boring--but I digress.  I'm glad to see that they're working on giving fighters interesting options in combat without forcing players to plan out a huge, messy set of feats as in Pathfinder.  But fighters are still boring.

The Monk
The monk is another class I like.  The monk here has a mechanic where you get a certain number of uses of Ki per day to power various abilities.  I'm not sure I like the added bookkeeping this will entail.  I do like the "paths" of "monastic traditions" to choose from to make monks less generic.  Each "path" provides a couple of very powerful special abilities which the other paths don't get.  I'd play one of these monks.

The Paladin
Right off, they provide for Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, and Lawful Evil paladins.  Nice.  That opens the class up immediately, although the Lawful Neutral version is actually more of a paladin-druid.  Another good thing, probably because of the three alignments possible, is they ditched Detect Evil as an at-will ability.  It's really annoying as a GM to have a PC who can instantly check out people's alignment.   Instead it now allows the ability to detect any celestial, fiend, or undead.  Much better.  I will steal this for my Pathfinder game.  Another change with the three alignments is that each alignment gets a different mount.  Another nice touch to add more flavor and variation.  I've always liked the paladin class and now it's more interesting.  The paladin also benefits from the new "flexible Vancian" magic system. 

The Ranger
Hooray, they finally got rid of the illogical two-weapon fighting option.  I never understood why that was included.  What the heck does fighting with two weapons have to do with being a hunter/forester type?  People would multiclass in Ranger just to get the free two-weapon fighting.  Other than that it's pretty much the classic ranger.  I'm still not much interested in playing one, but I do like it better this way.

The Rogue
This class was a bit more messy than some of the others presented, in that they provide several "rogue schemes" which you choose from at 1st level.  These provide different "flavors" of rogue, such as assassin or acrobat.  I'm glad to see these options inside the class rather than having separate classes for them.  However, the classic sneak attack is turned into just a fairly ordinary melee option, which I feel goes against the basic concept.  You don't have to do anything sneaky to sneak attack.  I feel little enthusiasm about playing one of these rogues.

The Wizard
Ah, and finally we come to the wizard.  As I mentioned above they've done a good job of trying to fix the broken "Vancian" spell-slot system.  The wizard benefits hugely from this new flexibility.  I am drawn to spellcasting classes but always avoided the D&D wizard because I hated the spell slots so much.  However, with the improvements here I would  consider playing a wizard.  The wizard still suffers from the fact that you can't make truly specialized caster types, such as a fire mage who has a huge list of just fire-based spells.  For that you usually have to go out and find a lot of additional spells from third-party publishers, fan sites, etc.  But at least the wizard is now a playable class for me.

The Sorcerer
Nope.  No sorcerer this time.  Sorry.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Blood of Angels (for Pathfinder)

Okay, so I'm still in a reviewing state of mind and I'm planning back-to-back reviews of the Blood of Angels and Blood of Fiends player companion books for Pathfinder.  These two cover the aasimar and tiefling races and it seems fitting to me to review them together.  I'm particularly interested in how to include half-angel and half-demon playable races in my new campaign world because they're part of that world background.

So, Blood of Angels (BoA) is a book for players as well as DMs for the Pathfinder RPG.   The pdf version is 36 pages, including the front and rear covers and a full-page version of the cover art without lettering.  I liked all the art in here.  With a stronger publisher like Paizo I expect good quality art and I was not disappointed by any of it.

BoA jumps right in by laying out the racial traits for aasimars.  I like having that information right up front in quick-reference style on page 2 and I like that it's all on one page to print as a handout for the players.  I like the traits they have for the aasimars--except that they get darkvision.  This has become a bit of a pet peeve for me because it is a very powerful ability which most characters only get by magic items or spells.  It usually causes a bit of imbalance in parties.  I'd prefer that PC races not have darkvision; better to use low light vision or infravision.

Then there are good sections discussing the many ways that an aasimar may have been conceived, possible influences and experiences during early childhood and adolescence, physiology, relationships with other races, adult worklife paths, dress, habits, romance, and homes.  There's also a small but decent section talking about aasimars who are not human-based.  These are all great for building background on characters, whether PCs or NPCs. I was glad to see that most of this material is setting-neutral, or at least "generic fantasy setting".  For those who are actually using Paizo's Golarion campaign setting there's a nice geographic section with a paragraph or two per country/region on how aasimars might fit there, including some good plot hook material.  There's also a section talking about how the aasimar race works as an option for each of the Pathfinder core and base classes.  I didn't see a real need for this section, but I'm sure some people will find it handy for character background building.

Then there's a fun table of 100 variant aasimar abilities to replace the standard spell-like ability to use the daylight spell once per day (with a caster level equal to the aasimar’s character level).  I thought these were good flavorful items.  It did make me remember that Pathfinder has truckloads of rules which add advantages to characters but few which provide disadvantages.  I'd really like to see Paizo come out with some "anti-feats" to help balance the relentless addition of advantages to already very powerful Pathfinder PCs.  Anyway, some examples of variants are:
  • Nonmagical insects never bite or sting you unless magically compelled to do so.
  • You can subsist entirely on honey and wine.
  • Your kiss invigorates others. Once per day, you can kiss a creature to change its condition from exhausted to fatigued, or from fatigued to normal.
  • You feel sick to your stomach and take a –1 penalty on ability checks when within 30 feet of an evil outsider.
 Next is an optional section where you can pick from one of six specific heritages for your aasimar instead of being "generic".  "Each heritage presents new ability modifiers, spell-like abilities, and skill modifiers that
replace the default aasimar racial traits, as well as a pair of custom traits. Each entry also discusses the most common (though by no means ubiquitous) personality traits, physical features, and places of origin of aasimars with that particular heritage."  These include the agathion-blooded, azata-blooded, and archon-blooded.  Although the random table of variant abilities was fun, I preferred the fuller treatments in the heritage section.  All six heritages were well done, I just wish they'd included more of these instead of some of the later material which I felt was not really aasimar-specific (read on).

Next is the all-too-typical section on new feats.  I honestly feel that Pathfinder already has all the feats it really needs and that feats are one of the primary areas of "rules bloat" in the system.  Of the ten feats, only four are really aasimar-specific.  One of them, Supernal Feast, was kind of creepy.  It includes allowing the aasimar to feast on the body of a recently deceased good outsider in order to gain temporary hit points.

New rules for divine classes come next, including two new oracle curses, three new inquisitor inquisitions, and three subdomains.  As one who prefers playing divine classes these were nice options, but none really seemed to be especially connected to aasimars.  There were also two new bard masterpieces (only one obviously aasimar related), and the Martyred bloodline for sorcerers.  I was disappointed to see that little of this new material was directly related to aasimars.  I've noticed a tendency for source books like this one to include new feats, spells, skills, and class options simply because (apparently) people expect them.  The material is fine for what it is, but I see it more as rules bloat fodder than what I paid for in a book specifically on aasimars.

The book finishes up with some traits (Pathfinder's "half feats"), which do actually work well for aasimar characters, and another d100 list of random features which have no game mechanic effects, such as "hair: metallic" or "hands: always cool and dry".  I definitely like these features a lot, much more so than the variant abilities list above.  Since they don't have any effects they support character design over "optimizing".  The variants list is likely to appeal to optimizer type players looking for the best character "build".

So, overall I was pleased with Blood of Angels and am glad I bought it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Let's Talk About Hit Points

Okay, so many if not most RPGs represent an entity's ability to sustain damage with point values.  These points are often called "Hit Points" (HP) but may go by terms such as Health Points, Structural Damage Capacity, etc.  They can be used for living creatures or objects.  Having more points means that the entity can sustain more damage and vice versa.  This is a straightforward mechanic and one easy to understand during play and implement in design.  For a given game, the relative value of an individual hit point can vary, in the sense that some games allow maximum HP values into the hundreds (even up into the millions for later bosses in World of Warcraft) while others max out at five or ten.  I refer to these relative values as "big HP" (where there are few per entity) or "small HP" (where there are many per entity).

Using hit points allows for more granularity in damage, including very minor damage.  A two-handed axe doing 1d12 damage may only do 1 HP.  Systems which have just a couple injury levels and a "toughness save" to avoid taking injury lack this granularity.  I find the granularity of HP weapon damage extremely handy as a GM because I can fudge weapon damage behind the screen if a scene calls for it.

Most of my gaming in recent years has been D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, both of which are classic HP-based games.  I'm generally fine with the concept of hit points. But more recently I've decided that I'm not happy with the power curve that increasing HP introduces in D&D/Pathfinder.  At upper levels, PCs and NPCs are so powerful as to be superhuman.  Even by middling levels the characters are almost immune to most normal individual threats, such as taking a heavy crossbow bolt to the head.  This means that you either have to up the ante outrageously, such as threatening them with a gigantic lightning bolt to the head, or rely on them being good roleplayers.

The problem here is that I want to run a swords-and-sorcery fantasy game, not a superheroes game.  I do want the PCs to advance over time, but not to such a great extent.  I prefer a style of  game which floats in between gritty-tough and high fantasy.  So either I have to quit playing D&D/Pathfinder or find some easy way to crank down the HP given and taken.  Or I have to find an existing system and graft on the bits of Pathfinder which I really like, which is mostly the wide array of classes.  As I've mentioned in earlier posts my imagination was captured not long ago by Old School Hack (OSH).  OSH uses hit points, but they are "big" hit points, in that PCs start with 5 and even big monsters don't go much past 25 at most.  OSH also ties its hit points ("wounds") in with damage effect levels, such that light injuries have no effects and heal quickly but serious injuries have effects are take longer to heal.

I really like having increasing HP loss lead to the victim entering various stages of wound effects, such as by using a wound track.  A wound levels system provides several benefits.  It avoids the problem with hit point systems, particularly in the high-volume "small HP" systems, where you're at 100% efficiency until you lose that last HP and keel over.  It allows players to refer to their current health status with a descriptive term, such as "Friend priest, I am gravely wounded" rather than crappy game terms "Hey you with the cleric, I'm down to 4 out of 15 hit points here".

Another thing which a combination HP/injury level system provides is application of some penalties as the injures become serious.  However, if the penalties are too severe then you get a "death spiral" effect where the more wounded one is the less likely one can successfully take any actions.  In a very gritty modern game this is actually a great mechanic, but it's not what I'm looking to apply to my fantasy RPG campaign.

My motivation for taking time to look at hit points is to help work out what set of rules I will ultimately settle on  for fantasy role play gaming.  My gut reaction is to go with Pathfinder.  I have a basic attraction to rules-heavy systems (what I call "complete" rules systems) and it has masses of published support material ready grab off the shelf.  On the other hand it has the "superhero" problem at high levels and the sheer mass of material is a bit overwhelming.  I think I will be sticking with a hit points based approach, but am still weighing the pros and cons.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Review: Hulks and Horrors

Okay, so I'm really on a roll with reviews these days.  I hope everyone's okay with that, content-wise.  Personally, I like to read reviews of games--even if I already own them.  In fact sometimes reviews of games I already own are the most useful because they can help me see the familiar in a new light.

This time around I want to talk about Hulks and Horrors by John S. Berry III.  (This is a review of the Basic Black Edition, by the way.)  The premise is simple: humanity expanded out into the stars, was mown down by a Great Plague, and is now expanding back out again.  As they return they are rediscovering places of danger and mystery left behind after the plague.

As the name suggests, Hulks and Horrors is based on Dungeons and Dragons.  Despite being a science fiction game it borrows directly from the very early editions of the D&D fantasy role playing game.  This legacy is evident almost immediately in that you generate the same six attribute scores as in D&D and by using 3d6 rolled in order from Strength down through Charisma.  If you've read some of my earlier posts you'll have heard my fulminating against rolling stats in order like this.  This is important in this game because the classes in H&H have stat requirements.  Thus players will often not be able to play the class they want because the dice said so.  I say that is bad game design, but let's move on.  (To be fair there are alternate generation rules in the DM section way at the back.)

Next come the classes.  Since H&H is D&D-based it uses classes and these include three alien species as classes.  This race-as-class approach also comes from the very early editions of D&D where the Elf and Dwarf were set classes with abilities rather than races you could pair up with a job.  Humans in H&H can be a Pilot, Soldier, Scientist, or Psyker.  The squid-people, amoeba-people, and bear-people just each do their own thing.  I'm not really bothered by the race-as-class approach, but I'd prefer to have the races/species separate from the classes/professions so players can have more fun and freedom building their characters.  One thing to note is that H&H only takes the classes up to level 6, but there are rules at the back for going beyond that if you so desire.  I was glad to see that there is one experience table for all classes instead of the needless complexity of OD&D style individual tables for each class.

Because it's a science fiction game, H&H does not have magic users or clerics.  However the Scientist uses a multi-tool which gains a certain number of programs of a certain Software Level which increase as the Scientist levels up.  This is much like the spells per level of the magic use or cleric.  However, the multi-tool expends charges to run the programs and needs 8 hours to recharge.  I did not see any provision for recharging the multi-tool for shorter periods to get back a smaller number of charges.  It's 8 hours for a full recharge or nothing.  There is also a Psyker class which gains additional powers at higher levels, but these do not have individual levels of their own.  In other words you would have five powers at level 4, but those are not divided up as three level 1and one level 2 power.  Using powers requires the expenditure of psi points and a successful d20 roll against WIS - (power point cost).  As with the Scientist (or magic user or cleric), you regain all psi points by a full 8 hours of rest--no napping to get a lesser amount back.  This points up a problem I've always had with the D&D magic system.  Why can't you take a nap and get back some of your expended energies?  Why is it an 8 hour block or nothing?  It really makes no sense.

I found the three race-classes interesting.  All of them have a campy space opera genre feel to me, but I think you could run a game with creepy or gritty versions of them.  The hovering squid is rather generic in terms of its role in the party, but that's fine.  the Omega Reticulan (amoeba people) are blobby, slimy, and slotted in as natural scientists.  The Bearman reminded me of the wookie in Star Wars, except that they have native psionic talents.  Later in the book there's a very nice section on the difficulties which each of these species has in communicating with other races.  There is also a related section covering all the languages of the setting.

The combat section had an interesting twist on attack rolls.  Armor in H&H uses the OD&D "lower is better" system for armor class (which always annoyed me with how totally counter-intuitive it was).  Thus an unarmored person is AC 10 and Exo-Armor provides AC 1.  The To Hit number is calculated as: Attacker To-Hit Bonus + Enemy AC + 5. There is also a limit that AC may never go below -2 or above 10.  The book also includes a To Attack Armor Class 0 (TAAC0) chart to help with the math.  Overall I thought that this was all unnecessarily complex and should be simplified, especially because combat is where a game can really bog down.

Next up is a very big, very detailed section on space ship design and combat, including some pre-made ships.  I found that this section had echoes of the Traveler RPG in it, such as the sandcaster weapon, ship tonnages, etc.  I'd have to actually play these rules a few times to see if they totally work for me, but it looked reasonable on just a straight through reading.

Exploration is next and this is one of the bits I really look forward to in a science fiction game.   The basic concept is that people (the four cooperative races) are exploring/re-discovering) potentially lucrative places in space under the overall sponsorship of The Surveyor's Guild.  It's a big like a gold rush in the American old west.  You acquire the rights to a claim of a sector and explore it.  Claims can be bought and sold, inherited, stolen, lost, etc. 

Then came the chapter where you generate claim sectors, stars, and planets.  Now I want to say that one of the thing I really loved about the old Traveler game, perhaps even the thing I loved most about it, was the sector and planet generation rules.  I really enjoyed how easy it was to throw together a sector and then get down to embellishing each planet.  The later Scout supplement greatly expanded on the original rules.  So given that H&H is built on OD&D I was expecting something fairly simple.  Not so.  In fact this section is incredibly detailed and complex.  Yes there are quite a lot of simple "roll a d10" tables, but also some much more detailed work required.  As I read through this section I wanted an example of a completed sector to help see what a finished map would look like but there wasn't one provided.  There is, however, an example of a map for an individual solar system.  I really like the form for solar system mapping, particularly in that it combines graphic and text information in a easy-to-use format.

After the system and planet rules are some really nice rules for randomly rolling up the interiors of space stations, hulks, pod colonies, etc.  These "random dungeon" rules are very much in the spirit of OD&D.  The "treasures" available are fun and imaginative.  Monsters are next and the book provides a great selection of creatures plus rules to make your own critters if you want.

So overall I'd recommend getting Hulks & Horrors.  It's quite complete for the type of game it is designed for, has plenty of room for adaptation and expansion, and contains a lot of fun ideas.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

5,000 views! Hooray!

Okay, so some time last night I crossed over 5,000 views.  Is that a lot for a blog?  Probably not, but it does give me a sense that at least a few people find my stuff worth checking out now and then.  So thanks to everyone and I'll do my best to keep posting.  Right now I'm working on a big review of Hulks & Horrors.  I hadn't intended to to a huge review but there's really a lot in there and I'm finding it better than I expected.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: 3:16, Carnage Amongst the Stars

Okay, so I had heard about this game some time ago and was unsure whether it was something I'd really enjoy.  3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars by Gregor Hutton was billed as a military science fiction game where you go on missions to exterminate all creatures which could possibly be a threat to humanity.  It sounded at bit beer-and-pretzels, more an "off night" game than a foundation for a campaign.  But I'm still on the hunt for good stuff to play so I grabbed a copy and jumped in.

First off I love the art.  It's very cool that the author, Gregor Hutton, is also the artist for the black-and-white interior artwork.  I'm not sure it fit my initial take on the atmosphere of the rules, but then I could easily just spend some time with it and mold a game more in tune with the art.  The full-color cover by Paul Bourne is excellent.

The game is one in which you do actually play the members of a military unit, the 3:16th Expeditionary Force.  The 3:16 may be a biblical chapter reference to John 3:16, but perhaps it's from Austin 3:16, "I'm gonna whoop your ass!"  The unit's mission, and your character's, is to travel the universe and eliminate all possible threats to Earth.  That means combat.  Lots and lots of combat.

3:16 is an indie game and thus is very different from the mainstream role-playing games one becomes used to playing.  Most of the rules are very abstract.  For instance, the player characters don't have any personal attributes.  Nope, no Strength, Moxie, Speed, etc. here.  And there are only two skills, which one can assume include the influence of any underlying atttibutes: Fighting Ability (FA) and Non Fighting Ability (NFA).  Really.  That's it.  Just the two skills for everything.  Shockingly simple.  But then, why not?  It certainly makes it easier to focus on play rather than constantly re-checking your character sheet.

Ah yes, you do also add Strengths and Weaknesses to your characters (if they live long enough).  The players come up with these on their own.  I like that a lot.  It's how you personalize the character and make it yours.  Eventually you can acquire up to five of each, although the Weaknesses must eventually included Hatred for Home.  Adding this Weakness seems to be sort of a big deal, but it's never fully described.  I take it that Hatred for Home is a bit of philosophy that members of such a unit of military murder hoboes would eventually come to loathe themselves and the planet for whom they commit mass murder.

Another simplification comes in the area of equipment.  You're a member of a military unit aboard a military ship which only stops at planets in order to exterminate all potentially hostile life forms.  Thus you really only have military gear provided and no need of money to buy anything. Gaining higher ranks allows access to some bigger stuff, but that's about it.

Game play is all about combat actions, but these are handled in a very abstract fashion.  All weapons have three ranges, doing a different number of "kills" at a given range.  You determine the starting range and fight by rolling under your FA.  If you make your FA roll, then you roll for the number of "kills" as noted on your weapon statistics.  The aim is to get the highest number of kills on the mission and highest overall total.  PCs can suffer "kills" (wounds) but you're dead on the third one.  Armor can be sacrificed to negate one "kill" on you, but only once per planet--no field repairs here.  I like the way this is all handled.  It is so simple that you could even have each player command a small squad and simulate more than just one squad of PCs in action.

Speaking of units, one likely outcome of being the most successful person in the squad is the possibility of promotion.  You may also be able to raise your FA and NFA, and your weapon "kills" at given ranges.  It is also possible to be demoted or, of course, killed.  If your character is killed you start again as a "replacement" to the unit.  No need here to struggle for some plot device to plausibly add a new character to the party.

The section for GMs is excellent.  This is particularly important given that 3:16 handles things in such an abstract way.  The GM section covers planetary types, types of aliens, and offers lists of names for planets and troopers.  All of those elements are very simple in keeping with the overall design of the game.  I found the descriptions of combat particularly helpful.  As someone who started gaming as a wargamer rather than a role-player I had to really adjust my thinking in order to grasp a military game which is very tactical, yet totally abstract.

I did have a few questions about the rules though.  Given that the game centers around tactical combat, how do you handle games where there is a huge gap in rank between PCs?  If you have a colonel, a lieutenant, and four grunt troopers, do the two officers land on the planet as well?  I guess they'd have to.  There's also the question of why the unit bothers to kill off alien creatures which are non-intelligent and incapable of making a spoon much less a starship to take them to Earth.  Here and there the game hints that the whole point of the unit is really to serve as a dumping ground for criminal, maladjusted, and malcontented citizens.  They don't fit into the pleasant utopia of future Terra and the "adventure" of military campaigning is a great way to literally ship them all off somewhere.

So, I can confidently recommend this game to anyone interested in some military science-fiction gaming using simple rules.  Just be ready to work with the abstractions and relatively narrow scope.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: The Lonely Coast

Okay, so today I'd like to review The Lonely Coast by Raging Swan Press.  It's meant for levels 1-5 and is what I'd call a starter setting.  The Lonely Coast is not an entire campaign world but a section of a larger world, featuring a coastline with several inhabited locations backed by an area of woods and finally the start of a mountain range.  The area on the map is about 20 miles of coast and 40 miles of depth back to the mountains.  That's enough area for the start of a campaign, since there are several locations no more than two days away from the main town on the coast.  There are other publications from Raging Swan Press detailing parts of this setting.

The book begins with a brief historical introduction.  Next is a short set of ideas on how to use The Lonely Coast in a campaign, either as a starting area or slotted into an existing setting.  I liked this because a lot of books about small settings are tied heavily to an existing larger campaign setting or worldview.

Then there's an overview, including an area stat block, geographic features, key locations, and  an extremely handy table of travel times.  There's also a map, which like the rest of the artwork, is all black and white.  It's simple but attractive and usable. Then there's a section of thumbnail sketches of the major settlements; these are quite adequate but one thing missing here is detailed settlement stat blocks for each place.

Following that is a bit on each of the core races in the setting, which is handy not only for GMs but for players if they are creating characters starting here.  Also in here are four generic NPCs for local inhabitant types, including a hunter, merchant, smuggler, and villager.  Next is a section on how each of the core classes fits into the setting.  As a big fan of the Advanced Players Guide for Pathfinder I would have liked to see the APG's base classes included.  However, I know a lot of people don't use the APG so it's reasonable for the author to stick to the core.  And actually, when I started my new campaign I eagerly offered the exciting APG for the players' perusal.  They all passed on it.  But it's okay, I'm pretty much over it now.

The book then details the main non-town locations.  The descriptions might be a bit brief for an inexperienced GM to work with but they do a good job of conveying the essence of each.  There's also a "random flavor encounter" table in here as well for things travelers might encounter.  This table is very handy for a new GM who might not think to add bits like these during play.

Weather tables are next.  I like including weather in my games so this was a welcome find.  I'm also glad to see that it all fit on just two pages.  Simple and effective.  The two-page format also makes it great for printing out as one double-sided page and sliding it into a clear plastic page protector as a quick reference guide.

Then there are some nice plot hooks,  random encounter tables, and a nice "Whispers & Rumours" table.  I like having rumors, clues, and gossip in games because I can provide information while disguising plot hooks.

The artwork needs mentioning here as well.  It is all in black and white by several artists.  The quantity is good, enough to enhance and provide atmosphere.  The quality varied from excellent to middling; I wouldn't rate any of it as outright bad.  My personal favorite was the grassy mound with the cairn or tomb on page 4.

So, again, this all makes for a nice complete package for a small setting.  It is particularly good as a starter setting for a campaign but obviously would need expanding later due to the limited geographic area covered.  But wait, there's more!  After the main section of the book there are two appendices, entitled New Stuff and On the Road.

New Stuff is a collection of, um, new stuff.  It's a pretty random, such as a couple deities, a creature template, several pages on an interesting new race (the half-goblin), and a monster (the shadow wolf).  I'm not really sure what any of this really has to do with the point of the main part of the book.  Most if not all of it probably should be in some other sourcebook for the setting, but there it is.

On the Road has a small rangerish NPC group called the Green Cloaks (who appear in the random encounter tables above), and five encounters appropriate to the setting.  This bit is very good and ties in well with the main body of the book.  The encounters are compact but well-detailed.

So overall I'd rate it a buy--but wait, it's already available as a free download!  So what are you waiting for?