Monday, December 16, 2013
Review: Pathfinder Chronicles - Heart of the Jungle
This is an easy review for me because I've used this book extensively over the last three years. Heart of the Jungle was one of the earliest Pathfinder RPG releases after the Core Book came out, and focused on two elements: adventuring in the Jungle wilderness and the region Mwangi in Golarion. As with most Chronicles books, the content here is going to be about as useful as you are willing to make of it, with a mix of general content that can be applied to any game mixed with campaign-specific content that you can cut and paste from or just mine for ideas; the most use will be gained from a GM who needs lots of rules and setting material, and uses Golarion, of course.
Luckily, Mwangi is very much designed to be an archetypal Jungle Land, a quasi not-Africa designed in the vein of many campaign settings from the old 2E era of AD&D, in which thematics and setting were designed to evoke the sense of a certain style, region, culture or genre without having to rewrite the whole game to accommodate the exotic feel.
The first chapter looks at Life in Mwangi, with some useful general content that anyone can take advantage of. A discussion of natural hazards, plant life, useful diseases and infections and other dangers (from insects swarms and weather to quicksand and humidity) are all useful to any jungle campaign you might want to run. The material is not so rooted in Golarion that it would be at all problematic lifting this content for your own campaign.
Denizens of the Expanse continues this chapter with a more Golarion-specific discussion of the many monstrous, demihumand and human races of the region. It's worth reading and you could easily lift some ideas for your own setting here without much difficulty. Not sure what your jungle elves would look like? Borrow a few ideas on this elven culture descended from a great ancient kingdom now lost in the untracked wilderness. About the only problem with this section right now is it includes no ideas for additional races and monsters after 2010.
This chapter wraps up on a section about village life and religion in the region. There's barely anything on village life outside of basic organizational stuff; no one who wrote this book went and did any extensive research on any period of any particular African culture from which to model Mwangi civilizations, best as I can tell. Likewise, the religion section is really just a way to frame the ur-patheon of Golarion in the context of local belief systems and rituals. It includes no folklore or mythology specific to or derived from traditional African belief systems.
The next chapter is Mwangi Campaigns. This section is where you're going to find the largest volume of Golarion-specific content, but the first few pages are useful for any GM interested in ways to setup of a Jungle-exploration themed campaign. The subsequent material is actually well worth reading through for ideas you can mine, or lift whole cloth and drop into your own jungle settings; little here is so specific to one setting that you couldn't extrapolate easily enough. Note also that there are plenty of useful maps of the wilderness and cities in this world.
Lost Kingdoms is up next, a section on the ancient ruins and lost history of Mwangi. Like the previous section with its focus on the modern settlements and cultures of the region, Lost Kingdoms provides plenty of interesting details from which you could readily cut-and-paste to your own game, or borrow from as you see fit.
The book wraps up with a smattering of monsters and some useful encounter tables. Here we have the high girallon (anghazani), botfly swarm, giant botfly, hippopotamus and tobongo (Mwangi treant). A nice smattering of extra monsters.
Overall this book is a must-have for GMs using Golarion as a setting and an interest in running a jungle campaign. If you want some content for jungle adventures but don't use Golarion, then you'll get about 26 pages of material which you can use as presented, and an additional 38 pages of interesting setting material that is fairly easy to lift and plant in your own games, or borrow ideas from. For me, it was essential to a series of jungle-traversing campaigns I ran in 2010 and 2011, and a book I keep on hand to this day because of it's overall usefulness.
Because most of the general content in this book contains Pathfinder rules and terminology, some of the content of this book would require conversion for use with a non-Pathfinder ruleset. The setting material is universal, however, and could serve as a springboard for any D&D-like. Note, however, that for OSR games we have Spears of the Dawn, which I would recommend to old school gamers over Heart of the Jungle as a more useful resource overall.