The Traveler’s Guide to the Darkwood is the first in the new, second series of Chamomile’s guides to everything. Whereas the first series was about types of adventurers and monsters, this series is more focused on places and what to do there. The Darkwood is both a specific place in Chamomile’s hinted setting, the Blade Coast, it’s also a stand in for a relatively generic dark, woods type location that you can insert into any game. I’m using a hard copy for the review with the cover screenshot cropped from the itch this time (I was away from my PDFs). You can pick one up at Drivethrough or itch, in physical or digital versions.
It wouldn’t be a Chamomile book without new, cooler, playable options to make a character. The Traveler’s Guide includes Greenfolk, Myconids, Nymphs, Treants, and Werewolves. Greenfolk dive into world building implications that are normally untouched, one of my favorite Chamomile areas. In this case, its the idea that druids have been awakening plants forever, but what happens to those plants after the druid asks their questions or has them do a quick favor. They still exist, and the Greenfolk are essentially a playable version of the meadow or bush your players animated and quizzed. Myconids are classic D&Ds mushroom-folk, and the playable version has the one thing anyone playing a mushroomlady wants. You get to launch a variety of spores that cause people to hallucinate. Treants and Werewolves both use the transformation system used in all of Chamomile’s books for powerful races, and at this point, it should be clear it’s a tried-and-true system that works. Decent, playable Werewolves should have been core, and while not as obvious, playable Treants are a great idea.
Players also get some new classes and subclasses to pick from, as well as a couple reprinted chamomile classes and subclasses. The idea being, that you can bring one book to the table, instead of a whole stack of these (He’s up to like, 13). I’ll skip the reprints, and focus on new stuff, but it’s probably close to a 50/50 mix.
The Forest Guardian Barbarian is first, and it’s a woodsy themed barbarian, obviously. It gets an ability I got a ton of shit for suggesting a bit ago, a barbarian whose AC is equal to 3 stats. Dex, Wis, and Con. I can’t fault it, and still think it holds up, since most PCs are only ever going to get a 25 AC out of it, if they max 3 stats. Its good, but thanks to how attributes in 5e work, it’s not the best way to get a high AC. The other class features are more utility, in that they add poisonous sap to their attacks, and can speak with plants and animals and such. The coolest ability they get, is IMO, the Rage of the Forests power, which allows them to awaken a nearby plant or animal for the duration of their rage. This class is flavorful and fun, but probably still hard to convince someone not to pick a bear totem, which means its not OP.
The Spore Bomber is a new class, and the whole thing is very straight forward. Think a flask style alchemist with a poisonous mushroom vibe. It’s similar to the Myconid presented earlier, and you’ll probably see one person in your Darkwood set campaign pick both of these together. It’s an obvious synergy. Spores are similar to an eldritch blast style effect. You can launch spores at people for damage, or you can modify the spores, and add a rider effect onto the spores to change them some. I worry the class is a little one note, and Chamomile calls it out with a sidebar explaining that, yeah, it is one note. You won’t really be making many optimization choices, but you do get a ready to go, effective character right out the gate. This appeals to a lot of players, and if you want to min-max it out, you can always actually play an alchemist.
New to the Traveler’s series, are the inclusion of backgrounds. What makes these stand out is that the backgrounds have scaling features, and often times give the ability to spend hit die on new powers. If you’ve played D&D 5e past level 10, you’ll notice your PC always has 5 or 6 hit die sitting around unspent, and their background hasn’t come up in a dozen or so session. Using hit die to fuel powers has been floated as something to do for a while, and I like Chamomile’s take tying it to another underutilized feature, backgrounds. We get 10 pages of these, and in a 90-page book that’s significant. Essentially though, these add 2-6 new features your PC might use, each. So, they are long, and a player who picks one, while someone else picks a core one will notice a power difference. Or at least an options difference. Either way, it’s probably best to be an everyone or no one mechanic.
Lastly, for players, we get 11 new feats, which are focused on martials, for the most part. Ambrose str lets you wield large weapons, which is a pretty sizable damage boost. Most of the rest of the feats are martial inclined, also boosting physical stats and giving decent side buffs. One I want to spend some time on is, Barbarian Totems, which lets you take the 6th level Totem Barbarian feature without being a totem barb. So, your fighter can grab Eagle eyes or whatever. This is cool, and clearly designed to spread the power of the Totem Barb out, so maybe Barbarians pick something else. But the rider for Barbarians who take this lets them take the 3rd level power as well. It for sure gets rid of the “everyone takes bear totem barb” problem, but it also kind of does so by making everyone a bear totem barb. Even as the guy constantly asking to pump PC power in 5e, this one might be a bit much.
The DMs chapter is about 13 pages, and is creative commons, a great idea IMO, for how to run a game set in the Darkwood. I would imagine the idea would be, that you can run different adventures there, but generally speaking, you’re going to have similar themes throughout. We get a description of the current state, a month by month break down if the heroes do nothing, and a list of sample side quests that could come up. I’d argue this is the way to design any adventure, not a linear plan of room-by-room fights, with scenes that directly tie to one another. It may take a little more DM skill, but I also find it drastically drops DM prep. You plan it out in the beginning, or buy this book, and then your prep is knowing what the next phase of the adventure is, and how NPCs react to situations. You improvise the gaps and have a nice adventure all set to go.
Overall, if you’re looking for a bunch of woodsy player options, or to run a woodland adventure path, I’d say this the Traveler’s Guide to the Darkwood is a solid get. Its $5, and for your money you get a lot more usable content than many $50-60 hardbacks.