The Life and Death of Belinda Blood
Old-School Essentials is a dominant force in the OSR gaming scene, with a growing number of third-party products being released. Knight Owl Publishing is releasing new material and re-tooling old material under the OSE license. Worm Witch: The Life and Death of Belinda Blood is a singularly focused supplement featuring the wartorn island setting of Annalida, new classes, and a small creature collection. Written for use with Old-School Essentials—Worm Witch: The Life and Death of Belinda Blood is the follow up to The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia—requiring only the OSE Core Rules, and is compatible with other OSR systems.
Worm Witch: The Life and Death of Belinda Blood features two new classes—Worm Witch and Worm Warden. The Worm Witches were previously mentioned in The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia but are now presented as a fully playable class. In contrast, the Worm Warden was specifically created for this setting.
Worm Wardens fill traditional roles usually reserved for fighters, rangers, and paladins. Elements of the Worm Warden class embody aspects from those classes. They are protectors of Annalida and the wardens of the Worm Witches. The Worm Warden is at home on the battlefield and comfortable using any weapon or armor. However, they prefer to wear leather armor and use ranged weapons. The Warden’s class abilities grant them a unique skill set. They boost allies’ morale on the battlefield, forage for edible nuts, berries, and roots which increases as they gain levels, and the marked with the Worm Blessing due to their loyalty to their wards, the Worm Witches. At character creation, each Warden chooses a blessing as their unique gift. As protectors, battlefield leaders, and foragers, they command a high level of respect throughout Annalida.
Protectors of both nature and sacred worms, Worm Witches are indigenous nature priests, most commonly found on the island of Annalida. They embody the spirit of genuine neutrality; they see good and evil/law and chaos as balancing forces of nature. As a result, Worm Witches strive to maintain balance in all things. The class most closely resembles OSE’s Druids. Witches have limited weapon and armor options—preferring to avoid combat whenever possible. Their spellcasting options are limited to the Worm Witch spell list, which contains 42 spells ranging from the first to fifth level. A Witch’s class abilities revolve around their affinity for worms; these include summoning worms at the third level and transforming into a worm at the fifth level.
These new classes are built on the chassis of existing OSE classes, but each is distinctly different from any official class. Both are well thought out and appear to be balanced with perceived weaknesses in one area bolstered by strengths in another. I appreciate the different take on classic tropes to create something new and unique—not cookie cutter and bland.
Annalida – Setting or Scenario?
Worm Witch: The Life and Death of Belinda Blood is not a scenario in the classic sense. There is no scripted outline or story objectives for player characters to achieve. There is so much happening on Annalida, like a richly detailed setting; there is no lack of adventure here! Annalida has a long history, but that’s not the focus of Worm Witch: The Life and Death of Belinda Blood. Instead, the book focuses on the here and now and the ongoing war with Meatlandia. For the last ten years, the Meat Lord and his forces have sought to bring Annalida under Meatlandia’s control. During the invasion and subsequent occupation, many Worm Witches and Wardens have fought against such aggressions. In particular, one powerful Worm Witch named Belinda Blood rose to lead the resistance against the Meat Lord’s forces to save Annalida. Her powerful magic has physically changed the landscape and turned the tide of battles. Today, she is missing; rumored, and feared to have died in battle. The conflict and the ever-evolving situation continue into the present day.
Note: Ownership of The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia is not required, but I recommended it. It’ll help put many of the terms used and themes common in both books into context.
Annalida is a richly detailed setting that has all the hallmarks of a classic in the making. The island of Annalida is a self-contained setting consisting of twenty detailed hexagons, measuring approximately 540 miles east to west and 420 miles north to south. Annalida is home to Annalidan natives and a large contingent of Meatlandian forces stationed on the island, which have been in place for years. Each hex location is skillfully written with an evocative description—including past and present details. Every area is a self-contained entry; everything one needs to make it come alive, including all necessary tables, NPCs, and stat blocks. However, a few exceptions will require Gamemasters to reference the creature list at the back of the book. Towns and villages include interesting adventure hooks and rumors to inspire Gamemasters. Although there are some thematic and narrative elements that, if removed, could diminish the richness of the setting. When everything is woven together, the totality of Annalida really comes alive.
Gamemasters will need to use the available plot devices, encounters, resources to thread together a plausible adventure. The types of stories told will depend on the kind of narrative the players want. The authors suggest adventure themes take one of three forms: characters rising up against the Meatlandian forces, characters joining the Meatlandian forces to help further their goals, and finally, characters siding with neither, seeking only to profit from the war.
The book contains several other resources that Gamemasters will need to make full use of the setting. While not required reading but well worth the time, many of the hex locations also include a sidebar containing wonderfully written fictional diary entries that help give context to the ongoing war. The book nominally concludes with a short creature catalog containing an array of worm species found on Annalida. In total, eleven species of worms are detailed and ready for use. Also included is the Meatlandian Dreadnaught—”These colossal constructions are made from hundreds of pounds of human flesh, sourced from the vast swathes of poor and desperate people who dwell in Meatlandia.” The last entry is Belinda Blood herself. Here, Gamemasters will find all the necessary information to bring Belinda Blood into their game, should she still be alive.
Finally, the last two resources include a single page of maps depicting four unknown locations and the d100 “Annalida Chaos Storms” table. I could not locate any reference to these maps within the book, but they are ready to be fleshed out and dropped into your adventure. The “Annalida Chaos Storms” table is a nicely arranged two-page spread for determining the type of Chaos Storm affecting a location. Unfortunately, this table was omitted from the physical book but is included in the digital version.
The physical book is beautifully put together. The heavy-duty cover boards, paste-down endpapers, and chunky spine ensure it will stand the test of time and repeated use. The paper is a quality semi-gloss stock of decent thickness. Unfortunately, semi-gloss paper tends to cause glare, make reading a challenge under certain lighting conditions. The book is illustrated throughout with expressive and sometimes slightly whimsical artwork that nicely captures the feel of the subject matter. Some of the art is memorable than others, but all of it is quality artwork. The layout is neat, clean, and easy on the eyes. The digital version includes a fully hyperlinked table of contents.
Old school gamers looking for something slightly different will be in for a treat with Worm Witch: The Life and Death of Belinda Blood. The setting is evocative, richly detailed, and has just enough white space for Gamemasters to create unforgettable adventures of their own. Despite there being no unifying scenario, there is plenty of action and adventure within for players to spend more than a few sessions exploring Annalida. I’m impressed with the two new classes. Frequently new classes sound great, but in reality, they end up either overpowered or underwhelming. Not only do they appear to be well thought out and balanced, but they are also connected to the setting.
The omission of the ‘Annalida Chaos Storms” table from the printed book was a little disappointing. It would have nice to see a note on their site mentioning it and offering a PDF version of the table for those not purchasing the digital version. Everything else is quality, from the overall design and backstory to the writing, editing, and art. After reading this book, I now want to seek out more of their titles to learn more about Meatlandia!
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