No Dignity in Death – People of Pembrooktonshire (2009)
James Raggi IV (Lamentations of the Flame Princess)
We covered No Dignity in Death before, now we shall take a look at the expansion, which is arguably a better work and which achieves some much needed fleshing out of the weirdo town of Pembrooktonshire and its quirky inhabitants. This is not an adventure. This is a list of npcs with adventure hooks strewn throughout them. If you like your DnD to be gritty or epic I strongly encourage you to avoid this product. If you like your Dnd to be a cross between traditional folklore and fairy tales, the prisoner, midsummer night murders, the tiny psychopathic enclaves of Vance’s Dying Earth and the children of the corn. If you can legally marry these stylistically dissonant themes in the bigoted narrow crevasses of your cisgender mind you may have yourself some good material for several sessions here. Maybe you should consider doing so for the challenge alone.
After a useless page where we are informed we are free to alter anything we wish, we plunge in. 3 pages are taken to describe the overall town, law, and environs. Pembrooktonshiremen are obsessed with etiquette (like all decadent societies) to the point of insanity, the town is more or less ruled by the most popular and there is an extreme pressure on marrying, especially marrying for social status. Marry in a hopelessly fatalistic sort of monotheism which provides yet another way of separating the merry if mostly sociopathic inhabitants of Pembrooktonshire from the benighted smallfolk of the outer world and we have a perfect recipe for parochial snobbery.
The meat and bones of the work are its 137 unique Npcs, virtually all without class levels, all with various quirks and motivations. Little details about the customs of Pembrooktonshire are interwoven with the descriptions, making careful reading a necessity if one wants to assimilate all the information and integrate it into a coherent whole.
Some of the NPCs are merely odd characters, some stray into uncanny valley territory (e.g a much lauded sculptor whose busts are all in his own likeness, though only foreigners notice this), some have dark secrets varying from minor/major corruption to bizarre supernatural events (e.g an oil salesman uses the severed finger of a troll as raw material, if there is enough troll oil concentrated in one location the creature might regenerate, a Shepard with carnivorous goats that desperate tries to keep it secret) and so on and so forth. Not every NPC can be turned into a little mini-adventure. To Raggi’s credit, none of the NPC’s require class levels to make them interesting. One thing that should have been added for convenience sake is a list of all the names with accompanying professions and page numbers for easy reference. The way the supplement is laid out is prep-intensive.
And then there is this one:
Giles Denton, Beekeeper Giles is a man in his early thirties that prefers the finer things in life, from clothing to furniture to women. The premium he charges for his honey supports all this and more. Giles has delusions of grandeur and has taken to learning how to control his bees using pheromones, and is convinced his bee army could be used to make him ruler of Pembrooktonshire. He has successfully engineered the death of several local animals this way, but has been hesitant to try it on a human. If only there were some strangers that could be used for the test…
Utter brilliance. Completely unrepresentative of the overall quality of the work but this one needs to be mentioned as the best entry in the book and spawn many adventures if not entire campaign settings.
Alright, I could rant on and on about the merits and demerits of various entries and there are plenty of hooks for you to base an evening of festivities on but let’s look at the big picture. The NPC’s presented provide Pembrooktonshire with a plethora of secrets to discover, potentially disruptive secrets. They give weird characters to interact with, and hooks fantastical & mundane to confront. Some of the secrets are utterly mundane, but would cause ripples in the social fabric of Pembrooktonshire if they were to be found out. A lot of the characters would not interact with foreigners very well given the little tidbits we are given about Pembrooktonshire, puzzling since that is their purpose as Npcs.
This work suffers from 2 crippling flaws that prevent it from being useful or warranting an existence. The first is simply quality, many of the Npcs are more goofy then weird, and over time the weirdness blends together until it fails utterly to surprise or amaze. We get it, in Pembrooktonshire everyone is crazy and does crazy things and oooooh aren’t they cooky? The sheer number of insane incongruities switches it from The Village to Alice in Wonderland and that is NOT a gentle transition. The Uncanny Valley needs to have a hint of Cannyness in order to remain effective as narrative force.
The second problem is that less then a tenth of the hooks are actually good. Simply put, Raggi does not have the writing ability to pull off something like this and should have simply made a compendium of adventures based on his best 13 hooks.
The third one is far more serious, and arguably a conceptual problem. How many people do you know that would be into a sort of bizarro vaguely fairytalish piquaresque small village investigatory/roleplayery DnD for multiple sessions? How many GM’s are predisposed to run games like that? As a purely theoretical exercise I can see merit in attempting something different but holy fuck there are plenty of alternative Dnd settings and you could always use your brain. I don’t see the subset of the subset of the subset that would dig this. I think I would kill any of my players if they suggested this. I’d do it fuckers. Don’t you push me.
What the fuck happened? As an expansion for further adventures in Pembrooktonshire I guess it has sufficient information (if terribly laid out) but fucking hell, 137 Npcs for a little village with some hooks that has a single adventure worth of source material in it. Whoopa-dee-fuckin’-doooo. Pembrooktonshire had potential as a sort of strange, insular uncanny valley type of adventuring location. Now it just buries itself. A giant fucking hammer where a scalpel should have been used. As a compendium of neat NPCs? As long as they all fit in tiny medieval towns with bizarre social customs. Avoid.
Pros: Is bound to have at least one or two good ideas for an NPC that you can use in your game.
Cons: Very specific thematic flavour to each NPC. Many of the NPCs fail to inspire. Mundane hooks.
Final Verdict: People of Pembrooktonshire has very little to recommend it. I guess you could cannibalize some of the quirky Npcs for your own stupid fucking villages in need of shenanigans. I can’t see you getting much use out of these NPCs because I can’t see you run much of Pembrooktonshire. You could theoretically cannibalize the villagers but many of the NPCs work by interacting with the rest of Pembrooktonshire, making the act of using them elsewhere somewhat inefficient. I will give a tentative recommendation for those unusually fond of small time psychopathic english villages with a dash of traditional DnD or simply mediocre writing, Loftp completionists and the mentally ill. 3 out of 10 beekeeper super villains.