EDIT: Ignore my ramblings on the map: Not only has Raging Swan press revised the map to improve it, the web-enhancement now alos includes a DM-map high-res version! Eliminating my concerns, this adds 1.5 stars!
The second installment in Raging Swan's Village backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 5 pages of content for the village of Thornhill, so let's take a look!
The village of Thornhill is situated at the border of a vast marsh, to be more precise on an island encircled by deep, sluggish waters and surrounded by an ancient, yet formidable stockade of old timbers - the only access point to the village being one bridge. At least without access to boats!
We get 8 short entries of notable folks, describing the dramatis personae of the village before we're introduced to 10 notable locations in the village. It should be noted that a lizardfolk adept living at a nearby island is considered to be a part of the village as well as a guardian of what the lizardfolk consider to be a holy site. Also rather cool: We get a marketplace entry (which I hope to see in future entries of the series as well) that provides a primer on the goods available as well as a short selection of magical items for sale.
To add further color to the dreary place, we also get a table of 6 rumors, a general primer on how the people look like (including nomenclature) and some pieces of local lore on the village before we are introduced to more detailed descriptions of the 10 notable locations of the village. We also get the statblocks for the village's wizard in residence, the half-orc tavern-keeper and aforementioned lizardfolk adept as well as for standard villagers. Beyond these crunchy bits, we get short entries on trade & industry and law & order as well as 6 different events.
Editing and formatting are top-notch and up to the almost flawless track-record RSP has set for itself. Layout adheres to the crisp b/w-2-column presentation we're by now accustomed to and the pdf comes with two versions - one for printing and one for screen-use. Both pdfs are fully bookmarked. It should be noted that a high-resolution, keyless .png-version of the village's map, sans annoying numbers etc., can be downloaded for free on Raging Swan's homepage - though I would have preferred it t be included in the pdf.
All right, first of all, I feel obliged to note that this is a perfect example of concise writing - with just a couple of sentences, the village's descriptions manage to evoke a sense of backwardness, desolation, decrepitude and forlornness. Thornhill is a harsh place and one that may erode the minds of those unwilling or incapable of bearing the hard life there. The subtle winks and nods towards the ever-present threats of the nearby swamp, via lizardfolk etc., could be easily used by a halfway-decent Dm to create an Innsmouth-type of scenario and I think that is exactly what I'll do - perhaps adding the Lizardfolk of the Dragon's Fang as the creatures that at first start to wage war on the settlement, only to turn out as beings that want to purge this blight from the swamp - but that's just my suggestion of how to use this dreary, slightly xenophobic settlement. Add to that the nice market-place section etc. and we're in for a good village.
But why not excellent? One word: The map.
Raging Swan Press has heard my pleas regarding the availability of player-friendly maps and now provide them as web-enhancements. What I don't get, though, is that the map of Thornhill in the pdf is scarcely half a page - if a DM wants to print it out, he's essentially screwed, since the numbers of the interesting locales vanish in the excellent, beautiful b/w-cartography. Roake got a one-page DM-map, why not Thornhill? Seriously, without zooming in on the DM-map, I couldn't make out where the respective numbered locales were supposed to be. Why not create half a page more content and get the map its own page? The player's map I downloaded suffers not from these problems and is large enough (and high-res enough) to make for a nice print-out! If you're like me and want to have dead-tree-versions of your pdfs (which lack the option to zoom), you'll have to resort to hand-drawing the numbers on an extra-PC-map. That's a serious comfort-detriment, at least for me and the only reason why this pdf will get "only" 3.5 stars from me, rounded down to 3 for now. As soon as the map-issue is rectified, I'll happily add a star and round up, but for now, I was rather annoyed by the decision.
EDIT: With the added maps, my new verdict will clock in at 5 stars! Once again, superior customer service on part of Raging Swan Press!
[5 of 5 Stars!]