In the Midnight campaign setting, the Sarcosan people are considered to be the most influential of human cultures. They were the last race to come to Eredane and brought with them refined steel, astrology, horses, and more. They united the humans of the continent. And yet, it was from their culture and courts, rife with intrigue as it was, that was the most fertile of grounds for the Shadow to sow his seeds of dissent. Star and Shadow is a sourcebook about these people and their lands.
As most other Midnight supplements, Star and Shadow is a 64-page, black and white, soft-cover. The front cover of the book is a beautiful full color drawing of a Sarcosan man astride his horse, the full moon is barely visible through a cloud of smoke with some strange creatures flying over head. Is he an insurgent or one of the many mercenaries? You can’t be sure, as he is well equipped and has some well equipped fellows behind him. And that, for me, is really capturing the feel of the Sarcosans as they are described in the Midnight setting: cunning before brawn. The interior art is good, even though I did not like some of the drawings and one of the drawings was used twice. On the maps that dot the book I’ll comment later.
The book has five chapters which I will discuss bellow:
Chapter 1 tells the history of the Sarcosans from the time they sent their first expedition to Eredane at the start of the Second Age to the betrayals that heralded the end of the Third Age. Wars and peace (but mostly wars) are described here, along with the relationship between the Sarcosans and the various races of Eredane, and suspicions by some people of where the Shadow’s hand might have stirred the Sarcosans in the “right” direction. Reading through this short history of the Sarcosans, the reader may gain a better understand of the Sarcosans as a culture and what drives them, even before delving into the next chapter.
It is a pity that the maps are ugly. Three maps are spread throughout this chapter detailing the colonization, the war with the elves, and the war with the Dorns. These are basically a blown-up image of the map from the Midnight 2nd edition book on which arrows and movements were drown along with dates and icons depicting a battle, a siege, a sacking, or something to that account. Perhaps also it is a problem of the book being black and white and me having a PDF copy (which I printed in very high quality at the printing shop), but I can’t say that I cared much for these maps.
Chapter 2 describes the way of life of the Sarcosans. The caste system is discussed in much more detail than before, and it is shown how this system holds these people together for better or worse; their intrigue-culture is discussed, a culture that applaud the clever above the strong; their attitude towards religion, their own and that Izrador, and the various crafts and trades they deal in. All this is discussed in detail and, along with the first chapter, provides a very comprehensive and interesting picture of the Sarcosans and their ways. A DM wishing to provide some information to a player playing a Sarcosan character will have to carefully go through the words before showing them to the player, as many paragraphs have information about what the Shadow’s forces or the insurgents are thinking or planning to do.
Chapter 3 is a gazetteer. The south was divided by the Shadow’s forces into seven districts, and each is discussed here in the following manned: a general description of the district with the name of the ruler (or rulers), a break up of the native population, the number of Shadow minions, and major trade products; then a number of important towns and villages are discussed shortly, and lastly a number of geographical features of interest. Each entry of settlement or location has a short “Hook” paragraph following it; this might be a tradition of the place, or perhaps the Shadow’s plan. Some are better than others, and while not all will provide adventure ideas, all enrich their particular area, making it much more interesting.
There are four hand-drawn maps spread throughout this chapter that are very nice and clean looking. Two of the maps depict a single district each, while the two other maps show multiple districts and are a bit overlapping. This overlapping is not done well as some of the borders in one map are not in the same place in the second map and this movement makes some of the cities and geographical features move from one district to another. A bit confusing when one is searching for a particular place and its description.
Chapter 4 is dedicated to some of the characters, potential allies or nemeses, already described throughout the book, giving detailed stats and possessions along with personalities and motivations. It is a shame that a small number of the descriptive texts about a few of the characters are just repetitions from earlier in the book.
Chapter 5 is the new rules chapter for this book. A handful of feats are provided including a three feat tree improving about finesse fighters. I only really did not like one of the feats which supposedly is needed whenever a Sarcosan character wishes to improve his rank in that Sarcosan caste with DM approval, of course. Things like that seem to me to try and take away narrative tools from the DM and make them into rules. I know I will not use it.
The Sarcosans are known for their excellent horses, and this is provided with the Sarcosan-bred template for horses (making them faster and more agile), a list of special “quirk” each horse has and new tricks that are special designed for Sarcosan horses, but are not exclusive to them. These mechanics are simple and nice, and when playing in a campaign in the south where each character might have a horse, can provide a greater attachment between horse and character.
Another new mechanic is provided in the background classes. These are one level classes that are taken at 1st level and may provide players a way to create a more rounded character. So for example a fighter that studied under a Sahi might be able to cast augury once per day after consulting the stars, and add a +2 sacred bonus to a roll due to his strong faith. Very nice, and something I would like to see implemented in future products as well.
Finally we are presented with three new Prestige Classes: Pellurian Blade Dancer (a dexterous and lethal falchion or greatsword wielding fighter), the Sahi (the priest/astrologer of the Sarcosan), and the Vigilant Defender (an urban-based vigilante class). Since I’m not very good at determining balance issues and such, I do not have much to say about these classes except that they are cool.
Star and Shadow is a good addition to the Midnight line. It does well in expanding about the Sarcosan life and culture, but I wish it would have done more in expanding the gazetteer with more places of interest and hooks; I wouldn’t have minded not having the chapter with the NPCs to clear more space for that.
As with most Midnight supplements, this one too will not see much use by people not playing in the Midnight setting, but for the Midnight DMs out there running their party in southern Eredane and the Sarcosan lands, this book might be very helpful and interesting to read. Of course, it will be an interesting read to any Midnight fan.
[4 of 5 Stars!]