Folkloric: Baba Yaga
From: Dog Soul Publishing
Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Folkloric: Baba Yaga is a new d20 Fantasy Setting Sourcebook from Dog Soul Publishing.
This Ennie Award nominated sourcebook is one of many in a series of folklore-based settings and source material by Dog Soul Publishing. I have been really impressed with the other items in this series, so this one looked no different on the outset.
From page 1:
“In a certain kingdom, in a certain land, there lived an uncertain youth - uncertain of his place in the world, of his purpose in his village, indeed, uncertain of the meaning of life itself.”
Folkloric: Baba Yaga is a sourcebook focusing on a fantasy setting of Rassiyan, which is loosely based on Russian folklore. The Baba Yaga is a prominent figure in Russian folklore and the inspiration for this PDF source book. She appears as a witch-like being and has some strong ties to nature. Her tales are usually about the balance of nature and world of man. In the short story provided, she appears in a chicken-legged house to a boy who is lost. The Baba Yaga is many things to many Eastern European cultures, and this PDF attempts to use them all as a source book to mold a fantasy world.
Content: The short story gives you an illustration of just one interpretation of the Baba Yaga. Following that, the author supplies certain axioms of Russian Folklore and the Baba Yaga. The Overview of the setting gives you the collective interpretation of the Baba Yaga, according the the author. Centrally to the Baba Yaga is the balance of nature and man's technology and her mysterious agenda.
Beyond the Baba Yaga, the Overview also gets into Russian Folklore in general, merging it into a new fantasy setting called Rassiyan. This is a refreshing break from the Western European-centered fantasy settings, and if a GM wants to dive into the mostly cold and wet world of a Russian-like culture, this section gets you started on that path. Focusing on a village called Derevnya, it begins to describe the culture and people of Rassiyan. Along with the Baba Yaga, there are two other immortal forces at work within Rassiyan: Prince Ivan Tsarevitch and Koschei the Deathless. They are further explained in the Overview.
The sections Inhabitants of Rassiya, Monsters and Animals contain all that one would expect. There are two special sections under the Inhabitants called The Three Maids and The Three Legends containing very special inhabitants of Rassiyan. No stats are given here, just story and background. This shows that the author appreciates good story and understands the focus of a good RPG.
Monsters include the Three Horseman (if you had not noticed, many things come in threes), Lebedinoe ("swan-folks", relatives to Elves), and the Rusalka (a type of tormented soul like spectres or banshees). The animals include Baba Yaga's Oxen (the witch's special oxen), Catkin (an intelligent cat creature and pet to Baba Yaga ), Rip and Torn (Baba Yaga's guard dogs), and Grey (a gaunt, sleek, oversized wolf who roams alone). Again, no stats supplied immediately, just story.
All stats are actually found in the NPC, Monster, and Animal stats section later in the PDF. There are a good range of Challenge Ratings for the GM to choose from.
From page #1 :
“Be wary of wolves whilst you sleep, be wary of bandits whilst you walk, and at all times be wary of the forest’s dark heart, for all that lives there is death.”
Places in Rassiya cover in considerable detail many areas within Rassiyan including the the Village of Derevna, the Tyomniy Forest (an area that Baba Yaga has known to have been spotted), Mokriy Vale (another forest of lesser note), Berioza Grove (a mysterious forest where the Baba Yaga has also been spotted), Ivansgrove (the private hunting ground of Prince Ivan), Kholadna Swamp, and of course, the Baba Yaga’s Yard. Supplied in each major area is a random encounter table, which is very handy, of course. Baba Yaga's yard and house are also detailed area by area, room by room, as well as trap by trap. There are several traps that the characters could possibly encounter and a random table is supplied for those. Also a possibility is the random encounter with a magic item or two. Both of these tables are an interesting approach to providing variety and wide range of possibilities. Roughly 15 or more magic items are detailed after. Also detailed as well as accompanied with a table is Treasure.
Sample Expressions of Major Characters is an interesting section that supplies some dialogue or typical expressions from the major NPCs like Baba Yaga, Vasilisa (one of the Three Maids), Kookla (Vasilisa's mysterious doll who will come to life at times), Melinika (one of the Three Maids), and Natalya (the third Maid). This adds further richness to the setting, giving you an idea of the context for each of the major NPCs.
Probably the most important section to the GM is the Plot Hooks section. The text says it well when it states "the land of Rassiya is packed full of intrigue and adventure." There are seven short plot hooks supplied here that are imaginative and inspiring. Closing out the PDF are three Appendices - Lebedinoe Racial Description, Glossary and Pronunciation Guide, and Rassiyan Naming Conventions. The Lebedinoe, as mentioned above, are elf-like folks of Rassiyan and this section supplies the character stats. Their key characteristic is their connection to the cold nature of Rassiyan and their ability to change to a swan.
What I like the most is the Pronunciation Guide. Some of these words are hard to wrap my tongue around and this helps with that as well as helps the GM add some legitimacy to his running of this universe.
Layout: The art is very well done. It brings out the feel of Russian-folklore based fantasy. I cannot say enough about the art. It is fantastic. The PDF layout is well done, although a little more than my work printer could handle. I assume that if bought, there would be a printer friendly version, but I did not get one. The Cartography for the Map of Rassiya, Map of The Village of Derevna, and the Map of Baba Yaga’s Hut and Yard are also done well, very colorful and clear.
In conclusion, this PDF is without a doubt a brilliant piece of research and writing for all to enjoy. It supplies a fresh new world for fantasy gamers to explore. It is rich with imaginative merging of folklore and fantasy. This is well deserving of the nominations it received and dare say that it is deserving of more than just nominations. It leaves nothing out. It is complete and well done. It is inspired and well written. The author should be proud.