I’ve never quite known what to make of “location sourcebooks” for RPGs. These are the books that describe a single location in great detail, similar to how you’d write up a dungeon for an adventure; at the same time though, it’s to flesh out your campaign world and add extra options, like a supplement. At their best, these combine features from both types of books into a cohesive whole that can serve as whatever you need it to, but if not done correctly they fail to live up to either end of the spectrum. It’s with that thought in mind that I turned my attention to the Abbey of the Golden Sparrow, by Tricky Owlbear Publishing.
As the title indicates, this book is based around a monastic order headquartered in the eponymous abbey. Located on a mountaintop, the monks there follow an air/cold-themed discipline, and follow a peaceful tradition of seeking enlightenment while aiding the goodly peoples near them, battling local goblin tribes, and guarding a powerful magic item of chaos.
The book spends the majority of its pages focused on flavor text and exposition regarding the abbey. It opens with several pages telling the story of a day in the life of two young acolytes, before giving a map and description of the location itself, which (rather appropriately) is rather spartan in nature. The history and myths associated with the abbey are touched upon, as are several axioms and their meaning, before the book delves into new mechanics.
Interestingly, the book’s first section of new crunch is focused around character traits, which are bonuses a PC can take at character creation to help flesh out their background. Several new feats are also presented, and while they aren’t monk-specific, they do tend to favor characters who fight with speed and finesse over brute strength (that said, three feats are presented separately that are meant only for monk characters, as they are the foundation of the fighting style of this abbey’s monks). Obsidian, as a new material, is presented, along with three magic items; two meant for the monks and one being the magic item they guard. Two sample NPCs, both from the opening fiction, close out the book.
On reflection, the Abbey of the Golden Sparrow does present some interesting possibilities, but despite its assurances it doesn’t seem particularly conducive to characters that aren’t monks. The opening fiction which describes life at the abbey, for example, only has non-monks insofar as travelling merchants who some monks guard on their journey (and the goblins they fight). Likewise, the descriptions of the abbey are almost entirely devoid of non-monk characters, and the few who are mentioned aren’t dwellers at the abbey. The traits and feats might be available to any characters, but there’s no flavor explanation for what a non-monk character would be doing there in the first place.
There are some hooks for adventuring here, but it should be noted that aside from the guarded magic item they’re mostly among the myths about the abbey. Still, there are some good reasons for characters to go there on a quest should something happen to it, but that aspect seems rather bare-bones, since the abbey itself is small and there honestly don’t seem to be that many threats around it.
The Abbey of the Golden Sparrow does a good job in presenting a background location for monk characters. PCs who want to flesh out their monk’s background, noting different fighting styles and philosophies, will find some very good material here to work with, both in terms of fluff and crunch. Beyond that, however, this book’s offerings are rather sparse, having little to offer non-monks and not much potential as an adventure site. As a monastic tradition, however, this is as good as – if not better than – anything else you’re likely to find.
[4 of 5 Stars!]