Rather a long time ago, when I had just taken the Queen's Shilling and the new game was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, I thought about applying classic squad tactics to adventuring parties on the tabletop. War, after all, happens at least as frequently in a fantasy realm as it does in the real world, and small groups are the norm in both role-playing and Special Forces. So it is with a measure of glee that I find a book which has taken this route with the combat-orientated 4th Edition of D&D; providing both a rich but war-torn setting and ideas for building a special forces unit using the full potential of fantasy adventurers.
The Introduction explains precisely what is intended. Although it has the normal trappings of a standard fantasy campaign setting (and indeed if that is what you want you can play a normal fantasy game here), the intention is that player-characters will be members of an elite 'special forces' style group called Wraith Recon; and that rather than normal adventuring activities they will engage in classic special forces missions, acing often on their own but under direction of their commanders.
The first chapter is Wraith Recon: The Strike Teams, and looks at the core of what makes this setting unique - the elite personnel of Wraith Recon. It looks at history and organisation, and at how the unit fits in to the way in which the Kingdom of Dardarrick wages war and maintains peace. It is a small and select unit, highly secret even as far as their own side is concerned; with the core being the 4-6 man team (how convenient, just the right size for your average party!). There are just 13 teams, most given at least a vague assignment with Team # 4 listed as 'awaiting first assignment' - this is the one designated for your player-characters. The core of their work is this: whatever they are tasked to do, they must succeed - whatever it takes, whatever the cost.
Scene set, the next chapter is Wraith Recon Four: Creating The Team. Starting with normal 1st-level 4e characters, they are assumed to have trained together until they are as close as a family. This is not a game for secrets within the party, everyone should know as much about their team-mates as possible. Think team-work, think about watching each other's backs. As for equipment, there is a standard package everyone receives... and other items may be requested once a mission brief has been given. There are plenty of equipment lists, depending on character class and level, to enable each team member to be as well-equipped as possible - and it's all top-grade stuff. Not to mention the edge, the secret weapon that is SpellCom - providing communication, intelligence and more by arcane means, to a level that would make most real-world operative jealous. Genuine innovation in utilising fantasy concepts in support of the special forces orientation of this game.
Next is a chapter on The World of Nuera, and is designed to set the backdrop for the campaign. Starting with an overview of the world as a whole, describing each of the continents. Then there is a detailed timeline that sets the context of the state of the world today. This is followed by a discussion of the gods, and what each requires of worshippers. Next, the Kingdom of Dardarrick, the most powerful state on Nuera and the one to which the characters, perforce, give alliegiance, is described with a detailed history and gazetteer. Naturally, as the supreme state it is often challenged by others and as the campaign opens it is yet again under threat...
The next chapter looks at the Military of Dardarrian. Elite forces you may be, but there are plenty of more conventional assests - and they are needed! The nature of the population is such that the armed forces are a popular and honoured career, with good civilian support for the military. There is a detailed breakdown of military organisation, which as elite forces the Wraiths are likely to know, even if they have been recruited directly from civilian life. Many, though, will have already seen service in conventional forces. For those who like a visual image, the uniforms and rank badges are detailed as well as weapons and training.
Hints have already been dropped that, despite all this power, Dardarrian is under extreme threat once more and now we find out why, as the next chapter explores the neighbouring Kingdom of Lorn. Second only to Dardarrian and historically their enemy, they are once again on the march. Again there is plenty detail in terms of history and geography, as well as prominent individuals. The Kingdom of Torres, a more subtle threat to stability in the region, next gets the same treatment. Another area, the Wastelands, is also covered.
As if these neighbouring states were not enough, the next chapter describes another threat - The Cult of Tomarsson, followers of a recently-deposed religious leader. Not content with being exiled, he is probably more of a danger now than he was as a loud-mouthed zealot at the head of Dardarrian's religious establishment. This is followed by a selection of Minor Threats. Things seemed stacked against Dardarrian - perhaps Wraith Recon can tip the balance in their favour.
Background done, the next chapter Wraith Recon Missions looks at the creation and management of Wraith Recon missions from the DM's point of view. Both the sequence necessary to design your own and a random generation system are provided. Anyone with military training will find the briefing phase familiar, the nature of the information, instructions and protocols to be provided. Everything is left open enough that you can fine-tune them to your own needs - even use the same model for this type of mission run in your own campaign world if you prefer - while promises are made about more detailed and specific missions in the sourcebooks to come.
Finally, Campaign 0: The Lorn Initiative presents a ready-made mini-campaign for you to cut your teeth on. Four short missions are provided, suitable for neophyte Wraiths of 1st level - and yet even now there are ramifications which could echo throught a long campaign if you want to pick up on them. Everything is presented clearly and while the missions are quite linear, there is plenty of scope for initiative (and - certainly for novice squads - real world special forces missions can be quite linear anyway!).
This is a masterful use of the combat-orientated nature of D&D 4e to drive an exciting game based around the innovative blend of special forces and fantasy.
[5 of 5 Stars!]