I feel I’ve become a bit jaded over the years as I’ve watched story after story, plot after plot, character after character repeated over and over in popular fiction, television, movies, and game materials. Even so, it’s nice to occasionally find something that is refreshingly unique and thought provoking.
No, I’m not talking about AMC’s The Walking Dead (though I have been enjoying the first short season).
I’m actually thinking of Brother Ptolemy and his quest to free the people of the world from “the pain and suffering of a living existence by ushering them into the freedom of sentient undeath.” Just ponder that statement for a minute. We’re not talking about mindless zombies or magical liches. We’re not talking about Frankenstein’s monster or vampires stalking their next meal. This is a man who has achieved a form of immortality at the ultimate cost of his sanity.
That’s the premise behind Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden Kingdom, from the creative minds of Nevermet Press. BP&THK is an adventure setting for fifth level characters using the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons from Wizards of the Coast. I would probably suggest that the book is meant for players 16 and older and almost certainly not for anyone under the age of 14. But, as with all settings and game materials, your mileage may vary.
In the first chapter, you are introduced to Brother Ptolemy and his rise to power as the leader of The Hidden Kingdom — an organization bound and determined to ease suffering one city at a time. Ptolemy, once the rich Duke Gerhardt von Brandt, holds power over all the members of his dominion. Gathering wealth and power, Ptolemy and his “red” monks (named so for their red robes) of The Hidden Kingdom are gaining sway over more and more cities. Though they may be responsible for many charitable works, their ultimate aims are like those of the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation and “resistance is futile.”
Brother Ptolemy makes one heck of a scary villain in my book. Not only is he powerful, but he’s also anonymous — one Red Monk looks like every other Red Monk and nobody knows who or where Ptolemy may actually be. Plus, how do you kill something that’s already dead? Add to that Ptolemy’s high-ranking officials scattered throughout The Hidden Kingdom and you have a plague you must somehow stop at its source.
As a gamemaster (GM), there is more than enough in BP&THK to gradually introduce the monks and their nefarious goals to an existing campaign. Each chapter introduces tools and techniques for getting the player characters (PCs) involved and trying to get to the bottom of the mystery and misery as it unfolds.
“The Red Harvest” in chapter two starts things off with a disease. That leads to Corwyn in chapter three. There you get the sense that the gorgeous, crime-free city of Corwyn, is hiding a rotten core. In chapter four, you have a full blown adventure that pits the PCs against the hidden goals of the charitable and magnanimous Red Monks who may be holding a young woman against her will.
Now, I have to admit to not being familiar with any of the materials for fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, but I will say that this adventure is extremely well laid out with enough flexibility to allow the PCs a chance to get into and out of many scrapes, close calls, and mob scenes. Want combat? It’s in there. Want some great roleplaying opportunities? They’re in there too. The book really seems to have a great balance.
The remaining chapters flesh out items, feats, rituals, and adventure hooks. My favorite item is a very low-magic item — the Beggar’s Coin. This doesn’t grant the owner any huge magical benefit, but with today’s economy in the real world, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would want one. “When one of these coins is pressed tight into the palm of a hungry man, the hunger slips away; when these coins are dropped into the cup of a cold man, warmth slips over him.” Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
In the end, it is really the backstory that grabbed me — the concept of someone who, through his own vanity, finds a form of immortality and wants to share that with his fellow man is intriguing. He thinks he’s doing the right thing. But the question remains — is giving up everything to live forever really worth it? These “things” his disciples become are truly the walking dead and yet retain their mental faculties. So can you lose your life essence and still retain your humanity?
BP&THK presents a unique story in a way that should provide twists and turns to GMs and players alike. If you’re a GM looking for some inspiration, definitely check out Brother Ptolemy & The Hidden Kingdom from Nevermet Press. Paul King, Jonathan Jacobs, Dennis “Wyatt Salazar” Santana, Sean Holland, Christian Martinez, Steven Schutt, Stephen Dewey, Matthew Cicci, Liz Courts, Rob Torno, Matt Lichtenwalner, Matt Meyer, and Kenya Ferrand put together a heck of a book!
Now I’m really looking forward to Nevermet’s Loaerth & Feywyrd – a fantasy steampunk setting that uses the Savage Worlds game system. Who knows what twisted technology they’ll work out in order to up the ante.
Be sure to check out the Nevermet Press website for details on Brother Ptolemy and all the rest of their projects — it’s always chock full of ideas!