The fine folks at Nevermet Press have released a PDF for 4th Edition entitled Portrait of a Villain â€“ The Desire, focusing onâ€”unsurprisinglyâ€”a villain named The Desire, and providing a variety of material surrounding this woman and her organization. A number of contributors worked to create a range of material, from locations to encounters to organizations and groups, all focusing around the titular villain.
The PDF comes in two formats, a full-color landscape version intended for easy reading from a screen, and a black and white portrait layout that’s a bit printer-friendlier. Both versions are laid out quite well, very readable, and presented in a well organized and clean fashion. There are only a few really noticeable spelling or grammar errors throughout, and the art, while not being spectacular, is competent and not unappealing. The maps especially stand out as being on par with anything put out by Wizards of the Coast. The content is interesting and varied, as well, with the unifying theme of the Desire bringing together the diverse contributions.
Mechanically the product is fairly solid, with nothing immediately game-breaking or unsound. The Desire herself has a slightly larger suite of powers than comparable creatures from official sources, and seems to be missing the +2 to saving throws for being elite in her stat-block; several of the other new creatures presented are also slightly off the power level of official creatures in comparable roles. This is not an especially large problem, however, since with a few minor tweaks it’s easy enough to bring everything in line with the normal power curve without losing any of the unique flavor. A few mechanical oddities exist that are potentially confusing, but all told the enemies presented within are fairly solid. Many of the enemies are rather directly linked to the Desire and would be more difficult to use in something unconnected to her, but at least as many of them can stand up on their own with no tweaking required.
The encounters presented vary slightly in quality of design. One is clear, straightforward, and easily used in any campaign involving intrigue and deception. One is potentially very interesting but seems a bit unfocused, with a large variety of special terrain options and a potentially very divisive map. A third is something akin to a mini-adventure in and of itself, but would require a fair amount of revision to be used in an unrelated campaign.
The single paragon path included in the PDF is neither incredibly powerful nor incredibly weak. It may not be the premium choice for players concerned with optimum character options, but it’s very flavorful. The direct connection to the Desire makes sense in the context of the source, but it could also be very easily reflavored to suit just about any campaign.
On the subject of flavor, the material is a bit more risquÃ© than the standard D&D 4e fare. The Desire and her minions are very definitely themed towards the mature end of the spectrum, though there’s nothing that strays out of PG territory. Still, those with younger players at the table might want to be aware of the content before passing it on.
The location included in the PDF, Highcourt, is an interesting if basic city with plenty of opportunity for adventure hooks, whether or not you want to run a campaign involving the Desire. There is enough detail to give a good sense of the place without going into minutiae, and the surrounding wilderness has enough variety to provide for a number of options for adventure sites of your own.
The organizations are largely focused around the Desire’s allies, enemies, and rivals, and provide a rich environment in which to drop players if you’re running a campaign focused around the Desire. If you’re more interested in pillaging for seeds for your own campaign, there’s still enough to go on for one or two, but not all of them work without the central focus of the product.
The short fiction included towards the end of the PDF is probably the weakest in terms of editing throughout the entire product, but it does give a good example of the ways the Desire can be introduced as a villain before the PCs directly meet her. As the product is primarily an RPG resource, it shouldn’t be a major concern. There are also a couple of NPCs offered with the short fiction that could be useful in any sort of campaign.
Portrait of a Villain – The Desire offers a fair amount of useful material, and not just for a campaign or adventure specifically featuring the title antagonist. While the book covers a lot of ground with different types of material, that’s definitely a strength, as it allows it to provide diversity in content. The inclusion of a printer-friendly version of the PDF is a great idea, and it’s just as readable as the full color version. At $9.95 from e-junkie.com and RPGNow.com, it’s a pretty good value for the variety of material included, especially if you’re looking for something to add to an existing campaign. It’s not quite enough material to run a campaign out of alone, but it would be easy enough to use the provided content to put together several adventures for mid to high heroic tier, culminating in a final showdown with the Desire herself.
The following sites have more reviews of Portrait of a Villain – The Desire:
The following sites offer conversions to other game systems:
- tenletter: Vamping up The Desire – The Desire in Vampire, The Masqerade
- The Core Mechanic: A Deadlands’ Reloaded conversion of The Desire