Thursday, August 22, 2013

Legends and Lairs: City Works by Fantasy Flight Games Part 2

  For every ounce of goodie you find in City Works you'll have to dig through a ton of esoteric garbage to get there

When we left off in the previous post, Legends and Lairs: City Works by Fantasy Flight Games Part 1, I had finished with the first two chapters and had come away with an overall positive impression of the product. Now there are several faults with the product that had become glaringly obvious. First the product is given to over-thinking and over-complicating the basic processes around the creation of a fantasy city setting. Secondly, the product is subject to the normal trials and tribulations associated with any Mike Mearls production: namely that for every ounce of goodie you find in City Works you'll have to dig through a ton of esoteric garbage to get there. Fortunately that ton is well written and thought provoking so it's worth the effort. 

Chapter 3: City Construction
I found myself going glass eyed and wishing that I had more alcohol in the house
The third chapter in City Works begins by laying out the districts of a typical city both socially and topically to good effect. Now I would not personally use all of the groupings that Mike Mearls ascribes but I can find no real fault with his logic or descriptions in these first four pages of the chapter. 

It is when he describes how to create a map of the city I found myself going glass eyed and wishing that I had more alcohol in the house. Seriously, this section is overly complicated and choked with needless rules designed to dictate everything from the size of your city blocks and their percentages of the overall land area to the layout of the districts and the types of streets you detail.

Honestly the chapter only has three sections worth reading City Precincts (pg. 86 - 90), Key Structures (pg 101 - 102), and the Example Map (pg 103). From those sections you can create a useful map that will service all your major needs without the morass of rules that Mike created.

Chapter 4: City Adventures
Tone is absolutely everything when it comes to running Dungeons and Dragons
This chapter is for the Dungeon Master and in many ways this is the best chapter of the book. There are no delusions of ease for Mike Mearls and he begins the chapter by talking about how everything about the city is interconnected. For Mike this means that the architecture, city folk, landmarks, and tone mean everything. I would argue that he confuses everything by trying to be too detailed. Tone is absolutely everything when it comes to running Dungeons and Dragons: it encompasses the people you meet, the scenery, the way that events are told and portrayed. To take it aside and say that it is a factor along with the others that make up tone is a mistake and creates a situation where you're trying to do too much.

That's a recipe for disaster.

The key to setting a good tone for an adventure is to strike the right balance between too much detail and not enough. You need to be evocative with just enough verisimilitude to not alert your players of where things are going.  But if you're trying to do too much you will screw it all up.

Urban Adventure Basics (pg 112 - 119) is a great resource for new Dungeon Masters and an okay review of the process of adventure writing. Again he is overly detailed but the kernel is good and worth digesting. Just don't get your head wrapped up in all the mess he chucks on the page.

The Urban Environments section (pg. 119 - 126) is an okay resources but he really tries too hard to provide rule mechanics for every situation that you can come across. I don't need a mechanic for the chase or for going in the sewers. A simple description of each of these environments without mechanics would have been a better use of the page. That's true for far too much of this book.

Urban Events (pg 127 - 134) is a mixed bag. You have rules for fires (pg 127), floods (pg 128-129), and riots (pg 131 - 133) which are essentially useless in most games as any good Dungeon Master is going to have those events move according to the players actions dramatizing the play as much as possible with the players' enjoyment foremost in his mind rather than worrying about the rules associated with such events. But then you have the plague (pg 129 - 131) and siege (pg 133 - 134) where Mike provides some really interesting ideas about how these sort of events affect the city and game play. Now I don't agree with everything, but there is enough crunch here where I find myself intrigued with where I can go from his starting point.

Chapter 5: City Encounters
To waste your time fictionalizing these fantastical people who even you don't believe in is the very definition of wasting your time.
This chapter is mostly filled with tables for all manner of encounters. Some of them are fantastic but most are not that great in and of themselves. My suggestion is to look at his tables and make your own. Detail the tables for your city and forget the generic crap he left for you.

Oh, and the Non Player Character creation tables awful. I just hate how piss poor every NPC table I run across is so fucking useless. They barely function and you can make up something better just by thinking about people you've actually seen and encountered in your daily life. To waste your time fictionalizing these fantastical people who even you don't believe in is the very definition of wasting your time. Be a better story teller. Think for yourself and use your experiences to create a dynamic world that your players will believe in as much as they believe in you and your abilities as a Dungeon Master. Using these fucking tables is lazy and spells out disaster for your game. Make the fucking effort to be better.

Overall Review
 I don't regret buying City Works, I'm just not overly thrilled with the experience I've had reading it.
City Works is a fine product designed to provide you with a framework to build your fantastical cities around. It has some really good resources and couple of classes worth playing any day of the week. But there is a lot of effort involved in wading through this resource. The artwork is nothing special and certainly isn't helping the book - of course it isn't hurting the book either as was the case with Dragons by AEG.

I don't regret buying City Works, I'm just not overly thrilled with the expereince I've had reading it.

Score: 5 out of 10

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