Game: City Guide: Everyday Life
Publisher: Dark Quest
Series: City Guide: d20
Review Dated: 28th, February 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 9
Average Score: 4.50
City Guide: Everyday Life will cost you a couple of bucks for a whole collection of shops. Yes, shops. As I began to read through I was more and more convinced that it was worth it. I started to ponder just what I might say in the review and then I found a paragraph on the very last page of the download that makes the point very well. So, here’s the quote; “One of the dangers of having PCs go into a town for rest an relaxation is that the majority of the time you have no idea what should be there. Many PCs of course just want to go to the latest and greatest tavern for a bar fight. But there are those out there that want to go shopping. Those are the ones that will ask the dreaded phrase: ‘What’s on the shelves?'”
I can tell you what’s on the shelves. You’ll find a careful mix of fantasy and mundane items, everything from shoes and silk clothes all the way to specially prepared water resistant paper for spell books and paranoid merchants to shields with sharp edges designed to foil those villainous creatures with long grappling limbs.
You’re not buying a list of items though. The Guide is presented in a series of shops and the Blue Flame Inn at the end of the download is the biggest by far. The people who put together this list are no fools – they know what players are like – and they’ve included all the important stats on the DC for locks, the hardness for doors and just what might be lying around that might interest those nimble fingered but less honourable characters. Needless to say, you’ve got your price and weight lists too. Each shop is accompanied by a collection of decent NPCs. By “decent” I mean that they’ve each got a story and personality of their own. One of the great advantages, I feel, of the pdf system is that there’s never a big deal should the players not become interested in the background or current secrets of the shop then there’s no great loss. If the shop was going to be the start of a new scenario then an experienced GM can catch the players in some other way – and in fact, many of the stores in the City Guide come with adventure hook ideas. On the other hand you’re using the download to provide flavour and depth to your game (by being able to answer “What’s on the shelves?”) then even if your players manage to blasé their way through all 14 shops without interacting with any of them to a large degree then you’ve still only spent about the same as your share of a single session’s worth of munchies might cost. It will take longer than a single session of play to visit all 14 shops; shopping is notoriously slow in fantasy games!
The title “city guide” is slightly misleading since there are plenty of these shops that are out in the country. Little cottages that the characters might encounter as they move over the wilds and towards civilization. It doesn’t really though, since one of the strengths of the Guide is that these shops could be anywhere. It would only take a little work – or no work at all – to pick up one of these locations and move it somewhere else. That said, as seems to be traditional, the assumed setting is that of high fantasy. Wizards might pop into to buy spell books, adventurers may enquire about a small shield of fire resistance. Your shopkeepers might be elves or gnomes. If you’re playing in a low fantasy game (for example, only the human race, no culture of adventuring and no wizards wandering down the street as an every day event) then you’ll still get some use out of the Guide but not as much.
For me, the best the City Guide had to offer was its accuracy. Accuracy and fantasy don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The weapon store, for example, has its own forge and so there’s an NPC there to deal with the clinker waste product. Clinker? What’s that? I didn’t know either but it’s all explained and picked up a nice phrase “Cleaning the fire” to puzzle my players with. The same sort of detail occurs again and again; for the fletchers, the dressmakers, stables, etc. Checking the Dark Quest website I can see that the company has many years experience selling to the medieval re-enactment market and I’m sure this explains all the attention to detail.
There are some interesting names in the credits too. I noticed Joseph Carriker, who now seems to be writing for Sword and Sorcery Studios and Wil Upchurch who hast the recent Mongoose Publishing release Skraag – City of Orcs under his belt. I think it’s a feather in Dark Quest‘s cap that they able to attract such writers. I found that good writers tend to respect other quality authors and so we can pretty much be sure that Neal Levin, Darren Pearce and Patrick Lawinger are just as good.
The PDF zipped weighs in at 6,420KB and that opens up to 17,296KB. That’s big and heavy. Compare that to the Book of Eldritch Might II which has 65 colour pages. Eldritch Might’s zipped file is 5,368KB and unzips into two extra text files plus the Book itself at 6,590KB. City Guide seems to be twice as large. This might explain why my copy of Acrobat Reader struggled with the City Guide. If you hit F5 in the City Guide you’ll see the list of bookmarks. It’s great that they’re there but not all of them work. You can also spot a join where “cg1part2.pdf” is added on. Perhaps this explains the unusual bloating. I’ve no experience with creating PDFs myself (not yet) but I imagine it might be something that Dark Quest set straight. I wouldn’t worry too much about technical quirks though, overall I found the City Guide to be value for money and an extremely useful asset. I don’t often print out my PDFs but this one is likely to find residence in the back of my GMing folder.
[ Note: Dark Quest tidied up the bookmarks and the download is now a sane 6MB+ One of the huge benefits PDFs have over books – you can fix things later. ]