Game: Thieves’ Quarter: A City Quarters Sourcebook
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 28th, November 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 5
Average Score: 5.00
The Game Mechanics’ and Green Ronin’s first City Quarter Sourcebook is Thieves’ Quarters. This is a review of the paper version which came out after the PDF original.
Comparisons between City Quarters and Freeport are inevitable so let’s rush to get them over and done with. The Thieves’ Quarter is set in the town of Liberty. The goal of the series (or one of them, I’d hope) is to build up Liberty quarter by quarter.
Alternatively, quarters can be used as microcosms in their own right. The plan, the hope, is that with just a little tinkering Liberty or the Thieves’ Quarter will be suitable for almost any setting.
I thought of Freeport within seconds of reading the introduction to the Thieves’ Quarter. The Thieves’ Quarter is supposed to be a grim place, with no last-minute rescues and danger around every corner. It’s really hard to do this in D&D style d20.
Freeport started out as a “realistic” city with intrigue and promise. I feel Freeport lost it in the end; the cohesion of the city fell apart as a supplement after supplement came out. Depending on how you took the supplements Freeport might turn out to be a city in Hell and on the back of giant turtle. Riiight.
I honestly wonder whether this phenomenon is one of the reasons the city of Liberty is being sold to us in the way that it is. We’ll have more City Quarter supplements but rather than dilute Liberty they’ll build Liberty. There’s a cost to pay for this – I don’t have a sense of Liberty yet. I don’t want to set a game in Liberty with just the Thieves’ Quarter as support.
What if the players went elsewhere? I could wing it… but might wing something mutually exclusive with what’s published in the future.
You can have both cities in your game. In the Freeport setting there’s the city of Libertyville. We’re reminded in Thieves’ Quarter that Libertyville is supposed to have been destroyed but you might be in a position where you can ignore that safely (it’s not been mentioned in-game yet) or you might not mind a little ret-conning.
And, of course, you might not have Freeport and might not care one whit about the other setting. It’s also worth noting that Thieves’ Quarter isn’t just a Green Ronin publication and that it’s a The Game Mechanics book too.
Liberty begins life, briefly, as a small fishing community. Then the pirates found it. It took an annoyed pirate captain to finally bring some sense of real law and order to the growing town.
There are interactions with surrounding empires and battles against the Lich-King’s forces. If you want to drop the Thieves’ Quarter into an established city in an established setting or just drop Liberty into an established setting then very little of the history is important and most will need to be ignored.
The key facts are that the city is on the coast and has a network of caves which made it attractive to pirates. If you are looking for a new world setting then there’s enough here to tempt you. The default world setting sounds interesting!
There’s not nearly enough information here to actually use it but perhaps once Liberty has been built (quarter by quarter) we’ll see wider area supplements. Currently, with just Thieves’ Quarter to use, I feel as if I’d have to ignore all the names and events suggested here as they’re meaningless to me and simply hog the best plot spaces which I could myself with NPCs and plot hooks of my own invention.
In theory, this could change as new City Quarter Sourcebooks start to weave things together.
There are laws in Liberty against carrying weapons. In most cases, you’re left carrying just a dagger and not so imposing armour. In other cases, you can peace bound your weapon. It seems fairly easy for a group of PCs to get themselves listed as official “men at arms” as bypass most of these restrictions.
A decent policy on weapons is vital for any city setting, especially if you’re aiming for a dangerous thieves’ quarter. Unless you’re playing in a grim and gritty, low magic setting (which Liberty is not), a pair of thieves waiting to ambush the heroes in a dark alley is not going to be a real danger. By restricting weapons in Liberty we help to create a setting where the Thieves’ Quarter might actually be a dangerous place. Magic remains a challenge to the atmosphere, though.
This City Quarter Sourcebook is divided into three key sections: places, people and plots.
It’s in Places that we get to admire one of Thieves’ Quarters great strengths. The cartography in the book is great; especially the colour maps in the book’s inside pages.
There are maps of the whole city too. Though we don’t know much else about Liberty we can see where the Thieves Quarter (known as the Old Quarter locally) fits in. For each location, we have got a succinct but not too sketchy floor plan. Many of the interesting locations in the Thieves Quarter have hidden exits or hides and so the maps are especially handy here.
There are plenty of taverns and inns. As we’re looking at the Thieves Quarter (much easier to make interesting than Temple or Noble districts) we’ve brothels and abandoned buildings too.
Then there’s Soot Street. Liberty is built over a network of caves and tunnels – one of the reasons why the city grew in the way it did. It’s common sense that the thieves use these. Soot Street is the “official” main concourse of these tunnels and chambers.
We’ve maps for Soot Street and information for the “shops” which pepper the popular bypass. There’s a gladiator arena in Liberty.
In actual fact, we have people as well as places in this chapter. The book describes and stats NPCs necessary for each location; shop owners and barmaids, etc.
The hallmarks of D&D high fantasy are common throughout. Half-race NPCs are not unusual, where it might become an issue we’ve given stats for external or internal walls, magic is common and we even have one tavern owner with a pair of “golem arms” in lieu of his real arms.
I’d treat that last one with caution. It’s all a matter of ambience. If you’re doing your best to leave the magic and monsters outside the city’s gates and are trying to emphasis that in the Thieves Quarter you have to live on your quick wits… imagine what a pair of golem arms would do to that.
The second section looks at key people. As you’d hope we have the high-ups on the actual Thieves’ Guild here. Will come as a terrible surprise to you to discover that the person who most people believe heads the Guild isn’t actually the boss? He’s just the second in charge? I doubt it. It would be more surprising to find the head of the Thieves Guild was actually the boss you spoke to.
If you’re worried about spoilers – oops – better stop reading now.
The head of the Thieves Guild makes heavy use of a ring of Chameleon Power. I know; there’s a whopping great plot crunch there. What if he loses it? He’s the head of the Thieves Guild by night and a respectable member of the Seafarers Guild by day.
I do appreciate all the plot twists that can bring. In almost any other set up I’d welcome the idea… but it’s tricky here. I don’t have the Nobles’ Quarter sourcebook from The Game Mechanics. Even if I had the Nobles’ Quarter book I might not want to use it.
One of the goals of the Thieves’ Quarter is that it can work as an independent “plug-n-play” for any city in any setting. Clearly the quarter’s ability to be used in any city is restricted if such a key character is so closely tied to another quarter! The city quarters are supposed to be microcosms.
The key thieves aren’t actually detailed in the People chapter of the book either. They’re described and statted in the Places chapter at the start of the book. Oh well. The NPCs left over for this section are the likes of Watch Captains and rogue thieves. In fact, chapter two is only five pages long.
The last section of the book looks at Plots. I thought at first that this would be a mini-adventure section – but it isn’t. There’s an old and evil cult on the rise again in Liberty. This isn’t a short adventure (though you could use it as such) but an on-going issue.
Similarly, the influence of the foreign Kunarath Syndicate is unlikely to be dealt with in one scenario and would be a waste to do so. The biggest threat to the Thieves Quarter comes from outside and from organised crime from an exotic elsewhere.
There are pros and con here.
On the pro side, I like the shades of grey this introduces. Characters could be evil or less than good thieves and rogues from Liberty’s Old Quarter but working, as it happens, to assist the city by preventing the influence of the Kunarath Syndicate growing.
On the con side, we’re left with a key plot that we can’t really explore. We don’t have any other rules or knowledge about the homelands of the Kunarath Syndicate. If we’re using the Thieves Quarter as a plug’n’play (or even Liberty itself) then it’s especially hard to use the Kunarath Syndicate. What if there’s no suitable alternative in the game world you’re using?
The Thieves’ Quarter oozes professionalism and quality. The book is nicely bound, has easy to read but tight print (more words for your money) and plenty of illustrations (the cartography really is good).
As a flagship product for the City Quarters series, it does well. I’d like to collect the series. It’s about US $18 for 80 pages which isn’t too shabby for this day and age either.
Overall I think you have to look at Thieves’ Quarter – A City Quarter Sourcebook from three points of view.
As a plug’n’play supplement, it’s not all that great. It’s not particularly plug’n’play. By the time you sanitise the book for your campaign then you’re left with the filler (though professional and easy to use filler it is). As part of a greater Liberty setting the book is better but hindered by the lack of a greater Liberty setting.
You can’t really use the book as such yet. The third point of view, the fairest one to use, merges the two previous points together. The Thieves Quarter just about gives you a setting which you can use in just about any way you see fit. If you can use it then you’ll benefit from the detail provided.
You might lose some of the most interesting features but you’ll be left with interesting inns with handy stats for guards nearby. You’ll be left with a Day Watch Captain who’s keen on surprise inspections for reasons which make sense. You’ll have a quarter with coherent rumours and where the same names might come up again and again.
In short, I quite liked the Thieves Quarter but don’t think I can use it. Not yet. It’s going to be one of those occasions where I pounce on the next supplement as soon as I see it.
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