Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 24th, April 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
I was sceptical as to whether a series of d20 books based on “Cities of Fantasy” would be up to much. Skraag: City of Orcs proved me wrong. Yes, I know, this is a review of Stormhaven but the contrast between the two styles is quite startling. Skraag worked by providing enough detail on the mountain city and then a lot of rich flavour on the people, factions and the building tension between them. Skraag presented a city with a plot overlaid. Stormhaven is a richly detailed city with plot suggestions tucked in underneath here and there. Two very different things and they both seem to work for me.
Stormhaven: City of a Thousand Seas is a strange place. It is four giant pillars of stone that reach up from the sea to support a huge disk. There’s a whole city set on top of that disk and below it, lashed to the four great pillars there’s a floating, ramshackle, second city. Stormhaven is a whole roleplaying campaign world, a politically charged high fantasy world, presented in a microcosm. If you really want to set your game in a city and you really don’t want your character buggering off at the drop of a hat then Stormhaven is already a must buy for you. You could make a whole campaign out of some poor character’s attempt to leave the city if you were willing to concentrate solely on the nitty gritty low fantasy of the book.
The inside covers of the book present a basic city map and templates for Stormhaven typical buildings. The map of the city offers 57 locations, 25 in the “Driftdown” (the lower city) and 32 in the upside. After spending some time on the known history of the city the book dedicates most of its content to visiting these 57 locations in detail and writing up what’s there, why it’s there, what it’s like, who you might find there, why you might find them there and when. If the location happens to be a shop that sells weird and wonderful items then you’ll not only get to read about the owner but you’ll get the names and alignments of any other workers who happen to be there. If the location is too large to go through everyone who works there then you tend to get an overview of the place’s history and just which political schemes it is involved in.
It’s the politics of the city that begs to be used in any Stormhaven game. If the physical isolation of the floating city and the intangible nature of trade won and lost as the life blood of the economy was not enough to foster a hot bed of schemes and back stabbing the whole organisation of Stormhaven is divided into competing Guilds and noble families. As the book introduces locations in the city and the people related to them you’re told of the tensions, tenuous alliances and all out enmity between the related factions. This information, this spider web of mistrust and under-spoken danger is there for a GM to pick up, build on and spin into their campaign. The information is not meaty enough to run a scenario off in its own right but then that also means there is no misshapen plot that’s been shoe horned into the city at the risk of corrupting your own. The term “politics” doesn’t quite pay representation to what goes on the Driftdowns without explanation. The politicks down under are concerned with who’s telling tales to who, who’s a smugger and who’s likely to have crossbow assassins waiting for you instead of a business treaty.
Towards the back of the book there’s a section given over to the stats, stories and information on those important NPCs that can’t easily be introduced in the geographical run down of the city (cities, really) or those who required a decent number of pages in their own right to be squeezed into the previous chapter. Even here you’ll get good ideas for possible plot twists and NPC interactions.
The last chapter in the book is a rag tag collection of rumours, new feats and even new magic. Stormhaven has a history steeped with the creation of all the unique spells necessary to find and colonise such a strange place. It’s the first chapter of the book that covers the half-history of the city and the progress of the dwarf boat captain and the elf mage who found the place. Stormhaven was discovered by the pair by chance, it was deserted at the time and the builders of the mysterious pillars and the top disk remain unknown. This will either annoy the heck out of you or provide too a tempting tie in for your own campaign to ignore. Personally I’m all for a hive of fantasy races to busy themselves with surviving and making as much profit as possible on Stormhaven while being entirely unaware of the consequences of doing so.
It’s a good book. Cities in too many fantasy games are generic to the point of being nothing. Its very hard to convey the different feel of a city to, say, a dungeon – an ironic twist to fantasy roleplaying is that the city is the most alien environment of them all. Stormhaven provides a great cure to this, it’s a city but it’s different, it’s still an urban setting but also a fantasy game. The book is well written and clearly presented; you’ll find what you want and you’ll find it quickly. Stormhaven doesn’t take you by the hand and lead you up to a set of plot dominoes waiting to topple in a chain reaction, instead it gives you the dominoes one at a time and leaves you to put them together as you see fit.