Game: The Lost City
Series: Darwin’s World: d20
Review Dated: 3rd, July 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 21
Average Score: 7.00
The Darwin’s World RPG line goes from strength to strength. What has been one of the champions of the PDF publishers has moved on to paper but the electronic format has not been abandoned and there’s now a Darwin’s World Complete which bundles the World Rules, Denizens of the Twisted Earth and Artifacts of the Ancients into one. The newest addition to the Darwin’s World collection is The Lost City which is a rather good adventure, described as a “campaign adventure” due to its depth, and this too is currently available in electronic format.
I like the Lost City. The first thing I noticed as I opened up the document and quickly scrolled down the pages to get an initial feel from the offering was that the formatting and layout is improved. Previously I’ve had some minor complains about the formatting techniques used where text was squeezed into too narrow columns down beside tables and pictures but there’s none of that here in the Lost City, it’s all sensibly done and this really does make the product much easier to read and appreciate. Another previous diatribe I’ve had was about the sea of text which some PDFs can become, RPG Objects made much progress with this complaint by re-releasing their initial products with their illustrations moved up from a group at the bottom of the download and moved into the main body. The Lost World doesn’t have all that many illustrations but easily avoids the sea of text problem by introducing very many colour maps. These maps are great, they’re eye candy, they enhance the over all appearance and readability of the download and more importantly they’re practical (to the extent of having GM copies and Player copies for important locations) and helpful.
The Lost City really is a lost city. Darwin’s World is a post-apocalyptic Earth and the Lost City is what remains of the Californian City of Bakersfield. The ruins are subterranean now, an indication of just how hugely the world has changed, and are inhabited by a wide range of creatures, people and robots. It’s this scope of inhabitants and sheer expanse of setting (an entire city) which makes the Lost City into the “campaign adventure” it is.
The Lost City’s initial chapters are designed so that a group of 4 to 6 characters of ranges 1 to 3 should be able to deal with them. As the campaign progresses it gets increasingly more tough and so it’s a good thing that the core D&D rules are very generous to player advancement as well. It’s not as straight forward as a linear progress though. Players are under no compulsion to stay in the area of the Lost City which best suits their current levels or deal with the hazards, people and encounters that are a match to the group’s character level either. If the players do stray from the path then they might try their hand at defeating more powerful foes or, on the other hand, hang around in area where their unchallenged. If you’re planning to GM the Lost City and that all sounds rather daunting then don’t worry since the download comes with handy tables which quickly summarise both the location and suggest character levels required for dealing with inhabitants and this provides a crystal clear gauge of what’s going on and where.
I like this set up. I’m a strong believer that a campaign should be an independent location, factions and plot in which the player characters can turn up in and then react to, change and otherwise spin out of control. The Lost City is a nice blend of a non-linear setting with linear bits where they’re needed – and simple actions such as exploring an interesting cave complex counts as a linear bit.
One of my few whinges about the Lost City is that it does have rather a lot of these interesting places to explore – dungeon crawls, I suppose. It’s not all that bad since any attempt to detail a whole lost city would be sorely remiss if it failed to produce a host of interesting locations. I would have rated the Lost City more highly if it had more of an overarching back plot. Heck, the scope of the campaign is that which might have supported a number of in depth lots of such plots but I suppose even on a PDF there is a finite amount of space.
The campaign setting itself takes up 36 of the 42 pages of the download, the OGL takes up 2 and the rest of the space is put to good use to detail the unique monsters, people and robots found in the City.
I’ve torn shreds off products which have attempted to sell themselves as an adventure and then try to get away with detailing some sort of buried city, temple or cavern network and little else in the past. There are some important differences between the Lost City and those products though. The price, for example, the Lost City is a third of the cost and that’s not the only thing, the creatures in the Lost City and their reactions to one another make sense whereas this hasn’t been the case in some of the lost city based adventures written by some famous names I’ve read. Darwin’s World is a setting which lends itself nicely to lost and ancient cities too; your players have a very good reason to explore it and benefit from the resource of its presence whereas in generic fantasy worlds it seems a curious band of adventures would be so enthralled.
Despite all its strengths the Lost City is pretty much little more than a pre-written adventure and that alone will disqualify it from many people’s shopping lists. It’s not a particularly complex adventure either, lacking subtleties of politics or mysterious beyond “what’s around that corner?” The RPG community is fairly clearly divided into those camps of GMs who’ll be willing to buy a product like that, those who actively seek them out and those who wouldn’t touch one with a lightsabre.
The Lost City isn’t perfect but it is very good and it’s a great assist for GMs trying their hand in Darwin’s World. I’d recommend the download, which weighs in at just over 1,300K (pretty good for so many colour maps) in zipped format, even as a potential first look at Darwin’s World since from it you’ll be able to get a pretty good idea as to whether you’ll want to buy the world rules and other products – if you decide against it then all the locations in the City can easily be converted to other settings.