Game: Common Ground 2
Publisher: Bard’s Productions
Review Dated: 23rd, September 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 4/10 [ Just shy of the mark ]
Total Score: 4
Average Score: 4.00
To be up front and keep this review in perspective, I didn’t much like Common Ground 1 and Common Ground 2 isn’t very different. I don’t think Common Ground 2 could have been very different, there wouldn’t have been much time for opinions expressed about Common Ground 1 to have worked their way into the writing of this sequel.
Common Ground II is a 48-paged soft back book that will set you back $11.95. It really is a softback book; the covers being more like that of a magazine than a book. The page texture is glossy and even more so in the centre of the book where there’s a colour plate of miniature floorplans. The glossy pages further the suggestion of a magazine than a book.
The premise is simple. Halfway through a roleplaying session your players will do something unexpected and you’ll have to throw together a location on the fly. The back of the book suggests that you can build one of the sites in Common Ground II in about five minutes. Given practise, I suspect you could. I don’t imagine this could be done while you, as the GM, are having an NPC talk to the players. If you’re lucky the players will have a heated debate and you’ve got photocopies of the worksheet handy then you might be able to sneak the creation in. Otherwise you’ll probably have to hint at a coffee break.
I’ve said I didn’t like Common Ground I but some people loved it. I suspect one of the reasons that the division was so pronounced was due to GMing style. If Common Ground covers the sort of area you’re a bit shaky on or the sort of location that you’d like to have some scribbled notes about before the characters start exploring then Common Ground could be of great assistance. On the other hand, if you could rattle off such a location without even blinking then you’ve no need for Common Ground. Common Ground II faces a serious problem then; Common Ground I covered all the most common locations first. Whereas CG1 covered temples, inns and shops, CG2 is left with… guard towers, thieves guilds and private clubs. I think you’re unlucky if you find yourself ever needing to wing a thieves guild but I suppose the other side of that same coin is having some help nearby might be all the more handy if you do.
The guard towers section is a little more expansive than it might first suggest. Guard towers are equivalent to ranger stations, small barracks and probably any similarly sized military structure as well as those towers along city walls. I’m glad that Bard’s Productions doesn’t suggest a GM might need help imagining what a tower might look like. Instead the quick creation rules here focus on the occupants of the tower – what their stats might be and how numerous they might be. The composition of the guards depends largely on the terrain type surrounding the structure and how many civilians they’re trying to protect. In typical high fantasy form those guards who live in a woodland/forest terrain are more used to battling nasties and surviving off the land and so tend to be a little bit better. To be as fair as I can to this particular section I really can’t imagine a GM needing to use it because they’ve hit a brick wall. I suppose new, very new, GMs might like to peek at the crowded stat-pages every now and then and may even do so while preparing for the game. As was sometimes the case with CG1 there’s a little gem of a by-the-way info box in the section that helps it claw back some worth. In the guard tower section there’s a half page box that quickly looks at overland movement rates. In just three tables it shows how far a party with different base speeds might walk in one hour or one day, a similar table for various types of mounts and then terrain modifiers. It’s a summary of the rules from the core rules but it’s the sort of information that I find to be a helpful summary and yet rarely summarised.
If you’re going to use the thieves guild section then you’ll really need to follow the advice in the introductory paragraph; read through it carefully and be sure you have a worksheet photocopied before time. These worksheets can be found at the back of the book and are designed so that you can quickly circle the options you’ve selected or scribble in suitable values. The key factor in the thieves guild is, again, it’s size. The level of the guild leader seems inevitably tied to this. You’ll then move through the steps, working out how many different locations the guild has an area in, sample NPC stats, numbers of thieves, numbers of enforcers and then swindlers. There are race modifications and miscellaneous notes at the end. Throughout the section there are info boxes with little bites of advice or help that I always find to be more helpful than the core text. The little chart summary of different types of poison seems to be especially helpful.
At this point in the book you’ll encounter the colourful mini floorplans. I think they’re too small to be used as actual floorplans though. Their best use seems to be to help the GM visualise the layout and size of various buildings. This is likely to be a loose visualisation at best since the plans are with any form of legend.
The last of the three areas of common ground that’s covered in the book is that of private clubs. CG1 already covered taverns and I think a private club is pretty much the same. The pattern in the same here; work out the size of the club, how many people might be working there, their key roles and then stats. It’s a good thing that the procedure is similar in every chapter because it gets you in the habit and practise of filling out the worksheets. Yet again it’s the info boxes with little clips of game rules and suggestions that save the section. Examples of this include the cost for drinks and suggestions for in game gambling fixes.
Common Ground 2 is better than Common Ground 1 even though CG1 got to the key locations first. CG2 has a notable value for price superiority given that it’s about half as big again for the same cost. I said that CG2 feels a bit like a magazine but at least it doesn’t feel like a pamphlet. I still don’t see much value in trying to use these products during the course of the game… but this twists around to CG2’s favour, I think it can be used as a quick way to prepare locations the PCs /might/ visit and prepare them ahead of time. CG2 is better but it’s still not won me over and I still think it’s below par (if only slightly below par this time). I don’t know if there is going to be Common Ground 3 but if there is and it improves again on the same scale then it’s actually something I’m looking forward to reading. Oh dear; the pressure is already on.