Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 2nd, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 5
Average Score: 5.00
Leonardo DeVinci is a gnome. DeVinci is a gnome with copper dragon blood; he might have a few copper scales and a tail. That’s what springs to mind within minutes of opening Stonebridge – City of Illusion. The city is put together with the scientific and artistic precision of a DeVinci blueprint. Therein lies both the success and failure of Stonebridge. The city holds together and will probably work but there’s no real incentive to build it, to add it to your campaign or offer it to your players. Stonebridge doesn’t have the bubbling tension that Skraag or Stormhaven have.
Stonebridge is one of Mongoose‘s Cities of Fantasy. The city flourishes artistic and scientific enterprises. Gnomes are by far the dominant species, with a few dwarves, fewer elves and virtually no one else save for the copper dragon family aegis. The history to Stonebridge is just a bit disinterested in the city itself. We’re told how a black dragon decides he’ll herd and make the occasional snack of the gnome villagers in the area, how an adventuring party pulled itself together to try and fight him off, how lots of gnomes died during this conflict, women and children too and how one of the group of heroes turns out to be a copper dragon. We’re told that they start to build a city, various people fall in love, have children, die, their children are popular but don’t seem to do much and then die. Sometime after the death of the black dragon and while the children of famous gnomes come and go a city is built. We know when other copper dragons arrive and when they mate with one another but we don’t really pay much attention to them afterwards save to say that they’re there and lots of gnomes worship them. There’s very little in the way of plot hooks in the city’s history. There are very few plot hooks in Stonebridge’s present as well.
The nuts and bolts of the city are the numerous art studios, the artists running them and the numerous apprentices supporting them. The guilds are important; the top two being the money-lenders and the wool merchants and a group of smaller guilds make up the third side of the political triangle. We’re told that the city trades wool with nearby dwarves. Some gnomes have to earn their studio the hard way but the half-dragon gnomes are set up from birth and the dragon-touched gnomes have an easier time too. In fact all the gnomes of Stonebridge are larger and longer-lived that typical gnomes and the book includes the updated mechanics for this. Stonebridge does well with atmospherics and wraps the guilds, the dragon-touched gnomes and the political working of the city up with a rich Renaissance flavour. If you thought wool merchants are a little boring then what about the Arti de Lana instead. The half-dragon gnomes are known as the sangue di drago. It’s all very Italian sounding.
The city’s fleshed out with a tour around the three terzo (fancy name for the neighbourhoods) and that pauses to look at a few locations with interesting names within. Subsequent chapters look at the vineyards, farms, the canyon below the city and the famous people in Stonebridge. The tour outside provides locales worth visiting by mentioning villas and castles. The famous names in the city certainly include the dragons and there are stats for the especially hold copper dragon that helped found the city (and who originally fought against the black dragon) but also makes mention of important gnomes too. There isn’t really a Leonardo DeVinci but the half-dragon gnome DunDalveron seems to be the equivalent.
One of book’s successes is the set of ceremonies and festivals that the city holds. These festivals are involving and evocative. Masked gnomes in a torch-lit march through the streets or a ritual game of hide and seek designed to represent a key moment in the struggle against the black dragon nemesis all those years ago. The festivals provide the engaging flavour that most GMs would love to see their players caught up and on for all sorts of game specific plots to have as a backdrop.
It’s the crunchy bits at the back of the book that I found most interesting in Stonebridge and I’m a flavour fan. There’s the Dream Engineer prestige class as well as the Fey Drake that can be used as a familiar. There are half a dozen new feats, slightly more new spells and a couple new clerical domains. Only two of the new spells are illusions.
Stonebridge does what it sets out to do. If you buy the book you’ll have mapped, described and populated city of Stonebridge to play in and so Stonebridge – City of Illusion isn’t a bad book. Stonebridge isn’t a good book either. I think it’ll be impossibly hard for outsiders to get involved in the politics of the city. There’s just not many ways to tie a group of players together in a cohesive plot in the city. There’s only so much mileage in a game where the characters are gnome artists, especially if they’re cooperating with one another. Stonebridge is a place to visit but I wouldn’t set a campaign there.