Game: Streets of Silver
Publisher: Living Imagination
Review Dated: 24th, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Streets of Silver is a 312-paged book from Living Imagination Inc.. The website quotes the RRP at US$ 29.95. There are two ways at looking at that; that’s a lot of money for a single city but it’s not too bad for such a hefty book.
Streets of Silver isn’t going to win any beauty pageants. It’s blocky at times, with short paragraph entries and bold type headings of the same size as the default text. The book can be reminiscent of an encyclopaedia in places. It’s little surprise that illustrations start to run thin in such a large book. This is especially true at the end of the book where you can go pages without a break from the squared paragraphs of text. There’s plenty of cartography and that’s a good thing, if you’re buying Streets of Silver then you’re paying for a minutely detailed city guide. It’s not all peaches and cream with the cartography though. The book itself succeeds gracefully in conjuring up a Renaissance flavour for the city of Parma but many of the maps in the book are blocky computer generated images and this proves to be counter productive for the atmosphere. The exceptions are the great maps on page three and the double-paged entry on pages 10 and 11.
Then there’s the poster. The colour poster in the back of the book that unfolds to be four times the surface area of the book itself. Okay, so this map is in the blocky cgi style but the shades of colour really do help counter the square feel. I’m playing in a Freeport game where the GM makes good use of the coloured Freeport map and now with Parma I have a bigger map to call my own. Even if I don’t use Parma, or the Twin Crowns world, this map will do for any city on a pronounced peninsula. Fair enough, by itself the map isn’t worth nearly $30 but it certainly does add a point to the book’s rating on the GameWyrd scale.
Yes, I said Freeport – that’s Green Ronin‘s special interest city. Comparisons are inevitable. Comparisons with Ghelspad from SSS seem especially likely to. Both Ghelspad and Streets of Silver are light on crunch and heavy on theme and flavour. The difference between Ghelspad and Streets of Silver is that Ghelspad enjoyed very much more foreshadowing. I was eager to find out about some parts of Ghelspad by the time the book came out. For Streets of Silver I’m reading about places and people for the first time and that makes it very much harder to get sucked into the book.
There. That’s it. That’s the bad stuff out of the way first (not that the poster map is bad stuff) and that leaves the review to consider Streets of Silver’s persistent successes. Persistent is a good word to use. That’s how the book works; it builds up layers of details until, by the end of the book, there’s nothing wanting. With that level of completeness comes success.
The book’s divided in to three sections and many chapters. The first section can be read by anyone, the second section has more detailed information on the city that perhaps only characters with suitable knowledge skills and familiarity would know about and the last section is for GMs only. In fact the cheeky book suggests you should go to the website and be screened for GM clearance or risk being cast into the void if you read the last section.
As mentioned above you don’t have to be using the Twin Crowns campaign setting to use Streets of Silver and the book is happy to help out if that’s the case. Straight up there’s a conversion note for deities and the reminder that unless your game setting actually blesses people with five lives each (as is the case in Twin Crowns) then it might be best to assume the mention of multiple lives in the book refer to resurrections or recovering from serious wounds.
The first chapter concerns itself with geography and to this end it freely covers areas outside Parma itself. There are quite a few relevant small cities with about a tenth of Parma’s population that are mentioned in Streets of Silver, a number of towns too. You’ll see these locations on the double-paged map early on in the book.
The history to Parma pretty much sits as a stand-alone entry although knowledge of the wider world would be helpful. This isn’t a long chapter; just a couple of pages long but it’s enough to build the city from and ties in strongly with the Government chapter. The government system in Parma gets a half-dozen or so pages all to itself. Its details like this that helps nudge Streets of Silver out from an average rating and into the heights of a good rating. Of particular note here are the two pages of The Laws of Parma presented in an easy to read table. Whereas these laws must be far from complete they cover what’s likely to occur in a roleplaying game and really do make it clear that Parma isn’t a generic fantasy city. Murder, for example, is punished by purification and restitution where restitution is a payment to the victim’s family. Prostitution is legal. Rogue Magic is the use of magic without approval from the Mage Guild but first level spells and cantrips are sufficiently low level as to be exempt.
It sounds like the culture in Parma is quite interesting and so I was pleased to turn the page and find the culture chapter sitting right there. Holy days and special events are marked on the calendar. We’ve a list of excuses to hold a party – a grand opening of a business, celebrating a victorious duel, the lunching of a new capital ship or even the loss of virginity! Oh yes. Parma is quite the party port. You’ll find plenty of brothels and bordellos inside. It’s also quite easy to get into trouble in Parma, a social faux pas (eating while standing up, for example) might result in an official vendetta is things truly spiral out of control. You’ll find price lists for exotic and fashionable items (rose oil, for example) and even stats for different sizes of gondolas. Parma may get its nickname of “Streets of Silver” from the way the canals shimmer in the moonlight.
It’s a religious city and so the first of the organizations that appear in the chapter of the same name are all churches. There are arcane organizations too, the aforementioned Mage Guild, the Dragon Guild, College of the Magi and others. There are martial and mercantile organizations, all the sort of places and people that are just waiting to get tangled up in plot.
There are new rules in Streets of Silver, there is crunch and even if that surprises you, I doubt you’ll be too surprised to discover the Courtesan prestige class. There are a couple more prestige classes, all suited well enough to Parma and all 10 level classes. There are new rituals like the Comfort Zone, Ghostly Curse and Household Staff. There are a few new creatures as well and I think the Pulley Golem, made up of magically animated rope and wooden pulleys, scores a hit as the most original golem yet.
Chapter Seven, Neighbourhoods of Parma, marks the start of the specialised knowledge section in the book. Do American spells neighbourhoods without the u? I guess they must, Living Imagination does. It’s here that the referenced paragraphed information about places around the city begins – the section of the book that reminds me of an encyclopaedia. Okay. That’s not a bad thing but at this point Streets of Silver isn’t really the sort of book you can sit down and read page by page along with a mug of coffee. A sample entry might look like:
“D3 Sole Centisimo
(Restaurant *****, 650 gp, 25 employees, 3d20 customers)
Wares: Fine foods and wine (7 gp – 25 gp) 90%, price 500%
Proprietor: Arnoldo Sole – elf, medium height, bright blonde hair, consistently smiling, scintillating green eyes…”
… and then a paragraph about the Sole Centisimo.
There are pages and pages of these entries. D3 refers to the five star restaurant’s location on one of the maps. These paragraphs are divided up by neighbourhood and presented alphabetically therein. This info dump starts at page 55 and concludes at page 215. Wow. Lots.
Except that’s not the all of it. The next chapter, the GM only bit, chapter 8, “Below the Surface” picks up on some key areas or organisations in the city and dishes the dirt on them. Here you’ll find some plot overviews and some hooks as well as the full low down on what’s going on. If you want to know who’s doing what (and to whom) then it’s here.
Chapter nine is similar in the sense that “Behind the Scenes” re-visits many of the location entries in the travel guide like “Neighbourhoods of Parma” chapter – except this time we’re either given a snippet of stats, notes of traps or items of interest (where there’s a magical dagger hidden under the bed, for example) and tit-bits like that. The map reference key (D3 in our example above) becomes really useful in quickly finding the matching entry on this side of the GM screen. You still need to know which neighbourhood entry the location is in first though since the division by neighbourhood and then alphabetic ordering is maintained here. Sole Centesimo (D3) is in the Ducal Gardens (P3) for example. This chapter starts at page 242 and concludes at 291.
Some of the NPCs in the city need more than just the snippet of stat that “Behind the Scenes” has space for. The final, 20-paged, chapter in Streets of Silver is a collection of full stat blocks. It’s ordered alphabetically by last name except where the NPC only has one (known) name or is better known by title. The Grey Knight, for example, is found with the other Gs and High Priests under the Hs. Streets of Silver is big book but it could have done with one of the mega-indexes sometimes found in books of it’s size (the Mongoose Ultimate supplement series, for example).
There’s no doubting the successes of Streets of Silver; it does what it sets out to do and it does it well. Whereas the book doesn’t have you whisking through the pages and eager to see what comes next it is certain that you will know what comes next if your players are exploring the city. Parma feels real. It’s not some token city. There’s more than just one tavern with a rude name and one posh inn. It’s an expensive book but if you demand carefully planned details for your game and are just too busy to design a whole city then Streets of Silver is probably worth your money. If you’re playing in the Twin Crowns world then the book’s use is tripled.