Thursday, March 18, 2010

REVIEW: 100 Street Vendors of the City State

This is probably one of my more melancholy reviews, given that James Mishler, writer of 100 Street Vendors of the City State and owner of Adventure Games Publishing has announced that this would be his last product for sale and that AGP would be closing. This is unfortunate news on numerous levels but particularly so because 100 Street Vendors is a very good and, above all, useful product, even if one is not using Castles & Crusades or the Wilderlands settings. Indeed, this is one of the most useful -- and meaty -- offerings Mishler has produced to date. That it is the last of its kind contributes greatly to my sense that one only really appreciates what one has after it is gone.

I called 100 Street Vendors "meaty" and so it is. Consisting of 60 pages of the densely packed text for which Mishler's products are well known, it presents, as its title suggests, 100 different NPCs, each one a vendor on the winding streets of the City State of the Invincible Overlord. Now, that probably sounds a lot less interesting than it is, for the real genius of this product is that it's far more than a mere rogues gallery of non-player character names and statistics (though it is that as well). Each entry is a kind of "mini-sourcebook," providing information about the City State and the Wilderlands in general, along with numerous plot hooks and rumors for the referee to use in creating his own adventures. For example, a fishmonger by the name of Ferka is described as being of the
Great Black Bass Clan, the most prominent fisher-folk of the western Roglaroon (though the Great Blue Bass Clan would deny that at the point of a dagger); he is one of several fishmongers of the clan, as he is more capable of interacting with the "land lubbers" than most of the clansfolk, which tend to be ornery, xenophobic, and inbred (after long ago absorbing a bit of Merfolk blood, to be sure.
Later, the same entry notes:
An ancient temple of the Sea God has been discovered in the fens of the Mermist Swamp; it is said to be overrun by trolls and giant toads that guard a gold-plated statue at the heart of the temple.
Between those two small sections of one entry, there are lots of ideas a clever referee can use in creating his own adventures and in fleshing out the Wilderlands setting -- and there are 99 more entries of similar or even greater detail. I don't use the Wilderlands for my OD&D campaign, but I've already found lots of inspiration in the pages of 100 Street Vendors. If one is running any kind of city-based campaign, it's even more inspiring, as it goes a long way toward making a seemingly ordinary trip to hire a locksmith or employ a sage into something memorable. If one is running a campaign that involves the City State, it's even more valuable, as Mishler has helpfully included several excellent indices of the vendors (by street, by market, and by quarter), along with discussions of local coinage.

If 100 Street Vendors of the City State has a flaw, it's that its bare bones, illustration-free presentation might be overwhelming. The information contained within its 60 pages is vast and the text uses a very small point size, which might by off-putting. These would be unfortunate but understandable reactions and I have to admit that, before I started reading the book, I wasn't all that enthusiastic about doing so. But I am glad I did and this book will now enjoy a place of honor in my collection, along with a very small number of other useful referee tools. I consider that very high praise and a fitting conclusion to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy line. Grab a copy while you still can.

Presentation: 5 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 8 out of 10

Buy This If: You're looking for a vast collection of idea fodder in the form of NPC descriptions, rumors, and setting details.
Don't Buy This If: You never use prepackaged NPC descriptions.

11 comments:

  1. Oy, a $12 pdf :( Would you say that it's worth that cost?

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  2. "An ancient temple of the Sea God has been discovered in the fens of the Mermist Swamp; it is said to be overrun by trolls and giant toads that guard a gold-plated statue at the heart of the temple."

    This is the kind of thing I love in a good game product: the passing reference that can serve as an adventure hook all by itself, something to stimulate the imagination. Chaosium products (long ago) were good for this, too, and it's something I tried to incorporate in my own writings.

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  3. Since I joined the hobby, I haven't played outside of two published settings put out by WoTC(3.5 PHB and Eberron). It's not for lack of interest, but I'm still new to everything, especially as DM.

    Taking that into account, would you still recommend grabbing it for just pure description? I could still use some plot points from these NPCs, but they would have to be changed to create a more cohesive world.

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  4. > Oy, a $12 pdf :( Would you say that it's worth that cost?

    Hasn't been reduced, I know, but not even sure if anyone's seen James Mishler anywhere since /those/ announcements to ask further questions ( :/ ).
    Ca'n't say for sure, personally, as I had a printed copy on order that hasn't arrived yet.

    Sidestepping briefly, many/most of James's other efforts are still available in pdf (until the end of the month at least?) at "half price"; e.g. $1.25 for "100 Calamitous Curses" that was given a 5/5 review in this blog; http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/index.php?manufacturers_id=2438 / http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/02/review-100-calamitous-curses.html

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  5. > but not even sure if anyone's seen James Mishler anywhere since /those/ announcements to ask further questions

    Ah; bad timing... Just returned to post on The Acaeum, fwiw: owing him a note, anyhow.

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  6. I'm reminded of the Marienburg articles in White Dwarf, which set out to map each and every shop and point of interest in said city, complete with the NPCs associated with the locations, and their relationships with each other. They were a great resource, if perhaps too ambitious, as when the Marienburg sourcebook eventually appeared, many years and a couple of publishers later, it took a different approach and was more of a generic city book, albeit a good one.

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  7. @James: Thanks for your review. I own the product and I completely concur.

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  8. Irbyz,

    I am unaware of any outstanding print orders for any of my products... unless you are referring to a subscriber copy?

    If not, please contact me so I can clear up the issue...

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  9. Oy, a $12 pdf :( Would you say that it's worth that cost?

    It is expensive, but less so than most old school products these days when you consider page and word count. I'd say it's well worth it if you're running an urban campaign, doubly so if you're running one set in the Wilderlands. As a generic supplement, it's still excellent, but I can see its being deemed too expensive.

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  10. Taking that into account, would you still recommend grabbing it for just pure description? I could still use some plot points from these NPCs, but they would have to be changed to create a more cohesive world.

    I think it would depend on the setting you're using. If your campaign is of a more "generic" swords & sorcery sort, I think it'd work just fine. If it has a more specific flavor, as Eberron does, it'd lose some of its utility and might not be as good a value. That said, the descriptions of the NPCs are very good.

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  11. That sounds pretty good, but sadly even though I have the overlords book, if I'm going to run a city adventure, Ptolus is much better.

    But it does seem worth checking out.

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