Saturday, October 24, 2020

REVIEW: A Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City

While the old school renaissance is usually (and with good reason) associated with blogs, I think a serious argument could be made that, over the last few years anyway, the action has moved to fanzines. Of course, the definition of "fanzine" is an elastic one. Nowadays, it includes everything from amateur periodicals to game supplements – and even entire games – that are presented in a fashion reminiscent of those periodicals. At minimum, means saddle-stitched, digest-sized booklets and in many cases it also means embraces simple, even simplistic, art and layout that hearkens back to the days before desktop publishing was inexpensive and ubiquitous. Thus, esthetic considerations determine what qualifies as a fanzine as much as format or even content, much like the OSR itself.

A Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City is a recent example of what I mean by this. Produced by Superhero Necromancer Press – a terrifically evocative name that references the 8th level title of elves in the Cook/Marsh Expert Set – it's a 60-page system-neutral description of the eponymous settlement, so called because rain perpetually falls upon it. The inhabitants of the Rainy City believe the constant precipitation signals the End of the World. Whether or not this is true is an open question, like a great many of the mysteries A Visitor's Guide presents. 

Author Rich Forest (with contributions from Andrew D. Devanney, Alisha Forest, and Bill Spytma) writes in the voice of Beauregard Hardebard, a warden of the Fraternity of the Art or Mystery of Haberdashery and Millinery. Beauregard is an inhabitant of the Rainy City and purports to know a great deal about it, though, as one reads, it becomes clear that he is not a completely reliable narrator. As with the cause of the endless rain that blankets the city, this approach works to the credit of the book, as it leaves a lot of room for the referee to come up with his own answers. Indeed, openness and flexibility are the watchwords of A Visitor's Guide and one's reactions to them will probably predict how one will feel about it.

The book is divided into more than a dozen short chapters, the bulk of which focus on the various districts of the Rainy City. Before getting to those, there are useful overviews of topics of broader interest, like the peoples (i.e. species) who inhabit the city, what seasons and holidays are like in this strange place, and the questions of light, heat, food, and related mundane matters. I was greatly impressed by the range of subjects touched upon, because it shows the authors have given thought to the consequences of the peculiar weather patterns in the city. None of these matters are treated at length – most receive no more than a couple of paragraphs – but all receive just enough detail to be both useful and inspirational. For example, large amphibious creatures called ewts have replaced horses as riding animals and beasts of burden. Likewise, hats and umbrellas are not only fashionable but vital items for anyone living in the Rainy City. 

The city's districts are all presented in a similar fashion. There's an introduction establishing the nature and history of the area, following by sketches of the weather, inhabitants, laws and crimes. Important locations within the district are also detailed, but the meat of these chapters focus on adventure seeds and unique organizations. For example, Old Town is home to multiple guilds, the Murk houses the Grand Academy, and Levee Town is where the Order of the Pump (civil engineers who keep the city from flooding) is established. Each chapter is largely modular and could in all likelihood be lifted for use in other locales should the referee desire it. That's not to say that there are no connections between the districts, only that, as presented, it's easy to steal or mix and match elements according to individual taste.

A Visitor's Guide is attractively presented, with illustrations after the fashion of early modern woodcuts by Bill Spytma. Many NPCs are given portraits, which is not only charming but also evidence that a picture is worth a thousand words. The section on patrons, for instance, includes a depiction of each one and these go a long way toward conveying their personalities. The masked Elenia the Smuggler is clearly an elusive and mysterious individual, while the wizard Iambic Pentacular is intense and serious. This is of a piece with the overall design of the book, which emphasizes inspirational concision over specific detail. That's an approach I appreciate but it can have drawbacks. The maps of the city and its districts (by Andrew D. Devanney) are charming but not particularly useful, since there are no locales marked on it. 

I enjoyed reading A Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City. It's engagingly written and pleasing to look at and I found myself regularly imagining how I might use a location, an organization, and an NPC. For me, that's usually a good indication that I'm reading a good gaming product. For that reason, I'd recommend giving this one a look, particularly if you're interested in urban locales and adventures in a fantasy setting. 

The book is available as a PDF and as a print and PDF combo (which includes a separate folded map). 

No comments:

Post a Comment