Mar 26, 2015

DM Tools: Cites of Mystery

Last post, I talked about rediscovering an older 2nd edition product, and how, after re-reading it, found it's almost as useful today as it was back then. After that realization, I decided to go back and dig up the companion product to Dungeons of Mystery, Cities of Mystery and give it a second look.

Cities of Mystery actually came out before Dungeons of Mystery, but I didn't buy this when it first came out, so these reviews are actually in purchase order, not release order. Turns out Cities is, like Dungeons, almost as useful now as before. Of the 64 pages of content, the only useless material is the few monster stats the book provides in the City Adventures section, and that's only because they are in 2e format. The other 99.8% of the book is just as relevant today.

Like Dungeons, this book provides a top down look at cities, from such broad ranged topics as where to locate them, to what types of governments and rulers run the city. This is great if you have no idea in mind, just look through the pages and let your inspiration wander. If you have some details already in mind, the next level of book gives you a bit more detail, what types of historical events affected the city and what type of defenses does the city have -- from nothing all the way up to city walls, friendly monsters, and air patrols.

For even more detail, it offers ideas on handling taxes, special events, and kinds of work the PCs can find in town. One of the most useful sections I found were the handful of charts to quickly roll up and detail what shops are in the city, are its wares high quality, and what's the demeanor of the owner. These can easily be used at the table for existing towns that might need a bit more fleshing out, when the PCs end up staying longer than you planned.

Lastly the book offers a sample city (but it's not really that impressive), and a collection of adventure outlines. You'll still need to do some considerable work to flesh them out, including making interior maps for the building they visit. All of the adventures (not surprisingly) take place in the city and make use of one of the major draws of the product, the maps and fold up buildings. And if those few adventures aren't enough, the very last page includes a dozen more adventure seeds, each one a single paragraph that can easily be worked up in to a single game session.

As for the street maps and fold-up buildings, they (since they came out before Dungeons of Mystery) set the standard that didn't deviate in the follow up product. The maps are all modular, and the buildings mostly different versions of square and rectangular spaces.

But there are a number of difference that make the fold-ups better in some ways and worse in others. First off, all the buildings have roofs. so they hold their shape and are easily recognizable. There's a good variety of building shapes and design styles, from a stone structure to something more like a peasant home.

The buildings also have some noticeable downsides. Most are too small. A simple 10' x 15' building only has six 5' squares. Depending on how many PCs are in your party, some may be waiting outside if you go in to talk to a shop keeper. Secondly, the buildings have no internal details, so you can't remove a roof and play out an indoor fight. These are probably better for outdoor city scenes where the PCs may be chasing someone who ducks behind a building and seemingly disappears, or is just trying to lure the PCs into an ambush by the thieves' guild members perched on the building roofs.

One last thing to mention. If you look at the product, you'll notice the Forgotten Realms logo clearly above the product name. There is NO specific Forgotten Realms content in this book. Even the sample city, Sauter, is generic with no FR hooks in it's history or description. In fact the sequel product, Dungeons of Mystery (which just had the generic 2E logo), had more FR content, since one of the adventures was FR specific (but one was also DL specific, so the generic label was warranted).

As for Cities having the FR logo, I'm sure some marketing guy came along and said "If it's labeled FR, it'll sell more copies."

That bit of marketing aside, I whole heatedly recommend this product. It's overall more useful since the fold-ups are better than those in Dungeons, and the city content is useful in many different ways. Of course, if you don't run city based adventures often, the value of this product diminishes greatly.

Sadly, neither Cities nor Dungeons are available on D&D Classics.com, so you'll need to check second hand resellers for a copy of either book.