Monday, March 24, 2014

Parsantium city at the crossroads Richard Green

Parsantium: city at the crossroads is written by +Richard Green for the Pathfinder system. The PDF runs $11.99, the print book, in black and white, runs $19.99, and the combo pack of PDF and print runs for $22.99 The book weighs in at a meaty 178 pages in PDF terms.

The cover boasts an excellent look at the city in the background while in the foreground various inhabitants from different parts of the world look out on the dock ward. In terms of book break down, we then get a blank page, followed by a title page, followed by a credits page, which even lists what is product id and what is closed content.

Much of the book is devoted to the city and its background. All of the art and proper names are closed off and in terms of game mechanics, the book comes up a short which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.

After the credits, we get a single page table of contents that does an excellent job of breaking down the book into broad chapters. Of more use to those who want pinpoint accuracy on where anything is, after the meat of the book, is an eight page index. It's a fantastic resource if you have the physical copy and does a better job of pointing out where things are then the electronic bookmarks.

The two page introduction does a nice job of bringing the reasons how Parsantium came to be from a homegrown city in a campaign of the author to a full rpg product. It's a nice break down and more information can be found on the Parsantium blog.

The full color map of the city by Johnathan Roberts, maps featured several times on +Fantastic Maps,  is two pages of awesome. I would love to have a larger fold out of the map. Something along the lines of one of the old Waterdeep maps from back in the day. The colors are nice and crisp and show a city divided by it's waterway and an island in the middle of said river. Bad thing? The map is cut in half of course, and part of that is the text and the island in the middle. It's not a huge problem or anything but it is another reason I'd like a separate big ass map.

The city is designed to allow a variety of cultures by having a feel similar to say, Byzantium. It's also an old fantasy city so it has a wide range of races that fit into its borders, outside of the different human ethnicities. We have the following major ethnicities:

Bathuran: Roman/Greek influence.
Sampurans: Heavily influenced by India.
Aqhrani: Heavily influenced by the Middle East and bravely goes with a pantheon of one god.
Tiangaons: Heavily influenced by China including it's own 'Silk Road'

In terms of other cities like it in fantasy games? Maybe the old GURPS book Tredroy, which is available for a laughable $2.99 from Steve Jackson Games Warehouse 23 website. The only bad thing is it's been decades since I've run Tredroy, the City of Three Laws, so there will be no comparison outside of this mention.

Despite its length, the book has some weaknesses. The biggest of these would be lack of art. There are so many different cultures and characters referenced in this weighty text, that illustrations of the various characters, sigils, symbols, and say, house icons, would only benefit the material.

The good news is that the two column layout doesn't suffer from that lack of break up because the author doesn't ram every inch of space with text. There are also no annoying back ground images behind the text. Things that look awesome and premium in print products like some of the Forgotten Realms products look horrific in electronic medium. The author avoids that problem here by keeping it clean and simple with a nice border on the top of the page and chapter identification and page number at the bottom.

The other potential problem is game mechanics. An order of wizards, the Esoteric Order of the Blue Lotus, is noted as being founded so that the magics of all these different cultures can be studied and collated so that knowledge isn't lost. Having so many different opportunities to bring unique magics to the Pathfinder system, which easily supports numerous alternative classes, should have allowed many bits of crunch to shine through.

Nope. Not happening. Most of the 'game' mechanics fall into noting the class and level of the NPCs. For example, among the members of the evil Brotherhood of Spite, Posy is described in game mechanic terms thusly: (CE female gnome rogue 5/assassin 2).

So in a city of multiple cultures with some places designed specifically to catalog those, we get nothing. No prestige classes, no magic items, no spells, no monsters, no templates or other crunchy bits. Heck, I think the deepest crunch we get are the various character backgrounds, which are extremely light on crunch, being more like Kits from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition, where there's a small bonus, often to a specific set of skills, and role playing and background information.

On one hand, that's great for people who have a heavily customized mod of the Pathfinder or d20 system going and want to create their own game mechanics. It's also great for people who don't actually play Pathfinder and instead play say, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition or some other variant or OSR game. While the multi-class bit isn't going to transfer over seamlessly, the lack of game mechanics means more information on the city and its inhabitants is in the material.

The naming conventions are a little off to me. For example, in honor of the old Byzantium history, we have the 'Axe Bearing Guard', a group of elite warriors who protect the emperor. If these guys aren't based directly on the Varangian Guard I'd be shocked. So why not just call them that? Is Varangian so entwined with gaming that people who instantly know them? But not too far after them we have Janissaries, who were another historical fighting force and they're called, yeah, Janissaries. Either fake names for everyone or no one! Nah, it's not that serious, just struck me as odd to go all generic with one and kept that very specific name for the other.

The eleven wards of the city cover a lot of ground. We have not only the standards of the dock ward and poor ward, but also a 'floating' ward and a 'hidden ward' that allow for a bit of variety that can be missing from some cities. The variety of wards allow for clustering of different cultures and ethnicities so you can find things like gnolls and half orcs with no difficult in the city.

In terms of playability, for Game Master's willing to roll up their sleeves, the book has you covered. There are numerous factions in the modern city. The history of the city lends itself to numerous adventurers in and of itself. For example, the city was only recently controlled by hobgoblins. There are ideas for routing growing bands of various humanoids or for retrieving treasures taken from the city during those looting days. This doesn't count the gnolls of centaurs that are raiders either.

The city is built atop numerous old ruins which are built atop numerous old caverns. The ruins are perfect for those who want the standard dungeon crawl.

There are hidden cults and evil gods with deceptions within deceptions. This includes nods to the old favorite, the serpent people if you want to get some of that 'Mythos' flavor up in there.

In terms of the past, many who are exiled are maimed when they are forced out, such as by being blinded. Those who survive and thrive in exile? They might wait a long time before coming to take revenge on the city and do so with some magical peepers after all that time.

Now note, I said Game Master's willing to roll up their sleeves right? While there are all sorts of adventure seeds and ideas strewn about the book, actual gaming material is again, scarce. Some of the material might have been better off being cut to provide a brief adventure or something along those lines to get players immediately into the game. Being that it's a Pathfinder book though, any adventure with maps and game mechanics would eat up a lot of room due to the difference in size between an OSR and a 3.5 stat block.

Having said that, there are numerous random encounters tables and some locations, that would be better with maps, that easily lend themselves out to adventure with a minimum of effort. For example, there are teams of gladiators that fight in a large arena. There are were rats in the sewers. There is a fallen guild of paladins that did not thrive in the city and so raid and attack boats. The adventure seeds are then but will require the Game Master to fully stat out everything if he's using the numerous NPCs from the book.

Those going a 'softer' route and wanting to just grab their Monster Manual still have a lot of options. In terms of low level foes we have the standard goblins, hobgoblins and those can be worked up to gnolls, centaurs and minotaurs. At different spectrums, due to the different grave sites, there are undead and possibly wild summoned creatures from the various spellcasters about. There is also a large body of water that the city utilizes so all manner of creatures can be found within those murky depths.

Parsantium needs some polish. While it has massive potential, the dearth of art and game mechanics make it more of a fixed upper than run straight out of the box. If we ever see a 'deluxe' edition I'd love to see more art, maps and closer illustrations of the city with the locations called out in the various ward descriptions.

For those already running it, what resources are you using for game mechanics? Have you busted out some standards in Pathfinder or switched over to a favorite OSR book? Due to the wealth of political opportunities here, I can easily see this being a solid fit for the Adventurer Conqueror King System but given how many game stats I have for things like gnolls via 4th edition and it's many monster entries for the same monster, I can see myself using that and it's 'quest' awards for XP to make characters rise in level fairly standard while exploring ruins, guarding caravans, and fighting epic rakashas.

For those reading this review, I haven't hit a 'regular' game review in a while. Are there some things you'd like me to hit more in the future if I do more? Hit less? Provide more examples of material from the book? More links to outside material like the Varangian for example?

If you think anyone else would want to read, please +1 and share along the old circles.

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