Impressions from my latest read through of Lankhmar: City of Thieves

I don’t know why I decided to re-read Lankhmar: City of Thieves next, but for whatever reason I wanted to go back and read this one and Lankhmar: Savage Tales of the Thieves Guild while waiting on the books for the Double-Shot kickstarter that just finished to be released. At some point I also need to get the last of the books in the series Lankhmar: Savages Foes of Nehwon. Maybe it was because I was craving some swords and sorcery fantasy. Either way since I just read it, I thought I would write my thoughts on the book.

Introduction

The couple of pages in this section covers that this is a role-playing game based on the works of Fritz Leiber and then gives the basic story of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I particularly like the side bar that lists the different collections of stories. For the record, if I remember right I have read three of the seven collections.

Chapter One: Characters

This is your basic character creation section. There are three races available (Human, Nehwon Ghouls, and Ratlings). There are four different cultural groups of humans, and as part of character creation you can either choose the free edge and a d6 in a skill or take one of the cultural packages which supply and edge and a bonus to some trait. The Nehwon Ghouls are interesting because they are not your typical undead, but living creatures with transparent flesh and organs so all you can see of them is there skeletons. Also they believe that eating others is an act of kindness because it transforms their “muddy” flesh into pure crystal-clear form. The last of the races are a mixed breed of human and the intelligent rats of Lankhmar. Each one is unique, and they all have some ratlike feature, but even more so than the Ghouls, they are distrusted and must keep their identities secret.

In this chapter we also get some new hindrances that are appropriate for the setting. I particularly like Cocky and Impulsive. Putting one or both of those together with Curious and you have a character that will keep the game moving. All of them though would be appropriate in just about any setting.

We also get a section on new edges. There are three available Arcane Backgrounds (Black Magic, Elemental Magic, White Magic). Some of the edges detailed in here seem to be duplicated from other settings such as Close Fighting and Dirty Fighter, but some are new and tailored specifically to this setting like Named Weapon, Strong Caster, and Honeyed Tongue. All in all I like a lot of these edges and wish that some of them were in other settings as well( I am looking at you Named Weapon and Improved Named Weapon).

Chapter Two: Gear

This chapter starts with a blurb about selling goods, which is likely to happen after you loot the bodies of those who try to mug you in dark alleys or after a successful heist. We also get some basic gear notes and a side-bar on the settings currency. The only interesting new weapon listed in this section is the Heavy Rapier which is basically a d6 damage rapier. Most everything else seems to be your standard fare, though they do mention that there is a setting rule that might encourage you to not get armor.

Chapter Three: Setting Rules

This setting uses two standard setting rules Critical Failures and Joker’s Wild. We also get a number of other setting rules that are specific to this setting (some seem to be either re-named or just taken as is from other settings). One rule has you squander half your money each game week. Another deals with knocking people out easily. We have rules on Guilds which are a big part of Lankhmar. There is also a faster healing rule since there isn’t much in the way of healing magic. Special rules on Betrayal (which is really nasty as it limits your ability to spend bennies). We also get a rule that unarmored heroes get a bonus to Soak rolls. Finally we get some rules on shadowing people.

Chapter Four: Sorcery

The magic in this system does not use power points, spell casting also is at a penalty unless you have components to cast the spell, and your spells can be disrupted by damage, or non-damaging effects. This holds true even for active spells that have already been cast. Each flavor of spell caster gets a custom list of spells. Black Magic gives you damaging spells but no healing or buffing type spells so you can cast boost/lower trait (lower only). Also if you fail your casting you suffer a backlash and potentially corruption which scars you physically and/or mentally. If you get too much corruption, you also become a NPC.

Elemental magic has a different set of spells depending on the element, and most of the spells they choose must be from their elemental list (though once per rank they can choose a spell outside of their elemental list). They also suffer backlash and a penalty to cast spells is reduced or increased based on how closely their environment matches their elemental choice.

The final option is White magic, and again it gets a list of spells but their selection doesn’t include damaging spells just healing and helping spells. Also as a White magician advances and stays on their path, once per rank they get a free bonus power. However at any point a White magician can choose to switch to use Black magic. In doing so they get a point of corruption and have to switch all of their spells to those that are in the Black magic list. Once this is done, though there is no going back.

The other item of interest in this section is casting spells as rituals. This increases the casting time in exchange for increasing the effect of the spell. It is an interesting system where you buy effects with penalties to the spellcasting roll and buy bonuses with time and components.

After that we get a table of the powers and their casting costs and descriptions of any powers that are changed or new. We do get a couple of new powers in this chapter.

Chapter Five: Gazetteer

This chapter covers the city of Lankhmar itself. It describes at a high level the various areas in the city, some of the important features, and ends with a couple of paragraphs of the rest of Newhon. Really this barely gives you enough information to understand the setting and not much else.

Chapter Six: Newhon

This is the first chapter of the Game Master’s section. It starts by giving more information on the regions of Nehwon. It then follows on to that with a lot of details about the city of Lankhmar (describing how the streets, the way the buildings are crammed together and the lighting (torches are needed even during the day. We get some information on climate, population, society, government, military, economy, and transportation.

The next section covers religion and the Gods in Lankhmar which I remember from the stories and I find to be a very cool concept. Following that we get a bit about the Gods of Lankhmar.

We also get a set of sections on the various important guilds in Lankhmar (Assassin’s Guild, Beggar’s Guild, Guild of the Grain Merchants, Slayer’s Brotherhood, Sorcerers’ Guild and Thieves’ Guild, etc.)

The final part of this chapter are the places of interest in Lankhmar. These are mostly places that were important from the various stories. They include places that the player’s will likely go and in some cases go to many times and probably have conflicts in and around.

Overall this chapter provides a wealth of information and I wish they could have just combined it with the previous one instead of having one for the players and this one for the GMs.

Chapter Seven: Magic Wonders

This chapter talks about there not being many magic items floating around, and how access to magic items should be limited and temporary (lent to the players for a specific task or ones that don’t last). We then get a couple of example items from the stories as examples.

Chapter Eight: Savage Tales

This chapter contains two adventures to get you started in the setting. The first is a job from the Thieves Guild to steal an item from a temple and the trouble that this causes and the second deals with discovering who killed a contact of the player’s and surviving the cannibal sorceress who committed the dead. Both are serviceable and contain some good ideas. I particularly liked the one with the Cannibal sorceress.

Chapter Nine: Heroes and Villains

Most of this chapter is just detailing a little more of the history of Fafhrd and Grey Mouser. One of the nice things about this chapter is that it stats these characters out at three points in their carrier (beginning, height, and end). After that we get a two pages on their patrons, and then finally we get a selection of standard denizens of Lankhmar that the players are likely to encounter during any adventures in the city or beyond.

Overall they packed a lot of information in these ninety-six pages. I think this book covers the setting pretty well and it would be one that I would love to play in and run games in when the time comes.

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Author: Hours without Sleep

I am a professional software tester, who has an interest in programming, computers, role-playing games, history, and reading in general. This is my third attempt at keeping a blog, and I am going to try putting all of my thoughts in one place, and see how it goes.

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