Saturday, April 3, 2010

What's THIS For...? (Lankhmar, City of Adventure)

If you read this blog, you know I'm always looking for stuff to use in city adventures. So the kind people at Troll & Toad sent me a copy of an AD&D supplement I've always wanted to get a look at--Lankhmar, City of Adventure.

If you don't know, Lankhmar is the city where Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories are usually based. Also, if you don't know, some of them are fantastic. They have a sort of pulp medieval/noir aesthetic. So anyway...

Whenever I hear someone wax rhapsodic about some old (or new) supplement, I always want a chance to get a good look at it before I go to the effort and expense of actually getting it--which is hard, so I almost never buy anything.

So anyway, I'm going to tell you what I would want to know if I was considering getting this. Here's exactly what's in it:

Chapter 1 consists of synopses of published Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories followed by suggestions for how to use the ideas in the stories for your campaign.

I figure if you read this blog, you probably have good enough taste to have read every Fafhrd and Grey Mouser story you can get your hands on already and smart enough that you could figure out how to use the ideas in D&D on your own--still, it's nice to see a D&D product so forthrightly acknowledging its literary roots.

Chapter 2 is the best and most generally useful part--maps and maps and maps.

The first one is the one illustrating this blog entry--in real life it is much clearer (click on it, then click on it again to get an idea). It is followed by several pages of blow-up maps of each of the eleven districts. They are mostly just hollow shapes of anonymous buildings, but all are large and clear enough to completely label on your own and put in your own buildings. Major landmarks from the stories are labelled, but not in such a way as to interfere with repurposing them. Some of the buildings have decent adventure-seeds attached, some are just functional.

Also: all of these maps are reprinted in a special supplement in the back along with twelve nifty extra city geomorphs (about 3 square blocks each) you can slot in anywhere.

Also: there's a poster-sized full-color version of the map that you can use to explain to your players where stuff is--though since it's in color it's a little harder to re-purpose if you're not actually adventuring in Lankhmar.

These maps are a perfect place to start for any urban location--and probably big enough to keep the PCs busy forever, though you're going to have to decide what all the buildings are by yourself.

Chapter 3 is short descriptions of other places in Leiber's world--Newhon--outside Lankhmar. It's sketchy, but it's a conscientious round-up of Leiber's locales. The only map in this section shows where everything is in relationship to everything else.

Chapter 4 contains stats and descriptions of characters from the books, including stats for Fafhrd and the Mouser at three different ages.

Chapter 5 is a list of a few dozen factions, from the Assassin's Guild to the Astrologers' Consortium, along with short descriptions and the relative social status of each. It isn't quite set up so you can use these interfactional rivalries as a game in itself (or an independent sytem motoring the rest of the game), but if you're modelling a very political campaign, you might find these a helpful springboard for thinking about factionf.

Chapter 6 is about Lankhmar's gods--Glaggerk, Hate, the Red God, the Rat God and about a dozen others. Again, this is (mostly, presumably) all in the books, but having all of the gods and their details collected together is interesting and useful.

Chapter 7 has 20 monsters with stats. The Marsh Leopard is typical--statwise it's a lot like something already in the Monster Manual but the fact that it can be detected because of its "glowing blue eyes" is a nice touch. There aren't enough pictures to make the monster section indispensable.

Chapter 8 has special rules and systems for urban adventures, and other Lankhmar-specific details like what festival happens during what month. These range from the lite-but-possibly-useful (social status rules with 5 different ways your status can go up or down) to the lite-and-destined-to-be-hacked-immediately (the sketchy legal system rules) to the heavy-but-useless (a random building scheme that requires you to roll on at minimum three tables--with a list of modifiers for each--if the PCs dash into a random building in the middle of a game. Why not one long table?).

The chapter ends with a set of generic maps which are ok but some of which are so larded with weird symbols (why not the traditional dollar-sign-wall for secret doors?) that the small benefit you get from using a pregen building could be outweighed by the pain of interpreting it.

Chapter 9 has rules for converting an AD&D campaign to a match a more Newhonian style, mostly concerning lowering the magic level. Only useful if you're not pretty much DIYing it already, which, if you're buying a 25-year-old supplement for an out-of-print game, you probably are.

Chapter 10 has suggestions on dialing back the body-count to match a more noirish mood as well as a short adventure (a heist) and 18 paragraph-long subgenre-appropriate adventure seeds. They're decent.

So, overall, how good is it? Well, it doesn't exactly make it so you'll never have to do any work ever again, but since you can still pick it up for less than 20 bucks, it might be worth it if you're building your own city. If you've read but don't own the Leiber books, it nicely extracts a good deal of the adventure fuel from them.

Let me know if this was useful, I may do it again.


  1. So, do you think you'll use it as some version of a city in your campaign?

    I always thought this book was interesting in that it was one of the few products meant to save the DM work that still acknowledged the DM will invariably want to make their own changes. I'll never forget the map you've posted with its mysterious blank spaces. That and Jeff Rient's abstracted carousing rules have made me try my hand at abstracting the city experience altogether, still working on that.

  2. Zak, if you're still on the lookout for some old, pulpier city material, I'd suggest keeping an eye out for the Thieves World boxed set that Chaosium put out in '81. It's got a big damn map of the city of Sanctuary, smaller maps of different areas of the city, a shitload of urban encounter charts, floorplans for different types of buildings, NPC's, scenario suggestions, etc. I started my current campaign with that set, and it kept my group occupied for quite a while before they moved on (they decided to skip outta town after angering the Purple Mage). It's based on the Thieves World anthologies, if you're familiar with them.

  3. That map looks nice. Most city settings have a completely unbelievable street layout. This one seems to be less "ruler heavy" than The City State, which makes it more evocative and visually appealing.

    One question though. Those white squares are the places to drop the geomorphs in?

  4. Ooh, I remember this one. If I recall correctly, they even have a rationale that says if the haven't visited a "white square" area for sometime, the DM can actually change it to reflect the constant shifts and upheavals in a living city.

  5. We bought and used it back when it first came out as a setting for our guys. As a setting we couldn't get into it that much, because they got all funky with casting times of spells, making them into rituals essentially, saying that each spell takes 10 times longer to cast than the PHB said it did.

    Still, Leiber is hands down my favorite author of all time, so I was glad to get the supplement. One thig to note is that Leiber's world was only dveloped as he wrote it. He didn't create a world in detail, like make maps and stuff of cities and countries, and lace characters in it. He made it up as he went along. So the maps, though accurate to the boos as far as I can tell, and as far as the books gave descriptions, are largely a product of the TSR author's creation.

    As a generic supplement it kicks ass. I've used it since the 80's run as a setting just as you are doing, as a generic map. I like the geomorphs approach, and the twisty turny streets.

    The thing I liked most in the Lankhmar line was a book called Thieves of Lankhmar, by Nigel Findley. It was the best supplement ever put out by TSR or WOTC dealing with thieves and their guilds, imho. I still go back to it one in a while to this day.

  6. Lieber is my favorite Sword & Sorcery author, hands down, even over Howard, Vance,and the other mainstays of the field.
    The pulp noir/medieval atmosphere is just what I shoot for in my own version of Greyhawk.
    There are a lot of useful bits in the Lanhkmar boxed set that I liked, but it still has that slightly Disney-like feel that the near second edition TSR stuff had.
    Of course, it's just about impossible for someone else to capture that forthrightly venal yet honestly romantic combination of themes that Lieber employed so masterfully.
    I won't kick the City of Adventure for not being Written by The Man himself though, since it wouldn't be fair, or gain me anything either.
    It does have a beautiful map of the city, and anything that increases the amount of Lanhkmar related material out there is ok by me.

  7. I knew there was a reason I liked you,Joe! I salute you, Lieber-Brother!

  8. Scored a cheap copy of this on ebay early last year. It's what the later TSR "City of (Adventure/Splendour/Delights/Doors)" boxed sets only wished they could be.

    And the neighbourhood geomorphs are a fantastic 'obvious in retrospect' idea.

  9. For what it's worth:

    There's quite a difference in the 1st ed. AD&D version of this supplement compared to the 2nd ed. AD&D version of the supplement. They use the same map as the 1st ed. supplement (though a bit brighter/glossier/newer, in comparison), provide a synopsis of the stories in the front (all the way up to The Knight & Knave of Swords, while IIRC the 1st. ed. supplement just goes up to Swords and Ice Magic).

    The notable differences include a slightly different list of NPCs, monsters, and gods (with details/perks for playing a priest of a god); a breakdown of the classes available (and setting-appropriate modifications) in Lankhmar (along with new classes to replace the standard D&D casters: white mage, black mage, air/fire/earth/sea/ice mage, wild mage); racial stats for the major human cultures of Lankhmar (Northerner, Eevanmarenseer, Land Mingol, Sea Mingol, Kleshites, and Ghouls); as well as generic floorplans for buildings, and the floorplan of the Silver Eel; the geomorphs are in the book itself.

    Notably, it doesn't have the booklet with the heist adventure with PCs (Fafhrd, Mouser, & other Nehwonian sorts): just a chapter with full of adventure idea paragraphs.

    Then again, it does list the other Lankhmar products it put out: Swords of the Unidercity, Swords of Deceit, Wonders of Lankhmar, Tales of Lankhmar, Thieves of Lankhmar, Nehwon, Prince of Lankhmar, and Slayers of Lankhmar.

    And, near the end of the 2nd ed. line, TSR released a Lankhmar boxed set which, in my opinion, wasn't worth the investment.

    Hope any of that's potetially useful.

  10. Thanks for the review Zak, it was very useful reading. I am always on the lookout for good generic setting material, and especially urban environments.

    Please write more reviews like this in the future!

  11. OK L monsters. But somebody said that you made really good EZ mode character sheets for the porn stars.

    I'm looking for char sheet "lite" (desp trying to think of a cheesy pun....but its bed time and I'm shagged out). Can you link it or upload them? Cheers!

  12. @hugh

    the entry's called "your character sheets probably don;t look like this"

    also--they're not "lite", they just have the info I--asDM--need in really big letters.