Friday, August 16, 2019

Recaps & Roundups part 39: JG3 Initial Guidelines Booklet, JG4 City State Player's Map & JG8 Dungeon Level Maps

In addition to the Dungeon Tac Cards and Ready Ref Charts, the initial Judges Guild installment also came with three more items. All three of these provided more information for the City State Map they had sold at Gen Con: JG1 Initial Guidelines Booklet gives details about the City State itself, right down to specific streets, buildings and inhabitants; JG4 City State Players Map is a smaller scale map of the city with some of the details removed; and JG8 Dungeon Level Maps I provides maps for the first five levels of a dungeon beneath the city. I'll tackle them each in turn.

JG5 Initial Guidelines Booklet

This booklet is only 16 pages, but it is dense. That's the actual cover above, and you can see that there's absolutely no space wasted. You certainly can't accuse Judges Guild of not giving its customers their money's worth.

The book begins with tables that are used to determine the types of characters encountered, along with their social standing and what they want. There are some wild potential results here. Most of the encounters will be with humans, but you could also find yourself being sexually propositioned by a Blink Dog or a Wight.

There are six levels of hierarchy in the City State, with various Social Levels within each. As I understand it, Social Level is more important than hierarchy; a sheriff (top of the General hierarchy) is of higher rank than a page, high born or thane (bottom three of the Noble hierarchy). Of course, you can rise higher in some hierarchies than others and anyone at the top of their hierarchy can move into the Noble hierarchy by spending loads of money on a festival.

The most unfortunate thing here is that women are seemingly very low on the totem pole. Most seem to be slaves, "houris", concubines, amazons (not so bad by comparison), daughters, and barmaids. Some that show up will be ladies or dames, and the odd goddess (more on that later). But overall, the City State seems to be a very male-dominated place, at least based on the charts.

The City State is ruled by a hereditary monarch (the Invincible Overlord), as well as a senate. Pretty much everyone on the senate is a top level character class (Lord, Patriarch, etc.), and they seem to be divided by alignment. The overlord himself is said to be Lawful Evil, leaning towards Good. I guess that means he's evil but not, like, all the way evil? He apparently remains above alignment disputes, and uses characters of all alignments to serve him. His secret police, called the Black Lotus, pervade all levels of society. He also has a pretty sizable treasure hoard, which is said to be guarded by the Mighty Servant of Leuk-o, which gives me a location for one of the artifacts from Supplement III.

Within the city is a secret society called FEAR (the Fraternity for Eradication of Armored Riff-Raff), which is dedicated to pressuring lower-level characters into not wearing platemail. I wonder if this is a class snobbery thing? It's said to be coming from the Knights of the Inner Circle (citadel guards) so it could just be to make law-enforcement easier.

The Barbarians of Altanis live to the south-east, and have a voice in the senate. To the south-east are the Orcs of the Purple Claw, and their Amazon Queen-Priestess. Goblins live in a reservation outside the walls, and a network of tunnels beneath. They are permitted to work in the city, but must leave by sundown, and aren't allowed to buy alcohol.

The significant streets and buildings are then described, in incredibly terse fashion. It doesn't cover the entire city, just a section in the lower east corner. Even as condensed as it is, it would be nigh-impossible to detail everything on the map in 16 pages. I found this section fairly hard going, to be honest. Here's a sample of what it's like to read:

GARRICK ONE-EYE; CLASS FTR; ALIGN LE; LVL 4; HTK 14; AC 7; SL 6; S 14; I 8; W 7; CON 12; DEX 4; CHAR 5; WPN Dagger
Ten barmaid slaves FTR, N & LE, 1 HD, 2-5-1-2-4-3-3-1-2-5 HTK, AC 9, daggers. 4 sculliary slaves FTR, N, 1 HD, 4-5-4-2, short swords, 2 cooks, FTR, N, 2 HD, 6-5 HTK, AC 7, swords, two-handed sword hidden under counter, 20 SP & 15 CP on person, 110 GP hidden in boars head above bar, will relate Legend of the Druid Stone . . pilgrim place of druids . . large meteorite for 2-12 GP, patrons include barbarians, bandits, & berserkers NA 1-6 @, pig roast 1 GP, ale 1 SP, entertainment Bullfrog Bertha FEM Orc, 2 HD, 10 HTK, AC 5, and her two bellydancers FEM slaves N, 1 HD, 1-3 HTK, daggers, gormets roll for Cholera PROB 2%/Meal. HO 25%

As you can see there's a lot there, even if it can get a little hard to parse. There are various legends and rumours that players can learn, and those are always written in a cursive font. I have no clue what "HO 25%" at the ends means.

There's too much for me to go through in detail, but some of the more interesting locations include Hell-Bridge Temple (where the Assassins' Guild members got to worship), the Thieves Guild, and even the local butcher, who likes to hook people from his roof and reel them in to become tomorrow's cutlets. Pretty much every location described has an adventure hook of some sort.

I'm struck by two things that I haven;t seen a lot of in D&D cities. The first is that monster races are all over the place. Orcs, goblins, trolls, gnolls, wererats, you name it and they're living in the City State. The second is the presence of the gods. The city is filled with temples to the gods from Supplement IV, even ones drawn from the Elric mythos. The gods are very real in the City State, and can be met in temples, bars, or just on the street as random encounters. It's pretty wild and very pulpy, and I like the tone it suggests a lot.

The booklet ends with a three page description of the legal system, which takes into account all sorts of things: the Social Level of all involved, the crime, the circumstances, how the magistrate is feeling, bribes, and even the weather on the day of the trial. You're more likely to get off on a sunny day than a rainy one, which makes a weird sort of sense. Results range from the judge ruling in your favour to being drawn and quartered. At a cursory glance, it looks like a workable system, albeit a rudimentary one. I'm not sure I'd want to implement anything more complex than this, to be honest.

JG4 City State Player's Map

I haven't got much to say about this one. It was printed as four 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper, making it (I think) a quarter of the size of the original City State Map. It has the names of the streets and the geographical features, but the buildings are unnamed, and their interiors have no detail. It looks like a good way to get the players to explore the city without revealing anything they shouldn't know.

JG8 Dungeon Level Maps I

These five dungeon level maps are accessible from beneath two taverns (the Wild Boar Tavern and the Cut-Throat Inn). They're freely available at the Acaeum, so I'll show them all here. They aren't stocked, but there are some nice details on the map, such as sounds and navigation hazards.


  1. "HO" is "House Odds" for any gambling in the locale, so if you have "HO 25%" that means all gambling is tilted 25% in the houses' favor.

    Regarding women in the City State, it is a essentially a Dark Age setting; women in the Dark Ages were in a very bad place, socially. There are myths and legends of warrior-women, but they were very much the exception rather than the norm. Back when the City State first came out, it was par for course; of course today, society views that kind of thing very differently.

    Primary literary inspiration for the City State and the Wilderlands consisted of:

    Tolkien's The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings
    Burrough's Mars/Barsoom and Pellucidar stories
    The Mabinogion and The Chronicles of Prydain
    Leiber's Nehwon/Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories
    Moorcock's Elric series
    Howard's Conan/Kull/Cormac/Bran stories
    Greco-Roman, Welsh/Celtic, Egyptian, and Norse mythology

  2. Thanks for clearing up that bit about House Odds, I couldn't find anything about it in the book.

    As for how women are treated in the setting, I definitely get it from a historical perspective. It's the sort of thing I struggle with at the table, though. Should I penalise a player (either statistically or by social standing) because they want to play a female character? I don't really feel like I should. If I ever run any games in the City State I'll probably treat NPCs are the books state, but not apply those attitudes to PCs as strongly. It probably doesn't make sense, but it's honestly how I'd prefer to do it.

  3. A couple of other points that I meant to mention...

    "Houris" are actually demons. I found this out after talking with Bob Bledsaw... check the link here:

    Also, regarding the alignment of the Invincible Overlord, the original City State came put when they were using the five-fold alignment system (LG, LE, N, CG, CE), so there was no real way to say that he was simply "Lawful" any more, e.g., Lawful Neutral, which is a way of saying "he prefers a Lawful balance, and is a man of honor, but is willing to do what needs to be done to maintain that balance.

    As far as women in the setting, run it however you want. That was always the way Bob insisted the judges run it; he provided you with material for you to use and run howsoever you wished. There's a great quote from him about it, I just can't find it at the moment...

  4. Regarding the alignments of NPCs, I was interested to see them written in a nonstandard fashion. GC for Good Chaotic, that sort of thing. It shows how early in the game this stuff really is, before everything got standardised.