Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Saturday, March 26, 2005

City State of the Invincible Overdude (Final)

City State of the Invincible Overlord

(Necromancer Games d20 Version)

City State of the Invincible Overlord was apparently the first published city for a fantasy roleplaying game, or at least D&D.

I never owned the original version from Judges Guild, but a few years ago I did get a copy of the "Revised" edition. It was sold through the Traveller 20 people, Quiklink, and was really cheap, $10 or so. As near as I can tell, the revisions were mostly to remove "D&D" from it, and presumably change things slightly so as to avoid any possible legal problems, but it still pretty much was for D&D. (I think this was after TSR and Judges Guild had their spat).

At any rate, it was a very early product, 1977 according to the date in it, and it showed. Bizzare layout, weird rules, awful typesetting. But it had a certain charm, and the original literally had 100s of locations mentioned, along with stats for characters at those locations.

The new City State of the Invincible Overlord (CSIO) from Necromancer pretty much keeps all the locations and NPCs intact, as well as some of the rules, but brings the layout and presentation up to date. A little bit of political correctness has also seeped in. Though maybe not PCness so much as tact. (I'll go into this later). It also apparently adds in items from another Judges Guild product, "Wraith Overlord", the original of which I know nothing about, but apparently was a book of dungeons and locations beneath various places in the city.

The City

There's actually not much background on the city itself. About a page of history. It's set in the Wilderlands setting from Judge's Guild, but doesn't mention anything about it at all, so you are pretty much on your own unless you own the "Player's Guide to the Wilderlands" (which I bought, but never received, one of the perils of buying mail order) or the upcoming boxed set.

Basically, there are two halves to the city. One is essentially from the original CSIO, 350 or so keyed locations in the city itself. Shops, taverns, brothels, etc.

The original CSIO just had a sentence or two for most, along with stats for some NPCs (sometimes 1, sometimes more). The stats were in tabular format. Class, level, Alignment, ability scores, hit points, weapon, treasure.

This book expands upon the description somewhat. Instead of a line, most locations get at least a paragraph.

Stats are pretty much the same. Class, level, ability scores, but in some cases, they've given a relevant skill rank or two as well.

To be honest, a full blown stat block would have been a lot more helpful. I realize that would have made the book longer, but OTOH, the book does have rather big margins. Smaller margins and more stats would have been much better. It would also have been nice if they added a physical description. On the plus side, many of the NPCs have nicknames or titles (epithets?), like so and such the ________.

The locations are really varied, everything from accountants to wigs. Lots of taverns, around 50 of them. Some are apparently allusions to classic fantasy literature. For instance, there is a "Silver Eel" tavern.

Also, the original author was presumably a Queen fan - one of the brothels is called "Naughty Nannies". Heh-heh. Actually, given the tackiness in other areas of the product, I'm surprised there are only 2 or 3 brothels listed.

I've actually had a lot of fun comparing the original entries to the new ones. For the most part, they really have improved on the original. Except on one area - gods. In the original CSIO, actual gods were NPCs in some of the locations. In this, you get that "avatar" stuff, which I really don't like. . Back in the old days, gods were gods, there was none of this new fangled "avatar" stuff. It's very very 2E-ish. (Which is not terribly surprising, since Necromancer Games' stuff really does have more of a 2E feel than anything else)

Wraith Overlord

The 2nd part of the city is called "Wraith Overlord". It's essentially the underneath areas for a lot of the city, but doesn't detail the entire undercity (though there is a map of the sewers). Just the undercity for certain buildings.

Essentially, the below parts of these buildings are presented as dungeons for PCs to explore/sack. Most of these work fairly as dungeons. But some, like the theater, seem a bit odd.

The first location, the prison, is actually interesting because it has extremely detailed backgrounds for quite a large number of prisoners. It's almost like watching a crime show on A&E.

The only real challenging dungeon lies outside of town, and may or may not be accessible via the sewers. It's pretty short, though, and involves something of a Cthulhu style cult, only full of undead. There's another Cthulhu reference - one of the books found in one of the dungeons is the infamous Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazred.

New Rules

The original CSIO introduced several new rules for things that were common to life in the CSIO. Rules for being a noble, rules for the court system, rules for how you are treated (social level). And rules for women.

Remember how the 1st edition DMG had that random harlot table in it? Well, if you think that was tacky, well, the rules in the original CSIO went beyond that by several velvet Elvises. Anyway, basically they had rules for er, courting women. What they wore, their disposition, and of course, their vital measurements.

Anyway, I was curious as to whether or not they would make it into the new CSIO. Nope! I'm not sure whether that's a good or bad thing. While they were pretty silly and immature, they do sort of fit the style of 60s-70s fantasy and in my mind, have a lot of a camp value.

Anyway, the social level rules are pretty much left intact (basically there are different levels from 1 to 20, 1 being a slave and 20 being a god). The court rules get a revamp, mechanic wise, but essentially stay the same (basically lots of tables, then a roll).

There's a class for NPCs called "The Beggar". Pretty much what it sounds like. And a prestige class for the Overlords secret police.

The Rest

The first appendix is on important NPCs of the City State. There are apparently only 3 of them. The Overlord, his bodyguard, and his 2nd in command.

This is pretty lacking, I thought. I would have liked to have known about the heads of various factions, ie, the thieves guilds, the temples, the assassin guilds, etc. You get some info on them in the section in the City State itself, but very little info.

The second is slightly bigger, and is on new magic items. Lots of misc. wondrous items, though nothing really exciting.

The 3rd appendix is new monsters, and is pretty big, at 20 or so pages. Apparently they were done by the Tome of Horrors people, which pretty much means they are done right, stats wise. Most of the monsters are fairly gruesome, or something out of a movie on the Sci-Fi channel (like the Crocman). Except the Valkyrie and her horse.

The Looks

The layout is okay, but nothing special. As I think I mentioned, the margins are kinda big, 1 1/4", looks like.

The art is a mixed bag. Some of it is by Brian LeBlanc, who I consider to be pretty much the best artist in the RPG field today. He's my favorite, at least. Another artist, Erik Roman, has a similar style but is less proficient. But the rest of the art varies quite a bit in style and so the art kind of clashes. At least one picture of an elf (I think) has the giant, floppy, anime elf style ears which make my skin crawl and definitely doesn't fit this book.

The cover, well, I don't even know what the cover art is. A giant hand coming out of the ground picking up a guy, while 2 other guys look confused. What that has to do with a great big city, I dunno. (I think it's an illustration of something in Wraith Overlord, outside the side and in a crypt. But not something that advertises an exciting city.).

The map index is pretty nice. You get a listing of the places by type (ie, a list of all the taverns, shops, etc). And a list of places by name, and And a list by number. No actual index, though. So it's really easy to find a place in the book, but perhaps not a specific person or item.

The map itself is really nice, if somewhat smaller than I thought. It's the size of 4 normal sheets of paper, with most of the city being on 2 sheets, and so the city itself is very very tiny and hard to make out. You almost need the potion of diminution (which is actually a magic item in the book) to read it. (The original map was about 50% larger, 8 pages total, with the city taking up 3x2)

Final Thoughts

I think the conversion from original D&D (or maybe AD&D) to 3.5/d20 is a bit off. Mostly, they seem to have translated the levels literally. But that's not quite right, I think, because in original D&D (in the little brown books), characters really never made it past 9th level or so. AD&D went a bit higher, but still, characters never really got that high up.

3rd Edition D&D is meant for higher levels. A 10th level character is fairly common, and 20th level characters are not terribly rare.

But in this, the "Invincible Overlord" is still just 20th level. While 20th level is nothing to sneeze at in 3.X, it's not exactly "Invincible". Not nearly as much as it was 30 years ago. IMHO, they should have used the epic rules for him (say, 30th level), and increased a lot of the levels of other NPCs, for instance, the levels of the high priests in various temples from 9 to at least 15-18. (9 was the standard level for D&D "High Priests", especially the "EHP" or "Evil High Priest"). The write up of Mr. Invincible also seems to suggest he probably would be an epic level character - he's done a lot of adventuring, epic style quests, as well as lots of planar traveling

As written, a group of 4-5 10th level characters would find all but one of the dungeons in the book a cake-walk. And they probably wouldn't want to do that last dungeon (not if they have any common sense, anyway).

I also think the political correctness detracts a bit. Beyond the removing of the amusing if immature rules for women, I found the bit about how Necromancer Games doesn't condone slavery in real a bit stupid. I mean, duh, no one advocates slavery in real life. Still, at least the presumed nickname of one apparently very pneumatic dancer remained. (Still, she might have just been a pottery affionado)

It's a very good book, but not outstanding. It's overly dry (ie, dull to read), a bit spartan looking, mediocre layout, and as I mentioned above, I think the d20 conversion is a bit off, not technically, but spiritually. Still, the non-mechanical fleshing out of the city and NPCs was very well done. Really, it's somewhere between an B+ and an A-. I can't decide. But in terms, definitely a 5 for content, and probably a 3 for style (about average).

While it's mostly useful as the main city in the Wilderlands setting, if you remove the non-human races, you'd have a pretty suitable city for Conan. Probably too evil for most other D&D/d20 settings, though.

It probably helps a lot to have the Players Guide to the Wilderlands. While it's not directly referenced much, and so it's definitely not necessary, I was wishing I had it to look some things up in. If I had the money, I'd run out and buy it (along with Caverns of Thracia, a Wilderlands module).

Interestingly, the original product had several D&D things that TSR considered to be their IP. Mind Flayers and Beholders and such. WOTC apparently gave NG/JG permission to continue to use them. Which is nice, I thought.