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Author Topic: The City of Brass  (Read 230 times)

Persimmon

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The City of Brass
« on: October 20, 2021, 04:58:27 PM »
The City of Brass by Casey Christofferson published by Frog God Games, 2018
(Swords & Wizardry Version)


The City of Brass is a combination adventure path/campaign setting designed for characters of levels 1-20.  The present book is an update and expansion of a boxed set released by Necromancer games for D&D 3.5 a few years back.  There is also a version for 5th edition D&D, which is presumably even longer than the 440 page monster that is the S&W version, and undoubtedly inferior due to inherent weaknesses in that system.  But this basic overview should suffice to give a sense of the contents and potential usability for your games.  Note that there will be some spoilers ahead so stop reading if that’s an issue for you.

As noted, this book encompasses both an adventure path along the lines of Pathfinder and 5e books as well as a campaign setting that you can make use of as you see fit.  Overall I have mixed feelings about adventure paths as I find they tend to be a bit “railroady.”  And indeed, that is somewhat the case here for the first quarter or so of the adventure.  But once the players make their way to the titular City of Brass itself, things get far more interesting and the end result is one of the best high level adventures/settings I’ve ever read with a number of possible outcomes and opportunities for different play styles that should appeal to a variety of groups.

To get this out of the way, there is a rather cringeworthy note at the beginning of the book wherein a “sensitivity editor & gamer” whose credentials along these lines derive from being married to an Arab (seriously) informs the reader that she went through the book looking for words or choices that might offend Muslims (or perhaps their representative MJWs) like “crusade” or “jihad,” as well as any sense of a story arc that might imply some kind of meta-religious war.  Okay, whatever.  Sad that we’ve come to this these days, but at least it appears that the meat of the adventure isn’t overly affected by this and despite what reviewers on a certain other site have said about this adventure it is by no means a paean of Islamaphobia .  So don’t worry, the efreet are still evil and it’s still your job to stop their mad sultan from becoming a greater god.  Unless, of course, you embrace the dark side and decide to work for him.  But that’s part of the fun of this adventure; those possibilities are there.

The adventure is divided into three broad sections, or books.  The first, for intro level characters, sets the stage for the grad narrative and starts on the prime material plane, in the Lost Lands setting used by Frog God.  This can be adjusted easily enough to another setting, though you might need to fiddle with the geography a bit as they describe traveling in certain directions to get to key locales.  And pretty bad stuff happens to some cities so be forewarned if using your own setting.  Essentially, people in a small village are disappearing and the PCs must find out why.  This eventually leads to the discovery of a secret fire cult that is infiltrating multiple lands while mysterious brazen spires appear overnight in cities, attracting ever more followers.  The plot is a bit convoluted at this point and it might require a bit of creativity on the part of the DM to keep the players following what’s essentially a railroad to get the party across the sea to a caliphate that is ground zero for what’s clearly an invasion of their world.  If they manage to figure all this out and survive some serious challenges, they’ll eventually be able to travel (by multiple means) to the fabled City of Brass, the locale from whence the invasion has come.  It seems that the usurping Sultan of the Efreet has bigger ambitions and his conquest of world is providing him with the power he needs to become a greater god and a mightier force in the cosmos.  He has lined up valuable and interesting allies, including demon lords like Pazuzu, but also made powerful enemies, whom the PCs will have the chance to meet as the adventure progresses.

Part two of the book, “City of Brass,” offers an overview of the city itself, detailing most major locations, as well as laying out the key agents, factions, and foes.  I should note here that in general the maps and illustrations, all in full color, are pretty good and useful in play.  Many of the especially exotic locations get an illustration, as do a fair number of the key NPCS.  And the quality, in my opinion, is a step above what you usually get from Frog God in this respect and I usually prefer black and white rpg books.  It is in this section and the following one where this adventure really shines.  The author has been quite creative in detailing the setting and in making it deadly and different.  More impressively, the author draws on the full range of weird and wonderful monsters found in the excellent Swords & Wizardry monster supplements.  Of course all your standard genie-kind are in here.  But he adds different ranks, like nobles, spellcasters, etc., so that the players won’t know what to expect.  This goes for pretty much all the races.  So you might meet a dwarf lich, lamia noble wizard, eunuch efreet, a kung fu master devil worshipping fire giantess, and more.  It’s just plain fun.  The author also has fun mashing up magic and technology for the setting.  For example, on the Plane of Molten Skies, which connects the City of Brass to the material realm, you might encounter a giant Formian War Crawler, which is an ant-shaped tank operated by the ant people.  The Minaret of Screams in the City of Brass proper, is a living dungeon, an entity from the void masquerading as a minaret. 

The last part of the book, “Tales of Brass,” includes more encounter locations, as well as adventures that can be run in varying order depending upon the actions (and power) of the PCs.  This section takes up nearly the entire second half of the book.  You should be forewarned that these are tough adventures; the lowest level ones are designed for characters of levels 8-10 and the final ones assume level 18-20 PCs.  And though they recommend 4-6 PCs, twice that number might be seriously challenged by these adventures, which range from bank robbery to assassination to feeing angelic prisoners to taking out the Church of Lucifer in the city!  Along these lines, I must say that I really enjoy the feel and tone of this adventure/setting.  It’s familiar in some respects, at least if you have any knowledge of the Arabian Nights stories.  But then it’s twisted.  So you have bazaars, slave quarters, temples, gardens, brothels, etc., but it’s all dangerous and over the top.  One of my favorite settings is the Circus of Pain, where games are conducted over a river of molten lead and the audience can “participate” in events by paying to fire ballista shots at contestants and vice versa. 

Additionally, while fighting is certainly necessary often enough, there are ample opportunities for stealth and roleplaying.  You can find helpful NPCs, but a lot of these folks are still evil or self-interested.  So how far can you trust them?  Do you want to work with Lucifer to counter the Sultan?  Are you willing to assume leadership of a criminal enterprise to achieve your broader goals?  Or is starting an azer slave revolt underneath the Ziggurat of Flame more up your alley?  Have at it!  And all of this is enhanced by the dangers of the environment itself in the form of the heat, random rains of molten lead, the omnipresence of the sultan’s secret police, limitations on the amount of water one can carry, prohibition of cold magic, etc.  Yet still, there are opportunities aplenty and decisions or alliances made by the PCs, items acquired, and the like can tilt the balance, if not in their favor, at least to the extent of giving them a fighting chance.

This review has no means done just to the depth and creativity of this product.  But I hope it provides a basic overview of what you might be getting into with it.  It is pricey, but worth it in my opinion. (And check for sales, I got it for 40% off on the Frog God site).  I think it would take years of consistent play to finish the entire thing as written.  But if you wanted to just use the City of Brass itself as a setting, you could easily use those parts, especially for high level play.  Furthermore, many individual locations could easily be pulled out and used as is, such as the Pagoda of Devils or the Circus of Pain.  Hell, if you just want some inspiration in designing fiendish dungeons, killer traps, or badass NPCs, this can be useful in your games.

Rating: 5/5