19 May 2015

What do I think about Lankhmar: City of Thieves

Savage Worlds had ventured before into the Sword & Sorcery genre with Beast and Barbarians from GRAMEL. Now, Pinnacle has thrown in the hat into the ring with Lankhmar: City of Thieves, based on the Fritz Leiber's stories.

I never really got into the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I bought the paperback of Ill met in Lankhmar, but the version I had started with the origin stories of the duo and those didn't really drawn me in. I think I should revisit the book and start with some later stories. Nevertheless, I consider myself a fan of Sword&Sorcery and almost every fantasy game I run was heavily inspired by the genre. Quite frankly, I never could get on board with the "magic is part of everyday life" approach of high fantasy, but I digress...

I was excited to get my hands on another of Sword&Sorcery Savage Worlds game. While, just like the Beast and Barbarians, I will probably not run the game as is, I am always on a prowl for some tweaks to the Savage Worlds system to use in my own campaigns. So, with this in mind, this is what I think about Lankhmar: City of Thieves.

If you have never played/run Sword&Sorcery style game, Lankhmar would be a great start. The book gives some good advice on the genre without being condescending. Those hints are scattered and hidden among the descriptions of locales, magic items and rules, but they are there. In fact, the descriptions of Lankhmar and the surrounding lands are full of good Sword&Sorcery fluff. Reading through the gazetteer and  GM's will give you numerous ideas for adventures. The book also sports a selection of Savage Tales - short adventures ready to be used in almost any campaign. It was disappointing not to see an adventure generator. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the one in Savages Worlds of Solomon Kane, and not having one specific to Lankhmar is somewhat of a let down.
Overall, I enjoyed the fluff portion of the book. I would have probably enjoyed it more, if I was more familiar with the world. Surprisingly fluff is not where the book shines for me, it is all in the...


Honestly, I think the designers behind Lankhmar had really outdone themselves. I enjoyed each and every new rule and rules tweak they had put in. You get the expected new races, edges and hindrances, but you also get an expanded magic system and a half dozen setting rules. All of those combined emulate Sword & Sorcery genre very well. Those are my favorite parts of the book, so let's look at them one by one:

  • Races -  Ghouls (humanoids with transparent flesh), Ratlings (offspring of humans and intelligent rats who live under Lankhmar, who still look a bit rat-like) and Humans, that come in four different flavors, depending on the culture. It is nothing really special here. All of them are pretty solid and distinctive, and fit the genre and the source material pretty well.
  • Hindrances - You only get six of them. Most of them are here to add flavor, and one (Obligation) is used with the setting rules. I don't personally care for those, but they are nice to have.
  • Edges - This is where the fun starts. You get almost thirty new edges, most of them being quite useful and powerful. Combat edges are great for hardy warriors and I can see many of those edges being used in my other campaigns. Then you get three new Arcane Backgrounds, that are tweaked versions of the no power point rule, but are one of the best version of Savage Worlds magic I have seen so far. They are supplemented by a set of power edges. As an icing on the cake you get a handful of professional and social edges. The highlight here is definitely the combat edges, followed closely by the magic system.
  • Magic - Magic is split into three categories: black, white and elemental. Black and white is what you think when you imagine good and evil wizards, with black magic being more powerful, but corrupting you over time. Elemental is basically everything outside the black/white spectrum. It would be considered neutral and has extra rules for connecting to the element it is based on. You get some advice on how to create new strains of elemental magic outside of the three (Ice, Fire and Sea) described. As mentioned before, the system uses no power point rule, but the negative modifier can be "paid off" by spending extra turns casting. You also need ingredients to cast spells and lacking those gives you more negative modifiers. You also get another set of rules for rituals, similar to those from Solomon Kane. You also get some new Powers along with a table of stats for all the existing ones.  I see myself using this system for most of my Savage Worlds games.
  • Setting Rules - all of the six rules make emulating the Sword & Sorcery genre a little bit easier. You get rules explaining why characters in Sword and Sorcery seem broke all the time, why berrying  betraying your allays is so effective and why don't they use armor. The highlight here is the Knock Out Blow rule. You know how in Sword&Sorcery (and pulp in general) you can one hit a guy into unconsciousness? Would you like to have that in your game? Then, this rule is for you! It uses The Drop rule from Savage Worlds to do so and, in my opinion, makes this rule much more exciting.

I was presently surprised with this book. I was on a fence about getting another Swords&Sorcery Savage Worlds game, because Beast and Barbarians worked well for my needs. What I found is some awesome rules and cool city setting. Fortunately, knowledge of Fritz Leiber's works is not a necessity, and the book gives you enough lore to run a campaign comfortably. Even if you are not planning on running a game in Lankhmar, there is enough good stuff here that is worth the price of admission. If you are fan of  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser,  thinking about running a Sword&Sorcery game, or you would like some cool tweaks to the Savage Worlds system you should check out this book. In the meantime, I will give my paperback copy of Ill met in Lankhmar another spin.

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