Written by Ari Marmell and C. A. Suleiman
Published by Wizards of the Coast
160 full color pages

Cityscape bills itself an “An Essential Guide to Urban Adventuring.” That’s a pretty big claim to make with resources like the World’s Largest City and Ptlous out. What’s more, it’s already in competition with exotic city books by WoTC like Sharn, and one of the grand daddies of cities, Waterdeep. Not to mention third party books like Bard’s Gate, CSIO and others.

Now I know some are going to go, “But those are city books, not books about cities.” When dealing with a city, the important thing for me is personality and seeing how others do it is a big step in understanding that. It’s so important to know who is in a city, that in 1986 I picked up Runequest Cities. This doesn’t count other oldies like the system less City Books by Flying Buffalo or stealing maps and ideas from the old Bard’s Game publications Atlantis.

One of the problems with this book is that it’s supposed to be an environmental book. It clocks in at 160 pages. This doesn’t count the standard ads, only two pages this time, but unlike say Sandstorm, which had no ads, that book was 224 pages and only costs $5.00 more. And it’s not like WoTC isn’t still producing 224-page books (looks at shelf and Tome of Magic.) so either someone thought that cities were a losing deal or that the 224-page format is for suckers.

The book also suffers in terms of waste. There are bits where it talks about cities, including cities by race. Unfortunately, in most of those cases, instead of just saying, “See Races of X”, it goes on for a paragraph or three and then states, “See Races of X.”

The organization of the book also leaves something to be desired. Previous environmental books had some organization in terms of grouping the prestige classes and other options together. While some of that is done here in chapter two, including urban feats, spells, and invocations for warlocks, the prestige classes are scattered and tied into organizations. And since there is no index, there’s no quick way to look for the PrCs.

Cityscape has some nifty bits about it for old timers. Little tools like “A Trip to the Healer” that provides a quick run down of common issues players face, the spell to overcome it, the minimum class/level required to remove it, and the base cost. It also includes sample temples and sample healers and perhaps even a roll on the extenuating circumstances table that may reduce or eliminate the cost of the spell being cast.

One of the things that would fall into the ‘neat’ category, are the magical hazards. Things like alchemical rain or arcane pollution that can inflict baleful polymorph onto those caught in it.
Some of the monsters were also interesting. When attacking a city, what’s better than a scorpion like siege golem or how about a zeitgeist, a fey that can take forms drawn from the city and culture surrounding it. Clocking in at a massive CR 23, this critter would be a great end game monster.

For utility, the book’s NPCs are handy. When you need a quick city guard or a unique entity like the Symbol, you’ll find some quick drag and drop stat blocks and some stat blocks with associated backgrounds that can be woven into your campaign. Of course this being WoTC, a lot of the stat blocks have minor errors. Thankfully John Cooper has his unofficial errata available here:

For me, I guess I’m just too ‘old school’ in that I’ve seen a lot of cities. I also wanted more tools in creating a city than the book provides. The book talks about how to use different wards and different ideas, but doesn’t gel for me in terms of going out of the way and crafting brand new ideas and thing that I haven’t seen before. It provides stat blocks for guards and for CR 20 villains, but doesn’t really talk about how those two realities mesh. It talks about subjects like necrotic miasma, but doesn’t reflect how that would cripple a city whose common folk are well under the CR 3+.

If you’re new to the game, and new to Dming, especially outside the dungeon, Cityscape will reward repeated readings and has numerous tools to throw into your campaign. If you’re an old hand who still has copies of Carse and Tulan around, this book probably isn’t aimed at you.