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Thursday, 19th May, 2011, 03:20 AM #1
Defender (Lvl 8)
Review of Crime Pays by Goodman Games
Of all types of D&D campaigns, I think my favorite venue would have to be an urban setting. Starting player-characters off in a large city, like Greyhawk City or Waterdeep, gives a DM access to all types of adventures, ranging from dungeon delves, to tavern brawls, political intrigue, and crime mysteries.
And one of my favorite fantasy series, the Thieves’ World anthologies, provided great inspirational short stories for running a gritty medieval-fantasy urban campaign. In just the first few books, there were short stories about slavery, politics, dark mercenaries, mysterious sorcerers, deity intervention, and lots of crime drama – from simple burglars stealing from nobility to crime lords making power plays.
For some players, urban adventures are just another place to play the hero, with their characters gaining greater fame for their deeds by having a “big city” audience to hear of their exploits. But for other players, an urban environment offers a chance to slip into the gritty underworld of street gangs and guilds of rogues or assassins, and make a name for themselves in a much more nefarious way.
And now Goodman Games has a new product, Crime Pays, which offers both Dungeon Masters and Players a whole set of variant rules and content material for creating a criminal underworld of gangs, hitmen, and mobsters!
- Authors: Harley Stroh
- Publisher: Goodman Games
- Year: 2011
- Media: PDF or Trade paperback (96 pages)
- Cost: $9.99 (PDF from RPGNow) / $21.99 (Paperback from Goodman Games)
Crime Pays is a D&D 4E supplement, which details rules for creating a medieval-fantasy underworld and running a campaign where characters become mobsters. These rules are designed to work with any character class and with nearly any fantasy setting. Crime Pays includes rules for creating and developing a mob or gang, organizing criminal activities, as well as handling a gang war. In addition, there is information on creating a criminal underworld campaign, with campaign themes, adventure hooks and scenarios, and sample mobs which can be used in campaigns at all three tiers of play. Crime Pays also includes over three dozen NPCs which can be either enemies or allies of the gang, a dictionary of “street” lingo, 8 neighborhood maps of city locations which serve as possible territories, and blank “gang” sheets to keep track of the mobs statistics.
The production quality of Crime Pays is very good, with the content presented in a logical format, and sharp writing by the author. The majority of the PDF is presented in a gray-scale format, which might be a little tough on the print cartridge, but of course the publisher is offering the product in a trade paperback format for those who prefer a hardcopy of the sourcebook. The PDF comes with both a detailed table of contents as well as bookmarks for easy navigation through the material, which is very good considering the copious amount of game content included in the product.
The cover art for Crime Pays is excellent, and I love the portrayal of the well-dressed half-orc “godfather” glowering from the shadows. However, the interior art is only fair to good, consisting of black-and-white cross-hatch style sketches. The still-life illustrations are decent enough, but some of the action scenes involving characters are over-ambitious and fall short of their goal, due to proportional issues with the figures in them. The neighborhood maps are in full color, and are well rendered, and could easily be reproduced and used as “dungeon tiles” if desired.
By the way, Goodman Games has provided some sample material from Crime Pays to check out on their website, including some excerpts, artwork, and maps!
Crime Pays is divided up into seven chapters, each pertaining to a different aspect of either creating or running a gang/mob, or for DM’ing a criminal underworld campaign. In addition to the seven main chapters, the author supplies six appendices containing supplemental material suchs as NPC stat blocks, a lexicon of criminal slang, maps, and blank “gang” sheets, to make running a medieval underworld campaign easier for the Dungeon Master.
The author provides a nicely written Introduction to Crime Pays, with an overview of the material, as well as fundamental concepts which a fledgling crime lord would need to know. There is a nifty explanation of the “mob sheet”, which keeps track of important aspects of the gang, such as its statistics, income, upkeep, territory, and other important information.
Not surprisingly, Chapter One starts off with creating the mob or gang, including the quality of territories – from ruins to the noble ward – as well as what sort of hirelings the would-be godfather attracts – “coves” and “made men”. The author does a nice job of detailing the various steps involved with starting a mob, which can have varying degrees of success depending on a character’s skill (with help from his allies of course).
In Chapter Two of Crime Pays, the author details “Crimes and Punishments”. There are nine different criminal activities that a godfather can direct his men to carry out, such as Burglary, Kidnapping, and Smuggling. Each crime is detailed tables to handle how much money can be earned, the difficulty of success for the gang to carry out the crime, and the level of punishment if the mobsters are caught. There is also a punishment table to deal with a negative outcome, and a detailed section on bounty hunters (with stat blocks), who might come after the crime lord if he makes too much trouble in the city.
To deal with how the mob operates month to month, Chapter Three contains the rules for handling “The Mob Turn”. Each turn lasts a month, and follows a specific sequence of play, dealing with crimes being committed, collecting income, recruiting new “muscle”, and dealing with random events that crop up in the gang’s territory. The author provides a random event table, which a crime lord has to deal with during the course of running his mob, ranging from monster incursions to betrayals within the organization. There are also law events which can occur based upon the mob’s activities and how much Infamy they are gaining in the course of business. And finally, there are underworld events which can occur when a rival NPC mob or gang decides to deal with the PCs criminal activities. All these events can act as adventure hooks for the player-characters, providing plenty of action and encounters during the campaign.
In Chapter Four, there are rules detailing how Dungeon Masters can handle a “Gang War”, with tables and skill challenge to allow a PC mob and NPC mob to fight for control of crime in a territory. The skill challenge allows the player-characters to influence the outcome of that month’s gang war activities, with greater success granting cumulative bonuses over the course of months until the war ends or one side is eliminated.
The last three chapters offer mainly Dungeon Master content for handling an underworld campaign. Chapter Five offers detail on running a long-term criminal campaign, including campaign themes and tangible benefits for being a successful crime boss. And Chapter Six offers starter scenarios for neophyte mobs, depending on the different territories they are trying to control. Chapter Seven has three detailed NPC gangs, one for each Tier, complete with history and background information, as well as a few adventure hooks for how they react to the player-characters’ underworld exploits.
The Game within The Game
As a Dungeon Master, the first thing that stuck with me upon reading through the content in Crime Pays was how much these variant rules are much like a “game within a game”. The rules for running a crime campaign, with player-characters acting as the leaders of a gang or mob, are presented with the gang itself treated in some cases like a separate entity, having with its own statistics, and taking certain actions each turn (1 month). Interestingly, the characters can still pursue other adventures in the campaign, and in fact, might have to supplement their mob in “lean” months in order to pay their men using gold gained by raiding a dungeon!
I should note that Crime Pays is not a simple crime-drama add-on to just any old existing campaign. But instead, it is a very detailed set of rules for DMs to simulate a medieval-fantasy underworld. Admittedly, at first glance, the rules can be a bit complex if not downright daunting, and definitely require a certain commitment by both the players and DM in order to use them. That said, the level of complexity of the rules in Crime Pays is frankly amazing, offering a really unique and dynamic “game within a game” that will immerse characters in a detailed criminal realm they probably have never experienced before in any previous campaign!
Overall Score: 4.5 out of 5.0
Crime Pays is a stunning piece of work, and I was thoroughly blown-away with the level of detail that the author put into this supplement. I’ve run several urban based campaigns, including a couple “evil” ones over the course of my years of play, but I’ve never come across a set of rules which simulate a criminal underworld as neatly as these. The rules are designed to work in the background of a campaign, and mesh very well with D&D 4E, allowing player-characters to take on a role of crime bosses and really play the role to the hilt. And given the sheer volume and high quality of this original content, the price for paperback book is a great value – and the PDF is a real steal – which proves that crime does pay!
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 4
- - Design: 4.5
- - Illustrations: 3.5
- Content: 4.75
- - Crunch: 5
- - Fluff: 4.5
- Value: 4.5
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