Thieves' World/Lankhmar - why do you like them?




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  1. #1

    Thieves' World/Lankhmar - why do you like them?

    That question was NOT intended to be sarcastic, by the way. But I'm curious - what was it that you liked about Thieves' World and need to see in a TW rpg? Ditto for Lankhmar.

    No, we aren't involved in planning to publish either, this is a personal question. I've seen both mentioned a few times lately, but I could never really drum up great enthusiasm for either. I barely made it through the early Lankhmar stuff (it's been so long I don't remember what I read), and I enjoyed the Thieves World collected book "Sanctuary," but never made it all the way through.

    I didn't dislike them, I just didn't "dig" them. I'm sure it's just a matter of personal taste, but I'm curious to hear other peoples thoughts on what the "essential elements" are of either.
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  • #2
    Well, they are near-perfect settings for running gritty, amoral urban campaigns.
    I used Lankhmar as the setting for a lengthy, all-thieves campaign back in 1E, and again in 2E. I think the players liked the sense that it wasn't a clearly defined, black-and-white, good vs. evil sort of place. They could be "bad" and break the rules occassionally (or more often), and not have to worry about alignement consequences. Of course, there were always other consequences.

    Also, the settings seem to be more character-driven. Even as low-level characters, the players knew their actions could have a noticible impact on the setting. It's a dynamic setting, not static, as many traditional dungeons tend to be.

    And they are great settings for role-playing. So many NPCs, so little time. It's very challenging, and rewarding, for the DM as well, coming up with so many NPCs. And easy to run a game that is heavy on improvisation and lite on traditional adventure storyline railroading. You don't have to bring the adventure to the players; just turn them loose and let them find their own adventures.

    Those are just my feelings, based on my experiences.
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  • #3

    Kitsch-free is good!

    I haven't read any Thieves' World novels, but I love Lankhmar. The biggest pull to me is Leiber's use of language - he writes like no one else I've ever read, except maybe Lovecraft. He has amazing imagery in all his stories - like the Plaza of Dark Delights or the Cold Waste. I love the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories set in Lankhmar - you can *see* the night fog rolling in when the sun goes down. You can sense that there are a myriad hidden alleyways, smoky wineshops and gritty taverns you'll never visit, where adventures exist in potentia by the dozen.

    The characters are a big draw, as well. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser get drunk, get laid, curse, steal, and bleed. They are more real to me than many characters in a Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms novel (Raistlin being a notable exception - but I have an odd feeling Raistlin would feel much more at home in Lankhmar, anyway).

    I also like the moral ambiguity of Nehwon. It doesn't quite fit along the neat, nine-pointed alignment axis. You have to love a universe where the cleric's main job is making sure nobody pesters the gods. There aren't any shining examples of good except for the clumsy morality of Fafhrd & Grey Mouser. And evil is more pathetic and grotesque than frightening, such as the ratkin Lord Hisvin.

    And when you get right down to it, it's refreshing to read a fantasy story that hasn't been influenced by the twin monoliths of Lord of the Rings and D&D. Not that these are bad, but there are few modern fantasy stories which can escape their influence.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Plemmons
    That question was NOT intended to be sarcastic, by the way. But I'm curious - what was it that you liked about Thieves' World and need to see in a TW rpg? Ditto for Lankhmar.

    No, we aren't involved in planning to publish either, this is a personal question. I've seen both mentioned a few times lately, but I could never really drum up great enthusiasm for either. I barely made it through the early Lankhmar stuff (it's been so long I don't remember what I read), and I enjoyed the Thieves World collected book "Sanctuary," but never made it all the way through.

    I didn't dislike them, I just didn't "dig" them. I'm sure it's just a matter of personal taste, but I'm curious to hear other peoples thoughts on what the "essential elements" are of either.
    Well, from what I've gathered from reading the books, both of them are grim-&-gritty settings. Violence is brutal & harsh, & the "heroes" aren't necessarily purely good (or purely evil).

    Also, to a ceratin degree, both focus on specific locales--Thieves' World pretty much is set in & around Sanctuary, while many of the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser tales are set in or around Lankhmar. These cities are filled with vice & corruption, and can be just as dangerous (if not moreso) than the wilderness around them.

    Finally, both settings pretty much focus on humans. Any non-human races that appear do not fall into the standard Tolkien/D&D variety: the aquatic beysibs from Thieves' World, & the clear-fleshed Ghouls of Lankhmar.

    However, IIRC, that's pretty much where the similarities end. As for the settings by themselves:

    Thieves' World:
    * Thieves' World, though not as overtly magical as Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, has a fair share of magic in the setting. At least the traditional 4 core classes of D&D (fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric) are represented. Magic items exist, though they are rarer to come across than in a standard D&D game. Also (to a certain degree), psionics can be represented by the S'Danzo women (and their powers of second sight/sixth sense/scrying). Also, the stories don't just focus on adventures--it also touches on the lives of the regualr folk as well, and the adventures that occur in their lives.

    * The gods' interactions with mortals is on par with Greek mythology--omens, avatars, meddling, etc. Some characters in the stories could even be deemed as being the "Chosen" of particular deities.

    * Intrigue. Plots & schemes aplenty in Sanctuary. Whether someone's plotting to overthrow the ruling government, slay a rival, or gain power & influence, there's always some sort of power struggle present.

    * Everything revolves around Sanctuary. Though events do occur elsewhere in the world, the focus has always been on Sanctuary. Events in Sanctuary either reflect what's going on in the world around them, or serve to foreshadow what will occur in the world.

    Along the lines of "essential elements" for this setting, I'd say that for a Thieves' World campaign:
    * Humans only for PCs.
    * Allow only one cleric & wizard/sorcerer in the group. The shaman or wu jen classes from Oriental Adventures would work well.
    * Focus the adventures in & around Sanctuary. The PCs should, for one reason or another, have strong ties to the city.
    * Conflicts & encounters should focus on other people/NPCs rather than fighting monsters.
    * Use the Alliegiances system from d20 Modern instead of Alignment, to reflect the morally-ambious tone of the setting.
    * Magic items should be rare: because of this, a class-based Defense bonus should be included to account for the lack of magic armor for higher-level PCs. Also, instead of having a magical weapon, a PC could have a weapon made of Enlibar steel: basically a masterwork weapon, though the metal has a bluish-green tinge to it. At the least, it'd work like a Baatorian green steel weapon (from Arms & Equipment Guide; +1 to damage, plus the masterwork +1 to hit). At the most, you could conceivably combine the properties of Baatorian green steel, adamantine, & mithral--though Enlibar steel's only used for weapons (IIRC). It'd be a nice replacement for magical items.

    Lankhmar:
    * Lankhmar, like Thieves' World, is a grim-&-gritty place, but is "comparably" less magical than Thieves' World. The gods rarely interfere with mortals (except for Death, who merely does his job, though his influence is rarely seen directly except by those few notable heroes like Fafhrd & Grey Mouser; or on occasion cursing lapsed followers; they never grant spells & powers to their followers). There is no distinction between divine & arcane magic--effectively, all magic is arcane magic. Magical items are rare. Spellcasters are mysterious, acting on their own agendas more often than not. However, magic is a bit more defined in Nehwon--there is white magic, black magic, & the elemental magics (notably ice & fire magic). Great power with magic is possible only with intense dedication to the arcane arts.

    * While Thieves' World has its intrigue, Nehwon has a swords-&-sorcery feel. It focuses more on adventure & action. Sort of a mix between swashbuckling adventure & an encounter with the weird/bizarre.

    * Though Lankhmar is a great place for adventure, the entire world of Nehwon is the characters' stomping grounds. Whereas the characters in Thieves' World seem rooted to Sanctuary, the characters in Nehwon are destined to travel (though, admittedly, always winding up back in Lankhmar somehow/eventually).

    Along the lines of "essential elements" for this setting, I'd say that for a Lankhmar campaign:
    * Humans only for PCs.
    * Use the Alliegiances system from d20 Modern instead of Alignment, to reflect the morally-ambious tone of the setting.
    * Spellcasters are rare. As it is, the magic system would need to be reworked to go with the way magic functions in Lankhmar. As a rough rule of thumb, black magicians are standard D&D wizards, but must have an Evil alignment (or Alliegiance). White magicians are standard D&D wizards, except they use the Druid spell list instead of the Wizard/Sorcerer spell list (though with a few cleric & sorcerer/wizard spells brought over, since white magicians would need the spellbook-related magics). White magicians must have a Good alignment/alliegiance. Elemental spellcasters can be treated as sorcerers or wu jen, but half of their known spells must focus on 1 element/energy (such as fire, cold, electricity, etc.). The adept NPC class could be used to reflect those who dabble in the magical arts (though they'd be classified as arcane spellcasters). Clerics, paladins, & druids wouldn't exist. No other classes should have spellcasting abilities--rangers & bards should have no spellcasting abilities. Monks are feasible, but should be rare. Psionics should be very rare, & possessed only by NPCs (particulary from Quarmall). The swashbuckler class from Complete Warrior would work great in this setting.
    * While a campaign could focus in Lankhmar, the PCs should inevitably have to travel--whether its guarding a caravan, obtaining a rare spell component, escaping an angry noble, etc.
    * Magic items should be rare: because of this, a class-based Defense bonus should be included to account for the lack of magic armor for higher-level PCs.
    * Conflicts should primarily be between PCs & NPCs, or PCs & wild animals. The PCs in a Lankhmar game would fight monsters, but not on a regular basis.

    I'm sure there's more that could be added to this, but I can't think of anything else at the moment.

    Hope this helps.

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    I've read both and run some Lankhmar. I only have opinions about the latter.

    In addition to what other have said already about it, Lankhmar is a very magic-low setting. People don't throw around fireballs much, things get done through brute force or guile, the typical tactics of the Warrior and the Rogue types.
    A good comparison that my wife drew when I asked her this was that it's a lot like my current Freeport campaign. Most Lankhmar games are going to be set around the one city, and that gives a very good sense of continuity. You get to know the NPCs you deal with, and your home doesn't change. With occasional excursions to other places, having a strongly character-based base to work from and have the majority of your adventures in makes the entire experience much better, in my opinion.

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    That would be mostly me mentioning the Thieves World stuff.

    I love the gritty feel of the first fe novels and some of the short stories in the latter ones. Magic is truely a mystery. It can do anything it seems, but so few people have any power with it. Gods are something real and what goes on in the world effects them, so they effect the world.

    It is also mostly contained in one city with a rich history. The only successful city campaigns I ran were in Thieves World. Each section of the city was almost its own place and travel between the sections could be very dangerious.

    Edit: And Mark Plemmons, you should at least look into Thieves World RPG, please sir!!
    Last edited by Crothian; Wednesday, 21st January, 2004 at 09:47 PM.

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    Well, they're very gritty places. Most fantasy settings, even supposedly crime ridden places, tend to be overly cheerful (compared to the real world), or in some cases, Disney-esque.

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    I like Lankhmar for the sheer originality that it has and for the awesome wit that the Leiber uses.

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  • #9
    Thanks, folks! I wasn't sure if I was missing something (like special religions or groups or "classes") or not - and now... I'm still not sure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Crothian
    That would be mostly me mentioning the Thieves World stuff.
    Edit: And Mark Plemmons, you should at least look into Thieves World RPG, please sir!!
    Well, we've already got a few places in the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting that could be very similar to TW/Lankhmar (the most obvious being Prompeldia, the City of Thieves). Maybe you should write up Prompeldia and submit it to us!
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    Ignore Nightfall
    I just like Grey Mouser and Death.
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