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Fantasy Adventures with Byzantine Flair in Parsantium - City at the Crossroads (for Pathfinder RPG)

There are places that exist in fantasy literature which can be just as memorable as the characters in the story are. Whether one is reading Tolkien, Jordan, Martin, or some other author of heroic fantasy, these locales take on a life of their own, possessing names which instantly conjure vivid images in the minds of the readers – LothlorienDragonmountCastle Black.

But quite often, the amazing locales from stories of epic adventure turn out to be cities – towns and metropolises so unique - and yet so strangely familiar - that one can almost imagine walking its streets.

The same holds true of cities in fantasy role playing games, where there is the possibility of adventure down every alley way or beyond every sewer grate. For certain players, their characters in an RPG campaign might spend many “levels” of their game time just swashbuckling around a massive free city, rarely having to leave the confines of its walls to find all sorts of quests, grave perils, and magnificent riches.

Author Richard Green has created just such a fantasy city for use with the Pathfinder RPG. Parsantium - City at the Crossroads offers an urbane landscape of high fantasy adventure, populated with a mix of strange cultures and peoples, all with a unique history of their very own.


Parsantium - City at the Crossroads (for Pathfinder RPG)

  • Author: Richard Green
  • Illustrators: Joe Shawcross (cover); Matt Morrow, Marc Radle, William McAusland (interior); Jonathan Roberts (cartography)
  • Publisher: Ondine Publishing
  • Year: 2014
  • Media: PDF (178 pages)
  • Price: $11.99 (Available from RPGNow in PDF format)

Parsantium - City at the Crossroads
is a city-state campaign setting designed for use with the Pathfinder RPG system. The setting includes a full color map and description of the city and the surrounding lands, as well as the unique races and cultures which inhabit this campaign locale. In addition, Parsantium - City at the Crossroads contains information on running a campaign in the setting, a historical perspective of the region, new religions and organizations, and much more.


Production Quality

The production quality of Parsantium - City at the Crossroads is quite good overall, with some notable outstanding points throughout the product. The writing is excellent and presents the diverse material in a straight-forward way that is engaging to the reader. The layout presents the content in the setting in a logical fashion, maintaining a fairly standard display of text throughout the work.

The PDF of Parsantium - City at the Crossroads has both a basic table of content and an index for use in navigation in the document, although neither of those are hyperlinked to specific sections within the book. There is also a decent set of PDF bookmarks which are likely to be used as the main method of finding specific content within the book, with direct links to the main chapters and important sub-sections.

The illustrations and artwork in Parsantium - City at the Crossroads is fairly decent overall, but has somewhat of a lack of style cohesion from one piece to the next. The cover art is very good, and it’s depiction of a city in the background behind the foreground figures (presumably characters) makes Parsantium feel like a very real “old world” metropolis. The rest of the interior art, all in black-and-white, appears to be a mélange of styles with medieval and eastern clip art mixed in. Some of it is quite good, while other illustrations seem like filler to avoid a complete “wall of text” presentation in the PDF.

The map of the city of Parsantium itself is exceptional, and beautifully rendered by cartographer Jonathan Roberts. Basic individual buildings and streets are discernable at standard magnification, with the walls and special structures being drawn in a 3-D style to give them significance on the map.


Is it Istanbul or Constantinople?

As a campaign setting, Parsantium - City at the Crossroads is a cosmopolitan free city which draws its inspiration heavily from elements of the ancient city of Byzantium during the medieval era. The author describes the setting as place which “incorporates characters, monsters and magic from the Tales of the Arabian Nights, ancient India and the Far East, alongside more traditional European fantasy elements.”

Some of the lore of this city, and the immediate region of the world surrounding it, contain undiluted elements of ancient Earth cultures, which can feel a bit jarring at times when juxtaposed against more fantasy aspects. Other elements in the setting still clearly draw their inspiration from Earth legends and myth, but are blended into the heroic fantasy RPG bits of Pathfinder with greater seamlessness.

It should be noted that while the overall “metadata” of the setting is designed for Pathfinder RPG, there is actually little in the way of Paizo-proprietary stats in the game. Parsantium - City at the Crossroads is full capable of being played with a couple editions of D&D (d20; 3.5; 2nd Ed), or adapted to either retroclone or neo-“old school” games such as 13th Age or Adventures Dark and Deep.

Parsantium - City at the Crossroads is divided up into six broad chapters, each one covering a different aspect of the city, ranging from history and geography, to culture, politics, and religion. An overall guide to the background of the product provides an introduction to the book before delving into the actual setting itself.

The first chapter, entitled City at the Crossroads, contains information deemed by the author to be “player-friendly”, and even recommended as a primer for the players to read before starting a Parsantium campaign. It contains a summary of nearly 2000 years of history leading up to the current age of the city, as well as a general timeline of the rise and fall of empires in the surrounding lands. The world in which Parsantium resides is its own unique setting as well, and the author makes note of variations to the standard Pathfinder RPG races. The author includes five different types of humans which can be played in the setting, which correspond roughly to medieval European, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese/Mongolian, and Viking (Rus?) cultures. There are seventeen setting specific backgrounds to choose from as well, to further immerse new characters into the realm of Parsantium.

The second chapter covers Life in the City, and covers pretty much all aspects of living in the free city of Parsantium. There are sections about the reigning families and the political structure of the city, as well as the standing army and navy – this is set up very Roman Empire style with Prefects and Tribunes and other offices in a top down hierarchical structure. City laws and the legal system are also covered in some detail here, along with a table of “crime and punishment” with penalties ranging from fines to death sentances. The author goes into great detail discussing culture and customs, covering everything from food and dress of various races to a calendar (very Roman) and festivals held in the city. Entertainments in Parsantium include a coliseum (gladiators and chariot races), public bathhouses, and a theatre, as well as the standard array of inns, gambling houses, brothels and drug dens. There are clearly some strong influences of ancient Roman and Persian culture at work here in Parsantium, and some of it is not very “fantasied up” at all.

The author talks about what it’s like Running a Campaign in Parsantium, and gives some substantial aid to Gamemasters to help jumpstart the use of the product in their worlds. This includes about a half dozen campaign themes and a chart of random encounters which can affect the city from time to time. There is a section describing the services available in the city, and an overview of the physical structure of Parsantium, its walls and roads, and the strait it encompasses for its harbor.

The vast bulk of Parsantium - City at the Crossroads resides in the fourth chapter, and serves as a Gazetteer for the setting. Nearly half the page length of the book is used to reveal the Eleven Wards of the city of Parsantium, as well as its inhabitants, merchants, dwellings, plots and secrets of this setting. Specific NPCs in this section are described only by Alignment, Race, Level, and Class, allowing them to be fleshed out using whatever stats a GM might choose – this simply provides a relative gauge of the power level between NPCs and the characters. This chapter also covers the Hidden Quarter – a labyrinth of tunnels and catacombs running under the city – as well as nearby areas just outside the city. Overall, this is where a GM will go to while running the town and designing many of the plots and adventures for a campaign.

The fifth and sixth chapters of Parsantium - City at the Crossroads details various organizations operating in the city and the religions which are worshipped here in public and in secret. The organizations cover the full spectrum in the city, noble houses, cults and gangs, adventuring orders and fighting orders, and a number of guilds. This section also covers one of the main plotlines that might engage player-characters in the city of Parsantium, and potentially lead to some epic high level play, so specific details have been omitted to avoid spoliers. As for religions, the various deities of the human races are covered here as well, including a Roman-esque pantheon, and the actual pantheon of India, and some deities of China.

It should be noted that this is one of those content areas which felt a bit disjointed, with the author masking the Roman style gods with some fantasy stylings, but actually using the real deities of real Earth cultures. Certainly, this lends itself to an exotic feeling about the city’s cultures, but introducing a thuggee cult of Kali might seem a bit heavy handed to some gamers looking for a fantasy experience.

Overall Score: 3.4 out of 5.0


Conclusions

In many respects, Parsantium - City at the Crossroads is a fine product, and presents a great micro-setting to use in a Pathfinder RPG campaign (or any other D&D styled game for that matter). The city is well detailed and has so many potential plot points that a band of characters might quest within its walls for years, and never venture outside them for the majority of their adventuring careers. The writing is top-notch and imaginative, but some of the use of Earth cultures and religions can feel out of place without putting them through some sort of “fantasy filter”.

Overall, Parsantium - City at the Crossroads provides a lot of new and unique content in a quasi-historical fantasy setting - which is likely to remind more experienced gamers of the Man Myth and Magic RPG. It has a lot of detail and content, and a very reasonable price, so might just be a perfect product to use to get out of the typical high-fantasy Tolkien-minded mode so many D&D-esque world settings represent.

Editorial Note
: This Reviewer received a complimentary playtest copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.


Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 3.25
  • - Design: 3.5 (Solid writing and editing; decent utilitarian layout)
  • - Illustrations: 3.0 (Lovely cover art, but interior illustrations a bit hit-n-miss)
  • Content: 3.5
  • - Crunch: 3.5 (Good adaptation of Pathfinder rules to the setting)
  • - Fluff: 3.5 (Interesting blend of historical and fantasy elements)
  • Value: 3.5 (Very good price for a complete micro-setting)
 

Comments

Stainless

First Post
An excellent review and I agree with all of it. I think your comment, "... contains undiluted elements of ancient Earth cultures, which can feel a bit jarring at times when juxtaposed against more fantasy elements." is spot on and the main criticism I have of the book. The art didn't bother me much. Overall, it's an exotic and very realistic city with a ton of plot hooks that I like very much.
 

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