The City Of Brass

Title - City of Brass
Publisher - Necromancer Games (2007) distributed by Sword & Sorcery Studios
Format - Boxed Set w/ 3 books and one map booklet
System - d20 (edit)
Pages - 450 approx., including maps
MSRP - $69.99
Rating - 5 stars
Reviewer - Glenn Vincent Dammerung aka GVDammerung
Reviewers Note - I purchased City of Brass at Gencon 2007, having never before paid as much for an RPG product. After reading through the product, I figured it deserved to be reviewed at the very least.

“The Efreet howled in fear and fled when I caused the page to be read, and the Beast passed into the City of Brass. Now was I, Tzunk, Master of the Plane of Molten Skies. With sure hand I closed Ygrax’ Tome . . .”

With these words from the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, Dungeons and Dragons introduced the City of Brass into the game. See Dungeon Masters Guide (1st Edition AD&D, 1979) at p. 156 (entry for Codex of Infinite Planes). The setting to which direct reference was made was, of course, The World of Greyhawk. See id. Since this first introduction, three products have been released in which the City of Brass has been described in detail.

In 1993, TSR released Secrets of the Lamp (authored by Wolfgang Baur) for the Al-Qadim setting in which the City of Brass was mapped and described in detail. While the Al-Qadim setting was ostensibly set within the Forgotten Realms, Chapter 3 of the Secrets of the Lamp Adventure Book at p.13 reproduces the above quote, linking the City of Brass as described in Secrets of the Lamp to the World of Greyhawk. As the City of Brass is located on the inner planes, then shared by both the Realms and Greyhawk, this makes imminent sense.

In 2003, Kenzer and Company, under the Hack Master label, released Sir Robilar’s City of Brass (authored by Jeff Knight and Rob Kuntz). Of course, Sir Robilar is a noted personage in the World of Greyhawk and was a player character of Rob Kuntz in the original Greyhawk campaign run by Gary Gygax and Rob Kuntz. While produced for the Hack Master system, Sir Robilar’s City of Brass has an indisputable Greyhawk pedigree.

While both Secrets of the Lamp and Sir Robilar’s City of Brass described the City of Brass at length, the most extensive treatment of the City comes in 2007 with the release of City of Brass (CoB) from Necromancer Games for edition 3.5 of the Dungeons and Dragons game. Written by Casey Christofferson, Scott Greene and Clark Peterson, CoB is a boxed set of the old school sort containing three individual books and a map booklet. The production values throughout are extremely high although the art cannot be said to be a prominent feature of the CoB. The cover art of the boxed set is reproduced on each of the differently colored books and art within each book is somewhat infrequent. You don’t buy CoB for the art but for the information and there is a very great deal of that.

Book One of Three

The first book of CoB sports a red cover and runs to 128 pages. Within these pages, the City of Brass is physically described. The Table of Contents is as follows:

Chap 1 - Introduction
Chap 2 - History of the City of Brass
Chap 3 - The Plane of Molten Skies
Chap 4 - The Bazaar of Beggars
Chap 5 - City of Brass Overview
Chap 6 - The Upper City
Chap 7 - The Middle City
Chap 8 - The Lower City
Chap 9 - The Sultan’s Palace

As may be surmised from the Table of Contents, the CoB consists of four parts. The first part is located on the “mainland” of the Plane of Molten Skies and it contains the Bazaar of Beggars along with a ramshackle collection of other dwellings. Connected to this “mainland” portion of the city by a causeway is the actual CoB, which is surrounded by the Sea of Fire. This peninsular city consists of three levels, much like a layer cake. These are, of course, the Lower, Middle and Upper Cities, the Palace of the Sultan rising above all three at the top of a large pyramid/ziggurat that rises through all three levels of the city.

To say the least, the physical layout of the CoB is odd. The mainland portion is by far the largest. The triple leveled city at the end of the causeway is, all things considered, rather smaller than what might be anticipated, particularly when reference is had to prior treatments. Unfortunately, the CoB cannot be described, save generously, as physically imposing. It is merely odd. This less than ideal design decision is, however, rescued by the actual details of the city, which are surperb.

The Greyhawk connections are immediately presented in the history of the CoB. If the reference to the Plane of Molten Skies were itself insufficient, there is mentioned as well “the Grimoire of Infinite Worlds.” Similarly “disguised” Greyhawkian references (Fatavdra etc.) are found throughout the CoB. Of course, CoB cannot be a Greyhawk book for IP reasons but the proverbial hat is tipped in an obvious way to those familiar with the World of Greyhawk all the same, continuing the tradition begun in the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide. Just as certainly, however, CoB is much more than a Greyhawk pastiche.

We find, among other things, reference to one Abul’ al’Hazrad, a “mad” wizard, see p. 29 and p. 167, as well as the Necronomicon and the Cultes de Ghuls, see p. 165, 169. Then there are devils sharing the CoB with the dominant efreeti population, and most especially reference is made to Lucifer, p. 57, who should be immediately familiar to those acquainted with the infernal mythology presented in Necromancer’s Tome of Horrors books. To those unfamiliar, suffice to say Lucifer leads a group of renegade devils against the established powers of the Nine Hells lead by Asmodeus. This fight now comes to the CoB, which is a very nice development. Of course, there is the Blood War to consider and herein CoB is not to be found wanting as demons are also present within the CoB lead by Pazuzu, p. 58. It’s a three cornered infernal fight with the efreeti as referees and al’Hazard as the ring announcer. What’s not to like?

The evil deities Set and Kali are also present as are various djinnis, marids, rakshasas, night hags, kytons, erinyes, mariliths, bone devils, bearded devils, vrocks, balors, succubi, devas, planetars, fire giants, azer, salamanders, dragons, nagas, elves, drow, dwarves, gnomes, humans etc. In case the point is lost, CoB is a cosmopolitan planar city easily the equal in this regard of Sigil of Planescape fame but with a decidedly more evil bent. In other words, CoB is very, very multifaceted and equally cool for being so. Given this evil metropolis, it should be said that CoB is a bit “mature” but not to the point of sensationalism by any means. These are just evil entities going about their business and doing what comes natural. Conversely, there are pockets of good but they are pockets, tolerated/protected by the efreeti for their own (evil) purposes. Again, one is moved to ask, what’s not to like?

Book Two of Three

The second book of CoB sports a blue cover and runs to 111 pages. This book is subtitled 1001 Efreeti Nights and is a combination of further sourcebook (like Book One described above) and adventure book. The Table of Contents, with PC level and setting notes after, is as follows:

Chap 10 - Prologue (general overview and potential ways to tie the adventures together)
Chap 11 - The Path of the Prophet (for 12th - 14 Levels) (outskirts of city)
Chap 12 - The Shining Pyramid (for 13th -15th Levels) (temple of Set)
Chap 13 - The Minaret of Screams (for 14th -15th Levels) (prison with a nasty surprise)
Chap 14 - The Great Repository (for 12th - 15th Levels) (huge library)
Chap 15 - The City of the Dead Sultana (for 15th -17th Levels) (necrocopolis)
Chap 16 - The Circus of Pain (for 16th - 18th Levels) (circus/arena)
Chap 17 - The Khizanah (for 17th - 19th Levels) (bank)
Chap 18 - The Ziggurat of Flame (for 16th - 20th Levels) (citadel)
Chap 19 - The Pagoda of Devils (for 16th - 20th Levels) (tower/pagoda)
Chap 20 - The Tower of the Grand Vizier (for 18th - 20th Levels) (tower)

All of the adventures in Book Two are predominantly site based. These sites can be reused in a campaign after an adventure. All of the adventures in Book Two are very loosely structured. The plotlines are more outlines and keyed to the sites than fully ready to run adventures in and of themselves. This is not bad as it allows for DM freedom and provides more information on the setting. For example, The Great Repository provides details on the CoB’s chief library to include details of numerous books, to include nods to Necromancer Games’ other adventure products. This is just great stuff. Only DMs looking for front to back adventures like the Dungeon Crawl Classics from Goodman Games will be disappointed. These chapters are not DCCs.

Overall, the adventures in Book Two are okay. Without giving anything away, the adventures are high level “go here, accomplish that” sorts of affairs. They are not railroads but they are limited by the predominant site based format. This is good or bad depending on your taste. I appreciated the further details about the CoB more than the adventures as adventures. None of the adventures is “bad,” per se, although I found The Minaret of Screams to be a bit silly. Conversely, none of the adventures blew my socks off either.

Book Three of Three

The third book of CoB sports a black cover and runs to 187 pages (minus OGL and ads). This book contains appendices. The Table of Contents is as follows:

App 1 - NPCS (from Books One and Two fully stated out)
App 2 - New Monsters (75)
App 3 - Battle Slaves (NPCs for use with the Circus of Pain)
App 4 - New Spells (10)
App 5 - New Feats (3 general, 1 metamagic, 5 epic) and Magic Items (22 including 5 artifacts)
App 6 - New Classes (2 PrCs and 1 Base Class)
App 7 - 101 Story Seeds (approx. 1 paragraph for each, meaty for story seeds)

Something of a miscellany, Book Three nicely rounds out the CoB package suggesting many, many ways to further detail or spice a CoB campaign or the included adventures. Among the new monsters are new devil, demon, genie and dragon types. Not surprisingly, lots of fire, sand, heat types predominate thematically. The PrCs are the Black Jackal of Set (10 levels), shape shifting assassins, and the Order of Devils (9 levels), monks dedicated to the Lords of Hell. The base class is the alchemist (20 levels), with a pronounced poison, golem/homonculus focus. All around useful, good stuff.

Map Booklet

In the small map booklet, 64 or so individual maps are presented in 24 pages. All of the maps are black and white. They are all small; no poster maps. And they are all relatively uninspired. The maps are serviceable but nothing to write home about. The only exception is the map of the Plane of Molten Skies itself. Unlike some planar maps that look like a child’s fingerpainting (cough, Planescape, cough), the map of the Plane of Molten Skies looks and functions like an actual map. The old - how can you map an infinite plane - conundrum is very nicely handled by juxtaposing the Plane of Molten Skies with the planes of earth and air. In essence what is mapped is the confluence of three infinities, which while logically impossible is practically called for by D&D’s cosmology where one infinite plane abuts another.

Overall Impression

Far and away, Necromancer Games City of Brass is the best treatment of topic published to date. It is simply huge. Moreover, what is presented is a cosmopolitan planar city, a multiversal crossroads and bazaar, with the dial turned almost all the way to Evil. In its details, CoB delivers on this premise in spades. Politics, mundane, planar, and purely local, abound. At the same time, those just spoiling for a fight will not lack for really challenging opponents. High level is preferred. Epic is enabled. But there is also room for low level adventurers just so long as they remember they are low level adventurers. Stupid PCs will die, be enslaved or worse in CoB and fast.

If CoB has a fault it is in its maps. They are not up to the otherwise outstanding content of CoB. A secondary fault might be that the adventures are all predominantly site based. This can get old, even if each has its unique merits. These are minor quibbles, however.

For the Greyhawker, CoB fits nicely and well within the setting. The connections to the World of Greyhawk are right there and a big thank you to Necromancer for remembering who brought the City of Brass to the dance in the first place. At the same time, CoB is easily supplemented by Secrets of the Lamp and Sir Robilar’s City of Brass. My thought is to use the Secrets of the Lamp map supplemented by CoB’s maps and that from Sir Robilar’s City of Brass for a truly monumental city. The detailed locations from all three can be dropped in as needed.

Via a vis Planescape, CoB should fit seamlessly, save for the unique planar politics derived from Necromancer’s Tome of Horrors books. That should be an easy workaround and a better addition, if one is open minded. As compared to Sigil, CoB is much more “planar” in its feel, due in large measure to having none of the Factions to take attention away from the planar denizens doing their thing. CoB is driven by planar creatures presented as denizens of their respective planes, not Factions, which are a Planescape creation. This is not knocking Factions or Planescape but rather noting that the Factions create their own “feel” in Sigil while the feel of the planes as the planes in CoB is more pronounced because there is nothing else competing for attention with the planar creatures representing for their home planes.

I heartily recommend City of Brass from Necromancer Games. It is worth the steep asking price of $69.99.
 
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