Unedifying Unedited

#1
The Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns is overwritten, underdeveloped, unedited, contradictory, and repetitive. The Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns is a frustrating book to read and therefore likely a frustrating book to use. These are not good words with which to start a review and these not good words which as a reviewer that I want to write, but they have to be written. And as frustrating as it is to have to write them, they have to be written at the top of the review because they are the primary impression of the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns after having read it. It is also frustrating because it is very obvious what the authors of the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns were trying to do and it very obvious that the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns is full of ideas, and it is just about obvious that the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns is not without potential. Lastly it is frustrating that as a professional editor that there was nobody involved in the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns to help its authors reach that potential.

So what is the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns? Published by Wisdom Save Media, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns is the second in the publisher’s series of ‘Pocket Companion’ supplements. The first, the Pocket Companion: A Tavern Guide, presented a plethora of inns and taverns, from highest of high-class establishments to the lowest of dives, from forests to mountains, villages to cities, and more. As its title suggests, the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns, widens the scope of the series to cover long established settlements large and well, larger. From mountains to swamps, jungles to deserts, the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns details some twelve cities which the Game Master—or Dungeon Master—can add to her campaign world.


Each of the twelve entries follows the same format. This begins with a listing of the settlement’s ‘Points of Interest’, ‘In a Nutshell’ gives a basic description of it, ‘Location’, ‘The People of …’ the settlement describes its inhabitants, ‘Trading and Taverns’ describes drinking establishments and the settlement’s trade, ‘Popular Establishments’ presents more taverns, blacksmiths, and other shops, ‘Locations, Shops and Sights’ describes particular districts, ‘Tourist Traps’ are more detailed descriptions of the settlement’s ‘Points of Interest’, and lastly ‘NPC’s’ details unique and individual characters. Each entry is also accompanied by two tables, one of popular establishments and the other of important NPCs. In general, the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns is well organised and it is easy to pick things off the page.


The twelve towns and cities include Barrelside, a city divided between the rich north and heavily-taxed poor south, almost at war with each other, but renowned for its bards’ college; Greywater stands on stilts in a swamp, a known haunt of both pirates and smugglers; and Zha’rath is an island city which caters to pirates. So there is a fair degree of variety in the types of city presented in the supplement, but drill down and oddities appear. So the inhabitants of some cities have particular customs and do not like them being broken, even by outsiders, but not once is the reader told what these customs are. Everything seems to be local (except when it is not), there are always taverns and blacksmiths, and it seems that there is always one little shop hidden away, waiting to be discovered. Cities are never located by a river, they are always divided by it. Then there are the inconsistencies, such as the city which might be on the edge of a desert or in the middle of a vast expanse of desert or that a city has docks for the trade ships which use the river that the city straddles to reach the sea, a route which runs through treacherous gorges and over imposing cliffs. How exactly do the ships get to the sea?


Again and again, the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns leaves the reader—the potential user as Game Master—to decide on such matters. To literally do the development work that the book is so clearly crying out for. Perhaps the descriptions might have been helped by maps, but there is only one and that feels more like a wilderness map than city map.


However, the dozen city descriptions are not the only content in the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns. It starts with four plot hooks, such as an empty city in sky and a series of bangs which come from a number of robed spellcasters lobbing spells at a tower and the guards attempting to stop them—sadly neither of the twelve detailed later on, and it ends with a set of tables for Urban Encounters and for developing the Underbelly—the city’s criminal underworld, and then spaces for the Game Master to write up her own. The tables are basic enough, but they are simple, clear, and easy to use as prompts for developing aspects of a settlement by the Game Master.


Physically, the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns looks clean and simple. The artwork is adequate, although it does not always seem quite relevant, such as stone bridge in a swamp town where everything is built on stilts.


In any book there has to be some merit, something worth the time of the reader or potential Game Master or Dungeon Master, but truthfully the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns is almost bereft. All for the want of an editor and somebody asking, in too many instances, if that was what the authors meant. What merit there is, is as a source of ideas perhaps, details to spur the reader’s imagination, because that is what he will have to work in order to make use of the contents of the Pocket Companion: A Guide to Cities and Towns.


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