City-State of the Sea Kings Review
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Post Posted: Tue Jul 23, 2013 7:42 am 

I've been a Judges Guild fan for... well, let's just say a long time  :wink:  So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of new material for my favorite fantasy world.

City-State of the Sea Kings (CSSK) starts off fairly strong, with a rousing history of the City State that goes into a bit more detail than was originally available. It then hits the ball right out of the park with a run-down of the surrounding towns and villages, turning what was originally random, sometimes confusing relationships and fleshing them out. For example, how a town came to be called "Abject", and how its leader, a paladin, came to found the village. It often seems that a lot of the old JG material was arrived at through random tables (and some likely was), but the author of CSSK makes it all make sense.

Rallu, the City-State of the Sea Kings itself, is well put together, but left me a bit wanting. Previous JG material, such as the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, presented a cavalcade of weird and sometimes mysterious shopkeepers and tavern owners, with lots of eccentricities. Rallu? Not so much. Too many of the citizens of Rallu are upstanding pillars of the community. While it might make Rallu a nice place to live, such nice and well-liked people don't make Rallu an exciting place to visit for your average adventurer. Weirdness and a touch of evil here and there (more here than there), creates story hooks. It gives adventurers a reason to remember visiting the blacksmith's shop where the blacksmith was a werewolf, or the bowyer who was a Celtic deity's avatar.

Granted, the Judge can always add this kind of detail, but it would have been nice to see more of it. Don't get me wrong; there are a lot of shops and taverns detailed, as well as multiple Thieves Guilds and other organizations, but the Judge will have to add his or her own spice to make the recipe come alive.

Typos, while still a problem, are not as grievous as many game products. Possessives versus plurals were a bit maddening, but the sentences were at least complete 99% of the time. I also did not see any instances where an NPC had one name on one page, and a different one elsewhere. All in all, a solid effort mechanically.

I get the feeling this manuscript exists somewhere as a hyperlinked document, what with highlights being used in place of parentheses, and one of these highlights simply being something like "see entry here." The use of the highlights was distracting and took away from the presentation, in my opinion. Parentheses would have been just fine.

Artwork was solid and well-executed.

So, should you buy this? If you are a fan of the Wilderlands, absolutely. I finished the book with a genuine desire to send my players to visit the tropical seaport, and to explore the Isle of the Blest and it's colorful towns and villages. I don't think it's going to attract very many new devotees to the Wilderlands. Perhaps with a bit more local color, and a cleaner, more professional layout, it might. But if you own any Judges Guild material, City-State of the Sea Kings is a worthy addition to your collection. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll eventually see a City-State of the Mages (Tula) in the future, and that the wizards, monsters, and demons walking its streets are brought to interesting life.


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Post Posted: Wed Jul 24, 2013 12:06 am 

The background for the surrounding towns and villages was done during the Wilderlands Boxed Set project and the 18 maps were a team effort of a lot of designers including myself, Chris Bernhardt, Rob Conley, Steve Edwards, Steve Stottrup, Gabor Lux, Jeff Black, Jim Collura and Bob himself. To this was added the Ruins and Relics, Idyllic Isles and Lurid Lairs. In all 90 separate files from dozens of designers were combined and some edited by myself and Bob and further edited and converted to 3.5 by the Necromancer team. I am glad to see Chris take this and expand it to Rallu itself and finally complete this. I heartily congratulate him on his efforts!

Former JG Designer 1981-2008, Former JG Production Design Manager 1999-2008


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Post Posted: Thu Jul 25, 2013 7:47 am 

Would love to add this review to the site when I get the book myself and the page on the site, if that is okay Fred?
Would love to have it by now, but the shipping costs seemed high so shall get someone to grab this at GenCon - and possibly signed at that.


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Post Posted: Thu Aug 01, 2013 7:36 pm 

Sure, Shane.


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Post Posted: Mon Jan 05, 2015 12:06 am 


Let me start by saying thank you for all the praise, CSSK really was a labor of love.

I also do want to thank you for the critique, though, in a lot of ways, it really strikes me somewhat suspect; in that some of the things you comment on are things that should be commonplace to true JG fans. For one, the chapter of the book on the shops - something you condemn for the 'niceties' of the citizenry - specifically states, at the start of it, that the attitudes of the townsfolk mentioned is that for locals. The attitudes that are shown to all visitors would be more akin to that of a Chaotic Evil persons' behavior toward any other type of individual. A key point that anyone that read the book in depth would have seen.

Another key point, while something that is up for discussion in today's publishing efforts, but should not have been a real issue, is the 'openness' of the product. One of the main factors of JG products over the years has been the items' giving 'just enough' information, and not bogging the Judge down with a lot of forced play presentation. To clarify; JG products have always left the door open for a Judge to make the product 'their own', rather than having to force-fit the module etc into a preset mold. CSSK follows this premise - more to the point, it embraces this premise to the level that it begs to be seen in no other way than that of a true JG product. Again, referring back to the previous; in today's market, this might be construed as a possible point of contention, but we prefer to view it otherwise.

In your reference to the 'highlighting'. I want to say, I had the product done up that way, with parenthesis and not the highlighting, but I was told to do it otherwise, and that the highlight would be a better choice, and less distracting - go figure. After seeing your review, I realize now that I should have probably gone with my gut on that issue, but, water under the bridge, as they say.

As far as typos are concerned, the manuscript was edited 4 times, and I, myself, went through it from cover to cover as part of that, and, while I do admit to at least a few possible typo items, I dare say that I would challenge you to present me with much more than that. Additionally, the possessives were a singular point of focus on the project; Bob II himself having proofed it for these items, as well. If there are, in fact, as many as you claim, I would actually be interested in some examples so that I can address this matter even more in depth in the future.

As to the layout, I must admit to some ire in any reference to it being 'unprofessional'. I do admit to the fact that it is, indeed, my first such attempt. But, the product was looked over by those who have made successful layouts themselves, and no major gripes or corrections were proffered. Personally, having seen a great many of the new products released recently, I have to say, without trying to pat myself on the back, my book was at least as clean - if not cleaner - than most that I have read.

In all, I have to say though that, if you have indeed read the CSSK book completely, and are an individual who would run RPG's using such a product, then you truly must not have read the product as completely as you would have one believe by your inference. There are literally hundreds of possible plot hooks, good and bad (evil & good as well), and items of serious gamer contention in the product; and, if you would look the book over more carefully, I am sure you would see all of these. If you would be open to a little reverse-critique, my interpretation of your review is that of a player giving such, rather than the review having been given by a Judge; who would have access to all the information I am speaking of. Just my take on what I have read here.

I genuinely thank you for taking the time to read my product, and give your thoughts on the book. I appreciate any and all comments on CSSK; it is the only way that a writer can truly improve their abilities. Along those lines, and in deference to your hopes for CSotM, I am indeed working on the beginnings of that module/source book as we speak. However, due to other factors, such as the current new color JG map project, personal matters - not the least of which has been the issue of my brother being terminally ill, and his requirement of moving back home due to this - along with several other personal issues, the new City-State project is going to be some time off, for now. To be honest, the reason this reply to your post is so long in coming is directly related to all these previously mentioned matters too.

Thank you again for your time. Hope you will be able to look over CSotM in the future.

Keep smiling. If you can't smile, grin and bare your teeth. It looks the same, and your prepared to bite if necessary.

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