Basically, this is a wonderfully-detailed city to use as a base for urban adventures. It's a port, so there is the potential for nautical adventures to begin (or end) here as well. Cunningly, the city is self-contained with few references to what lies beyond the walls - so you can place it in a convenient location within an existing campaign world. But it is not, as cities often are, a place where adventurers go between adventures, but with its rich history and largely-unexplored subterranean labyrinth below provides plenty of scope for exploits to gain fame and fortune right here in town.
To facilitate this, the designers have woven several themes throughout the city. Firstly, adventure. It's a place that attracts adventurers so your characters will never be alone... some may like the comparative anonymity, others may not like the lack of attention and bards singing about other people's exploits! Faith is also important, as will be revealed by study of the city's history, although to a casual observe Crown might appear a pretty atheist place. There's also quite a lot of intrigue. The place is governed by a queen, but there is continuous jockeying for place and power within her court and the city. Finally, there are secrets - many of which have yet to be unearthed, others which are kept jealously by those who have discovered them. DMs are encouraged to keep these themes in mind when planning adventures within the city walls.
The introduction out of the way, the rest of the book is made up of two sections. The first is about characters, and provides novel ways of customising characters for this setting whilst keeping them compatible with the rest of the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset (thus enabling you to take them out of Crown into other settings published or home-grown). The second part describes the city, providing the DM with everything he needs to know to run a campaign set here.
Next, though, comes a full-page map of the entire city and a story, To Err is Mortal. It tells the tale of a thief, a cultist attempting to serve an evil master, a street urchin and an orb of power...
So, to Chapter 1: The Races. While standard Player's Handbook races can be used as is, but some variant ideas are presented here to reflect how they have adapted to the city over countless generations. Part of this customisation is done by Cultural Knowledge, a class skill for members of a given racial community rather than those of a specified class. There are also minor races which live here, perhaps it's the only place that they are found or it may just be that they do not interact with other races elsewhere (or you may like them well enough that they become common denizens of your campaign world!). Each race has its own story about why they came to Crown, and the sorts of occupations they have today - all makes for a rounded ready-made background which gives a character of that race a heritage of their own over and above whatever backstory the player devises. A fascinating panel gives each race's commonly held opinion of all the others, a nice touch. The chapter rounds off with a list of the many languages spoken (and who by) and charts for determining the height, weight and age of your character.
Chapter 2: The Classes takes a similar approach to character classes. The standard classes may be played, with one exception: there are no clerics here. Instead of clerics, Crown dwellers can become either cultists (who serve powers other than deities) or devoted (who reckon that although banished, the gods still speak to those who will listen). Cultists are often demon-worshippers, and thus cult membership is illegal and practised in secret rather than openly. Oathbound Knights and Sellswords are also available, as well as several prestige classes to work towards.
Next, Chapter 3: New Rules explains how to use some of the new features introduced here. Firstly, 'background feats' - somewhat weaker than regular feats, these should be chosen at 1st level to reflect the character's background before he began adventuring... the alternate rules presented herein suggest that each character takes three background feats. Alternatively, a character can choose from a list of racial feats appropriate to his race. Some more general new feats are also described, which may be taken whenever a character qualifies for another feat, provided he meets the prerequisites.
A systematic approach to lore is next. Crown is a city of knowledge as well as one of adventure, and these rules are designed to enable you to determine what an individual knows. The knowledge skill is expanded with various new areas and specialties within both these and existing knowledge skill topics, and a system of lore points - gained according to class as you rise in level - enables each character to focus in the aspects of knowledge that he finds most interesting or useful.
We now move on to the second part of the book, which describes the setting, the city of Crown itself, in great detail. It begins with Chapter 4: The City - an overview, trying to convey the 'feel' of the city, before launching into greater detail on the different wards or districts, organisations and personalities to be encountered therein. It's suggested that players read the overview, but not the detail. As well as a brief description of the wards, this section also introduces something of the general character of the populace, and touches on the history and legal system, timekeeping, festivals, trade and many more matters that the visitor will need to know about to make the most of his time here.
Chapter 5: History of a City goes into much greater detail about the past, and its resonances today - as well as an interesting sidebar on time travel and why it might be of interest... perhaps characters seek to experience some of the history of the city for themselves, or feel that tampering with the past may improve the present. There is a detailed timeline as well as accounts of events of particular significance. Notes on the relevant checks against your knowledge of history are included for those characters who want to see how much they can recall... or this wealth of detail will be useful for those who prefer to research in a library.
Next, Chapter 6: Wards of Crown provides a detailed gazetteer. For each ward, there's an encounter table for chance meetings as the characters go about their business, as well as general ideas for adventure, and material on major locations and personalities to be found there. A selection of rumours can also be found - and just about everything spawns ideas for adventure if not whole campaigns as you read through it.
Chapter 7 gives similar details to Organisations within the city. For each, the location of their base or main meeting place is given, along with the interests and aims of that organisation and some of its leading members. Chapter 8: Monsters provides some new ones found in, around and most noteably underneath the city. The chapter also describes the likely places in which some of the creatures in the Monster Manual might be found.
The book winds up with two appendices. First is a Glossary, which covers just about every important bit of information in the book, it's a good place to start if a name crops up and you want to know more about it (or give a quick summary to an enquiring player!). The second appendix contains spell lists for the new spellcasting character classes presented earlier... although these are only one-line summaries, even for new spells; full details are promised to be in a forthcoming publication.
Overall it is a fascinating and detailed city to use as the location for no end of urban adventures, and is highly recommended to groups who enjoy interaction as well as combat and delving into dungeons. It sets the scene for future supplements to explore other aspect in and underneath the city in further detail... and some more maps would be nice.
Return to Crown Campaign Setting page.
Reviewed: 5 July 2008