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Cities (1979, 1983, 1986)

We recently did a podcast on Midkemia’s city books. Consider this week’s posts an echo and an expansion of that.

This is Cities — the original 1979 edition, the 1983 edition that features more professional art and the 1986 third edition (which appeared in two versions, a totally generic one published by Chaosium and one with RuneQuest branding, published by Avalon Hill — this is the latter). They all consist of two parts intended as generic tools for fantasy RPGs — an encounter matrix and the character catch-up, though there is some small variation of the contents of both across the editions.

The encounters are meant to be rolled every few minutes of game time spent on the street, to simulate the bustle of the big city. This works very well and often creates compounding problems — people bumping into you, pickpockets, detours, assassination attempts and on — as a party tries to go from Point A to Point B. It takes a commitment to play like this, but I think it is worth it, potentially pulling your group in surprising directions if used judiciously.

The catch-up is a solo game to use when your character couldn’t make a session — you use these random tables to find out what they were up to while you were away, which is a fantastic, immersive gameplay tool. It ties Bushido (1979) for being, essentially, the first mechanical approach to character downtime.

I love having the opportunity to see the art evolve over time from crummy doodles to more professional work. I really enjoy Richard Becker’s work in the latter Midkemia books. Dan and David Day deliver a serious mustache on the Chaosium version (we’ll see more of that dude) while the late, great Kevin Ramos stippled his way through the interiors.

One downside to these books is the weird preoccupation in both the text and art for slave markets and seedy depictions of sex work. I’d love to see a modern take on these sorts of tables without that stuff.  

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