Haven: The Free City (1981, 1984)

I’ve got more Thieves’ Guild books to go through another time, but we’ve got bigger fish to fry. My unofficial theme this month is cities, and Gamelords made a doozy of one with Haven: The Free City. The first version is loose-leaf in a zip-lock bag, published in 1981, the second a box set that came out in 1984. Both have the same written material, a big map and a set of fine-detail neighborhood maps on card stock. The box set has additional, nicer art and each city district is its own little booklet, which is a nice way to organize things.

And wow, what a city. Just for context, at this point, you have City-State of the Invincible Overlord out there, which is awesome but is the fun house dungeon version of a city. And you have Midkemia’s City materials, which sort of split the difference between portraying the city through experiences (random encounters and bustle) and locations (specific buildings), and which is also used for Chaosium’s Thieves’ World, (out the same year as Haven). And Haven has lots of all of that — buildings are detailed, history laid out, tables are provided for bustling streets — but the city itself is really portrayed through its many, many highly detailed and individual characters.

That doesn’t really become a thing that other folks try to do until…the Waterdeep box set in 1994? And even then, City of Splendors doesn’t really do it well. I can’t think of many city books that do — maybe Uncaged: Faces of Sigil for Planescape, to an extent? Way ahead of its time, I think. And essentially an amateur press production to boot!

The city has lots of charm. It feels very much in the mode of Lankhmar or Thieves’ World’s Sanctuary, very grounded in realism, without being boring. I love to know the good restaurants in a city and find out what folks do for fun. There’s a theater district! There is a creep who haunts it, too! It all feels livable and lived in, in a pretty unique way. Perhaps the best part: folks don’t really seem to know how good this thing is, so you can still find it for cheap!

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