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Reviews: Bluffside - City on the Edge
 
by Joe G. Kushner


Bluffside coverBluffside: City on the Edge
Published by Thunderhead Games
Edited by Jim Govreau and Becky Glenn
144 b & w pages, six page map

Bluffside, called City on the Edge, is home to lost history and a dangerous future. The ruins were once Sem La Vah, a city large enough to host three million people who were known as the Barrokks. The denizens of this city suffered what has been called the Great Sundering, putting an end to the Barrok civilization until explorers came and found that what wiped out the Barrokks left behind deposits of adamantine. Two hundred years, several alliances, and many invasions latter, Bluffside stands out like a diamond in the rough.

Bluffside, Section By Section
Broken up into twelve different chapters with ten appendices, the book boasts some impressive crunchy bits as well as providing the GM with a place to put it all. The book is presented in standard format, meaning two columns on most pages with art and tables breaking up the terrible tyranny of text. The art ranges from great to a little hokey in places, but I often had the feeling, such as with the bleeding goblin head, that it's done in an exaggerated style. The character and monster based art looks better than the buildings, which in many places look a little clustered due to size limitations.

Chapter One, the introduction, provides the reader with an idea on how to use the book, including what its abbreviations mean. For example, POIs are places of interest, locations where characters are likely to go. The history of Bluffside provides the GM with some background material to use in Bluffside, but nothing so detailed that a GM couldn't throw this setting into the Sword & Sorcery's Scarred Lands or Troll Lord's Erde with a little work. Most of the history focuses on the last two hundred years, since the city was repopulated and the alliances with strange races that have occurred in that time frame including steam gnomes and the winged Sixam Iuena among others.

Chapter Three, "Timeline," and Four, "Population" (60,000 and growing for those counting) aren't really chapters so much as bits of information. Even Chapter Five, "Power Structure," is more about providing the reader with a general flow of organizations than a detailed breakdown.

It's really chapters six through eight that give Bluffside life as each one of these sections covers different parts of the city. From looking at the cover, a casual glance will provide one with some interesting information. The first part is that Bluffside isn't your traditional city. Instead it's broken up into different mini-cities that can almost be lifted whole and without work into other settings, making this a truly modular city. Indeed, the focus of these chapters provides the GM with an introduction via fiction, history, and a mini-map with POIs (Places of Interest) noted thereon.

Chapter Six, Bluffside Proper, provides details on life in Old City, the Miner's District, Temple District, Military Disctrict, Wizard District, and New City. Each section boasts its own personality and details. Old City is the original home of many of the settlers here and has an upper class snobbery about it. Then again, it's also home to the Sixam Ieuna's Aerie and the Embassy of the dragon-like Dragori. The Palace, the seat of government in Bluffside, also towers over the city like some boastful giant. In the Wizard District, each school of magic has it's own 'house' to train in complete with colors and symbol.

The Temple District reminds me a little of Lankhmar's Street of the Gods. Different religions are clustered together and one can either worship one of the new deities within the book or use the local campaign pantheon. One aspect of Bluffside that's different is the acknowledgement of 'foreign' gods like the temple Valhalla. There, the characters can meet Walnd, who worships Odin and seeks to make Odin's name known to all who shop Bluffside. Of course, there are those little crazy gods like Carl's Temple where the crazed members of a dangerous cult worship Gray Ooze.

During the New City's history, the steam gnomes are discovered. The rivalry between New City and Old City begins to heat up as well. Part of this is from people moving to New City and flexing their power where the strength of old government isn't quite as effective.

Chapter Seven, the Undercity, provides the GM with the sewer system layout. This is a boon to any GM looking for some ideas on how the sewer systems might work in a fantasy setting (I would've loved to see something like this in Sword & Sorcery's Mithril). Just as important are the dangers of the sewers, and I'm not just talking about wandering monsters. There's diseases like Blinding sickness, Filth fever, Typhoid, Cholera, and Wheezing Lung to deal with here.

Chapter Eight details the last section of the city, but certainly not the least, Sordadon. This is the small island in the Bay that was possible only with the intervention of the Steam Gnomes whose technology enables trade to flow from the heights of Old Town to this man made island. Sordadon has numerous canals and boats with different districts being broke up by color. Blue for Harbor, Green for Sea, Yellow for Shipping and Red for Commoners. Each one of these districts has its own POIs like the Golden Palace Inn or the Citadel of Phenbras, the prison of Bluffside.

Chapter Nine, "Guilds," provides the GM with the different powers in the city. This chapter has some crossover with Chapter Five in my mind, and the two probably could've been combined into one larger chapter. Here the reader can find out about the Archaeological Guild, the Miners and Burrowers Society, the Society of Explorers and Adventuers, and the Trader's League. Each organization only receives a little detail though, another reason this would've been good to merge with another chapter.

Chapter Ten, "Secret Societies," provides the GMs with several such groups: the Chill Brings, an organization that seeks to bring the world to a frozen time; the Golden Sabres, a collection of criminals who deal in various illicit trades; the Hammers (who made an appearance in Interludes), another order of rogues dealing in illegal activities; Order of the Flame, a guild that seeks to destroy ice based creatures; and Umbra Incognita, the "official" thieves guild of Bluffside.

Chapter Eleven, "Outside Bluffside," includes a regional map that shows the lands around the city. This includes the Coldwind Forest, the small hamlet of Kirkwood, the city of Perten, the fortress of the Orcs of the Two Fisted Clan, and other hints at material like the Dragon Sands, another setting coming up from the guys at Thunderhead Games or the Steam Gnome Civlizations. Despite the breadth of coverage, the material isn't deep. In this case, I feel that's a good thing since the city is meant to be portable and providing too much detail on the outlaying areas would ground Bluffside in a campaign world instead of remaining a campaign setting.

Chapter twelve, "Religion," introduces the gods of Bluffside. One of the interesting things here is that the gods here fuel the spells of both good and evil clerics. This is a route taken by a few other publishers, but for the most part, a path unused. The gods are not provided any statistics. Each god has information on the deity and its worshippers, including a symbol. Most of these gods have no specific names. Instead, the gods have general names such as the Great Provider, the Ethereal One, the Lord of Ice, or the Miner. There are twelve gods listed, with only two, the Builder and the Miner, having names, Hlarin and Tagore, both steam gnomes who reached godhood.. The Gods Worshipped in Bluffside table provides the GM with a quick reference of the Names, Prominent Domains, Weapons, Symbols and Portfolio.

For many, the true strength of Bluffside isn't going to be in the city, but rather the massive amount of crunchy stuff that comes with it, detailed in the appendixes. Appendix One provides full stats for the NPCs listed in the book. No role-playing notes are included here, nor any page references. Instead, each NPC is listed by first name. Appendix Two covers the creatures of Bluffside. These include the adamantine guardian, a construct who guards the adamantine in Bluffside, as well as the massive Bay Guardian, a magical whale-like beast. Appendix Three provides stats for the Guards of Bluffside, broken up by area, in alphabetical order.

Some of the best material comes in Appendix Four, "Races." Here, the Dragori are provided stats. This includes the Dragori-Nen, the Dragori-Fehr, and the Draogi-Sah. Each race is a related but different from one another. The Nen are strong and enduring, while the Fehr are fast but frail, while the Sah are charismatic but lacking in strength. Each race has a full listing of bonuses and penalties. In addition, the Nevaequariani (Nevae or Dark Souls), Sel'varahn, Sixam Ieuna, and Steam Gnomes are detailed. The Nevae are half high elf and half drow, while the Sel'Varahn are an aquatic race that trades with Bluffside. The Sixam Ieuna are winged human like warriors, while the Steam Gnomes are mechanical experts whose machine knowledge makes them valuable to Bluffside.

More high quality material comes in Appendix Five, "Prestige Classes." These include the Bluffside Mountain Ranger, the Cat Burglar, the Explorer, and the Tunnel Fighter. Each of these is a ten level PrC and while some may not be for every player, GMs will find use for the others. The Cat Burglar in particular looks like it was designed to play havoc with a player's piece of mind.

Appendix Six, "Spells," includes 24 mystic innovations. There are high powered spells like Ice Meteors and Blizzard, to moderately powerful spells like Acid Bath, Shadow Form, and Snowball.

Appendix Seven, "Equipment," includes Archaeologist Tools, Tumbler Locks, and Stethoscopes among the mundane items and Tail weapons for the Dragoni like Needle, Razors and Spikes. My only complaint about this section is that the information isn't provided in a table, which would speed up reference.

Appendix Eight, "Magic Items," includes unique magic items as well as standard ones. Among the items listed are the Benandrith, a quarterstaff that enables its user to wield it as a double weapon, and Gauntlet of Ice, a weapon that enables the user to fire a cone of cold or ray of frost. Each item comes with information on how to create them as well.

Appendix Nine, "Feats," includes Aerial Combat, Intuitive Knowledge, Power Dive, Skill Sacrifice, Spellmarking, and Swim-by Attack. Intuitive Knowledge is a bit different for a feat, in that it provides the character skill points for using up a feat slot. Skill Sacrifice goes the other route and allows a bard to sacrifice skill points to gain spells. Spellmarking allows the a spellcaster to craft a spell into a target's skin to call up latter. Aerial Combat and Swim-by Attack both augment the user's ability to fight in those environments.

Appendix Ten, "Domains," includes Affliction, Combat, Emotion, Entropy, Flight, History, Ice, Inventory, Mining, Nature, Peace, Shadow, Skullduggery, Undeath and Weather. Each domain includes the deities associated with the domain, granted powers, and list of spells from 1st through 9th level. Unique spells introduced in this book are marked by not being bold faced for ease of reference.

The book wraps up with a three page Index and closes out with the obligatory Open Game License. Well, not quite. A one page ad for Interludes: Sands of Pain takes up the very last page.

The map is glued to the book and was easy to remove. I was quite pleased at this as I'm terrible removing maps from books and often wind up breaking out a modeling knife to remove 'em. Bluffside's is a great overhead six-page map, but it's mostly for show as there is no legend and one of the sections of the city, Sordadon, is missing.

In addition to the book itself, Thunderhead Games has what it calls "The Vault." This is a collection of files meant to augment the Bluffside experience, which so far includes various maps of the undercity, symbols of the gods, and other city maps. The only thing I didn't like about the undercity maps is they were done in .FCW format, which meant I had to download the good old Campaign Cartographer viewer. The price was right, though.

Overall, Bluffside offers a lot to like. The portability is very high, especially since each part of the city can be lifted and placed in a campaign without the other pieces. The generic names of the gods provides the GM with the opportunity to either slot his own gods into the setting, or use these gods without a great deal of pain. The introduction of new races occurs in a manner that makes sense and doesn't overwhelm the human population. The trick of putting all the crunchy goodies in the back enables those looking only for such treats to go right to the section they need.

GMs looking to add some spice to their campaign should look at Bluffside. One would do well to augment the material in the book and craft their own campaign world with Bluffside as the apple of the campaign's eye. Any GM should consider the $22.95 a good investment.


 

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