Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Review: Death's City (mild spoilers)

The new installment in the Warhammer series begun with Death's Messenger, Death's City follows Rudi, Hanna, and Fritz as they try to make their way in the bustling port city of Marienburg. Along the way, they'll encounter new allies and foes, as well as some familiar faces from their home in the village of Kohlstadt.

Death's Messenger was brought out at about the same time as the new version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and tried to tell a story that captured the more gritty and low-level feel of the roleplaying game, rather than the massed battles and god-like figures that dominate Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40k. Death's City continues this trend, focusing on the lives of three small-town kids making their way in the big city; it also seems to intend to stay as close as possible to the WFRP rules, seeing at least two of the characters in the book undergo a 'career change', the normal method for advancement in WFRP games. Rudi goes from being a rustic Woodsman to being the newest member of the Marienburg city Watch; Fritz makes the transition from simple-minded militiaman to simple-minded bodyguard.

Whatever else can be said about Death's City, it certainly doesn't drag. Weighing in at almost 400 pages, the combination of fairly large print and frequent action means that the book will make for only a little more than an evening's reading for fast readers. The characters certainly develop from where they were left in Death's Messenger, but at times those transformations seem like a bit much. Rudi's transformation from a somewhat hapless country boy to an unstoppable combatant is particularly odd, though author Sandy Mitchell may be either trying to imply some sort of supernatural intervention on his behalf, or simply mirroring the rather abrupt advancement that RPG-style character development can produce.

While these minor bumps can wrankle, overall the pages keep turning and the story remains engaging. The picture of Marienburg painted is somewhat anachronistic, though still overall conforming to Warhammer's 'low fantasy' roleplay setting. It also made me repeatedly kick myself for missing my opportunity to pick up Anthony Ragan's Marienburg: Sold Down the River sourcebook several years back, when I finally heard about Hogshead's new WFRP publications. The book ends without the sort of wrenching cliff hanger that ended Death's Messenger, but gives enough new insight into the mysteries surrounding Rudi's birth that I was still eager to see where the series was going.

Overall, Mitchell's Death's City is a fine addition to the Black Library's WFRP-focused publishing series, and an enjoyable way to pass an evening or so. WFRP fans might be particularly pleased to see the nuts and bolts of their game represented well in print, providing novice GMs with some notion of how career changes and advancement can work in practice. We also get some additional flavor about Marienburg and the Wasteland, and confirmation that Solkan (one of the Law gods from WFRP v1) hasn't yet been consigned to the Great Warp (though there's no telling if this will be actual canon for Black Industries future efforts.

Buy Death's City or Death's Messenger from Amazon.

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