Many gamers will fondly remember the classic 1e adventures that took the characters into the depths of the underdark, there to face dangers uncertain, new fantastic races like the drow, and a world beyond what they'd encountered so far. Many gamers also have a general fondness for underdark adventures, be it because of the dark nature of these adventures, the horrible dangers, the strange and terrific creatures or a multitude of other reasons. Subterra: The Underground City is a 56 page pdf product that makes the underdark far more accessible by presenting a fairly civilised city that can be used as a base of operations. This product details all aspects of Subterra, including politics, environs, races and city details. This product is setting neutral, meaning that it can be inserted into any campaign setting, although it does have a slight d20 OGL slant to it.
Subterra: The Underground City comes as a single pdf file that's adequately presented with no real effort having gone into the layout and design of the pdf. Artwork is present, but fairly rudimentary, and nothing that stands out amongst a small host of filler images. The maps are clear and fairly well done, though they too don't really capture the feel of the city. I guess that's one of the main issues with the product - while the design is lacklustre, the content is too in many ways, meaning that you never get a feel for the mood, character and atmosphere of the city. So much time is spent detailing various aspects of the city that the real character of the city is lost and the atmosphere dwindles away. Writing and editing is fair, but overall, a little touching up would make the product far more presentable and professional.
Subterra, the City of Shadows and Magic, is a large underground city stationed along a well known and well trodden underground traveller's route. It's a city that's guided mostly by its own rules, and controlled by the power of the various guilds that run the city. This product details all aspects of the city, from the politics and various factions, the guilds and their relationships to one another, the deities of Subterra, the various races present and their relationships with another, and a detailed city map with a legend entry on pretty much every building in the city. There's a lot to work with here in creating an exciting adventure or base, and the product even provides a bunch of useful adventure hooks and ideas to get you started in the city of Subterra.
By and large I enjoyed reading the material presented in this product, with some interesting ideas, concepts and thoughts to work with an craft into adventures. On the down side, though, it reads very much like a text book rather than creating an atmospheric city that oozes with life. I think that's a fault of both the content as well as the design, and would've like to see something with so much potential really come to life. While the major players and guilds in the city are described, they too lacked the personality that would make this product work better. Very little is said about the motivations of the major players in the city. Which also brings me to my second complaint about this product - there's nothing terribly unique about it. It just another city filled with semi-lawless orcs, humans, goblins and other sentient races all trying to get the most power or monetary gain out of the city and its inhabitants. While there are some glimmers of interesting aspects in the city such as mana quakes and other features, it's very much an above ground lawless city that's placed underground. I would've liked to see things that make this more a city that has to be underground, rather than above ground.
While I've said a number of negative things about this product, I think it's still got a lot of potential. It won't take too much to convert the text-book like format into a city that has a little more life, purpose and presence in the larger world. If you treat this product as a bare minimum base, then there's plenty to build on to create something truly unique. I liked some of the adventure ideas, and the interactions between the guilds have some good things going for them. And, with a legend for hundreds of buildings in the overall map, there's plenty to add on or expand with. Overall, the product offers an interesting look at an underground city with some glimpses of good material that can make the city unique and something worth remembering.
[3 of 5 Stars!]