Remember that old RPG trope where, after the adventure, the player says “I think I’ll just blow my share of the treasure on ale and whores”? Ah, those were the days – not so much for the sentiment itself, but for the in-game attitude taken by the player at the time. I’ve yet to play in a game where the PCs didn’t spend their loot on better weapons, armor, or magic items – things that give a mechanical advantage for their dice rolls, rather than the in-game pleasures of booze or babes. However, The Intimate Shape Festhall, the latest Evocative City Sites, from Rite Publishing, offers something to those PCs who do enjoy paying for a lady of the evening.
This product comes with three PDFs. The two supplementary PDFs are enlarged maps, each of one of the Festhall’s two floors. The maps are black and white, and broken up across the multiple pages since they’re in a size large enough for print-and-play. Literally lay the sheets side-by-side after they come out of the printer and you have the place. This was very useful, though I found it a tad ironic considering the nature of the building itself, but more on that later.
The main PDF is twenty-five pages long. That said, it’s actually far less than that when you take into account that not only does each map reappear here shrunk down so that each is a single page in size, but the full-size multi-page reproductions are also tacked onto the end of the file. I don’t understand why these were also put here, since they’re also in their own PDFs that come bundled with this one; the reproduction seems superfluous.
Beyond that oddity, the main PDF does quite well for itself, having full bookmarks to each of the major sections of the main entries (which take up about nine pages altogether). Each page has full borders around it (the multi-page maps notwithstanding). All of the interior artwork is black and white, and taken from public domain images; I found these quite fitting, as they tended to depict imagery of frolicking men and women that was done in what seemed like a “tasteful” manner – the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a high-quality brothel.
The Intimate Shape Festhall is just such a brothel, of course, and the book opens with five short adventure seeds for it, which seems rather odd since you’d think that you’d have to introduce people to the site first and then go over ways to use it in-game. Presumably this was done for space, as these are awkwardly crammed onto the same page as the credits.
An opening narrative describes a traveler’s going to the Festhall and renting a woman for the evening, dropping hints about how the place and the lady seem perfectly suited to his desires. After this, a brief description is given of the (apparently only) two ladies who work at the Festhall, Madame Seraphine and Lady Jezebel, along with a note of what both are really after. The rub here, of course, is that both women are doppelgangers (though each of a different variety).
It was right around this point, however, that I became a bit uncertain as to how exactly the book was trying to portray these two. Partially, this is because it’s uncertain if the text describing the two women, which follows immediately after the opening narrative, is meant to still be in-character or not; this creates some confusion when it starts to discuss their motives and goals – is that the narrator speaking in-character, or is this meta-text meant for the GM only? Further, there seem to be some contradictions in their aspirations. Madame Seraphine, for example, is said to want to create a place “where shapeshifterd debunk the stereotype that all changelings are deceptive assassins.” Even leaving aside that prostitution doesn’t seem likely to get her the respect she’s looking for, it mentions in the same paragraph how mysterious she is and that little is known about her. So already, I’m confused if people know that she’s a doppelganger or not. The fact that Lady Jezebel is working there to try and recruit allies to overthrow her father also seems to fly somewhat in the face of Seraphine’s ambition of making shapeshifters look good.
Both are given full stats (along with a small handful of new feats for monsters), and then we get stats for the Festhall itself. See, the two doppelgangers aren’t the only shapeshifters there…the building is actually a monstrously big mimic. And that’s it. There’s no word on why the mimic is there, what it wants, what it gets out of working with Seraphine and Jezebel, or anything. Don’t even ask if people know that they’re walking around inside a giant creature that could eat them at any moment if it wanted. It’s another in a series of head-scratching moments.
Ultimately, this book isn’t bad so much as it is unpolished. From needlessly reproducing the maps to uncertain transitions between in-game narration and meta-game description, to the characters’ motivations seeming ill-defined and in some cases totally undefined, the book suffers from a series of missteps. The good news is that none of this is fatal for the product; indeed, as these are largely gaps of presentation, a GM can easily fill in the blanks and have these characters occupy whatever niche they find necessary; it’s just a shame that the book doesn’t do that by itself.
[3 of 5 Stars!]