Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/08-
One of the potential drawbacks of a game like Legend, from Mongoose Publishing, is that like many other “generic” systems, the GM is called upon to create his entire game world either from existing mythology, from a published setting like Deus Vult or the Age of Treason, or entirely from the depths of his own fevered brain. Mongoose, understanding this issue might be a cause for some concern, has begun releasing a series of materials under the umbrella category of Cities of Legend, the first of which is the brutal Skaar: City of Orcs.
Originally a dwarven city from which the dwarves were driven, Skaar is a complete city in most every sense. The materials cover some of the ancient history of how it came to be, and how it came to be a center of commerce and corruption for the orcs. It’s from this captured city that the orcs continue to raid the surrounding countryside, a potential hook for your players to find themselves with a need to visit Skaar.
The current government is based around a particularly conniving and devious orc named Cylus Groon. He’s big, fat and lazy, but he has a gift for governing, and for using other orcs against one another in power plays and deception that’s kept him in control of the city while other orcs, far greater in personal power than Groon, keep raiding instead. A fine balance is maintained between the various personality cults that grow around these warlords, leaving Skaar as an excellent location for a game that relies heavily on intrigue and internecine warfare or a more subtle, if not exactly delicate, nature.
Several sections are dedicated to life in Skaar, from the governmental processes and laws there, to the ecology and day to day life in the city. Commerce is discussed to some degree, as it is a center for commerce, both to bring in supplies for the inhabitants of the city and to send out goods that were brought in by the hordes of raiders in exchange for hard currency and more luxury items like alcohol.
While a good section of the book is dedicated to the lot in life of the average orc in Skaar, and the ecology of the area, it’s the section on the religious life of the orcs that is the most compelling portion of the book. Instead of taking the more common, short-cut approach of a single, monolithic religion that is followed by all orcs in lock-step, this book gives you three different religious cults to which any given orc can belong.
The majority worship the Maimed Lord, Alodai the Nine Fingered. His area of influence and expertise is in pain and the infliction of pain, and his followers practice a limited form of self-flagellation (sometimes supplemented by being flayed by their priests if the general public appears to be too reluctant to do it themselves), his shrines home to chains and beating sticks just for such occasions. In addition to this common faith, there are worshipers of Kharkus, a demon who strove against Alodai, seeking to take over his cult and the reason for the loss of that god’s left thumb. These folk have to worship in secret, and without an ounce of proof of the truth of their claims, hold Kharkus to be the mightier. Finally there are a group a necromancers who worship a water elemental under the surface of the underground lake near the city. All of this, to me, provides more grist for my mill than all of the warlords and their political maneuverings.
That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to be had in those factions as well, however! Every major warlord is named, and along with him an allied shaman, an accounting of how many orcs fall under his command, any auxiliary troops – goblins, hobgoblins, trolls and siege engines, primarily – as well as his allegiances, plots and intrigues. Just enough information is provided for these warlords to give them flavor, and make them unique and memorable when interacting with your players.
This is followed up by a very well defined tour of the city, indicating points of interest to the players, as well as occasional sidebars about the flora and fauna, often nasty, of the city and the tunnels underneath.
After all of this exposition – fluff, for many – we get to the meat of the book, with each of the main NPCs, the movers and shakers, laid out in standard Legend format, from the orcish leadership to a dwarven warlord intent on freeing the city from the orcs, and even the statistics on Kharkus, the demon himself. Most of them are accompanied by lovingly drawn line-art pictures of the individuals in question, a fantastic tool for providing additional flare to these already larger than life characters. Add in general stats for the types of orcs that reside in and around Skaar, and you’re all set mechanically for fights at most any scale.
The rest of the book is dedicated to how you can insert Skaar into your campaign with relative ease. Here you’ll find a handful of general campaign overviews (wilderness survival, trade, or liberation of the city) along with a specific example scenario for each.
The material is well laid out, with only a few of the production errors that have become such a commonplace with Mongoose published materials. It provides more information than some GMs and player groups will ever care to know about orcs, perhaps providing enough information to begin to humanize them, to make them into more than the standard two-dimensional cardboard villains they are in most games. If this sort of depth is interesting to you, I think you’ll enjoy Skaar, City of Orcs, and your game will be better for it.
[5 of 5 Stars!]