Thieves' World, the name alone summons up images of dangerous back alleys and shadowed skulduggery, and for me, memories of gripping, gritty action in an all too real fantasy world. I have been a big fan of Thieves' World since the original anthology appeared in the '80s, Hanse called Shadowspawn and Tempus Thales are my favorite characters from the series. As a matter of fact, I just recently completed my Thieves' World collection, having gotten the last 4 books in the original series, which I haven't read yet. I also haven't read any of the new series yet. So my review will be based more on my memory of the original series, which is my 2nd most favorite fantasy series ever. I never had, nor have I ever seen, the original Thieves' World RPG, so am I am coming to this product with no preconceptions of how the adaptation should be done.
With that bit of preamble out of the way let me say, this is a pretty damn good Thieves' World game done D20 style. I think that D20 player's will find that the rules adaptations and changes will really give the feel of cruising those dangerous back alleys among the vibrant, gritty and dangerous city of Sanctuary.
CHAPTERS 1 & 2: "A Sanctan Primer" & "Cultures and Backgrounds"
These two chapters provide at good introduction and grounding in sanctuary and the thieves world setting. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the peoples of sanctuary, and its current government under the timeline of the new anthologies and Sanctuary novel. The chapter also discusses the languages spoken in the Thieves' World setting, as well as the calendar and and currencies used.
Information is also provided on the climate and geography of the region, illustrated by a nicely done map. Finishing out this chapter is a 12 page overview of the city of sanctuary itself. This overview includes description of each quarter or district of the city, including notable establishments and denizens. The description of each section of the city also includes notes on playing a character from that part of the city of Sanctuary. The information provided in this chapter is meaty and will help the players get into the setting, and conduct themselves like a true denizen of Thieves' World. This section also explains why you don't go into The Maze at night, or go alone, and especially not unarmed.
Chapter 2, Cultures and Backgrounds, describes the cultures, and people, that populate the Thieves' World setting. A description of common members of each cultural group is provided along with the languages they speak. Classes a character from that cultural group is likely to take are also described. Each culture is also made distinct by being given a default feat, that all members of that cultural group possess. The player is also allowed to pick a cultural feat from a shortlist for that cultural group. Backgrounds provide characters with additional skills and background traits, as well as providing back story details for the character. Thus encouraging the player to generate details of the character's life before he began adventuring. The cultures and backgrounds go a long way toward making a character feel like a native to the Thieves' World setting. Backgrounds also encourage the player to develop an interesting back story for his characters, defining how he or she has survived in the city of Sanctuary.
CHAPTERS 3, 4, & 5: "Classes", "Prestige Classes" and "Skills &
Chapter 3 provides an overview of the character classes featured in the Thieves' World setting, modifying a few and introducing introducing new classes unique to Thieves' World setting. These new classes include such standouts as the Godsworn, a character class like Tempus Thales in the anthologies, and the Witch, whose powers are far greater than the candle and cauldron charms typically associated with the idea of the witch.
An important difference from the usual D&D 3.5 rules is that multi-classing is unrestricted, without experience penalties, which fits with the nature of the Thieves' World character's and stories. Readers of the books will reall that many of the Thieves' world characters had talents in many areas. Also fitting with the nature of the Thieves' World setting, Alignments are not used either.
Chapter 4 provides the Prestige Classes unique to Thieves' World Setting. These PrCs include The Blue Star Adept, Hell Hound, Nisibisi War Witch, Sacred Bander, and S'Danzo Fortuneteller. These are all pretty interesting and reinforce the feel of the setting, and offer some interesting abilities to wield.
Chapter 5 offers a new skill, Gamble, and additional rules for a few others, a list of new Feats is provided as well. The more interesting and Thieves' World specific ones being Sighted and Witchblooded.
CHAPTERS 6 & 7: "Supplemental Rules" & "Equipment & Resources"
Chapter 6 provides additional rules for combat. First, there are the altered massive damage rules (the amount being equal to your CON score plus a Size Modifier, and thus much more likely than the standard rules),Severe Injury rules (On a critical hit where character suffers damage greater than his massive damage threshold, he may suffer a severe injury. Which is applied as an ability drain.), and the Infection Rules (If character suffers damage equal greater than or equal to his massive damage threshold, he must make a fortitude save or suffer an infection. Infection is treated as a disease that does 1d4 constitution, so it's possible character can die from it.) Also in this chapter are a set of "Reputation" rules, whereby a character's reputation in the city can gain him advantages in social situations. A set of contact rules are also provided, providing the character with NPC's he knows that can provide him with information, influence of skill help.
The additional combat rules definitely add to the "not your typical D&D feel" of the Thieves' World stories, and will help player's empathize with the reasonable fears of character's who are not given to combat. The Reputation rules help player's develop a legendary status among the denizens of Sanctuary, allowing tales of their own exploits to be added to the storytellers' collections.
Chapter 7, Equipment & Resources, adds rules for a few items unique to the setting. Enlibar Steel for one, as well as rules for some of the many drugs found in the setting, such as Krrf, which featured heavily in the original anthology. They also provide some guidelines for the presence of magical items in the Thieves' World setting.
Though the book states that magic items should be available as in other D20 games, I have to disagree. Magic items were rather rare in the original anthology. Indeed, the appearance of shop selling magical items was the focus of a number of stories, including one involving Hanse Shadowspawn after he was stricken by a "fear stick". They do point out that Magic items are not readily or easily available for sale, and provide advice on what items are appropriate and which are inappropriate to the setting. Though this reviewer's recommendation is to make the magic items few and far between and provide the focus of a rousing adventure, much like in the original Thieves' World anthology.
CHAPTERS: 8 & 9: "Sorcery" & "Spells"
Chapter 8 provides an alternate magic system that seeks to emulate the magic evidenced in the Thieves' world series. It works by requiring casters to make Casting checks to fill a mana pool until they meet the Mana Threshold of the spell. Once they have focused enough energy, they can cast the spell. Critical success and failures on these checks can have interesting effects. Spells can be cast normally or performed as rituals, which take longer but have a greater chance of success, and greater effect. Rounding out chapter 8 are the curse rules, a type of magic that anyone can perform, at great cost to themselves.
The Spells chapter provides a small list of new spells, as well as spell lists for each type of sorcery, magic, prayer, and witchcraft, and new domains for priests. It also provides a list of inappropriate spells for the Thieves' World setting. Overall the spell list is pretty good, and should please players who want to play Nisibisi Witches, Mages, Priests, and doomed Godsworn. Overall I think it is pretty well done, though it does make it likely that players will be throwing around more magic than is seen in the original anthology.
APPENDICES: "Gods of Sanctuary" & "Character Glossary"
The appendices provide first, a brief overview of the major pantheons and god's present in the Thieves' World setting, including info on their symbol, associated domains, and favored weapons. The second appendix offers a character glossary which has a comprehensive listing of characters from both the original anthology and the new anthology (but no stats at all, unfortunately). I found both of these to be useful and interesting
PRESENTATION & LAYOUT
The Thieves' World Player's Manual is a 193 page PDF done in a two column layout. The font used for most the text is a fairly ornate serif font, but is easily readable. Sections titles are marked with bar graphics, which makes the book easy to skim through. Its layout is above average and quite readable. The artwork is good, with a few pieces standing out. Though some of the more cartoonish pieces didn't appeal to this reviewer. But overall it is a very high quality professional looking product.
The Thieves' World Players Manual offers up a well-done D&D derived adaptation of the Thieves' World setting. It makes important changes, and additions, to the classes, skills and feats available to support the feel of the setting. The Culture and Backgrounds do a good job of reinforcing the setting and providing an extra hook for the player's to become immersed in the setting, as well as providing a mechanical difference between characters of different cultures and backgrounds. The new combat rules make the combat a bit more gritty and dangerous, as befits the background. The Sorcery rules adapt the standard D20 magic rules to be more like the magic as shown in the anthologies, and provide a feel more like the magic present in the Thieves' World setting. Overall, I think the book does a good job of adapting the city of Sanctuary and the Thieves' World setting to the D20 system. I look forward to the other products in this game line, especially Shadowspawn's Guide to Sanctuary, and having my chance to walk the dangerous alleys of the Maze. Hopefully more info from the original anthology can be provided as well, so us old-timers can play in the "Ranken Era". As another reviewer mentioned, more adventure bits and more info on NPC's from the series would be nice, and a small adventure would have been useful too.
LIKED: The grittier combat rules, attention showed to seamier side of Sanctuary via
drugs rules and Street of Red Lanterns. Godsworn class and several of the
DISLIKED: Availability of magic items in setting is overstated, and magic use should be
shown as being a bit rarer among sanctuary citizens than the impression given in the book.
[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]
[4 of 5 Stars!]