Lankhmar: City of Thieves

Back in 1985 TSR published a sourcebook for AD&D that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on, Lankhmar: City of Adventure.  At the time it was something really quite different.  At the time almost all published AD&D game material was set to take place in caverns, dungeons and the wilderness, with the Lankhmar source book your characters took a step into a new world of intrigue and adventure.

Now skip forward thirty years to 2015 and once again a Lankhmar sourcebook appears on our, now virtual, bookshelves.  New from Pinnacle Entertainment Group comes Lankhmar: City of Thieves. This all-new sourcebook for Savage Worlds contains details on the world of Nehwon and the City of Lankhmar, including Setting Rules, Savage Tales, monsters and foes, and persons of wide renown—including Fafhrd, the Gray Mouser, and their sorcerous sponsors.

I have often wondered why no-one had revisited the worlds of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser for source material.  I grew up reading Leiber’s stories of this unlikely pair.  I was drawn to their almost anti-heroic nature, they were drunks, they were shameless thieves proud of their skills,  they had character flaws a plenty.  Yet to me they were  a breath of fresh air and a break from the all too good fantasy heroes of the time such as Conan or even Tarzan.  The seven books containing containing the bulk of the tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (Swords of Deviltry, Swords Against Death, Swords in the Mist, Swords Against Wizardry, Swords of Lankhmar, Swords and Ice Magic, and finally The Knight and Knave of Swords) remain among my favorites and when I look back the influence that Lovecraft had on Leiber now comes as no surprise to me, although it was many years after I discovered Leiber that Lovecraft began whispering in my ear.

The book from Pinnacle happens to be almost identical in page count with TSR’s earlier offering, but I can assure you that is where the similarities end.  Whilst the TSR campaign book devoted many pages to excerpts and summaries of the tales of Lankhmar Pinnacle do no such thing, the focus of their book is much more on how to play a game in that world and to adapt the Savage Worlds system to bring to life the characters and setting of Lankhmar.  As you would expect it covers what you need to know in order to create meaningful characters for the genre.  It includes details of Races (including Ghouls and Ratlings), Traits, new Hinderances and Edges, Equipment and provides a more than sufficient amount of background for the setting.

The magic system presented in Lankhmar: City of Thieves has been heavily modified to fit the style described by Leiber in his books.  This includes two new Arcane Backgrounds which are meant to replace those from the core books, there is also a strong ruleset for ritual magic which fits incredibly well with the dark, subtle and incredibly powerful magic in those original tales.

In the Gamesmasters section there are some 25 pages given over to detailing the setting, introducing key concepts such as the guilds of Lankhmar as well as physical geography, history and necessary background.  There are two Savage Tales to get you started with your adventures in Lankhmar and surrounding Newhon.  In the first tale “Tears of the Gods” a chance encounter with a drunken courier and the recovery of a mysterious bottle leads to adventure.  Whilst in “The Shrouded Corpse” the player characters are tasked with disposal of a body, a task which they soon discover isn’t as simple as it seemed and that very much puts them in peril.  Both of these tales are a good introduction to Lankhmar and to the intrigue and danger that players can expect.

In truth I think Pinnacles book with less page space given over to regurgitating the stories that Leiber wrote actually gives you more material with which to create your own, story driven roleplaying adventures in Lankhmar: City of Thieves.  The book delivers what you need to play games set in an interesting and very different setting. It might make you want to read Leiber’s stories, but won’t turn doing so into a necessary chore.

Also currently available for pre-order is a  detailed map of the city of Lankhmar, the center of the world of Nehwon and likely home to your Lankhmar game.  The map is double sided and the flip side features the world of Nehwon as Leiber described it, from the lands of the East to the Steppes of the Mingols, from the Inner Sea to the Parched Mountains.  The double-sided poster map (24” x 30”) has a coating that is wet, dry, and permanent marker erasable.  As the physical product is only available for preorder we have not had a chance to take a proper look at it, however both maps are available as pdf downloads from DriveThruRPG and the cartography is pleasing although I was slightly disappointed that it was only a general map of the city and did not (as in TSR’s 1985 publication) break out the various districts into more detailed maps providing more than just an enlargement of the map given in the sourcebook.  That said it is still a thing of beauty and I am sure would look great gracing the gaming table.

To summarise this ramble through Lankhmar: City of Thieves, the sourcebook provides something different, it pays appropriate homage to among the best classic fantasy of the 20th century in a way that is practical and playable.  In short we like this a lot and hope that it reaches as wide an audience as it deserves.  If in doing so it introduces some new readers to the classic stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser then that can only be a bonus.

A footnote: Leiber and Lovecraft.

Fritz Leiber’s first stories were clearly inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and letters between the pair clearly show that encouragement from Lovecraft during 1936 was instrumental in Leiber’s decision to pursue a literary career. After Lovecraft’s death Leiber wrote several essays on the great man some of which are believed to be pivotal in driving the serious critical appreciation of Lovecraft’s life and work.

“The mystery of the black outer gulfs, and of the deepest cognitive processes within us, must always remain unplumbed – and against these imagination must always frantically pound.”

From a letter to Fritz Leiber by Lovecraft – December 19th, 1936.