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AoV: Volondor: The City $9.95 $4.95
Publisher: Stainless Steel Dragon
by Christopher H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/04/2010 03:06:22
If you're thinking about buying this product, take the product description's advice and look carefully at the preview before purchasing. Unfortunately for a product marketed as a map set, the first thing a new purchaser is likely to notice about this product is how unattractive the maps actually are. The black-and-white city map looks as if it had been produced by an early ’90s CAD program. We're not even talking grayscale here; water, grass, and other textures are represented by black-and-white dot matrix patterns. The city maps and key look like they were printed on an old dot matrix printer. The regional maps, although they are in color and have plenty of nice detail, similarly remind me of something out of the Ultima games I played on my Commodore 64. I would have thought the maps looked great had I first seen them in 1987, but they're a long way from 2010 graphics standards.

If you can get past the antiquated graphics, the city (actually just the inner city; the outer city does not receive the same detail) and regional maps include a wealth of detail. Indeed, the amount of detail is surely the maps’ greatest strength. The work of laying out buildings, distributing them throughout the city, and even placing the city, forests, mountains, caves, dungeons, etc. is all done for you. If you would find such a fully-developed map set helpful, you're the target audience for this product and may like it.

However, the same attention to detail is not evident in the writing and proofreading. Already by the end of the table of contents a reader will encounter inconsistent capitalization, odd phrases like "Bonuses Material" and "Option Monetary System," two uses of the noun "effect" where the context calls for the verb "affect," and so on. These types of careless grammatical, syntactical, and stylistic errors do not improve when the reader reaches the actual city descriptions. Paragraphs are inconsistently indented, independent clauses are spliced together with commas, and the whole product stands in desperate need of thorough proofreading and reformatting.

At first glance, I thought I might be able to get over my negative reaction to the product's poor artwork and writing by focusing on the other values the product brings, but even these left me disappointed. The actual map of the inner city strikes me as far too orderly and regular for a faux medieval fantasy city. Granted, the inner city will have been built under royal patronage, but to such a precise master plan that block after block of shops and residences have exactly the same layouts? I'm not convinced. I also hoped that the "bonus materials" that start on p. 34 of the PDF would provide some value, but half of the "bonus materials" are worthless if you don't choose to apply the author's idiosyncratic monetary system to your own campaign; almost a dozen of the "bonus" pages are nothing but price lists using the "optional" monetary system.

I wanted to be impressed with the listing of 100 NPCs, but I wasn't. Again, you have to adopt the author's idiosyncratic system for describing NPC loyalty, courage, and honesty to get maximum use out of the listings. The mannerisms described for each NPC grow repetitive very quickly; if you really use the NPC list randomly, as the author proposes, you could easily end up with the "sloth like" Soron Daydreamer ambling along with "Sam the Sloth," who "moves real slow," while Garret Guzzlebottom, who "belches a lot," sits on the tavern bench next to Canterra Goldenspell, who "burps a lot." And how did Garret's and Canterra's offstage ancestors know precisely which surname would best fit their distant descendant's gluttony and/or career choice? Anakin Skywalker gets a pass, but by what strange coincidence did "Lance Battleworthy" grow up to be a paladin and "Gia Kindheart" to be a cleric?

In the end, although I really like the idea of a systemless, setting-neutral city writeup , this product just doesn't deliver much that's useful for my campaign or enjoyable for me to read or look at. Since I received a review copy, I'm not out any money on this product, but I truly don't foresee ever opening the PDF file again. I can recommend this product only to one small potential audiences: DMs who want a highly detailed city and region map in which to base their campaigns.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher Reply:
This ebook is as described. People should just look at the PDF previews and decide for themselves. Don't like black and white high detail maps. Don't buy them. There is a reason why the castle/inner city area square. It is all in the map maker's notes. (This city has a magical history.) I have seen, indeed I have made, many of the new age full color maps this critic raves about. (For other companies.) Yeah, they are pretty, but they have no where near the detail of this map set. (Unless your usng floor tiles, in a different scale.) These maps are different for a reason, they are for Game Masters who want to know every detail. Some people like to be able to see the types of locks used on doors, and torches on walls when looking at a floor plan. This critic only mentiuoned the map detail to smugly juxtaposition it with the writing by attacking a few typos, punctuation and capitalization errors. (Geez, Its a map set, not a novel.) He overlooked telling you about the most important parts. He didn't tell you about all the different buildings in the city. He doesn't mention how inexpensive it is to print out. (B&W is best for detail, and also saves a lot on printer ink.) He never printed it out, so I doubt he knows how nice it looks when you lay it out on a table. Not doing that, he doesn't know how you can move miniatures around the town, so you as GM know who is at tavern, who is at the bank, and who is at the wizard tower when the dragon attacks. A good critic would have given this map set a fair review, and mentioned the strengths of this set, as well the things he personally doesn't like about it. As far the 100 NPCs and money system, it is all optional. Some people may like it, other people may not. It is obvious that this critic really just wanted something to bash. Those who see this map set for what it offers, instead of something to trash will enjoy it. I have wowed my players with this city map, it is on my table nearly every week. The local game store owner hangs it on his wall for visitors to use. My eBay customers love this set, my feedback from them is 100% positive. Of course, "they bought" this map set to use it, not to bash it. I guess that's what critics do. I am a GM with 30 years and 1500 D&D game nights under my belt. I made this set for my personal use. I use this set, and I like it, and so do my many players. I am now offering it to other like minded GMs at a fair price via this RPGnow venue. I don't know what this featured critic's qualifications are, but he doing his readers no service by unfarily reviewing this map set. I would strongly urge GMs to look at the full size sample previews provided and decide on there own if this map set has value. Someone who is actually a GM, and not some so-so critic, is much more likely to appriciate it. (You may actually look at the legend and understand what all the symbols mean.) This map set, is much more than a pretty color picture, it is book describing every detail of the City of Volondor a GM needs to know. Not with words, but with highly detailed pictures. 'Nuff saild.
Just a quick note, as this citic concludes "I can recommend this product only to one small potential audiences: DMs who want a highly detailed city and region map in which to base their campaigns" Those are exactly the people my company is trying to reach this product. Is there any other audience?
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AoV: Volondor: The City
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