Free City of Eskadia – Jack of Lies (Castles & Crusades)
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
Page Count: 138
Release Date: 05/24/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
As this is my fifteenth Castles and Crusades review, you can probably tell I’m a big fan of the franchise. It’s easily my favorite OSR style system, and I always enjoy seeing what Troll Lord Games and other publishers put out for it. Today we’re looking at a new massive campaign setting in Free City of Eskadia. This 138 page book contains everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, you could possibly want to know about a fantasy setting. The history of the area, guilds, stores, prices, important people, sewer system descriptions – you name it, it’s in there. Free City of Eskadia is a whopping thirty two chapters of information, which sounds crazy impressive and perhaps even a little intimidating. The good news is that many of those chapters could have easily been one really long chapter instead of broken down as minutely as things are. For example, the adventure in the book takes up five chapters, which is an odd way to do things, especially when the adventure is only twenty-eight pages. I personally think one chapter with five sections would have flown better, but really, it’s all semantics when it comes down to it.
The big problem with Free City of Eskadia is that, as impressive as all the information about the campaign setting is, it is one of the dullest, driest reads I have ever had with a tabletop product. I had to keep putting the book down as my eyes glazed over. We’re talking Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off dry. I understand that a campaign setting, or any book designed to set the stage, can sometimes read like a textbook, but this was exceptionally above and beyond hard to wade through – and this is coming from someone who is a big Castles & Crusades fan, and a professional non-fiction writer used to doing essays and papers with bibliographies, footnotes and the like. I was very impressed by the level of detail in Free City of Eskadia, but it was so hard to get through because of the writing style and narrative, and I can’t remember the last time I had to force myself to get through a book for review’s purposes. Even products I’ve hated were easier to read and get through than this. I hate saying this, but I guess you can’t win them all.
Free City of Eskadia is also riddled with typographical and grammatical errors, often times in unintentionally hilarious ways. Look at the following sentence, for example, from page 39: “The ghost is quite vengeful and needs to be exercised.” Obviously that should be EXORCISED, but it is quite funny to think of a malicious specter whose only weakness is a holy treadmill. This is just one example of the many I’ve found here. Although these issues can be corrected in the PDF version, I feel bad for the people who ordered the hard or softcover version of the book, because you CAN’T fix one of those once they’ve been printed.
The important thing is that, if you can wade through the writing style, there is so much to be had in this book. It may “only” be 138 pages, but it feels as in-depth as the 300+ page location books we’ve seen from other companies like White Wolf or TSR. There is a chapter devoted to just the guilds of the city, along with the major houses for political intrigue. Each of the nine wards of the city get their own chapter, and within each one are names, descriptions and stat blocks of major NPCs. Besides the multi-chapter adventure, there are five other chapters devoted to story seeds, short adventures and dungeon crawls (although most aren’t literally dungeons) that you can use for a full on campaign. It’s wonderful just how much content is here, and I feel bad that I just didn’t care for the writing style or the manner in which all the content was presented, because I was really excited for this book. There are new races, a new NPC class, a full chapter on new magic items, another chapter of gods to worship and two new monsters. Again, there is a shockingly large amount of content in this book for the size. Now, will I ever end up using this? Probably not, due to how dull I found the content, but that’s really a subjective thing, and what I find boring, you might find thrilling. I will say that if you check my Castles & Crusades review archive, I to tend like the majority of what comes out for the system, so you might want to read those reviews and see if our tastes match up. I will probably try in a year or so to come back to see if the book has aged well or if I’m more receptive to the writing style, but for now, let’s call Free City of Eskadia a thumbs in the middle. Yay for the sheer amount of content and level of detail, but boo for the errors and extremely dull writing style.