Rappy’s RPG Reviews: Urban Arcana, Part 3

29 May

Although I’ve been feeling horrible over the past two days due to a stomach virus, the writing bug hasn’t stopped inserting its proboscis into my head. So, as a result, I’ve started to build up a buffer, for both the sake of illness as well as to let out the writing bug. First off: Urban Arcana, the finale!

NOTICE: All art on this page is from Wizards of the Coast, and is thus copyright of its appropriate authors. It is shown here via the Urban Arcana Art Gallery as reference only.

Kobolds: they still get no respect.

Bugbears in the Backyard

So, you’ve walked through the metaphorical field of flowers that were the first five chapters. Surely, there’s a crystal clear stream in the middle of the book that binds it together? But when you get there…it’s a fetid slog of mud and chemical-laden water, the grass around it leaning in for what desperate drinks it can get. Or, in shorter terms, let’s let Chapter 5 speak for itself:

“One of the GM’s biggest challenges is the fact that Urban Arcana is set in the real world – the world outside your window. In other words, the world that your players know as well as you do.”

…Yeah, that about sums it up. The bulk of this chapter, save for the sometimes (note sometimes) interesting or amusing 100 Adventure Hooks table, treasure tables, and city generators (none of which are Open Game Content, of course. Good luck with the tedium of making up your own treasure tables and city generators, fellow campaign designers!) are things you should already know from a little thing called…oh, I dunno…the d20 Modern Core Rulebook itself. Really, do we need to be retold “the Gamemaster’s word is final” or “visual aids are nice”? Do we, viewers?

That’s what I thought.

Organizations are a little better, in that they both add a little fluff and that 17 of the 28 organizations presented are actually Open Game Content, allowing you to actually use said organizations in your own world (which I have…hey, anything that gives me less work to do but still fits into the theme of the Arkandeverse is a friend, and it started out as a d20 Modern setting in the first place). Those that aren’t Open Game Content are usually so because they are either tied to a Dungeons and Dragons deity (such as the Church of the Burning Hate Pelor or the good ol’ Heirs of Kyuss, who worship the original Worm That Walks) or to a Product Identity monster (such as the Eyes of the Beholder, which is run by…well, beholders…and the Corsone Syndicate, the illithid mafia that the header image from part 1 of this review comes from). Some of the organizations are pretty fun and surprisingly well though-out, actually; my favorite is the Prancing Pony, an arcane McDonald’s style fast food chain. The best part? Five words: Magic. Item. Happy Meal toys. No, that is not a joke, I am utterly serious about that.

We welcome the return of Maddie's shapeshifting hair. Also, I will note that this image actually has a caption in Urban Arcana itself that states "Eat your heart out Lestat". Yeeeeah...

Here be Dragons…and Gnomes…and Beholders….and-

Monsters! We all know and love (or love to hate) them, and Urban Arcana serves up a bestiary dish that, while somewhat familiar in its flavor, does have some nice points of note. A total of 48 creatures and 3 templates populate this title, including:

  • Dungeons and Dragons classics such as beholders and otyughs.
  • The horrific toyderms, pollution-corrupted elementals (strangely enough, there is no “smog toxyderm” or some such for air, but the other three classic elementals are covered). Notable for producing the fiery hell that is the nuclear toxyderm, whose advanced form boasts the nightmarishly high challenge rating of 35. Remember that this is d20 Modern, which never had any official epic level treatment (although there were here and there notes that equated to “eh…just take more advanced class levels after you hit 20, that works”, which is fine enough for me. Yeah, I’m easy to please on that front).
  • Swarms of spiders, piranhas, mosquitoes, and sentient bees (no, I won’t make the obvious joke on that last one), as well as a couple of other hordes of tiny terrors.
  • Dragons! Or, more specifically, one dragon with multiple age categories. Yes, for whatever reason, all metallic and chromatic dragons have the same stats, just with interchangeable allegiances and breath weapon damage types.
  • Dryads, fauns, and angels for the classic legends.
  • Animals such as elephants and porpoises.

Overall, it’s a good chapter, although other than the somewhat varied animals, the templates, and the fey, the monsters tend to be clumped into either “creatures of technology” or “creatures of pollution/depravity”. Of course, seeing as this was only a few months before the Menace Manual was set to come out, I guess they didn’t want to front-load their creative creatures before the d20 Modern equivalent of the Monster Manual came out.

That has to be the snappiest-dressed bugbear I've ever seen.

It’s Adventure Time!

We’re nearing the end of the line, folks, at last. First and foremost, chapter 8 provides maps, adventure hooks, and general advice for various districts, buildings, and public amenities one can find in an urban environment. In addition, there are rules for supernatural locations such as ley lines and vortices. This is all well and good…except none of it is Open Game Content. No, not even the rules on how vortices and ley lines affect magic. Once again, good luck with that homebrewing.

Chapter 9 is a mixture of rules on converting characters, creatures, treasure, etc. from Dungeons and Dragons to d20 Modern and new psionic powers and a psionic advanced class (the Psionic Agent) out of the blue. Why the latter wasn’t in earlier chapters, as it’s the only Open Game Content right here, is beyond me. This chapter’s biggest draw for most will be its comparisons of Dungeons and Dragons and d20 Modern classes (which I disagree with on some counts; see here for my personal thoughts on “D&D Modern” character conversions and a more in-depth look at what you should expect from this chapter) and the fact that it actually answers the age-old question of “just how many dollars is a D&D gold piece worth?” (ppst, it’s $20 according to Urban Arcana, so stop asking repeatedly).

Finally, we have Chapter 10. It’s an adventure. That’s all I can really say about it. It’s…an adventure. Not a particularly good or bad one, but simply an adventure.

Final Thoughts

The biggest problem with this title is that it’s billed as a campaign setting. It isn’t. Sure, it has elements of a campaign setting, but as a whole it could be more well defined as either an urban fantasy sourcebook or a…what to call it…a “campaign billboard”, I guess you could say; it provides the framework, you provide the picture that goes on it, as it were. While Urban Arcana has its flaws (which is to be expected, as it was the very first d20 Modern supplement to be released), I still feel it’s good enough to warrant an 8/10. If nothing else, it’s still better than d20 Dark*Matter… *Shudders*

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Posted by on May 29, 2010 in RPG Reviews


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