Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are truly impressive for a book of this size - there is neither an accumulation of typos or the like, not an excess of rules/formatting hiccups to be found here. The book is precisely crafted. Layout adheres to a neat 2column full-color standard that manages to cram a metric ton of text upon each page: This book, in a less efficient layout, could have doubled in size. So yeah, there is A LOT in this book. The artworks provided for the tome are gorgeous and full-color...and yes, they are original pieces. While a few are used more than once herein, I am certainly not going to complain in the aesthetics department, particularly considering the HUGE amount of absolutely stunning full-color maps. Speaking of which: While I couldn't afford backing this massive beast of a book, I do believe that the colossal map of the city in print out to be something to look forward to. I wouldn't comment on the print copy since I do not have it in the case of any other publisher. However, Frog God Games have, at this point established that their massive hardcovers stand the test of time by virtue of their quality. So yeah...if in doubt, I'd try to go for that version.
Casey Christofferson, Matthew J. Finch, Skeeter Green and Greg A. Vaughan, with additional material by James M. Spahn, deliver something that exceeded my expectations by a long haul. Let me elaborate:
3.X was, among many unpleasant things, also the golden age of amazing city source-books: With particularly the scarred lands delivering some of my favorite places ever and with the Iron Kingdoms Great City, Ptolus and Freeport adding to the fray, I still count quite a few of the cities from that age among my favorites. Paizo has equally done an amazing job of crafting evocative, unique settlements since. However...as much as I love Necromancer Games, the original 3.X Bard's Gate will never be a book I fondly remember. It should have been a milestone and featured the worst editing of the NG-era, felt disparate and confused and lacked a cohesive, unique identity. It is a book I buried deep within the confines of my collection and never looked fondly upon.
This obviously meant that I could have been more excited to t review this book. To be quite honest, it is only my faith in Frog God Games that made me give this a go in the first place. After showing with the excellent Borderland Provinces books that the cadre of authors and designers can craft superb sourcebooks, I felt a glimmer of hope for this supposed lynchpin of the Lost Lands, hoped that it would finally bring justice to this massive city. The sheer scope of this book is frankly daunting; the fact that it actually manages to be that lynchpin, however, is what makes it amazing: This is the central puzzle piece around which the other aspects, all the extensive canon, is situated around...and it *FEELS* like it: From the humble small modules to the classics, from the old to the new, Bard's Gate manages, with almost encyclopedic aplomb, to connect a vast network of narrative threads and weave them into a cohesive whole that doubles as a compelling, meticulously planned city.
More importantly, it is now actually a place the PCs will want to protect: There is everything to be found and gained within bard's gate, everything to be lost as well. It can be a glorious place and a hell-hole at the same time and ultimately feels like an organic, breathing entity of a city you could wander through, managing to bring an attention to detail and a diversity of scopes from the mundane to the epic to the table that makes it a milestone of a city. Bard's Gate isn't a weird city, though it features such themes; it is not a grim city, though it can be. It is both decidedly fantastic and down to earth at the same time and manages to convey a sense of historicity you won't find in most fantastic metropolises. In short: This book's existence makes the previous iteration of the book as obsolete as humanly possible and doubles as one of the most compelling city sourcebooks I have read for PFRPG. The only other city sourcebook which has, by virtue of page-count, even the remotest chance of standing up to this juggernaut would be Freeport and I don't have that book since its first PFRPG-foray back in the day disappointed me.
In short: Bard's Gate stands very much as a class of its own, with in particular the acknowledgment of social classes being one of my favorite aspects within. Add to that the great prose, the winking love letters to the community and the creative, challenging modules and we have a book that oozes passion and heart's blood from every page. It should come as no surprise, then, that I consider this to be one fantastic tome, well worth of 5 stars + seal of approval as well as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, etc.