I would love to give this product the 5 stars that it would deserve based on the detail and creativity compacted into its pages. Sutter really pulls out all the punches to create a unique, but still fantasy-based, city of oddities. However, the product needs a lot more visual aids to make sense of the city's structure.
The city is not just surrounded by a wall, but is mostly made of a giant thick wall structure ringing a smaller core area open to the air. Within the wall's expansive breadth are enclosed city districts that typically reach up to 8 stories. At least, that is what I gather from the description. Unfortunately, the few bits of art within the piece don't seem to reflect this description and actually create more confusion for me. We have a single map of the ground floor, which is helpful in some matters, but not in the understanding of the entire city's structure.
I don't think we need several maps showing all 8 levels - in fact, I don't think that would help. However, adequate artistic representation - perhaps an overhead shot or some kind of cross section of part of the wall - might have solved this problem.
Ironically, the map of the Undercity is excellent, one of the best visual representations that I've seen of an elaborate underground structure. I wish such pains had been taken to show the actual city itself.
I know I've spent the majority of this 4-star review complaining, but I became increasingly frustrated by the high quality of the writing being unmatched by the visuals. I knew Kaer Maga to be a great place because of the details, but I felt like I wasn't really grasping the overall structure of the setting.
City of Strangers doesn't seem like one of those products that's likely to get a second printing due to the specificity of its subject. However, if one were to come about, I hope some of the art would be replaced with something with more clarity. Then I would be happy to come back and give this the 5 star review it would deserve.
For those of you interested in 4e, this is a great book. I particularly like the sections of grouped magic items. Basically, these are magic items that do more when brought together. They come in two variety: magic items that belong to a single PC, or magic items that belong to an adventuring party. It's a great concept.
There are also many more magic items for your PHB2 characters, but this book can add depth to any 4e game.
This adventure is "4th edition rules with a 1st edition feel." It revolves around a temple which has become host to many strange creatures. Many of these creatures have been attacking the druidic town of Acanthus and the PCs are sent on various missions to the temple. There are three sections of the temple, each devoted to a forgotten god. However, the three sections are magically sealed and each must be opened with a different holy symbol, all found throughout the temple. Once the PCs have completed the adventure, they are then whisked away to their future destiny and presumably to future installments of the God Wars Adventure Path.
There is plenty material here, so whether one is scrounging for monsters, traps, and magic items, or needing a standalone adventure, or running the entire adventure path, one will be satisfied. The monsters are well designed and hark back to the feel of the early days of roleplaying, such as a construct made out of gold coin that releases its coins every time it takes damage, fire toads and a gullywumpus. Such names provoke the imagination.
In general, the product itself is well put together. The art is well drawn for an independent, low-budget product like this one, and enough to inspire the DM’s imagination. The encounters appear similar to WotC’s modules or the “Dungeon Delve” format, but with one added tool: there is information to easily adjust the encounter for smaller or larger groups. Also scattered throughout are various narratives, ranging from creation myths, to anecdotes, to jokes, to stories of legends. These add a bit of fun to the overall product.
There are a few items that could use some improvement. There are moments of logic I don’t agree with, such as Acanthus, apparently a trading town, having no inn. I’m not sure there are enough encounters to get one entirely to 4th level. I also sensed that the background could use more clarity, such as how these creatures are making their way to the temple. Some further background on the temple itself would be appreciated too. However, these are mostly minor quibbles.
The final question is: would I run this adventure? And the answer is yes, and I would have fun doing so. I would need more information about the Adventure Path before I decided to dedicate an entire campaign, but overall this first adventure is a good start.