Posted on June 20, 2008 by Flames
I am a sucker for the undead. In the history of my D&D experience I have always gravitated toward playing necromancers. There was something awe-inspiring about those who used their magic to alter the rules of death. One thing all of my necromancers have in common is that none of them were evil. The idea of the black-cloaked cackling lunatic, raising shambling hordes was so cliche as to be completely uninteresting to me. A good or neutral wizard who used the walking dead to battle the true evils of the world: that was a concept I could get behind.
This book had me at Lawful Good Lich.
If you enjoy the idea of a city of necromancers as scientists and arcanists, studying the rules of life and death to create a more perfect society, then Hollowfaust: City of Necromancers is for you. If you simply can’t wrap your head around a necromancer as anything more than a one-dimensional movie-villain, laughing manically while surrounded by the rotting dead, it’s best to move on.
Hollowfaust: City of Necromancers is a world supplement for the Scarred Lands line of Sword and Sorcery products. It is a smallish book at only 134 pages, but those pages are full of valuable information for using this unique city and bringing the city of undead and necromancers to life (pardon the pun).
The book lavishly details the city from every perspective. The book opens with the detailed history of the city and how it came to be founded by seven brilliant necromancers. The necromancer’s story is akin to the pilgrims, fleeing persecution for religious beliefs outside of the norms of their society. If the Puritans had raised the walking dead and pressed them into completing civil service projects such as roads and dams, I might be more favorable to the legacy they have left America.
After the history we are then given a detailed walk-through of the city’s social order, its laws, customs and castes. Each section is rich with evocative and flavorful descriptions that make the city seem like a real, functioning place. This extreme focus on making the mundane aspects of the city, i.e. its laws, courts, food growth and trade, seem believable is necessary to help you suspend disbelief and accept that people could live in such proximity to the walking dead without revulsion or insanity. The more normal everyday life seems, the less perplexing it becomes to have a skeleton as your city guard. Newer games in other worlds such as the nation of Karrnath in Eberron have taken a similar path. That land utilizes a similar theme of mixed human and undead forces living harmoniously next to one another.
The player who purchases this book will find most of his useful information only in the appendix. If the book has any weak spot it is that there is not a lot of player information in this supplement beyond a handful of new necromantic spells and five prestige classes. The prestige classes are quite flavorful and well integrated into the overall story of Hollowfaust. On the whole, this is really more a supplement for your DM or world-builder, rather than a must-have for the player’s shelf.
The DM will find a wealth of information on the city of Hollowfaust and how to integrate it into his campaign within thee pages. The book’s extreme focus on every detail of the city makes it theoretically possible to set a long series of adventures in this city, even a full campaign. The final chapter advises the DM on how to set the tone of Hollowfaust adventures and offers many interesting adventure hooks such as tracking down a Risen (the city’s specialized flesh golem protectors) that has gone berserk and started collecting heads. Nothing says excitement like out-of-control golems and headless victims.
From a DMs perspective, I like how easy this supplement would be to use in any campaign world, not just the Scarred Lands setting. Because the information is so tightly focused on this one area, and not the greater world, it would be easy to drop the City of Necromancers into your own homebrew world. One of my strongest memories from playing D&D during second edition was finding a city deep in the underdark that was run by Illithid, drow and other beasties. What made this so memorable was that it was a neutral city, surface dwellers were allowed and were (relatively) unmolested. The chance to get up close and personal with these creatures that usually ate a fireball at the first possible moment produced some great role-playing opportunities. The same possibility exists here in Hollowfaust, as a strange concept like a city of necromancers is turned on its head and made something to interact with, rather than just smash. In my years of RPGs, I have invaded and attacked countless necromancers’ strongholds, all of which have faded into an unremarkable blur. That underdark city remains as clear to me now as the first night I ventured into its taboo streets.
This is a low point for the book. The book does not have enough artwork spiced throughout the pages and I often found myself reading some incredible flavor text and then scanning about to find there was no supporting image for the creature or character in question. A good deal of the art that is in the book leaves much to be desired. We are told of an erudite city of arcane scholars and necromancers, yet we are treated to sparse, heavily inked images of ghouls. There is a disconnect between the words and art in the few places the art is available. I will say that the cover art is beautiful, and the look of the necromancer portrayed there is both creative and original. The necromancers of Hollowfaust have a distinct look, the wide-brimmed hat and long overcoat, almost western in origin. It’s a strange combination, the Wild West and the walking dead, but something about it just seems right.
There are a few other strong pieces not be discounted in the book, such as the picture of the unfailing, the martial protectors of the necromancers. I am also particularly fond of the line shading on the Animator prestige class picture as it is evocative of early 90’s uncanny X-Men, a particularly strong and unique period comic art.
The writing in the book is top notch. I saw very few grammatical errors and most of the pages were dripping with very clear and precise descriptions of this unique city. Each layer of life within Hollowfaust is explained in great detail, leaving no stone unturned in creating a harmonious, working city. The section on the laws of the city, explaining the possible crimes and the punishment for each (including final forfeiture, the cities equivalence of the death sentence) are very well done. Yet again, the detail that is brought to the mundane helps to create a reality where skeletal soldiers and bone ballista become acceptable.
If there is to be any complaints about the writing, it would simply be that the detail can sometimes be a bit oppressive. When the writers get into the nitty-gritty of the various law firms available in the city to represent the PCs should they land themselves in hot water, we the reader are subjected to a clever, but unnecessary level of detail.
Hollowfaust is not a book of rules. It is a world supplement first and foremost. It is filled with flavor text and detailed descriptions of a quite vibrant city run by authoritarian necromancers. The book provides just the right amount of rules for such a supplement. Monster stat-blocks for city guards and the necromancer’s creations are easily accessible in sidebars near their descriptions. For example, in the description of a forgotten and lava-covered arena in the cities abandoned Ghost-Quarter, we are treated to the stats of Zankaras, a mad blackguard who dwells there making offerings to his dark god. Instantly we have both the plot hook for an adventure and the stats for the final boss on the same page of the book.
The appendix in the back contains most of the true rules of the book. In addition to the afore mentioned spells and prestige classes, the book also has new necromantic themed magic items and eleven new monsters to supplement the city and the adventure hooks offered. There is nothing amazing or revolutionary about these new monsters, but they are all competent and interesting creations.
One brief note, because this book is so heavy on description and so light on actual hard rules, it has a strong edition proof nature. This means that even as the game of D&D shifts to 4E this summer, Hollowfaust: City of Necromancers may still deserve a spot on your gaming shelf.
Incredible level of detail
Imaginative and unusual role-playing possibilities
Easily drops into any campaign world
Mostly edition proof
Low level/quality Art
Too detailed/banal in certain areas
Overall: 4 (A fun and vibrant book about a city of people that live with and study the dead)
Review by Vincent Venturella
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