Review: City by the Silt Sea
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on February 20, 2014
I recall really looking forward to the release of City by the Silt Sea. The cover art by Brom was pretty spectacular. I was a big fan of the Dark Sun books that revealed more about the history of the world. City by the Silt Sea is one such book, all about the ruined city of Giustenal. The city is mentioned very briefly in the original Dark Sun boxed set. This boxed set expands those few paragraphs into a campaign book, an adventure book, a monster booklet, 4 cards with useful information for the DM, and a big poster map by Diesel of Giustenal and its environs.
The campaign booklet for City by the Silt Sea opens with a brief history of the ruined city of Giustenal. I suspect the expectation is that most Dark Sun DMs have read Troy Denning’s novels, as this overview is pretty high level. The booklet expands on the story of the world revealed thus far by introducing another Sorcerer-King Dregoth who was betrayed and murdered by his fellow Sorcerer-King. Unfortunately for them he now lives under his ruined city-state as a Dragon-Lich, and is looking to have his revenge on the world. In this opening chapter we quickly learn about his rise and fall, and what he’s been up to the last 2000 or so years.
The next few sections of the campaign book detail the various places adventure can take place in and around Giustenal. Starting with a zoomed out view of the region, the book looks at nearby cities and adventure hooks to get people to Giustenal. From there the book moves on to the dangers that surround the ancient city, and what’s involved in safely making it inside. Making it into Giustenal is tricky: much of the city is under the sea of silt, and the more obvious routes in are blocked by huge tar pits. There are also a few interesting NPCs that players can befriend or battle. The ruins and dangers of the ancient city itself are covered next, including a look at a couple passageways that lead to the catacombs and ancient cities that lay under Giustenal. There are actually four cities underneath Giustenal: the Sunken city, the Goaning City, Kragmorta, and New Giustenal. Each of these places is described in turn with a brief history, followed by adventuring locations and NPCS and monsters of note. The last section of the book is a look at Dregoth and the new race of creatures he has created since becoming a dragon, the Dray. Compared to a lot of the other Dark Sun settings books I’ve read this one feels really on point.
The adventure described in the adventure book is presented in an unusual fashion. Each chapter more or less maps to a corresponding chapter in the settings book, and simply lists a series of possible encounters that would make sense in that locale. Each encounter follows the following format: there is a setup, that explains when the encounter should take place, some read aloud text to start the encounter, the details of what happens during the encounter, what the possible outcomes could be and what they mean for the PCs, and finally what the next possible encounters could be. The encounters can be played in a mixed order, skipped, etc. The adventure book is designed to facilitate players simply exploring the region in and around Giustenal. There is also an overarching quest that is barely hinted at for players and dungeon masters who are into that sort of thing.
The poster map as well as the maps inside the two books are all done by Diesel. I am a big fan of his maps. He does a really good job of illustrating the various locations outlined in the book. The remaining interior artwork is by Tom Baxa, of course. There are lots of illustrations, of varying quality.
The monster booklet and DM cards round out the boxed set. The new monsters are really par for the course for Dark Sun. Notable at the time was that Dregoth was the first Sorcerer-King with actual statistics.
After re-reading the other Dark Sun settings books last year I was getting worried that the whole line may have actually been terrible and I was just too stupid to notice. Thankfully I genuinely liked City by the Silt Sea. I would go so far as to call it good. This review was prompted by the re-release of this product as a PDF by Wizards of the Coast.
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