Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Review of A Magical Society: Silk Road

I dig Expeditious Retreat Press, and not only cause they're named after one of my favorite spells. Their "A Magical Society" series has consistently been good. I recently got a great deal on eBay and added Silk Road to my collection. It's a supplement I hadn't realized was so great or I'd have bought it sooner. You can get yours in dead tree, $27 or electronic, $13 versions.

A Magical Society: Silk Road is 160 page OGL (nominally d20) supplement detailing great overland trade routes akin to the Historic Silk Road. Six Chapters, some Maps, Appendix, Bibliography, no index (although for this book I don't think it's a big deal)


Chapter 1 - Components of Silk Roads

Discusses the geographic foundations, cultural groups, and common attributes that form silk roads. Fascinating discussion of what caused the historic Silk Road and the salient features required to create one in your world.

So simplified as to probably be unintelligible it goes like this -> Geographic barriers isolate bordering cultures. Barrier cultures migrate to (are forced into) the barrier zone. Eventually rich bordering cultures on opposite sides of barrier get a hankering for each other's luxuries and bam! silk road with barrier cultures as middlemen.


Chapter 2 - Traveling on Silk Roads

Drilling down from the foundation of chapter 1 this chapter explains how to connect border civilization centers to each other across barrier zone(s). Identifying crossroads, major trade centers, and specific routes.

Second part of chapter details who travels the silk road. What they need to consider (planing, navigation, animals, currency, language) and what effects they cause such as spreading culture and religion.


Chapter 3 - Types of Caravans

Covers (in detail) landscape, hazards, avoiding/surviving them, animals including fantastic beasts, and how to adjudicate/DM four types of caravans; ye old Desert Caravan, misty mtn High-Altitude Caravan, stinky Swamp Caravan, and depths of the earth Underground Caravan. The first showing of d20 mechanics. Very slight and eminently convertible to whatever.

Wow. This chapter rocks. It has so much great information on travel and beasts of burden. Really great resource for wilderness travel/adventure with our without 100 laden camels in tow. It's now my goto resource for traveling the great outdoors (and underground).


Chapter 4 - Money Matters

This short chapter explains micro and macro trade, the kinds of trade goods, and details a d20 trade system (btw, last bit of d20 for the haters out there).

Overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the previous and next chapters I haven't looked at this one in detail. Looks reasonable, would really have to playtest system to properly evaluate it. Judging on quality of rest of book and other XP products I've read I'm sure it's good. If not, it's only 12 pages.


Chapter 5 - Trade Goods

Holy detail batman! More than a third of the book (66 pgs) this chapter is a nicely categorized list of goods. Over a thousand goods for trading, including some fantastic products such as owlbear skins and admantium. Includes cost/lb and transport value which is weight / bulk as compared to grain's 50 lbs per bushel (15" cube). Transport value is something I've always wanted but never found in other lists of goods. Weight is not enough, you need to know how much space/containers something takes up.

That list is valuable enough. But, XP went the extra step of providing paragraph of detail on the goods. Cause not everyone knows what Chrysocolla is or the color and common uses of Yellow Cedar.


Chapter 6 - The Historic Silk Road

Ten pages including several nice maps all about the historic Silk Road. I'll read it some day I'm sure.


Appendix & Bibliography

The appendix supplements chapter 5 with descriptions of crafts and adornments e.g. inlay, brocade, sericulture, lacquer, cloisonné. It's a nice addition and just the sort of thing that leads me to spend next 12 hours following links on Wikipeadia.

Bibliography == author rocks. It means research was done. It means author has some sense / ability of organization and academic attitude. It (usually) means a higher quality of book. All of these are evident in A Magical Society: Silk Road.


Conclusion

I think A Magical Society: Silk Road has become my favorite XP book. Probably not the one I use the most but the one I most enjoy using.

Buy A Magical Society: Silk Road
if:
  • (Obviously) to run a campaign situated within or near a "Silk Road".
  • Players have dreams of merchant empires or pirate fleets.
  • You want detailed treatment of wilderness travel & transportation.
  • You need an excellent list of (historic/fantasy) trade goods for whatever reason.
  • You're making an OGL game and could use any of the fantastic parts of this book.


One of the coolest things XP does in terms of the OGL,

"All text is deemed open content."



So, go produce a Canal Traders of Mars or Dealers of the Depths or whatever and release it to the world. Open Source rocks!

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