The second GM’s Miscellany-book containing Urban Dressings clocks in at a mighty 121 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 114 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
But wait, before we do: Let’s rewind the clock for a second, shall we? The ardent reader may have noticed that GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing and Dungeon Dressing are on my EZG Essential list; the books also shared my number 1 best book spot in 2014…so if I consider these books so great, how come I never got as excited about the first GM’s Miscellany: Urban Dressing book? There is a simple reason for that: The book tried to chop up an urban environment in its constituent elements; shops, traders, parks – you get the idea. The approach sounds valid in theory, but in practice, I found the results to be…well. Too generic, there’s no sugar-coating it. The book works well, but considering the vast amount of dynamic elements present in a given urban environment, it also had components missing. Suffice to say, of all the dressing-series by Raging Swan Press, the one book that does not get used ALL THE TIME is the first Urban Dressing book. (I’m not kidding: GMs, get the Wilderness and Dungeon books NOW; there literally is no GM and campaign that will not be improved by them. Players – these are perfect present for your GM…and the books will improve your playing experience!)
So yeah, when I saw, of all the dressing books, that the Urban line was continued…I wasn’t really excited. This changed. Fast. You see, taking a cue from the lavishly-detailed Raging Swan press-modules, the series stopped trying to chop up towns; instead, it began focusing on *types* of town. Table-wise, the individual installments would contain sights and sounds to witness: Equal parts local color, atmosphere building and adventure hook; then, businesses with fluff-only owners, similarly fluff-centric folks would provide the people you’d need when the PCs suddenly start looking for the local cobbler, the tax collector…you name it. GMs lacking the immediate inspiration to get the PCs hooked in a given adventuring context could resort to tables containing hooks and complications that provide for instant action and means of dragging PCs into the respective environment – actual ROLEplaying catalysts, if you will.
This change of structure and focus has served the series EXCEEDINGLY well and subsequently, the Urban Dressing-series has turned from a mixed bag on the positive side of things into a much-used commodity at my table. This compilation, then, would be what collects this improved part of the series and collects it in one handy tome. Now why should you care? Simple: It may sound odd, but while I love using the small pdfs at my table…the organization of the big books is simply glorious. There is some level of convenience inherent in just flipping open the book spontaneously and roll with it. It’s an odd phenomenon, but one that not only my group has experienced.
Traditionally, the Dressing-series by Raging Swan Press have featured bonus content in compilations like this – and this time around, we get 2 pages that provide interesting considerations regarding the naming of thoroughfares in your game -I considered the article well-written and sensible, though some tables with sample names and the like, a quick generator, would certainly have been appreciated. Now content-wise, we cover a lot of ground: Borderland towns, bridge town, decadent towns (called “decedent” in the bookmarks in one of the rare Raging Swan Press typos), dwarven towns, elven towns, logging towns, marsh towns, mining towns, pirate towns, plague towns, port towns, slum towns, trade towns and war-torn towns all are covered. They do have in common that I have actually covered the respective pdfs in their individual reviews – so please just click on the Urban Dressing tag on my site and you should get a list of them. I don’t like being too redundant, so let’s just give you a general impression: The vast majority of them absolutely ROCK and even the less awesome installments are “only” very good. The second season, if you will, of Urban Dressing is extremely impressive.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’s 2-column b/w-standard and is pretty printer-friendly. The pdf sports a blending of glorious previously released b/w-artwork and new pieces. The pdf comes in two versions: One optimized for screen-use and one optimized for the printer. The pdf comes with excessive bookmarks to each table, making screen-navigation very easy. Unfortunately, I do not yet have the print copy, but it is very high priority to get; the wilderness dressing and dungeon dressing books, after all, are excessively used in my games and both leave nothing to be desired.
Josh Vogt singlehandedly revolutionized the series and managed to maintain a level of quality in his tables that is baffling: Each installment features this eclectic blending of the mundane and magical, the common and weird that makes the tables actually FUN to read. Not kidding you; I actually look forward to reading them. This whole book was crafted by master Vogt…and it can be considered to be a true achievement, there’s no way around it. This humble, unpretentious book improves the game in much the same way as its Dressing-brethren did before for Wilderness and Dungeon environments.
So let me make the following abundantly clear – as a person, I consider this to be an absolutely superb resource. If I had to complain about one thing, then that would be that the book features basically no rules-relevant information – the NPCs have alignment and class information in brackets, but that’s about it. You won’t find any terrain hazards, settlement qualities or the like herein. The system-neutral version gets rid of these class information tidbits, making it truly neutral…but apart from mostly cosmetic distinctions, both versions are pretty close.
Yeah, that’s about all of the negativity I can muster towards this glorious tome. Let me make abundantly clear how useful this book is in the most rewarding way, by simply writing my verdict. This book is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016, gets 5 stars and seal of approval and it also receives the EZG Essential tag; I literally don’t want to run a fantasy campaign without it anymore! So here’s to hoping that we see more from master Vogt and Raging Swan Press – there are frankly few books that have so successfully improved my game…and I play in German and have to translate these on the fly. So yes, GMs, get this now, whether you’re playing Pathfinder, 5e, 13th Age, OSR – no matter the fantasy campaign, your game will benefit from this book! I certainly know that this made me a better GM.
You can get this massive, glorious book here on OBS!
If you prefer it completely purged of even the slightest remnant of crunch, the completely system-neutral version can be found here!