Review – CITYBOOK I: Butcher Baker, Candlestick Maker

If dungeons are the beginning point of adventure, towns and cities are at the end. After all, adventurers needs someplace to go to rest and recuperate, get magic items identified, and spend all that loot they’ve accumulated from their perilous journeys into the unknown, right? Recognizing this, the earliest D&D campaigns – Blackmoor and Greyhawk – were not only named for their dungeons but also for their nearby towns and cities.

However, there is little guidance in Original D&D for how to put together a town or a city; I suspect Dave and Gary assumed that was the easy part of running a campaign. I certainly like coming up with stuff for cities and towns, but that’s not necessarily true for everybody. Recognizing this, Flying Buffalo, Inc. produced Citybook I as part of their Catalyst series of all-system supplements, and published in 1982.

Citybook I: Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker “…is not a complete city….while the establishments are described in detail, the choice of business included are those a group of adventurers is most likely to have an immediate interest in.” Basically, a referee can use the 25 establishments and their various NPCs in whatever way they want. While you could use the book as the framework for an entire city (which would be up to you as the referee to detail completely), it’s more likely you would pick and choose what you wanted to include in your campaign. That’s certainly what I did for my Southlands campaign, placing two Citybook businesses in Westguard town:

  • Skywhite’s House of Lavation: Adventuring can be a dirty business, and to wash away the grime of the quest there is no finer establishment in the City than Skywhite’s House of Lavation. This includes the plans for a quiet, almost Oriental style bathhouse, the four NPCs associated with it – the brother and sister who own and run it, and the two young musicians who work there, and three scenario ideas. “Those who refuse to take tea have their fees politely refunded, and are shown out with the admonition to return when in a better mood for a proper bathing experience….”
  • Larkspur the Leach: For the treatment of wounds, broken bones, disease, and other unpleasant legacies of the adventuring trade, the man to see is Larkspur. It might seem odd to include a chirurgeon in a fantasy world where clerics can heal, but it is also the case that someone like Larkspur might know things that a cleric would not. In addition to Larkspur, there’s Dame Gerda who cleans his house, and again, three scenario ideas. “He is especially eager to operate on non-human kindred such as elves and dwarves, since he knows very little concerning the physiology of these races.” (!)

It was actually tempting to add more.

Each one of the establishments in Citybook I is well-detailed but not so much so that a referee can’t add their own material. The lack of specific system information makes it easy for a referee to take the relatively abstract descriptions of fighting and magical ability and specify them using the rules of their choice. The book itself is divided into an introductory section, with guidelines for the referee, an article on “City Mastering and Citybuilding,” an explanation and key for all maps, and more ideas for referees. Following this, there are:

  • Lodging and Entertainment: an inn and a tavern
  • Personal Services: eight businesses ranging from Skywhite’s House of Lavation to Sleaz’s Tattoo Parlor
  • Hardware: Five businesses including a swordsmith, a bowyer, and a stable.
  • Food Services: three unique eateries
  • Community Services: a clocktower and a bellman’s service (so who distributes the news in your campaign? Think about it.)
  • Spiritual Services: a temple, a mortuary and a cemetery (all those player-characters lost in battle need a decent burial, right?)
  • Security Services: a barracks and a jail

…and the storylines and characters included for each of these have suggestions for connecting them to other establishments detailed in the book. The artwork and maps including with all of this are excellent – the maps are nicely detailed, and the artwork is evocative inkwork in black and white. Many of the character portraits are by Liz Danforth, whose distinctive and attractive style can be found in everything from Tunnels & Trolls to Challenge magazine articles for Twilight: 2000 to, well, here.

As you can probably tell, I really like Citybook I. Each establishment is detailed enough to be used “as is” but written to allow for individual modification and further creativity, and presented in an attractive format. If I had a criticism of Citybook I it would be that the backgrounds for each establishment are sufficiently interesting to become a distraction from a dungeon as the focus for player-character attention. But if that’s what’s wrong with this book…well, that’s hardly a criticism.

Rating: five dragons out of five.

4 thoughts on “Review – CITYBOOK I: Butcher Baker, Candlestick Maker

  1. Hey Ray!
    Good to hear from you!
    I’ll get the mag with your article Monday. This supplement reminds me of Gygax’s final work – Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds.

    One of the weaknesses of this type of a settlement is that it gives a DM a series of stage sets in which adventuring takes place, but it doesn’t show a DM how to build their own cities, how they grow etc.

  2. You’re right about that – there have been several fantasy supplements about running cities and towns, notably Midkemia’s Cities, but my favorite material for actually designing cities and towns is Paul Mason’s The Town Planner series in White Dwarf magazine, now lamentably out-of-print.

  3. I got sniped on eBay on a Liz Danforth print portfolio the other day, and it even had some originals in it. 16 seconds left. 🙁

  4. Definitely one of the finest products FBI ever put out. Very readable, and AIRC had very good art, layout, and maps. One of those books that’s fun to just flip open and start reading anyhwere.

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