A Review of the Role Playing Game Supplement The Lost Lands: Bard’s Gate for Fifth Edition

The Lost Lands: Bard’s Gate for Fifth Edition is a role playing game supplement published by Frog God Games for use with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. As such, it is covered by the Open Game License and some parts are considered to be Open Game Content as a result. Bard’s Gate is a city book and the city itself is the major location in Frog God Games’ Lost Lands setting. This is an extensively revised version of the original D&D 3.x Bard’s Gate supplement from Necromancer Games, and it is also available in supplements for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and Swords & Wizardry (as is true for most of the Lost Lands supplements from Frog God Games).

 The Lost Lands: Bard's Gate for Fifth EditionThe PDF is available from RPGNow at the regular price of $26.79 but was purchased at the reduced price of $8.04. This is a 419 page PDF. Two pages are the colour front and rear covers, one page is the front matter, one page is the Foreword, one page is an ad for other products, three pages are the Table of Contents, two pages are the Open Game License and one page is Obituaries, where characters and how they died can be listed. There are also 52 pages of maps, each of which has a full colour map of a location and the final page is a 25.5″x21″ map of the city.

The single page Foreword is a brief introduction to this version of Bard’s Gate.

The Introduction actually has a substantial amount of content, not being just a brief overview. There is an overview of the city which is followed by its history. Said history of the city has been extensively expanded over that in the original supplement. The latter just had a simple timeline of events; this edition has a fully fledged and wonderfully detailed history spanning many pages, expanding on the original timeline events and adding new ones, ending in a timeline of its own – or several; different calendars are listed – with many more details. Also in the Introduction are the different peoples who can be found in the city and the languages spoken and a City Directory, listing the various different locations detailed by category (some locations can appear under more than one category). The Introduction also has details on local drinks, currency, laws, customs and religion and an explanations on the district characteristics section found at the beginning of every chapter describing the city’s districts.

Chapter 1: City in the Lyre Valley starts with using Bard’s Gate in the Lost Lands setting. This is followed by information on its Suzerainty, the unconnected areas over which the city exerts different levels of influence, followed by the trading partners and allies.

Chapter 2: Valley of the Lyre – Beyond the Walls of the City has information on the valley, including wandering monster charts (the region is not that safe) and the various places of interest in the nearby vicinity, some connected to the city and others more adventuring sites.

Chapter 3: Groups and Organisations covers the various groups of significance in the city. The military, city guards and law enforcement are all related to government, then there are the guilds, which wield a lot of power and help to rule the city. Not all of the guilds are official ones either, but this does not mean they are powerless. Organisations are above ground known organisations and secret organisations are those that are hidden. Many of the latter are evil (and the Cult of Orcus is of course one of them), or criminal, but some are neither.

Chapter 4: The Politics of Bard’s Gate covers the politics within and without the city. Within the city, this is the government, the guilds and factions and social standing. Without, this is largely the humanoids outside the city.

Chapter 5: Property Value and Land Ownership covers buying property, property tax, property values by city district, the different types of property, upgrades and upkeep and going into business.

Chapter 6: Wealth Factor – For Richer or Poorer covers the different levels of class – with a note that the city is primarily mercantile in nature, so noble doesn’t mean the same thing – the wealth factor, how to determine social class, and what it costs, as well as gossip and interactions between classes. This can be used for other settings.

Chapters 7 to 24 cover each district of the city as well as the locations outside the city walls such as Tent City and Stable Row. Some locations are not as well known; the Market District chapter also covers the underground Black Market, the Catacombs, which are under the Old Temple District, have their own chapter. Each area of the city described begins with a standard information box covering the same material with details specific for that district; an explanation for these can be found in the Introduction. A map of the area, superimposed over one of the city, has the major locations and areas marked, and some buildings in some districts have floor plans and more detailed descriptions.

Chapter 25: Other Locations covers other locations that are not really districts, and some of which are outside the walls, are covered, the City of Ashes, Hel’s Acre and the Sewers. These are not covered in the same level of detail as the various districts, with only the City of Ashes having a map, and no points of interest are described fully.

Appendix A: NPCs of Bard’s Gate covers a number of the major non-player characters. Most are covered as and when they are encountered in the city description; these NPCs are the most important who can be met in a variety of places.

Appendix B: Random Encounters has random encounter tables for the various districts of the city, as well as the areas from Chapter 25. These tables are then followed by descriptions of what’s encountered, including stats.

Appendix C: New Magic has a few new magic items, which either crop up in the city description or in the adventures. Most of these are unusual items, with some being legendary in nature.

Adventures in Bard’s Gate is essentially a separate book that is a collection of adventures in an around Bard’s Gate, more than were in the original.

Crommlen’s Ghosts is an adventure for 4-6 characters of levels 1-3 in which the characters have to track down some bandits who are kidnapping travellers from outside the city. The kidnap victims are being enslaved.

A Matter of Faith is an adventure for 4-6 characters of levels 3-6. Once again, there have been a number of disappearances. Once again, those taken are being sold into slavery, and the slavers may flee and take refuge in the mine from the previous adventure (which the characters may have cleared out once already).

The Over and Under is an adventure for 4-6 characters of 5th to 7th level. They are recruited to steal something from a casino, but it must be done in such a way that nobody suspects what they are doing and without killing anyone. A heist in other words. There are a couple of potential ruses provided by which characters could infiltrate the casino.

The Rat Who Feasts Upon the Cat is an adventure of 4-6 characters of levels 5-7, with some more specific class recommendations. This adventure has characters stopping an attack on the Temple of Bast by followers of a rat goddess whilst the most powerful priests of out of town.

Galera’s Basement is not an adventure as such, simply a location mentioned earlier that is now covered in more detail, with some suggestions as how to use it. It is suggested for 4-6 characters of level 6.

The Gnoll Fortress is a cross between an adventure and a location, intended for 4-6 characters of level 8+. Characters could stumble across signs of a gnoll attack and follow these back to the fortress. This, and Slip-Gallows Abbey, are the only two adventures, or adventure locations, that were in the original supplement.

 The Lost Lands: Bard's Gate for Fifth Edition MapThe Hidden Huscarl is recommended for 3-4 characters of levels 8-10 and is an adventure where the characters have to find a kidnapped ship’s captain who offended the most powerful criminal in the city. It’s stated that this adventure could be used as a link to The Northlands Saga Complete (although that adventure is only available for Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry; given its sheer size, adapting it to 5E to use with this supplement would be a major task).

Slip-Gallows Abbey is recommended for 4-6 characters of level 10+. The abbey is a site that could be visited on several locations and is the headquarters of the former Bard’s Gate Thieves Guild until it was destroyed by a curse.

The Map Appendix is the final section and contains full colour maps of the city and various places covered in the city description or visited in the adventures. These maps are larger, all being full page, than the ones in the text, and come in Player’s and GM’s versions.

The Lost Lands: Bard’s Gate for Fifth Edition in Review

The PDF is extremely well bookmarked, with major, minor and subsections linked The Table of Contents is thorough, but doesn’t go into the same level of detail. Navigation is therefore very good – a definite plus for a supplement of this size.

The text maintains a two column, full colour layout, there is a heck of a lot of text on each page; so much that it really needs to be read on something substantial or hardcopy, as the font is a little small (it’s smaller than what would normally be expected) to read on smaller tablets at columns per page – it really needs zooming in. Given the small font, there is actually more content in the book than might be thought simply from its, admittedly by itself impressive, page count. There are some minor errors in the text, the occasional wrong word, duplicated piece of text or grammatical error, but given the sheer amount of text in the supplement – remember, this is big and written in a smaller than usual font (which can be a bit tricky to read at times) – it has a comparatively low number of errors; less than the original supplement.

The pages have a full colour background, there are many full colour maps, including the big poster map, and there are many illustrations, all of which appear to be custom and fit the supplement, up to a full page in size. Presentation is therefore excellent.

The supplement has gone a serious upgrade from the original version. The history section is now much longer, and much more evocative, than it was in the original city book. The timeline has been expanded, with several different calendars, and the entries are more detailed, tying it more into the history of the setting. What might have been a mere couple of entries in the timeline in the original supplement is now a series of more detailed entries that are described in what is the equivalent of a short story.

Chapter 1 references a number of other Frog God products, mostly The Lost Lands: Stoneheart Valley (which combines the old Necromancer Games D&D 3.x adventures The Wizard’s Amulet, The Crucible of Freya and The Tomb of Abysthor), The Lost Lands: Borderland Provinces and The Lost Lands: Sword of Air but also The Lost Lands: The Northlands Saga Complete and The Lost Lands: Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms, all of which come in versions for Pathfinder, D&D 5E and Swords & Wizardry. Shades of Gray from Necromancer Games, a D&D 3.x product, is also mentioned, although it’s pointed out that the original map has been changed and that readers should instead refer to the Gulf of Akados Region map. It’s stated that this supplement may be updated at some point. Another Necromancer D&D 3.x product, The Grey Citadel, is also mentioned later. Stoneheart Valley is also referenced on a number of different occasions, as it is the local area near the city. Quests of Doom is a compilation of adventures and a number of these are referenced at various times throughout. There are, of course, a number of references to Rappan Athuk as well. Fifth Edition Foes, a 5th Edition Bestiary from Frog God Games, is referenced a number of times as is The Eamonvale Incursion. Even with all the references to other supplements, none are really necessary to use,

There are quite a few references to games, publishers and other aspects of the RPG industry; for example, there is a book and game shop which mentions a popular halfling game called “Papers & Paychecks” where players pretend to be workers and students in an industrialised and technological society, and the shop also publishes a magazine with the initials TSR (and has some staff with familiar, and rather un-gnomish, first names), a diviner who has more than a few similarities to a well known RPG reviewer and a tavern named after a famous site – and there are many more. Catching all the references would probably take some time and a few read throughs.

Bard’s Gate has an unusual level of dominance in neighbouring, and not so neighbouring, nations. Despite being hundreds of miles from the sea by land, and more by water, it has a large navy; the sea vessels are based out of ports that the city controls, rather than being based at the city itself. Its “Suzerainty” covers nearly 6 million people of different races – a substantial number for the type of setting – through various outposts, towns and nations that tie the trading empire together. To some degree, this resembles the colonial European empires, particularly the British Empire – which was a collection of various bits of land under different levels of rulership, all of which were intended to benefit trade, but perhaps the biggest similarity is to the Most Serene Republic of Venice at its height – if Venice were hundreds of miles inland rather than being in a coastal lagoon.

The book has a lot of small details which make Bard’s Gate seem like a real place. For example, the drinks – there are a variety of different drinks (all named) of different types, prices and popularities that are available in different places in the city, and each drinking establishment has a list of what drinks are served – and sometimes why; there’s a bit of a feud going between a low quality brewer and a more recent, higher quality one. Only a few locations are covered in every district, but there are still a whole host of adventure hooks and interesting NPCs to interact with.

The city of Bard’s Gate may be generally good in nature, but there are still are a lot of evil people and cults. The Cult of Orcus is, of course, naturally present, but it’s not the only one. These cults and organisations do, of course, provide adventuring options for characters – a city that was wholly good would present little interest to the typical player.

Chapters 5 and 6 are actually quite generically useful; these can be scavenged for details that can, with various degrees of tweaking, be used in other settings. Even though Bard’s Gate is now more tightly tied into the Lost Lands setting, it is still possible to lift it out – probably including the surrounding Valley of the Lyre and site it in another setting. References to other nations can be changed or removed, and perhaps the size of the Suzerainty could be altered, or even removed.

The expanded adventure section now has quite a few different adventures that characters can now do in and around the city. It’s a bit of a shame that Crommlen’s Ghosts and A Matter of Faith are actually so similar, but the inclusion of a heist adventure, with The Over and Under, is an interesting change.

The end result is a magnificently detailed and expanded city that practically seems alive, an improvement over the original Bard’s Gate supplement. The little details, the extras, all add to this impression. The Lost Lands: Bard’s Gate for Fifth Edition is a fantastic city book and can be found by clicking here.

 

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