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Friday 4 March 2022

Friday Fantasy: The City of a Hundred Ships

The City of a Hundred Ships is an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Published by Critical Kit, it is designed for a party of four to five Player Characters of Sixth Level and is intended to be played in a single session, either as a one-shot or as part of an ongoing campaign. As part of a campaign, it is a direct sequel to the earlier Lady Trevant’s Bones, but whether it is used as a one-shot or a sequel, it involves a revolution (or a counter-revolution) which takes place on a strange night celebrating twilight, the period between day and night, aboard a giant fleet of seagoing vessels. The scenario will very probably involve some combat in its dénouement, but it primarily emphasises intrigue and interaction.

In Lady Trevant’s Bones the Player Characters became involved in a long-standing feud and subsequent Perigee Summit between two rival nations of Elves, the underworld dwelling Evershades and the maritime Midnight Banner, both descended from the same sea-faring Sea Elves that split roughly four thousand years ago. The summit is being held because the necromancer and Moonshade exile, T’Zraam, had broken into the tomb of Lady Trevant, the first leader of the Evershades, and attempted to raise her from the dead and in doing so, take command of the Evershades Elves. Neither faction could send anyone into the tomb because both regard it as hallowed ground, so thus the Player Characters were called upon to enter the tomb on the Elves’ behalf. At the end of the scenario, they will have stopped T’Zraam and taken possession of Lady Trevant’s Bones—which are regarded as equally sacred by the Evershades and the Midnight Banner—and in The City of a Hundred Ships, those bones will play a major role in the future of both groups of Elves.

The City of a Hundred Ships begins with the Player Characters aboard The Regolith, the flagship of Admiral Kalen Thriz, which is returning to the floating city of Maradusc, the famed ‘City of a Hundred Ships’, which is home to the Midnight Banner. They are the guests of the admiral, who wants to recognise them for their efforts in saving Lady Trevant’s Bones in the previous scenario. However, Admiral Kalen Thriz has another agenda. She wants a seat on the Umbra Ministry, the ruling council for Maradusc, currently split equally between the conservative theocrats and the progressive New Moon, with the former dominating because the head of the Umbra Ministry, Grandmaster T’Alath breaks ties and is a theocrat. Admiral Kalen Thriz is a known progressive and would stand alongside the New Moon, which would enable the faction to dominate the Umbra Ministry. This is not something that Grandmaster T’Alath and theocratic allies are prepared to tolerate.

Admiral Kalen Thriz and the Player Characters arrive on an auspicious night. Located in the far south, Maradusc spends half of the year in permanent night and half in permanent daylight with short periods of twilight between them. Great festivals are held on these twilight days, and one of these, the Festival of Shadows, is due to be celebrated during the twilight between the long night and long day. The Player Characters are invited to participate in this celebration, but when Grandmaster T’Alath moves against Admiral Kalen Thriz, they find themselves in an awkward situation as effectively, they no longer have the protection of  their patron and employer. However, they are given the means to move around and so have at least the length of the Festival of Shadows to decide what to do.

The City of a Hundred Ships provides a small sandbox—or since it takes place aboard a city of ships, is that a ‘shipbox’?—for which the Player Characters to explore and aboard which they can formulate their plans. Various NPCs and locations are detailed, including all six members of the Umbra Ministry, the Faculty of Diegesis where scholars record the history of the Midnight Banner through poetry, the prison ship where Admiral Kalen Thriz is being held, and The Aphelion, the largest vessel at the centre of Maradusc where the Umbra Ministry meets. For the Dungeon Master and her players there are two or three plot threads to follow—kept purposefully simple and straightforward because The City of a Hundred Ships is designed to played in the one evening, plus one or two random events, as well as the ceremonies for the Festival of Shadows. How it all plays is down to the players…

The Dungeon Master is also supported with stats for the scenario’s NPCs and a description of the Midnight Banner cannons which are to be used in the Festival of Shadows. These use the firepowder mined and milled in the town of Sercana, which suggests a possible link to the scenario, Lock-in at the Blind Raven. Unlike the other scenarios from Critical Kit, there are no treasures included in The City of a Hundred ShipsThe centrespread for The City of a Hundred Ships consists of a map of Maradusc and there is a small poster map included too.

Physically, The City of a Hundred Ships is decently presented, everything is easy to grasp, and the map is decent enough. It is an easy scenario to use, but not as easy a scenario to use in other settings as other scenarios are from Critical Kit. This is because, ultimately, The City of a Hundred Ships really works best as a sequel to Lady Trevant’s Bones. Where The City of a Hundred Ships is lacking is in the possible rewards that the Player Characters might earn in helping Admiral Kalen Thriz bring the bones of Lady Trevant to Maradusc or those that they might earn in coming to his aid when he is arrested. Some individual deck plans for the various ships in Maradusc might have also been useful, but those are something that the Dungeon Master can find and use herself.

Although it is not as developed in places as perhaps it should be, The City of a Hundred Ships is definitely best run as a sequel to Lady Trevant’s Bones and these is scope too, for the Dungeon Master to expand the scenario beyond its one night’s playing time. If it is run as a sequel to Lady Trevant’s Bones, then The City of a Hundred Ships packs a decent enough story for one night’s worth of intrigue, interaction, and stealth.

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