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Review RPG Setting

The Shifting City Zine Review

The Shifting City is a micro setting in Zine format focusing on the transdimensional city of Sarapesh. For reasons unknown but often speculated, this ancient city will transport itself between worlds, planes, and alternate realities, never staying in one place for more than a few days. As such, bizarre and wonderful creatures of all kinds inhabit it, drawn to it’s magnificent beauty, it’s treasures gathered from countless worlds, and the strange magic that imbues its walls with a power all its own. Two factions vie for control in a war that’s lasted generations; one, the crooked upper class of merchants known as the Panjandrum, who have taken the position of government within Sarapesh, using political maneuvering, legal theft, and assassination as tools of control. The other, a collection of disparate thieves guilds who run in shadows but are more straight forward in their goals, who operating inbetween the law, opposed against each other and the Panjandrum both.

That sparse description might not sell it, but trust me, the flavor is really strong here. A unique feature of The Shifting City is that it comes with 8 dungeon synth tracks to play while out in the city itself. I listened to these while reading through of the Zine and enjoyed them quite a bit. They are composed fairly well and aren’t too distracting that they would become a bother if put on during a session, but also really helped blend into the background to fill in the atmosphere. There are about 3 short stories spread throughout its 18 pages that serve as further pieces of set dressing. I had a blast reading these, as they reminded me of the short stories you’d come across in Morrowind while out exploring. Entertaining as they are by themselves, they do well to show us a bit how the city operates, subtly feeding us the politics of the factions and how they interact with one another. This Zine could have been stuffed with more of this and I wouldn’t complain one bit. Outside of the introduction, the other pieces have great accompanying art to help sell them. It’s only a shame there isn’t more throughout, because they are fantastic.

Aside from setting info, this Zine gives you lots of tables to draw from either at the moment at the table, or during your prep session. At the front there’s a d10 table of things currently going on inside of the city. One of my favorites include a sudden appearance of magic-feeding creatures that have come from the depths of the undercity, hitting the merchant class hard for their stockpiles of enchanted items. Another is one where a street urchin inherits a Panjandrum’s wealth and properties due to a clerical error, and begins promising reformation to the average citizens much to the dismay of the other corrupt Panjandrums. These are flavorful and hold implications as to the day to day of the city, though they don’t go into extended detail, allowing for DM input and general tweaking.

There is also a d10 table for making enchanted items, though it is a bit underwhelming outside a few standouts. Nothing more to really say on this end, so I won’t beleaguer the point.

Now, the real meat and potatoes comes in the form of creating any number of thieves guilds or singular Panjandrum members. Guilds get tables for their name, what their price is for their services, what they like to steal, etc. Panjandrum on the other hand may generate their titles, what sort of entourage accompanies them around the city, and their personality traits and interest/ obsession. You can even make Guild Hideouts and Panjandrum Villas using multi-layered generators towards the back of the book. Admittedly, the Panjandrum get some fantastical and just straight weird setpieces, decorations, and visuals to populate their headquarters with compared to the Thieves Guilds. Which is a shame because it leaves the Guilds with options that match in quantity, but not creativity. Even if it is thematically appropriate, the stuff Panjandrum get is more interesting aside from a few great standouts the Guilds get.

Still, they both serve their purpose well, and to make a flowchart of either a hideout or villa takes a handful of minutes at most. The book also states that aside from a flowchart, which seems to be what it is most accommodating towards, you can roll up the details to later make a gridded dungeon crawl, which is honestly what I would likely do myself.

At the back of the Zine is a stand alone one shot, seemingly made up of the many generators the Zine carries within it. Though that isn’t overtly told to you, all the markings of the generators can be seen throughout it. As described during the briefing, players have been hired by a Guild to steal from a Panjandrum elite who will sell off a magic item to a powerful god-like entity within her Villa by 12 o’clock pm. There is a time mechanic wherein certain events will play out the longer Players take to reach the macguffin. Diagrams showing the layout of the villa are shown in great detail here, surrounded by letterboxes of useful information pertaining to each floor and what players can affect. Certain searches take a set amount of time to uncover, such as an illusionary window on the second floor of the Villa that takes an hour to find, or a secret door that takes half an hour to uncover. There are usually benefits to both quick and long searches, such as certain characters appearing while taking a longer time to search at the expense of missing out on a secret door or item.

Longer searches usually mean that being discovered by patrolling guards is more likely. Though I understand the design choices behind these mechanics, I can’t help but find them arbitrary measures to pad out the timer so players cannot reach the end before certain events can trigger. While reading I couldn’t help but ask myself why a longer search wouldn’t reveal both the Etherium Leaves inside the gardening room we’re standing in AND the secret door leading to the floor below? Aside from the strange search mechanics however, the adventure seems apt to run theater of the mind style games as is. For anything outside of that however, DM’s will need to grid it out and do a bit of tweaking, which isn’t too bad given it is system agnostic so some of that has to happen anyway eventually.

Final Thoughts

The setting is ripe for any willing imagination, and what’s here is generally just plain interesting to read. They synth tracks are great unobtrusive pieces. I do wish there were more short stories to add flavor and detail to the lore of the city and it’s inhabitants, though that’s more because I liked the use of them and not because it lacks the detail needed to run it. Comparisons to Rakehell’s factions and how they interact with each other come to mind. A marketplace generator would have been a great addition, something to expand the admittedly lackluster section of newest wares inside of the zine already. In a city of interdimensional trade hosting a multitude of otherworldy objects of great power, something that fleshes out these oddities seems strange to have missing from it.

Despite that, the guild and panjandrum generators offer a nice little resource for DM’s to draw from. Running a few sessions in Sarapesh would be a fun distraction away from one’s main campaign, and could serve as a reoccurring stop amid a longer journey. For just a few bucks you might be tempted to try it out at the very least.

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