Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Inferno: City of Glasya-Labolas Review — Hell is a lot like South Florida

In high school I had to read Dante's (Divine) Comedy, at least parts of it, mostly the Inferno part about Hell and its 9 circles. While largely meant to be political satire of the day, the vivid descriptions and sheer depth of the descriptions of Hell really leaves an impression. Which is why it's remembered so well today and used for some many products - at least books and games.

Back in the old days Geoffrey O. Dale must have been similarly captivated, because he released a hex crawl of Dante's Hell, Inferno. Well, more like 4/9s of them. I actually had missed this back in the day, but Fight On! published a 5th circle and it really impressed me. So I've been following Mr. Dale's attempts at continuing his Inferno line (along with Erik Elkmann), despite the fact that the modern releases are not really compatible with D&D, old school or modern, except very vaguely like any fantasy RPG is.

Inferno: City of Glasya-Labalos is the latest product in the line, detailing a small city on the plane of Gehenna. The name of the city might be familiar, as it's a "real" name of a devil/demon which EGG re-purposed as the name of Asmoedeus's daughter (Glasya). At 163 pages (plus another booklet with stats for NPCs) it's a remarkably detailed look at the city and its environs, but the level of detail in the city itself comes at the expense of flavor, or even coherence, really.

The first fifty or so pages describe the outlying area of Glasya-Labolas. It's a hot, swampy region near an ocean that seems very much like South Florida, albeit one circa 1900 or so. There are small islands, or "kays", with small villages on them, sometimes with a nearby dungeon.

These towns are described building by building, with a paragraph or so on who owns it, who works there, what it offers, etc. These are often not what you expect from a fantasy village, but something from the turn of (last) century. For instance, the town located on Caimanland Island, which has 40 buildings described, has for entertainment a cardhouse, a casino, and a "finishing school" (which is really a brothel. Businesses are semi-industrial, with tar, sap, oil and rendering plants. They come off as fairly "real" places, if not quite what you'd expect from a village in Hell.

There are a couple of dungeons, both decent sized. One is a cave complex, the other a temple. The formatting for the cave complex is weird, there are no line breaks or space between keyed locations. The other is more readable. In either case, they are pretty solid dungeons, the authors are good coming up with a nice mix of strange rooms and combat, though some are just strange, like the room with a statue of a monkey in a beret and accordion.

The city proper gets the next 100 or so pages. It really is a city, not just a small town, and is described block by block. Unfortunately, the descriptive style changes from a decent amount of detail to simply lists of people and places. Not even a line of prose to describe what is what or who is who. Just lists of street names, lists of buildings/businesses, and a list of notable people (and their job title).

There is a huge amount of information, but it's difficult to get a feel for the city. It's not a sketch, it's not a travel guide, it's more like a phone book. The supplemental NPC book helps out a little, giving stats and some details about about 100 NPCs, but it suffers from covering the "important" people of the city, all of whom seem to be elderly or at least in their late middle age.

Inferno: City of Glasya-Labolas is an impressive product in its way, and clearly a labor of love, but its probably too ambitious for its own good. Rather than literally listing the whole city building by building, it probably would have been best to give us just the highlights, but with actual detail on the important places and people. Or even the unimportant places and people. They did such a good job with the surrounding settlements, it's a bit of a downer when you get to the city.

It's very reasonably priced (unlike their other products), especially so considering the bundle with the city book and the NPC stat book is cheaper than just the city book and if nothing else, can be mined for ideas, The islands in particular can easily be set in any swamp region, albeit with a slightly different feel than typical fantasy settings.

Indeed, one of the odder things is that even though the city (and environs) are literally in Hell, it's actually a fairly nice place, much less brutal than some of the more notorious fantasy cities like Lankhmar or Sanctuary. 

No comments:

Post a Comment