The Nights of the Crusades game’s bread and butter is the juxtaposition of a fairly gritty, down-to-earth representation of the historical world during the crusades and just enough of the odd, mystical and supernatural to make it as haunting and frightening as the people of the period thought the world actually was. Your character is not going to run into a fireball throwing wizard or bloodthirsty ork in a Nights of the Crusades session but you just might face a ghost, a curse or a thing that should not be. Almost as likely is the possibility of your character dying from some plague or going insane from the seeing too much of the horrible face of violence. The City of 10 Rings adventure supplement fully lives up to this promise, providing a setting grounded in medieval society but incorporating much that is darkly supernatural.
The City of Ten Rings (the only name the city that is the subject of the book has) is a classic hidden metropolis reminiscent of Atlantis, Xanadu or, more appropriately for the setting, Babylon. Few know where to find the city and fewer still have the ability to get there and even fewer are welcomed. For all that, it is a economically rich metropolis and engages in carefully controlled trade of the special metal that forms the heart of the city with distant lands. Thus, though a difficult place to get to, characters could arrive there as sailors, guards or traders, either voluntary or involuntary on a trading vessel. For that matter, they might learn rumors of its existence and the wonders it possesses and go on a quest to find it for any number of reasons. How welcome they are when they get there is another matter.
There is not much in the way of overall history or topography given for the city. The fact that the city was founded by a group of curious scholars on the enormous crater created by the impact of a meteor and how the ripples in the stone caused by that impact form the borders between the rings are described in the introductory portion of the supplement. Additionally, the minimal government of the city, namely that each ring is ruled by a Ring Bearer is provided in the few pages that make up this section. The remaining details are rightly left to the section that describes each ring.
As might be expected by the name, there are ten of these rings, ranging from the graveyard that is the Ring of Bone on the outermost edge to the highly restricted, highly dangerous realm of study that is the Ring of Stars in the middle. Actually, “highly dangerous” is something of a relative term in this city as every one of the Rings has its own dangers, from the rapacious traders of the Ring of Gold who will trample over anyone for a profit to the hidden, ever watching guard of the opulent Ring of Silver who are looking for any excuse to arrest or exile outsiders. There is not one ring in the city that is not fraught with danger for those who do not understand its hazards. And all these hazards are not entirely mundane. There is a definite air of dark magic around many of the rings. For that matter, most of the rings are fairly restrictive. Even citizens of other rings are considered outsiders, in a way and can expect less than a warm welcome.
The format for each ring is set up to make adventure design particularly easy. After a short description of the ring and the ring bearer, each contains three charts: one with ten street names, one with ten locations and one with ten events. The charts of the street names contain nothing more than the Arabic name and a translation into English and are meant to be used only to provide some color, letting the Tale-Weaver provide a little color when characters find themselves in a Ring.
The locations and events, however, are fleshed out more completely. Each one contains an in-game description, usually of the people and objects of the location or event, as well as behind the scenes information for the Game Master. While these are hooks rather than full adventures, each of the ten rings contains ten of each, providing a full 200 hooks for Tale-Weavers to gain inspiration from.
Much like the streets, the locations are more for flavor and can be thrown in as a bit of color when the characters are wandering around a Ring or first arrive in one. The hooks provided, though are easily complex enough to draw characters into a short encounter and could just as easily be expanded into a full scale adventure.
These adventures can incorporate some of the Events provided. In fact, for Tale-Weavers strapped for ideas, the book advises rolling up three random encounters (each encounter determined by a d10 roll to determine the ring and another d10 roll to determine the event within that ring) and combining them with their knowledge of their characters and players to craft an adventure. The encounters that are given for the Locations could be easily substituted in for the Events, too.
Of course, Tale-Weavers are free to pick and chose the Events and Locations they want to use as well as designing their own adventures in the City of 10 Rings using the Locations and characters provided or coming up with their own.
Neither path comes without some work, however. Other than the random street, location and event charts, there are no mechanics included in the supplement. Tale-Weavers are required to stat up the opponents and hazards their players will face, an activity that should no doubt take place before the adventure begins unless they have very patient players.
Whether or not this is a flaw largely depends on how a Tale-Weaver approaches a game. It is hard to beat getting 200 adventure elements in one book and if each one was fully detailed, only a tiny fraction could be included or the supplement would be gargantuan. As it is, each Ring’s Locations fit on one page while its Events fit on another. For Tale-Weavers with more time and elbow grease than inspiration, the format works perfectly. For Tale-Weavers with plenty of inspiration, it is of less value, but still quite useful as a sourcebook for an exotic setting.
Given the origins of the city, it is almost required that an element of something from beyond the stars be included in The City of 10 Rings. The supplement delivers, in this regard, as well. While not heavily fleshed out, there are plenty of oblique and direct references to creatures that have either been mutated by the strange energies of the meteorite that formed the foundation of the City of 10 Rings or that potentially arrived on that very meteorite. While none are of Great Old Ones levels, there is plenty of room for terror from beyond the stars in the location.
With The City of 10 Rings Aetheric Dreams has once again nicely incorporated the real world setting that most of us are familiar with as the idealized inspiration of our gaming lives with the realities of that period and the darkness that was common in both life and storytelling at the time