Cities of Hyboria by Bryan Steele

What's a book like this supposed to do for you? It's supposed to provide a system for you to create small cities, towns, and villages for your game. It's supposed to provide a tool to jump start your creative juices. It's supposed to be a spring board that tosses you ideas that you improve upon to make interesting places for your players to explore.

This review is going to be fairly short because I think this book delivers in spades.

Steele has written a simple book. It's got three basic sections: A system to create small cities, towns, and villages; a section that discusses the topic in relation to different geographical areas of the Hyborian Age; and a section that provides full blown created cities and towns that you can drop into your game.

If you're looking for a book that does what this book attempts to do, you're in for a treat. This is a well written, very good book, that will absolutely add to your campaign.

Let's talk about the city creation system. It's designed to help you create small cities, towns, and villages (not huge places like Shadizar or Messantia). I'm using one of the pre-made towns in my current campaign, but I wanted to use the creation system to put some meet one what Bryan had already written. So, using what had already been established for Seven Stones Ridge, a Cimmerian town, I went through the system and determined that the town is comprised of several buildings--

Given in the Seven Stones write-up
1. Food cellar/Cold storage present
2. A blacksmith's forge.
3. Some continuing games or sports take place there.
4. Town Hall.
5. Cimmerian Oracle.
6. A gathering place (the seven standing stones given in the write-up)
7. A religious spot (the burial mound in the write up)
8. A Cimmerian Oracle

With the creation system, I added

9. A town storehouse.
10. A tanner.
11. A carpenter.
12. A barter house.
13. A general goods store.

Plus 16 home structures that are of three types: Homesteads; Cabins; Cimmerian Houses.

And, there are 140 people living in the town.

That's a lot of detail, making the town come alive, and it gives me a lot to work with should I map out the town.

When considering this review and considering what, if any, negatives displayed in the book, I realzed four small weaknesses.

First, there are a few typos in the book, but nothing so bad that you can't figure how to work a system or understand what was meant.

Second, there's a couple of strange "calls" Bryan made when writing the book, like the Cimmerian town of Seven Stones with a small crime problem. Cimmerians of the same clan will not steal from each other.

Third, this book contradicts some things I've read in the Cimmeria sourcebook. For example, the Cimmeria books says that Cimmerians are not literate and, in fact, think that writing is akin to sorcery. The write-up of Seven Stones Ridge, in the Cities book, shows Cimmerians reading and writing. Bryan writes that Seven Stones includes a witch as a resident where as, in the Cimmerian book, it is stated that only Oracles are used (and the Cities book has an entry for both witches and oracles).

Fourth, I think that, as good as this book is, it could be better with more options in the creation system. Most of the creation sections are adequate, but they could benefit from a larger number of choices.

Still, Bryan has written some thought provoking ideas into this book. For example, the entry that describes Game or Sport says: This signifies a small local affair, perhaps a wrestling circuit or competition archery range. It can be as simple as an ongoing dice game or a card table in a small shack, to a field devoted to throwing horseshoes or shot puts. It is remarkable what people will do for fun, especially in the Hyborian Age.

As soon as I read that, it has got me considering what neat sport or gaming event I can devise to be associated with Seven Stones. I've developed towns before, and this is the first time I've considered something like that.

And, that, my friends, is how I know this book is doing its job.

It's a good book. Recommended.

PS - The detailed cities you get in the last section of the book are the Zamorian city of Yezud featured in de Camp's Conan And The Spider God; the capital of Koth, Khorshemish, from Conan and the Scarlet Citadel, the Shemitish city of Eruk mentioned in Howard's Black Colossus; Yanyoga from Shadows in the Skull; and two new cities that includes a Cimmerian town (Seven Stones Ridge) and Hadraput, a nomadic village in the red wastes of Turan.

Bryan made exceptional, diverse choices with this mix of cities, showing you the breath of the book--how to make them from Conan stories and brand new ones to boot.
Supplement Four said:
It's a good book. Recommended.

Which isn't to say that the book doesn't suffer from whatever ailment makes the Mongoose supplements have a lot of errors in them. I'm looking at the NPC Rutcrana, in the section on Seven Stones Ridge, and one of her Feats is No Honor. A prerequisite of that Feat is that the character must not have a Code of Honor. Yet, keep reading through the stat block, you'll sure enough see that Rutcrana also has a Barbaric Code of Honor.

That type of thing sure is happening a lot with the supplements I've been using in my game: Cimmeria, Cities of Hyboria, and The Warrior's Companion. It would be one thing if errors like that only happened once. But, it seems each book I use has something like that in the crunch somewhere.

I hate it. It makes me feel like I can't "trust" the book. I feel like I've got to re-check all the crunch that comes before my eyes if its in a supplement. I start to wonder what I paid for.
There are plenty of books around that show how to detail cities and generate businesses/buildings and the like. So to that extent, I didn't feel this product added much value to my overall collection as a citybuilder tool (unlike Ruins of Hyboria which is great for sparking ideas in general).

What I did really appreciate, and this holds true for many Conan RPG products, were the sections on how each nation-culture's villages and cities differ from each other. They may not be very comprehensive but there's enough detail in there a GM can, with a few broad brush strokes, set a tone for one place that's different from another.

I'm really in love with the Hyboria, as presented by Mongoose, and even more how it's so very accessible for concept poaching when working with other fantasy settings. Road of Kings and Return to the Road of Kings are top of the heap here but many supplements enhance various cultures, inspired mostly by historical ones, and draw contrasts that are very playable and easy to use.

I kinda wish someone like Vincent would take on M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel and turn it into a more comprehensible place in the same manner he's tackled Howard's Hyboria. Granted, Hyboria's roots are far more familiar to Western eyes and the fans of Tekumel are even more rabid and picky. The creator of the world is still alive and kicking and likely very, very, opinionated.

But man that would be cool.