So I got Jalizar - City of Thieves just before Christmas in July -sales - which is good for you if you're interested in this great urban setting, as I got my review written when there's still little time to buy it on sale if you hurry. I had to finish this review in a hurry, so I apologise if I've forgotten something
I finally had time to buy and read this pdf, and I'm really happy I got it. I'm a great fan of urban settings, and my last two fantasy campaigns were set in Ptolus and Dark Harbor (both by Monte Cook, latter was small town for Iron Heroes). I was surprised to find only brief reviews of this book so I decided to write a review. About the other settings I've used, Jalizar is closer to Dark Harbor than Ptolus when it comes to book size, but then again Ptolus is pretty much a chapter of it's own, immense in detail - and in D20 you can't live without detail. Btw, Ptolus is also on sale still for a moment - price of the pdf is 1/3 of what I paid for the book.
Like with many earlier Umberto Pignatelli's books, I find myself being drawn into the stories written in the books, and as I read these stories, my mind starts weaving many different story patterns I could use in my games.
Part of Beast & Barbarian's Dread Star Realms
Lore of Jalizar ties nicely with the history in Beasts & Barbarians and opens some of the mysteries in it. By no means it makes Jalizar a necessary purchase for B&B, as open hooks are just tools for a resourceful gamemaster, but it is interesting reading and gives even more hooks.
Cultures of DSR are well presented in Jalizar; special focus is given to Jademen, who one day arrived to the city, with a good reason. History of Jalizar has a lot to do with history of Cairnlords. Perhaps my favourite detail in the city is huge, expensive Faberterran -style baths that were built in the middle of the city right next to Royal palace, which were then turned into abandoned area as the water turned foul and now no-one wants to go near it as there's something eerie about it.
One thing I'm sorry about is that City of Thieves feels so fascinating as a centerpoint of a campaign, with it's filth, misery, corruption and power struggles, that I'm almost sorry I'm currently running more 'generic' Beasts & Barbarians campaign. I've had thoughts of bringing heroes to Jalizar at some point, but then again, I think I might miss a lot about the feel meant for the city, as the book offers a lot of archetypes, edges, hindraces and other stuff fitting especially for a city like Jalizar.
Character options and setting rules
The only edge I really don't like is Nimble strike that allows using Agility for damage for one weapon. That would pretty much break one of my current campaign's characters (Str d4, Agi d12, Fighting d12 and focus on parry - because of low damage and alternative attack methods she's still balanced). There's an edge (Beggar's gift) that really tempts you to take several of harsher hindrances, as it will allow you to make even a character who's blind, one-footed and one-handed who suddenly bursts into action after carefully watching the situation (just dressing), surprising everyone.
I also like how Connections -edge is shaped up a bit more, making you to choose from given type of contacts like beggar boys or smuggler.
There's also new trappings for powers, one new power, some flavorful new weapons specific for Jalizar, and some new items. Setting rules includes rules for pickpocketing, tightrope walking, begging (and being good at it by looking miserable) and other activities related to being on the worse part of the population.
Game master section
Here you'll find many details about things revealed in earlier parts of the book. You get a lot of suggestions and guidelines for different campaign types, very dark secrets of the city, generators (see below) and info about various features of Jalizar like different fogs, diseases, falling rules (which I'm going to adapt in all my games), garbage, fighting 'on the road above' (network of walkways on better areas of the city, roofs etc) and a table of relics. There's a full chapter about sewers and it's different levels, but there's no map as it's not considered important, which I agree.
Generators in Jalizar are very specialized. Instead of giving a new adventure generator (you can use the one in the Beasts & Barbarians Golden edition, Rory's story cubes, The big list of rpg plots, a combination of them or whatever you want), it gives a few more focused ones, like generator for locations and location names, as well as npc's (including their allegiances - which may be varying and unexpected!) - details that often are actually the hardest ones. For example a npc generator might give you a lazy military officer loyal to Assassin's guild - he'll surely inform about your actions to the guild, or perhaps he even is a member of the secretive guild!
What comes to location names, it gives you types of words you should use, which may be a bit challenging if you don't speak English natively. It also gives you some examples for inspiration that helps you to start. One generator lets you make places unique, by giving them various connections with examples. The location for which you created a name for might have some historic relevance, where the name comes from, which helps you visualize and create atmosphere for it.
There's also a generator for traps - no, traps aren't generally dungeon features, they are more used by people trying to protect their belongings.
I like Jalizar. A lot. Whether you want to use it in your own setting, part of your own Beasts & Barbarians campaign or start a new campaign there, I recommend this book. I'm going to use some of it in my current campaign, perhaps spending a few sessions in the city, and perhaps run another campaign later in the city. I have an idea of players being mainly part of various guilds or organizations, having a common goal which contradicts partially or fully their own guilds' goals.
Link: Jalizar - City of Thieve