Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Reviewing All Eight New Lamentations of the Flame Princess Books: Part 3

 



Review #3 The Staffortonshire Trading Company Works of John Williams


I recently decided to go ahead and review all eight of the new Lamentations of the Flame Princess in order starting from my most favorite to my least favorite. These first three books (The Book of Antitheses, Terror in the Streets, and The Staffortonshire Trading Company Works of John Williams) are the three that I consider the absolute best must-haves of the release set. I hope you enjoy the review!

Summary: There is a framing mechanism for this book. It presents itself as the work of an architect and cartographer by the name of John Williams who is traveling around the world, drawing maps and presenting them to his company for their reference. The frame isn’t really important, though—the bulk of the book is in its maps.


The forward mentions 128 maps over 114 pages? I didn’t count, but that sounds about right. The maps are listed in the order that the fictional compiler took around the world. The maps presented vary quite a bit in form and function, ranging from simple dwellings, to ships, to palaces, to prisons, to mosques, and so much more. Each map is well detailed. If it’s a fort, there’s a description of its defenses. If it’s a building, it labels what each room is used for. If it’s a windmill, the important pieces of the mill are labeled. Some of the maps have short notes on why the building has a particular feature or a historical aside. There is quite a wide selection of different geographies as well—not just Europe, but North America, the Middle East, and India.


After the maps, there a short page of adventure hooks, a glossary of terms (pretty useful, since there are quite a few architectural terms I hadn’t run into before sprinkled throughout the maps), and huge bibliography of the author’s historical sources.


“Adult Content” Spice Level: Mild. If this book were a hot sauce it would be chill, sweet, and mellow.

 

Art and Presentation: Overall, Staffortonshire is an attractive book. Hardcover, two ribbons, and nice thick paper that’s got a bit of tooth to it. The cover is a brown print meant to look like a leather-bound book with stitch binding. There’s a gold-colored foil inlay, but the gold on top of the brown is kinda hard to read, to be honest.


Since the majority of the book is in its maps, the art has to be clear, straight-forward and readable. The art in the book is all these things, but not without style. Most of the maps are simple room layouts, but others are side views showing off the architecture, some are overhead views, and some are cross-sections. Flipping through the book, there are so many different types of maps that they don’t really feel repetitive.


Review:

There’s a great illustration in the beginning of the book of the fictional compiler, John Williams. He is drawn with inquisitive eyes and a subtle, but cheeky grin that underscores the type of person this guy is—he has an eye for selecting the buildings that reflect the culture he’s surrounded himself in. Everything from the brutality of a bear-baiting ring to the complex layout of a hospital. He loves normal people and their work just as much as grand palaces. Flipping through the book in order, a bit of a story emerges. Here’s where he went to a surgical theater. Here’s where he got captured by pirates. The inside covers of the book even map out his progress around the world. It’s subtle, but it’s a lovely touch.


It's tough to find historical materials on the 30 Years War that describe the lives of ordinary, normal people, but that's what I'm interested if I'm trying to run a historical game. Part of what makes this book so great is that each map tells a story about the people that people that live there and what their lives were like. This book was very obviously a labor of love given how meticulously each map is researched. Because each map is based on a real building, they have a tangible verisimilitude that makes running the game and the people in it that much easier.


It’s impossible to write this review without talking about Dyson Logos, whose work I absolutely adore. He makes literally hundreds of maps absolutely free to use with many more given a commercial license so that anyone can use one of his maps in a commercial product. With the wide availability of free maps from great artists like Dyson, what makes this book worth the purchase? The answer here is that while the form of a book like this and your average dungeon map is similar, the function is totally different. A dungeon map is a blank slate that serves to house your creativity. A map from this book already has a function that actively inspires your creativity.


Because each map is so well detailed, it’s incredibly easy to focus on a detail and put a weird spin on it. Take a detailed map of an ironworks. What if the waterwheel was replaced by a more outr√© mechanism? What about the spirits of the forest that is getting chopped down for charcoal? What if they were smelting something more strange than just iron? Each and every map in this book inspires creativity. Every time I flip through, I get the urge to start writing and creating. The secret here is in the details—each map points out a detail that you can riff an adventure from.


There’s plenty of maps for every occasion, so they’re easy to use during play if your party wanders off to an un-planned area. While the book pays great attention to historical 17th century accuracy, the book could easily be used in any fantasy game—while fantasy games pretend to be inspired by the medieval period, most fantasy settings use technology that’s closer to the early modern period anyway.


A good dungeon map needs a few things to be fun. It needs loops and twisting paths. Secret corridors and dead ends. An actual building where people live needs to be functional. This book describes locations that are functional, but still contain enough of a maze-like quality that you can shove a monster or a trap in there without breaking too much verisimilitude.

There are a few books that I always take with me to a gaming session. This is one of them.

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