Well, this is long overdue and a bunch of the material contained in this post was originally written a couple weeks back but between the long weekend (holidays), family commitments and occasional emergencies, as well as a lot of other work on projects currently in development with Arcana Creations, there just hasn't been much R&R happening. ;) Probably just as well tha I've put aside some time to do this and break this down in two parts given the subject matter -- Thieves' World.
Thieves' World came about as a series of stories set about in the city of Sanctuary created by Robert L. Asprin. What made it neat was that it was a shared setting. Different authors contributed to the stories and lore that made up what we know of the city and its people. It was dark and gritty and, a lot of people loved the stories and then, in 1981, Chaosium created a gaming supplement for it. What made this gaming supplement really interesting was that it was advertised as being designed for no less than 9 Role-Playing Systems. Much like the stories which attracted many fantasy authors to contribute, this project also brought many game designers on board including Dave Arneson, Steve Marsh, Marc Miller, and Ken St.Andre. Of course, the whole D&D / AD&D angle on this project was interesting as this represented one of the very few examples of a third-party product being to legally being able to use the TSR trademarks. This was thanks to TSR using trademarked material for their Deities & Demigods book which Chaosium held the rights to. It was a conversation I was having with another gamer a few weeks ago which reminded me about Chaosium's D&D material and this box set.
First off, I was extremely lucky to come across my box set of Thieves' World. I got it just a few years ago by chance on ebay. While I was nervous at first (some purchases on ebay are never what they are made out to be), I have to say I was really pleased. The box was in very good shape and the contents near pristine save for some pencil marks on a page (with items neatly crossed off). Everything was still in the box and by everything, I really mean everything. From the letter describing "What's in This Box?" to the original adverts put in. I have a color advert for Rune Quest (the Avalon Hill edition), one for the 'Gods of Glorantha' -- a supplement to the 'new' Rune Quest game, as well as a mini Chaosium catalog. I even have the business reply card. In short, nothing but fantastic and very lucky. That said, I've known about Thieves' World for a long time... almost as long as I was involved in the hobby of gaming and I've read some of the stories so very long ago though I only have one of the later anthologies now (mental note... check to see if available as ebooks).
So aside from the adverts and, more pertinent to what we are talking about, what's in the freakin' box anyway? Basically, 3 booklets and 3 maps. The booklets consist of the Player's Guide to Sanctuary, The GM's Guide to Sanctuary, and the Personalities of Sanctuary. The titles are pretty much self explanatory but the contents are a bit unusual and, in this case, unusual means cool. The Player's Guide for instance primarily consists of essays which does a nice job of informing the reader about various aspects of the city and the 'realities of Sanctuary'. Actually, one of the opening essays titled 'Thud and Blunder' written by Poul Anderson is by far one of the most interesting pieces included her since it talks about High Fantasy in general and considerations not properly thought out when developing a piece in the genre. A great piece which I recommend any writer or designer to read. The very short booklet (16 pages) still manages to be complete enough to give a good feel for the setting. It has a map, a history, and glossary and a few pieces to inform and entertain the reader. The booklet is clearly designed to be read as opposed to just consulted.
As for the other two booklets, I think people are in for a genuine treat when they start to flip through this material -- particularly the GM's Guide. This booklet continues with a series of essays which are great and entertaining to read. Besides the essays, you have tons of maps ranging from building to various sections mapped out of the city. Perhaps more importantly, you have a host of encounter tables to use when your players are travelling through or exploring the city. The book is meant to be used but won't go so far as paint all the details of the city. The book isn't written in such a way that it paints and details every single aspect of the city, and while that might be great, the box set and this booklet is primarily focused in providing the tools you'll need to enjoy the city as setting. Of course, the strangest book of the lot is the third booklet -- the Personalities of Sanctuary. As you can pretty much surmise from the title, we talking about key characters in Sanctuary but this is also where the crunch happens. The book is split up by system with the different stat blocks you'll find for one game or the next and each section has a significant contributor who could best be describes as experts for these respective systems (Ken St. Andre writing the section / conversions for Tunnels & Trolls for example). Then again, AD&D and D&D each have their own respective sections which is interesting in itself (though understandable).
The maps are pretty simple but functional in their black and white glory and serve to round out the functional box set quite nicely. Back in the day, this box set retailed for $18.00 (man, those were the days) but of course, this is now long out of circulation. I have seen copies sell on ebay from anywhere between $30 and $75 (mine was around $20 I believe but I was lucky) and I notice that Noble Knight Games does not have a copy in stock. Sadly, there is no legal method to obtain a PDF copy either. The good news was that Thieves' World had a role playing revival thanks to Green Ronin a little more than two decades later but I'll look at those efforts in Part 2.