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TSR/Wizards of the Coast, 96 pages
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms Campaign Expansion module

Module Details
Skullport, the Port of Shadow, is perhaps the best kept secret in all the Sword Coast North. A mile and a half beneath the orderly streets of Waterdeep squats the most wretched and lawless pit of thieves, buccaneers, slavers, and sellswords the Realms has to offer. Under a moldering tangle of catwalks threaded between the stalactites and stalagmites of the cavern city, illithids, drow, beholders, and others plot and trade with emissaries from the surface. Monsters prowl the dark recesses and alleyways, gangs of zombies shamble about performing menial labour, and anything and everything can be bought and sold: lethal poisons, foul tomes of forbidden magic, and slaves.

The book contains:

  • Maps and general information about the three layers and four wards of Skullport.
  • Descriptions of over 100 notable sites in the wards.
  • A partial map of the dungeons of Skullport -- where the Skulls throw the folk they let live!
  • Descriptions of notable NPCs and power groups of Skullport.

  • Author: Joseph C. Wolf

    TSR Catalogue

    Past Feature Reviews
    A review by John O'Neill

    In 1997, in an open letter on his impending purchase of TSR, Wizards of the Coast CEO Peter Adkison make a couple of astute observations. One was that TSR didn't know how to price its products (which had been true for a while). The other was that customers were tired of paying for padded gaming supplements printed in 24-point font, where the most striking thing on the page was the vast margin. He made a commitment to return real value to the most distinguished line of gaming products in the industry. In my opinion, since 1997 TSR's Advanced Dungeons and Dragons product line has seen a real resurgence, with game accessories and adventures packed with the kind of things I find most useful -- innovation and abundant detail.

    The latest one to cross my desk, and a fine example of the post-97 era, is Skullport, an AD&D adventure set in the world of the Forgotten Realms. Like last year's Calimport this is a 96-page book set in satisfyingly eye-scrunching 8-point type, containing more text than my Ph.D. dissertation (not to mention far more intriguing diagrams). Skullport details an entire underground city, more than a mile beneath Waterdeep: a lawless den of slave traders, pirates, and demi-humans, where illithids, drow, beholders and less savory creatures traffic with merchants and buccaneers from the surface.

    While it sounds very promising, I'll admit I'm usually pretty skeptical of any setting this ambitious. This is precisely the kind of adventure sourcebook that's been done very poorly in the past -- with pretty colour maps, a handful of key areas sketchily drawn in, and the vast remainder left "for the gamemaster to complete" (i.e., you). It's much like buying a shiny new car, without an engine. Or tires. I've run my share of city adventures, large and small, and they stand or fall on one thing: detail. Mind-numbing, painstaking detail. For a city to come alive, really come alive, players need to hear the hustle of the streets, feel the hurried press of commerce at their elbows, and experience the unmistakable sensation of standing in the centre of the world, of being surrounded by more than they could ever hope to take in. It's the kind of role-playing magic that can only be pulled off with outrageous attention to detail. Anything less, and the paint starts to peel off the set awfully quickly.

    Skullport packs in the detail. It's an impressive accomplishment, and like all good city supplements -- from Judge's Guild's historic City State of the Invincible Overlord to Chaosium's fondly-remembered Thieves World boxed set -- it's worth buying even for those unlikely to drop it wholesale into a campaign. You'll find plenty of fascinatingly detailed material within, from the vast criminal empire of the ancient, paranoid beholder known only as The Eye, to the tantalizing tale of the mysterious lady ghost of Skullport's dungeon.

    For those not in the know, Skullport first appeared in the Ruins of Undermountain boxed adventure set from TSR, on the southern edge of Level Three. It was fleshed out somewhat in articles in Dragon magazine, and eventually the extant material was gathered together and expanded in the City of Splendors boxed set. This new sourcebook is the first in-depth examination of Skullport, and contains mostly new material. Although it's most handy when used in conjunction with the above works, the author has taken obvious pains to make it suitably stand-alone.

    The volume opens with a compact history of Skullport, first inhabited mostly by mithril mining Melairkyn dwarves. They were driven out by the drow, who apparently despised alliteration, and who occupied its dark passages for nearly nine centuries. Then came the necromancer Shradin Mulophor (come on -- you knew a necromancer had to fit in somewhere), from the fallen empire of Netheril, first detailed by slade and Jim Butler in the TSR boxed set Netheril, Empire of Magic. Derro, illithids, duergar, and the drow all came to trade with Shradrin, who presumably had precisely the kind of vile things underdark citizens would be interested in trading for. Shradin's port city became known as Skullport, chiefly because of his lieutenants: 13 floating skulls, all that remained of a colony of Netherese wizards which was destroyed with the fall of the Netheril empire. Since the Year of the Gauntlet (1369), when the 13 skulls reduced Shradin to a pale red mist that drifted away on the breeze, the skulls have ruled the city unchallenged.

    As you can imagine, this makes for an original and rather peculiar setting. An underground city where humans and the most dangerous races of the underdark still conduct commerce, where criminal skulker gangs jealously guard their turf, and where ancient secret societies spin schemes that unfold over generations... it's hard not to trip over adventure in a place like this. There are maps for three layers and four wards of Skullport, and descriptions of over a hundred notable sites, numerous NPCs, and power groups. There's also a partial map of the dungeons under Skullport, when adventurers who aren't particularly cautious are quite likely to end up.

    I can't recall the last time I was impressed enough by a city supplement to consider adapting it to my own campaign, but Skullport is just such a beast. It's not perfect, but it is bursting with creative energy, intriguing plot hooks, and fascinating personalities. Now if I can just find an empty cave big enough to drop it into...

    For those collectors in the audience, you should be aware that Skullport will likely be one of the last AD&D products released under the TSR logo. Wizards of the Coast recently announced that, effective in 2000, they will no longer be using the TSR brand name. All future AD&D products (as well as Alternity, and their other product lines) will carry the Wizard's name and logo only. An understandable decision in this day of competitive brand marketing, but still a regrettable one. Like a few people out there, I've been buying and playing TSR products since the original Dungeons and Dragons boxed set came out 25 years ago. I'll miss the venerable TSR logo. And I hope that this single-brand strategy won't be carried too far, especially now that Hasbro has acquired Wizards of the Coast. Somehow, seeing a Lair of the Skull King adventure module marketed under the Hasbro name just wouldn't be the same...

    Copyright © 1999 by John O'Neill

    John O'Neill is the founder of the SF Site.

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