In my A Game Per Year project, my goal has been to read one roleplaying game corebook for every year they’ve been published. However, I soon started to feel that it was hard to decipher how the games were really meant to be played. For this reason, I decided to start a parallel project, An Adventure Per Year, to read one roleplaying adventure for each year they’ve been published.
Cities of Bone is a boxed set published for the Al-Qadim setting of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. It’s a collection of short adventures and setting description on the theme of abandoned cities inhabited by the dead.
The box features three cities: Sokkar, where the inhabitants worshiped the last remaining giants and believed in the sanctity of the dead, Ysawis where two married necromances ruled and Moradask which was known for its greed and grand idols. Each is a take on a classic fantasy theme, the ruined metropolis where treasure and danger awaits.
Like all the boxed sets of this era, Cities of Bone is a small treasure trove of cool stuff with three booklets, a poster map and handouts. In terms of the unboxing experience, the Nineties AD&D 2nd Edition line is still unparalleled although there have been impressive individual releases since.
The short adventures have a poetic, human dimension to them that’s shared by other Al-Quadim releases but lacking in many D&D adventures. Although undead and mausoleums abound, they’re emotionally grounded in recognizable experience.
In my favorite adventure, the characters encounter a ghost horse on the outskirts of Sokkar. They have to figure out what the horse wants as it leads them deeper into the city and they encounter more of the inhabitants. It turns out the horse was so beloved by its owner, it has its own mausoleum, complete with reliefs describing its life story. These were also reproduced as part of the visual materials of the boxed set.
In the biggest adventure, the characters meet the estranged necromancer couple ruling over the undead bureaucracy of Ysawis. It’s a morbid adventure where you can relax by the pool and get a massage from a zombie if you so choose.
In another adventure, a proud genie pretends to be an ogre. His disguise is deeply unconvincing but his followers don’t tell him about it because they’re worried he’ll feel insulted.
This kind of detail elevates the material.