Saturday, June 16, 2012

Free City of Haven - a forgotten and unfinished near-classic

There are a couple of editions of this; the cover pictured, the original version, is the one I own. The book is loose-leaf, three-hole-punched, and with cardstock maps, all contained in a ziploc bag which I lost long ago.

If this had been a complete product giving an overview of a fantasy RPG city, it would have been an unequivocal success. I say this based on the quality of the material that is present. That's what's so frustrating about this product; it had the makings of a true classic. I bought this new way back when, and it took me a while to realize that there was supposed to be at least one or two further releases that would complete the city. It would take years before I learned that at least one of those additional city sections had been released, and that a third had been worked on, though it remains unreleased.

That said, the material presented here is fantastic. In some ways, Haven was a city ahead of its time. Meticulously detailed, it contrasted with Judges Guild's wild and woolly City-State of the Invincible Overlord by being more "realistic," for lack of a better term. Don't get me wrong; I love the old City-State with its chaotic nature. Pure fun. But The Free City of Haven presented a functioning city in which the rule of law prevailed. This is an important distinction; I can't recall anything else from the same time period in which so much care was taken to make the city work like a city might in a fantasy setting.

This product was intended for Gamelords' Thieves Guild RPG. That game was, essentially, a D&D knock-off that concentrated on (wouldn't you know) thieves. Thus, a city like Haven is exactly the kind of setting perfect for such a game. Thieves Guild was enough like D&D that Haven could easily be ported over to the latter game, with a few relatively minor changes, if any.

Centaur public transit in the Free City of Haven
As I mentioned, Haven is meticulously detailed. Businesses and characters are detailed and relationships established. This is definitely a fantasy city, with centaur teamsters and taxis, elven enclaves, and halfling judges. Personalities and motivations are given to the non-player-characters, enough so that Haven feels like it's alive, humming with activity that goes on before, during, and after the PCs show up. I used the material present to run a few city adventures back in the day, and it made me wish I'd had the entire city to play with. Had it been complete, this would be hands down the greatest fantasy RPG city ever designed, in my opinion. The enterprising game master will find a lot to work with here, and may be inspired to flesh out the remaining portions of the city, making it truly their own.


  1. I too have Haven. I grew up playing D&D with my friend and her dad being our DM. We traveled far, but always we were based out of Haven. My best adventures happen in the city of Haven, in the Labyrinth no less.

    After I had learned that Haven was out of print and that the third installment was never even published I was afraid that I was doomed to be without Haven for my adult role playing experience. However, I was able to find both Haven and its companion, the Secrets of the Labyrinth, and promptly bought them both.

    Your account of Haven is spot on. There is no other fantasy city even today that compares to it in both quality and quantity in my opinion. I simply can't say enough good things about it. It is by and large an irreplaceable and priceless addition to my role playing adventures.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the feedback.

      I've seen that second book available for sale online, and I plan on getting it eventually.

      Maybe ten years ago, on the Necromancer Games message boards, Conan Lloyd, son of one of the original designers for Haven, who is now deceased, posted. He indicated back then he'd be interested in helping get such a product together. He also indicated that he knew of a lot of notes for the 3rd, unpublished, section, but didn't have them himself; as I recall, they belonged to another of the original creators, but were on an ancient computer that may not have been accessible.