Bas-Lag and Perdido Street Station

I recently finished reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station after reading several reviews about it and seeing the Dungeons & Dragons conversion rules in Dragon Magazine issue 352. I think the book is a bit over-hyped in reviews I have read; however, I think it is still a very good book.

The novel takes place in the fantasy world of Bas-Lag where humans are the main protagonist race. Technology levels are similar to Victorian era Britain with the addition of magic. A wealth of exotic races populate Bas-Lag, and they vary greatly from the fantasy staple elves, dwarves, and gnomes. Instead, Bas-Lag treats you to beetle-headed khepri, frog-like vodyanoi, bird-like garuda, animated cactus-men, and impish flying wyrmen. Even more exotic creatures stalk the land, such as the hideous Remade, creatures who have been punished for crimes by being flesh-sculpted into new forms and crossed with animal or mechanical body parts.

The titular Perdido Street Station is the main railway hub and seat of government for the sprawling, industrial, sleazy city of New Crobuzon. This is where Mieville particularly shines, in his ability to paint a vivid picture of the filth, corruption, and horror that is daily life in the great city. Before long, you are immersed in a world of corrupt government, an oppressive police force, bizarre science based on steam power and chymical-thaumaturgy, rebellion, poverty, perversion, and violence. The author draws out the experience, dragging you down into the pit of New Crobuzon long before you are introduced to the real plot of the novel. At some point, you realize the book is sprawling, languid, and grimy—the perfect portrayal of New Crobuzon itself. I think within this lies the true genius of China Mieville.

The story eventually unfolds as a “man” against terrible organic threat. Although the creatures involved are unique, the story is tried and true. Underlying is a tale of love, a tale of tragedy, and a tale of struggle against oppression. Many plot elements find a conclusion, but just as many are left unfinished and waiting. For readers who need closure in novels, this one will certainly disappoint.

In the end, I found Bas-Lag a fascinating new realm of fantasy. I think the potential here is tremendous and recommend the book to anyone seeking something going off the standard fantasy path. Be warned that book is intended for a mature audience, being filled with language, sexual content, and concepts that would offend many. If your fortitude will stand up to such, venture on into Bas-Lag, but don’t say you were not warned. When I set the book down after the last page, I felt intrigued and yet grimy. I believe this is the author’s intent.

China Mieville is a former player of role-playing games, and he includes several characters and lines in the book for the gaming crowd. It should not be surprising that such a richly detailed world is eagerly used by some as a new location for role-playing game sessions. As mentioned earlier, Dragon Magazine issue 352 presented a wealth of information for playing Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition in Bas-Lag. It includes race write-ups, monsters, weapons and equipment, and a very good summary of the wards and districts of New Crobuzon. It has plenty of material within to begin playing in Bas-Lag with very little effort. Also, in February 2008, Adamant Entertainment announced an upcoming Tales of New Crobuzon role-playing game.

Additional Information

Bas-Lag Novels

Wikipedia Entries

Age of Worms Adventure Path – Game Session 76

Game summary for March 25, 2008; present characters included Eolas Windmaster (moon elf duskblade), Grim Firestorm (shield dwarf barbarian/battlerager/frenzied berserker/warmain), Lyrin Sinbal (simian incantatrix/ring sage/warmage), Mael Gabrian (human cleric), Morak Beardfist (shield dwarf fighter/rage cleric), Ranulph Wathbater (human berserker/fighter/hellreaver/paladin of freedom/rogue), Syvarius Strongbow (moon elf archer-ranger/peerless archer), and Taravin Truesilver (human gray guard/paladin of honor/pious templar).

Wasting little time, the Mercenaries set out in search of Thessalar, lich wizard and father of the thessalmonster. After a few hours travel, the troupe found a lake and used the folding boat to head out toward the lich’s tower. Following a short boat ride, the party got to the cliff leading up to Thessalar’s keep and used flight and dimension door to arrive on his doorstep. The party was confronted with a thick-walled stone keep with a closed double portcullis. Using a grapnel, the team scaled the outer walls and moved along the parapets to avoid a stasis field in the courtyard noticed by Mael’s arcane sight. Along the wall, Mael discovered a staggering array of magical traps laid out with the murderous tenacity of an undying lich with nothing but time to ward his domain. Apparently, Thessalar is a firm believer in overkill.

Rather than meticulous defeat the dozens of traps, Mael attempted to dispel the stasis field, with success. Syvarius was lowered down on a rope and started searching for traps. Apparently, the stasis field originated from an item, not a spell, because it soon flickered back into existence. Syvarius’ presence within triggered the effect, causing four stasis-held thessalmonsters to appear—two thessalhydras, a thessalisk, and a thessalnaga! Syvarius succeeded in avoiding the petrifying gaze of the thessalisk and fled back up the rope to his allies. The first thessalhydra moved forward and launched a glob of acid spittle into the midst of the Mercenaries, damaging them and destroying several of Mael’s items.

Meanwhile, the thessalnaga warded itself with greater invisibility and started moving into better position. In order to buy time, the quick-thinking Lyrin separated the thessalmonsters with a prismatic wall. The team started hammering away at the thessalhydra, including a diving attack from Grim and a feather fall-assisted advance from Taravin. Lyrin turned the creature to dust with a disintegrate and dismissed his prismatic wall.

As the wall flickered out of existence, the skeletal form of Thessalar—his steel snake-crown firmly on his head—was seen across the courtyard above the doors on the parapet. Apparently, he had emerged from the open doorway behind him. The lich wasted no time hurling spells at those who hurt his thessalmonsters. He attempted a disintegrate of his own, with much less spectacular results. The thessalisk whipped its pincer tail through the air and scissored Grim’s left arm off above the elbow. A flurry of attacks from spells, bow, and blade soon cut down the thessalmonsters; however, dealing with the creatures bought the lich more time to hammer the team with his fell magic. Lyrin, flying a few feet in the air succumbed to a flesh to stone spell and toppled to the ground.

Grim and Taravin, using the skeleton key, appeared behind the lich and triggered some of the parapet wards. Grim was scoured with energy, while Taravin was dimensionally shifted out over the water and slowly drifted (thanks to feather fall) toward the lake. One-armed Grim attempted to grapple with lich, but discovered it to be no more than an image. Unfortunately, he was caught by a maze and sent into the labyrinth. Mael dispelled the illusion lich, Ranulph flew up to the open doorway, and Taravin used the skeleton key to return to the area where he triggered the ward. A blast of colorful rays, a dreaded prismatic spray, rippled out of the doorway and engulfed Taravin and Ranulph. It had no effect upon the paladin, but the hellreaver caught the full effect of a green ray and died in poisoned agony. A second maze sent Taravin into a labyrinth as well.

Moving quickly, Eolas grabbed Syvarius and Mael and used a series of dimension doors to end up within the keep. They discovered the second floor they could see through the open doorway was an illusion and the actual floor was twenty-five feet down. As they plunged to the stone floor, they saw Thessalar flying above, startled by their appearance. They could see a blade barrier flash into place across the doorway as they entered the room; fortunately, their magic by-passed the danger zone entirely. Somehow, the three just missed the edge of a huge bubbling vat of swirling, fleshy stew. The effect of landing in the protoplasm would have no doubt been disastrous!

With three foes in his sanctuary, Thessalar went on a real offensive. He hit the trio with a slow spell and followed it with another prismatic spray. Eolas became confused from an insanity effect, Mael was struck dead by a poisonous green ray, and the swirling colors left Syvarius a petrified statue. Eolas retaliated with a polar ray, but the spell slid off of Thessalar like water. The snarling lich countered with a ray of enfeeblement, which missed Eolas. It then turned Syvarius the rock into pyrohydra the hungry. The hydra attacked Eolas, who began babbling in his insanity, and Thessalar moved to the corner to let his monster do its work.

Meanwhile, Beardfist removed any traces of poison from Ranulph, and the cloak of the phoenix spell Morak had cast earlier brought the slain hellreaver back to life. Now, two allies are outside moving toward the opening (with an unknown blade barrier behind an illusion!), and two more Mercenaries desperately seek escape from their mazes. Any moment, Mael will be raised by his cloak of the phoenix as well. Can the confused Eolas survive long enough for his allies to arrive? Will the return of several supposedly vanquished foes give the Mercenaries the edge they need to bring down the archlich?