City State of the Invincible Overlord1
was a massive AD&D campaign setting from Judges Guild. It's what TSR under Gygax wanted to do with Greyhawk. What took TSR nearly two decades to do, Judges Guild
got there in the space of a couple years. As I note in my Judges Guild write up, Judges Guild was a decidedly hobbyist company. It wasn't burdened by TSR's mania for making all its products look like it deserved space on a Toys R Us shelf next to Mattel
. Judges Guild cranked out reams of gaming material via newsprint booklets and pebble brown card stock. It was low on production values and high on imagination, all at a price point that undercut TSR.
City State of the Invincible Overlord
started off as a simple poster sized map of a massive city. It was Judges Guild's first official product sold in 1975.
The appeal of the map and follow on support material was attention to detail. Every street was named. Every shop, tavern, and home in the city was fleshed out with NPC
s and back stories. (Herein was one of the few valid criticism of the City State, all the NPCs were high level adventurers, making you wonder why an 8th level magic user was a counter jock in a leather shop. It's possible City State had some Manhattan
-level rents and one had to plunder a dragon horde on a yearly basis to afford rents.) Additional maps were added to detail the surrounding lands and rival kingdoms and dungeons. The City State even had its own detailed legal code and "verdict/judgment" tables ("Saving throw
vs Frivolous TSR Lawsuit").
The back story seemed to be the city was controlled by an unnamed hereditary ruler (who was known as "Ryan" within the Judges Guild inner sanctum). Succession, however, did not pass to the first born. The numerous children that sprung from the Invincible Overlord's loins and extensive harem
all had an equal shot at the throne. When the little princes and princesses reach adult age they were kicked out of the palace and made to fend for themselves, acquiring their own followers, backers, and private security forces. Succession went to the top dog
. The back story, then, provided a lot of hooks into great adventures. One could start off as a 1st level goon within the security force of a minor princeling and work one's way up the ranks to kingmaker
. There were, of course, numerous dungeons under the city and the city state's nefarious slave
market was another first stop for those looking for adventure within or without the city's walls.
City State's genesis was in a campaign Judges Guild founder Bob Bledsaw was running. Bledsaw adapted the original D&D rules to a campaign set in Lord of the Ring's Middle Earth. City State was, then, heavily inspired by Gondor
When Judges Guild went belly up it licensed reprint and development rights of some of its products to Mayfair Games. Mayfair Games took over development of the City State setting. While many fans were initially pleased the setting gained a new lease on life, many felt Mayfair fumbled the ball. Mayfair tried to jazz the product up. Regular City State supplements were packaged in small boxed edition
s, an idea likely inspired by the original D&D
packaging of its rule booklets in attractive boxes. This idea was later borrowed back from Mayfair by TSR for its own Al-Qadim
campaign supplement line.
Of the new City State, one reviewer commented "It was obviously one of those horrid examples of someone trying to 'save' a product which they don’t understand..."
The City State product ended up being Mayfair's undoing, and roused the sleeping TSR
had a rather limited license to create "role aid" products. These products had to be festooned with tongue-up-TSR-ass disclaimers about what special lucky bastards they were to get to produce some approved TSR products.
With the Judges Guild material, Mayfair not only did not seek TSR's approval but tried to market it with an anti-TSR stance. It was the Linux
of its time. Buying into the City State world was buying freedom from the Microso… err TSR Evil Empire
TSR was not amused and sued for break of contract. TSR actually lost the bulk of its case against Mayfair but legal costs proved ruinous. Mayfair sold itself to TSR which quickly discontinued Mayfair products. Game Designer's Workshop
, which saw the TSR lawsuit suck the cash flow out of Mayfair, quickly changed the name of Gary Gygax's new Dangerous Dimensions FRG (compare DD to D&D) to Dangerous Journeys
to forestall any kind of similar lawsuit.
In the late '90s, Judges Guild re-emerged as a web store and offered reprints of the original City State. Even more remarkable it was offering the product at what seemed like 1983 prices: $10. Judges Guild later partnered with Necromancer
Games. The latter company now sells a D20 version of the City State material while Judges Guild sells classic City State.
1City-State of the Invincible Overlord
seems to be the alternative title. That is to say "City State" gets hyphenated to make "City-State". Judges Guild and the Necromancer site seem to use "City State" and "City-State" interchangeably. I make this note because, while google makes no distinction for search results, E2 seems to make a big distinction between searches on terms with and without hyphens.
City State's version of the Mines of Moria was something called the Glory Hole Dwarven Mine. Glory Hole
. Cough. The products catalog blurb reads "The City-State is alive with rumors of the strange happenings deep within the Glory Hole. " Mmmm hmmmm.