This extremely professional and well-put-together supplement presents a grim and gritty crime-oriented setting for D20 Modern. Following in the footsteps of great "dark city" settings from comics' Gotham City to gaming's Hudson City, Haven, City of Violence offers a world of betrayal, conspiracy, noir stylings and, of course, plenty of guns and brawling.
A brief short story sets the scene, then a general overview of the organization, history and government of Haven is presented. Then, each neighborhood of Haven is given its own flavor, with many interesting NPCs to both assist and bedevil the player characters. A recent history, emphasizing gang conflicts and organized crime activity, follows.
The supplement introduces the idea of neighborhood-oriented backgrounds, which expand feat options for characters as well as opportunities for Wealth and Reputation. A few new Occupations, Advanced Classes, Skills (and skill uses), and many new Feats are also introduced. I should note that one of the Advanced Classes, the Cleaner, gains significant bonuses from setting up a "murder room" (i.e. with plastic sheets covering the floor and windows, isolated from others, and so on.) This is very stylish, definitely in keeping with the scary-organized-crime aspect of the game, and most important, introduces a new sort of tactic for player characters, encouraging traps and manipulation to get the target to where the attacker wants him.
A simple disadvantage system is also introduced. Unlike many disadvantage systems for D20 games, the one in Haven: City of Violence, feeds directly into the CR system rather than standing on its own. This makes it much easier to integrate into existing material or preplanned campaigns, a big plus.
An interesting Organization section details several of the key factions in Haven, and gives mechanical bonuses to advancement in the faction, including prominent organized crime families and police. Each faction divides its loyal members into "Muscle" and "Brains", and expands additional talent options for those that advance in those areas. This is something that could be expanded on significantly in many different sorts of games, as factions are key to most modern game designs.
A decent GMing section follows, the best part of which is the list of questions which can be used to design an adventure.
Throughout, the text is clear, and the art is highly professional and evocative. I spotted a few minor typos, but nothing serious. I count 91 pages, plus 2 covers and an OGL page, and they're all chock full of wonderful nastiness.
There are several ways this work could be improved - the use of bookmarks, for example, is almost necessary in supplements this big. I also am not sure the neighborhood-background system adds much to the game in the level realm that most people are going to play it in. (By the by, some notes on how to use Haven at low levels, middle levels, and high levels would also be great.) The GM advice on how to have dynamic, exciting action scenes is top-notch, but little attention has been given to how to get the D20 Modern system to handle things like lots of movement in combat.
However, overall, Haven: City of Violence is one of the strongest D20 Modern citybooks out there. It takes a tone and runs with it right to the finish line. If you like Gotham City, if you like Hudson City, Haven will fit right in next door. Like Marv said in Sin City, "I love hitmen. No matter what you do to them, you don't feel bad." The low price tag makes this one a bargain you can't pass up. I'm giving this one extremely high marks, in part because I love the subject matter and it's clear the creators did too.
[5 of 5 Stars!]