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Author Topic: Ptolus: City by the Spire  (Read 2522 times)

ColonelHardisson

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« on: September 15, 2006, 05:15:48 PM »
Ptolus is divided into seven sections, not including the introduction, which are further divided into thirty-six chapters. The sections are:

Introduction: Cook explains how Ptolus came about as a setting and as a product concept. Cook discusses his design goals and target audience for Ptolus. While brief, this section is an interesting glimpse “behind the scenes” at the designer’s process.

Part I: Ptolus Player’s Handbook: This section is available, at the time of this writing, as a free download. It provides a shorthand look at pretty much everything a player and character need to know about Ptolus: districts, organizations, history, important figures, religion, and life in and around the city are gone over.

Part II: Background: The cosmology, history, races, organizations, and stuff like languages and “special materials” (exotic metals and the like) are covered here.

Part III: City Guide: Ptolus as a whole is discussed, with economy, politics, physical layout, and average Ptolusites covered. The bulk of the section consists of more detailed examinations of the individual city districts. These descriptions include flavor or atmosphere of the district, notable locations and inhabitants, as well as the “man on the street,” average citizens who can be used by the gamemaster when he needs a random NPC for the PCs to run into.

Part IV: Below the City: What good D&D city would be complete without a dungeon underneath it? This section goes over several distinct underground areas, from a dwarven city to the sewers to natural cavern systems. This includes a megadungeon, the Banewarrens, an adventure by Cook which is included in pdf form on a CD included with the book.

Part V: Above the City: This section details the bizarre pinnacle which gives Ptolus the moniker “City by the Spire.” A couple of really old, really evil fortresses are built on and within the spire. These are the one-time bastions of a couple of the Sauron-like villains of Ptolus’s history.

Part VI: Living in Ptolus: This section discusses what it is like to be a citizen of Ptolus. Clothing, gender roles, cost of living, and crime and law are some of the topics addressed. Also discussed is the role of adventurers (or “delvers”) in Ptolus. Technology and “chaositech” (bizarre grafts and cyberpunk-like implants, detailed further in Chaositech, another book by Cook included in the CD included with Ptolus) are also discussed.

Part VII: Running a Ptolus Campaign: This is essentially the gamemaster’s guide to Ptolus. Running urban campaigns is discussed, and short adventures, monsters, magic, and prestige classes are included.

Appendices: There is an index, a locales glossary, a NPC glossary, a listing of important historical figures, and a listing of NPCs divided up into low, mid, and high level friends and foes for the PCs.

The Envelope: Attached to the inside back cover of the book is an envelope. Within this envelope are numerous player handouts. These include a map of Ptolus, random encounter lists, a player’s map, a restaurant menu, citizen identification, “Ptolus at a Glance,” a one-sheet newspaper, and a calendar. There are others, like maps of dungeons and the lands around Ptolus. Also included in this envelope is a CD.

The CD: This contains various pdfs – an expanded table of contents, a city map key, a searchable glossary and index, a conversion manual for those who wish to use Ptolus in Cook’s Arcana Evolved setting, the Player’s Guide to Ptolus, Chaositech (a sourcebook of strange, warped magic-like technology), Night of Dissolution (a good-sized adventure), the Banewarrens (a megadungeon), Cook’s campaign journals for Ptolus, bookmarks (a pdf of cardstock bookmarks bound into the book if you don’t want to remove those), adventure hooks, signs, some fiction, and pdfs of the handouts in the envelope.

Bookmarks: Bound into the book are two kinds of bookmarks. There are four perforated cardstock bookmarks which can be removed, or one can print them out from the pdf contained on the CD included with the book. Plus, there are three satin bookmarks permanently bound into the book.

The Good
Ptolus is the most comprehensive game product I’ve ever seen. It covers every aspect of living and adventuring within the city of Ptolus that a gamer could think of. The book is fully illustrated throughout, with full color, and the illustrations accompany whatever they are illustrating on the same page. Also, there are very, very nice cross-referencing sidebars which either provide more information about a highlighted subject, or provide page numbers where more information can be found. The book is designed for ease of use at the table. Don’t find the table of contents in the book detailed enough? There’s an expanded one on the CD that can be printed and used in tandem with the book. Want to find something quickly in the index or glossary? There are searchable versions on the CD also. Yeah, the book is huge, but it’s made for the gamemaster to use with a minimum of page-flipping.

The Bad
The menu for a restaurant in Ptolus seems more like the menu for a real-world restaurant, which makes it rather uninteresting in the context of this book. I mean, it doesn’t have to be the menu from the old RuneQuest Troll Pack, which had roast elf on the menu, but something more exotic than what was done would’ve been great.

The Ugly
There isn’t a lot of ugly in this book. The closest to ugly would be some of the player handouts. A “wanted” poster for a criminal seems surprisingly bland and not that well-done.

The pieces of gum that hold the envelope which contains the player handouts and CD of extra material left light stains on the inside back cover. Beyond that? I can’t really find anything ugly.

Why you will like it
Ptolus seems the perfect melding of two kinds of gameplay sensibilities. On one hand, the city hangs together logically, on the other hand it evokes the “wahoo” feel of a wild ‘n’ woolly city from the early days of RPGs – I’m specifically thinking of Judges Guild’s City State of the Invincible Overlord. There are tons of roleplaying hooks, so characters can participate in political intrigue, but there is no lack of opportunity for hack ‘n’ slash for player characters with itchy sword-hands.

Why you won’t like it
There is an enormous amount of information in this book. The investment of time it takes to read and digest it all could overwhelm someone looking to use the city in their game. Plus, given that this city was built upon the D&D rules and explores the core assumptions of that game, it may not be a good fit for a game or setting which assumes much less prevalent magic.

Also, the world of Praemal, the world in which Ptolus is nominally set, is a closed world. That is, characters cannot use magic such as gates to go to other planes (except the ethereal plane, in a limited way), and any creatures gated or otherwise physically drawn into the world of Praemal cannot leave. Some may chafe at this limitation, especially those who enjoy planes-hopping adventures.

I like D&D/d20, should I buy this?
I would recommend it if you wish to run a city based campaign and want to only make one purchase to do so. The price is pretty steep, but the amount of material in the book could make for a campaign that lasts for years.

I don’t like D&D/d20, should I buy this?
This book was a test-bed for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition, and assumes D&D’s various tropes are in place. While many of these assumptions could be carried over to other fantasy RPGs, the book is tailored most closely to D&D’s sensibilities (naturally). Overall, I’d say that this book is not a great purchase for anyone who doesn’t play D&D or d20 or a fantasy game that assumes the presence of a lot of magic and nonhumans.

Where’s the fun?
The fun of Ptolus lies exactly where the cautions I made above lie. Ptolus assumes all of D&D’s elements are in place and being used. The city is filled with magic and nonhumans. Anything you might have done or wanted to do in a D&D city can be done here in Ptolus, whether it’s to get into a barroom brawl or become a political mover and shaker. It’s a big, bustling place, with D&D “turned up to eleven,” as Monte Cook himself has said. It’s colorful and dangerous, and captures the same kind of “feel” that Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar evoked – a living, breathing fantasy city.
"Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell

4e definitely has an Old School feel. If you disagree, cool. I won't throw any hyperbole out to prove the point.

Mcrow

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2006, 05:20:58 PM »
Wow! Great review!

Thanks, for posting it. I think you made me want this thing. :mad:

ColonelHardisson

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2006, 06:10:19 PM »
Thanks. I hope to get more comments on these reviews, so I can improve upon them. I decided to break them down into sections along the lines of what I like to see in a review. I know they're pretty long reviews so far, but I hope the way I have them structured makes them easy to digest.
"Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell

4e definitely has an Old School feel. If you disagree, cool. I won't throw any hyperbole out to prove the point.

Zachary The First

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2006, 06:26:49 PM »
Nice work!  I think breaking it up into sections like that makes it much easier on the eyes (and brain).

Ptolus sounds beautiful, but I'm still not convinced on buying it.  I look at my collection, and can't quite justify shelling out $100 on a book I'd likely mostly mine for ideas.  :(  Quick question, though--at the end there, you said the setting was "dangerous".  Does it do a good job keeping, say, 20th-level challenges and roadblocks out of the way of lower-level players?  Could you see taking a party from 1-20 just in Ptolus without having to reach too badly for ideas or steering the players around large plot devices?

ColonelHardisson

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2006, 06:44:54 PM »
That's a good question. Yeah, it should be fairly simple for the PCs to avoid getting thumped by challenges many levels tougher than they are. The city has a watch and what amounts to an auxiliary or semi-vigilante force that patrols the city, and could well step in if need be. But doing that more than a couple times seems too much like a deus ex machina (which it is, really).

If PCs insist on getting in over their heads, they can do that pretty easily. But a lot of it is set up so that only more powerful adventurers can get access to the more dangerous challenges. For the most obvious example, the Spire itself has a couple of ancient fortresses, one about halfway up, the other at the top. The Spire is 3,000 feet tall, so it would be pretty tough for low-level types to get up there. The caverns and dungeons beneath the city have been delved into quite a bit, so it would take dedicated and tough adventurers to get into the more hazardous areas. Plus, some of the most dangerous places are well-known - say, like the Necropolis - so if the characters are attentive, they'll know better than to bite off more than they can chew. Plus, those places are the ones the watch and other law-keeping organizations keep a close eye on anyway, so PCs shouldn't expect to suddenly find themselves in deep shit without warning, and it'd be a warning built into the setting.

Hope that makes sense.
"Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell

4e definitely has an Old School feel. If you disagree, cool. I won't throw any hyperbole out to prove the point.

Zachary The First

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2006, 06:46:37 PM »
It does--thanks for info!

joewolz

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2006, 10:44:47 AM »
I would love to own this book.  I dig your review Colonel, and the formatting is good.

I wish I could own Ptolus, but it's just not the right time in my life to shuck out that much money for something I know for certain I'd never use.
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David R

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2006, 10:30:48 PM »
Nice work Colonel. I think I will be getting this book. I enjoyed Monte's work in Arcana - although I realize some folks didn't - and I think this book will have enough for me to cannibalize for a couple of fantasy cities of my own design. I esp like the chaostech...sounds interesting.

Regards,
David R

Hastur T. Fannon

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2006, 06:21:11 AM »
Quick question.  Is it statted for 3rd Ed or 3.5?
 

ColonelHardisson

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Ptolus: City by the Spire
« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2006, 09:48:50 AM »
Quote from: Hastur T. Fannon
Quick question.  Is it statted for 3rd Ed or 3.5?


3.5
"Illegitimis non carborundum." - General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell

4e definitely has an Old School feel. If you disagree, cool. I won't throw any hyperbole out to prove the point.