Ptolus, at this point, came out years ago; I acquired a copy some years after it went out of print, with a handwritten exhortation from Monte Cook to someone named Chris to avoid killing everyone. It’s a magnificent tome, probably the single most deluxe campaign book ever created, and it’s going to be the setting for the one-on-one game with my wife. Thus, today I’m going to talk about it – or rather, some of it, from the Player’s Guide segment. No reason to spoil things, after all.
What we’ve got here is essentially 23 pages of condensed information on the city; it helps explain what PCs can reasonably expect to know and what information they may have about the city’s workings. How much of that information is accurate is something only the GM (and those players who cheat and read the massive tome) know about. It introduces you to the concept that Ptolus was made as a setting where the game’s rules are the setting’s reality much more strictly than usual for fantasy RPGs. No one in Ptolus is surprised when a wizard polymorphs a fighter into a troll for a fight, or when a druid wildshapes into an eagle to get across town faster.
Additionally, the city is meant to have room for the entire game system in it. This means there are undead dwelling in the city’s cemetary, devils and demons roaming around, angels hanging out to keep an eye on the fiends, and more besides. The forces of the law are aided and abetted by an order of silent women monks and the occasional hand from angelic types; the city is at the centerpoint of tension between possible Emperors of a failing Empire that Ptolus is theoretically a part of.
We get a nice overview of each of these things before the guide even touches on the districts of the city; it begins with the docks, at the base of a cliff with a narrow strip of beach and a network of lifts and cranes bringing goods from the Bay of Ptolus to the city proper. Guildstown is next, a rough place after work that houses most of the city’s many craftsfolk guilds; some are powerful politicial entities in their own right. Midtown, fittingly, is the central portion of the city, a residential and commercial hub for the place; it’s also where Delver’s Square and Tavern Row are, both good places for those look to join adventuring groups or hire them.
The Necropolis is known to have undead dwelling in it, and the main job of those posted as guards is to warn people not to stay inside after night falls. Some holy orders work to keep the ranks of the walking dead thinned, although they’re limited in what they can accomplish in the long run. The Nobles’ Quarter is home not only to true nobles, but also to anyone wealthy enough to afford a residence, as well as the residence of the Prince and Emperor of the Church.
The North Market is a good place to shop for sundries one might need, as well as some specialty goods and some homes, although for most goods adventurers might need, the shops at Delver’s Square are likely better choices. Oldtown is the district around Dalenguard, now the home of the Commissar’s command, the oldest part of Ptolus proper; it serves as the place to go to get licenses and visit the courts, and the Delvers’ Guild maproom and library are located there.
Rivergate is the closest Ptolus comes to a ‘middle class’ district, an area of suburban neighborhoods clustered in a cliff cul-de-sac; it opens to the North Market area, and the inhabitants are smugly proud of their homes. Where North Market is a trader’s bazaar of goods coming into the city, South Market is newer, and more of the kind of place where goods are custom-ordered from resident artisans; more than a few of these artisans live here and pay dues to a relevant guild.
The Temple District comes next, with a mention of the Church of Lothian, the official religion of the Empire, as well as the Street of a Million Gods and the Blessed Bridge with all of its shrines. The Warrens come last of the city’s proper districts; a vile den of scum and villainy tucked neatly inside the city walls. The Undercity Market gets a mention as well, essentially an extension of Delver’s Square into the first level of the ‘Dungeon’ that extended beneath Ptolus, where one can find all kinds of interesting things for sale – and creatures not welcome above, even in cosmopolitan Ptolus.
A list of the ten noble houses follows, along with rumors and tidbits about them; Abanar is rich but not well-liked, Kath is talented, glamorous, and attractive, and Sadar is known as the House of Shadows. This gets followed up with a run-down of organizations – crime families, religious groups, supernatural forces, in-city militants, and much more besides – before we dip into the topic of religion with a description of the Church of Lothian.
We get nearly a full page of names of important individuals, each with a short one- or two-sentence biography to explain who they are and why they matter; the most famed of Monte’s NPCs, the Iron Mage himself. A bit of history and world lore follows, with a mention of the world’s two moons and a segment on the world’s planar interactions (very limited; you can go to the adjacent section of the Ethereal, but that’s pretty much it). A few paragraphs of geography to help players settle where their characters might be from, if not natives of Ptolus itself, a sampling of customs such as dreamspeakers and Brightfather’s Day, and then a deeper history lesson on why an Empire has two Emperors, what life is like under the Empire, and the like.
That’s it for today; tomorrow I’ll finish a skim of this surprisingly dense little document and consider how much use it is to both players and GMs.