The Introduction explains the fascinating mix of contents, from what it's like to live in Ptolus to DM-specific rules material and hints and tips galore. Whilst aimed at users of the Ptolus sourcebook, of which this PDF is an excerpt, there is plenty of use for anyone contemplating an urban-based campaign even if it's elsewhere.
The sections of what it's like to live in Ptolus has, as you might imagine, a focus on what life is like for an adventurer but is much wider, looking at how the 'ordinary' residents live and what they do at work and for entertainment. Adventurers, after all, don't exist in monastic isolation, they mix with the people around them especially when they are not actually engaged in 'adventuring' itself. That, of course, depends a bit on how you classify 'adventuring', but even if you think it means dungeon-delving and monster-bashing, adventurers need some rest and relaxation, time at a bar to brag, and an opportunity to spend their loot! Now you can make all these other activities part of the overall game. There's also material on Imperial law, scientific wonders (including
firearms, clocks, printing presses, and more), and chaositech, the evil twin of technology.
We start off with the daily life of an average resident, described in the second person to make it come to life. There are tables showing cost of living and prices of stuff, but for convenience you can abstract to a monthly 'living expenses' fee you subtract from each character's finances rather than make them account for every last copper piece of rent, food, clothing, etc. Magic items, adventuring gear and other specialised stuff are not included and have to be purchased specifically. It's up to the player to decide how much they want to spend per month, based on what sort of lifestyle they want (and can afford), but this should be relatively stable unless a real disaster - or a massive windfall - causes a change. Other aspects of life, from schooling to politics to religion are also covered from the standpoint of a normal resident.
Next is a chapter On Being a Delver. That's the local term for an adventurer. If you are using Ptolus in its default setting, adventurers are mostly frowned upon as lawless ruffians, but in the city itself there's a grudging acceptance even if people are a bit wary. Ptolus is a bit of a boom town for adventurers at the moment. There are notes about how they live, again presented in the second person. Whilst there are no laws about carrying weapons openly (apart from firearms, which need a permit), it is generally frowned upon to go as heavily armed as one would when about to enter a dungeon.
Then there's a look at Crime and the Law. Imperial law is extensive and complicated, so this is an attempt to break it down and make it clear for the DM (who probably isn't a lawyer in real life) so that they can administer it appropriately in the game. Preserving order is probably more important - at least, in the eyes of the City Watch - than solving crimes, although they do act if the chances of catching the perpetrator are high, especially if the victim is an Imperial citizen. Investigation is not their long suit, and responses to complaints vary according to the status of the people involved. Magic is rarely used - the necessary spells are expensive, and the courts have to pay for them. There are freelance investigators that individuals may hire, but they are expensive. Punishments for the guilty (and if a case gets as far as court, the supposition is that the defendant is guilty) are swift and harsh. Death, imprisonment, forced labour or substantial fines are common. Recidivism is treated harshly, with the standard punishment for that offence doubled. There's also information on legal and illegal drugs and other matters here, as well as details on the extensive system of licences and permits, and the taxation system. Taxes are high - and the benefit to the common good from paying them unclear - so there's a fair amount of evasion, smuggling, etc. going on.
The next section covers Technology - but seems to be full of firearms! There is a bit on transportation and other devices large and small, mostly clockwork or steam-driven. There are deities specificially interested in technology, and rules for maintaining items correctly lest they fail (at a critical moment, of course!). This is followed by a whole chapter on Chaositech - the evil twin of technology that is fuelled by pure chaos. Some of the technology is implausible, but this is even more unlikely - even if you are happy with a world where magic works. Its use carries consequences, too, fortunately it's very rare in Ptolus. Still, there's plenty of information here to enable you to cause endless problems for the unwary.
The remainder of the book is more direct DM advice for running an urban campaign in general and one in Ptolus in particular. If the group likes the traditional dungeon delve, there's plenty of opportunity under the city. If they prefer other styles of adventure, there's plenty of action to be found above ground... and of course, the two may be mixed as suits. Perhaps the party will end up combating the rise of chaos, or get involved with organised crime. Ideas whiz by so fast it's quite hard to catch one and turn it into a campaign, there are ideas galore that would fuel years of gaming in the city here. There are themes and concepts which you can elaborate on, developing them in whatever direction seems best - and a selection of ready-made campaign villains to provide the sort of major antagonist the best stories need. There's also a section on Urban Campaigns pointing out how to make the most of the differences between them and more standard games where cities are places you pass through or pause to rest in between adventures. Living in Ptolus can be the adventure in itself, never mind the events that take place... and there are plenty of ideas for those here, too.
Then there are some new monsters to throw into the mix, with notes on how author Monte Cook has used them in his own campaign - remember, Ptolus is his living campaign world, not something just written for sale! New magic spells and new clerical domains are presented, along with some prestige classes you may wish to offer to characters who qualify for them. Many are linked to specific organisations. There are also useful tools like a quick refence index of places, and another of NPCs, as well as random encounters/events and more, and finally some blank documents to oil the wheels of Imperial bureaucracy.
Much of this is useful to anyone running urban campaigns (something I love doing, although I also like inventing cities in which to do so), and doubly so if you want to run one in Ptolus. Definitely worth having!
Return to Ptolus: DM's Companion page.
Reviewed: 1 February 2018