This work jumps straight in, with Chapter 1: The History of Zoa explaining how the city developed from a gnome township... and how its history is intertwined with that of Werlen, an elf. Werlen spotted the area's potential early, as the gnome fishing and farming village was situated on a natural harbour, and set up a trading business, and so it developed to become a centre of commerce and trade, home to a range of arts and a focal point for religion: plenty of reasons to visit. A detailed account of the various groups who have arrived in Zoa over the years, whether orcs raiding or halflings trading, exotic elves visiting and so on, show how the city has grown to the state in which it is today. It's a fascinating sweep of events, marred only by some sloppy proof-reading.
Next, Chapter 2: The City of Zoa describes the city as it exists in the present day, beginning with its geography. There's a brief outline of the current racial distribution of the population leading into a detail description of the city itself complete with a full-page map to give you some idea of the layout. A second map shows the different districts and a detailed gazetteer follows describing what you will find there. Useful notes on significant locations and personalities adds colour and provides ideas for interaction, if not actual adventure.
Chapter 3: Living in Zoa contains details of customs and traditions, the sort of things that make up everyday life of the residents of the city. Some of this might seem strange to visitors (it can be fun to catch characters out this way, if their players enjoy interaction and learning about other cultures), others will seem familiar or at least logical. Being a citizen of Zoa is a status that must be earned, even by those born there of a citizen family; and that status carries both rights and responsibilities. It is possible for immigrants to earn citizenship, but it is not something that can be done speedily. At the other end of the social scale, slavery is fairly common and accepted, certainly amongst humans - most other races do not keep slaves (although they might become slaves through debt or other mischance). For those with culinary interests, you can even find out about common dishes, drinks and dining customs - a good way to convey local colour if your party travels around a lot. The food seems to have a slightly Greek flavour, if you are familiar with that cuisine. Education is haphazard, and often centred around either a trade or religion; although there are a few 'schools' of variable quality. For entertainment, there's a checkers-type game called coins, or if sports are to your taste both gladiatorial bouts or sowrdfighting contests are held. The use of the rapier is popular in Zoa, and a master of that weapon can be highly regarded. Wrestling is also a common pastime of an evening. Like any community, there are public holidays to celebrate as well as the individual road through life: birth, marriage and death.
A major force in day-to-day life is the guild system, which in all Tellene reaches its height here in Zoa. Even the clerics have a guild, over and above the hierarchy of a particular religion. It's quite hard for an immigrant to practise a trade or for anyone to change their profession - if you want to stay on the right side of the law. You can, if already skilled at the trade, pay a master to take you as an 'apprentice' for as little as a month to gain a journeyman's licence, though. There's sufficient information on each guild for basic interaction with it, although they could use more development if they will play a major part in your plotline, rather than serve as background flavour.
The government - chiefly the Council of Elders and its current incumbents - are also quite well covered; as are the major political factions of the city. Plenty of resources should you wish intrigue to play a large part in your adventures. You can even find out about individual ships in the Zoan navy, as well as the organisation of army, navy and militia... and even the medals that the brave and meritorious can earn! Prominent families and religious organisations also appear. Details of cults, other organisations and magic groups round this out; before the discussion moves on to the surrounding territories that come under Zoa's sway.
The book rounds off with two appendices. The first is an alphabetical list of prominent residents of the city (mostly mentioned elsewhere in the book, and gives a summary of their stats should it become necessary for the characters to have more than a casual conversation with them. The other is a glossary of terms and items presented herein.
Overall, this is another well-presented city of Tellene, best suited to parties which like to get involved in the political scene and who enjoy intrigue - at least, if anything more than a short visit to stock up on rare and unusual items is intended. A bit more attention to proof-reading would have made it even better, but I look forward to introducing some characters to this flavoursome location. Alternatively, if you like deep background for your characters, there is a wealth of information for someone who hails from Zoa to draw upon.
Return to Zoa: Citadel of the Bay page.
Reviewed: 15 July 2008