The Introduction opens with a key question: What is Zobeck? Seems a good place to start, and the text explains how Zobeck is one of the few places in Midgard not to have a feudal overlord since a revolt some 80 years ago kicked out the ruling family... not to mention that it's a trade hub and by all accounts a vibrant and exciting place to live in or visit. If you don't happen to use the Midgard campaign setting, a helpful sidebar explains, it will not take too much adaptation to locate Zobeck in your own game world instead. It's a town with a dark side, a teeming underbelly. It conducts trade primarily by river, and there's a deep, dark forest nearby. Inspiration includes middle Europe, a rich source widely ignored by fantasy game authors.
Chapter 1: A History explains the genesis and growth of this city-state and how its main inhabitants - humans, dwarves, gearforged and kobolds - developed the relationships that they have today. First there were the Fey, who were tricked into a pact that resulted in them becoming the Shadow Fey but gave them so much power that they don't seem to have resisted much. Then kobolds turned up to exploit the wealth they found underground. This annoyed the Shadow Fey who formed an alliance with a human lordling called Stross, who conquered the area and established his own rule... and thus the seeds were laid for what is found today. Interestingly, all the history recounted here is information that any interested character might find out, while it's probably common knowledge to the locals.
Next is Chapter 2: The Free City of Zobeck. This is a survey of the districts that make up the city and the people who live in them. Everyday life, customs, languages, trade... it's all here, vital information for would-be visitors. There are also ideas for adventure scattered throughout, which can be picked up and developed by interested GMs. This chapter ends with notes on the city's neighbours.
Then comes Chapter 3: The Kobold Ghetto which goes into extensive detail about this fascinating district of the city. It may be a tough place to live, but compared to what kobolds have endured in the past it at least provides some security if not much in the way of creature comforts. There's plenty of information and a detailed map to facilitate visits - although non-kobolds do stand out and often get picked upon. Indeed, the ghetto is so alien a place that visitors actually are dazed (as in the condition) for several rounds on entering! There's plenty to see for those willing to brave it, however, and numerous ideas for adventure are provided.
Moving on, Chapter 4: Districts & Locations surveys the most prominent ones, with a 2-page map depicting the entire city and a wealth of notes and details about what is to be found there. There are places to visit, shops to browse in and fascinating individuals to meet... and of course several good taverns to drink (and brawl) in. Scene set, the next chapter - Chapter 5: Gangs, Guilds and Guardians - gets down to explaining the elaborate guild organisations that (at least in their own eyes) control the city as well as the numerous gangs which also lay claim to do so, certainly where the underworld is concerned. You can also find out about the local courtesans, including their habit of getting rival lovers to duel over them. Whilst the city is no longer subject to noble rule, 'society' and courtiers still flourish and those who wish to mix at such rarified levels (or in some way profit from them) will find the details that they need.
This is followed by Chapter 6: Gods, Cults and Relics of Zobeck which sets the religious scene for the city. It's important to know about them even if the party is not particularly religious, as the local deities enjoy meddling and interfering in the lives of mortals. The notes are quite intormative, but those seeking more will find it in the Midgard Campaign Setting. As well as the deities, there are numerous cults and even a group of 'crab diviners' who believe that crabs whisper the truth to them...
Next, Chapter 7: Denizens of Zobeck provides full stat blocks and details of several notable NPCs dwelling in the city, all ready to be woven into your game. Finally, Chapter 8: Magic of Zobeck takes a look at magic as it is practised here. Dominated by the Arcane Collegium, there are some interesting paths of magic and they are explained here: the clockwork school and the Gear domain, along with star and shadow magic which both fall under the school of illumination magic and are held to be unique to the city. For those interested, there are quite a few new spells to study as well as a magic shop to visit and some magical items to keep an eye out for during your stay in the city.
There are a few annoying typos (although you can make out what was intended) and a few references to the Streets of Zobeck supplement: it's probably best to pick up a copy if you want to make best use of this book. Whilst much of the information, especially in the first couple of chapters, covers things that a character might discover through inquiry or research, later material is probably best kept for the GM's eyes only, even where characters born and bred in the city are concerned. Overall, though, it is well-presented and brings a fascinating city to vivid life - the party will remember their visit for a long time to come!
Return to Zobeck Gazetteer page.
Reviewed: 20 August 2015