A FIVE BOG TROLL HEAD RATING!
A tour through the Free City of Zobeck, presented for both alumni of this setting, and fresh faces to its streets.
Published by the crew over at Open Design, known for the well received Kobold Quarterly, this gazetteer marks the beginning of the efforts to bring Zobeck from 3e to the Pathfinder community. The PDF weighs in at a healthy 117 pages, with covers (front and back, full color w/ illustrations), OGL, ToC and Intro pages all taking up 7 pages total. That leaves us 110 pages folks, 110 pages of material, art, items, history and stories. The artwork ranges between sketch and more refined illustration, with both color pieces and B&W. Each chapter opens with a full page B&W illustration, and very much reminded me of several old school rulebooks in that nature. Fully bookmarked for ease of navigation (always a good thing), the PDF carries a blueish tinge to the pages, so I'm going to have to recommend buying a printed copy, as opposed to printing one. Grammatically there are very few mistakes, although one stuck out like a sore thumb and had me chuckling.
page 9, second column, second paragraph...", but th'wwwwqwe things that still abide in Strossheim (now called Shadowcrag) have not forgotten". Am assuming the word should have been "those".
For those not in the know, Zobeck is a city, at its simplest description. But to stop at that would be nothing short of insult to the material, and the people, who over the years have helped define Zobeck into the living breathing locale it has become. I wasn't on board for a great deal of the earlier material for Zobeck, I will admit that. I can't tell you how much here has been collaborated from other, older material. Nor can I tell you what has been converted from previous rule sets. I can look up the previous releases, and hunt for them (and I did), but a cover and synopsis will only tell you so much. And in the end, the review is about this book, this gazetteer. I mention the older releases because, at least to me, when I realized I was looking at a book dealing with a setting that had previous material, it became important to me to know how well received the previous material was. Everything I saw tells me, this city, this locale, has all of the personality and presence of character required to leave a mark upon a gamer's life forever, and it's troves of fans agree. Zobeck is the type of place one wants to adventure to, and in. A city free unto itself, with the opportunity for any and all to make a name, or at least some coin, for themselves.
The people of Zobeck are primarily human, but the second highest population in this city are the kobolds, and that folks, stands out. Name me another predominately human society that tolerates kobolds enough to share their city with them, go ahead...I'll wait.........my point exactly. So, why? Why kobolds? Because the kobolds helped fight in the great revolt that lead to the city throwing off the shackles of nobility in the first place. They helped Zobeck become a free city, and then negotiated for the rights to continue working the mines, not as slaves, but as free “men”, earning a wage.
This gazetteer lays out holidays, local religious orders, influential families, organizations, what one might do for entertainment within the city, you know, all the basic stuff you expect to see within a gazetteer. But, where I felt this gazetteer separated itself from so many that I have read and walked away from knowing little more than before I started, we are constantly fed names and locations from within the city throughout all of these sections, and I found myself quickly drawing connections between locales and names with familiarity. A few choice examples from these sections:
The Grey Friar: A local tavern, on of the more famous, brought up in the section on Inns, Taverns and Alehouses along with several other taverns is also mentioned earlier within the book in regards to a local gossip about a gargoyle living amongst it's rafters.
We No Work Day!: Ever feel like calling in? We all have, and apparently when the kobolds do it, they all do it, literally. Once, sometimes twice a year, they simply take the day off, and declare it a holiday.
Spring Festival: A night of lustful abandon celebrated citywide in the name of the gods of love.
Hrovitz: The family of Halsen Hrovitz, the ten year old boy who sparked the Revolt that led to the freeing of Zobeck from the rule of the Stross family. Halsen was simply a boy, vocalizing his opinion of the Stross family when the city guards grabbed him and began to drag him away, but on that day, people did not get out of the guard's way. One simple act of defiance, and the city as one fought back, and earned their freedom.
Arcane Collegium: Mentioned several times, throughout the book. The one small section giving any details is maddeningly short. One can only hope that this will also be showing up in another book soon, as this locale is mentioned far to many times as part of this city to not have more details for. There are many references throughout the book to other books, leading one to hope that this gazetteer is to be one in an ongoing series of new books released in support of this setting, as opposed to these references being to older material that may be harder to find for newer customers.
Zobeck functions in many different capacities, as a trade city with routes following roads, river, flight and even a path to the realm of the shadow fey. One can find a great many things within the stalls and markets of this city, making it a great resource for both PC's and GM's alike. One thing that must be mentioned, a thing that truly establishes Zobeck as vastly different from many city settings within the fantasy genre, are the gearforged. Gearforged were first crafted during the revolt, and as such are amongst the few who can say, these 80 years later, that they were there to see it first hand. Think of them as steampunk cyborgs, with a healthy dose of magics and clockwork technologies making the impossible a very common reality within this city. The concept of clockworks and gears being so infused into the cities heart, that their main religious loyalty's lay with Rava, the Gear Goddess (OK, obviously, if you are planning on dropping Zobeck into your own setting, you'll have to decide what to do about their patron Goddess, but that's easy enough to deal with).
As with any city setting, there are the different districts; Gear, Temple, Market, Merchant, Upper, Lower, The Docks, Collegium, and the Kobold Ghetto. There are also two basic ways to make your coin here, one side of the law, or the other. Those caught breaking the laws will find that their GM's are prepared for them, as there is a full breakdown of crime and punishment handled, with fairly established concepts of justice and fair retribution.
For those playing within Midgard, the sections detailing the neighboring cities and kingdoms will be of much more usage than to those like myself, who intend to drop Zobeck into our own worlds. Regardless, each of the neighbors are given a quick well detailed section giving a GM enough to work with from this book alone to be able to handle contact.
The introduction to NPC's of note are dropped like nuggets of goodness throughout the work, tucked into sections as support for the material being presented within that chapter. Again, as stated earlier, I like this approach, as it gives your mind something to attach the NPC too, and that breeds familiarity. A few more NPC's of note would be:
The Keeper in White: kobold clockwork lich wizard 12, yeah, mouthful isn't it? This dude, an albino kobold over 100 years in age, has a mithral torso, and a clockwork heart. He's obsessed with keys, and lives in a locale known as the Throne of Keys (as it's filled with thousands of stolen keys).
Lady Fenyll Marack: Praetor of the Blue House, Lord Commander of the Free Army of Zobeck The only publicly known member of the 5 person secret council known as the Praetor. The Praetors serve as inner cabinet to the Lord Mayor, as well as his eyes and ears throughout the city.
Abrostar: Gearforged owner of the Grey Friar, has a love of learning and memory that set her apart from other gearforged. Her tavern/restaurant may not have the best tasting food, but it's cheap and her seats are always filled after service at the temple to Rava end.
And before the wrong impression is given, there are full write ups and statblocks for the notable NPC's later within the book, I am simply pointing out the initial introduction to many of these NPC's is handled in a better manner than simply cramming them together at the end of the book, or breaking the flow of the text with scattered statblocks everywhere.
We are given a two page map of the city, with numbers for locales, that whereas are not of the greatest artistic style, are functional. It reminds me of a hand drawn map, which I am not a fan of in works of this level of professional quality. We are also given a map for the Kobold Ghetto with more detailed locations as well. Several locales end their small descriptions with (see another book page number x-z) which personally, I'm not sure how I feel about. I am hoping that we are being pointed to other books when it comes to these locations because there is a much more detailed writeup and maps for these places to be found in these other books. I could not help but notice that whereas the map has numbers for locales to be matched up to, and a great deal of the locales have numbers, a great deal don't. Which left me wondering where those locales were in regards to the city.
Several gods are detailed within this PDF, and are mainly of use for the setting Zobeck is intended for, but amongst the gods one will find a few interesting gems that are ripe for plucking for any setting. The Lust domain, which screams do not use unless you have a mature play group, and the secrets to Divining The Shell (Divination using crabs). Obviously the Lust domain is what it is (for once, go ahead and get your mind in the gutter, your right this time), it's the crab divination that offers up so many freaking possibilities. If you have never used divination within your games you are missing a really cool way to not only get information into your players hands, but to seriously screw with them as well, lol.
The chapter covering magic for the city of Zobeck introduces us to two new schools, Clockwork and Illumination. Those who follow the school of Clockwork are masters of constructs, mechanical devices and time itself. While Illumination handles star and shadow magics, and is an exclusive school of magic to the city of Zobeck, offering a true individuality to it's mages. Both schools are supported with a collection of new spells. The final offering from this book would be a collection of magic items, wherein I found a few editorial concerns:
Tick Stop Watch: The slot is for feet, even though this is a stop watch....strange place to carry a stop watch, just saying.
Signet Ring of Karremark: Am assuming the kobold ring is supposed to weigh .5 lbs, not 5 lbs as it is listed. Otherwise, I wanna watch that kobold arm wrestle someone.
LifeBlood Gear: Am not entirely clear on how this works, or why it takes up the shoulder slot. By the description, reading through it the first time I was thinking it literally created out of thin air a small animated object after the gear was attached to one of the three targets. The second time I read it I started to wonder if it was supposed to be animating the thing it was attached to, even though a size ratio for the targets was not given. Either way, I do not understand the shoulder slot.
OK, final thoughts, buy this book. Period. There are a few hiccups, but none of them were enough to derail the sheer awesomeness of Zobeck. As a setting taken as it is, or plucked from its landscape and relocated to your own horizons, this city rocks, and your players will love it. One of the easiest 5 star ratings I've ever given.