Review of Zobeck Gazetteer (Pathfinder/d20) by Open Design

Go ahead, pick any fantasy world, from novels or from role-playing games. Now tell me the name of a city in that world, and I bet you name the biggest. And in fact, I bet some of you named the city first, before you ever thought of the fantasy world it’s in!

There is a long tradition of magnificent metropolises in fantasy genre, and heroes of that world invariable find their epic journeys passing through those city gates. With names like Melniboné, Lankhmar, Minas Tirith, Khemi, and Falme from our favorite fantasy novels to the famous cities of the D&D settings like Greyhawk, Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate, Tyr, and Stormreach, these amazing locations create a lasting impression upon the characters that walk their streets, and often form the backdrop for spectacular adventures by themselves.

Wolfgang Bauer, the editor-in-chief, or as he is sometimes referred to as the kobold-in-chief, at Kobold Quarterly magazine has been working on his own fantasy setting for quite some time now, and is now the new project at Open Design – the Midgard Campaign Setting. But before that, it all started with one great city in his world, one central locale called Zobeck, AKA The Free City. Although there have been numerous writings about this place, scattered throughout KQ articles and other sources, it finally looks like all that material about this fantasy city-state has been collected in one source for Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 gamers in the Zobeck Gazetteer!

Zobeck Gazetteer

  • Designers: Wolfgang Baur
  • Illustrations: Pat Loboyko (cover), Peter Bradley, Rick Hershey, Stephanie Law, Pat Loboyko, Malcolm McClinton, Chris McFann, Aaron Miller, Marc Radle, Jonathan Roberts, Mark Smylie, Allison Theus, Cory Trego-Erdner, and Glen Zimmerman (interior), Sean Macdonald (cartography)
  • Publisher: Open Design LLC
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (118 pages)
  • Price: $9.95 (available from RPGNow.com)
Zobeck Gazetteer is a sourcebook and anthology detailing the Free City of Zobeck in the Midgard campaign setting for Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 rules. The sourcebook contains detailed information about the history of Zobeck, as well as current events and important NPCs. There is expansive information about the districts within the city, with details about the sociology in the city, its politics, government, legal system, and other important facts. In addition to all the source material about the setting, the Zobeck Gazetteer also includes maps and stat blocks, and considerable new material such as new feats, new magic spells, new magic items, new monsters, and more.


Production Quality

The production quality of the Zobeck Gazetteer is very good, with sharp writing, and the presentation of material about the Free City in a logical and very readable fashion. The PDF includes both a table of content as well as bookmarks to make navigation through the pages very easy to accomplish, and there are numerous sidebars scattered amongst the work to highlight additional facts or details about the topic at hand.

The artwork in the book is also excellent, with a very striking cover of thieves at work over the city, including a kobold burglar (shocker!). Admittedly though, while I liked quite a bit of the interior illustrations, some of the artwork is re-used from other sources, such as the Streets of Zobeck Anthology. Still, the art and illustrations definitely enhance the quality of the reading experience, and I was particularly taken with the pic of the kobold paladin Goldscale, and his dire weasel bonded mount!

The Zobeck Gazetteer also includes a black-and-white version of the full color map of Zobeck drawn by Sean MacDonald for Open Design which shows the city in great detail. The map in the book is split across two pages (sadly), but it is labeled with various locations within the city, most of which are described in the Zobeck Gazetteer.


The Gazetteer

The material about the famous Free City in Zobeck Gazetteer is divided into eight chapters, each detailing various aspects of Zobeck, ranging from history and politics, to current events and NPCs, not to mention plenty of locations with enough details to suggest plenty of adventure hooks.

The book opens with a short one-page Introduction from Wolfgang Bauer, and gives a bit of the overview of the product. The author makes sure to note that even if Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 gamers are using other campaign settings, Zobeck is capable of being used as a city-state in almost any high fantasy realm, and I would certainly have to agree with that sentiment, although I think the city might need a little editing if clockworks do not play a major role there.

The first chapter delves into the history of the city, from its earliest days as the seat of power of the Stross family, through the Zobeck Revolt and the rise of the gearforged, through the modern day. Like the introduction, this is a fairly short chapter and the story of Zobeck’s early history is told with enough panache to make it a good read.

Chapter 2 of Zobeck Gazetteer is an overview of the city-state, and some of the important facets of living within its walls. It gives a brief description of the eleven districts of the city, as well as a Pathfinder city “stat-block” for quick reference. This chapter also delves into the people of the city and its demographics, as well as cultural information such as languages, money, trade, education, and magic. There are some details about festivals and fairs held in the city, and why they take place, not to mention the sorts of activities that happen when the festivities get into full swing. Other entertainments such as pubs and alehouses, gambling, drugs, and blood sports give a fuller view of things heroes can do for fun while in Zobeck. The chapter rounds off with information about the influential families and the government in Zobeck, as well as crimes and punishment, and there is even a bit about the Free City’s neighbors like the Ironcrag Cantons and the Shadow Realm.

Somehow, I was not surprised to find that the Kobold Ghetto got an entire chapter devoted to itself (Chapeter 3) in Zobeck Gazetteer, including a map blow-up of the district for greater detail. Details here include not only notable NPCs and locations, but adventure hooks and a wide range of street traps which the denizens use throughout the district. Personally, after reading the material, I’m wondering if every major fantasy city doesn’t need a Kobold Ghetto, if nothing else than to give heroes a place to keep their egos in check when confronted with packs of small – but fierce! – humanoids.

Chapter 4 of Zobeck Gazetteer goes into great detail about the other non-kobold infested areas of the Free City, and like the previous chapter, the author include plenty of information on NPCs and locations in those districts to bring the area to life. Adventure hooks and possible encounters are scattered liberally throughout this chapter, and I particularly loved that the author tossed in a detailed table to handle retail transactions in the city. It invariably happens in almost every campaign I’ve ever run that the players decide to buy or rent a house, and put down roots somewhere, and here is a nice break-down of rental and real estate prices for all manner of homes and dwellings in Zobeck!

In Chapter 5, the author details major factions within the city of Zobeck, and this includes various gangs, a list of well-known guilds, and various courtesans, courtiers, and ambassadors. The author includes information about how these groups are lead and operate in the city, and the basics about the NPCs in these organizations. I was particularly drawn to the tielfing gang called the Cloven Nine, and a strange figure called the Mouse King and the Mouse Kingdom. Very colorful characters here, and could easily be used in a variety of settings, even beyond Zobeck.

The sixth chapter of Zobeck Gazetteer details the religious side of life in the Free City, and goes into remarkable depth about several gods, saints, and cults operating here. The author details the gods and the priests that serve them, as well as what proper sacrifices would be accepted to earn their favor. There is a new Lust domain used for gods of beauty and pleasure, and a very cool detailed description of a divination method using the shell of a crab. The chapter rounds out with a list of relics which have importance to the various gods and cults, as well as adventure hooks to get heroes involved in either recovering or taking them.

Chapter 7 details many of the important singular NPCs found in Zobeck, and much of this information and stat blocks are brought over from the Streets of Zobeck Anthology. Those owning that previous work will no doubt find other uses for these non-player characters in the Free City as the author does here.

The final chapter of Zobeck Gazetteer concerns magic use in the city, and offers two new schools of magic, as well as a wide range of new spells. The School of Clockwork Magic offers new Wizard powers which can be substituted at various levels, such as Clockwork Body at Level 8, and the School of Illumination Magic offers an alternative school of spells which gather star and shadow spells together, and grant benefits based upon light effects. There are also new spells for Bards, Clerics, Druids, Inquisitors, Oracles, Rangers, Sorcerers/Wizards, and Witches. This chapter finishes off with details about magic shops in Zobeck, and fourteen new mundane magical items.

Overall Score: 4.1 out of 5.0


Conclusions

On one level, the Zobeck Gazetteer is somewhat of a collective anthology of written works from Open Design and Kobold Quarterly. Certainly, there is information here in the Zobeck Gazetteer that can be found in other sources such as certain denizens of Zobeck from the Streets of Zobeck Adventure Anthology by Ben MacFarland, and the author admits that potions of this book come from Zobeck Gazetteer: An Introduction to the Free City, as well as “…dozens of articles in Kobold Quarterly and entries in several Midgard-related sourcebooks and adventures have expanded the city”. But what still makes this book work is that all those bits and pieces are brought together into one solid sourcebook, and welded together with new material and information about the famous Free City of Zobeck.

But as a DM, I am partial to city adventures, and I truly enjoy having a source of material to run urban encounters and plots, and the Zobeck Gazetteer fits the bill nicely. Even if you don’t use the Midgard setting, and choose not to use the Free City entirely transferred to a new campaign setting, there is still plenty of material, NPCs, adventure hooks, strange gods, stranger cults, and factions to make this book a treasure trove of goodies to pull out and use in other fantasy city-states of all types. And given the wealth of material for fantasy urban heroic adventures, the price for the Zobeck Gazetteer is actually quite modest and well worth consideration for any DMs virtual bookshelf.

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.


Individual Scores

  • Presentation: 4.0
  • - Design: 4.5 (Great layout, solid writing, a “good read”)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Awesome cover, solid maps, mostly cool interior art, some re-used)
  • Content: 4.25
  • - Crunch: 4.0 (Solid NPCs and stat blocks although some reused, cool new spells and magic items)
  • - Fluff: 4.5 (Vast amounts of material for running an urban campaign here!)
  • Value: 4.0 (Lots of stuff for the price.)
 
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Comments

Monkey King

Explorer
Definitely in print

Dragonhelm, yep, this is definitely available in print at your FLGS or at the Kobold store or the Paizo store.

Neuroglyph, thanks for the review! I'm glad to hear that the extra blood, sweat, and tears that went into this book shows.
 

Dragonhelm

Knight of Solamnia
Dragonhelm, yep, this is definitely available in print at your FLGS or at the Kobold store or the Paizo store.
Sweet!

I was going to give this a pass (seen plenty of city books in my time), but two things kept me from it.

First, maps by Sean Macdonald. He's a friend, and the guy behind the Tasslehoff Map Pouches for Dragonlance.

Second, two words. "Kobold ghetto." Color me curious!

Besides, how can I say no to the Monkey King? I saw The Forbidden Kingdom. ;)
 

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