Streets of Zobeck by Open Design

It’s interesting to note how the gaming community changes over time, and what sorts of products they tend to gravitate toward. I’m not necessarily talking about “edition wars” or what sort of genre of game people like to play, but how the types of supplementary products are being offered to gamers these days.

When I started playing D&D and Traveller back in the day, adventure modules were all the rage. Usually one-shot in format, although there were the occasional trilogy series of modules, they were compact adventures for wandering heroes to stumble upon, investigate, and overcome – before wandering back to civilization with their “treasure”, to await the next odd adventure to pop up. Of course, adventure modules were a boon to GMs short on time, who needed to quickly supply their players with a fun session, or to have some filler between their own adventure plots.

And while adventure modules are still written and enjoyed to this day, it’s interesting to note that there has been a new sort of adventure supplement being produced which is becoming more and more desirable in the gaming market. Call it an “adventure setting” or a “campaign sourcebook”, but it seems many publishers are turning to this format as a means to provide GMs with an option somewhere between an adventure module and a setting sourcebook. By providing expansive detail about a local area in a world setting, as well as background information on NPCs, monsters in the region, and potential plots, adventure settings offer GMs options to create their own adventures based upon a wealth of material in the supplement.

Last summer, Open Design released what they call an “adventure anthology” for the Midgard world setting, which seems to be something of a cross between an adventure module and an adventure setting. Packed with NPCs, monster, adventure locations, plots, and adventure modules, Streets of Zobeck offers tons of details about the famed city on the River Argent for use by Pathfinder GMs.

Streets of Zobeck

  • Designers: Ben McFarland (lead), Mike Franke, Richard Pett, Christina Stiles, and Matthew Stinson
  • Illustrations: Pat Loboyko (cover), Glen Zimmerman (interior), Gill Pearce and Jonathan Roberts (cartography)
  • Publisher: Open Design LLC
  • Year: 2011
  • Media: PDF (95 pages)
  • Price: $9.99 (available from RPGNow.com)
Streets of Zobeck is a Pathfinder adventure anthology, set in the World of Midgard Setting by Open Design. The adventure anthology provides details and statistics on 8 NPCs known in the city of Zobeck, along with potential hooks for how they might interact with player-characters. Streets of Zobeck also contains details on six locations in the city, along with personalities and scenarios, which can be used as potential adventure sites. And finally, there are 7 unique adventures, designed for characters of 1st through 10th Level, as well as supplemental material such as feats, traits, spells, gear, and a new archetype.


Production Quality

The production quality of Streets of Zobeck is very good, with excellent writing and a good layout which makes it easy for GMs to use the book. The monsters, feats, and other “crunch” are presented in formats recognizable to Pathfinder players, and there is both a table of contents and PDF bookmarks which makes it easy to navigate through the adventure anthology. Regretfully, several of the PDF bookmarks in my review copy were incorrect, which made things a bit confusing when I was moving through the content.

The artwork in Streets of Zobeck is a mixed bag of good and not so good pieces. The cover art is vibrant and evocative, depicting hard-bitten adventurers splitting spoils, and sets the right mood for a city-based adventure book. The interior artwork is a bit hit-and-miss, with some good pieces and some rather lackluster ones. The interior art is black-and-white, in a darkly inked style that is sometimes hard to puzzle out exactly what is going on in the picture. But for the ones you can puzzle out, they do enhance the reading of the material on the page, but those are few and far-between.

On the other hand, the cartography in Streets of Zobeck is excellent, and the location maps and adventure maps have that “old school” hand-drawn feel. But the maps are still clear, concise, and detailed, and are perfectly suited to the material in the supplement.


The Anthology

Streets of Zobeck is divided into ten sections, each one covering a different facet of the city or a different adventure. The book opens with an introduction from Ben McFarland entitled “Grim and Gritty”, discussing his inspiration for the adventure anthology. The lead designer claims his focus was to create a supplement containing “tales of rough men looking out for themselves in a rough world, people looking for the right score rather than the righteous quest”, which certainly fits well with a rough-and-tumble city-setting like Zobeck.

The book’s first section is entitled Faces of Zobeck, and it presents eight NPCs for use in the setting, including fully-detailed statistic blocks, background information, motivations & goals, and schemes & plots they might be involved with. Most of these NPCs are figures of intrigue, well-established in the “street life” of the city, or part of Zobeck’s underworld. While these individuals might be useful to an adventurer, they are more likely to be working on ways to exploit the heroes to their own end, providing opportunities for adventures and missions.

The next section, Places of Zobeck, details six locations within the city that are fitting with the “grim and gritty” style that the designers aimed to evoke, such as a curio/pawn shop, a black market, a money-lender, and a bar/gambling den. Each location is fully mapped, with descriptions of each room/area, and includes a list of NPC personalities adventurers are likely to encounter there. The personalities are fairly detailed, with names, backgrounds, and motivations, but do not have statistic blocks – which does allow GMs to decide the threat level of these NPCs according to their campaign needs. In addition, there are one or two scenarios with each location, providing possible quests and adventures for heroes to undertake. Most of these scenarios also fit with the “grim and gritty” theme of the book, and like the personalities, can be tailored to fit the level of the campaign.

I wanted to mention that I particularly liked the Silk Scabard locale, which is a combination bar, fight club, gambling den and brothel all rolled into one building! The designers made a nice little place of intrigue here, and have even created rules and follow-up scenarios should the player-characters decide to take over the place as a base of operations. The current owner, Tyron, is a well-dressed ne’er-do-well who is actually a “fixer” for the local underworld community, and he is fully detailed here in case the heroes decide to make him an offer for the bar. The designers also introduce the new Fixer Archetype and Expert Scounger Rogue Talent here, which is a bit confusing, as it seemed that it would be more appropriately introduced at the end of the book with the new feats, spells, and gear.

The next seven sections of the book are the anthology of adventures, beginning with one called Everybody Lies for 1st to 3rd Level characters and ending with a dark tale called Flesh Fails set for characters of 9th to 11th level. There is at least one adventure here for almost any level, although parties of level 6 or higher are likely to get the most use from these scenarios.

Each adventure is fully detailed with backgrounds and plot hooks, and contains most of the NPC and monster statistic blocks for all pertinent encounters – occasionally there is a monster or two pulled from the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary. The adventures are also given maps and area descriptions, so are pretty much ready to run with very little work required by the game master.

Overall, the adventures are well-written, and definitely fit with the theme that the designers wanted to follow in this book - mercenary and scoundrel characters are more likely to find these adventures enjoyable than a pack of righteous do-gooding questers would. In fact, some of these adventures tend to be a bit adult themed, and present some interesting role-play potential for mature gamers. But they definitely keep to the “grim and gritty” theme discussed by the lead designer in his introduction.

The book ends with a section called Traces of Zobeck, which details eight new feats, sixteen new traits, four new spells, six new magic items, and three new mundane items for use in the setting. The feats, for the most part, center around dirty-fighting, appropriate to an urban setting. So too, the traits fit well with characters with urban backgrounds, or a background in Zobeck itself. As for the magic items, many of items fit well with the theme of the anthology, and would be quite useful to scoundrels of all sorts. It’s a good short collection of thematic material for the anthology, and while I am typically an opponent of “feat creep” in a game, the material is well-suited for the supplement.

Overall Score: 4.1 out of 5.0


Conclusions

There’s a lot of great things I can recommend about Streets of Zobeck, and the designers did a lot of work creating an adventure anthology which works so well with and urban setting. They kept to their theme of “grim and gritty” in all things, and provide a huge amount of content for any Pathfinder gaming group to use and enjoy. Although the material is designed for Pathfinder RPG, D&D 4E DMs and Dragon Age GMs should be able to utilize much of this content in their own games, easily adapting the adventures, places, and personalities into their game’s format. And given the amount of material here in Streets of Zobeck, this supplement should be high on any game master’s list of PDFs to add to their RPG libraries.


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.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 3.75
  • - Design: 4.0 (Great layout, but had some erroneous bookmarks and editing oddities)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Awesome cover, solid maps, but not-so-impressive interior art)
  • Content: 4.25
  • - Crunch: 4.5 (Solid NPCs, encounters, and items)
  • - Fluff: 4.0 (Gritty, fun adventures in an urban setting)
  • Value: 4.5 (A TON of material here!)
 

Comments

Isn't this actually a pretty old format? I'd argue a bunch of the Judges Guild books from the 1970s would qualify for the adventure setting format, as described.
 
Isn't this actually a pretty old format? I'd argue a bunch of the Judges Guild books from the 1970s would qualify for the adventure setting format, as described.
Yes, it has been around a long time. My favorite early example is probably The Secret of Bone Hill... that module influenced me a lot back in my early DMing days in the 90's. A fleshed-out town with lots of adventure hooks, local lairs, and a big dungeon to do what you will with...

But it seems like it's an even bigger format than it used to be; and that's appropriate, because it's a really good one. It's also how a lot of us use plot-driven adventures too (I usually mine them for content and make them less railroady).
 

Neuroglyph

Villager
Could you explain this in more detail?
Sure! The crunch material - monster stats and magic items for example - are presented in Pathfinder RPG formats. But the fluff - the stories, locales, and NPC descriptions - are great for almost any fantasy role-playing game. There is enough nifty content in this book that it's worth considering, imo, for picking up and converting to other systems like D&D and DragonAge!
 

Mark CMG

Creative Mountain Games
Sure! The crunch material - monster stats and magic items for example - are presented in Pathfinder RPG formats. But the fluff - the stories, locales, and NPC descriptions - are great for almost any fantasy role-playing game. There is enough nifty content in this book that it's worth considering, imo, for picking up and converting to other systems like D&D and DragonAge!

So, it's for PF. Thanks. The way you wrote that made it appear it had stat info for D&D 4E and DragonAge also. Is all of the Midgard stuff strictly statted for PF or is it also statted for other systems in some products?
 

terraleon

Villager
So, it's for PF. Thanks. The way you wrote that made it appear it had stat info for D&D 4E and DragonAge also. Is all of the Midgard stuff strictly statted for PF or is it also statted for other systems in some products?
There's Midgard material for: 3.5/d20, 4E, Pathfinder and AGE. It depends on the particular project and book.

-Ben.
 

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