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Review: Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire

by Lori Ann Curley

I will be upfront and tell you that I am the indexer for this book, so I do have an ulterior motive for this positive review, as well as access to a complete copy of this product that is due for publication in August 2006 (just in time for Gen Con). However, I also will tell you that I am very sincere in all my sentiments written in this article. I highly recommend this product and feel it to be worth the hefty price tag.

Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire is a wealth of information that is designed as a resource and setting for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) d20 campaigns, although Cook never seems to specify if Ptolus works better with version 3.0 or 3.5. Cook was on the design team for both of these versions of D&D as well as a writer for the core books of version 3.5; Ptolus was his playtest campaign setting.

When Cook originally conceived of Ptolus as a book, he thought of adventures taking a company of characters from level 1 to 20, providing the Dungeon Master (DM) with everything needed to run the campaign throughout; and I mean everything: city maps, dungeon maps, people to meet (i.e. non-player characters (NPCs)), hotels, restaurants, hovels, homes, and stores. One will even find details of the lighthouse within the book and a map of a shipwreck amongst the adventures. Of the few complaints I have, one of them is that the book suffers from too much detail - although I understand the gamer who would say "no such thing." I think one might have a difficult time sifting through all 672 pages of the details to find one that is needed for a particular in-game situation, except that the book has a good appendix that specifies where one can find a particular locale or NPC. Throughout Ptolus the book, Cook also gives ideas for the DM to create one's own places, NPCs, and adventures.

Although Cook included several pre-written adventures to run (see Chapter 33: Adventures), even better are the chapters on creating and running one's own campaigns. In Chapter 31: Campaign Advice and especially in Chapter 32: Urban Campaigns, Cook talks through writing one's own campaign adventures in a style that's easy for even this gamemaster wannabe to understand, as well as providing solid hints and tips that are useful not only in Ptolus, but in virtually any system - d20 or other. These chapters alone make the expense of this product worthwhile. In the margins throughout Ptolus the book, one will find comments labeled "DM Tips", "Info Checks", and especially "From My Campaign to Yours." A wealth of information on these topics, as well as pertinent data on topics covered within the body text, are found in the margins.

The worst part about Ptolus is the price: $119.99 plus shipping and tax as applicable. However, one can pay in installments of $10 a month, and the suggestion is made for player characters (PCs) to pitch in to buy the book for a favorite DM. Pre-orders will have additional benefits of a signed and numbered copy of the book, copies of the Player's Guide to Ptolus for the PCs, and a print version of the adventure Night of Dissolution (which is on the CD-ROM that comes with every edition of the book).

The best part about Ptolus is it's a solidly-written, information-packed, full-color resource that includes detailed maps with descriptions of contents in both lay and game terms for exposition as well as mechanics. A map poster, CD-ROM full of goodies, and an envelope full of handouts come with the book, too.

Some of the details I found particularly fun include
  • On page 192 in the description of the Tabby's Den (a bar), " long as you don't mind the occasional cat hair in your mug." I am owned by three wonderful cats and can understand this reference entirely.
  • On page 252 in the room-by-room description of the Dark Reliquary, the reader finds "Corpse Storage". Quite literally "A place to hide the bodies!" See my article "Gaming New Year's Resolutions" in the January 2006 edition for why I found this to be funny.

For more information, including how to order, see the Ptolus website at

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