Alright, let’s get this out in the open: Monte Cook’s Ptolus is a massive, massive book. So massive, that I think a single review of the entire tome would stretch the limits of convenient readability on this website. Also, I wouldn’t be able to post anything for another month or so, if that. So anyway, I’m about 230 pages into the book which, if you’re keeping track, is just about a third off the way through. As such, I’d like to give my overall impressions of the book so far.
1. Ptolus is dense. What do I mean by that? I mean that there really is a lot of information in here. The font size is pretty small (though it doesn’t strain my eyes at all), and it’s tightly packed. Major NPCs are given about a page each, and districts of the city are given entire chapters. The first chapter is basically a player’s guide, meant to be read by the players so that they know all the general, common knowledge type stuff, but not all of the DM-only secrets that get revealed over time. In fact, the book’s CD-ROM comes with an electronic version of just this chapter, so you can easily print it out and give a copy to each player, for them to read at their leisure. The segment of the book contains a number of chapters detailing history, cosmology, geography of the surrounding region, and other such background material. The third segment (which I’m currently in) gives a district-by-district tour of the city, with each district getting its own chapter, prefaced by an introductory chapter that gives you general information that’s true of the whole city.
2. Ptolus is extremely well-organized. The table of contents spans (if memory serves) five or six pages, is incredibly detailed, and is even color coded (there are colored marks on the pages so that you can look at the book sideways and easily distinguish segments of the book). Ptolus is also the closest thing to a hyperlinked book that I’ve ever encountered. What do I mean by that? You’ll be reading along about, for example, Rastor’s Weapons in Delver’s Square, and some important NPC or item or spell or location will be mentioned. That thing, whatever it is, will be in bold (in the chapter’s signature color), and in the margin of the page there will be either a short blurb explaining something about that thing, or there will be a page reference for the main entry on that thing. Neat, huh? The book is extensively cross-referenced in this way, so that you can always find the information you’re looking for pretty quickly. There are also three bound-in cloth bookmarks which, in addition to making it easy to read the book and never lose your place, also make it easy to mark specific parts of the book for later reference. In addition to these bookmarks, there’s a page at the back of the book with four punch-out cardboard bookmarks, each one labeled for use on a specific type of information. That gives you a total of seven bookmarks that you can use to easily get to what you need quickly in the middle of a session.
3. The production values in Ptolus are extremely high. The text is clean and attractive and the graphic design is both elegant and functional. The full-color art that graces the pages very, very good, and almost always relevant to what’s being discussed currently. The binding is strong and the book is sturdy. As I’ve said, I’m about 230 pages in, and I’ve noticed maybe six or seven typos so far. Six or seven. Granted, I’m not really giving the stat-blocks the old hairy eyeball; I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for the most part. Despite that, though, I’d say that the ratio of errors it text is extremely low, especially when compared to most of the products that come out of bigger companies, like WotC (not that I have anything against them). Also, the book comes with an envelope chocked full of player handouts, adventure maps, a full-sized, double-sided poster map, and a CD-ROM that includes bonus content like the aforementioned player’s guide, Monte Cook’s Chaositech, the Night of Dissolution mega-adventure, The Banewarrens (another adventure), character sheets, and even the first issue of the Ptolus comic book.
4. Ptolus feels just a little bit generic. Let me qualify that a little. I’m certainly not saying that there’s nothing original in Ptolus; far from it. There are lots of interesting locations and characters, and plenty of cool adventure hooks. But it feels kind of generic in the same way that D&D is generic. I suppose this is because 3E D&D and Ptolus grew up together, and had profound influences on each other. Ptolus could be accurately described as D&D: The City. It also suffers a bit from Forgotten Realms Syndrome: there are lots (and I do mean lots) of very high-level NPCs. Most of the lower-level NPCs that are statted out are at least 8th level, and it seems like Ptolus plays home to more than its share of characters of 15th level and above. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means that it’s going to take a lot of time for the PCs to distinguish themselves from the throng of PC-classed characters in the city. I mean, when the owner of the weapon shop in Delver’s Square is an 8th-level fighter, is there really a need for a new group of 1st-level characters to start plumbing the depths of the Dungeon? High-level-itis is kind of a pet peeve of mine, as is the generecism present in this book. The reason I fell in love with Eberron was that it did away with both of these; it had a fresh take on old D&D tropes, and it cast the players firmly in the spotlight from minute one. Ptolus doesn’t do this, nor does it really seem to seek to.
So far, I’m enjoying the book. It’s a good read, and it’s full of useful stuff. I probably won’t be running a Ptolus game any time soon. I had originally thought, when I got the book, that I’d drop Ptolus into Eberron, possibly replacing Stormreach. The more I read, though, the more I think that I’m not going to do that without extensively modifying the city. More likely, I think, I’ll wind up mining the book for cool bits and pieces. The Necropolis, for example, could probably be dropped whole-cloth into any major city on Khorvaire. I might put it in Sharn, or possibly somewhere in Karnath or even Thrane. We’ll see. Anyway, those are my thoughts thus far. I’ll probably post another mini-review in another 200 pages or so.