Reading the new Zobeck Gazetteer, for Pathfinder, is like visiting an old friend. The original Zobeck Gazetteer was my first Open Design product and deeply impressed me by the way it handled the common D&D tropes. It felt classic and new at the same time, with tons of cool things packed in just a few pages – a damn good read. The way I’m speaking it may seem that Zobeck is as old as Greyhawk City or the City of the Invincible Overlord, but it has been only 4 years. Time indeed flies.
Now we get a shiny 118 pages version of the Clockwork City for Pathfinder, by Wolfgang Baur and Christina Stiles. This new book has a great cover by Pat Loboyoko, great for the roguish and “dirty” spirit of Zobeck.
The Gazetteer opens with the history of the land, its dark fey roots and the original keep raised by the kobolds, before their enslavement by the Stross noble family. What makes the background so fascinating is that most of its factions and organizations are not divided along Alignments. Yes, we have evil and good guys, but they can be found on both sides of the conflict (like the knightly Order of the Undying Sun – usually good guys – but that fought defending the tyrannical nobility).
The Gazetteer is still low on details, leaving plenty of room for the Gamemasters. Although the focus is (obviously) the Free City, we do get a lot of information regarding Midgard’s nations, politics and geography.
Zobeck is described lightly, usually with one page per district, each with interesting locations properly marked on a beautiful (and usable) B&W city map. Special attention is given to the city’s mood – and to the Kobold Ghetto. Speaking of the little pests, Zobeck manages the herculean task of making kobolds not only setting-playable, but also interesting (besides creating one of my favorite NPCs – the Keeper in White).
Zobeck is stated following the Pathfinder model, with full city stats (from the mini-system found in the GameMastery Guide), besides information on services, rents and such. The B&W art strengths the Free City’s flavor and I can’t stress how Pat Loboyoko is the perfect artist for this kind of book (however the remaining art is reused from other products).
It’s easy to see how a lot of material from Kobold Quarterly ended in the Gazetteer, also updated with content from books like Streets of Zobeck.
The chapter about religion is particularly interesting because of Zobeck’s approach to deities as entities beyond alignments and anthropomorphisms, more akin to primordial or essential forces than powerful creatures. I’m especially curious to see how the author will treat ex-clerics and heretic priests. The decision to keep the gods “away” (and the ultimate truth as something obscure) definitely increases Midgard’s flavor and mystery. It gives a mythological feel (or “Gloranthan” feel). As a side note, Zobeck has a Cult of the Yellow Sign and I just loved the discrete and sinister style on which it’s described (instead of just going “full Cthulhu”).
On the mechanical side of things (no pun intended), the Zobeck Gazetteer has two new arcane schools (Clockwork and Illumination), new spells and magic items. Unfortunately it doesn’t present stats for gearforged PCs anymore, something that, I guess, will appear in the – several times mentioned – Crossroads Player’s Guide. Another thing that seems we’ll see there is the return of the shadowsworn, a core class created by Wolfgang Baur for the Book of Roguish Luck (D&D 3.5).
The Zobeck Gazetteer fully integrates the Free City in the Midgard Campaign Setting. This new version has much more information (except for the gearforged bit) and, at its price, it’s an excellent option for urban adventures without resorting to deep-detailed and bigger cities (like Waterdeep or Ptolus). It still is an excellent introduction for the Midgard Campaign Setting. Written for Pathfinder, it can be easily used with other d20 products (and also other RPGs as most of the Gazetteer is systemless). I heartily recommend it for roguish and dark fantasy urban campaigns (I dare say it’s the closest thing, in flavor, to Lankhamar that I’ve read in a long time).