Ptolus: Monte Cook's City By The Spire is a role-playing game d20 supplement by Monte Cook, one of the designers of the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, and released by Malhavoc Press. Ptolus was originally an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition campaign which was changed into the Third Edition, and was the first Third Edition playtest campaign.
This supplement is available as a watermarked PDF, premium colour hardcover, standard colour hardcover, premium hardcover and the PDF and standard hardcover and the PDF. The hardcovers are print on demand and there is no softcover version available, probably because of the sheer size of this book - the page numbers go up to 670. The watermarked PDFs have the purchaser's name and the order number added to each page. In this case the standard hardcover and PDF were ordered.
There are also a number of other sourcebooks and adventure supplements available for the Ptolus setting as well as collections of maps of parts of the city.
The Main Book
The printed version of the book is numbered up to page 670, but the PDF version has just over 800 pages once the additional index and all the former handouts are taken into consideration.
There are sidebars on almost every page of the book. In these are provided a variety of details on items, people, organisations and information that can be discovered as well as DM tips. In addition, throughout the book in the main text on each page there are various references in the colour of the section (to make them stand out). These highlighted references can then be found in the page's sidebar, where it gives the reference and a page number for the subject mentioned in the main text, making it much easier to cross-reference and find the relevant parts of the book.
Part II is chapters two to six and is the campaign background for the world of Praemal where the city is set, including the world, races, religion, history and the various organisations that can be found within Ptolus, including some details of NPCs from them and how to handle the organisations and the characters' interactions with them.
Chapters seven to eighteen are Part III and cover the city of Ptolus itself. The first chapter is an overview of the city and the subsequent ones cover it district by district. Each district chapter covers running that district in particular as well as important locations and characters, some of which are gone into in extensive detail, and what the players can find there.
Part IV, chapters nineteen to twenty-three, covers the region below the city, namely the Undercity, Sewers, Caverns and the abandoned city of Dwarvenhearth. Apart from being belowground rather than above, these chapters follow a similar pattern to those covering the aboveground areas.
Part V is the region above the city and these two chapters cover the two fortresses on the Spire itself.
Part VI is Living in Ptolus and is chapters twenty-six to thirty. There is an overview of life for the average citizens, delvers (the characters), crime and the legal system, the more advanced technology that is erratically available and chaositech. Chapter thirty, Chaositech, is essentially an abbreviated version of the Chaositech sourcebook. Given that this sourcebook is included on the CD of the original printing and as a digital extra when the PDF, hardcopy or both are purchased from RPGNow, this is a rather pointless chapter as everything in it is covered in far more detail in the included supplement.
Part VII handles running a Ptolus campaign. This is chapters thirty-one to thirty-six and covers a city-based campaign, a short series of minor adventures designed to raise starting players several levels as well as new spells, creatures and prestige classes.
The Appendix contains the glossary, a general index and notes on how to use the extra material.
Included at the end of the PDF are the various maps and handouts that were originally included in an envelope in the book as physical handouts, but which are not included in the hardcopy printing. At least some of the maps from the end of the PDF appear to be included in the free Ptolus Bonus Map Pack, although this is largely a collection of maps that appeared in other places in both the main book and The Night of Dissolution but none of the other handouts are, so be aware that if only the hardcopy is purchased many of the player handouts that are referred to in the text are not actually present. Within the rest of the book are maps of many of the locations described as well as examples of more generic places. Also in this section are DM resources, random encounter tables and events list and a comprehensive index.
The book's main index is quite extensive, and the PDF also has built-in bookmarks.
When purchasing the core book, whether in PDF, hardcover or combined forms, you don't just get that book as it comes with several other digital files that were on the CD that was included with the original edition. These are as follows.
Chaositech is available separately for $6 but only as a 114 page watermarked PDF. This is a sourcebook detailing what is called chaositech, which is neither magic nor technology, nor even a combination of both. There is a small section on chaositech in the main book (Chapter 30) which is taken from this supplement, but this goes into much more detail. As well as the, rather powerful if dangerous, chaositech, the supplement details the worshippers of chaos, and the masters of it, new monsters, items and abilities. Chaositech is interesting but has the potential to be unbalancing as it is rather powerful. This PDF is illustrated only in greyscale, barring the covers.
Apart from being a d20 System specific book, Chaositech is quite general and could be added to other settings, rather than just being used in a Ptolus campaign. Chaositech may be built into the Ptolus setting, but the Ptolus setting, excluding the Galchutt, is not built into the sourcebook, and the Galchutt are easy enough to adapt in this circumstance.
This is available only as a 138 page watermarked PDF including covers which is available separately for $6.67. The Banewarrens is an adventure set in an integral part of the Spire of the Ptolus campaign, as well as other locations in the city. It involves several of the power groups detailed in the main book.
A number of the spells, items and classes mentioned in this adventure come from the Book of Eldritch Might and the Book of Eldritch Might II: Songs and Souls of Power, so if those are not owned these parts will need altering. Both of those books, as well as the Book of Eldritch Might III: The Nexus, are combined in The Complete Book of Eldritch Might. There are also new monsters, magic items, diseases and poisons, primarily "banes" or evil things the Banewarrens were designed to imprison.
The maps and illustrations in the book are greyscale and include sixteen full page illustrations that are intended to be shown to the players during the adventure.
The Night of Dissolution
This is available only as a 98 page watermarked PDF which can also be purchased separately for $9. This is also an adventure which is broken down into various chapters. These are essentially episodes in a continuing story, and it may not be immediately obvious to players that they are all connected, rather than being one large adventure. This adventure is quite closely tied into Ptolus.
The illustrations are in full colour as well as greyscale, along with some colour maps.
Ptolus: A Campaign Journal 1 and 2
These consist of two PDF files, the first with 78 and the second with 53 pages
The first journal describes the journeys of two parties of adventurers run by various professionals in the RPG industry. These two parties were played concurrently, and interacted with each other. The various adventures are to some extent covered in some commercial releases, namely the out of print Beyond the Veil as well as Queen of Lies and the files included in this purchase, The Banewarrens and The Night of Dissolution adventures, and the Chaositech sourcebook. An online adventure by Monte Cook called Black Rain, adapted to Ptolus, that can still be found using the WebArchive, is also utilised as well as undoubtedly many of Malhavoc Press's other sourcebooks, such as the previously mentioned Books of Eldritch Might. The journal also describes a number of adventures suggested throughout the main Ptolus book.
The second journal covers a third adventuring party and is written in a different style, covering as it does the viewpoint of one of the characters in the party. It is called Benris' Journal, after the adventurer in question, who also is referenced in the main book. As with the first journal the party members are played by industry professionals.
This references material from Malhavoc Press books - Arcana Evolved is mentioned in particular - and parts are based on the short series of adventures from the Ptolus book.
The journals are useful for a DM to get ideas from for setting up and running an entire campaign, integrating the various adventures available as well as adventure hooks and locations from Ptolus.
This is a 34 page PDF, although only about two thirds of these actually comprise the comic. The comic tells the story of Sheva Callister and one of the hungerswords, which are mentioned on a number of occasions in the Ptolus book.
Judging Print on Demand and Delivery
The printed product was despatched three days after it was ordered, which is pretty impressive for a physical product that did not actually exist when it was ordered. This book was sent to the United Kingdom and the UK, like the United States, is one of the places that the print on demand products are actually printed. The delivery option chosen was Royal Mail second class, although faster, and more expensive, delivery options were available. Within the UK there was no real need for this and the book was received on only the third day after being dispatched, and on only two of those days were there actually postal deliveries. This could, at best, have been reduced to one day. The speed of delivery from ordering to printing to receipt of the finished product was therefore very good, as it is possible to get a slower level of service where there actually was a physical product available at the time of ordering.
The Ptolus book may seem pricey, as the cost for the standard hardcover and PDF is over $100, but there is a lot included and a lot of content in the main book itself. At the time of writing, there is a substantial discount on the PDF and for buying a hardcopy and PDF combined, but none for just buying a hardcopy.
This is not just a citybook but an entire campaign setting in a book complete with full colour illustrations and maps. There are sections in the book's sidebars detailing how events actually happened in Monte Cook's running of his own Ptolus Campaign, which are covered in more detail in the Campaign Journals.
Some of the references in the book's text refer to extras from the original, printed version that were either on the included CD or were in an envelope containing supplementary materials such as maps and handouts. These extras are available now as either the digital accompaniments that are included within the purchase or are added to the main Ptolus PDF, so references to leaflets and handouts in the envelope are instead available in digital form at the end of the main Ptolus PDF. It appears that just buying the hardcopy results in a fair amount of content designed to be given out to players not being available, as the additional materials in the main PDF do not appear to be included.
Although there are some complete adventures in the book, these are not that in depth, but there are a lot of adventure hooks and plot ideas in the book, as well as fully detailed locations suitable for adventures, but these will need developing. Some of these are explored in the Campaign Journals.
A substantial proportion of the remaining material that can be purchased consists of either the various parts of the main Ptolus book sold in nine separate sourcebooks or of adventures and supplements that are included with the main book, whilst much of the rest are maps and sketchbooks depicting parts of the city and locations in it, but there are a few adventures to go with the two that are included.
There was also originally a dedicated website to go with this book but it now re-directs to Monte Cook Games. Along with that there are links in some of the materials to web pages that no longer exist, including those that originally directed to specific pages on Monte Cook Games that originally had bonus content but none of that appears to exist anymore. It appears that the publishers are not really supporting the product any longer - in fact, Malhavoc Press does not seem to properly exist any longer, as that is one of the broken links on the site, although Monte Cook is still creating other things, which is where his attention appears to be now.
There is a lot of material in this book and it is probably the most thoroughly detailed city book, certainly in one volume, with an extensive cast of non-player characters who can be allies, enemies or neither, with their aims and goals described as well as a lot of detailed locations that can be visited. It's just a shame that the additional content is no longer available.
Ptolus: Monte Cook's City By The Spire is certainly a fine example of a comprehensively detailed fantasy city with enough material to expand to run an entire campaign in it. Even if it isn't used as a place to set a campaign, there are many aspects that can be used in other setting or used as inspiration.