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[Let's Read] Ptolus: Monte Cook's City by the Spire

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
#1

Foreward by Monte Cook said:
This book details a place where the game’s designers, editors, creative directors, and business managers all played characters. Prowling the city’s streets you would find characters run by
the Editors-in-Chief of Dragon® and Dungeon® Magazine, the Wizards of the Coast Brand
Manager in charge of Roleplaying Games, Wizards’ RPG Design Manager and his counterpart in the
Development department, and longtime game designers and editors such as Bruce Cordell, Sean
Reynolds, Michele Carter, Andy Collins, and Sue Cook.

In other words, for years, Ptolus has been where the game’s professionals come to play. Some of the
events in this setting have passed into gaming legend, like the total party kill suffered by the Company
of the Black Lantern or Serai Lorenci’s betrayal of his entire party—or how his brother Sercian was
kidnapped and replaced by a dark elf for months of game time. Now it’s time for you to create your
own legendary stories here.

I love Ptolus. I understand Ptolus. More than any other place I’ve ever set a campaign, these city
streets seem real to me. In compiling this book, I’ve had plenty of detailed computer files and player
handouts from my home game to refer to, but I also found many cryptic notes scribbled on various
pieces of paper or alongside a map. These tidbits came to me as the city percolated in my head—the
place lived and breathed even when I had no players around my game table. I could just as easily
envision a meeting of the Council of Coin and hear their debates as I could see what the player characters
were up to in their adventures.

Far more than any notes, though, Ptolus existed in my head. I could give you a district-by-district
tour of the city, pointing out landmarks, shops, and even people on the street (by name) without ever
referring to a map or notes. In a way, Ptolus is as real to me as any city in which I’ve actually lived.
Though it can be a hard place, it’s a city I know—like a friend you like to spend time with even
though he has his faults.

I love Ptolus. I hope that you and all the people around your game table will grow to love it too.
Moreover, I hope that my own personal affection for the city comes through as you read this book.
The material in these chapters is tested and true, played by real gamers with a love of the game. As I
ran my campaigns set in Ptolus (as of this writing, there have been three, plus the predecessor Praemal
Campaign), I encountered the same issues that all DMs come upon. Hopefully my experiences with
them will make game play easier for you.

What is Ptolus? Imagine a cosmopolitan fantasy city where humans, elves, and dwarves rub
elbows with orcs, ratmen, and stranger creatures. A city built upon the ruins of two previous settlements,
creating a mazelike undercity full of dangerous (but lucrative) chambers just waiting to be
discovered. A frontier port ruled by a power-mad theocracy amid the decay of a collapsing Empire.
A place where crime families war openly and noble houses battle discreetly—with equally deadly
results. A city where magic is familiar, adventurers are welcome, and thousands of residents dwell
beneath the shadow of a Spire crowned with a citadel of evil so strong that the very earth thrust it
away from itself untold ages ago.

Welcome to Ptolus.

Monte Cook

Ptolus is a campaign setting first released in 2006, but its origins are far older. Turn the clock back to the late 90s, when Wizards of the Coast was but a card company. Flush with success from their Magic: the Gathering franchise, Wizards bought the rights to Dungeons & Dragons from TSR, by then a dying beast whose poor business decisions nearly bankrupted the company. Monte Cook, who worked on Planescape in the past, set out with a bunch of other employees to work on a new 3rd Edition of the world's most popular table-top role-playing game.

To iron out the kinks, play-testing sessions were performed in a setting of Monte's own design. It was a sprawling metropolis situated over a vast complex of dungeons which had swallowed up countless would-be adventurers over the years. Over time it grew into a full-fledged world of its own. Ptolus, the City by the Spire.

This product is primarily a city setting for 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons. What's unique about it is that due to its origins it fits D20 like a glove. Remember all those 3rd Party conversions to the D20 system, and of shorehorned mechanics from earlier Edition settings being warped and twisted to fit the current rules? Well the reverse is true in Ptolus, for it is the "D20 Fantasy in microcosm," as Monte Cook puts it. It is a world where there are shops catering to adventurers and are more than eager to buy their loot, a world where law enforcement employs See Invisibility and Zone of Truth to deter crime, a world where even if less than one in a hundred people are spellcasters, the average citizen sees the works of magic on a regular basis in some shape or form.

And it works. Many of 3rd Edition's problems are still present, but the book itself takes a lot of the tropes into account. I feel that it hasn't succeeded completely in this case, but I'll talk more about it as we go along.

For this review, there is a lot of bonus content beyond just the book. Whether you bought this book in the original print run or on Drive-Thru RPG, the core book comes with a bonus adventure, the Night of Dissolution; two other complete sourcebooks, the Banewarrens (an adventure) and Chaositech (evil Lovecraftian technology); Monte Cook's very own campaign journals; Issue #1 of a comic tie-in to the setting; and printable versions of player handouts. Now I'm definitely going to be reviewing Night of Dissolution and the comic, but I feel that Banewarrens and Chaositech are distant enough in that they might best be served as their own reviews even if they tie in to the setting itself.

Chapter 1: A Player's Guide to Ptolus

This is available as a free 32-page guide online, and 5 copies were sold with the main book in the original print run. It is basically a short introduction to the setting, meant to be shown to players with just enough history and explanation to give them a feel for Ptolus.

So, what is Ptolus? Well, it's a teaming metropolis in the world of Praemal at the edge of the very old and venerable empire of Tarsis. Three emperors have legitimate claim to the throne, and many feel that the best is behind them and feel uncertain about their future. But in Ptolus these effects feel distant at best. It is a trade haven for all sorts of folk of varying races, cultures, and magical practices and religious beliefs. When the first "delvers" returned from the catacombs below the city with gold and magical treasures, a renewed interest in the city came as hundreds of adventurers pour past its walls each month. Most never strike it rich, much less survive the treacherous underground realms, but the dream of wealth and glory still persists. Many theorize that these dark reaches date back to the olden days when the Skull-King Ghul ruled over the land, his fell armies living among the warrens and winding tunnels beneath the earth. In the shadow of an unnaturally tall spire arose a whole form of politics, economics, and social structure was born. For some reason great creatures of good and evil have been drawn to the area, and the influx of adventurers prompted renewed devotion to science, magic, and religion.


Ptolus is a port city of 75,000 people, ruled by Commissar Igor Urnst, a decorated war hero and representative of the Empire of Tarsis. It has a sizable human presence, but all manner of races comprise a non-neglible portion of citizens. Council members, who represent influential industries and demographics, play a role in the city's policies as well. His influence does not extend into "the Dungeon," which is a catch-all name for the many reaches below the city, and the City Watch. The city watch itself is mostly composed of armed men and women, with a few elite members (several dozen) trained in magic and advanced fighting techniques. The Sisters of Silence are an unofficial keeper of the peace, an order of mute female monks who apprehend criminals and have male eunuchs speak on their behalf.



The city is into eleven official districts:

The Docks, center of sailors and seabound trade.

The Guildsman District, home to the artisans, builders, and many workhouses of the city.

Midtown, a commercial and residential hub home to many taverns and inns, and also houses the famous Delver's Square, a neighborhood built above an underground entrance which caters to the needs of adventurers.

The Necropolis, a massive walled cemetery home to undead and heavily guarded by watchmen on the outskirts.

The Noble's Quarter, home to Ptolus' greatest noble families and the wealthiest (and most well-guarded) section of town; it is closest to the spire and residents who "don't look the part" aren't allowed beyond the district's gates unless they have official business.

The North Market, home to many great eateries and various small shops.

Oldtown, originally built around the fortress of Dalengard which fought against the evil forces of Ghul and other malevolent forces. It is now the center of the city's government, and it is here citizens go to obtain licenses, conduct trials, and other bureaucratic business.

Rivergate, a middle-class neighborhood whose residential cul-de-sacs called "burroughs" each sport their own cultural and architectural influences.

The South Market, home to the headquarters of Ptolus' largest merchant companies and a residential district for business owners.

Ptolus is a city unique for its religious freedom, and the Temple District is the center of religious life in the city. Areas of worship, ranging from grand cathedrals to small roadside shrines, abound here, honoring hundreds of different gods and goddesses.

The Warrens is a crime-ridden slum home to the poorest of the poor of Ptolus. The city watch does not venture inside except in droves and only to apprehend serious criminals. The various crime families and gangs dominate daily life here as the neighborhood's unofficial rulers.

The Undercity Market is not a district of Ptolus per se, but it is a bustling place to go for most adventuring gear. Accessed via a set of stairs in Delver's Square, a bunch of adventurers converted a section of the Dungeon close to the surface into a marketplace and headquarters. People post hiring notices for adventurers and treasure for sale on public boards, while many businesses make a steady living selling maps, reference material, survival gear, and similar goods.


We also have a bunch of other material in this chapter, but I feel that it can safely be referenced later.


In regards to the world beyond Ptolus, two moons orbit the world. Most people known that Praemal is round, and that it orbits the sun. The existence of the Ethereal Plane (called the Etheral Sea) is also common knowledge, as well as names of the elemental planes, but only in so far as they are "adjacent" realms to their own world. Nobody knows much about the upper planes (referred to by various names such as the Celestial Realms, the Heavens, etc), other than that they're inhabited by angels and other exemplars of Good. Same for the lower planes, or just simply "the Hells." Of interesting note is that nobody in recorded history has managed to travel beyond the Ethereal Planes, only going by the knowledge given to them by celestials, fiends, and summoned monsters.

The Empire of Tarsis encompasses much of the known world. It is technically shared by two Emperors, a temporal one (the Emperor) and a spiritual one (the Holy Emperor). Originally the spot was held by one, but a brother who ascended to the throne abdicated responsibilities to the high priest of the Church of Lothian (the state religion of the Empire and most popular deity in Ptolus). Over time the two offices developed into their own branches of government. The Holy Emperor has his own army, his own treasury, and can sign and pass laws (although they're required to be pertaining to spiritual matters).

Tarsis was founded by an alliance of folk, from humans to dwarves, fighting against the Skull-Lord Ghul and his forces of monsters, demons, and other evil things. When the Prustan forces from the city of Tarsis ventured west to help defeat him, they stayed in the area, hoping to rebuild order. The folk of the west welcomed their arrival, and along with the dwarves, brought advanced science with them. Firearms, clockwork machines, and even steam-powered engines and printing presses! Roads, waterways, postal services, and well-ordered public planning help increase the standard of living in these realms, leading to Tarsis' ascension as a dominant political power. For a time, life was good, but over the years the Empire became increasingly draconian. Certain people who by unfortunate circumstance were declared noncitizens and formed a large disenfranchised class. The Church of Lothian cracked down on other religions, and ultimately arcane magic was outlawed as a "demonic influence" in the Edict of Deviltry. Church and state over time became one, and Tarsis continued expanding.

However, it is now a shadow of its former glory. In the last two hundred years education worsened and knowledge of building the complex scientific devices became increasingly forgotten. The Edict of Deviltry was overturned, and the weakening of the government's power resulted in political divisions. Other religions practiced fairly openly when the Church became not powerful enough to stop them.


Next part is a general overview of the races of Ptolus:



We have the standard Player's Handbook races, but of note are some additional options. We have the proud Litorians, lion-people. The Aram, or nomadic centaurs. The Assarai, or Lizardfolk, who live poor yet content existence as homeless wanderers. The Harrow Elves, elves tortured and warped in the dungeons of Ghul and forced to carry curses through their bloodlines. And the aloof Cherubim Elves, winged elves from the mountains to the west. There are other races present, from orcs to tieflings, who are more or less allowed to be in Ptolus' walls. Except for drow, as it is against the law to be a dark elf within the city's walls (punishment is death).

We get a section labelled PC Backgrounds for long-time residents of Ptolus. Basically they are short descriptions to help tie your character to the city. They grant mechanical bonuses and are available based upon your resident district. They mostly grant bonuses to skills, but a few grant special contacts among your neighborhood and/or occupation. Here's a list of them below:



Alchemist's Appentice is a typo, as Alchemy is a Craft skill, not a Knowledge one.


Also, fun Ptolus facts!




We also get brief description on how each of the character classes fit into Ptolus, and mentions of prominent organizations in the city pertaining to related fields. Overall the city is home to most classes, although Druids are not very common, and most Barbarians in the Empire are human invaders from the east. Many among the monk class are treated as religious figures in various religions, and as such can be found attending to spiritual matters in temples, too.

Magic is very common, but it remains out of reach of the common man, and magic item shops overall are a small group. Sellers of potions and minor items can be found in the Undercity Market, while Myraeth's Oddities is a well-guarded and warded shop which buys and sells magical items. Those seeking powerful, custom-made permanent items are advised to contact the Dreaming Apothecary, a shadowy group of mages who do business in the client's very dreams. But beginning low-level PCs don't know how to contact them; they don't sell to just anyone.

As expected, Ptolus operates on a generally higher technology level, and primitive firearms can be purchased by PCs with a license. However, advanced technology is becoming increasingly rare in the world as the knowledge to create and maintain them shrinks year by year. Spyglasses, pocketwatches, printing presses, hot air balloons, spectacles, and powder bombs are the most often seen pieces of technology in Ptolus.


Thoughts so far: This provides a short, if useful guide for players beginning a campaign set in Ptolus. Its flaws are that it doesn't show much of the beauty and uniqueness of the setting, which is further into the chapters. However, in this section and throughout this book are helpful side-bars which function as a kind of index, telling you what page which relevant information is on. If a major NPC is mentioned in an adventure or city district chapter, you'll get the page number for him and his stat block on the side. Same for organizations, historical events, locations, and similar things. It makes the book and PDF very user-friendly to navigate.

Next time, Part 2: the World! Where we get additional details on the setting and its history!
 
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UglyJimStudly

Unforgiven
Validated User
#3
Ptolus is a fantastic setting. Pretty much the only thing that could ever tempt me to run 3.X again would be the prospect of a Ptolus campaign, I only got to use a bit of it back when I first picked it up and have always regretted not doing more; it's a product that deserves to be played. Also clearly a massive labour of love for Monte.
 

Lime2K

Registered User
Validated User
#4
Subscribed! I'm too lazy to go find out which of the initial 1000 copies I have, but it's on my shelf in the other room. I don't have any experience running a city campaign (just started DMing about 2 months ago), but one of these years, it'll get dusted off and run!
 

Libertad

Knight in tarnished armor
Validated User
#5
Chapter Two: The World





The world of Praemal is round, slightly smaller than our own Earth. Traditionally three moons hung in the sky, Lunas, Rogue, and Vallis. But ten thousand years ago Vallis disappeared, changing the way magic worked in this world forever. In the sidebar Monte Cook had its disappearance signal the change from 2nd to 3rd Edition in his own Praemal campaign. Which, judging by the game mechanics, should mean that primary spellcasters will be entering a new golden age of unsurpassed power. Cook also hints that if the moon should ever return, then great changes will surely happen again. And what would you know, the supplemental adventure that comes with this book is all about this!

Gazetteer

Here we have a brief description of the known nations of Praemal. Ptolus is technically in the nation of Palastan, but it's maintained independence from its monarchy.

Cherubar is a mountainous country to the west of Ptolus, populated by winged Cherubim elves and a few human settlements, both battling against savage hordes of giants who continually enroach upon their territory. It is rumored that the ancestry of air elementals flows in these peoples' veins.

The Cold Desert is an inhospitable and barren region to the southwest of Ptolus, home to orcs, hobgoblins, and other evil humanoids.

The Eastern Hordes are a unified confederation of tribes to the east of the Gray Mountains who invaded the Empire in recent years. Led by King Oulgas, they ovewhelmed the fractured imperial forces and conquered the capital city of Tarsis itself. But the barbarian leader had nothing but contempt and spite for the people of the west, and in four years he led his forces back over the mountains. When asked why he went to war in the first place, he answered "because I could."

Kem used to be a nation of great arcane might, but vast amounts of powerful sorcery in civil wars laid waste to the region, tainting its soil and destroying entire cities. Only the toughest animal and plant life can survive in this inhospitable region, and the remnants of civilization build upon the ruins of tors (rocky hills).

Nall is an icy northern nation believed to be the birthplace of humanity. Its folk are a hardy lot, living in nomadic tribes usually ruled by female spellcasters. Long, harsh winters result in very isolated settlements which can go years without meeting each other.

Palastan is a fertile land with beautiful hills and great green forests. In the last year the Imperial Governor was killed during the rioting and upheaval in the capital city of Trolene. The original King and Queen of the country, along with their monarchist allies, seized the seat of power and took control of the nation "until Tarsis appoints a new governor." The Empire, meanwhile, has its own concerns to attend to and cannot quell this usurpation of power anytime soon. The city of Ptolus is technically within Palastan's borders, but it has maintained independence from the new monarchy. Also, a powerful circle of rangers and druids known as the Viridian Lords hold powerful sway in this land, operating independently from the government and communities often turn to them for guidance. They also help drive off monster and bandit attacks in the rural regions.

The Plains of Panish are seemingly endless miles of flat grassland east of Tarsis, home to many primitive tribes of humans, centaurs, and litorians.

The Prustan Peninsula is home to the Prustan people and the Grailwarden dwarves. The Prustans took over the lands around Tarsis about a thousand years ago, eventually leading to the rise of the Empire. They are an industrious people with an extensive societal infrastructure, and they and the dwarves have been allies as long as either could remember. Due to their prominence, Prustan humans are found in lands throughout the Empire.

The realm of Ren Tehoth was in decline long before even the Empire of Tarsis rose. Its dwindling nobility and shrinking population gave rise to many ruins. Frightened by Tarsis' increasing power and desire to avoid war, they accepted foreign rule with little bloodshed. Today the land is home to many prominent elven cities, who have much in common with their western brethren except that they're less comfortable around humans.

Rhoth is a rural nation of plains to the west of Ptolus, home to small towns and villages frequented by halfling caravans. They are a hearty, if xenophobic, folk, and thirty years ago they had a terrible war with the gnoll tribes in the area; the events are still well-remembered to this day.

Sea Kingdoms and Dohrinthas are a federation on the southern end of the continent of once-warring pirate states. It is a very rich region, blessed with heavy trade by land and sea, and little warfare has despoiled its economy. When massing barbarians threatened Tarsis in 706 IA (Imperial Age), Empress Addares XXXIV moved the capital from Tarsis to Dohrinthas. This resulted in splitting the empire, as the aging councilor Segaci Fellisti held the throne in Tarsis before it got sacked a few years later.

Tarsis is the capital city of the Empire which rules over little more than half the world. It is still recovering from the barbarian invasion of a decade ago; toppled walls are being rebuilt, and refugees are slowly returning. The Grand Cathedral serves as the headquarters of the Church of Lothian, despite the fact that the Emperor of the Church remains in the city of Ptolus. At its height, the Empire encompassed the entire Prustan Peninsula, the lands surrounding the southern sea including Uraq, and the northern lands of Cherubar to the Grey Mountains. Now its grip is shrinking, and some feel that the empire has fallen. But just as many folk proud of their Empire, and pay just as much fealty to the two Emperors.

Uraq and the distant South held sway over most of the known world before the rise of Tarsis. They controlled the Southern Sea as the dominant seafaring power, but those days are long past. They fell five centuries ago in bloody wars to Tarsis, but over time the Empire has proven tolerable rulers. The arid climate has never held much appeal to the Prust, and the hot desert sands were a constant hindrance to maintenance of their guns and machines. There are more lands farther to the south, including the realms of Panogolan Bunneir, lands of savanna and jungle ignored by the Empire. Beyond is the empire of Kellisan at the World's End Sea. Most folk of the Empire think of all lands south of Uraq as simply "the distant South" and know no details of such places.


Interesting Sidebar Notes: In the world at large there are no "dungeons" to explore. An adventurer is not a respectable or valid occupation, and in the Empire the worship of Lothian is predominant in overwhelming numbers. To others, Ptolusites have a rather casual attitude to danger, evil, and general weirdness.

Also, evil is not just an alignment and a real palpable thing, it has physical long-term effects on the land itself. Heavy use of black magic (evil spells, powers which destroy souls, create undead, draw upon negative energy, summon fiends, et cetera) cannot be used without contributed to a lingering taint which can spread across the land. Several areas in Ptolus stand as proof to this: the Dark Reliquary, Ghul's ancient fortress, and Jabel Shammar (the fortress perched on the top of the Spire) are so steeped in evil that the places themselves have become malign. In Jabel Shammar's case it was so bad that the earth itself pushed the place away from it, culminating in the 2,000+ foot tall spire the city of Ptolus is built around.

Languages

Now we get the languages of Praemal.

Abyssal is spoken by all lower planes fiends (there is no Infernal). Thousands of years ago the Dread One Eslathagos Malkith adopted the language and taught it to his creations, explaining why its common among aberrations and many other beings.

Charad was spoken by the Charad Titans who visited the Whitewind Sea 6 millenia ago. It is own only to a handful of elven scholars.

Common, also known as Imperial, is a newer version of the Prustan language which came about with the expansion of the Empire of Tarsis. Currently it serves as a useful trade tongue and is the national language of the Empire.

Draconic is one of the oldest languages, up there with Elder Elvish and Dwarvish. Many magical writings are Draconic.

Dwarvish remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years, and most words are short. The language makes heavy use of compound word constructions to create new words as needed.

Elvish is a newer version of Elder Elvish. It is a lyrical, beautfiul language with a huge and very precise vocabulary. It also grants speakers a +1 bonus to Diplomacy checks when they converse with others in the language, as politefulness and tact are heavily built into it. You can still insult someone, it just requires more thought and effort.

Dark Elvish also derives from Elder Elvish, with many words for darkness, betrayal, and similar concepts, but none for charity or mercy.

Elder Elvish is a dead language with virtually nobody speaks anymore. Its letters double as numbers, which makes it very easy to craft codes and double meanings with it.

Gnomish also derives from Elder Elvish. So does Halfling, which also borrows a lot of words and phrases from the human language of Westron.

Litorian is a gruff language spoken by the race of the same name, and is unrelated to any other language in the world.

Old Prustan is a human language which sounds hard gruff. Today only a few scholars speak it. Old Prustan is based upon real-world German, and thus many human names in Ptolus sound a lot like German, Austrian, and Prussian ones.

Orcish is a mixture of Abyssal and Westron. Originally the orcs spoke Abyssal, taught to them by the Dread One. After his destruction they fled west and picked up many human tongues in their new homes.

Palastani is a rather simple language which is coming back into vogue after the nation's monarchy returned.

Nallish is spoken by the people of Nall and the barbarian tribes of the east.

Undercommon derives from Elder Elvish mixed with some Abyssal and Draconic. Originally the dark elves spoke it, but it spread across the underground realms along with their prominence in those lands.

Uraqi is a human tongue which originated in Kellistan far to the south. It has no clear visible relations to the other human tongues.

Westron is believed to be the oldest human language, but few know its true source. Some believe that it was a "Common" tongue of pre-Imperial days, while others believe that it was taught to humans by the Creator himself.


Special Materials

In addition to the common components of darkwood, mithral, and similar materials for 3rd Edition equipment, Ptolus is home to a few unique ones detailed below.

Aethel is one of the most valuable materials. It is a clear mineral first discovered by the Elder Elves capable of absorbing magical energy and light. Depending upon the size of the crystal, aethel can absorb 1 to 10 spell levels akin to a rod of absorption, and spellcasters can use the stored energy to cast their own prepared spells without losing them In order to do so, however, the crystal must be treated in a 24 hour process using 1,000 gp worth of special ingredients per spell level to be absorbed. If left in sunlight aethel will absorb the sunlight and fill the spell storage to full capacity, effectively wasting the material. Additionally, aethel's stored spell energy can be used as a replacement for spell knowledge for magic item creation. A very powerful material, to be sure.

Black Adamantine can only be found in a few mines in the Cold Desert, and all the available material has been mined and turned into weapons and armor. It functions as normal adamantine except that it has Spell Resistance 25 against spell which would destroy or affect it, and those in the know can use a Wish or Miracle spell to make it impervious to all known forms of physical and magical damage.

Firestone is a mineral which can only be created through magic, and it's commonly used to fuel advanced technological devices. One pound of firestone can burn for 24 hours.

Heliothil is a pale violet stone first discovered by the dwarves. It has "negative weight," meaning that if unattended it will float up and disappear into the sky. 1 pound of the material equals 5 pounds of negative weight, meaning that an equal amount of negative weight applied to an object's weight can suspend said object in the air. Dwarves used it to construct flying chariots, floating citadels, and in modern times the Inverted Pyramid (powerful mages' guild of Ptolus) uses it in the construction of their invisible fortress. There used to be a massive floating mountain with Heliothil, but overmining by the dwarves caused it to crash into the earth.

Ithildin and Ithilnaur are two metals elven craftsmen are famous for. Ithildin is a decorative silver which glows at night and is dull and nearly invisible during the day. Ithilnaur is a strong, thin material with the same properties, and both give out a glow equal to candlelight. Ithildin functions as silver but costs twice as much, Ithilnaur functions as mithril but costs twice as much (wow, that's a lot of gold pieces just for a little light!).

In the ancient days before air, earth, and water did not come into their final states, sunlight shone into the deep pockets of air that eventually became trapped underground. It manifested into Liquid Light as manifestation of good done in the world, eventually seeping up to the world above. It is a thick, milky liquid, and 1 pint of the stuff can give off light as bright as a daylight spell. It can also be used as a spell component for spells with the Good or Light descriptor and increase its effective Caster Level by 2. It inflicts damage to evil-aligned outsiders and undead, and heals an equivalent amount to goo-aligned outsiders and blessed children (unborn souls).

Liquid Shadow is a vile substance which forms in the darkest underground pits. It is a manifestation of evil done in the world, and it has much the same effects as Liquid Light except reversed (radiates natural darkness, enhances darkness and evil spells, etc).

Marlite is a blue-tinted iron which can be processed so that it's as hard as steel. However, it is valuable because it is effectively "magic dead" and can never be affected by any kind of spell or supernatural ability. On that note, it cannot be magically enchanted, either. Marlite armor provides no protection against magic for the wearer, but the armor is still immune. It costs ten times as much as a normal piece of armor or weapon.

Moonsilver, or ithilirid to the elves, is always found on liquid form and congeals among the grass and trees of certain forests on nights of the full moon. It is always liquid, not unlike mercury, and a surface coated with it gains a hardness equivalent to iron. A person can harmlessly cover themself in the stuff and gain an armor bonus (+2 to +8 depending upon how much is available) with none of the drawbacks of worn armor. However, it fades away four hours after it adheres to a surface.

Vallis is the name of the precious moon which once orbited Praemal. At times meteorites from this celestial body would fall to earth, its stones raw magical power which could be used to power spells, magic items, and rituals in ways impossible in the current era. The Vallis moon is now gone, and thus future sources of its rock (most of which has been used up already). Still, some remains in the form of Vallis dust, and spellcasters have learned to carefully extract as much power with as little dust as possible.

A speck of Vallis dust can power a number of spell levels depending upon its potency, allowing a spellcaster to "cast" the spells without using them up in the process. Most range from 1 to 6 levels in capacity. A 0 level spell counts as half a level. So a 5 capacity Vallis dust can power two 2nd-level and one 1st-level spell, or 1 5th-level spell. Like aethal, it must be prepared in a 24 hour ritual with 100 gp worth of materials per spell capacity. Unprepared Vallis can only ever power 1 spell level. Used up Vallis dust disappears entirely.

If one were to find a large concentration of Vallis dust, or in stone form, it would be dangerous to use as it literally leaks magical power (Fortitude save every round or take 1 Constitution damage). Vallis dust levels can also be used as a replacement for a spell of equivalent level when crafting magical items, much like Aethel.

Thoughts so far: There is a lot of interesting ideas, but the setting outside the city feels kind of bland. This is deliberate, as the center of the campaign's focus is in the City by the Spire, where all the interesting stuff occurs. As for the languages only Elvish really stood out to me, which a concrete mechanical bonus, which I think could have been extended to some other languages as well (Midgard Campaign Setting for Pathfinder does a stellar job at this in a cool way, I'll just say).

As for the materials, aethel and Vallis dust would be incredibly overpowered to give to mages were it not for their incredibly expensive costs (potential spell level square x 1,000 gp, plus 1,000 or 100 per potential level for aethel and Vallis respectively). Heliothil I can see being used in all sorts of cool ways by enterprising PCs, and its backstory is pretty cool. I do like the idea of making evil magic have a visible impact on the land, even if it doesn't have actual game statistics. It reminds me of Defilers from Dark Sun, who power their spells by drawing upon surrounding life and are responsible for turning the world into a barren wasteland.

Next time, Chapter 3: the Races of Ptolus!
 

Davies

Registered User
Validated User
#6
It may be worth noting that some parts of Ptolus go back even further than what you've hinted at -- the Litorians, if memory serves me correctly, were first introduced in Mr. Cook's Rolemaster writings.
 

Leonaru

Taxidermic Owlbear
Validated User
#7
This looks really cool - but I'm not going to shell out the $100 bucks RPGNow wants for this. ;)

Also, linked this. Maybe I just can't find older Let's Reads, but for now it looks you have a monopoly on d20 LRs.
 

Gallowglass

Registered User
Validated User
#8
It may be worth noting that some parts of Ptolus go back even further than what you've hinted at -- the Litorians, if memory serves me correctly, were first introduced in Mr. Cook's Rolemaster writings.
Chaositech always reminded me of the lifeshaping from Wind Riders of the Jagged Cliffs (a Dark Sun 2 AD&D2e supplement by Cook) and soft tech from Dark Space (a Cthulhu Mythos / Space Fantasy mash-up setting for Rolemaster / SpaceMaster, also by Cook)...

Cheers,

NDM
 

Dweller in Darkness

Excelsior
Validated User
#9
Well, the Litorians and Charad Titans also show up in Arcana Evolved. I actually incorporated the racial levels from that book (and its expansion, Transcendence) for my Ptolus campaign, and to good effect (although rather than being actual character levels, I had them as powers that could be unlocked through quests and alchemy).
 

carmachu

Registered User
Validated User
#10
This was one of the real gems of the 3.x era. I played in a 5 year campaign that went from 1st to 18+ and it was ALOT of fun.
 
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