Thursday, August 18, 2016

Campaigns I Haven't Run: Ptolus

I was going to do this one next week to space them out a bit but it does tie in with yesterday's post so why not do them back to back?

I picked up Ptolus years ago. Not right when it released but not too long after. I thought it looked like a setup for a cool campaign, it was a really nice product as far as presentation and content, and it was the incubator for 3E D&D in a big way and I wanted to see what my group could do with it.

To date, I've run zero sessions in it.

I still feel the same way about it - I just haven't made it the top priority that it needs to be in order to get it on the schedule.

  • I picked it up when we were still playing 3E. We were already in a campaign and I wasn't going to quit in the middle to start a new game. 
  • When we went to 4th I had a certain campaign in mind and that's what I ran. 
  • When we went to Pathfinder it was to run a specific adventure path. I'm still running this and there's not a ton of room for other ongoing games with the same group.
So Ptolus has always been in that category of "things I'd like to run next" but it's never been the obvious choice.  I have several games like that.

The attractions here are similar to those with Waterdeep: big city, literally built for D&D and all of the assumptions that the D&D rules imply about a world, and tons of supporting material. This campaign specifically calls out, assumes, and drives the "city is the adventure" approach and that's what I am looking for.

In contrast to Waterdeep there is a lack of a) game history, b) major NPC's, and c) all of the other distractions of the Forgotten Realms setting. In short: There hasn't been a 50 book novel series written about Ptolus so there's less clutter/baggage to worry about, if you/re one to worry about such things.  For me, the main effect of this is that it's a lot less "known" to my players so there's a lot more exploration to do and fewer assumptions walking in. Waterdeep does have the history and fame (infamy?) and that can be a plus, but it has its downside too and that's where Ptolus can step in front. 

Rules-wise it is built for 3E but it is still an interesting enough place that I would not feel bound to any particular set of rules. Pathfinder is the obvious choice but I could see running it with anything from that to 5th edition to 4th to Savage Worlds. If it was one of the 3E versions I'd likely add in Arcana Evolved classes and options too since they're form the same author at the same time. There's a big bad guy at the top of that spike that would serve as a worthy opponent to even an epic level 4E party. There's enough going on that I think you could run an ongoing campaign for years without feeling constrained regardless of system. Heck, with some of the weird technology that you can find in some of the material I think it would work pretty well with the Dungeon Crawl Classics game.

Again, the map is inspirational for me - heck the whole book is inspirational! There are tons of notes on local color, the flavor of each neighborhood, smaller maps of buildings and neighborhoods - it's just really well done. Plus it's organized in a way to make it fairly easy to use in play- well, I suspect it is. As I mentioned, I haven't tried it yet. 

In general I don't buy RPG books to sit on the shelf. I know that's a thing with some people and I won't say I'm immune to the collector mentality, but typically I buy books that I think I will use and I've run at least a try-out session of most of the games I own. With Ptolus I thought it looked cool before I owned it and once I started reading it the wheels started turning almost instantly. The big constraint is time of course. I expect the city by the spire will continue to percolate in that upper part of the ocean of "what we could play" until one of these days it snaps into place and we finally roll some dice in the streets of the city.   


Kelvin Green said...

My groups has almost started a Ptolus campaign a number of times. As with your own experience, it just never seems to take off for some reason.

Blacksteel said...

I'm wondering if it's because it's not tied into a larger campaign setting. Waterdeep and Greyhawk have their entire game worlds, Lankhmar has stories and some fame to it as well as a whole world outside too, but Ptolus is a game-only setting and it's "only" a city. Maybe that diminishes it for some people.