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Midgard: Streets of Zobeck (PFRPG)

****½ (based on 6 ratings)
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A Collection of Dark and Daring Adventures!

What happens when adventurers become the owners of a brothel? When a roguish associate asks them to attend an oligarch’s masquerade in his place? What lurks in the Cartways besides kobolds? And what will you say when another thief tells you the only way to find a treasure is to become hunted by the Praetors?

Dark dealings, my boys, and a knife in the guts might be the price. Whose guts? Might be yours if you cross the wrong one of the Nine.

This 94-page sourcebook and adventure anthology is set in the seedy underbelly of Zobeck, and includes:

  • 6 adventures dealing with underhanded themes, shady locations, and double-crossing deals gone wrong
  • 5 locales—such as the Cartways Market Gallery or the Old Stross Municipal Baths.
  • A dirty dozen NPCs like kobold gearsmiths, failed Arcane Collegium students, barge captains, fey and undead ambassadors to use as rivals, patrons, peers and foes.
  • A sampling of new clockworks, street magics and odd enchantments that make Zobeck the distinctive jewel of the River Argent.

You probably shouldn't bring the paladin along on this one...
This official Midgard adventure anthology is easily portable to any setting.

Winner of the 2012 Gold ENnie for Best Adventure!

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Product Reviews (6)
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****½ (based on 6 ratings)

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An RPG Resource Review


If you like adventures grim and gritty, enjoy the odd heist, and are not too particular as to which side of the law your characters might be on, this collection of adventures set in the Free City of Zobeck may be just up your street. Set in the underbelly of the city, the characters will need to be cunning, tricky, ruthless and smart to survive... but if they do, who knows, they may end up rich!

This is more than a collection of adventures, however. It starts with some beautifully-detailed and colourful characters and fascinating locations for use both in these adventures and ones of your own. Each NPC comes with notes on their motivations and goals, their long-term activities, and on 'schemes and plots' - ideas for how they might be incorporated into or even spawn an adventure here and now. The location entries also have adventure ideas as well as floorplans and notes on the folk that you might find hanging around. Standout here is the Silk Scabbard, a fight club/brothel... the entry even has suggestions for the party taking over and running it. There's also a collection of feats, traits, spells and gear that might come in handy for adventurers in Zobeck or indeed those who enjoy city adventuring in general.

Then we get to the adventures themselves, a full seven of them, catering to characters of levels 1 to 10. Run them as a loose sequence, pick an appropriate one when the party comes to town, mix in your own adventures in Zobeck or the surrounding area, the choice is yours. The characters will be caught up in the dark underbelly of Zobeck from the outset, with memorable encounters with people who may prove a help or a hindrance in the future (assuming they survive the encounter, that is). It's a fascinating exercise in how to embed adventures in the very fabric of the setting, creating an harmonious whole that gives the impression of a city buzzing with life never mind what the party gets up to, yet enabling them to become movers and shakers in their own right if that's what they desire.

Each adventure stands on its own as an exciting series of events, taking the party around the city as they seek to complete a mission or find something out. The first is 'Everyone Lies' by Ben McFarland, which sets the characters to look for a local thief's missing girlfriend. Naturally all is not as it seems and a massive web of deceit underlies this seemingly simple task... oh, and they are not the only people looking for the young lady in question... and this is the adventure for 1st-3rd level characters!

Next is 'Rust' by Richard Pett. This 4th-5th level adventure sees the party asked to deal with a plague of demented animated metallic creatures that prowl by night. Who made them, where, and why? Finding the answers may give clues as to why competing merchants are taking an interest. This is followed by an adventure from Christina Stiles called 'The Fish and the Rose', billed as suitable for 5th-level characters. The title is the name of a painting, coveted by many but one thinks she knows where it is - and is willing to hire the party to acquire it on her behalf... an ideal adventure for those who dream of pulling off an epic heist. Then comes 'The First Lab', written by Mike Franke, which is for 7th-level adventurers and delves into the very origins of the gearforged as they are hired to retrieve a diary stolen from a senior professor at the Arcane Collegium.

Matthew Stinson is author of the next adventure called 'Rebuilding a Good Man' and appropriate for 9th-level characters. Someone has acquired (read: stolen) a gearforged body for rather dubious purposes, but perhaps if it was stolen back it could be put to better use... there's an exercise in morality as well as one for the swordarm here. Next, Mike Franke is back with 'Ripper' for a 10th-level party who rapidly get embroiled in the search for a serial killer whether they are interested or not. Finally, there's 'Flesh Fails' from Christina Stiles. Also for 10th-level characters, well it's billed as 9th-11th actually, it involves dark goings-on at the Arcane Collegium and murky dealings amongst the political elite of the city. Successful characters could even use this adventure, if concluded successfully, as a stepping-stone to political power for themselves.

If the Free City of Zobeck features in your game, this book is well worth a look... and if you don't, reading it will make you want to run a campaign set in and around Zobeck forthwith.

Proofreaders needed!

***( )( )

Better people than me have already reviewed the adventures and since I haven't read all of them, or even played one of them, I am not going to review those. I should probably also mention that I participated in the open design of this one, but contributed nothing.

No doubt that the meat of this book are the 7 adventures, but since I rarely play any adventure as it is written, what really interests me about Streets of Zobeck is the rest of the book. So lets take a look.

First off we get a chapter called Faces of Zobeck which presents a bunch of NPCs from a strange fey called The Dragged Woman to a corrupt captain and an undead merchant from the Cartways. I loved most of these as they inspire a lot of adventure, but felt that perhaps the descriptions were a little short for my liking. I would have loved a little more detail about some of them, but since some of them are used in the adventures, I guess more information are presented there. I especially liked the Dragged Woman, who has a really inspiring power; the power to open a magical passage to somewhere else. I could easily see this fey creature come alive in a different type of setting as well, like a wilderness setting.

Next up is a chapter called Places of Zobeck. This chapter was a bit more hit and miss for me. As ideas, the locations are all really cool and gave me a strong feel of the city, but unfortunately, not all of the locations had enough detail to make them really useful. Let me give you an example: Hommal's Botanical Rooftop. This place is what? A botanical garden at the top of a building, owned by someone named Hommal who makes and sells drugs (I think). Instead of focusing on the botanical rooftop and the plants that we find here, we get a lot of useless information about the lower areas and for what reason? I could understand the point of reading about the tenements, if the people who lived there were somehow connected to the botanical rooftop, perhaps they were all additcs of the drugs produced by Hommal. I really appreciate what these locations are trying to do; give us a feel for the iconic places of the city, but I would have liked a few more interesting features. I did love the Silk Scabbard and how it allows the PCs to buy the gambling den and run it themselves. A really cool idea.

After the adventures, we get some crunch for the players. First up are a handful of feats. Most of these are plain and simple, but one of them struck me as pure genius. I like to play in urban settings and sadly wizards rarely gets the chance to cast fireball, but now, with the Urban Spell feat, they can. This feat modifies a spell so that it only damages living creatures. Yes. Your fireball will no longer set fire to half the city! Genius. This chapter also presents 16 new traits. I found a lot of these useful and will be introducing them into my own campaign setting. Lastly we get a couple of spells and magic items. These seem balanced and I really loved the magical items.

Lastly, I want to mention my biggest complaint about this book. It really needed another look by a couple of proofreaders. While the layout is really nice (cool illustrations, ok maps), there are just too many strange mistakes that bother me while I read the book. I own the softcover version so if the pdf has been updated to fix these, I am sorry that I haven't noticed. I would also have liked it if all the crunch had been collected in one place/chapter, instead of scattered throughout the book.

I'll settle for a 3.5 verdict, rounded down. If I owned the pdf and had an updated version, I would probably have settled for a 4 star verdict.

Excellent Noir adventure anthology--oh and: 500 done!


This urban noir adventure anthology set in the by now legendary clockwork city of Zobeck is 94 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 blank page and 1 page back cover, leaving 88 pages of content, so let's follow Ben McFarland's advice and get gritty and grimy!

The pdf kicks off with so-called faces of Zobeck, i.e. characters and creatures that dwell at the dark and dirty underbelly of the city, from grimy urban fey to drug-addicted mages, enigmatic individuals that can make corpses disappear, goblin assassins and alchemist who dilute their potions - all the Npcs featured in this chapter come with their own background, goals and secrets and all are somewhat influenced by the harsh dog-eat-dog- realities of life in the grime - if you want an example from literature, think Thieves World.

Of course, we not only get new NPCs, but also new places and it is here that the anthology starts to truly rock hard - each of the locations is iconic and comes with its own, highly detailed map. The Black Lotus, an opium den led by the enigmatic, kabuki-style painted man who offers any magical favors you require would be only one example. Of course, we also visit the black market in the eponymous cartways of Zobeck. Once we're done shopping with illicit goods, we show up at the neutral ground of the city's underworld, the botanical rooftop garden of Hommal for a nice tea (or other substance) we'll visit the old Stross bathhouse/massage parlor, before we, refreshed, but somewhat disturbed by the glimpse of a shadowfey in the pool, go to the silken scabbard to relax with the prostitutes there. It is also here, where we find Tyron, king of fixers, the best of a kind of rogues (new archetype + new roguish talent) who can get/repair just about anything - for the right price/favor!
Before we jump head-first into all the adventures awaiting us, let's check out the traces of Zobeck at the end of the book: 8 new feats center on urban (and non-lethal - yes!) problem-solving and 16 regional traits to create e.g. characters who are sons of butchers or gang members. We also get 4 excellent new spells (including a amoral atonement), 3 stellar new mundane items (e.g. special paint only visible via a certain lens), a new weapon quality (disarming) and 6 new magic items, including a black book of confessionals, a bag of traps and a cloak that makes people forget they even saw/met you. Excellent tools for those on the problematic side of the law.

That being said, we'll dive into Ben McFarland's contribution to the adventures with "Everyone Lies" (House M.D. anyone?). From here on, the SPOILERS reign. potential players might want to jump to the conclusion.

Still here? All righty! Everyone lies is a take on the quintessential femme fatale story - a thief has botched a job and wants the PCs to find his lady and warn her. Unfortunately, that's not all - said thief has acquired a black book of confessions of a noble and now the secret police also tries to press-gang the PCs into getting it back for them. Said thief's guild happens to be the dread cloven nine and this guild also wants the book. The PCs will have to embark on a investigation that is hindered by all factions, several brawls and finally meet to girl and keep her safe - unfortunately, she doesn't have to book with her. The PCs have to plan a heist to get to the book and manipulate the power-structures of the city's underbowels to get out of the crossfire - possibly even with the help of the notorious drakhul! An excellent and quintessentially noir adventure.
The second adventure, "Rust" by the master of creepiness Richard Pett has two disreputable merchants contact the PCs - Mister Corpulent and Mister Doldrum, both more than meets the eye, want to hire the PCs to put an end to the hauntings of the "night-things" and claim a treasure of one butcher-lord/minor industrialist that has been disposed by his workers. Unfortunately, the greedy slaughterman does not rest easy and neither his new body, nor his automatons and newfound gargoyle-artist allies want the twisted merchants or the PCs to succeed, resulting in first a disturbing sandbox investigation and then a showdown in an animated, possessed slaughterhouse. Backstabbing clients included... Stellar. Richard pett at his finest - grimy, iconic, disturbing - Mnar, indeed!

Of course, no noir anthology would be complete without a heist, and Christina Stiles provides one in "The Fish and the Rose" - the PCs are supposed to steal a magical picture and hand it over to a shadowy employer. Of course, only a most lethal entrance to the cartways, guarded by a local legend of a brawler leads to the vault and said vault is guarded as well. However, the planning of the heist/possibilities for the PCs to find these means of entrance feel a bit shoehorned - more versatility/ options for the Pcs to plan the heist as well as a more lethal vault for a more Mission Impossible-feeling would have been nice. A good adventure, but not on par with the first two.

Next on the line would be "The First Lab" by Mike Franke, which opens a rather dark chapter in the history of Zobeck: Kovacs, one of the masterminds (if not THE mastermind) behind the clockwork knights seems to have experimented with soul removal, infernal creatures etc. and some of his prestigious creations might be still out there. Worse, someone has stolen a diary leading to his lab and there still are...things...inside. The PCs are hired to reclaim the diary and keep their mouths shut. In order to make up the advantage of thieves, the PCs will have to sell some of their dreams to the dragged woman. Once the deal's been made, they'll be at Kovac's lab and will have to deal with the infernal clockwork abominations and clochworker assassins. Their primary antagonist hiding behind the lab's defenses - an insane clockworker cleric hell-bent on utter eradication of his own kind.

Matthew Stinson's "Rebuilding a good man" is a completely different kind of scenario - Heet Nul, philanthropist, sponsor of orphanages and downright awesome guy is dying of old age and his heir is a greedy, evil s-o-b. Fortunately, a devil is currently trying to extort the painted man, who doesn't take lightly to any such attempts, leaking precious information to Heet's friend - the devil's lackeys are stealing a clockworker body and it's up to the PCs to steal it back from them. Of course, that's only the beginning - they need a specialist to transfer Heet's soul from his failing form to his new body. Unfortunately the only guy available is in the Silent Scabbard, drunk and uncooperative. Even worse, the parts are not enough and potions, a heart etc. is still missing - tailed by the devil and Heet's heir, the PCs are on a run through the night to scrounge everything together and save at least one good man in this cesspool of corruption. Even better, each and everything they do has to be weighed between doing the prudent thing and the faster thing - Heet's clock is ticking... By far my favorite of the scenarios in this anthology!

Mike Franke's "Ripper"is a story that has the PCs press-ganged into a murder-investigation against a serial-killer after they fail to stop a lynching. The investigation is intriguing, but there is one thing I really didn't like about it: It's yet another "possessed-dagger"-story. All right, I can name "Fury in Freeport" and "Hour of the Knife" from the top of my head and could probably find more examples that have done this schtick. Not impressed, in spite of the cool imagery involved.
The final adventure, Christina Stiles' "Flesh Fails" is more interesting - a love-triangle between two archmages and a master alchemist has ended rather unpleasantly with an engineered death and now the PCs stumble into the machinations of one truly powerful antagonist and his diabolical schemes. In order to find the truth, the PCs will have to do some research in an exclusive BDSM-club devoted to Marena and finally stop one of the most powerful arcanists in all of Zobeck! I really liked this adventure, not only for the mature depiction of BDSM not only being for the evil guys, but also because the adventure has potential galore to be expanded - the masterplan of the villain lends itself to further expansion and all in all, I would have loved for the adventure to be a full-blown mega-adventure instead of a part of an anthology, but oh well.

Editing and formatting are good, though not as good as I've come to expect from Open Design-projects, there are a lot of bold/non-bold inconsistencies in e.g. the feats. Layout is STUNNING, though - 2-column standard and the artworks by Glen Zimmerman, distinct, creepy, grimy and dirty is simply AWESOME and something that truly helps the feeling of this noir-anthology. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. Streets of Zobeck is a stellar anthology of locations, characters and adventures that center on the grimy parts of the city - in fact, the overall details of the setting converge into a sense of detail that makes the city as much a character as the people who inhabit it. While I'm not too excited about the traits and feats, the magical items and especially the characters and locations are simply stellar and should be considered the new benchmark for urban characters/locations. Add to that a selection of mature, grimy adventures from the seedy underbelly that mostly feel distinct and completely different from your usual fare and you get another excellent anthology from Open Design. My final verdict, due to the one adventure that falls flat and the editing and formatting glitches, will be 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Civilization: Ancient and Wicked

****( )

I am not certain about ancient, but the Streets of Zobeck is unappologetically wicked.

This book is intended for use with Open Design’s campaign Megalopolis Zobeck. It builds on the material presented in Kobold Quarterly magazine and the Zobeck Gazetteer. The introduction clearly states the purpose of this book, to give more flavor and material to flesh out the seedier side of Open Design’s grand Clockwork City. People who already have these products or intend to collect them don’t need me to tell them to get this book. It does what it promises. However, if you are like me and don’t have the other materials for the City, you may want to know if the contents are suitable to stick in your own campaign.

This is as advertised, an adventure anthology. There are eight separate mini adventures ranging in difficulty from levels from 1st - 3rd to 10th or 11th. Beyond just the mini adventures are a number of other sections, including People of Zobeck, eight detailed NPCs with full stat blocks ranging in CRs from 2 to 12. There is a section on Places of Zobeck which details six specific locations well-suited for adventure and the nefarious designs of the GM. Traces of Zobeck details new extra feats, traits, spells and items. Please note that the places and NPCs introduced in the first sections of the book are also utilized in the following adventures.

The Adventures:
• Everyone Lies by Ben McFarland is a low level adventure for 1-3 suitable for introducing players to Zobeck’s underbelly. Low level challenges full of back-stabbing intrigue make this a perfect introduction to a campaign set in the City of Zobeck. Should you have need of a gritty back-streets city-style adventure in your own campaign, this would also make an excellent choice, though it would need minor modifications to make the factions match your own.

• Rust by Richard Pett is a fairly low level adventure for 5th level set in a clockwork or steam-punk style setting. While it is well suited for an urban setting, it doesn’t have to be. With some minor tweaks this can work for anyplace a GM needs a clockwork controlled adventure setting to be.

• The Fish and the Rose by Christina Stiles is another low level adventure for those whose lively-hoods are made by taking things from others. This one is tougher than the previous two so make certain your players have characters able to handle the combat or be comfortable with potential character deaths.

• The First Lab by Mike Franke is a low to mid-level adventure for 7th level. The story behind this adventure is a great deal more setting specific than the previous two. This hearkens back to the history of the City of Zobeck. For those running a campaign in Open Design’s Zobeck it is a must. For others it would need more tinkering to make use of the adventure.

• Rebuilding a Good Man by Matthew Stinson is a mid-level adventure for 9th level. This is an interesting take on the reasons one would want to create a gearforged type golem and ties in tangentially to the previous adventure.

• Ripper by Mike Franke is a mid-level adventure for 10th level characters that is loosely based on the story of Jack the Ripper. Thematically it is perfect for a place like Zobeck. Many of the pressures and conflicts occurring in the streets of Whitechapel in London can be seen in Open Design’s Zobeck. Of course you have to also add the mix of overcrowding, foreign immigrants, poverty, high crime, and gangs to the complications of magic, mechanical constructs, and anything else the devious minds of Open Design can devise.

• Flesh Fails by Christina Stiles is a mid-level adventure for 9-11th level characters. This adventure could be suited for any arcane academy regardless of campaign setting and has an investigative element to it as well.

Filled with all sorts of interesting, sordid, gritty back-street style locations and NPCs, Streets of Zobeck is a treasure trove for anyone seeking bits they can use in an urban campaign or adventure of their own. For those who intend to use Open Design’s Zobeck, this is a must-have. The maps, encounters and NPCs are all very well done. The only complaint I have is about the art. It is so very highly detailed that I often had difficulty determining what I was seeing. Though I do feel a bit like the Emperor in the movie Amadeus when he criticized Mozart’s brilliant composition by telling him it had, “too many notes.”

I rate this at 4 of 5 stars. The reasons are due mainly to the fact that I am not running a campaign in Zobeck and the resources in this book are strongly tied to the campaign setting. Some are able to be tweaked a bit but others would take a moderate to significant effort to pry them from the Midgard and City of Zobeck. Were I running campaigns exclusively in this setting, this book would be a must-have.

a solid GMing resource

****( )

I picked this book up recently, and I'm glad I did. You're probably buying it for the mini adventures, and this is where the format gets really interesting. They keep revisting certain locations, and these locations are described in an earlier chapter. They have a cast of recurring NPCs, and these NPCs are statted up in an earlier chapter. It's very page efficient, and gives a really nice sense of continuity and pervasiveness to the adventures. It just works.

The adventures themselves are pretty interesting ordeals and involve performing some fairly non-standard activities. I liked the freshness I found in them. The GM support is good too: lots of tables decribing information gained at various tiers of KnowLocal and Diplomacy, and even explicit responses to give if the PCs cast divination spells (a major plus as many of the adventures are mystery-based).

Be warned though: they are pretty much all for scoundrels or those that would associate with such ilk. The tagline "better leave the Paladin at home on this one" is highly appropriate. Seemingly over 80% of the quest-givers or otherwise "friendly" NPCs in the book are evil-aligned.

Also be warned that there's an element of steam-punk to these adventures. To be clear: this book isn't about steam-punk, it's about scoundrel-y things that you can do in a city that happens to also have steam-punk in it. Some adventures ignore that aspect entirely, most have it as a background element, and only one focuses in on it front and center.

I have two complaints:
- the level range is very cramped. The first module says it's for "1st level characters", but it is filled with notes on how to convert to APL3, and plays better that way anyway. And the two 5th level modules look very tough (I would want my players to be 6th or 7th level). That means except for the first adventure, all the content is in the 7th-11th range. If that's what you want though, I guess that's not a drawback.
- I didn't like the art style. I can tell the artist was very talented, but I feel he took the "grim and gritty" thing a little too far, and sometimes I have trouble telling what I'm looking at. It's very dark, cramped, and somewhat surreal, like in the old VtM books.

All-in-all, I would recommend this purchase. It's a solid GMing resource, either taken "whole hog" or carved-apart and mined for details. For me, it has accomplished it's goal: I'm now looking to find time in my the gaming calendar to run a scoundrels-game in a steam-punk city.

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