Thursday, March 22, 2007

Monster Manual IV

Title: Monster Manual IV

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This is a different take on Monster Manuals from what we are use to seeing for DnD.

For one thing there are very few single listings for critters (not all the entries are actually monsters). There also aren't as many new new critters in this book as we are use to getting. While some critters are listed in the standard two page layout that we are use to, many more are listed with mini adventures attached. Also, the book revisits some common critters (like Drow, Orcs, Gnolls and Ogres) giving examples of common sents of character levels. As an example, the Gnoll Slave-Taker is a gnoll with 2 levels of Ranger.

There are also 4 sample encounters spread through the book.

What works

There are some interesting, new, critters peppered through the book.

The table of contents lists several catagories that could be usefull. There is a list of the critters that are: creatable by PCs, can be used as mounts or animal companions by PCs contain power components (shades of A,D&D), summonable creatures, and new weapons.

While I'm not a big fan of just sticking class levels onto an NPC race to create a new listing, they did a good job of it. If you are drawing a blank for adventure ideas, you can open the book at random and find enough info for at least three nights worth of gaming with just a bit of fleshing out needed. It also gives the old standbys a but of extra power so they aren't just speedbumps in the later levels.

What doesn't work

This book just really didn't do it for me. I've seen more new critters in Dragon Magazine issues and I already know how to add class levels and templates to NPC races, thank you very much. For all the fact that the encounters are really well done, I didn't go out to buy an encounter book, I was looking for critters. I can understand experimenting with the form but I hope this will be seen as a failed experiment.

With all that said, if you typically look at a critter listing and think: "Well, that's nice but what do I do with it? How does it fit in with my campaign?" This might just be the book for you and I hope I gave enough information to help you make a buying decision.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Player's Handbook II

Title: Player's Handbook II

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This book is full of ideas for building the background of your characters. It seems to focus on the character's background and the role the character plays in the party. It also introduces some new character classes.

The first chapter itroduces 4 new classes. The Beguiler is a new arcane spellcaster class. It has a fixed, focused, spell list and you can cast spells from that list spontaniously (similar to the War Mage). The Beguiler's spell list is built around enchantment and illusion. The Dragon Shaman is essentially a spellless cleric who gains dragon abilities (including the breathweapon) of one color of dragon in place of the spells. The Duskblade is a fighter sorcerer. You lose the bonus feats and some armor use (though they gain heavier armors as they gain levels) but gain limited sorcerer spell use. The Knight is a revamp of the 2nd edition Cavalier. If you want to play a legendary knight without the divine qualities of the Paladin, this is the class for you. You gain better proficiency with your armor and can lead troops in war. You can also call out the opponent's champion for single battle and you get to deal with the Knight's Code (no flanking bonus, never stike a flat footed opponent and no lethal damage to a downed opponent).

The second chapter has expansions for the current classes (including those presented in the Complete Arcane, Complete Divine, Complete Warrior, and Complete Adventurer). It starts with three starting packages for each class that sets them up to fulfill a a specific role in the party and it has a replacement level for each class that modified the character.

The third chapter has new general feats and new feats in these feat types: Ceremony feats, combat form feats, divine feats, heritage feats, metamagic feats, tactical feats.

Chapter four has new spells and modified rules for polymorph spells. No new Warlock invocations though.

Chapter five has a lot of info for buildingthe identity of your character. It starts with backgrounds, moves on into personality archetypes and concludes with some tips on how to be a good player at the gaming table. I don't see where that fits into this chapter but, I guess, they had to put it somewhere.

Chapter six does the same thing as chapter five but for parties. It begins with party backgrounds and moves into how to build a party and how to be a team player. then it gets into some added abilities that reward characters for working as a team. This last section actually allows you to game out the effects of some historical (as well as legendary) team or formation tactics like a shield wall.

Chapter seven describes affiliations, how they work and how to build them. It also includes several affiliations that are not campaign specific.

Chapter eight has rules for rebuilding your character. In general it gives rules for slowly replacing levels or class features as you go up in level.

The last section consists of several appendicies. These sections allow someone to quickly build a PC or NPC. For each character type, they offer suggestions for skill choices, feat choices and, where appropriate, spell choices.

What works

I think the Duskblade is a really interesting character. It is the best "fighter-mage" I've seen.

I like the starting package for characters. It gives a good starting point for customizing the beginning character to your concept. The replacement levels for the various classes are interesting and I might try them out with my next character. They aren't overpowering and they don't dilute the concept of the character if the replacement level moves the character toward your concept.

The spells are generally usefull but none of them really stand out.

The rebuilding rules are interesting. Especially with all these new books offering choices tht weren't available when you created your character.

The feat and spell suggestions are really usefull. I generally don't follow the lists completely but I tend to think about why I made different choices. This appendix section is worth the price of the book. If I use nothing else from this book, I know that I will be using this section over and over.

What doesn't work

The Beguiler kind of left me flat. I don't need another limited sorcerer. I suppose that if I was interested in the concept, I'd be more interested in the class.

I don't have any real interest in chapter 5 (building your identity). But I tend to have clear ideas for my character concepts. I have similar issues about chapter 6. I suppose that if you are new to the game or you just have trouble pulling together a functional party, this might be a good section. The exception are the teamwork benefits. I don't know if I like them simply because my group doesn't feel the need.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Complete Adventurer

Title: Complete Adventurer: A Guide to Skillful Characters of All Classes

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This is an expansion for rogues. In fact, it turns rogues into a catagory (like arcane casters, warriors and divine casters).

It starts with a mercifully short intro section and then gets into the meat of the book by introducing three new character classes: Ninja, Scout, and Spellthief. The Ninja comes pretty close to the legendary/movie versions that most people are familiar with. They get a weakened for of sneak attack (it lacks flanking) but gain a bunch of ninja type abilities like short duration invisibility and etherealness. The Scout takes away the Rangers more mystical abilities (like spells and animal companion) and adds Rogue like abilities. The Spellthief can use his sneak attack ability to steal spells and then cast them.

The second section has 27 new prestege classes. These might actually be usefull if you are running in a campaign that involves a lot of intrigue.

The third section gets into a really usefull set of expanded uses of skills that can be valuable to just about any character. I reccomend readign this section for every DnD player. The feats are, for the most part, usefull. The really good news is that the Goad feat lets me build my kender in 3.5!

In the forth section, the new weapons are OK but not compelling. Essentially they are exotic versions of common weapons with additional weapon features. The new equipment include a bunch of disposable alchemy items that give bonuses to skill checks. My general though about these types of items is that by the time you can afford to buy them, you don't need them but your milage may vary. They also have special one round duration versions of potions and more masterwork equipment for gaining masterwork bonuses for more skills. The magic items are very usefull for sneaky character. there are also a number for bards.

The fifth section has new spells. Always a good thing but no real standouts.

The sixth section has various organizations and the rules for creating organizations. and epic rules for the new character classes.

What works

The Ninja and Scout look like really usefull characters in the right setting and I really like the skill expansions. The magic items are usefull without being game breakers.

What doesn't work

Oh, whee, more prestege classes....

The disposable equipment is too expensive for what you get. Finally, stuff like rules for organizations (and similar rules from some of the other books) should be in a seperate book, not padded into character books.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Complete Mage

Title: Complete Mage: A Player's Guide to All Things Arcane

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This book has expanded rules for roleplaying arcane spell casters.

It has a lot of information that will help you customize your character to fill various archetypes. It starts with a disertation on the nature of magic and the various schools. Then it describes various arcane archetypes (the roles the spelcasters can play in the party).

In the next section, the book gets into the crunchy bits with alternative class features (substitute levels for arcane and other classes) that help the character fulfill various roles. Then it gets into new feats and introduces a new type of feat: reserve feats. Reserve feats function as long as you have an uncast spell of a specific type.

The third section has prestege classes.

The forth section has new spells and warlock invocations.

The fifth section has magic items for spellcasters, alchemal items and optional material components that will give spells a little bit of a boost.

The sixth section has a number of adventure ideas, hooks and locations.

My general impression

If you need help coming up with an idea for what to do with a mage or you have an idea but don't know how to implement it within the rules, this is the book for you. It is likely that you will only be using a small portion of the book. Personally, I'm only using the warlock invocations.

The nature of magic and spell school stuff in the beginning and the arcane adventures stuff in the back held no interest to me but your milage may vary. The discussion on arcane archetypes was intersting and gave me some ideas for future characters, as did the section on alternative class features.

The feats don't interst me a lot but the reserve feats are interesting if you want to focus your mage around them. They may be slightly over powered but I haven't played with them yet so I don't really know.

I never have much use for prestige classes but the ones that intrigue me are the ones that allow you to combine classes. Those allow more choices for character types.

New spells - always good. The spells are spread across the spell levels pretty well across spell levels (with 3rd level having the most). they also have a good number of spells for other arcane classes like the wu jen.

Some of the new invocations are just nifty. If you are going for a "see everything" type of warlock, All-Seeing Eyes gives a +6 to search and Spot checks. This is good since the Warlock's Spot checks usually are pretty pitiful. It also throws in comprehend languages. Relentless Dispelling doesn't give you andy power boost or harm the target but it gives you two chances of dispelling someone's buffing spells. Swimming the Styx gives the aquatic subtype which can be handy and Steal Summoning is just wonderfull for turning a mages spell against him (it's a pity you have to wait until you can get Dark invocations).

If the magic items, the Ring of Arcane Supremacy is usefull if you keep running into pesky critters with SR as it allows you to reroll your caster check to overcome SR. The Rods of Eldrich Power help the Warlock overcome some of the limitation of the number of abilities it can have. The Rod of Magical Precision and usefull for Warlocks and other casters with ray spells. The rod of may wands just seems silly to me. Yeah, I want to burn thee slots from each of three wands just to fire all three wands at the same time. It's cheaper to hire a pair of 1st level mages to follow you around with wands.The Rod of Shadowblending is handy for illusionists and the Rod of Spell Channeling can be usefull for those who don't mind putting their familliars in harms way. The Staffs are just hyped up, expensive, wands (as usuall). If you are in a high level campaign and can make use of the caster level increase, then these will be handy. The Wonderous Items are generally usefull but none of them stand out to me.

None of the alchemal items seem to be worth the cost. Though they may be handy if found in treasure hoards.

The optional spell comonents are usefull except that they are so expensive that I feat that by the time you can afford to use them, you don't need them.

I might thumb through the adventure ideas when I'm GMing but they are so heavily weighted toward spellcasting parties that non spellcasters are given short shrift. Of this section, the list of 100 story hooks is the most usefull to me.

What Works

The spells, invocations and archetype information work for me. Some of the feats and a few of the prestege classes look usefull too.

What doesn't Work

I don't need yet another disertation on the nature of magic. The magical locations are too close to being one shot wonders. The reserve feats may be a bit too powerfull and, as usual for me, I just don't have any use for prestege classes.

Complete Arcane

Title: Complete Arcane: A Player's Guide to Arcane Magic for all Classes

Product Line: Dungeons and Dragons, d20

Publisher: Wizards of the Coast

What it is

This book has expanded rules for arcane spell casters.

It introduces three new arcane classes: Warlock, Warmage, Wu Jen. It has a boatload of new prestige classes, feats, new spells, new magic items and finishes up with some campaign hints for GMs with arcane characters and for GMs running a heavily arcane campaign.

My general impression

Overall, I like this book. Somethings work for me and some don't.
  • I like the Warlock but and not too thrilled with the Warmage.

  • I've never had much use for prestige classes as a player but some of them will be usefull as a GM.
  • Some of the feats are pretty lame but, I suppose, they add flavor.

  • Why include the Dragon feats?

  • Some descriptions of the metamagic feats have changed. Be warned, Energy Substitution no longer has Sonic as an energy type.

  • The sudden metamagic feats are pretty nifty.

  • The spells are usefull but there aren't any really compelling spells in the list Though Resist Energy, Mass might be an exception.

  • The expanded Spellbook construction rules can be handy.

  • None of the magic items are particularly compelling to me.

  • The creatures are nice bit, again, not really compelling.

  • I suppose that the Arcane Campaigns sections might be usefull for a new GM.

  • It does discuss how to deal with some problematic spell abilities: charms, flying, invisibility, scrying, and teleportation.

  • Spell Duels: Eh. I suppose that this could work.

  • The Epic rules for the new classes are handy if the campaign gets anywhere near that level of power.
What Works

I like the Warlock. It seems to be well a balanced alternative. I've gotten one to 5th level in one campaign and it is a good fire support and special opps character (with the charisma and bluff skill, the character can take a rogue or bard's role in social encounters). You should do everything you can to increase the character's chance to hit with his ranged touch attack and stay out of melee.

What doesn't Work

The warmage is problematic. It is too focused for most campaigns. In most noncombat encounters, the character waits on the sidelines. In combat, the GM must stock extra creatures to soak up the huge amount of spell damage the character can dish out. The expanded learning class ability is not that usefull, every few levels you can ad one arcane Invocation spell to your spell list. The trouble is that there aren't many invocations that aren't already on the warmage's spell list. I suppose that abiltiy will become more useful in congunction with the Spell Compendium.

Welcome to my product review blog

I will be reviewing RPG products from the perspective of what I find usefull in the book. I will make my own preferences clear to help make the review more usefull to you.

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