Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Critter Cache: Prehistoric Beasts (Blackdirge Publishing and Goodman Games)

Yeah. More monsters. One can never get enough monsters. Blackdirge brings us 11 brand new spanking dinosaurs, with 3 variants of each. And as a bonus, at least one of each type of dinosaur is suitable as a mount, and they still all come with a description. Yes thank you. Overall I would say there is little groundbreaking, but the monsters have cool thematically appropriate powers, although, if someone would like to be critical, there seems to be a little issue of damage-inflation. Some of these monsters do quite a lot of damage. But who wouldn’t want a mount at 5th level that can daze and stun (save ends). I know my rogue would .
Rating: * * * *

DCC56 Scions of Punjar (Goodman Games)

Scions is a 4th-6th level urban adventure crawl where players are hired by a minor noble family to find out how a pendant, which is supposed to be entombed in the family tombs, has made its way to a local pawn shop. Soon the heroes find themselves embroiled in a tale of revenge, because the slighted and thought-to-be-dead deranged daughter of the family has returned, now an insane necromancer. She has amazed a secret army of undead in the depths of the city of Punjar, and wants her family dead.
As usual, Goodman Games gives an adventure full of deadly traps and nasty combats. However, and this is a big plus, many of the encounters have a non-violent solution, so it’s not all hack and slash. There are a few twists, and room to expand the adventure significantly, if that is what you want. They are also kind enough to provide a flowchart of the major encounter areas, since not all encounters need to be taken in a definite order.
Sadly, there is some editing that really annoys the hell of out me. Wrong xp for some monsters and some 3.x-isms in the fluff, like the rogues having a few wizard or warlock levels to enhance their abilities. Maybe it’s just copy-pasting that hasn’t been caught by the editor, but none the less. I expect more from GG. There are also some parts of the adventure that can’t be copy-pasted, what’s with that. But worst of all is their use of the skill challenge… 6 diplomacy checks and nothing else in a skill challenge? 8 intimidate checks and nothing else in a skill challenge? My advice would be to subscribe to DDI and thus be able to read the advice Mearls gives on skill challenges, or read the DMG. Because that’s just poor use of a great system. Anyway, if you are willing to look past the crunch, add another star.
Rating:* * *

Heroes Handbook: The Dragonborn (Goodman Games)

A lot of people have been complaining that 4e lacks fluff, myself included at times. Well, if it’s fluff you want, it is fluff you will get. The dragonborn are here described as an ancient races steeped in tradition and honor. A sort of samuraiesque-indian hybrid race, divided into very distinct clans, each with their own history and traditions, each with their own interpretation of the Code of the Dragon, the cornerstone of dragonborn society; Courage, loyalty and integrity.
Each clan (8 are described in detail) comes with it’s own paragon path and feats. There is also a whole chapter of feats fitting any (well, there are prereqs) dragonborn character. Overall, it is great stuff, and while there are a few feats you as DM might need to take a look at (as well as a few PP’s), overall the stuff appears to not be completely unbalanced. Not everything has been the subject to the dreaded power-creep, and there are plenty of options for those who wish to build on their dragonborn character, making him even more distinctly dragonborn.
The book has around 60 pages of almost 100% fluff, 10 pages on how (tables) to make a engaging and interesting family history for your dragonborn, 20 pages of monsters (mostly different dragonborn) and finally around 10 pages of new magical items.
While I am 100% sure you could play 4e without this book, I would definitely not be without it.
Rating:* * * * *

The Quintessential Wizard (Mongoose)

QW is essential a book of crunch. While it does have some decent fluff here and there, I am evaluating it based on the crunch. All I can say is that not much have changed. The Q-series had a reputation of being unbalanced, and even though it is a completely new group of designers, not much has changed. This book has more broken feats than all other 4e books put together. Several of the PP's are also really, really good (trying to avoid using the word broken again). The powers vary more, but seriously, sleep as an encounter power at level 5? Sigh. Oh and what the hell is the "held" condition (I understand what it is, but I shouldn't have to make even educated guesses)? Arguably there is stuff you could find useful in the book, but considering the size and the number of broken stuff, I cannot recommend it in any way shape or form. I expect more, and so should you!

Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons (Wizards of the Coast)

The 4e version of the Draconomicon is here. As opposed to the 3.5 version, it is only about the chromatic dragons. Now, this may not please everyone, just as the omission of the metallic dragons in the Monster’s Manual did not please everyone. Want to know everything about the psychology and physiology of the chromatic dragons? Want help on integrating dragons into your campaigns? Want dragon traps? Want dragon rituals? Want page after page of dragon lairs and a large variety of dragons? The Draconomicon is however full of all sorts of all the goodies you will need for running evil dragons. I can’t wait for Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons.
Rating:* * * * *

The Kroola (Poison Ivy press)

Okay. I knew I shouldn't have bought it. I mean, jolly but aggressive crocodiles that walk upright, live in swamps or play pirates on the Seven Seas? Maybe it is just me, but it just didn't do anything for me. Fluff aside, one could hope for some decent crunch, but alas. While they probably fit some world, the Kroola are just too powerful for your average campaign. The "no-granting-CA-while-prone" and "the improved unarmed attack" are nice and fit thematically, the Kroola's racial power is just.. well powerful. As an encounter power, spend a healing surge for con modifier + ½ level regen that lasts for the encounter as long as you are not "not-bloodied" or unconscious. Sure, there will be times where you waste it, if ennemies disengage you soon after you are bloodied, but often it will be godsent. Imagine a Kroola Infernal Warlock (I actually have a hard time imagining that, but anyway...). 20 con and at 2nd level that's 7 hp regen per round. He could almost easily play tank with that.
Rating:* *

Martial Power (Wizards of the Coast)

Expectations from my side were both high and low at the same time. High because it is the first real splatbook of 4e, low because it is a splatbook. I was not disappointed. I was not let down by what some claims to be a corporation of evil money-grubbing suits without soul. Martial Powers promises more options for my martial powers, and options it delivers in spades. Sure, not all are equal, and there might even be something horribly broken, but from a first quick read-through, Martial Power is just made of win. You get many new powers, many new class features, and quite a few new builds for greater variety. At a glance, I can easily see the beastmaster ranger becoming a favorite. I know I would like to play a ranger now. I can’t give it 6 stars, but since it is all crunch, I do not feel that I can do that without extensive testing. When that is said, this is a must have, if not only to give your players more options with regards to powers and feats.
Rating:* * * * *