Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Advanced Class: Druid (Silent7Seven Games)

This little PDF gives us 7 heroic and 4 paragon feats (and powers) for our druids for almost no money. Each feat gives you a +3 feat bonus to a different skill and a once per encounter special attack when adopting a particular form. You can take multiple feats, but can never use more than one special form within the same encounter. Overall, the crunch looks solid and the ideas are respectable, giving more flavor and panache to your druid. The paragon feats gives you another special attack (or improves an at-will) and even more importantly, access to a new level 13 encounter power. While the heroic tier feats felt well-balanced against each other, there is a bigger variation amongst the paragon tier feats, but none of them are better than the feats found elsewhere. They are just different. The paragon feats also allow for wild-shaping into Dragon and Umber Hulk forms, both of which are magical beasts. I see no reason why this should be a huge problem though. Overall it’s a good little add-on for a druid, and I could easily see myself using a couple of the feats for the druid I play in SoW atm.
Rating:* * * *

Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress (WotC)

AoNF is the last adventure in the P-series, stretching from level 17-20. Naturally, I expected that the Paragon-feel would be even more present in the third installment. The idea is very promising. Urishtar, a crafty shadow dragon, has found an ancient fortress in the Shadowfell, filled with ancient knowledge about the passage of the dead from the mortal world: knowledge that enables her to divert life energy from its proper fate – or in simpler terms, she is stealing souls from right under the nose of the Raven Queen. Sounds like an awesome concept with great potential. Unfortunately, the potential is squandered and the adventure is just another railroad from A to Z with a bunch of monsters in between to defeat. The players start out by being hired when it becomes clear that something is interfering with how the souls usually pass into the afterlife. Luckily for the players, they bump into a shadar-kai who knows the way into the Shadowfell, through a series of caverns nearby. They go through the caverns, access the tomb, defeat its guardians and go through the portal to the Shadowfell, which happens to be within a few hundred feet of the ancient fortress recently discovered by the shadow dragon. From there, they head into the fortress, one chamber at the time, ending with the dragon. Now, I feel it’s important to stress here that the combats are for the most part really good. There is a decent variation in monsters, with some really great combat situations in AoNF (my favorite being a chamber with no floor, so the fight will take place while players jump between small 5’ square islands trying to avoid a drop 60’ down into a very chilly fog) and the encounters are spaced out in a way that gives realistic openings for the players to rest. There are some opportunities for roleplaying that could be fun (negotiating with a Dracolich, striking a deal with two ghost sages and of course the Shadar-Kai that accompanies the players a good bit of the way) and the final battle should be very memorable. For those who played WoW, think Vael! So, in closing, I guess that’s my problem with this module. It’s just too straight-forward an adventure for my taste, at least at that level. But it has too many first-rate ideas to ignore.
Rating:* * * *

Players Handbook 2 (Wizards of the Coast)

Mike Mearls called the PHB2 his best work to date, and since that comment did draw its share of flames from skeptics and the like, I feel that I need to say this: The man was right. There is no longer any getting around that. It was not empty marketing or hollow words without backup. While you shouldn’t exactly expect high literary prose (the writing gets a tad corny at times but that will have little influence on my verdict) this doesn’t matter. PHB2 is a rules book with a focus on classes. I want rules and classes that work before anything else. And Mearls, Wyatt and Crawford have pulled off what I thought would be impossible. They have managed to create 8 new classes or rather, 4 remakes (bard, druid, barbarian and sorcerer) and 4 totally new ones (shaman, invoker, avenger and warden) that are fairly balanced and at the same time look incredibly interesting to play (I <3 the druid already, after playing him for some levels, and the barbarian is also a lot of fun too, although it is probably the closest thing to a powercreep in there). Regarding this powercreep that normally is so common in everything that follows the original core, it really seems that WotC have managed to make classes about equal in power to the eight original ones. No mean feat considering just how hard it seems to be to create balanced, interesting classes with varied powers. I for one am really glad they decided to wait with some of these classes, until their grasp of the system had improved. It was definitely worth the wait. Sure, we all know that the CO-boards will find new ways to break the game, but in any game with many options, that will always be possible. What I mean when I say balanced and equal, is that on their own the classes look and feel right. The PHB2 also has 5 new races (gnome, deva, goliath, shifter and half-orc). Crunch-wise they are fine, and some, like the deva also hold some interesting aspects that should translate into some fun roleplaying. Personally, I am not sure I will use them all in my campaigns, as I was never a huge fan of goliaths and shifters. But to each his own, I am pretty sure there are plenty of people out there who wanted these races, just as some people actually play gnomes ;). All in all, this is simply a book that you have to have. Not only does it double the amount of classes at your disposal, but it gives some sweet options for the classes and races in the first PHB1. I know I have given other books this rating, but the problem with a rating system is that at one point, something better, something more necessary always comes along, and how do you reward that, rating-wise? In short, “If you haven’t bought it yet, you are a fool™”.
Rating:* * * * * *

Phrenic Power: Ardent (Dreamscarred Press)

The Ardent is the first of several re-skins aimed at giving characters a more Phrenic feel. It turns your garden-variety cleric into an Ardent, master of the mind. Sadly I cannot review it, as I was asked to look at the crunch and am thus credited in the product. It wouldn’t be ethical if I reviewed it. But since I mention every 4e product that I own, it gets a mention here ;)

The Witch Doctor (One Bad Egg)

It’s with mixed feelings that I am writing this review. As everyone who reads these reviews knows, I am a huge fan of everything OBE have made, and I had thus very high expectations for the Witch Doctor. Anyway, On one hand, the Witch Doctor is a brilliant concept, full of gems (Class abilities like the Masks, Evil Eye which is just perfect for a controller, close wall attacks) and an all-around awesome “feel” to the powers (not to mention some really cool powers, like the Mojo-line, where you draw power from the enemy making a save, or the “Poison Pill” power, which just made me laugh). On the other hand, the implementation is just not good enough. The initial description of the two type of Witch Doctors (Resolute and Tempest) make it sound like you either go CHA primary and CON secondary, or the opposite. But woe to the one who does that, since all powers are based on CHA and there are a whooping 2 powers that key off CON. In fact, you are much better off grabbing WIS or INT, the other two stats which have powers that key off them (around 5 each). Now, this is not game-breaking, merely an annoyance. The powercreep comes in the shape of at-wills dealing ongoing damage, encounter powers which are sustainable, encounter utility powers that last the whole encounter, encounter powers which cost you a surge to cast. Each on its own, these breaks from the core concepts might or might not work, but all together, it becomes too much. Towards the higher level powers, we get dominate as an encounter power, we get big AE that turns people to stone after two failed saves (no save after that) and a few other things that seem broken at first glance at least. Overall, I have to say that the Witch Doctor doesn’t feel like a controller (way too few powers that control well), but I am not quite sure what it is. Perhaps it is pseudo striker-leader-controller. It however look like a fun class with a great feel, and I (despite all the issues) still want to play it. It will just take some work to balance it.
Rating:* * *

Curse of the Kingspire (Goodman Games)

From what I read, the Master Dungeon series is aimed at challenging expert players and DM’s; in order words, noobs need not apply. What starts out as a seemingly routine inspection of a cult in a village propels the players through space and time, trapping them in the middle of an eternal battle suffering a bad case of Groundhog Day. Sounds intriguing? Let me assure you that it is. Players used to straight forward dungeons with one way to go and a big bad boss to kill at the end might find themselves doomed (to repeat their mistakes, haha), with little chance of finishing the adventure. Reading this adventure, I thought it was kind of odd. The first part is a very normal linear story, but with some extremely interesting combats with cool features. The second part has an awesome story, but the combats are not as interesting. Although the windows that shatter and reform as a dragon was fun. Sadly, the end doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the module and there are still the odd, weird editing errors, like a 3.x rule (You do not lose Dex to AC underwater in 4e) or like a skill challenge which aims at bluffing someone, except bluff isn’t one of the skills usable in the challenge! But overall it is a very cool module – Not your average dungeon romp. I will most definitely run it at some point, just as soon as I have come up with an ending that suits me more. I can’t wait to turn a player into a frog (nice witch!) and put on a white wig and go nuts as the Mad Gaoler.
Rating:* * * *

Dungeon Delve (Wizards of the Coast)

DD was (when announced) the only WotC 4e book not to make it on my to-buy list. I thought the concept was dumb. But, half-starved from a lack of decent 4e releases lately (it’s been a least a week since Mists was released) I drove and picked it up as soon as it got to my FLGS. And as it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. Each delve (there are 30, one for each level) is started by a ½ page of introductory fluff, a small map and tips for expanding the delve into a full-blown adventure. You are then presented with 3 increasingly harder encounters (for each level, so 90 encounters in total), tied together in the small dungeon (a few seem way too small for the numbers and size of monsters) which is buildable with the Dungeon Tiles sold by WotC (for each delve it is stated which tile sets are needed). At the beginning of the book, there is also some guidelines on reskinning the monsters and tweaking the dungeon delves. You get 42 brand new monsters and 7 "fairly new" monsters (reprinted from Open Grave, Draconomicon and Manual of the Planes), although a few are just leveled versions of monsters we have seen before. Anyway, as I read the book, it struck me that it’s good helper for those times in campaigns where you need the players to get a bit more xp before starting on something else – sort of like an expanded version of a book of random encounters. It’s a book of random dungeons! It’s hardly going to revolutionize the industry, but overall, it’s a useful book that a lot of DM’s ought to at least consider.
Rating:* * * *