Thursday, June 4, 2009

Monstercology - Orcs (Goodman Games)

The newest from Goodman Games takes us behind the scenes of one of our oldest and most common enemy. We get a new (?) take on the origin of orcs (they are the result of a failed attempt by the elves to kill all dark elves with a ritual). We learn about how orcs are, their coming of age rituals (the common orcsuperstitions are fun) and how they treat their old and young. The interaction amongst tribes and the different positions in a tribe (I like how they use the 4e orc names to do this, makes it easy to incorporate in your campaign) are also covered, as well as a few example tribes. We are also given a quick overview of how orcs interact with most other humanoid races and we get a look at the orc subspecies andhalfspecies (feral orcs, cave orcs, greater orcs and lesser orcs, including a few different half-breeds). There is some crunch as well, with new weapons, new armors and of course new feats andPP's. The feats look a bit boring but mostly balanced. Some of the PP's are pretty nasty. Bloodrage Alcolyte becomes the new de -facto must have PP for all rangers or tempest fighters. + 6 damage per attack against bloodied targets and +2 AC with light armor - yes thank you very much. The UnholyAmbusher is just nasty as well, since (from what I can see) you can get +7 to hit any creature you have CA against. Couple that with frost cheese, and you have a character that will ever never miss. There is a lot more in this 91-page PDF, including orcish religion and advice on how to implement orcs in your campaign and of course a lot of orcstatblocks . I was very much looking forward to this release, and while I can't put my finger on why, I must admit that the writing a several of the chapters didn't do it for me. Also it seemed a little light on new thinking. Overall, a bit disappointing.
Rating:* * *

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Codex Venenorum (One Bad Egg)

To use poison or not to use poison, that is the question. The latest product from OBE breaks down the poison creation process into easily followed steps, giving us a system to create an endless stream of poisons to use on our players (or our DM's monsters for that matter). The system is smooth, and absolutely open for abuse, but they admit as much. It's still a really good system, you just need to "check" and "evaluate" the poison as a whole before you use it. Along with the rules for poisons, we of course also get a long list of nasty new poisons (more than 80, from Arsenic to Blue Deception, new mechanics to end (save ends, short rest ends, extended rest ends - it's even better than it sounds - very cool mechanics there) the effects, new conditions (exhausted and muted), a long list of special qualities to make greater variations in our poisons and a lot of fluffy advice and knowledge about how to describe the very diverse poisons, the different poison families, how to harvest poison from poisonous creatures and the rules for it, exposure, decay and antidotes. We also get tables for creating cool names and determining things like process and components and much more so that they sound and feel like real fantasy poisons. Seriously, it's poison galore, and if you like to use poisons and are tired of just ongoing 5 or 10 damage and never get to "tick" more than once, this PDF is simply a must have. But Mr. Hicks, please add a list of the poisons indexed by level in the PDF, for an easy overview!
Rating:* * * * * *

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Kingdom of the Ghouls (Wizards of the Coast)

With the last instalment (E1 -Death's Reach) one of my complaints was that it didn't feel epic enough. Either the guys at WotC thought the same, or they read my little reviews (okay, I need to learn to keep that ego in check). Either way, they have totally redeemed themselves with KotG. Sure, at it's heart, it's still just another classic "Sorry, your princess is in another castle"-adventure, much like Thunderspire Labyrinth, but Kingdom of Ghouls is however in a different league than TL. Deal with an ex-exarch of Vecna, check; strike a deal with "Death", check; travel through an undead the size of a mountain, check; battle on the edge of the infinite vortex that is the Abyss (yep, if you fall, you FALL!), check; and last but not least, face of the exarch of Orcus and his pet Balor on top of a sea of ghouls, CHECK! Except for a non-rail-roady story, KotG has it all. Some very cool new monsters with nasty abilities. What looks to be very cool skill challenges (negociating with Vocar, travelling through the White Kingdom, travelling through the undead mountain and negociating the heart of a player with an ancient ghoul), awesome combats -The hydra on the lake of necrotic acid, the ghoul minions re-enacting Hamlet with a demilich(!), the surprise in Sigil where everyone on the market square turns out to be angels sent by Vecna and of course the final spout with Doredain, which as mentioned takes place on a sea of living (okay okay, undead) ghouls. Had the adventure been more sandboxy and had a few more of roleplaying opportunities, it would have been near perfection. But it's still darn good.
Rating:* * * * *

Eberron Player's Guide (Wizards of the Coast)

The EPG does it's job. It provides enough information about the world of Eberron for a player to get a general feel of the setting and enable him to make a character which aligns with the world. How useful the book will largely depend on whether you play in Eberron. Most people who play D&D most likely do not play in Eberron, and neither do nor will I. So just how useful is this book? Well, I guess it's usefulness to non-Eberron players is directly related to the artificer, the PP's and ED's, the new pantheon and the related feats, the 3 new races (2 really, since we already have warforged in eDragon). I must admit that in that regard, the book surprised me. I had only briefly looked at the artificer playtest, as the prior version never caught my interest. But I really like this new artificer. It appears to be a solid and flexible (a great mixture of weapon melee or ranged attacks, magical ranged attacks and summons) class, with lots of potential for roleplaying quirks (lunatic gnome tinkerer anyone?). The Pantheon is really awesome, and it's different from the core and FR pantheons, making it even more interesting. I am not quite sold on the Kalashtar (although it does have some interesting mechanics) and the Warforged (I doubt I ever will though), but the changeling is definitely becoming a permanent fixture in my campaign. Last but not least, the PP's are very flavorful and interesting (God I love the chameleon - was that you Ari?), especially those tied to Eberron. But it should be fairly easy to file of the serial numbers and use them in your own campaign. Overall, and even though I really like the swordmage and FR, I think that I will get more mileage out of the EPG than I have gotten out of the FRPG and it is thus a book that I am not afraid to recommend to any DM, whether he plays Eberron or not.
Rating:* * * * *