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Blackdyrge's Bestiary: Terrors of the Under Realm (Revised)
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/14/2007 15:32:34
It’s always difficult to review a book that’s a revision of an earlier incarnation. It brings up the question as to whether you should review the new book on its own merits, or try and compare it to the previous version to see how it has been improved. With the revised version of this incarnation of Blackdyrge’s Bestiary, I’m going to try to do both, pointing out what it has, and what’s different from the original.

Blackdyrge’s Bestiary: Terrors of the Under Realm (Revised) is downloaded in a zip folder just over eleven megabytes in size. Only a single PDF of the book is found therein. The book itself is thirty-one pages long, seven pages longer than the older version. It also has bookmarks where the other one did not, and all of the creatures are in the new stat block format (from the DMG II).

The book is fairly generous with its artwork. The cover is the only instance of full color art in the book, but there’s at least a single piece of art for each new creature covered, as well as a few supplementary pieces. Grey page borders are found along the top and bottom of every page, giving basic information about the book (its author, the title, etc). Overall, it shouldn’t be too much trouble to print out, but a printer-friendly version might have been nice.

The book opens with an all-new piece from Blackdyrge himself, describing a creature new to the revision: the writher. Quite a bit of coverage is given to this evil race of centipede-taurs, along with a low-level NPC. After this comes a venomous troglodyte, complete with the venomous template. The undead choker is now a dread ghoul, rather than a greater ghoul. Then comes the half-fiendish mephit blackguard with the sentient weapon, followed by the half-dragon behir. And the crowing monster of the bunch remains the huge otyugh; this one has undergone a fairly substantial revision, and while the CR remains the same as it was, this creature is now size Titanic (the size above Colossal), and has a few unique abilities, making it far more massive than its previous Gargantuan incarnation. Sadly, Blackdyrge’s commentary on the massive creature has been deleted from the revised version. The original book then presented the rot wasp swarm, which is what rot grubs pupate into, and then ended. The new version presents the swarm, but also reprints the information on the rot grub hazard. It also reprints the dread ghoul and gigantic templates, which is a nice touch.

The revised version of Terrors of the Under Realm is unquestionably greater than the old version. While a few things have been lost or changed, much more has been gained. From a new monster, to the conveniently reprinted templates, to simple editing and errata, this is in every way a superior product. If you never owned the original, then this is a very nice book to get if you want a slew of underground foes, with CRs ranging from 2 to 25 for your heroes. Blackdyrge’s new bestiary is an even better tome for a GM looking to bedevil his players.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blackdyrge's Bestiary: Terrors of the Under Realm (Revised)
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the nice review. The omission of Naggrogh's (the huge otyugh) intro is an error. I'll have the revised version uploaded and sent to everyone in the next couple of days. Nice catch there!
Blackdyrge's Templates: Spawn of Apophis
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/25/2007 00:00:00
Blackdyrge's Templates: Spawn of Apophis is a short d20 product from Blackdirge Publishing. The zipped file is roughly five megabytes in size, and contains a single PDF of the product. The book itself is eleven pages long, including a page for the cover, a page for the credits/legal, and a page for the OGL. There is no table of contents, but the product does have full bookmarks.

Despite its length, Spawn of Apophis is a product that is replete with artwork. The front cover is the only part with color; the rest of the product is black and white, but there's quite a lot of that. A number of illustrations dot the book, including one for each example monster, one of Blackdyrge himself penning the bestiary, and a few others. Moreover, there are grey borders at the top and bottom of each page, containing information about the product in every corner (a key at the beginning of the book goes over that in more detail). The amount of art here is exemplary, particularly for a book that's less than a dozen pages in length, but it makes the lack of a printer-friendly version a bit of a loss.

After Blackdyrge's introduction, the Spawn of Apophis template is introduced. Apophis is the divine serpent that seeks to destroy the Egyptian pantheon, and this template given to his progeny. It can only be applied to serpents or creatures with a serpentine shape, however (such as dragons), limiting its scope somewhat. The majority of its new powers revolve around constricting and swallowing enemies, though it also has a few darkness-related powers. Two templated sample creatures, a CR 8 serpent, and a CR 16 dragon, are given to showcase what this template can do at the lower and higher levels.

All in all, this entry in the Blackdyrge's Templates series is a good one, but it doesn't feel as good as the previous two. The problem isn't one of mechanics nor of presentation (both are top-notch), but rather its one of feeling. Elder fiends are iconic for how evil outsiders are expected to try and become planar lords; ghosts that possess inanimate objects is likewise something that just feels intrinsic to them. This template, however, largely just makes serpents more serpentine, and it doesn't evoke the same feel. Many snake-like beings already have constriction or swallow whole powers, for example, and adding them to those that do not just doesn't have the same coolness factor. Add that to how there's nothing here that really seems indicative of being divine progeny, and thematically this template stumbles. It's still a great work in every other regard, but it just doesn't seem to fire the imagination the way previous entries did.



LIKED: The template is quite sound in adding new qualities to serpents and serpentine creatures, and has great artwork.

DISLIKED: The feel of the template just isn't as cool as its predecessors. Also, it could stand to have a printer-friendly version.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blackdyrge's Templates: Spawn of Apophis
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the nice review. You're right, this template is a bit more narrowly focused than the previous two, but just to clarify, the spawn of Apophis can be used with any monster that is reptilian in nature, not just those that are serpent-like. So troglodytes, lizardfolk, and even kobolds could be enhanced with this template. Still, your comments are good ones, and they are much appreciated. Thanks again.
Master at Arms: Crimson Pugilist
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/18/2007 00:00:00
Master of Arms: Crimson Pugilist is part of the Master of Arms series that brings historical fighting styles to D20 fantasy by Blackdirge Publishing/Skeleton Key Games written by Aeryn ?Blackdirge? Rudel. It is an eight-page product (six after cover and OGL) with a clean layout. The only art is the cover piece which is also used as the character art and some nice weapons on the title page.

The work starts with a discussion of the spiked gauntlet as a weapon, the spiked gauntlet is one of the weapons of D&D that is similar to but not exactly the same as any historical weapon, these historical analogs are discussed. Then the inspiration for the prestige class is discussed which most gamers should find quite amusing.

The centerpiece of this product, of course, the Crimson Pugilist prestige class, an expert in close in fighting with the spiked gauntlet. A barbarian / fighter-based class with abilities and dirty tricks to optimize the damage potential of the spiked gauntlet. A brutal close combat class but it seems well balanced.

An example Crimson Pugilist character, Zarga the Punisher, is provided along with a background for him. Zarga is a brutal and experienced pit fighter, a bugbear and a challenging and deadly foe. Lastly two new weapons, historical ones that are similar to the spiked gauntlet, conclude the product.

The Crimson Pugilist is a very focused but well designed prestige class. The Crimson Pugilist is very suiting for a campaign with pit fighters and brutal close quarter combat.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Crimson Pugilist
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Publisher Reply:
Hi Sean, thanks for the nice review. I would just like to point out that Blackdirge Publishing is no longer an imprint of Skeleton Key games, as indicated in the opening of the review.
Master at Arms: Spear Sentinel
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/04/2007 00:00:00
Master of Arms: Spear Sentinel is part of the Master of Arms series that brings historical fighting styles to D20 fantasy by Blackdirge Publishing/Skeleton Key Games written by Aeryn ?Blackdirge? Rudel. It is an eight-page product (six after cover and OGL) with a clean layout. The only art is the cover piece which is also used as the character art and some nice weapons on the title page.

The work starts with a short history of the ranseur as a weapon and why it is an important and interesting weapon. The ranseur, like many pole arms, has been neglected in high fantasy, though even in the real world, its period of use was fairly narrow. One of the aims of this product is to educate about this interesting weapon.

The centerpiece is, of course, the Spear Sentinel prestige class, an expert with their weapon of choice, the ranseur. A solid fighter-based class with tricks based on the abilities of the weapon: using the ranseur to push back their opponent, disarming tricks and a few bonus feats as well as the ability to count level in Spear Sentinel as level in Fighter for purposes of qualifying for fighter bonus feats. A well-done prestige class.

An example Spear Sentinel character, Captain Kyrgan Longstrike, is provided along with the organization he works for, the Spearwatch Guild. Both the character and the organization are interesting and well drawn. Additionally, a new magic weapon property is included.

The Spear Sentinel is a good addition to the available fighting prestige classes, useful especially for guard and guardian characters.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Spear Sentinel
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Master at Arms: Halberdier
by Rob M. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/30/2007 00:00:00
This 4 page PDF (7 with front & back cover & OGC declaration) details the Halberdier Prestige Class. The PDF includes a brief historical overview of the Halberd, including an interesting note that it was a single blow from a halberd that slew Charles the Bold, last Duke of Burgundy, at the Battle of Nancy. Also included is the write-up of an NPC, Sir Rinard Whitehart, a class overview, and a brief designer note in which he points out that he focused on defensive feats for the Halberdier PrC instead of the more traditional formation combat feats, so it would be more desirable to PCs.

The Halberdier is a five level Prestige Class. The entry requirements for the class include a Base Attack Bonus of +5, the weapon focus (halberd) and power attack feats, and five ranks in the Profession (soldier) skill. Being that all the Halberdier?s requirements are combat based the fighter class is the quickest way to qualify for the class. Rangers and Barbarians are the only other classes likely to pursue the Halberdier PrC. The Halberdier is a combat centered class with a d10 hit-die. The majority of Halberdier?s are Human, with various half-races comprising the rest, almost unheard of in the class are other demi-human classes.

Class members gain a number of special Feats enhancing their use of the Halberd. At first level the gain the Expert Defender and Footman?s Revenge Feats. Expert Defender allows a character to gain a +2 shield bonus to AC when fighting defensively, or using total defense, he can also provide another character with this defensive bonus by using the Aid Another action. Footman?s Revenge allows the Halberdier, on a successful attack, to immediately make a trip attack against a mounted opponent which, if successful, pulls the rider from his seat, leaving him prone. He also has 2 trip related Feats, Improved Trip at 2nd level, and Thorny Trip at 5th, which allows him to make an additional attack with the hooked spike on the reverse of the halberd. He also has the Pointed Reach feat available at 3rd level, which allows him to use the halberd as a reach weapon and threaten a 10-foot area. He also gains bonus feats at 2nd and 4th level, chosen from the Fighter?s feat list. The NPC write-up is Sir Rinard Whitehart (Commoner 1/Warrior 3/Fighter 3/Halberdier 5), who is a peasant conscript Halberdier made a knight after slaying a renegade Duke, much like the peasant who slew the Duke of Burgundy.

The PDF is laid out in a two columns with dense text in a smallish font with only bold text used to indicate section heads. The PDF has a small line-art header with two swords flanking the product title. The interior art is limited to one well-drawn 1/2 page illustration of the Sir Rinard Whitehart character, and a few clip-art decorations. The cover is a colorful affair with a green marbled background and featuring the character illustration set against a gold (with lots of gradient goodness) frame with bars for flourishes. The Title text is in gold with some slick gold gradients and a stroke applied to it, with the sub-title in silver/gray gradient goodness. It looks good.

Overall, this is a great product, providing a good write-up of the halberd and a good treatment of a Halberd wielding PrC that isn?t saddled with largely useless mass combat/formation fighting feats. I recommend it to anyone who is looking to pull some upstart nobles from they?re high horse and, with one mighty blow, end a war and become a hero.



LIKED: Duke of Burgundy historical note

DISLIKED: Text size/density

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Halberdier
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Blackdyrge's Templates: Elder Fiend
by Rob M. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/30/2007 00:00:00
This 7 page PDF (10 with front & back cover & OGC declaration) details the Elder Fiend Template. The PDF is laid out in the ?Campaign Construction System? format, designed for GMs to easily gather their game mastering materials into a campaign specific binder. The PDF includes an in-character introduction from the bestiary entry of the eponymous Blackdyrge. Included next is the Elder Fiend template write-up and write-ups of two monsters that have had the Elder Fiend template applied to them, an advanced Dretch, and an advanced Horned Devil.

The short in-character bestiary entry by Blackdyrge is entertaining and well-written and does not fall into the dreaded game fiction fluff category. No painful exposition here.

The Elder Fiend template, an acquired template that can be added to evil outsiders with 6 HD or more, is fairly powerful, providing a CR adjustment of +4, and a level adjustment of +8. The elder fiend template leaves the creature?s size and type unchanged, basically leaving it in the same form, but providing with additional and more potent abilities. They gain a bonus to their AC, doubled speed, a bonus to attacks, they inflict damage as if they are one size class larger.

In addition to the normal special attacks of the base outsider, they gain a numbe of additional special attacks. They gain the ability to Command Fiends (evil outsiders) as an evil cleric with a level equal to their hit dice. They can continuously detect thoughts as the spell with a caster level equal to their HD, being able to turn it on or off as a free action. They also gain the Fiendish Smite (su) special attack. They can use this attack to smite foes of good alignment. On a successful melee attack, they deal extra damage equal to its Hit Dice (to a max of +35) and the target of the smite must make successful Will save or suffer effects as the insanity spell, as panicked, or -4 due to pain. The effect caused depends on the alignment of the Elder Fiend.

They also gain damage reduction abilities, regeneration, resistance to energy, spell resistance, a bonus of +6 to all of their abilities save Int and Wis, for which they gain a +4 bonus. Finally, they gain the Fiendish Aura ability, which causes effects of confusion, dominate person, or crushing despair like the spell, to any non-outsider within it, each round, if they do not succeed at a will save.

Finally there are write-ups of two advanced template monsters, a Dretch, and the Elder Fiend Vexicus. Both are solid, The Dretch is CR8, a buffer version of your average Dretch, while Vexicus is god-like, with a CR of 35.

The PDF is laid out in a two spacious columns with an easy read to font. Section headers are in bold, with italics and bullets used as in the Monster Manual style write-ups. The PDF has a large grayscale header, it is a barwith a grungy paper look with page numbers titles and types, in the Campaign Construction System format mentioned earlier. There are two pieces of interior art, a full page of a scantily clad female sorceress making an offering to a giant horned devil, presumably the Vexicus character, and a ? page illustration of a Dretch. Both of the art pieces are well drawn, with the Vexicus piece having an old school Frank Frazzeta feel. The cover features a framed version of the Vexicus illustration set in a circular decorative frame over a red marble background. The title is done in a decorative font with a distressed texture over a black shape, with the subtitle done in white over a bar design abutting the illustration.

Overall, this is an excellent product; the template provides a powerful and unexpected variation to outsiders, allowing for the GM to surprise the characters toting their demonology tomes. If you regularly use the outsider creature type or have lots of dealings with the outer planes, I recommend this to switch up the types of creatures the characters encounter. It can also serve as a good means to make a memorable outsider NPC creature as villain, rival or ally to the PCs.



LIKED: old school Vexicus illustration

DISLIKED: Limited general usefulness

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blackdyrge's Templates: Elder Fiend
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the nice review. I agree with you one the Frazetta-like nature of the Vexicus piece. It's the first thing I noticed when Hunter (the artist) turned it in. He's done all the Blackdyrge's Templates and the art has been simply superb in each one.
Master at Arms: Cudgel Thug
by Rob M. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/30/2007 00:00:00
This 5 page PDF (8 with front & back cover & OGC declaration) details the Cudgel Thug Prestige Class. It also includes an NPC write-up of one Crawsmasher, Half-Orc Cudgel Thug, as well as a number of new feats and two new weapons, the Rungu and Shillelagh, both club variants. This PDF is interesting, as in addition to the historical overview of the club and class overview, the introduction also includes a brief set of designer notes. The designer here describes his vision for the class, as a strong-arm thug and enforcer that operates on a BTOTHATS (Bash Them Over The Head And Take Their Stuff) model, with the club as a weapon of choice. He makes both the club and the class interesting by adding interesting club based combat feats.

The Cudgel Thug is a five level Prestige Class. The entry requirements for the class include a Base Attack Bonus of +5, and weapon focus (club), as well as a Sneak Attack ability of +1d6. Thus fighter/rogue combos can qualify for the class most easily. The Cudgel Thug is a combat oriented class with a d8 hit-die. It is limited to Non-good alignments as it MO is incompatible with a Good alignment.

Class members gain a number of special Feats enhancing their use of the club. At first level the gain the Coldcock, Merciful Impact, and Subdual Master feats. Coldcock allows a character to, after studying his opponent 3 rounds, cause an opponent to make a Fortitude save against a DC of 10 plus the cudgel thugs level and strength modifier, if he successfully deals damage with his sneak attack. Subdual Master and Merciful Impact allows the character to make non-lethal attacks at no penalty to hit (it is usually -4) and allows him to add his Int or Wis modifier to any non-lethal damaged caused by a successful non-lethal attack, respectively. Additional Feats include Improvised Weapon and Incapacitating Critical which allow the character to use any appropriate item as a club and to require a Fortitude save by any opponent whom he has scored a critical hit against, or the opponent falls unconscious for 1d6+5 rounds, respectively. Also included is a 2 page right up of Crawsmasher, a CR 11 Male Half-Orc Rogue 4/Fighter 3/Cudgel Thug 5.

The PDF is laid out in a two columns with dense text in a smallish font with only bold text used to indicate section heads. The PDF has a small line-art header with two swords flanking the product title. The interior art is limited to one well-drawn ? page illustration of the Crawsmasher character, and a few clip-art decorations. The cover is a colorful affair, with the character illustration set against a gold (with lots of gradient goodness) frame with bars for flourishes. The Title text is in gold with some slick gold gradients and a stroke applied to it, with the sub-title in silver gradient goodness. It looks good.

Overall, this is a solid product, providing an interesting focus on a generally shunned weapon, as well as an under-represented Rogue archetype. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in some more brutal thievery in their game, why pick their pockets when you can knock them the hell out and rifle through their pockets at your leisure instead.



LIKED: Crawsmasher Character

DISLIKED: Text size/density

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Cudgel Thug
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Master at Arms: Cudgel Thug
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/27/2007 00:00:00
Master at Arms: Cudgel Thug is a short 8 page d20 pdf and the eighth product in Blackdirge Publishing's Master at Arms series of products. This series aims to provide players and DMs with prestige classes for the core Fighter class, all focused on using a specific weapon and often relying on history to construct realistic classes. This particular instalment, the Cudgel Thug, focuses on the club as weapon of choice, and on the concept of the thug as a heavy nonlethal bruiser in your game. This product is compatible with the revised core rules.

The product comes as a single pdf file consisting of a front cover with some lovely art by Jesse Mohn, a page detailing the credits, five pages of content and finally the OGL declarations. As part of a series, this product contains a similar style and layout to other products in the series. Layout and overall look of the product is good, very good if you consider the fact that it is such a short pdf. Editing and writing is good as well, and the mechanics is solid across the whole product. Some useful bookmarks are missing, but that's not such a big deal considering the length of the product. Overall, another good presentation job from Blackdirge Publishing.

Master at Arms: Cudgel Thug focuses on the club as its weapon of choice. The club is frequently not a weapon wielded by many PCs, and this product aims to redress that imbalance by providing a more flavorful detailing of the historical use of the weapon, and a prestige class that gives the weapon a proper place in the game. The product starts by providing a brief historical overview of the club, and its development through the ages to more sophisticated and advanced weapons such as the mace, even touching on the boomerang as a version of a 'thrown club'. Next the author details the prestige class, the Cudgel Thug, and provides some useful design notes that give some insight into the nature and rationalisation behind the prestige class' abilities.

The cudgel thug itself is a club-wielding bruiser, a thug that specialises in striking hard and quick, combining aspects of the rogue and fighter classes to create a remorseless thug. A brief overview of the class is provided, followed by the details of this five level prestige class. The prestige class gains a number of known abilities, such as sneak attack, but also a number of new and unique abilities that play to the class' strengths. These include the ability to knock foes unconscious or render them helpless, the use of improvised weapons, and special abilities that make the class a master a dealing nonlethal damage. The class maintains good balance and has enough flavor to make it interesting. It plays well to the strengths of the club as a weapon, and succeeds at presenting a class for creating that uncompromising thug in your game. Both player characters and NPCs will find good use for this class.

The pdf next details a new NPC, Crawsmasher, complete with mechanical statistics and an interesting background. This is a CR 11 NPC based on the cudgel thug prestige class, and illustrates nicely the strengths and concepts behind the class. Lastly, the pdf presents two new club-like weapons, the rungu, a throwing club, and the more familiar shillelagh. Both are extensions of the club that will be useful additions to any game.

Master at Arms: Cudgel Thug is another good pdf in the Master at Arms series. It provides a flavorful approach to the club as a weapon, highlighting its usefulness and areas of use. The Cudgel Thug is a decent prestige class with some interesting abilities, and is well designed around the concept of a brutal and quick bruiser. I generally found all the information in this pdf very applicable to any d20 gaming world, and it has a high utility for both players and DMs. Overall, another good product from Blackdirge Publishing.


LIKED: High utility of the material, good balance, good design of the product and the prestige class, and some interesting material in the cudgel thug prestige class.

DISLIKED: Nothing much. Generally a solid product.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Master at Arms: Halberdier
by Sean H. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/23/2007 00:00:00
Master of Arms: Halberdier is part of the Master of Arms series that brings historical fighting styles to D20 fantasy by Blackdirge Publishing/Skeleton Key Games written by Aeryn ?Blackdirge? Rudel. It is a seven-page product (five after cover and OGL) with a clean layout. The only art is the cover piece which is also used as the character art and some nice weapons on the title page.

The work starts with a short history of the halberd as a weapon and why it is an important and interesting weapon. Like many pole arms the halberd has been neglected in high fantasy, one of the aim of this product is to help rescue the halberd from this unjust obscurity.

The centerpiece is, of course, the Halberdier prestige class, an expert with their weapon of choice. A solid fighter-based class with trick based on the abilities of the weapon: defense trick using the shaft to parry with, the ability to dismount enemy riders, and a few bonus feats as well as the ability to count level in Halberdier as level in Fighter for purposes of qualifying for fighter bonus feats. A very nicely done prestige class.

An example Halberdier character, Sir Rinard Whitehart, is provided along with a nice background for him. A very neat character who worked his way from commoner, survived long enough to gain levels in warrior than fighter and finally halberdier. The only complaint is that his CR is probably too high, counting his commoner level for CR is probably overestimating its ability to help it in any useful way.

The Halberdier is a solid addition to the available fighting prestige classes that it is based on a solid historical concepts is just a bonus.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Halberdier
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the great review! <br> <br> You're right about Rinard's CR. By the book he's CR 11, but with the commoner level, he's probably closer to CR 10. <br> <br> Aeryn "Blackdirge" Rudel
Blackdyrge's Templates: Armored Apparition
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/31/2007 00:00:00
Blackdyrge?s Templates - Armored Apparition is a short product from SkeletonKey Games. The zipped file is just over four megabytes in size and contains a single PDF. The PDF is nine pages long, including a page for the cover, a page for the credits/legal, and a page for the OGL. The product is bookmarked.

There's a fair amount of artwork present for such a short product. The cover is colored, with the rest of the artwork being black and white. The first such picture is the ubiquitous image of the lich Blackdyrge himself. Two other images show up, each of a different armored apparition. Both of these are notable in their quality; these are pictures you'll want to show your PCs to illustrate (pun intended) exactly what they're facing. There are grayed borders along the top and bottom of every page. Nine pages isn't too bad, so you should be able to get along alright without a printer-friendly version.

After a single introductory page by Blackdyrge himself, the book moves right along to the template. The armored apparition template is meant to be applied only to incorporeal undead, and it allows them to possess a magical suit of half or full plate armor. In essence, this makes them corporeal, as they then gain things like a Strength score, lose things like an incorporeal touch attack, etc. Two example creatures are then given, a spectre and a dread wraith, each with this template.

The product has a few problems, such as cases where a sentence just abruptly stops at a page break, or how the product header says this is the "Elder Fiend," a different template from Blackdyrge. Still, this template is one of those things that is so simple and so perfect, it makes you wonder why no one else did it years ago. The idea of ghosts (of all stripes) who inhabit armor and animate it seems like such a common trope of such creatures that it's hard to believe that this is the first time we're really getting it. Between how quintessential the idea is, and how it's nearly perfect in its execution here, this is a template that you absolutely won't want to miss.



LIKED: Evil spirits possessing empty suits of armor is a classic, and this is the perfect execution of that in the d20 system. 'nuff said.

DISLIKED: There were a few grammar errors, and the product header listed it as the wrong product.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blackdyrge's Templates: Armored Apparition
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the great review. The issues of the product header and the missing text have been addressed, and a new verions of the product has been uploaded. Thanks again, Aeryn Rudel Blackdirge Publishing
Blackdyrge's Templates: Armored Apparition
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/24/2007 00:00:00
Blackdyrge's Templates: Armored Apparition is a short 9 page d20 fantasy pdf and the second product in Blackdirge Publishing's series Blackdyrge's Templates. Each product in the series presents a new template along with several sample monsters. This second instalment details the armored apparition, an incorporeal undead creature with the unique ability to animate and inhabit a suit of armor.

The product comes as a single pdf file. One of the neat things about the products from Blackdirge Publishing is their Campaign Construction System. This means that each page is marked and labelled with the details on the type of information on the page (for example, monster or template), the source of the material, the author and publisher and the name of the creature or magic item on the page. This makes it really easy and useful to construct a campaign notebook or binder, using the material from the products as and how you wish.

Blackdyrge's Templates: Armored Apparition comes with a complete set of bookmarks, some stunning art by Hunter McFalls, and a simple layout and design along the lines of the excellent Campaign Construction System. Editing and writing are very good (although the Campaign Construction System headings still call this Armored Apparition the Elder Fiend), as are the mechanics, and overall this is a very neat and tidy product.

The product starts by presenting a brief introduction to the armored apparition penned by the character Blackdyrge. This serves as a useful introduction to the template and its background, and sets the scene for the mechanics to follow. The armored apparition is an incorporeal creature that has the ability to inhabit a suit of armor, and wield weapons as if it were a corporeal creature. It retains most of its creature abilities, although loses most of the aspects of it being incorporeal. It gains the ability to manifest its incorporeal touch attacks through its armor or weapons, and also gains feats that allow it to wield weapons more efficiently, and naturally be proficiency in all those weapons and any armor it may wear. Instead of having the next suit of armor your characters encounter animate to fight them, it can be an armored apparition instead which should surprise the players nicely.

The product includes two samples monsters as examples of application of the template - the armored spectre and the armored dread wraith. Both come with full stat blocks and useful descriptive text and details on combat for each creature. Generally the template blends the ideas of animated construct and incorporeal undead to good effect, gaining some benefits of both types of creature. As constructs these creature are exceedingly difficult to kill, both because of the high armor class, but also because of some of the construct traits such as hardness they inherit. A good template, and something different to the usual animated set of armor.

Blackdyrge's Templates: Armored Apparition is a useful and good template that can blends the construct and incorporeal undead types to create a tough and deadly creature that's bound to surprise players and characters alike. Presentation is very good, although the repeated mention of Elder Fiend instead of Armored Apparition in the Campaign Construction System headings makes it less useful from that perspective. Overall, a good product from Blackdirge Publishing, and a neat template to use to spice up a few encounters in your game or surprise your players.


LIKED: A useful template and a solid presentation with excellent artwork. I like the Campaign Construction System (despite its failure in this instance), and the sample monsters mean some of the work in applying the template has already been done. Good blend of construct and undead types in the template.

DISLIKED: Error in the headings on each page referring to the Elder Fiend and not the Armored Apparition. Otherwise nothing much.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Master at Arms: Arbalestier
by Chris G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/21/2007 00:00:00
Dungeons and Dragons is its own genre and its own set of realism. There are just some assumptions in the game that get made that do not hold true historically. Some weapons are stated out to be better then others even though in our world they are not. Other times certain weapon characteristics and advantages just get ignore because either they were to difficult to fit into the rules or it was just easier to give the item simple stats. These assumptions will not work for everyone and there have been a few products over the years that tries to real life weapons to make them a little more realistic. The Master at Arms series does this by designing a prestige lass that specializes in a single weapon and allows the class to gain special abilities with the weapon to accomplish this.

Master at Arms: Arbalestier is a PDF by Blackdirge Games. It is published through an imprint with Skeleton Key Games. The book is written by Aeryn Rudel. The seven page PDF has a nice lay out but it also has no book marks. There is a little bit of art in the book that is nice but they do use the art on the cover elsewhere in the book. I am not a fan of repeating art pieces like that.

This book is built around making the heavy crossbow a lot better in game terms. It uses a prestige class to do that and that has the problem of a character needing to be at least sixth level to start to be able to take advantage of the weapon. And one would need to be at least tenth level to get all the abilitie4s of this five level prestige class. It is not an easy class to qualify for needing 3 feats, five plus base attack bonus, and five ranks in spot. The best way seems to be four levels of fighter and possible a level of ranger but there are many ways to get there with all the options one has.

The book starts off with a good one page historical look at the heavy crossbow. The author does a nice over view of the strength and weaknesses of the weapon as well as giving a few design notes of what the author intended to do and why with the prestige class. It makes for a nice and informative read and should help someone figure out how to better have the heavy crossbow fit into their own campaign.

The class is almost a no brainer for a fighter character that wants to use this weapon. The hit points, base attack bonus, and saves are basically the same. Skill points are as bad as the fighter but the class skill list is smaller but includes the all important Spot Skill. The levels of this class stack with that of the fighter to determine when one can qualify for those fighter only feats like Weapon Specialization. The class allows one to ignore armor bonuses to hit, do greater damage with a heavy crossbow, and expand upon the range of precision based damage one can do with the weapon. There are other abilities but these are the main ones that can make the Arbalestier feared with this weapon.

The class is well done and balanced. It has the weakness of depending on one type of weapon which can really be a big restriction should the character ever be without a heavy crossbow. Of course it will take a patient player


LIKED: Well balanced prestige class, good history material

DISLIKED: class is a little tough to get into to to be good with one weapon

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Arbalestier
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Master at Arms: Peltast
by Chris G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/21/2007 00:00:00
Master at Arms - Peltast
Dungeons and Dragons is its own genre and its own set of realism. There are just some assumptions in the game that get made that do not hold true historically. Some weapons are stated out to be better then others even though in our world they are not. Other times certain weapon characteristics and advantages just get ignore because either they were to difficult to fit into the rules or it was just easier to give the item simple stats. These assumptions will not work for everyone and there have been a few products over the years that tries to make real life weapons to make them a little more realistic. The Master at Arms series does this by designing a prestige class that specializes in a single weapon and allows the class to gain special abilities with the weapon to accomplish this. This is the second product of the line I have reviewed so the opening may seem really similar.

Master at Arms: Peltast is a PDF by Blackdirge Games. It is published through an imprint with Skeleton Key Games. The book is written by Aeryn Rudel. The seven page PDF has a nice lay out but it also has no book marks. There is a little bit of art in the book that is nice but they do use the art on the cover elsewhere in the book. I am not a fan of repeating art pieces like that. Again I find it very much like the first book in the series I read. Do not worry from here on it differs.

The book consists of a single prestige class to help one really get a lot of use out the Javelin or Short spear. There is a new weapon detailed and an NPC as well but the class is the main focus of the book. The class can be taken as early as level six though it could be tough for a straight fighter. I mention the straight fighter since this class like stacks with fighter levels to select certain fighter feats. However after taking all five levels in the class one only gets three fighters level so still needs actual fighter level to get to Weapon Specialization. The class gains the ability of a ranged sneak attack, can hamper enemy shields by impaling them with spears, gains movement abilities, gains a ranged power attack and charge option, and superior javelin damage. All in all it is a pretty good class. Not as strong as other prestige classes but can be fun for a player wanting to make use of these weapons. I would also be tempted to use Skirmish instead of a ranged sneak attack but of course that ability is not open content so would not be able to be used in this book.

The NPC is a very interesting choice. The NPC is a gnoll with Barbarian and fighter levels making him a very strong fighter type with javelins. Over all it is a good if small PDF that can help with making short spears and javelins more useful in a campaign.


LIKED: Good abilities and balanced prestige class

DISLIKED: The class could have been a little easier to gain or perhaps just gained at a lower level.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Peltast
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Master at Arms: Hoplite
by Jim C. Date Added: 04/29/2007 00:00:00
I was always going to hold this product to a high standard. I regret to say that it doesn't go as far as it could nor resolve the tactical problems that the author rightly points out in the introduction.

Is it a difficult concept to fit into the system? Certainly! Is it impossible to resolve without changes to the core rules? Maybe - and if it is, then that's what should have been proposed here.

More could have been done with formation fighting, which would benefit many different fighter concepts. The design favours Overrun when the introduction and source material seems to indicate a Bullrush (this could work better on a charge as well).

I have some smaller mechanical quibbles: the slightly odd skill rank requirement, the busy mechanics for the effects of an Impale, some oddities in the attack scores for the sample character's stat block.

Text editing and layout are faultless as throughout this series. It's a good 4 stars overall but I'd almost like to rate it 3.5 on content. I'm going to update my rating for the Peltast, as it's comparatively a much better resolved design.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Hoplite
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Master at Arms: Arbalestier
by Jim C. Date Added: 04/20/2007 00:00:00
The author has a point to make about how the D&D rules ought to treat the PDF's chosen subject, the heavy crossbow. The resulting class really has one trick: to achieve a one-shot kill with the crossbow.

I'm going to give it 4 stars, because it's an interesting exercise, the problem that it's designed to address is real and all involved deserve credit for its high production values.



QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Master at Arms: Arbalestier
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