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Dungeon Crawl Classics #82: Bride of the Black Manse
Dungeon Crawl Classics #82: Bride of the Black Manse
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17 Plants
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/31/2006 00:00:00
It would have been easy for The Le Games to put together a collection of plants and present them as drugs to be inhaled, sniffed, rubbed, touched or licked by your player character. Instead, writer Ewan Conradie has put together a collection of plants that are a tad more alchemical than this, creating unique items that can be used by nearly all the core player classes of your Dungeons & Dragons game.

Downloading this product will provide you with two bookmarked versions of this .pdf, one formatted for your monitor and one formatted for your printer. For the purposes of this review, I?ll be taking a look at the printer-friendly version of ?17 Plants.?

After a page of introduction and material detailing how to use this supplement, we?re thrust right into The Ancient Forest. This isn?t just a stereotypical romp through the woods. The Ancient Forest is a place of history, wisdom, mystery and, as you can guess, these seventeen plants.

The plants in this collection are varied. There?s devil?s blood weed, which smells quite nice, but only to cover the scent of the decomposing bodies it?s entangled within its dominating weeds; and the similar yellow heather, which also smells quite nice, but can help cure a character of nausea. There?s the celestial tree, whose wood can be used to create magically-enhanced musical items (flutes, etc.); and the spiny blackberry, which can, when consumed, heal ability damage caused by poison but if used in more-than-moderate amounts actually causes more ability damage (it?s not made clear, but I assume the spiny blackberry?s restorative powers heal damage caused by ingested poison as opposed to contact poison or the other poison types). Each of the plants is unique in their description, use and application, and cost. Rules are also given for locating and harvesting of each of the plants, and as a bonus, some of these plants even include a listing for plot hooks to help DMs incorporate these new plants into their game.

Even though at least two of the core classes ? the ranger and the druid ? have their feet firmly planted in nature, it?s rare to see a supplement devoted strictly to unique fantasy plants. Most of these plants can be harvested, and most of the core classes can make use of this material (a bard should be thrilled to have a flute made of wood from a celestial tree, for example). However, the psionic classes have no representation here; it would have been interesting to see a plant or two that would impact a psionic character.

The format of ?17 Plants? is as tight as The Le Games? other ?17?? products, but a few typos do creep into the text. These don?t distract from the overall text, however. This may sound like a ?niche? product, but it can definitely be used at your game table.


LIKED: There is a versatility to this product that I didn't expect when I first started reviewing it. This isn't just a collection of medicinal plants or magic berries; it's a fully-developed group of fantasy plants.

DISLIKED: There are a few typos in this well-formatted product. Also, it would have been nice to see the psionic classes represented in "17 Plants."

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
17 Plants
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RDP: Critical Feats
Publisher: Gun Metal Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/16/2006 00:00:00
As there is no ?official? Dungeons & Dragons Critical Hit Table, many companies and publishers have created their own extended critical hit rules. Usually, this manifests itself as a critical hit table with increased damage or other negative effects. ?Critical Feats? takes this a step further by, as the title implies, adding extended critical hit effects to feats. ?Critical Feats? also presents a few other game options that players and DMs might find interesting if they want to take their game to a potentially more ?brutal? level.

Before presenting the feats, however, ?Critical Feats? presents a new action type ? the abort action. Abort actions are actions a character can perform when it is not their turn, like blocking or wielding a shield. In essence, a character can chose to forego their Armor Class when being attacked. Instead, the character can block as an abort action. The character and the attacker would then make opposing attack roles, and if the character/defender rolls higher than the attacker, then the attack is blocked and the character takes no damage. If the character/defender rolls lower than the attacker, then the attack is successful. There are bonuses and penalties for two-handed weapons and light weapons respectively. This is an interesting game mechanic, but one that could be easily abused, I?d think, in that it could allow players to focus almost solely on their character?s offensive capabilities instead of buying armor and the like. Additionally, I would question the name choice (abort) of the action itself. It doesn?t necessarily invoke the ?defensive-ness? that the action seems to deserve. Also, there is no mention of how many abort actions a character can make. The rules state that a character may only block a particular attack once, but how many attacks can the character attempt to block overall?

Then we?re into the feats. Most of these feats are critical feats, and in the introductory material of this supplement, writers David Jarvis and Mark Gedak explain that a critical feat is a feat any character can take (making ?Critical Feats? a fairly flexible product) as long as they meet the feat requirements. A character with a critical feat can chose to give up the extra damage a confirmed critical hit would grant and replace it with the effect of the particular feat.

There is a nice variety of feats here. Most of them are fighter-friendly, but there are some that are built for clerics and magic users, and even the monk is represented in ?Critical Feats.? Back Breaker allows a character to crush or severe his or her opponent?s spinal cord. Brutal Uppercut is an unarmed strike that breaks the opponent?s jaw. Conduit Spellstrike is a feat that penalizes the recipient with a ?4 to future saving throws and makes him or her more vulnerable to future spell or spell-like attacks by reducing spell resistance, while Channelling (sic) Strike allows a turn undead attempt to be used as extra damage in the form of channeled positive energy. And these are from just the first few pages!

The damage inflicted by these critical feats can only be healed through use of the Heal skill or through magical means, and a new spell ? ?knit bones? ? is presented near the end of the supplement. Additionally, there are a few new magic items (enhancements that are increased when wielded by one with a specific critical feat) and weapons (most of which can be used to take advantage of the Rend Armor feat).

Overall, I liked the idea of ?Critical Feats.? I?ve always had a personal preference toward more ?intense? results coming from successful critical hits as combat should always be dangerous, regardless of character level, and ?Critical Feats? allows for this without adding any more rolling on potentially-clunky critical hit tables and the like.

However, I did find myself wishing for a bit more work here on the part of the creators. As mentioned before, one of the ways to heal damage from a critical feat is to use magic. Specifically, a number of these feats mention using any ?heal? spell. It?s hard to believe that a ?cure minor wounds? spell would be enough to undo the damage caused by the ?Puncture Lung? feat. (Some of the feats ? like Throat Ripper ? do indicate that a ?cure critical wounds? spell most be used.)

(?Critical Feats? also introduces coma as a new condition. While an interesting game mechanic ? a character falls unconscious and loses one point of Constitution every hour ? it, too, seems to only require the use of any ?heal? spell. Since clerics can cast ?cure minor wounds? spontaneously, this condition loses some of its impact.)

Also, the number of formatting errors were distracting. Spells should always be italicized, and not once are any of the spells formatted in this correct fashion through this supplement. Some of the feats require a certain attack bonus as a prerequisite, and ?Critical Feats? presents these base attack bonuses incorrectly at times (by placing the ?+? after the number instead of before). There were a few spacing errors, as well.

In the end, ?Critical Feats? is a great idea and adds a lot of flavor to the game, and with some work DMs and players can add these rules to their game to give it that edge that standard d20 combat can sometimes lack.



LIKED: There are some great ideas here. The cover art shows gladiators battling each other, and these 'Critical Feats' invoke that feeling of brutality and viciousness of combat.

DISLIKED: Minor nitpicks include formatting errors and a failure to indicate how powerful of a ?heal? spell would be required to heal the damage caused by these feats.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
RDP: Critical Feats
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NEO RANGERS: The Spider King
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/15/2006 00:00:00
?Neo Rangers: The Spider King? is The Le Games? follow-up to their fantastic ?Neo Paladins: The Martyr,? and as such, has some high expectations to live up to, especially since ?The Spider King? is written by The Le himself. Fortunately, these expectations are met as ?The Spider King? is much more than just another Unorthodox ranger variant. In fact, this character class, while obviously a ranger ?type,? stands on its own as an individual character option, and is highly recommended.

This supplement contains a full-color, fully bookmarked .pdf ready for instant use, as well as a less color-intensive/more printer-friendly version of the document. Additionally, you?ll find .rtf documents of the entire spider king class and the original ranger class from Wizards of the Coasts? System Reference Document. For review purposes, I evaluated the printer-friendly version of the .pdf.

?The Spider King? is presented as a fully-playable, fully-fleshed out character class. Writer The Le also handled the layout chores of this product, and he presents the spider king in the style consistent with the core player classes from the Dungeons & Dragons ?Player?s Handbook.? The formatting is tight and easy to read, making the spider king a class that can effortlessly be inserted into your D&D game.

The main difference between the spider king and the standard ranger is that instead of following the path of nature and its animals, the spider king, as its name implies, follows a more ?spider-ly? approach, viewing the spider as its link to nature. It?s not that much of a stretch, really, but this simple shift in focus makes the spider king an attractive player class.

The spider king retains the favored enemy bonus, and its hit dice and saving throw progressions are similar to the standard ranger, but instead of pursuing one of the ranger?s standard combat styles, the spider king gains Arachnid Style Combat. When a spider king is using this style of combat (it must be declared at the beginning of the combat round), the character receives a +1 dodge bonus to his or her AC. However, as the spider king is fighting in a much more defensive manner, he or she is penalized ?2 to all attack rolls and ?2 to all damage rolls.

Another unique class feature is the spider king?s Sixth Sense. Whenever an opponent of the spider king makes a successful melee or ranged attack roll that would normally hit the Neo Ranger, the spider king gains a 10% chance to avoid the attack outright as long as he or she retains his or her Dexterity bonus. When the spider king is using Arachnid Style Combat, the Sixth Sense increases by 5%.

Both the Arachnid Style Combat and Sixth Sense increase as the spider king progresses in level. Also, the spider king has a much more limited animal companion list and its spell list is more unique and includes a few spells not on the standard ranger?s spell list. At 8th level, the spider king gains the ability to make an Arachnid Strike, which not only deals hit point damage, but also Constitution damage. And it?s almost a given that this class gains the ability to cast ?spider climb? as the spell as it progresses in level.

The spider king is a fully-formed character class that will fit nicely into your standard D&D game or campaign. As a player (with your DM?s approval, of course), this class provides a different look at the ranger by focusing its attention on something other than the animals of the natural world. As a DM, this class could provide interesting opponents or allies for your players. Either way, this supplement is well worth the price and the downloading time (both of which are quite manageable).


LIKED: This is a unique character class that is well-balanced and well-presented. It's much more than just a variant ranger; 'The Spider King' stands on its own as a character class option. This supplement is easy to use, and includes three appendixes for additional information about the class. (The class description isn't interrupted with the injection of a description of the Eveasion feat; instead this, as well as a description of the 'spider climb' spell, is all tucked away unobtrusively in the appendixes. This is a much-preferred layout choice.)

DISLIKED: The spider king is such a unique character class that I can't imagine a character created using this material would look like a typical ranger. 'Neo Rangers: The Spider King' uses some artwork of spiders themselves, but there is still some of the more typical Elmore-ian fantasy artwork throughout the supplement. This doesn't necessarily detract from the product overall, but it would have been nice to see more consistency in the art choices. (I'm still giving this product five stars, however!)

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
NEO RANGERS: The Spider King
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Seven Psionic Kata
Publisher: Misfit Studios
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2006 00:00:00
As the title implies, Atlantean Studios?/Misfit Studios' "Seven Psionic Kata" presents seven new kata for use by psionic characters in your D&D game. After a brief introduction explaining what kata are (the kata concept was introduced in AEG's "Way of the Samurai") and how they work within the d20 game, writer Elton Robb wastes little time in showing us the goods (and actually presents a bonus eighth psionic kata when he adapts the 'Striking as Fire' kata from "Way of the Samurai" into 'The Way of Psionic Fire' to give an example of the format used throughout "Seven Psionic Kata").

The kata 'Poise of the Psychic Balance' exemplifies the grace and stability of a psionic kata. After 10 minutes of preparation time and 20 experience points, the character using this kata earns bonuses to Balance checks or rolls to resist being tripped since to the character is centering their psionic focus in their solar plexus or thighs. The 'Psychic One Strike' increases the psionic character's speed (by providing a bonus to Initiative) at the expense of one of the character's extra attacks (and 1200 experience points and 30 minutes of preparation time), while 'Shroud of the Void' (for 3000 experience points and 35 minutes of preparation time) grants a character 50% concealment. All the kata are well-rounded in that some of them are devoted to attack, some are devoted to defense, and so on.

This is a small .pdf - only seven pages - and the formatting is plain and straight-forward. The art is slim; the cover art is an Elmore piece, and there is but one other piece of art in the entire supplement. With the assertion that these kata are graceful and elegant, the opportunity for further art to demonstrate this elegance is missed.

Overall, "Seven Psionic Kata" is still a solid addition to your Asian-flavored game.



LIKED: Simple formatting, easy to understand and easy to use

DISLIKED: Lack of art

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Seven Psionic Kata
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Advanced Race Codex: Humans
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2006 00:00:00
The opening pages of Green Ronin?s ?Advanced Race Codex: Humans? makes a very good point; after a character has gone up a few levels, the race he or she is seems to become less and less important. Players starting new (lower-level) characters might savor the ability modifiers or low-light vision offered by some of the core races, but after earned feats and ability modifiers, various magic items and prestige class abilities, a character?s race doesn?t have a huge impact on gameplay. What ?Advanced Race Codex: Humans? does is take one of the core races ? the one most-adaptable in this case due to its bonus feat and extra skill points ? and makes it ?special.?

Adapting a rule from ?The Black Company Campaign Setting,? the first section of this supplement provides rulings for how to add a character background to your human character. A background offers a player four specific skills in which he or she can place their bonus skill ranks; each gained level above first allows a bonus skill point to be added to one of these skills. The bonus feat chosen at first level also must be chosen from one of two accompanying feats. In exchange for these slightly reduced options, a background provides a ?special advantage? (like receiving a +1 bonus on Fortitude saves if the Beggar background is chosen, or a +2 bonus on all Intelligence checks if the Scholar background is chosen). While this section does inspire players to put a bit more thought into their character background when initially creating their PCs, I would worry that relying too heavily on the character background rules might actually stifle creating character creation. Use these rules carefully, and definitely with the aid of a DM.

The second section focuses on more human options by presenting more-than-human ancestries. With the number of half-elves and half-orcs running around the DnD-iverse, it?s not that much of a stretch to assume that humans can interbreed with an amazing number of different races. The ancestries presented here are for players whose human characters that may have had a celestial, a dragon, an elemental or a fiend in their genealogy. Three level progressions are presented, much like the paragon classes presented in Wizards of the Coasts? ?Unearthed Arcana,? and the development is just as sound.

The third section of supplemental rules is devoted to new feats, and there are some great ones here. Designer Robert J. Schwalb has presented a mix of combat oriented feats (Exploit Opening, for example, which provides a bonus to the first attack of opportunity a PC makes in a round) to more subtle ?character?-oriented feats (Diversified, which allows a character?s two highest-level classes to not count when determining an experience point penalty when multiclassing). The design of these feats is solid, and none of these seem over-powerful.

The same can be said of the prestige classes in the fourth section. Since a human can multiclass most freely of all the races, the requirements for these prestige classes speak to the more diversified character concepts. A battle crier mixes the best of the barbarian?s and the bard?s abilities whereas the storm shepherd blends the druid and a psionic character class. My personal favorite is the deacon, a charismatic prestige class combining religion and magic and drips with role-playing opportunity.

I was a bit disappointed with a single piece of artwork in this section. To illustrate the buccaneer, Green Ronin has chosen to use a picture of a female character who?s just had the backside of her breeches bitten away by a shark. This walks the fine line of class, and I found it distracting.

The final two sections are devoted to new spells and new items, and both sections, again, are well-balanced.

While no DM should allow any material in their game or campaign without approval, I think a player will have very little difficulty convincing their DM that the ?Advanced Race Codex: Humans? supplement is fit for the table. The rules are well-designed and ?developed, and while the ?fluff? material is a little light in some areas, I can heartily recommend this product, and would look forward to using some of this material in my own game.



LIKED: Well-designed and -developed, and makes an excellent companion to Wizards of the Coasts' "Races of Destiny"

DISLIKED: Some of the opening material will definitely need a stronger DM's-hand in implementation

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Race Codex: Humans
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NEO PALADINS: The Martyr
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/19/2006 00:00:00
It might be easy to dismiss ?Neo Paladins: The Martyr? as leftover material that maybe didn?t make the cut when The Le Games previously released ?Unorthodox Paladins,? but players that don?t look at this new supplement will be missing out on a unique, creative and fully-playable core class that serves as both a variant to one of the standard classes (in this case, the paladin), but is also strong enough to stand as its own advanceable-to-20th-level character option.

Taking the approach that "not all holy warriors further the cause of good at the point of a sword," the martyr is a class devoted to living his or her life in pursuit of ideal good and lawfulness, regardless of the cost. A martyr does not play recklessly, despite the fact that he or she does not fear death if it means living up to his or her goals. Instead, a martyr views most every encounter as a test of faith, striving to serve as an example of his or her ideals.

The martyr's similarity to the paladin is evident; many of its class features are divine in nature. Writer James M. Spahn's effort here is evident, however. Despite its similarity to the paladin, or even the cleric, the martyr is truly a unique class, well designed and well balanced. In fact, in the right campaign and in the right (and perhaps ambitious) hands, the martyr could even replace the paladin.

This supplement delivers all it advertises, and that's it. There's not necessarily anything wrong with this. Players should be aware, however, that there are no feats, no spells, or no magic items included with this product. It is ONLY a new character class.

Fortunately, this is all this supplement needs.


LIKED: This is a complete character class packet, ready to use and immediately playable.

DISLIKED: When paladins, clerics, fighters, etc., are written about in the Player's Handbook, capitalizing the first letter of the character class names is not done. A MINOR nitpick in "Neo Paladins: The Martyr" is that the martyr class is constantly given this first-letter-capitilization, turning the martyr into a the Martyr. This is a such a small aspect of this otherwise excellent product.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
NEO PALADINS: The Martyr
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17 Necromancer Spells
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/09/2006 00:00:00
(UPDATE: Within days of this initial review, The Le Games found and corrected the formatting errors referenced in this review. While I've not changed the review, I do want to express my admiration of The Le Games for finding and correcting these mistakes.)

"17 Necromancer Spells" is another installment in The Le Games' popular 17 Series. After a too-brief introduction that falsely promises 18 new necromancy spells, writer Tony DiGerolamo introduces us to a magic item called the skin of the bone keeper. Traditionally, The Le Games includes more than the titular offerings in their 17 Series, so this one magic item isn't quite of place. It is designed with the necromancer in mind, and rather than strictly offering a new special ability or enhanced spell-casting options (although a GM's Option for adding additional spell casting is mentioned), the skin of the bone keeper offers a unique character enhancement in the form of gaining experience points. Unfortunately, a price for this item is not included.

The spells run the gamut from 0-level spells, or cantrips, to one concluding 9th-level spell. Obviously, with the uneven numbers involved (17 spell listings and 9 spell levels, excluding the cantrips), it's impossible to have an equal number of spells per level, but the spells do seem to progress rather well as they increase in level and potency. A necromancer could easily add these spells to his or her spellbook without suffering from being overpowered; the creators of "17 Necromancy Spells" worked hard to balance their spells and make them easy-to-insert into the core Dungeons & Dragons spell listings. Spells that deserve special mention include "gusher of blood" (a 2nd-level spell) which allows the necromancer to cut him- or herself to create a spray of blood that does no damage to its victim, but rather blinds him or her; "sleep of the grave" (a 6th-level spell) that grants the necromancer restful and restorative sleep granting accelerated hit point recovery in a grave; and "flesh shape" (a 7th-level spell) that, with a touch, grants the necromancer the ability to change the appearance, and Strength, Constitution and Dexterity, of a specific individual (which, as the text points out, would useful in that the necromancer could cast this on a zombie, making the undead appear as the necromancer him- or herself, and then faking his or her own death!). As these examples show, not all of the spells are blatantly offensive spells, and I like that a great deal.

However, the layout of ?17 Necromancer Spells' is a bit distracting. It follows the format of other installments in the 17 Series - two columns per page - but it feels as if more care could have been taken in keeping like-leveled spells on the same page or even keeping spell titles from being placed at the bottom of the column preceding the actual spell description. Additionally, the missing 18th spell promised in the introduction seems to have been truncated somehow. Page 6 ends with the closing description of the 4th-level spell "drain youth," but Page 7 opens in what appears to be mid-spell description for a spell that may have something to do with preserving limbs. This is an awkward bit of formatting and editing that overshadows some of more nit-picky yet present incorrect elements - not italicizing all spell names, capitalizing some words that shouldn't be, etc.

The spells themselves in "17 Necromancer Spells" are well thought out and well written, but the presentation causes the entire book to suffer.

LIKED: The spells are unique and offer a great deal of flavor and versatility to your necromancer class. Also, The Le Games seems committed to supporting their products after their initial release, as evidenced by their quick correction of the Portrait version of "17 Necromancer Spells."

DISLIKED: There are still some minor formatting issues, and while "17 Necromancer Spells" follows the same layout of The Le's other products in their 17 Series, the page breaks and column layout could have been presented in a more uniform way.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
17 Necromancer Spells
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Publisher Reply:
Please note that I have confirmed that there is indeed a 5th level spell missing from the Portrait version of this product. However, this error does not exist in the Landscape version, nor does it exist in the Rich Text Format version. In anycase, I have corrected the error, and revised the product to reflect this. Anyone who has previously purchased this product has received a new download link to get the revised version. Thanks for being a loyal customer! -The Le (pronounced Tay Lee)
Dweomercraft: Enchanters
Publisher: Dark Quest Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/06/2006 00:00:00
In a market near-saturated with book- and .pdf collections of d20 spellcaster advice and material, "Dweomercraft: Enchanters" stands out as a unique and valuable supplement. Devoted to the enchantment school of spellcasting, this supplement provides both flavorful text and plenty of "crunch" for players and GMs that are looking to create characters specializing in the magic school of enchantment.

Supplement writers Chris Snook and David Woodrum waste little time getting into their subject matter. Subtitled "Racial Views," Chapter One (after a couple pages devoted to explaining the differences and interactions between the enchantment school and the other schools of magic) approaches each of the core D&D races and describes that race?s relationship with the school of enchantment. Players considering playing an enchanter will find rich material that can be used in creating character backgrounds and motivations. GMs can easily use this same material when creating their NPCs. This chapter could easily be inserted into the Player's Handbook, or at least the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Shifting gears, Chapter Two: Feats is a more "crunchy" section. None of these 19 feats stood out as unbalanced, and more than a handful of them felt quite useful. All of them are unique; I've not stumbled across any similar feats in any other sourcebooks. While these feats are all geared toward enchantment, they're all General feats, so any character can feasibly choose one or two of them for themselves. Chaotic Hint (projecting hints of a chaotic nature to better get along with chaotically-aligned characters), Compulsion Leech (healing one point of damage whenever someone casts an enchantment spell in your vicinity) and Wizard Shrill (being able to potentially disrupt a magic user's spellcasting) are all good examples of what can be found in this section.

Chapter Three: Deities Important to Enchanters takes a step back from the hard crunch of the Feats chapter and presents new gods and goddesses that a religious-minded enchanter may want to get to know. Again, as with the previous chapters, both players and GMs will find material here to add a bit of individuality to their game.

Chapter Four: Spells is the meatiest section of the "Dweomercraft: Enchanters," and rightly so. What would a spellcaster be without his or her spells? Over 60 new spells are presented here, and as with the rest of this book, nothing here seems overpowered or unbalanced. These spells are well thought out, as if a great deal of time was spent creating spells like "dyslexia" (a 1st-level spell designed to prevent those who have no business doing so from reading material the enchanter would like to keep private), "bestial panic" (a 4th-level spell that can cause up to 70 HD of creatures to go berserk), and "memory man" (a 7th-level spell that allows its recipient to perfectly retain anything sensed within a 24-hour period, so quickly reading through the contents of a library in a day would be material perfectly retained and remembered).

Chapters Five (Tomes of Knowledge) and Six (Magic Items) complete the book with more well-created and -balanced game material.

"Dweomercraft: Enchanters" can expand your game by taking one school of magic and making it so unique that it almost warrants its own class. There are a few typos and formatting errors, and the interior artwork isn't overly consistent in quality (although I'm still taken by Steve A. Roberts' cover art), but these are small things that can be overlooked because as a whole, the book is quite good.

LIKED: Unique approach to the enchantment school of magic, not too-narrowly focused, utilitarian, and lots of material

DISLIKED: Few typos and formatting issues, inconsistent interior artwork

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dweomercraft: Enchanters
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...And Their Tummies Growled
Publisher: Hart-Felt Productions
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2006 00:00:00
In addition to dice, pencils and character sheets, gamers can typically be counted on to have Mountain Dew, Dorritos (Cheetos stain character sheets!) or pizza around the game table as well. Settling into a long campaign with this limited diet not only helps to contribute to too many gamer stereotypes, but also can stifle a game with the lack of culinary variety. "...And Their Tummies Growled" attempts to address this issue by presenting over 40 pages of quick and inexpensive recipes, but unfortunately, this cookbook seems to miss its mark when it comes to its audience.

Writer Lisa Hartjes has put together a number of recipes that really ARE quick and inexpensive. There?s nothing inherently wrong with them. There's a decent variety of meals and snacks here, and the recipes are written well enough. An odd bit of formatting of this .pdf?s introduction aside, "...And Their Tummies Growled" is basically formatted and easy to use.

However, for a cookbook aimed at gamers, there's very little "gamer flavor" here. Past the cover, "...And Their Tummies Growled" offers almost no indication that it is a collection of recipes designed for dice throwers. A few of recipes have names that almost take us to a more imaginative place (Roadkill or Death Chili, although serving chili to a group of anyone who will spend more than a few hours around each other in the same space may not always be the best idea!) than the kitchen, but it?s hard to imagine serving Tofu Lasagna to a table of D&D-ers.

Additionally, there are a few recipes here that seem to be a bit "heavy," particularly some of the pasta or beef dishes. While many gamers will clutch their favorite energy drink in their non-dice hand, I wouldn?t expect it to be a required beverage to fight off the pending energy-level crash after eating some of these meals.

As a recipe book, "...And Their Tummies Growled" is written in plain, easy-to-understand language, and offers several options to hosting your next get-together. If your next get-together is a game session, however, you may be disappointed.

LIKED: Written in plain, easy-to-understand language

DISLIKED: Not specifically applicable to gamers

QUALITY: Disappointing

VALUE: Disappointed

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
...And Their Tummies Growled
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17 Magic Gloves
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2006 00:00:00
"17 Magic Gloves" is part of The Le Games' 17 series. This 17-page product, as the name implies, is a collection of several magic gloves that can be readily dropped into your Dungeons & Dragons campaign. (The name of the book is a bit misleading, however; "17 Magic Gloves" actually includes 18 gloves!) After spending a page or two introducing the book and providing some ideas on how best to insert these new magic items into your ongoing game, author The Le, creator Jonathan Drain and editor Wayne Tonjes dive right into the bulk of the book.

Starting with the Gloves of Bitch Slapping.

My thoughts at this point are mixed. I don't like to mix my fantasy with modern day euphemisms, and, well, calling something the Gloves of Bitch Slapping does come off as sounding a bit silly, but in truth, I don't know what ELSE these gloves could be called. When the wearer of these gloves confirms a successful critical hit, the gloves give off a flash of red light, causing a random effect against the recipient of the unfortunate unarmed attack. The "weakest" of these effects is 2d6 damage (that is considered magical for purposes of damage reduction). The victim may also be dazzled, shaken, blinded or, worst on the scale, "whittled" (which calls for the recipient of the bitch slap to lose exactly half of his or her current hit points, as well as a bit of Constitution damage).

Other highlights in this collection of magic items include the Gloves of Blood Casting, which adds an additional 1d6 points of damage to any damaging spell the wearer casts at a cost of 3 hit points per 1d6 bonus damage; the Gloves of Phantom Strike, which grants the wears the attempt to make a single melee attack against opponents up to 20 feet away; and the Gloves of Tremor, which, in addition to providing the wearer a +1 armor bonus to his or her AC, also allows the wearer to slam his or her fists into the ground, sending a magical tremor into the ground and potentially knocking prone creatures within an area equaling 3d4x5 feet.

The Gloves of Spying also stood out. The user need only wear one of these two gloves to use the gloves' ability - animating the loose glove and sending it to explore and spy for the wearer up to 1000 feet away. The owner can use this animated glove to see and hear anything within the spying glove's surroundings.

The Gloves of Squishing are really beyond description. These thumbless gloves allow the wearer to bring a giant semi-transparent thumb into existence directly above an enemy. The thumb then . . . well . . . squishes that opponent.

The gloves all receive individual descriptions (and instructions for their creation), making them unique in appearance as well as effect. Another bonus of 17 Magic Gloves is that whenever a glove calls for a magical or conditional effect, a quick definition is provided so that players and GMs don't have to keep flipping through their rule books to see what happens when the Gloves of Thunder Clap deafens a character.


LIKED: Great presentation - the magic items are unique and none "stand out" as not belonging in a typical fantasy campaign

DISLIKED: The Gloves of Bitch Slapping still leave me a bit bristled

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
17 Magic Gloves
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UNORTHODOX Knights
Publisher: The Le Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2006 00:00:00
In Unorthodox Knights (written by Sean Holland, James Spahn, Arthur Borko and editor The Le), six variant knight classes and one prestige class, are brought together in a 47-page .pdf. This isn't just a book of "crunch." Each class receives just over a page of background material, providing gamers with enough information to see just what makes these classes not just variants on the "standard" knight, but unique classes that stand on their own merits.

Of the six classes, three stand out.

- The Chevalier Amour. Approaching life as one big adventure, the chevalier amour taps into the dashing romance of knighthood, but not at the expense of excitement. With class features that stress finesse and style (Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat at 1st level, Two-Weapon Fighting at 2nd level, Evasion at 7th level, etc.), the chevalier amour would lend itself well to players looking to play a rogue less interested in backstabbing and more interested in getting away with spreading as much excitement and, yes, love, everywhere he goes (and getting away with it - another class feature is Greater Alibi, which allows the chevalier amour an immediate cover story, when needed, with appropriate Bluff modifiers).

- Knight of the Road. A wandering, nomadic character, the knight of the road lives by a specific code: never give up the open road; always take care of your horse; never grab another man's reigns; draw your blade only if you intend to take a life; another knight of the road is a brother, treat him as such even if you should be enemies; and never betray a sworn oath. Not quite devoted to an order, this class has more in common with rangers and fighters than other knights or even paladins. From the very beginning of play, a 1st level knight of the road gains unique abilities: Quick Draw as a bonus feat and, as a class feature, Sword Slinger (which is similar to the Sneak Ability in that if the knight of the road has initiative over a flat-footed opponent, he or she may draw his or her sword and deal an +1d6 bonus damage - the knight of the road only receives this bonus if he or she begins with his or her sword sheathed). As the character progresses, other abilities based on self-sufficiency (being able to discern direction as a supernatural ability or gaining Diehard as a bonus feat) become part of the character's repertoire. The knight of the road also gains a mount, and special rules are included to make this mount different from the paladin's typical mount.

- Lanternian Knight. These unorthodox knights adventure for spiritual gain. Constantly seeking redemption, characters of this class focus on being a beacon, or lantern, against the darkness. The lanternian knight is built around the ideal of fighting the evil of the world, and its class features (like Lantern's Light, which causes an object to glow like a torch; Oath of Duty, which provides these knights with a +1 bonus to skill checks and Saves when swearing to overcome obstacles in their path; Heaven's Strike, which provides the knight's weapon with a blessing in the form of an enhancement bonus against evil creatures; and Lantern's Miracle, which allows the lanternian knight to duplicate clerical spell effects) back this up.

The Blind Blade is the prestige class which allows for a unique "blind swordsman" approach. In fact, if the character ever regains his or her sight, most of the special abilities are lost.

Almost as a bonus feature, this sourcebook includes a section titled 'Baubles & Urus of Ancient Power.' These small gem-like stones are magic items that are designed to be used in conjunction with other items (weapons, clothing, etc.). Pricing for the baubles is missing, however, which could seem to me to limit the instant portability of these items in an existing campaign.


LIKED: The different character classes provide ideas to both players and GMs.

DISLIKED: The 'Baubles & Urus' section seems almost tacked on to the product for extra length.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
UNORTHODOX Knights
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Golemcraft 101
Publisher: Dog Soul Publishing
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2006 00:00:00
"Golemcraft 101" takes a more detailed look at one of the more formidable creatures from the "Monster Manual" and not only makes this sometime-staple of fantasy gaming more accessible, but adds a few new layers to the mystery of the golem as well. This supplement, written by Scott Carter, gives more depth to the Craft Construct feat, making golemcraft more appealing to players and GMs alike. Expanding on the rules for creating golems, "Golemcraft 101" practically serves as a manual for players wishing to create their own unique golems.

"Golemcraft 101" begins by detailing the costs for the basic materials used in the creation of a golem; specific cost multipliers are given for specific materials. Want to change the size of your golem? There are modifiers presented here as well to cover these choices.

The section on mundane and magical modifications, though, is where "Golemcraft 101" really shines. Want to create your golem with a bit more staying power? Craft it with additional hit die. Additional speed? Add another pair of legs. The ability to take a feat like Awesome Blow or Quick Draw? There are rules for this as well, but these only cover the mundane modifications available to your new golem. There are also rules given for magical modifications like imbuing your construct with spell-like abilities or even magical enhancements similar to those available to magic weaponry or armor. These rules all seem balanced, and can help to make your construct creations truly unique.

A brief section on how to best utilize these rules as a PC gives suggestions for which character classes can best utilize these rules, and a section on how best to incorporate these expanded construct rules into a campaign follows.

A new organization - The Order of the Golem - is introduced in the second half of this supplement, giving ideas to players, resources to player characters and inspiration to GMs. The Order can be placed in any large city or metropolis, and notable NPCs are described, but not detailed with playable statistics. Fortunately, the portability of The Order of the Golem makes it easy for GMs to use this order in their existing campaigns, where they can create their own NPCs stats.

Three new feats and three new monsters round out this supplement. The feats are specifically available to members of The Order of the Golem, and the new creatures are new constructs ready to be used by either a player or a GM.

"Golemcraft 101" is an attractive package, with only one noticed typo in the text. The artwork complements the material quite well, and Carter's writing introduces the new rules without becoming dry or tedious. This product is also fully bookmarked, taking advantage of the .pdf format.

LIKED: A very attractive product

DISLIKED: This could have easily been a bigger, lengthier product

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Golemcraft 101
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Liber Sodalitas: Erzsak's Drake Riders
Publisher: Highmoon Games
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2006 00:00:00
Highmoon Media Productions' "Liber Sodalitas - Erzsak's Drake Riders" (written by Daniel M. Perez) begins by telling the story of Ludvel Erzsak, a young cavalry soldier who eventually becomes the leader of Erzsak's Drake Riders, a premiere mercenary group. While kept brief, the backstory alone is enough to inspire players and GMs. Actually, I would have liked more information about the history of Erzsak's group and the adventures & assignments; the character - a mercenary with a strong sense of morality - is intriguing enough to warrant more material.

This supplement, however, is intended to be used by players and GMs rather than simply read as an exciting piece of fiction. In this regard, Highmoon Media Productions delivers. This isn?t a supplement about Erzsak or his company. Instead, this is supplement devoted to showing how PCs and NPCs can be part of this company. Everything from the Drake Riders' code of law to the ranking and organizational system is presented succinctly, and a quick read is all one needs to bring this to their game table. The requirements for becoming a member of Erzsak's Drake Riders as well as pricing information for hiring the mercenaries will allow gamers to either play a member of the organization or play a character hiring them.

This is an incredibly flexible little packet of information, and even goes as far as including new feats for characters that would either want to become a member of the Drake Riders or perhaps add a unique twist to their mounted warrior character. Feats like Deathly Charge, Great Trample or Mounted Improved Trip aren't restricted to drake riding characters (although Lingering Breath does have a restriction - only a character or creature with breath attack can take this feat).

The supplement concludes with statistics and role-playing notes for the firedrake, the large, flightless dragon-like creature used by the Drake Riders. The firedrake's most outstanding feature is its Pyrophoric Blood. When exposed to air, the blood of this creature bursts into flames, which is sure to spice up a combat encounter!

Perhaps the only thing missing from this supplement is the protocol with which a character or group would use to contact and hire Erzsak's Drake Riders. I can't imagine that an organization like this can be reached through ordinary means. A "hidden valley" is mentioned a number of times as their company's base of operations, but if it's hidden, how does one find Erzsak's Drake Riders to hire them in the first place?

Maybe this question could spark a game or even campaign, and that's this supplement's best feature. Any number of games could be spun out of the material presented here. Players of paladins or cavaliers can find inspiration in the feats and character backgrounds, and GMs can find inspiration in this unique organization of mercenaries with a moral code.

LIKED: This is an inspiring piece of work - easily read and instantly playable.

DISLIKED: There's very little to dislike. I found one typo, but that's it.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Liber Sodalitas: Erzsak's Drake Riders
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Masterwork Characters: Out of the Deep
Publisher: Clockwork Golem Workshop
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2006 00:00:00
One of the dangers of creating an environment-specific sourcebook is creating a gaming supplement so narrowly-focused that the material can't be used unless certain environmental conditions are met within the game world. "Masterwork Characters: Out of the Deep" from Clockwork Golem Workshop doesn't fall into this trap. Instead, writer Adam Windsor has focused on creating a new game supplement that captures the flavor of the mysteries of the sea that can be used by nearly any character, class or race.

However, if you don't want to play any of the existing races, "Out of the Deep" presents the Mako, a race of shark-like humanoids that (especially since they have no level adjustment) would be an attractive option to players wanting to play an aquatic race, but wanting to stay away from the stereotypical aquatic elf motif. The Mako are presented as a standard player race, ready to insert into any game or campaign, and special care is given to make them stand out from other seafaring races while giving suggestions on how to integrate them into a group of adventurers.

Some of the feats are obviously sea-specific (Born to the Water or Mariner, for example), but not all of them are, so again, "Out of the Deep" keeps the aquatic feel without isolating landlubbers (the Weathered feat could be an attractive feat for nature-bound druids or rangers).

There are three prestige classes presented here, one fighter-based and two magic user-based (although, as a nice touch, a brief sidebar demonstrates how to turn one of these magic-based prestige classes into a psionic-based prestige class). Never redundant, these three prestige classes not only present interesting options to a player, but might spark an idea or two for a GM looking for interesting NPC choices as well (especially the witch pirate prestige class!).

Nine new spells help to fill out the witch pirate's spell list, but also offer a number of unique spells available to most spell caster classes (there were no offerings for clerics, but since the section describing the Mako make a point of explaining that there are very few clerics among the Mako people, this makes sense). The spells "blinding spray" (conjuring a cone of saltwater to direct against your enemies) and "flame ward" (protecting an area from fire and fire-based magic) stand out.

A section on magic and mundane items brings "Out of the Deep" to an end. Even though this section is subtitled "Artifacts of the Deep," there are no artifacts here. Instead, these are simply items or armor enchantments that can either strengthen an existing "sea-feeling" to an on-going campaign, or can be used to introduce an aquatic element to a game. The items are well thought out and incredibly balanced.

Overall, "Masterwork Characters: Out of the Deep" is a fun sourcebook that presents rules, flavor and flair that can be used in any game and, surprisingly, nearly any setting. It would be best used in a sea-going game, obviously, but don?t let that scare you off. Not only can this material be used in a land-locked adventure, it can serve to inspire players and GMs alike to bring a little of the ocean to their game table.

LIKED: Instant portability

DISLIKED: Very few editing and layout issues

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Satisfied

[THIS REVIEW WAS EDITED]


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Masterwork Characters: Out of the Deep
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Folkloric - The Underhill Court
Publisher: Dog Soul Publishing
by Derek K. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/15/2006 00:00:00
Dog Soul Publishing's "The Underhill Court," written by Alexander Bennett with art by Cris Griffin and Jimmy "Dreadjim" Ling, is a 34-page supplement detailing a new adventure location. The Underhill Court is a fairy-like kingdom populated by the sidhe, an ancient race of warriors, artists and adventurers driven underground by battles with the fir bolg, the fomorians and a new race called the Milesians.

Now the sidhe reside in a magical place underneath a majestic hill. "The Underhill Court" provides a mini-setting that DMs can use in their current game, or, with the plot hooks provided, create an entire campaign around the sidhe and the court.

Game mechanic-wise, this supplement keeps things simple; the Underhill Court simply appears somewhere in the world, and lucky, or perhaps unlucky, adventurers might stumble across it. The court is only accessible at night. In fact, if caught inside the court when dawn breaks, adventurers would find themselves suddenly lying atop a green hill. (The entrance to the court cannot be found during daylight hours.)

NPCs are listed - the queen, the king and the jester of the Underhill Court - but even though they're introduced early in the supplement, their stats aren't given until near the end. This is a little frustrating as this format may work well with a print publication, but this is a .PDF document which doesn't allow for easy flipping-back-and-forth between pages. Other NPCs are detailed as well, including the most intriguing - Herne the Hunter, the dark side of the Underhill Courts king's personality given individual life. This bloodthirsty being is actually not a member of the Court itself as he is forbidden to enter the Underhill, cursed to haunt the world at large (and plague unsuspecting PCs!).

Descriptions of the various rooms (including a music room and a fighting pit) are detailed, and include 'read aloud' sections for the DM. These sections do run a bit long, though, some of them running even longer than the descriptions of the room themselves!

A magical kingdom is bound to contain magical items, and The Underhill Court provides a handful. The 'legacy sword' (a longsword +2) is especially creative; at the start of every day, a d100 is rolled, and based on the result, a table grants a class ability to the wielder for the next 24 hours (anything from the barbarian's ability to rage to the monk's flurry of blows, from the druid's wild empathy and woodland stride to the ranger's Rapid Shot or Two-Weapon Fighting - the sorcerer is absent, but spell-casting is represented by mention of the wizard). The other standout item is the 'book of secrets,' kept in the sidhe library under lock and key. Its pages numbering in the thousands, the book contains an alphabetic listing of every single sentient creature within 500 miles of the books' location. (If a creature leaves or enters the 500-mile radius, the book's pages change accordingly.) In addition to the names, each being's deepest secrets appear to be written, and read as if the creature him- or herself wrote them under their name in the book.

These are some powerful magic items, so this may have been why pricing (or even item creation) information was left out of the book. However, it would be nice to know how much the "outside world" would be willing to pay for something like a 'raven mask' or 'coin of ligg,' or any other sidhe-crafted item for that matter - I'd imagine that to the right people (collectors?), physical evidence of the sidhe would be quite valuable.

When the Underhill Court manifests itself, it has a definite impact on the land surrounding it. A timeline, complete with seasonal data, is provided, detailing this impact and further giving DMs information on how best to incorporate this setting into their ongoing games.

My favorite section appears in the final pages of this supplement. Writer Bennett provides sample dialogue from the main NPCs of the Underhill Court. With this, DMs can present the Jester's, King Auberon's or Herne the Hunter's voice with distinction. Also, a pronunciation guide is provided to help with some of the more archaic- or fantasy-based word-conventions. Finally, example male and female names for the sidhe are given.

"The Underhill Court" could easily have turned into a much larger supplement. Extra page length, though, would probably translate into extra cost, and in the world of RPG .PDF publishing, I understand the need to keep costs down in order to sell enough of these .pdfs to turn a profit. Unfortunately, I feel as if these need to keep costs down also cut down on some of the extra editing and proofing that would be required to make any .PDF truly stand out.



LIKED: A unique take on the sidhe

DISLIKED: Editing and layout

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Folkloric - The Underhill Court
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