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