It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Blackdirge’s products. However, up until now I’ve never reviewed any of his Master at Arms series of PDFs. My reason for doing so was that I didn’t think I’d be that interested in the topic covered under that line. After all, new prestige classes rarely impress me, given how many of them are already out there. And the idea of a prestige class, even a short one, dedicated to a single specific weapon just seemed too narrowly focused. Does anyone really want to dedicate their hard-earned levels to mastering a relatively-obscure weapon? However, despite my hesitancy, I decided to take a chance on the Master at Arms line, thinking I’d give one of my favorite d20 designers the benefit of the doubt.
Blackdirge, I was wrong to doubt you.
Before I go over the meat of the book, let’s have a quick overview. The PDF is nine pages long, including a cover, credits page, and the OGL. Despite the product’s brevity, there are bookmarks to the various sections, which I consider to be a nice touch. The cover is the only full-color artwork in the book, showcasing one of the few interior pieces which are black and white.
As with others in the line, the book (in a manner I found to be both amusing and insightful) lists the weapon this product is about at the beginning of the text. Following this, the author talks about the weapon from a historical perspective, his design notes on making the PrC, and a brief class overview. While brief (only a little more than a page altogether), I was surprised to find just how much I enjoyed reading these opening sections. The writing here is nicely conversational, and presents some interesting insight and commentary regarding how the weapon was used and perceived in its day, as well as the process for how the class abilities were developed.
The prestige class itself is fairly short, as all prestige classes in this series are five levels in length. A few of the class abilities are used with an ally, making this something of a team-based PrC, though there are still offensive powers to deal greater damage. Interestingly, there’s also a power based around withdrawal, a combat option I’d almost forgotten about in the d20 system. A bonus we get is that there are also two new weapons here, though both are variants on the glaive – the naginata is more likely to score a critical, but deals less damage when it does so, whereas the guan dao does more damage than its sister weapons, and gives a bonus to disarm attempts, but is an exotic weapon.
The book closes out with an example NPC with levels in this class. Not just a set of stats, this character is presented with a backstory as well as tactics in combat. Interesting to note is that one of the class powers is in regards to the space a character occupies, and since the NPC is Large-size, it’s informative that the class power in his write-up accommodates this.
Overall, I found myself quite enamored of what’s presented here. The background flavor for the weapon and the design notes were more interesting than I would have thought, the class offered interesting and attractive abilities, and there are two new weapons for characters to use. Even if you don’t think this sort of book is your cup of tea, I bet you’ll find something here that you’ll enjoy.