Publisher Info

Trailblazer $7.95 $4.95
Average Rating:4.4 / 5
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Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Trent L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/16/2012 15:03:26

This is an excellent product. As I have seen commented in other reviews, the Spine (Chapter 1) alone is worth the price of the PDF. The notes, rules, and ideas the authors present for altering monsters will be useful for any DM. Lots of good things for DMs that work up homebrew material. I was tinkering around with other classes and prestige classes the first night I read the book. My players appreciate how similar the Trailblazer classes are to the 3.5 ones they already know.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Peter C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/07/2011 17:34:34

Trailblazer has completely renewed my interest in 3.5!

Reading through it, I keep nodding to myself and saying "yes, of course!" It is a really thoughtful analysis and redesign of the SRD ruleset. Every time I peruse it I start thinking of cool campaigns to run, and the fun I used to have with 3.5.

Great work!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Michael D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/24/2010 12:18:25

When D&D 3E came out, every group playing it quickly accumulated numerous house rules. A few of those were eliminated or replaced by the (necessary or not) 3.5 revision. And the circle began anew.

After third edition was replaced by its makers, in their infinite wisdom, further progress went in many directions. The current favorite seems to be Pathfinder, which (to me) is more a house-ruled version of 3.5, with more expansions than fixes, albeit heavily playtested. It still doesn't fix a lot of the problematic points, and at some levels it actually made 'em worse (even more home-brewed magic items, archers as immobile as fighters, to pay for their new-found efficiency.) Then there's Fantasy Craft, which basically remodels the whole system. While being rather scrumptious, it's not really a drop-in replacement for existing 3E products, and requires heavy investment from both players and the DM.

Trailblazer takes a rather surgical approach compared to those other offerings. And as any good surgery, it starts with a good deal of diagnosis, dissecting the existing mechanics and analyzing the delicate "game balance". Class features and challenge ratings are broken down into mathematical variables and compared to each other. It's not a hugely complicated affair that could only be solved by supercomputers crunching along for eons, but it's a lot more than I've seen from other authors and publishers.

Based on this "spine" of the system, as the authors call it, we get some precision rule replacement. There's no huge remodeling, so almost any rule can be integrated into your preferred 3E variant without many problems. They're not trying for a different experience, they're not trying to completely change the fundamentals of the existing design. What we get is some fixes for the usual suspects: Fighters being bored, mid- to high-level rogues being ineffective, casters who would like to multi-class but don't want to fall behind too much, dependence on the "big six" magic items, overshadowing more interesting ones and the 15 minute work-day, my personal least favored aspect of the game since it came in a small white box.

Coming back to the medical analogy: In a typical House M.D. episode you get at least two dangerously wrong diagnoses, before the right cure is found. Trailblazer comes pretty close to being that for 3E…

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Klaude T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/15/2010 07:14:24

A strong deconstruction of 3e followed by a helpful reconstruction into class, skill, feat, magic, and combat mechanics rewrites. Very impressive, and well written throughout.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Henry G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/30/2009 05:54:44

To keep it short and sweet.
You like the CRUCH? this is the book for you, just must have.

Little more in deepth.
I am not a crunch person I have always been a bit more of a fluff person from the time I picked up my first 40k book, always loved those short stories which always seemed much better than any novel they attempted thats another story.

Dispite this book being very crunchy it is very well layed out.
For the visal person in everyone they have four key icons, some gears for system, scales for balance, hourglass for time and beer mug for fun.
This is very helpful.
These days I don't have the time I want on my hands and even if I do I end up wasting it.
They know that some of there stuff is not things that people want to read, some people don't want to read break down of stats or bs like that it's just bs to them.
Helps alot navigating through the book.

Action points, someone said they were not the magic fix that they make them out to be.
Well there was one thing there action points didn't live up to for me they were too crunchy not at all fluffy.
They say the average adventure goes through X encounters to for each level ect.
See for me I use action points and they should be used to avoid the 'Wiff factor'.
Why is Inigo Montoya going to kill the count?
Because he saved up all of his action points for this encounter?
No, there should be action points given because someone adds action or drama to the scene.
A personal gripe.

Elite and solo monsters!
Not just for fourth ed!
One thing that disappoints me about some people is when they see an idea and they berate it because of where it comes from.
Be this 4th players on older games or older gamers on 4th.
The Solo and Elite monsters really give them an edge against the PCs.

Ussally a monster on equal CR to the PCs is screwed if encountered alone give this it can make them a real challange.
If thats not enough to be worth checking out I don't know what is.

Really helps fix problems that need fixing.
If you intend to play D20, pick this up the price is right!
Do it you know you want to...

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Mark A. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/11/2009 19:28:32

Absolutely outstanding! For any 3E D&D DM who likes to "tinker" with the rules, this book is a must. For any 3E DM who has wanted to "fix' the balance and playability problems with 3E, this book is a must. This book has an unparalleled analysis of the 3rd edition system with an intensely indepth breakdown of the systems math. Apply it to D&D 3E, or even use it with your Pathfinder game. If you play or DM 3E, you can't live without this book.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by David H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/04/2009 21:56:31

Remember how you felt when you first opened D&D? How every page was filled with wonder, surprise, and ever-increasing coolness? Get ready to feel that all over again.

Trailblazer, as the previous reviewers note, is a toolkit product for 3.5 SRD gaming. It introduces, and repeats, various options, ideas, and class rewrites. It provides genuine analysis and insight into both the system as it was originally written and the goals of the changes presented. This information makes is fairly simple for the reader to decide if, how, and why they disagree with what's printed; or it makes it simple to understand what a phenomenal job the authors did and why you have that growing excitement in your gut, driving you to get your group together and run something right now.

Analysis, in useful depth, of the weaknesses of the system and how they have reinforced or replaced them.
Class rebalance, bringing the martial classes closer to the primary casters, and pulling the casters to a more consistent level.
Simpler to-run feats and abilities.
Bards that don't suck. Fighters with interesting abilities at every level. Monks that can actually replace Rogues in the party. Monks and Rogues that can fight. Paladins and Rangers with very real and useful spell casting.
Base classes that make Prestige Classes truly optional.
Greater utility with feats. Many marginal feats got improved, and many others got broadened to simplify play.
Dozens of options for greater fun, faster play, better balance, all of it optional.
Just about every change or modification has some explanation attached, letting you know what happens, why it is different, and letting you make an informed decision about whether to use it, lose it, or modify it.
Restatement and certification of DM authority. Trailblazer wants the DM to be master of the rules, not be mastered by the rules, and says so on page one. Everything it brings is optional, and only the DM has the final say.
The level of love the authors obviously have for the system shines through. It's like they got their beloved fat kid to get off the couch and exercise himself to great fitness. Lots of work, lots of attention, and they had to change some fundamental stuff, but the end result was both healthier and much more appealing.

There are a number of misleading statements throughout, not to mention the inevitable typos (fewer with each correction). The "big six" analysis can easily mislead you into thinking that you can use Trailblazer to run a no-magic campaign: this is incorrect. Trailblazer needs magic, just as much as the original rules did. It's built into the assumptions that make up the "spine" of the system.

Most of the rules, ideas and options can be found in other sources. In some respects, much of this is a collection of the best parts of other d20 systems. And you can find these others in the OGL if you want to look up the originals.
I call this one neutral due to the convenience of a) having it all in one place, and b) integrated together for consistency.

Is this worth $5 US? Absolutely.
Even if you decide that it's not your cup of tea, and you are devoutly not a math person, simply reading the analysis of the system is insightful and can't help but make you more comfortable using the system, and will probably improve your gaming.
If you are a math person, at least as far as RPGs, then you'll get even more value out of it, seeing how things line up, compare, and work over the entire 20 level progression.
Even if, like myself, you gave up on 3.x long ago, it can be insightful how the authors went about analyzing the system, identifying problems, and solving those problems. It might even inspire you to come back for another go at the system.

Trailblazer is one of those products I wish had come out 10 years ago, or even better never been necessary. But now that it's here, I'm glad for it.
It has gotten me to gear up for a Trailblazer campaign. I haven't run a 3.x game in the last 5 years because of my issues with the system, and the last time I (reluctantly) played in one campaign was almost 4 years ago. And here I am working on getting one going.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/25/2009 12:23:40

At the end of the movie Eight Mile, the rapper Rabbit (played by Eminem) is on his last verse and really needs to bring it to win the rap competition. Instead of beginning by spouting off hatred against his opponent, he lambastes everything wrong with him. This is an good example of something I have said for a long time, you have to know all of your weaknesses before you can improve yourself. Bad Axe Games certainly realizes that 3.5 (and Pathfinder 3.75) has a significant amount of lingering problems and attempts to correct the system they love in their new supplement Trailblazer. However, I can’t but read the book and think that a lot of their ideas was done far simpler in the recently released Pathfinder ruleset, though, there is enough here to justify Trailblazer as a good addon if you are using Pathfinder, but it certainly is no trailblazer of innovativeness, and, in many cases, breaks the game where it tries to help.

Trailblazer begins by introducing the reader to its use for action points which does similar things as in previous supplements. As a veteran of action points, it is not the cure all that they claim it to be and, though it gives pcs a slight boost, is often far too random to fix things like save or die spells. It also introduces new character creation ideas, including a set array of statistics and a one pool of magic. Taking away a player’s option of designing their character and asking DMs to explain how divine magic and arcane magic now use the same magical source from a person is not a good start.

Trailblazer then goes into its major rule changes, which are preceded by pages of statistics and data tables. If you are a “I don’t need to know what is behind the screen” kind of D&D player, the math in this book will utterly bore you and feel needlessly written. In the beginning of the book, the author does a great job of laying down what the problems is and why, it seems cumbersome to go further than that. It is like a coach winning a football game and then going over to the opposing coach with notepads, charts and videotapes of how the winning coach broke down the loser’s team.

The class changes are retreads of various class options that have appeared over time and done much better. Monte Cook’s Might books provide much clearer bard and spellcaster options and the fighter options, though stronger, have been done better with feats. The skill section feels completely lifted from the Pathfinder ruleset, excluding the use of critical failures and critical successes on skill checks. Of course, this introduces some serious balance issues, but, like most of the things the book introduces that either messes up the balance or lengthens the game play, there are no neat data or statistical proof tables on it.

Trailblazer proceeds like a bizzaro PHB, going through the sections, from feats to equipment to combat and so on by using borrowed mechanics and rules from pathfinder, 4th edition, unearthed arcana and other sources.

For the Player
The best part of the book is the little nugget it introduces called combat reactions, which limit every player to one roll per turn but allows them to have a combat reaction when they hit certain base attack thresholds.

For the Dungeon Master
The lumped treasure chart is very useful and a far easier way of distributing treasure.

The Iron Word
There are a few new ideas in the book, and the majority of it feels like a person who read the Pathfinder Alpha Corebook and 4th edition two years ago and thought that he could have done a better job, and then ended up just combining supplements he found in the PDF world with his knowledge of statistics and excel. It is a Frankenstein concoction of the sequel 3.5 systems blended with a bunch of numbers and none of the sense that goes into a game system. Trailblazer has some good ideas, but the 3.5 world can do without arrows that invisibly go through your teammates, prayers and book magic all rolled into one and convoluted dying rules.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Jose L. F. C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/23/2009 15:30:00

While it suffers more influence from D&D 4E than I would have liked... it is an excellent product, with some outstanding ideas and rules revision (action points use, combat reactions, attack exploits etc.). It is impossible to read it and not finding something of your linking. If you still play D&D 3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder or another fantasy d20 game… grab this product! The price is more than perfect.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Chris E. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/20/2009 19:37:27

Trailblazer aims to bring well thought out solutions to common game play problems for 3e games. It starts out by presenting the problems and a summary of what will be done. It presents a mathematical analysis of the game before presenting changes and then shows how things balance out after their changes.

The presentation is wonderful. The authors present insightful comments in context with rule changes to explain why certain changes were made.

I particularly like the attention to the classes. Each of the base classes in 3e have been reworked to fix commonly cited problems. Overall, I think the changes are progressive, yet steeped in tradition enough to not be radical.

Subtle changes to combat including combat manuevers similar to the ones presented in Pathfinder, action points similar to those presented in Unearthed Arcana, and cleaning up rules that often were speed bumps in actual play should be welcome to most, I would think.

Other notable changes are streamlining of adjudication of vision, skill consolidation, and much more.

Not to be forgotten are guidelines to help the GM in preparation for a session including static XP calculation for monsters, encounter budgeting, and an analysis of the Big Six Magic Items.

The rules are presented as a cohesive whole, yet they are modular enough much like Unearthed Arcana, to be cherry-picked and used as desired. I highly recommend this product as it is insightful. I wish this kind of analysis and options came in guides for game masters.

Overall, this product is well worth the price paid.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Mark L. C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/20/2009 11:22:14

Buy this product. It takes material from various OGL sources and combines it with new stuff. The result is a truly modular d20 System product that addresses specific problems with data-driven, sensible solutions. Here are some highlights just from the introduction:

  1. A thorough mathematical analysis of the d20 System which forms the basis of the proposed changes found in Trailblazer.

  2. A relatively simple system for determining the CRs of customized monsters.

  3. The 10-minute rest period, which handily does away with the dreaded "10 Minute Adventuring Day" that so many folks complain about.

  4. A simple fix to help speed up the resolution of iterative attacks.

Other chapters deal with Action Points, character creation and character races, a wide-ranging revision of character classes, fixes to spellcasting especially useful for multiclassed casters, a streamlined skill list, modified feats, equipment options, and more.

If you're interested in a more in-depth review, I've gone over the Introduction, Chapter 1, and almost all of Chapter 2 at these links:



Of course, this product isn't perfect. It certainly isn't going to compete on the art front, but Trailblazer isn't about pretty pictures. There are also typos here and there, at least two of them somewhat humorous. These deficiencies might keep Trailblazer from receiving a perfect rating, but they're certainly no reason to avoid this PDF.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Joel A. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/19/2009 23:32:41

Trailblazer: New Horizons in 3.5 Roleplaying, is a self-styled “system optimizer” for the 3.x system previously used by the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. Authors Benjamin “Wulf Ratbane” Durbin and Chris “Glassjaw” Neveu dove deep into the System Requirements Document (SRD), analyzed its most common (and not so common) complaints from gamers, and generated what may be one of the best version of the 3.x system outside Wizards of the Coast (WotC), Malhavoc Press, and Paizo Publishing.

At first glance, Trailblazer (TB) seems similar to WotC’s Unearthed Arcana (now out of print) rules supplement, offering new classes, feats, and alternative systems. And it can work that way: TB is very modular, and GMs can pick and chose which features to include in their campaigns. However, TB can also replace much of the 3.x system in a similar manner to Malhavoc’s Arcana Unearthed/Arcana Evolved. That’s because the authors take pains to explain how the various sub-systems: the class balances, feats, spells, encounter generation, etc., are balanced against each other. Even D&D Third Edition author Monte Cook never gave this much detail in his books of Experimental Might.

Okay, ‘nuff intro. Here what’s in Trailblazer:

Introduction covers the authors’ goals and philosophies, the issues gamers have had with the 3.x system over the years, and how TB deals with them.

Next is The Spine. In brief, it is a statistical analysis of the “behind the scenes” math that makes up the 3.x system. These five pages break down monsters’ most important stats, character stats, the interaction of their attacks, defenses, saves, and magic items, and how they affect – and not affect -- each other. Math geeks will have a field day.

Emerging from the Spine’s data is the section on Class Rebalancing. Yes, Auntie Em, fighters are the worse class to play in the long run, and here’s the math to prove it. Same with rogues. Thus, both get the most radical changes several sections later under Character Classes: fighters get Expert Weapon Proficiency, which allows them to optimize their weapons by increasing damage (up to 3d8), allow said weapon to be thrown; or give reach to a two-handed weapon. You want that to duplicate that dagger-throwing hero from fiction who kills with a toss of her blades? Now you can.

And rogues? Fighter BAB under certain circumstances (called combat tactics) and sneak attack that’s effective against pretty much anything. Rogue players will now focus on getting that flanking attack instead of worrying if the creature’s immune to its best ability.

Other class changes include increased hit dice for sorcerers, wizards, and rogues; more spells for the bard (8th level!); barbarian’s greater DR; an easier method to turning undead for clerics; giving control of both the druid and ranger’s animal companions to the DM; a less mix/maxing Wild Shape ability; replacing the paladin’s spell list and getting rid of that mount; and a “temporary” familiar for the sorcerer and wizard. (Order of the Stick fans will be in stitches.)

An all-new Rest Mechanic basically changes the familiar “rest for eight hours” to recharge the party’s abilities to ten minutes. Yes, you read that right. Ten minutes. GM’s don’t worry: rules are provided to deal with those pain-in-the arse “scry, teleport, and surprise attack” spell tactics with this new mechanism.

Iterative Attacks replaces the cumbersome 0/-5/-10/-15 with a simpler system which, at the same time, mathematically does more damage to the target.

Action Points (AP) form the core to Trailblazer system, and the authors go into some depth discussing how they deal with many of 3.x’s troublesome issues (e.g. Save or Die spells, class balance, etc.) In brief, player characters get a certain number of APs per level which, when expended, allow them add to their attacks; reroll a failed d20 roll; or stabilize a dying PC. “Exploding dice” and AP “enhancements” are also covered in this section.

I heart playing spellcasters, and Trailblazer’s two Spellcasting pages are, by far, my favorite section. It resolves that annoying issue of nerfed spellcasters when they multiclass.

So how does it work? Every class has what is called the “Base Magic Bonus” (BMB), which varies depending on said class The BMB is used to determine the PC’s caster level, spell slots per day, and readied spells per day, all on one chart. Thus, to determine a multi-classed PC’s caster level, simply add up his BMB and look at the chart. A multi-classed cleric 4/wizard 4, for example, would have a BMB of 8: her Cure Moderate Wounds add +8 (not +4) to its effects and her fireballs inflict 8d6 of damage, not 4d6 as per under the 3.x system. Before powergamers start clamoring for this chart, note that she can only prepare and cast a total of four 0-level spells; four 1st-level spells; three 2nd-level spells; and two 3rd level spells (not including extra spells from high ability scores). This is significantly less than under the 3.x system, where a 4th level cleric has five 0-spells alone. The BMB also provide other limits.

Combat is expanded with the inclusion of Combat Reactions (CR). These are modifiers all PCs can use in combat even when it’s not their turn. They can, using CRs, aid other PCs in their attack (+2 to attack), defend them (+2 to AC), and even reduce damage via DR. Combat Exploits offer more attack options if the PC is willing to take penalty.

Complex and game-slowing maneuvers like bull rush, sunder, and – our favorite – grapple, are simplified using Combat Maneuver Bonus (CMB) and Combat Maneuver AC (CMAC). These work like regular attacks with a successful roll forcing the condition on the victim…er…target.

Other system changes in Trailblazer include simplified Skills (hello Perception, goodbye Concentration); Feats (specific weapons requirements are now replaced by type); Magic (Polymorph!); and the Encounter Budget system. The latter replaces 3.x’s CR/EL with a simple, yet elegant system of assigning XPs to each monster’s CR. The GM calculates the amount of total XP necessary to challenge the PCs (the encounter budget), then selects the monsters until that budget is filled.

In my opinion…. My review does not do justice to this product. From a metamagic system that doesn’t need to be readied to a creature template that will make sure the Big Bad encounter will be memorable even for min-maxers/powergamers, Trailblazer is chock full of new ideas, options, and systems on every page. And while I don’t agree with all of them (e.g., trapfinding for monks?), you can see how they make sense. Trailblazer has made me reexamine the viability of my 3.x Corebooks; I am now contemplating using them with TB instead of my shiny new Pathfinder RPG Corebook.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/19/2009 22:08:53

The idea of a sourcebooks taking a “toolkit” approach in Third Edition is one that’s been around pretty much since 3E was released. The idea is simple: that the sourcebook has modular components so that you can use the ones you want in your game and leave the ones you don’t. Okay, I can dig that. But the thing is, calling that a “toolkit” doesn’t really work for me. You don’t just pick up a tool and throw it at something in hopes that adding it to the mix will somehow make it better – tools are used so that you can twist, tweak, or tune-up an existing aspect of something so that it works as well, or even better, than it used to, and that’s not what these modular sourcebooks do.

Enter Trailblazer, from Bad Axe Games. It just might be the first true toolkit sourcebook for 3.5.

The book is clearly different from other sourcebooks right from the get-go. Trailblazer critiques 3.5 with all the blunt honesty of an auto mechanic, noting that while it’s good it still has a number of problems (e.g. the 10-minute adventuring day, how clerics and druids are uber-classes, or how multiclass spellcasters suck, to name a few). After that, it then begins to dissect and examine the system with the skill of a surgeon, not only making simple and intuitive changes, but often taking time to discuss why these changes should be made, and how they help your game. In fact, this attitude of constantly letting the reader peak “behind the curtain” was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book; I really wish they’d done it more often, as I found it fascinating to read about why something did or didn’t work to make my game better.

Roughly paralleling the layout of the Player’s Handbook in how its chapters are organized, Trailblazer walks us step-by-step through major problems with the game, and what it does about them. Is combat bogged down by characters making iterative attacks that rarely hit? How about tip-toeing around attacks of opportunity? There’s a fix for those. Is it a pain to try and add class features to a monster? Or is balancing your encounters for your party a headache? There’s a fix for those. Do turn undead and grapple drive you crazy with their weird sub-systems? There’s a fix for those. These are just a few of the high points that the book hits. Moreover, this wouldn’t be a toolkit if most of these options weren’t modular, though some can’t help but interlock (action points, for example, tie into a few other fixes).

Now, to be entirely fair, some of the good ideas that Trailblazer introduces did originate elsewhere, at least in some form. The consolidated skills list, for example, will look familiar to any fans of Pathfinder, while the idea for characters having a Base Magic Bonus is derived from Unearthed Arcana. That said, these are not simple cut-and-paste jobs, as Trailblazer puts its own spin on the rules and ideas it imports. To use the previous examples, all classes also now gain more skill points per level, and characters using the Base Magic Bonus also now have a unified spell progression chart, with multiclassing adding to what spells you can draw upon (though there are other limits).

From a technical standpoint, Trailblazer as a PDF also hits a number of high marks. It’s fully bookmarked, and while it doesn’t have a printer-friendly version, that’s really not a big deal here. Interior art is fairly sparse, and always black and white. That said, the font on the text was a tad small; while it never truly shrunk into the “hurts my eyes” category, it was a bit on the tiny side. Keep your reading glasses handy here.

It’s a bit frustrating to say, but this review really only scratches the surface of not only what’s presented here, but how it’s showcased. Reading this book taught me things I didn’t know about the game system I’ve been playing for almost ten years now, and walked me through the upgrades it offered, rather than just showcasing them with no rationale for why they were better. Trailblazer offers you tools, rather than just a plateful of new crunch, to improve your game the way you want, rather than how some designer thinks you should.

After all, which would you rather do: follow someone else’s path, or blaze your own trail?

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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