Bardic Lore: Riastradh is a new sourcebook from Highmoon Media Products, released as part of their Bardic Lore line of products. The zipped file is just under 1.5 megabytes in size, containing two PDF files. The first is the actual product, weighing in at almost the exact same size as the zipped file. The second is a small (64 kb) PDF file detailing a St. Patrick?s Day contest that has, as of March 25, 2006, ended.
The main file is ten pages long, including a single page that is both the cover and an in-character except, and a single page for the credits and OGL, leaving a solid eight pages of game text. The product has no table of contents, but does have full bookmarks. Company images, colored tables, and the bit of cover art notwithstanding, the product only has two pieces of black-and-white interior artwork. As such, having no printer-friendly version isn?t that great a loss.
The product opens with an in-character accounting of seeing someone entering a ?riastradh,? or ?warp spasm.? Drawn from Irish folklore, this is a state that characters can undergo that warps their body into that of a huge beast, so that they can tear through their enemies. The exact flavor text is left intentionally ambiguous, so that players may specify exactly what their character?s riastradh looks like.
The book presents two ways that characters can undergo a riastradh. The first is that they are members of the new race presented in the book: the warped ones. Warped ones are essentially humans who are born for greatness. They?re born to humans, and there?s no way to identify them until they first enter a warp spasm. As to why they?re born that way?only the gods can say. The warped one race presented here is laid out in full PHB style, and has distinctive and separate racial traits from humans. Their major ability is to enter a warp spasm, which is mechanically similar to, but still different from, a barbarian?s rage. The other way a character can make use of a riastradh is to take the Warp Legacy feat. This feat, which means you?re descended from a warped one, lets you use a lesser version of their warp spasm power.
The book then spends a few pages defining a riastradh in more detail, including the effects of entering one, the exact consequences of the size change involved, and ending a warp spasm.
The Warped One Paragon class is given next. This three-level class is effectively a racial prestige class, that only warped ones, or characters with the Warped Legacy feat can take levels in (though that doesn?t seem to be explicitly stated anywhere, it?s quite obviously the intent). The class is given a PHB-style entry before the exact mechanics and powers are given.
Eleven new feats are given next. All of them are ?[riastradh]? feats, with prerequisites that only a warped one or (in most cases) someone with the Warped Legacy feat can take. All of them either increase the power of your warp spasm, or decrease its drawbacks, or both. One feat is notably epic-level.
A sort section on bardic lore is given, detailing what a bard can find out about the riastradh, and those who use it, at various DCs. The table also works for knowledge checks too, though those have a +5 increase to the DC (as the riastradh is more a subject of lore than study or religion). Finally, a sample NPC warped one is given, in the new NPC style laid out in the DMG II.
Altogether, Bardic Lore: Riastradh is a product that is as versatile as it is interesting. It presents a new mechanic that is innovative but still balanced, along with myriad options for introducing and customizing it in your game. Changing the flavor is easily done, as one needs to just alter a few names and flavor text to use this product in any kind of setting. Any game, be it fantasy or modern, could benefit from having a warp spasm introduced to it.
<b>LIKED</b>: I enjoyed learning about how this was inspired from actual Irish folklore. I also appreciated how there are multiple ways to make a character that can use a warp spasm, as well as great options for customizing a character with that ability.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: The product didn't have a printer-friendly version, but that's a very minor complaint given the size and sparsity of artwork. I would have liked it, however, if the product had told me how to pronounce "riastradh."<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Very Good<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>
[5 of 5 Stars!]