Riastradh is a product in Highmoon Media?s Bardic Lore series. Each PDF takes a different idea from Celtic mythology and applies it to D&D. The rules are presented with just enough history, plus a glazing of flavor text, to make them interesting and put them in context.
The thing I?ve enjoyed most about the Bardic Lore books is their ability to showcase the influence of the myths of the ancient Celts on D&D. Before reading Riastradh, I had no idea what the ?warp spasm? was, or how it related to the idea of a barbarian?s rage. It seems that the concept of the berserking warrior was not limited to the Norse, and the Celtic version was even more fanciful and chaotic than one might expect.
During a warp spasm, the recipient becomes a living embodiment of rage. His skeleton twists and inverts beneath his skin, his hair stands on end and drips with blood, and his organs protrude from his body. While in this state, the warrior mows through enemies with a mindless, ruthless efficiency. At its heart, its very similar to barbarian rage, but the description (taken directly from actual Celtic mythology) makes it seem like something more alien and terrifying than the charging Viking.
The game ability described in this book is not the barbarian's rage class ability, but it is statistically very similar. The warp spasm gives its recipient bigger bonuses, and it lasts longer, but it comes at the price of temporary Con damage. There are two ways to access the spasm: a character either has to be a member of the warped one race (a human with the blood of the riastradh), or somehow gain access to the Warp Legacy feats. The two methods are presented side by side, with advice for using one or both, depending on your campaign.
I prefer the feat option, honestly, as it seems like it would be easier to retroactively add to an existing campaign. Also, since race must obviously be selected at character creation, players must set out to learn the Warp Spasm from the beginning, rather than developing that direction over the course of several adventures. Fortunately, the Warped Ones aren?t really a brand new race so much as slightly altered humans, so either option would probably work with minimal tweaking.
The book?s mechanics, while sound, border on overpowered. I thought the Warped One probably warranted an ECL of at least +1. The race itself isn?t that powerful (though it has unbalanced ability scores), but the free access to the Warp Spasm once per day pushes it over the top. Likewise, the Warp Spasm feats seem a bit powerful compared to other feats and similar class abilities.
The main balancing factor of the Warp Spasm is temporary Constitution damage that the character suffers once the spasm ends. The book makes a special point in mentioning that this damage can only be partially healed via magic (the rest must be recouped normally). While this goes a long way toward balancing the spasm?s potent combat enhancement, I?m not sure if it goes far enough. The Warp Spasm lasts far longer than most D&D combats, and the bonuses it grants are hefty. Due to the Con damage, I think that most players would save their Warp Spasm for pivotal combats, after which the penalties of fatigue and diminished hit points won?t matter. A clever DM can (and should) work around this, but it doesn?t change the fact that the Warp Spasm is obviously better than most other feats.
While I?m a bit wary of the new rules in Riastradh, I wouldn?t call them broken. Part of the challenge is that, according to the mythology that inspired the ability, the Warp Spasm was an incredibly potent gift granted only to the greatest heroes. That?s a difficult thing to emulate while still maintaining a measure of game balance, so I have to cut the author some slack.<br><br>
<b>LIKED</b>: Bardic Lore: Riastradh is a well-written book that takes an idea from Celtic myth and fits it neatly into D&D. The ideas in this book, and the way they are presented, are downright inspiring. With a bit of rules tweaking, the Warp Spasm will definitely find its way into my D&D campaign.
I honestly had no idea that such a bizarre and fantastic ability was part of a real world culture. This book gives no less than three methods to insert the Warp Spasm into a D&D game, plus advice and supplementary rules. Everything is clear and professional, with a lot of flavor and rules crammed into ten pages.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: It?s not likely that I would use the Warp Spasm as written in my home D&D campaign. The idea is neat, but the feat seems a bit powerful for my tastes. Perhaps if it had a more meaningful tradeoff or, at least, one that couldn?t be so easily circumvented, I wouldn?t be quite so wary. It?s not unbalanced enough to be called broken, so I can?t deduct major points. Without some long term playtesting, I?ll chalk my objections up to personal opinions and call the ability slightly overpowered.
There were a few mentions of concepts called Enech and Gessa, which are detailed in another Bardic Lore product. I found the references to rules detailed in another book a little annoying, but this is a minor point of contention since these rules aren't in any way essential to Riastradh.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Very Good<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>
[4 of 5 Stars!]