Imagine two rambunctious bulls spearherding towards each other on a narrow road. Eventually they crash into one another with one prevailing and the other barely hanging on. Now take that same scene and add a half dozen more bulls and that same narrow road and you have Test of Skills: An OGL Adventure Sourcebook Fantasy Role-Playing Games Set in Silurian Heights.
If you think the title is long, it’s a foreshadowing of the multiple directions the book takes. Much to the credit of the writers and editors, the multiple directions, though a distraction that prevents the book from achieving its full potential, contains enough strong content to give a Dungeon Master a lot of material.
Test of Skill starts off with a lengthy introduction that becomes an ominous sign that the books purpose is a bit cluttered. It morphed into several different projects during its creation and the end result of that was mixed with some home campaign stuff. It seems the initial project began as a series of encounters and mini adventures. And then the home campaign world was added. That last ingredient, the home campaign material, proves to be the mangled bull as little of it feels original or necessary to the book. Generic names and lands would have made the book easier to integrate into a campaign. The first chapter feels like good material that could be plopped into any campaign world if not for the home world impressions.
That said, the writing seems to work around these stumps in the road to present really polished encounters and scenarios that focus on skill oriented tasks, one of the major strengths of the 3.5 world. Out of the four chapters, the encounter section is the best, showing the innovative ideas about skill usage that seemed to be the initial direction of the book. The next chapter provides brief writeups of towns and cities that can be used in a pinch as well. Finally, the scenario section blends encounters together, attempting to tell a story. These two are well written, but appear to be clumsily thrown together in places.
These 4 chapter takes the reader to page 73 of the book. The remainder the 130 pages are Appendixes that feel like unfleshed out ideas. All of them are good, but would have shined better if given more attention. Some really stand out, particularly the nonplayer characters log, which feel original, and the Weather chart. Monsters is just several templates and all of the feats feel as if they have been done before in other sources.
For the Player:
The Defects section is a nice add on to beg your DM to use. The defects are really given a lot of attention, unlike other places have seen the idea. Each one exchanges the negative for an additional feat.
For the DM:
The Encounters are the freshest part of the book. Though many contain combat (along with my favorite statblocks of what is going on) the majority of each encounter involves the PCs using their skills to solve a problem. Though the book says these challenges are between levels 3 to 5, a crafty DM can easily scale them.
The Iron Word
Test of Skills is missing one key ingredient- a definitive direction. The best part of the book is the Skill Encounters. Sometimes it feels like the writer wants it to be center focus and other time the writer tries to make us care about Silurian Heights. If the home campaign stuff would have been deleted or diverted to another book, this would be much stronger material.
[3 of 5 Stars!]