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Shards of the Heart (PFRPG) $14.50
Publisher: Tabletop Adventures, LLC
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/09/2011 04:25:54
This pdf is 93 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page art credits, leaving a whopping 88 pages of content, so let's check out Tabletop Adventures first offering for PFRPG, Shards of the Heart.

The pdf begins with an introduction of what to expect from this product - namely, help for the beleaguered DM should he wish to introduce an element of romance to the game. Instead of providing shoehorning rules that reduce romance to a series of die-throws, we are thankfully introduced to what makes romance possible in the context of the game - characters. Plenty of them. And the emphasis lies on "characters" - the individuals presented feel different from each other and come with sample quotes, extensive flavor-text descriptions to read aloud as well as background stories, advice on how to run them etc. Surprisingly, we don't get a bland array of high-Cha characters, but a neat variety of people, who, in spite of e.g. a low-to-average Cha-score, might have something interesting about them that makes them valid targets for flirtatious or serious advances.

Both female and male characters are covered in quite some depth, though perhaps not in the depth I'd have liked, but let me elaborate: While the range of interest is from long-term commitment to a short fling and past traumas are addressed, the latter only amount to "once burned, twice shy". While this may reflect a common experience, I would have loved for some more traumatic/tragic background-stories. Also, there's unfortunately a distinct lack of some styles of relationship offered by these NPCs: There are 3 entries that fall out of the roster, one being a stallion that takes a liking to one of the PC's horses (great idea!), one a were-tiger and the final one is a character featured in the 14-page short story "The Wolf of the Woods".
The story, as it takes up about one fifth of the space, should be commented on - essentially, it is the romance of a party's elven maid and a wolf who turns into a man on full moons, essentially making for an interesting take on the jinxed-lover trope. While this romantic set-up per se is interesting, the story is unfortunately not. The necromancer that is the villain of the story seems to have made a strange choice of minion with the involuntarily human-made wolf and quite frankly, I don't see how he could have let his treasured minion (if we accept that he wouldn't take an undead minion) escape. The romance between the elf and the wolf does not have much room to develop and e.g. the party's mage (who is pivotal in the conclusion of the story) almost escaped my attentions until the end. The fact that the elven maid lies with the wolf (though nothing explicit is stated) even when he is in wolf form might creep out some people, but although I admit it does not float my boat, I applaud the fact that it's a non-standard romance.

Most characters come with more than one set of stats and, where applicable, they contain animal companions etc. The classes used range from NPC-classes to base-classes, but expect nothing out of the ordinary.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on the overall, but the fact that several different authors contributed to the pdf shows, as some entries are a bit bumpier reads than others and there are some glitches, including CRs that are off (like in aforementioned wolf's CR - a 6HD wolf with Str 25 and CR 1?). Layout is clear and printer-friendly b/w and the pdf is extensively bookmarked. The b/w-character portrays are mostly ok, with some nice ones sprinkled in between, all other artwork is stock. It should be noted that most entries also include a poem or similar quote from real-world literature, which I do consider nice.

I really love the concept of this pdf. Romantic interests are underrepresented in roleplaying games and having a compilation ready is actually very helpful and most PCs will find a fit within these pages. Or will they? I already mentioned the shorts story (which amounts to a waste of space for me), but the real bummer for me was that most relationships are simply vanilla. While some of the men (and women) are only out for a fling, there is no NPC that could be considered kinky in any way - neither dominance, nor some other non-standardized concepts of love (like a couple looking for another person for a love-triangle) are covered. While I accept the lack of explicit material due to the PFRPG license, this pdf had the chance of addressing such topics in a mature manner, which judging by the quality of the individual write-ups, would have been possible for the authors. Furthermore, there is a more significant drawback in this file: Only the "sexy" races are covered.

That's right. No halflings, gnomes, dwarves or half-orcs herein. It seems like they simply don't qualify for romance. The same goes for sorcerors and paladins. While there is one multi-class sorceror herein, she fits more the druid-type. Paladins are completely absent from the files, as are any good characters who are torn between love and celibacy. There also are no evil love interests - which is a pity, as it would make for great redemption/temptation plots and furthers the stereotype of evil characters being there to be killed off instead of trying to redeem them.

Essentially, that leaves "safe" romances offered by the characters in this pdf - while the NPCs do have their own agendas, the lack of moral dilemmas serves detrimental to the overall appeal of the book or at least it did so for me. The fact that only the "sexy" races elf, human and half-elf are covered with aforementioned 3 exceptions feels weird and unjust for me, especially due to the fact that writing a romance for a halfling/dwarf etc. would have provided for a challenge - after all, they are not as dreamy as elves. The lack of evil romances further underlines this playing-it-safe-approach and further limited the appeal of the book, at least for me.

Finally, there's the issue of the price. While the amount of content presented is fine for the price, I expect to see more (or higher quality) original art for the price, especially when the topic of love is concerned, good portrays to show off to your players go a long way to endear a character and not all of the artworks qualify as such. If the pdf was cheaper, I would have gladly given this book a higher rating, but the problems doe add up - seeing that for only 5 bucks more, we can get a wholly professional 290+ pages campaign setting, the pricing seems to be a bit off. While I did get this pdf for free, I have to take into account that you will have to pay the full price for this. Add to this the amount of squandered potential with regards to races, alignments and stories and I'm hard-pressed to think about my rating. I do love the basic premise of the book and I enjoyed the presentation of the NPCs, the way in which their advances are written etc. With regards to these aspects, the pdf is top-notch. However, as you can glean from my observations, I also have a multitude of gripes with this pdf. I was thinking long and hard about my final verdict and will settle for two - if you're looking for a pdf containing romances for the elf/half-elf/human races, you might come to enjoy this pdf and even consider it a 3.5 stars-file, even at this price point. If, however, you look for the other races, more non-standard flings/romances, evil love interests, moral dilemmas etc., this pdf will disappoint you as it did me and is not for you. My final verdict will be somewhere between aforementioned audience's usability and my own dissatisfaction with the pdf, scoring a final rating of 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2. Please take note that if you look for e.g. a collection of none-too-complex statblocks or rather regular romances, this book still is worth a closer scrutiny.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
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Shards of the Heart (PFRPG)
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