You're gonna love this sourcebook a lot more than me if (a) you love playing half-dragons, or (b) you love kobolds as a race. While the earlier DraconYou're gonna love this sourcebook a lot more than me if (a) you love playing half-dragons, or (b) you love kobolds as a race. While the earlier Draconimicon focused on dragons, this one focused on dragon-y characters.
Half-dragons and the draconic templates get a closer treatment here, with more role playing ideas thrown in. I've always found them to be odd, as it implies that dragons are really kinky and just love to polymorph into fertile members of other races. And given the small number of actual dragons... well, they seem to prefer non-dragon species... Given that there's discussion of dragon-descended communities, I think this is what WotC believes to be mainstream.
But anyway, the other big race is the kobolds. They get a slight improvement to make them for viable for PCs, and their culture and beliefs get fleshed out into something that makes sense. So I think it's kind of a win here, depending on how much you like kobolds.
The last under the races section are the dragonborn and a new spellscale race. This latter race is just horribly unpredictable and flighty. They're sorceror-focused, and to me they feel like wild magic made flesh, all whim and contradictory behaviours. I just couldn't buy how such race could have progressed beyond individuals to a community. While I'm ok with the back story for dragonborn being divinely inspired, I don't see why they decided that spellscales need this "transformation" option as well.
The rest of the sourcebook is as you'd expect. There's lots of spells here, which is cool, and there's a couple of new items, and feats for dragon-y characters. The prestige classes here are pretty lacklustre, with some of them having little to offer to PCs (unless we're talking about short campaigns). An interspersed throughout are simple maps that serve as adventure hooks. Throw in an appendix on the draconic language and another on the draconic pantheon and you round out the sourcebook.
Overall, the utility of this sourcebook depends on what you're looking for. It's a little light on new content, to me. For dragonblooded characters and kobolds, this is it. For actual dragon stuff, stick with Draconimicon....more
Meh. I didn't like any of the three "new" magic systems introduced in this book. I felt they were all implemented poorly and quite superficially - manMeh. I didn't like any of the three "new" magic systems introduced in this book. I felt they were all implemented poorly and quite superficially - many times to the point of being silly. My primary distaste stems from the flavour and style of the mechanics.
Obviously, if you're not bothered by bad fluff and illogical sense, then you'll find something to like here. These three forms of magic are, to me, little more than just grouping existing spells in a different way, and calling them something other than "spell" - which is unfortunate really, because the core idea behind them are actually good.
Each new form of magic gives us a core class, a few prestige classes, some feats, some magic items, a couple of new organisations, and a few monsters. Each section has a different page border so that's a nice touch; it's like three books in one. The artwork on the whole are pretty well done, though I noted quite a few editing errors (lots of stat block errors too).
The pact magic user is the binder, who draws symbols on a surface to summon entities that exist beyond reality known as vestiges - daily. These "pacts" must be memorised made daily. With most vestiges being mad, or at least nonsensical, there's really no intelligence behind them to make a pact with. Mechanically, you can't really completely fail to bind them, so it's really just gaining access to their powers than making a pact.
They tried to make this class feel a little sinister, and even dangerous, for contacting entities that can exist outside of reality, but they failed. The consequences of failing a binding check mostly just end up being tedious after a while ("Oh right, today I have to be extra pessimistic and voluntarily fail all my fear saves." or "Oh crap. That dwarf told me his name and now I have to give him some coins."). You can negate the behavioural drawback if you're willing to take a penalty. Your character also gets vestige-specific mutations (nice touch), but you also get the ability (right off the bat) to suppress it (cop-out).
Different vestiges grant different sets of "abilities". This places the binder firmly in a support role. These ability sets range from weapon proficiencies, feats, skill bonuses, and spells as spell-like abilities. Most of them are thematically consistent, although it's obvious that some are done just for the sake of giving the binder a bit more versatility. A binder is like wizard who has to pick "ability sets" to prepare each day instead of spells. I would've liked pact magic more if it had a more semi-permanent or longer-lasting feel to it.
The prestige classes and the organisations here are nicely done on the surface, but since binders can bind more than one vestige, it makes these prestige classes and organisations really superficial because even though they declare a vestige to be their focus, it's not really their focus - trying to make vestiges similar to cults just doesn't work. On the other hand, the witch slayer prestige class and its associated organisation are both of a deliciously dark tone than the rest of the pact magic section and is well done.
The worst part of the pact magic section (and the book) is the bestiary - for some inexplicable reason, the designers decided that bizarre creatures that resemble the bizarre appearances of the vestige must exist - just because. Example? How about a two-faced lion with five legs in a circular body? Think starfish. Stupidly ridiculous.
The middle section deals with the shadowcaster, a practitioner of shadow magic. My peeve with it is in the very opening - the designers mixed up the thematic concepts of void, darkness, and shadow. They talked of a return to nothingness and the destruction of light (inspired by Shar of the Forgotten Realms, no doubt), yet completely misunderstood that "shadow" is not the absence of light - without light, there is no shadow.
Luckily, the designers stopped misrepresenting Shar's dogma after the opening and end up just focusing entirely on shadow magic and the Plane of Shadow (which they confuse with "nothingness"). As with pact magic, I think this opening was meant to put a dark spin on shadowcasters, but it too fails miserably. Shadow magic in the Forgotten Realms had a sinister feel because it's thematically tied to Shar, and the fact that there are serious consequences of dabbling in too much shadow magic. Here in the Tome of Magic? It's really just a bunch of spells with the darkness, shadow, and illusion descriptors, and most of its practitioners couldn't care less about the "nothingness" bit. Oh, and they're called mysteries, not spells. Shadowcasters are neither arcane nor divine spellcasters, so they're locked out of a lot of existing spellcasting prestige classes.
What I do like about these mysteries is the way you gain them - you have to pick "paths". These represent thematically similar sets of spells mysteries. You must learn them one after another to unlock the higher levels. This creates nice decision-making moments when you plan out your character's growth.
The prestige classes for shadowcasters are very interesting thematically, though not the most well-named. The organisations ranged from the academic to the deranged; a bit cliche, but rather well-designed.
Out of the three, shadow magic is the best of the lot, in terms of being able to stand apart from the default spellcasting system.
The third new core class is truenamer, the so-called wielder of truename magic. Truenamers don't cast spells, they utter utterances and recite recitations. When you learn utterances, you're really learning two spells in one go - the named spell, and the spell's reverse. Most of the time, the reverse is really the logical reverse, but there's quite a few reverse effects that don't make sense. Again, just like shadow magic, most of these utterances are just "as per so-and-so spell". Whenever you utter an utterance, you have to do a skill check (basically, just dump the points normally spent on spellcraft onto the truespeak skill).
The flavour of truename magic is that everything has a truename, and everything intelligent has a personal truename. The designers actually encourage you to make up long random syllables whenever your character utters an utterance... I suppose they encourage people to verbalise the verbal components of spells?
Truename magic is a "classic" idea - knowing the personal truename of someone gives you great power over that someone. But here, knowing the personal truename just mostly gives you a bonus. So you get to research personal truenames. Of course, at the other end, you can change your truename. I don't know, this conceptualisation of a truenamer just feels very bland for me. Even the prestige classes (e.g. a monk who has to mouth off long garbled syllables before making special attacks), organisations (one cliche, one nonsensical), and the monsters are bland (truename-using celestial, check; truename-using fiend, check; truename-using undead, check). This is easily the worst of the three for me. It's like the designers did this last and they just gave up. ...more
The idea was interesting, but I felt that the implementation was really bad. It could just be cultural thing for me. The source material was basicallyThe idea was interesting, but I felt that the implementation was really bad. It could just be cultural thing for me. The source material was basically inspired by Oriental martial arts, fighting styles, movies, and anime. I found the whole implementation to be really cheesy and mostly nonsensical.
In summary, the sourcebook is about providing melee replacements - so goodbye fighter, ranger, and paladin. If you use this sourcebook, there's zero reasons to play with the original core warrior classes, as the three new classes (crusader, swordsage, and warblade) are way more powerful - unless of course, you happen to want to play a blackguard or you like tracking or archery. The three new classes are play like front-line wizards - you can generally cast one "spell" (manoeuvre) once per encounter. In fact, as they scale up in power, you probably don't need rogues or wizards much, since some manoeuvres can do sneak attacks and AoE attacks.
The sourcebook requires significant investment as it adds a lot of new rules. The majority of the content aside are all geared towards giving the new classes more options. I dislike the new classes primarily because the more they're described felt more like prestige classes to me - all crusaders fight for a religion, all swordsages are scholarly fighter seeking for a "truth", and all warblades are glory-seekers. There are nine martial disciplines (hence, nine swords), but they are very oddly restricted to certain classes - why? This is one of the nonsensical things. If we're talking about oriental inspiration, this sourcebook serves up a lot of categorisations and restrictions just for the sake of it. Sure, the DM could change it, but I'm reviewing based on what's offered.
Backstory-wise, the Temple of the Nine Swords is fine, I just found the whole internal conflict to be very contrived. The so-called legendary founder? Such a character can't be built using the mechanics presented in this book, due to the limits on the number of manoeuvres you can learn. Throw in how he managed to accumulate nine swords of such varied backgrounds that they just destroy any plot cohesiveness. And the prestige classes? They're ok within the context of this book, except for the so-called "Master of Nine" - that class is more like taking specialist levels in several schools of magic than being a "master" of several disciplines. The flavouring is just so wrong.
But that's enough ranting. I mainly dislike the sourcebook because I found the flavouring and imagery to be really bad. Then I dislike the power level of the new mechanics, they're not just slightly powerful - they're very powerful. I'm probably not the target demographic for this book, seeing how cheesy and over-the-top some of them content are. Perhaps this sourcebook was not meant to be serious, and more a fun thing; but it's not for me....more
A pretty decent supplement. It highlights the concepts of what makes horror interesting and alluring, and how to make it fun. But it doesn't seem to gA pretty decent supplement. It highlights the concepts of what makes horror interesting and alluring, and how to make it fun. But it doesn't seem to go quite deep enough, as what it seems to offer is make analogies to old and modern media sources. So if you liked horror enough to get this supplement, chances are, you already know what makes horror tick.
The sourcebook introduces a new taint mechanic and variant rules regarding fear. The new mechanic basically makes "taint" an actual thing to be tracked, thus something tangible to put pressure on the players. It also introduces two new core classes and several prestige classes that relate to the ideas in the sourcebook. I only found them mildly interesting. The new core archivist felt odd with its use of divine magic and the core dread necromancer felt unnecessary. I did find the new spells, items, and creatures to be very interesting. Other than these, there's a new demigod, a small section on dreams, and a smattering of sample adventures....more
Not that I've run a war-themed campaign before, but I've certainly read enough to realise that this sourcebook is pretty handy if one is going to do iNot that I've run a war-themed campaign before, but I've certainly read enough to realise that this sourcebook is pretty handy if one is going to do it.
It starts off with providing and identifying the differences between traditional campaigns with a war/military campaign, and the roles the PCs could play. It includes rules and guidelines for establishing army composition, setting up interesting battlefields, tracking the flow of events in a battle, and keeping score on well the PCs for assisting the war effort. Meaty stuff. Then it throws in some sample encounters, the typical stuff you'd see in movies - rescue, escort, hit-and-run, etc.
On the mechanics side of things, it includes stats on siege engines, how to handle large groups of NPCs, rules on rallying, morale, and commander auras, and touching a bits on promotions and rewards for the players.
For the players, some useful spells for battle situations, new skill applications and a few 5-level prestige classes that are more generic roles than classes (the exception being the War Weaver, which I found intriguing), but they're easy to adapt to add flavour into. There's also a new "teamwork benefit" mechanic to reflect the military training aspect of a war-based campaign.
The appendix rounds up the sourcebook by fleshing out the typical compositions and stat blocks for entire armies of the different core races plus drow, orcs, goblinoids, lizardfolk, and giants.
All in all, it feels like a sourcebook that's quite essential to getting a war campaign just right. ...more
Can't help feeling that this book is just designed to make people pay more. The PHB2 offers more options that to me should've been part of the three cCan't help feeling that this book is just designed to make people pay more. The PHB2 offers more options that to me should've been part of the three core books. Rules expansion features very little here - most of it is to offer up what used to be D&D staples as "options".
Essentially, it brings back long-timers gnomes and half-orcs, the shifters from Eberron, the goliaths from Races of Stone, and the deva race. For classes, it pulls in the previouly mainstream bards, barbarians, druids, and sorcerers, then throws in avengers, invokers, shamans, and wardens.
One reason I feel that these should not have been "additions" is because these classes round out and fill out to the new MMO-style paradigm D&D4.0 adopted - for example, PHB1 had only a single "controller", so PHB2 brings out more "alternatives".
All my other previous criticisms apply. The paragon stuff, even with the new racial paragons continue to make things to narrow and too stereotyped. The bardic powers that teleport all over the place just feels hilarious and ridiculous to me.
Aside from these, there's a just couple more feats, items, and rituals for the new classes, plus some simple rules on background/racial bonuses....more
A rather disappointing sourcebook to be honest. It's meant to be a counterpart to the Book of Vile Darkness, but I think it was done wrongly. From a mA rather disappointing sourcebook to be honest. It's meant to be a counterpart to the Book of Vile Darkness, but I think it was done wrongly. From a mechanics point of view, they took "opposite" too literally. From a flavour point of view, they didn't do it enough.
The new feats were decent and some were even interesting. Some of the spells are okay, but I think there's too many "affects evil creatures only" spells. The prestige classes were pretty horrible, with two 5-level classes as excuses to gain extra exalted feats. The celestial-specific prestige classes were even worse than the mediocre ones in the Book of Vile Darkness - not only is there little coherence with their abilities, they are all very similar (smite is a heavily reused ability). Even the magic items pale in comparison with the evil counterparts.
The saddest excuse of an "option" was ravages and afflictions - poison and disesase for evil creatures that are normally immune to poison and disease...
The remaining bits of the book dealt with the celestials and their champions, just like the introduction for the demon princes and devil lords. But where the Book of Vile Darkness also provided information on cults, motivations, and schemes, these celestials are terribly lacking in what they want to do. Without them, the celestials ended up as nothing more than stat blocks.
With "exalted good" being much more difficult to roleplay, an adventure module or sample scenarios would have served to illustrate things better, especially how it ties in to the Book of Vile Darkness - not just mechanically.
It just felt like this sourcebook was a rather waste of a good opportunity to provide moral dilemmas and hooks for bringing in celestials, as opposed to just being primarily a mechanics supplement....more
Great sourcebook for when you need extra mature options for the villains your players are going to face. While the appendix does give you options forGreat sourcebook for when you need extra mature options for the villains your players are going to face. While the appendix does give you options for playing such villains, I think the options were designed with NPCs in mind.
It packs in lots of options, some of the interesting ones include two new subraces, lots of evil spells, your typical assortment of feats, and new magical items; all themed with evil and horror. There's also background, stat blocks, and plot hooks for the demon lords of Abyss and the diabolic rulers of the Nine Hells.
Some of the poorer bits include the small section on new monsters. I think it's minor and uninteresting enough that they shouldn't have bothered, and used that space for fleshing out the other sections.
The prestige classes were pretty poor I think. The majority of them were meant to be themed to their respective demon lord or devil prince, but I didn't find them coherent or thematically interesting.
What I would have liked to see more was more evil ideas and hooks. For example, the options on drug use and torture was useful, but would have been better if ideas on how to use them were also present.
Overall though it's a great resource for options you could throw in sparingly into your campaigns, even if you don't want to deal with the subjective morality questions raised in the book....more
I have not played a game with 4th Ed. so this review is just on the surface and based on impressions.
First off, just want to kudos to WotC for tryingI have not played a game with 4th Ed. so this review is just on the surface and based on impressions.
First off, just want to kudos to WotC for trying to simplify the D&D mechanics to attract new blood. Too bad they took it in a wrong direction.
As others have already mentioned, this edition was a step backwards. For years, it's always been CRPGs attempting to simulate the tabletop experience. 4th Ed. was the other way round. D&D became too mechanical - to the point that it feels like a video game, and not a role-playing game. There was too much focus on combat-oriented rules. The 4th edition did not come out of 3.5 - it came out of D&D miniatures.
I liked the skills simplification, but I disliked the class-specific powers. It felt like an attempt to provide options, but instead it created stereotypes ala MMORPGs. Multi-class no longer exists - just like MMORPGs... in their place are silly feats that lets you use powers from other classes.
Based on these almost enforced stereotypes, three of my favourite characters can't be satisfactorily recreated - the mechanics don't support the flavour. Some of the saddest changes (to me) are the revamp of ranger favoured enemy and animal companions (gone) and the removal of spell schools. But I did like the idea of turning some of the more utility spells into rituals - made sense. Oh, and I also hated the way they changed the way tieflings look.
But overall, it's too different from the D&D that I know. Perhaps I'm biased, perhaps I'm not. I had no problem transitioning to 3rd Ed. but I honestly don't like 4th Edition....more