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