Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Dungeon Brew Reviews: Martial Flavor
[The following article is part of the Small Press Week blog carnival being run by RPG Blog II. Many bloggers are coming together for this event to check out some of the great things about, and coming out of smaller rpg publishers. If you'd like to see what the other bloggers have covered this week, drop by Moebius Adventures for a complete list of links.]
Chaotic Shiny Productions was nice enough to send me an advance copy of their upcoming title Martial Flavor, and I'd be remiss if I didn't share what I've learned about the book. Keep in mind while reading this that the book still has sometime before publication and is still undergoing some revisions and enhancements.
The Good Vs Evil Axis
Martial Flavor is a unique book detailing five martial traditions for use in your 4th edition D&D campaign. Each Chapter details a martial tradition, complete with backstory, feats, and new powers.
This book is presented in an easy to read format, with each new chapter detailing one of the five traditions, and taking us from backstory and hierarchy all the way to which 4th edition races interact with the tradition and how. This is followed by example adventurers, and new mechanics for making the organization come alive at the game table. The fluff and the crunch in this book is balanced amazingly well, with plenty of things both GMs and Players can grab onto and spin into interesting plot points and defining features. As I read through the book I couldn't help but think about how great it would be to play a Daikort Mercenary or a Legionnaire. Each chapter brings the tradition to life with in depth background, various examples of members, how they dress, and how their society views both themselves and in many cases the world around them. I was reminded of why I own so many roleplaying books, many of them are just as entertaining a read as a they are a useful resource.
Martial Flavor is a proud addition to that design philosophy. How many times have I looked through my Martial Power book and wished it went into greater detail on what it meant to be a fighter? Well, Martial Flavor offers plenty of material for that. With this book in hand you never have to worry again about your ranger looking like any other ranger. Make the character stand out, make him a Fox in a Daikort Pack, picking his way through a shady marshland with the greatest of skill. Perhaps what is so great about this book is that it not only helps you create unique characters, but it gives you in game mechanics to make those decisions actually mean something. For example if you are an Ellesin fighter, then you are the king of mounted combat, able to take brand new feats and powers to reinforce just how good you are at mounted combat.
I know it is a growing trend with RPG book these days, but this book just doesn't have an index. The bookmarks in the pdf are amazing, but I'm one of those weird individuals who likes to print off his pdfs for long perusals in the sunlight. Beyond that, I have one word to share with you: Background. The backgrounds in this book are more akin to those that appeared in Dragon for the Scales of War (SoW) adventure path. As such they are a little more powerful than the streamlined system that is presented in the Player's Handbook 2 and Eberron Player's Guide. That having been said, some of the backgrounds even blow their SoW cousins out of the water. Chief among these is the Ikanoi, which gives you cold resistance equal to either Wisdom bonus or Constitution bonus whichever is lower, and as such is definitely something that could level with you, especially if you are playing a shaman. Compare that feature with the Sijara's background which gives them Bluff and Diplomacy and class skills and +1 to each and you see some variance in background utility even amongst the book itself.
Bang For Your Buck
So you are thinking about picking Martial Flavor up from Chaotic Shiny. Well, it retails for 19.95 so lets take a moment and examine what you get. In this 56 page tome of a gaming pdf you get an astounding 88 feats, which cover both Heroic and Paragon tier, as well as new Multiclass feats. Some of you may be wondering why one would need new multiclass feats, so be amazed because this book has 12 alternative class features to further customize your martial warrior. You also get several new utility powers for your martial classes that really flesh out how your martial warrior is different from your typical Points of Light model. But lets go back to those feats because there is one thing I'd really like to point out. A whole slew of those feats are for characters who excel at Mounted Combat, and some of the new powers and alternative class features help support the concept. If you have EVER wanted to play a mounted character in D&D 4e, then this is the book to buy, even if you don't use the tradition that goes with them. Heck, even if you want to have a mounted character from a different power source, you will find what you need in those feats. Though obviously if that's all you want you may want to look elsewere for your mount fix.
Now, what if you are a GM? Well, then this is still a pretty good resource for you, although admittedly you are missing out on some of the fun by not being able to play any of the neat new character concepts this book helps deliver. But that doesn't keep you from introducing the Legionnaires of Arytis, or throwing your part against a well trained Daikort Pack. You can easily stat out some great NPCs that will ride both sides of the ally/enemy fence. I know I keep talking about them, but I myself will be dropping the Daikort into my home campaign, they are just too great of a DM tool to not use, and the bevy of information on each tradition gives you what you need to not only run adventures featuring these warriors, but entire campaigns built around them.
The Final Verdict
If you have a martial character, or you plan on playing one then this book belongs on your digital bookshelf. The sheer number of new feats and powers and other goodies contained therein means you WILL find something of use even if you never use the martial traditions that are linked to them. As just one example you can easily mine out the entire mounted combat tidbits (like the Mounted Fighter talent and the list of racial rider feats) and use them as is. As for GMs, since the GSL came out I've purchased my fair share of products, and I haven't seen many that come to the level of dedication, balance, and just plain cool things to put in your game. The text is well written and evocative, the sidebars are placed well and are informative. Here's the gist of things, if I was to write about all the great things in this lengthy pdf I would have to go on for pages, because there is so much great material contained within.
All of that having been said, I can understand if the price tag turns you off of the book. In today's market, and especially without having seen for yourself just how much material is packed in here it can be tough to make that kind of commitment. Comparatively though, this is essentially five products at $4 each. Each one containing about 22 feats, plenty of utility powers and other tools and material to boot. Thinking of it that way makes the price make a little more sense. That having been said, if your interested, but just haven't made up your mind yet you can see a few excerpts at this page of Chaotic Shiny's website. In my opinion you should save up some cash and mark November 1st on your calendar so you can be one of the first to spice up your adventuring life with some Martial Flavor.