A Monster for Every Season: Summer 2
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    Default Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Trashes & Treasures
    Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour



    Introduction
    The rough definition of a third party sourcebook, for those who came in late, is a book published by a content creator other than Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) which is asserted as compatible with WOTCís products for Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 and 3.5. This was permitted if not encouraged under the Open Gaming Licence (OGL), but third party books invariably do not carry an ĎOfficial D&Dí seal and are very unlikely to have been balanced against WOTCís content Ė or at least were not tested by WOTC, not that this means a lot given the somewhat wonky QA and writing out of WOTCís own products.

    And sure: in this space, the biggest names by far are Paizoís Pathfinder, which basically assumed the mantle of the unofficial continuation of D&D 3.5, and Spheres of Power, which seems to get a new review thread every few weeks or so.

    This thread is not about those sources. This thread is picking through that secondhand bookstore at the end of a dingy alleyway that bears the smell of undisturbed paper stacks. We are uncovering dusty, forgotten texts that are going for a fraction of their retail price. Weíre looking here for that great moment when you uncover something that seems to have been overlooked, or that somewhat less great moment when you locate something hideous. Here, weíre taking a slow, very slow, survey of older third party books that date back prior to Pathfinder, and seeing if third party really is as bad as your players (or your DM) think. I will go through a range of publishers, if I can, to try to provide a decent overview of whatís in these books. I give no deadlines for when this might be done, itíll just be a constant work in progress updated as and when Iíve got a free moment or a surge of inclination or inspiration to read over a book.


    Whatís the Survey going to look like?
    Basically, each book broken down and given a mini-review at the following headings:
    - Summary
    - Date of Publication (i.e. was it intended for 3.0 or 3.5 edition) and number of pages (also contains a note about whether it's easily available for purchase)
    - Notable Features (if any)
    - Dreadful Features (if any)
    - Who itís best for (Player/GM/Both)
    - Comments, thoughts, and rating out of 10.


    How do you rate each book?
    Very generally and very subjectively, though Iím always happy to receive comments or different perspectives on it. If so I would appreciate thoughtful additions rather than an assessment that could be tweeted rather than posted.

    The makeup of my score out of 10 is:

    - Useability and mechanical balance (so far as I can ascertain it): Possible score of 4. To reflect the range of hideous versus really good, if somethingís at least decent Iíll be giving it a 2 in this category, with 0 for the really egregious stuff. The default Wizards books generally fall around the 1-2 mark here.

    - Novelty and/or interest (i.e. good fluff or concepts): Possible score of 4. Here Iím looking for some decent attempts at adding something interesting to the standard run of D&D books, or a good setting, or a new way of looking at a well-worn concept. The average bookís worth about a 1-2 in this category, and thatís where I expect a number of books to go.

    - Presentation and production values: Possible score of 2. This last criterion is possibly a little unfair, since indie publishing is always on a shoestring budget where you can literally only afford so many pages to be printed, resulting in a common tendency to cram every word possible onto the page. Yay economics. Even so, I regard presentation and readability as a relevant factor, especially if itís the kind of reference you need to keep open on a screen or at a table. And not that I regard WOTCís layouts in their books as anything to write home about in terms of organisation, either Ė that is, a WOTC book would get at best a 1 in this category.


    What order will you be reviewing books in?
    Whatever order my mood and inspiration tells me to. I plan to leave a list of publishers below with links to the books Iíll be referring to as the thread goes on. These links are to my review in the thread and are single-posts, but remember you can always click the "thread" link within that single post and it should bring you to the review where it showed up in the thread. Iíll try to deal with the same publisher at once if I can, but this exercise wonít be anywhere near as interesting without a few Ö random encounters, shall we say.


    Whatís out of scope?
    As said, weíre looking to older stuff, so anything under the Paizo and Pathfinder heading is out, or indeed any Spheres of Power stuff. We wonít be touching on any book that was directly written or licensed by WOTC or carried a seal proclaiming it official D&D. The only exception to this Ė if I can find them Ė will be Kenzer and Companyís Kingdoms of Kalamar books, where the company literally forced WOTC to put that seal on to settle a legal dispute. This also means that books like Oriental Adventures, the setting text at least, wonít be covered Ö but I plan on looking at other Legends of the Five Rings books. Or at least I hope to, before I run out of patience or lifespan. No Dragon or Dungeon magazines, youíve got the Dragondex for that. The main criterion for inclusion otherwise is that itís touted if not reasonably useable as a d20 product for D&D 3.5.
    Last edited by Saintheart; 2021-05-04 at 11:56 PM.

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    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Publishers A-E

    Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
    - Mercenaries (6.5/10)
    - Secrets (3/10)

    Ambient Inc.
    - Three Arrows For The King: The Archer's Guide (2.5/10)

    Atlas Games
    - Dynasties and Demagogues: The Sourcebook of Political Intrigue (5/10)

    Avalanche Press
    - The Little People: A d20 Guide to Celtic Fairies (5/10)

    Bastion Press
    - Arms & Armor (6/10)
    - Into the Green: A Guide to Jungles, Forests, Woods, and Plains (6.5/10)

    Chainmail Bikini Games
    - Beyond Monks: The Art of the Fight (7/10)

    Expeditious Retreat Press
    - A Magic Medieval Society: Western Europe (2nd edition) (8.5/10)

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Publishers F-J

    Fantasy Flight Games (FFG)
    - Midnight (2nd edition) (9/10)

    Green Ronin Publishing
    - Bastards and Bloodlines: A Guidebook to Half-Breeds (7/10)
    - The Advanced Bestiary (7.5/10)
    - The Assassin's Handbook (2.5/10)

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Publishers K-O

    Malhavoc Press
    - Book of Eldritch Might I (5/10)
    - Book of Eldritch Might II: Songs and Souls of Power (5.5/10)
    - Book of Eldritch Might III: The Nexus (4/10)
    - Book of Iron Might (5.5/10)
    - When the Sky Falls (6/10)

    Malladin's Gate Press
    - Forgotten Heroes: Paladin (5/10)

    Mongoose Publishing
    - The Quintessential Barbarian (6.5/10)
    - The Quintessential Fighter (5.5/10)
    - The Quintessential Monk (5.5/10)
    - The Quintessential Monk II (2/10)

    Necromancer Games
    - The Tome of Horrors (Revised) (6/10)

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Publishers P-T

    The Game Mechanics
    - Staves of Ascendance (2.5/10)

    Troll Lord Games
    - Book of Familiars (6.5/10)

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Publishers U-Z

    Valar Project Inc.
    - Book of Erotic Fantasy (6/10)

  7. - Top - End - #7
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    Arms & Armor, Bastion Press

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    Summary:
    This is an equipment catalogue similar in concept to D&Dís Arms and Equipment Guide, but deals only on armor and weapons in particular (with a smattering of gear for casters as well). It covers both mundane and magical items, introduces new weapon and armor qualities (albeit with a little overlapping or outright duplicating some from the Magic Item Compendium), materials, and brings in unique items things like Racial Masks (magic items for certain species) and Martial Servitors (which allow weapons to wield themselves). Also included are new constructs like Guardian Servitors and the Silver Steed of Anariel.

    Date of Publication and Page Count:
    Originally 2001, so definitely a 3.0 document. Unlike a lot of 3rd party, though, it was updated in a second edition in 2004, which conformed its contents with 3.5. This summary is, roughly speaking about both. While the 3.0 version was in full colour and shorter, the 3.5 edition was published in black and white. As at date of review, the 3.5 book was available on some large RPG market websites. 176 pages.

    Notable Features:
    (In no particular order of rating):
    (1) Silver Steed of Anariel. Mounted builds rejoice, no more need to go finagling Monster Manual entries to replace your weedy warhorse! DR 50/+3, Construct type, and therefore Construct immunities, Flight, self-repair, MAGIC IMMUNITY. Looks like they forgot to fix up the DR to 3.5 standards.
    (2) Axe of the Berserker. Barbarian in a rage gets a +4 enhancement bonus to STR, +2 deflection bonus to AC, no fatigue when the rage ends as long as the axe was in hand the whole time!
    (3) Mask of the Dwarves: SR 15 and +3 to Will saves for 48,000 gp isnít bad.
    (4) Executionerís Sword and Battle Staff: Both martial weapons! Executionerís Sword, 1d12 damage bonus, x4 critical multiplier! Battle Staff contains Ė hooray! Ė 1d8 damage dice on a quarterstaff with no EWP or Mighty Wallop shenanigans! Also special mention to the Pike: 15 foot Reach, but you canít AoO with it, but can also use it as a longspear.
    (5) Chainblade: Exotic Weapon, sure. 1d8 damage, sure. But a one-handed 17-20 NATIVE CRITICAL THREAT RANGE.
    (6) Ferocious weapon quality: +1 luck bonus to attack and damage for every +1 enchantment(maybe this was meant to be enhancement bonus instead) bonus imbued into the weapon, enchantment bonus/day, runs for 1d6 rounds. So basically double your weaponís enhancement bonus during fights for a +2 price, which isnít too damn bad at all.
    (7) Forceful weapon quality: +1 price, just increase the weaponís standard damage dice by one. 1d10 becomes 1d12 and so on. No changes in size or weight, and if you really want to this same quality can be put on the same weapon 3 times maximum, i.e. weedy gauntletís 1d3 can be made 1d8 native before you start the size, Heavy, or Mighty Wallop shenanigans.
    (8) Weightless, Spellcasting armor qualities: cut your Arcane Spell Failure chance by 20%, take out movement reduction, increase your Max Dex bonus and reduce your AC penalty by 2 each.
    (9) Sneak Attack, Jagged, Interfering weapon qualities: 1/day True Strike on a sneak attack only for a +1 bonus on the weapon, what more do you want?! Oh, I know, how about just give me a +1 to the critical multiplier of a weapon and a +1d6 damage for ordinary strikes at a +1 bonus price?! Or how about a +2 to force a target to make DC 17 Concentration checks in order to cast a spell, which can even be put on ranged weapons!

    Dreadful Features:
    (1) Precision weapon quality: ďgrants a +5 luck bonus to a roll that determines whether a hit is a critical hit or not.Ē It says the enchantment provides no bonus for normal attack rolls, but I donít understand why they didnít just say ď+5 to critical confirmation rollsĒ, which is what this should be. As it is, itís wide open for abuse as a +1 weapon quality.
    (2) Kinetic weapon quality: remember how Thor spins Mjolnir around in circles before kicking noobmaster69ís butt? Thatís this weapon quality! The more rounds you spin it, you get more +1 to attack roll and +1d6 to damage on the strike! Ö oh, rats, the maximum bonus is +3d6 damage and +3 to attack. Sigh.
    (3) Intense weapon quality: duplicates the Impact quality, i.e. double your threat range for a bludgeoning weapon.
    (4) Quick Draw weapon quality: overridden by Least Crystals of Return.
    (5) Reproduced content from the SRD and Unearthed Arcana. Again, this isnít a problem in the 3.0 version, but good grief itís annoying to have to flick past all the gear you already know from those books.

    Who itís best for (Player/GM/Both):
    Both. Itís an armoury of features, players can use it, but DMs can use it even better.

    Comments, thoughts, and rating out of 10:
    On mechanics, I find it pretty solid to good. The original 3.0 version had about 70 new weapons on a rough count, and not just refluffing standard weapons. In particular it adds a lot of interesting Simple and Martial weapons to the mix Ė this is apparent if only from the critical stats, which even in the Simple category are not infrequently 18-20 ranges and sometimes up to x4 multipliers, features that 3.5 is pretty stingy with. Generally youíre not wasting a feat on Exotic Weapon Proficiency to pick up a weapon that does something interesting out of the box - not given the Simple and Martial weapons available. Thatís just the mundane weaponry; it stays at that level or better as you make your way through weapon qualities, armor qualities, and everything else; lots of stuff here that is at least mechanically not awful, and sometimes beautifully exploitable with the right class or build. The only drawback, and it is a minor one, is that the 3.5 version contains a reasonable amount of padding in that a fair amount of content from the SRD and Unearthed Arcana is reproduced here, both weapons and rules. My guess is that this was out of a desire by the makers to have weapon rules readily available in the pre-tablet or SRD days, but either way, itís a point against; the 3.0 version at least was almost entirely original and didnít have to reproduce whole sections of text on how critical multipliers work. However: I donít want to overstate the minor inconvenience this is; there is still a metric ton of original stuff, essentially the entirety of the 3.0 version ported in, and thereís a lot of stuff very clearly slanted at classes like paladins, rogues, tanks (the Retribution weapon quality) and so on. 2/4 in this category.

    On concepts and fluff: the book is built as a generic armoury of stuff usable in most standard campaigns, so itís not as though youíre getting a lot of really inventive gear that falls outside the classic fantasy setting (notwithstanding the odd product placement for other Bastion Press products). That said, what they have managed to do is build stuff thatís more interesting than the bog-standard SRD weapons and magic items, or bridges a gap that was visible, or adapts a historical weapon that Oriental Adventures didnít get around to. One example: the Scarf Chain, a thin weighted chain sewn into a silk scarf, which can be used like a spiked chain, trip as well as suffocate on a Grapple check. Another, the Angelís Blade Greatsword, which allows you to switch out a cold iron, silver, or adamantine strip down the fuller that makes it count as a weapon made of those substances for DR purposes. In the magic items area, the Reaverís Net, which (provided you meet certain prereqs), allows you to paralyze opponents for 3d6 minutes rather than just entangle them. And then thereís stuff like Death Oath weapons, which basically sets up a set of weapons as a type of Suicide Squad/47 Ronin thing where the weapons get more powerful as the oath-takers die. Not the most mechanically powerful, but inspirational at least. 3/4 in this category. It might not be the most inventive gear catalogue ever made, but itís certainly inventive within its limits.

    On presentation: obviously the intent was to ape the look of the Arms and Equipment Guide, right down to the rough structure of introducing new mundane stuff first and then leaving the weapon qualities and magic items to the back. So itís about as readable and presentable as your average 3.5 D&D book. That said, I wish theyíd kept the 3.0 versionís table of weapons, because that one showed you at a glance which weapons were tripping weapons and how much the bonus was, making the comparison a lot easier on that front. The armor table had similar helpful changes. However, as said, they went with black and white for the 3.5 version by the looks of it, which makes it a bit harder to read as thereís no colour to break up the relentless two-column Serif fonts. So it gets a 1/2 for that.

    Overall: 6/10.

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    Forgotten Heroes: Paladin, Malladinís Gate Press

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    Summary
    Itís a resource to widen the range of options for paladins. It introduces five Ďsubclassesí of paladin Ė (actually five new paladin-ish base classes) -- and 14 prestige classes for paladins (and others if you can meet the prereqs), new feats, spells, some new uses for old skills, and then a big group of what could be classed as variant rules meant to diversify what smites, lay on hands, and a paladinís weapons can do. Essentially, it is designed to make the paladin more versatile, not just the archetypical good guy on his horse.

    Date of Publication and Page Count:
    2002, and therefore 3.0. Never had an update as far as I know, and there are elements of it that would need adaptation if used for 3.5. And given the early publication date, it looks like the designers werenít aware of or didnít seek to squarely address the most notable issue with the paladin, i.e. his multi-ability dependency. Heck, the opening paragraphs of the book proclaim the paladin as one of the most formidable classes a player can use in D&D. Now, I donít believe itís fair to rip an indie designer for not detecting issues like these so early in third editionís run (especially when itís apparent WOTC didnít see any problem with it even when they updated to 3.5), but this is certainly a point to be aware of when looking at this thing. As at date of review, this book was available on some large RPG market websites. 62 pages.

    Notable Features:
    Warrior Monk (base class): Yawn, it has the word ĎMonkí in it, how good can it be Ö wait a sec. Full BAB and Paladin saves, d10 hit dice, 1st level spells from level 2. Oh, I can prepare spells off the paladin list and off the lists of any two domains I select. Wait Ö really, any two domains? Sure seems so by RAW, two domains Ďfrom the clerical spell listí, though RAI it should be 2 from my LG or LN deity. Okay, thatís levels 1-9, what about Ö really? 5th level spells at level 10, 6th level spells by level 12? From where? Well, gosh. For my 5th and 6th level spells I can prepare a domain spell from any of my Ďpatronísí (deityís) domains. Hello Warrior Monk of Mystra, picking up the Spell domain for Greater Anyspell, and then stuff off the Illusion and Knowledge domain lists! Or good old Warrior Monk of Torm, casting Righteous Might, Divine Power, and going to town! But what about weapon and armour proficiencies Ö oh my, all simple and martial weapons, all types armour and shields, this isnít a monk, this is a gish!
    The Gallant (PrC): Be a DEX-based paladin, right down to needing Weapon Finesse and Weapon Focus in rapier as prerequisites, but canít wear armour full stop. Over 5 levels, pick up Dodge and Mobility, add CHA to AC, Initiative, and attack rolls, get a really interesting bonus to attack rolls equal to your enemyís armor check penalty, and canít be flanked. Full BAB, Fort and Ref get 4/5 save increases.
    Divine Aura (Paladin 4 spell): 60 feet radius from Paladin, use turn undead to turn all evil creatures within the radius (You canít destroy non-undead with this, but the creatures do take 1d4 damage for every 2 paladin levels.) And itís an Abjuration spell, meaning if you wanted some sort of interesting Abjurant Champion build, it would be affected by that.
    Holy Shield (Paladin 2 spell): Give your shield an enhancement bonus of WIS modifier +1 so long as itís held ready or used. Assuming youíve been boosting your WIS and sword-and-boarding it, this actually isnít too damn bad. And it would appear to stack with the Paladin 1 spell Blessings of Insight from the same book which gives ďa bonusĒ to the Paladinís AC equal to his WIS modifier for the spellís duration.
    Stand Together (Paladin 3 spell): Allies can use the paladinís saving throws instead of their own if theyíre superior. IMHO this is just a gorgeous spell, whatever its real effectiveness, sums up the entire bookís philosophy working with the paladin class: itís both mechanically useful and perfectly in keeping with the whole idea of the paladin as an exemplar of loyalty and sacrifice.
    Shield of the Faithful (feat): 10% chance any blow hitting the character from an evil opponent is deflected using the characterís shield. If so, the shield takes the damage in accordance with the rules on damaging objects. RAW doesnít necessarily require that youíve actually got the shield equipped at the time, though that was the clear RAI, and nothing says a natural 20 bypasses this either. At the very least itís a 10% concealment or so, albeit youíll be buying shields a lot (unless you stump for that adamantine shield, of course!)
    Heal (new skill use): At last, you can actually diagnose a disease with the Heal skill! DCs include a quick guide to what you can learn about the disease.
    Ride (new skill use): DC 25 Ride check with a Lance and the Weapon Focus (Lance) feat doesnít incur the -2 to AC on a mounted charge.
    Heart of the Pilgrim (feat): Pick 2 Knowledge skills; theyíre now class skills. And have a+1 bonus to all the Knowledge skills youíve now got. Handy for Knowledge Devotion at least.
    Divine Smites (Variant Rules): Use your Smite Evil more flexibly:
    - Cut the CHA bonus to the attack roll and pick up bonus damage of class level + CHA.
    - Spend a Remove Disease to attempt to give a target contagion and some bonus damage
    - Ignore DR
    - Smite as a RANGED TOUCH ATTACK.
    - Cause Wisdom drain (tricky to set up) or cause fear.
    - Blow spell slot, do characterís class level + up to 2d6 in bonus damage.
    Divine Channelling (Variant Rules): burn Turn Undead attempts to do different things such as replenishing spell slots, casting Restoration, overriding different forms of DR, use your AC and/or shield bonus against magical touch and incorporeal attacks from negative energy creatures such as undead, turning it into a Wraithstrike weapon, and so on.
    Slayer (PrC): Begging for multiclassing with a spell-less ranger given it basically takes one type of chosen foe and then, in 5 levels, gives it a stackable favoured enemy bonus, picks up more smiting that enemy, turning, tracking, and an extra attack at highest attack bonus against that enemy.
    Peacebringer (PrC): 3/5 casting, similar to and about as odd as the Apostle of Peace from Book of Exalted Deeds, but just a little bit more playable for the paladin who wants to be the party face.

    Dreadful Features:
    Defender (base class): Oh dear God you tried to make a tank that specialises in getting in the way of enemiesí blows to alliesí heads. And to do so, you gave him a d8 hit dice, a +15 BAB at level 20, Improved Disarm, a sort-of ďadd my CHA bonus to your AC, fellowsĒ and domain spells Ö scratch that, one domainís spells, the Healing domain. Have fun being able to Mass Cure Light Wounds at level 14, I guessÖ
    Dauntless Hero (PrC): Well at least itís 5 levels rather than the 10 of the Dwarven Defender it strongly resembles, and they let you make attacks of opportunity against charges without carrying a Reach weapon, to go with all the immunity to fear you grant to everyone around you.
    The Lord (base class): No-spells Paladin with and Aura of Courage and five bonus feats across 20 levels, which are confined down to a short list heavily slanted at the feats in the book.
    Horse Knight (base class): Youíll get momentarily excited by the indication that this guyís special mount isnít a magical beast, itís classed as a Ďcelestialí. Which uses the ďCelestial CreatureĒ template. Unfortunately, that only happens at Horse Knight level 20. You get the Mounted Combat feat for free at level 1 while on your mount, but why would you?
    Divine Warding (Paladin 3, Cleric 4, War 3(?) spell): Initial impressions are hopeful. 50% of all damage the paladin takes from evil sources, including spells, is stopped. But it then says ďthe maximum total damage stopped in this way is equal to the paladinís Charisma ability modifier/levelĒ, which doesnít make sense since this is going to be fractions of a hitpoint anywhere above Paladin level 5 or so. The example in the spell description doesnít help at all, which is infuriating given how solid and on-theme this spell could have been.
    Test of Faith (Variant Rule): I love the idea, but the cost is just too high. Basically itís Iron Heart Surge for Paladins: overcome any condition preventing them from acting as they wish, e.g. charm, compulsion, dominate, and so on. Roll 1d20 + Paladin Level + WIS vs the DC of the original effect +5 Ö and pay a cost of 50 x Paladin level in XP. And if you fail the roll, lose what looks to be another 500 XP, permanently.
    Vow Quests (Variant Rules): Arrrgh. So close. These basically allow you to pick up extra powers for specific use on a quest, which you vow to complete (or suffer big bad XP losses). Youíre subject to a Geas whose severity and conditions increase as you ask for more powers: e.g. Pick up SR 15 for the duration of the quest, but you cannot use any magic items and cast no spells. Itís possible to pick up permanent/at-will spell-like abilities, and therefore open to abuse Ö but on balance, assuming the session sociopath is not playing the party paladin, this actually is another really flavourful variant rule. The problem? They forgot to tell you what penalties you pay if you fail the quest. Which makes the option unuseable, though the system is probably complete enough that you could make up your own table (noting that the Test of Faith option above sweats you for hundreds of XP, and the cost is meant to be fairly heavy if you fail the quest.)

    Who itís best for (Player/GM/Both):
    In its favour it does contain a section expressed directly at the GM which tries to help guide how the various options should slot in, but really this thingís explicit and stated intention is for players who want more options for the PHB paladin. And therefore itís likely a lot more for players than anyone else.

    Comments, thoughts, and rating out of 10:
    Mechanics: Look, whatever else you can say, they at least had a red hot go at making the paladin a lot more versatile or able to fill the role of a party buffer. There are no options in here that are obviously gamebreaking or overly powerful; it feels like these things probably give the Paladin a bit more staying power in the level 6-14 range, which is 3.5ís sweet spot. Particularly good is that most of the variant options are not hidden away behind useless feats for the most part, you can snap them onto your current Paladin and just keep going. Of particular note, and a big point in favour, is that the prestige classes are virtually all 5 level classes that give you the good stuff at reasonably low levels and then allow you to move on. Very few dead levels in there at all. But they, and the base classes, have the usual mix of interesting to unworkable choices that weíve come to know and love from most WOTC books. In some areas Ė Vow Quests is an example of this Ė there clearly needed to be a bit more editing or QA, though you could probably RAI your way through it without it generating huge problems for balance. And whilst some features capture scaleability over the levels, these arenít that common. Call this 2/4.

    Concepts and fluff: A 3/4 here. This book unashamedly leans into what a paladin is or should be, and proceeds to expand the concept considerably, giving paladins of all stripes a deeply heroic, evil-smashing, self-sacrificing, party booster streak that often goes missing from standard D&D in all the arguments about Code of Conduct and multi-ability dependency. I love the Vow Quest idea, I love the Soul Weapon (basically Ancestral Relic for paladins, not mentioned above), I love the different takes they have on the paladin, and I love the additional spells they give our favourite boys in white. Itís just the mechanics that let the side down.

    Presentation: Sorry, but ugh. Straight black and white, no colour. They try to use a layout and line spacing to make it a little more readable, but with the size of the text Serif fonts Ė some sort of Hollandse maybe Ė are just eye-watering to read. That said, some of the ďshort storiesĒ in between sections are interesting and in one case pretty moving to me. 0/2 on this one.


    Overall: 5/10.
    Last edited by Saintheart; 2021-04-14 at 10:09 PM.

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    Staves of Ascendance, The Game Mechanics.

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    Summary
    Basically this is a sourcebook containing better magic staffs and rods than usual, and some prestige classes which can wield them. Essentially the desire seems to have been to make a better class of magic staffs than those in the original books, as in, the sort of staff that stays with a character through their whole career.

    Date of Publication and Page Count: 2003, so definitely 3.0. As weíll see, the main thing that really hobbles the book is the extent to which later publications rendered it obsolete or not particularly useful Ö but weíll get to that. There apparently is a 3.5 update around, but I havenít been able to get hold of a copy, so I canít compare if they did any proper work upgrading it. As at date of review this book doesn't seem to be casually available for purchase as a PDF on large RPG market websites. You may have to go looking for this one elsewhere in the virtual world or the real world. 39 pages.

    Notable Features:
    Spellstaff Scion (PrC) + La Sombra (Magic Item): Spellstaff Scion gives you pretty much nothing but 10/10 arcane spellcasting progression. The staff, though, over 10 levels, gives you just about every shadow ability out there: Shadow Conjuration, Greater Shadow Conjuration, Shadow Evocation, Greater Shadow Evocation, Shadow Walk, Silent Image, Shades, Shadow Jump, Project Image, Simulacrum, a +20 Hide skill bonus, Shadow Companion, and the staff becomes a Ghost Touch weapon from early in the PrC. The usage of these abilities is mostly based around caster level, for which there are numerous methods of raising it artificially high. Not bad for a PrC that gets you out and done by level 15.
    Battlestaff Scion (PrC) + Bramblethorn (Magic Item): Letís see, Iím a martial type who wants to wield a staff weapon, and accordingly Iím going to need TWF feat chains like nobodyís business. I take this prestige class which gives me, at level 1, Two-Weapon Fighting and a bonus feat from a short list of the basics (think Improved Bull Rush, Improved Trip, Power Attack, Combat Reflexes, Combat Expertise, and so on). For the rest of the progression I only pick up a feat once every 3 levels, i.e. itís literally no better than a fighter feat progression over 10 levels since either way I pick up TWF +4 feats. To qualify I basically have to at least dip ranger, given the prerequisites include Endurance, Track, Survival ranks, and a Favored Enemy (ďas the ranger class featureĒ). Is it worth it? Well Ö maybe. Thatís because of the Legendary Staff, Bramblethorn, thatís meant to be your weapon throughout your career, which grants a bunch of other abilities on top of those the Scion prestige class.

    A simple comparison to illustrate it is Ranger 4/Battlestaff Scion 10 vs. TWF Ranger 14. First problem is that the changes in Ranger from 3.0 to 3.5 cause some wonkiness, because Battlestaff Scion 1 grants TWF, but youíve (presumably) already got that at level 2 of the 3.5 Ranger. (Alternate Ranger Combat Styles I guess could be the solution here. Or you could just have a free Rapid Shot for those few ranged attack occasions you might choose to go with. Either way, letís leave the grant of TWF to one side.)

    The default 3.5 Ranger, from character levels 5-14, picks up Woodland Stride, Swift Tracker, Evasion, Camouflage, 2 more favored enemies, Improved TWF, Greater TWF, and 4th level Ranger casting.

    The Battlestaff Scion, in the same character levels 5-14, picks up: Woodland Stride, Evasion, 2 more favored enemies, Improved TWF, Greater TWF, 4th level casting (divine WIS-based casting, but an extremely short list, nowhere near as wide as the Ranger list, albeit almost the same number of spell slots as default Ranger 14), favored enemies take increased damage of +2d6, +6 bonuses to CON and STR, the staffís two ends gain +4 enhancement bonuses (and the staff can be transformed to a +3 longspear as well),Ö and four open feat slots from the PrC, as said. BAB is the same, Rangerís saves are +9/+9/+4, Scionís are +11/+7/+4, the Scion gets a d10 Hit Dice against the Rangerís d8.

    So to my mind, if youíre content to be a TWF Ranger concentrating on the quarterstaff and not cast spells (or youíre okay casting from Ranger list wands) this is actually an okay prestige class. Youíve got feat slots out the wazoo with 4 from Battlestaff Scion to deal with basic foundations like Combat Reflexes and so on, and all your character feat slots open for more interesting stuff. Dipping Ranger 2 and then going Fighter 2 (depending on your feats) may give you a couple more as well, hell, even a Martial Monk might be useful here. Or even Mystic Ranger. But I think pretty much any other martial concept is not going to get real value out of this.
    Swiftstaff Scion (PrC) + Astuto, the Sly Rod (Magic Item): If the Battlestaff was for Ranger, the Swiftstaff is for Rogues. The Rod and the PrC together provide a decent-looking grab bag of stuff. So once again the simplest comparison is Rogue 14 vs. Rogue 4/Swiftstaff Scion 10. (The prerequisites are atomised out to basically beRogue 4, so we wonít speculate on other entry paths at this point.)

    Rogue 5-14 picks up another 5d6 in sneak attack, +3 in trap sense, Improved Uncanny Dodge, and 2 special abilities (the most powerful of which are likely the 2 bonus feats, but which can include stuff like Improved Evasion, Opportunist, and/or Slippery Mind.)

    In the same time, the Rod picks up another 3d6 in sneak attack, Improved Uncanny Dodge, +6 in DEX (albeit this isnít clear on the RAW. It may actually be +12), Improved Evasion, +10 competence bonuses to Hide and Move Silently, Opportunist, Slippery Mind, increased critical threat range to 17-20 (doesnít stack with Improved Critical), cast Passwall twice per day, cast Shadow Walk twice per day. And the rod can turn into a ladder. On top of this, the Scion PrC also grants 3 new class skills, TWF, and 3 special ability slots, which can be used for to increase sneak attack by another 6d6 maximum, or increase your speed by about 20 feet unarmoured while still raising sneak attack by 2d6 and thus matching the default rogueís 5d6.

    The BAB is the same by both paths, as is the hit dice Ė 1d6. The base saves for Rogue 14 are +4/+9/+4, for Rogue 4/Scion 10 itís +4/+11/+4. There are probably better rogue builds out there, but this would seem to suggest a Swiftstaff Scion build is a little better than default Rogue anyway. Youíre basically giving up better trap sense and access to the 2 bonus feats in place of a better sneak attack ceiling and a couple of other sort-of useful abilities.
    Faithstaff Scion (PrC) + Bonegrinder (Magic Item): Gives a low-level cleric entry TWF, 2 iterations of Extra Turning, +8 to CHA, Enhancement bonus of +4 to each end of the quarterstaff, Heighten Turning, Empower Turning, Quicken Turning, Invisibility to Undead (in a radius), spend Turn Undead to increase your base speed by 10 feet and get +2 to CON, +2 to Will saves within 30 feet of him, cast Searing Light, Consecrate, Daylight. And the PrC preserves full divine casting. If youíre planning on an undead heavy campaign, or hell, even if youíre planning to CoDzilla it using Divine Metamagic, you could do worse than this.
    Faithstaff Scion (PrC) + Rod of the Inquisitor (Magic Item): Bunch of random abilities related mostly to investigator-y stuff (Arcane Sight, See Invisible, Symbol of Persuasion, True Seeing, +6 to Intimidate checks, that kind of thing) but most significantly, a +8 to WIS across 10 levels. And once again, full divine casting is preserved.
    Swiftstaff Scion (PrC) + Etincelle, the Rod of Shock (Magic Item): This one is very clearly meant to be for monks and monks only, though really itís probably a lot better to just dip Monk. Monk 2/Fighter 1 would qualify for this and youíre out and done at level 13 to do other stuff. Similar-ish approach to most of the staves: it basically gives you a few feats for free and some abilities which are questionable to okay. In this case, the staff gives you +20 movement speed when unarmoured, Combat Reflexes, Improved Initiative, Deflect Arrows, Improved Disarm, Improved Trip, Improved Evasion, and then a bunch of Lightning-based abilities (think Shocking Grasp, Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning). The Swiftstaff Scion, though, then adds more interest to it, since it does something similar to high-level Rogues: grants TWF, 3 additional class skills (from a short list), and then 3 bonus abilities from the following: an additional level of caster, Bardic Music, Bardic Knowledge, Leap of the Clouds (as the monk), add +10 to base movement, improved unarmed damage, Improved Evasion, Uncanny Dodge, or raise your Sneak Attack by +2d6 damage. Not a lot of synergy here, though you could get yourself a hilarious 80 feet of movement base speed combining the Scion and the staff. And you could pick just about at random from this lot and youíd still wind up better than a Monk of the same character level.

    Dreadful Features:
    Spellstaff Scion (PrC) + Staff of Doors (Magic Item): How does castingGreater Planar Binding, Maze, Phase Door, Plane Shift, True Seeing, Dismissal, Contact Other Plane, Blink, Dimension Door, Dimensional Anchor at will sound? How about Freedom, imprisonment CL/day as well? How about Gate or Etherealness once per day as well? Well, thatís Spellstaff Scion 10 using the Staff of Doors, which happens around character level 17 for a default Wizard 7 entry. And remember itís a full arcane progression PrC. And bear in mind youíve been steadily picking these up as the levels in the prestige class go on. And yeah, these are special abilities, not spells, so itís questionable whether thereís any material component cost at all. And did I mention that it autodetects secret doors from the first level in the PrC with the staff? Stupid broken.
    Spellstaff Scion (PrC) + The Puissant Rod (Legendary Staff): Well, the Spellstaff Scion gets 10/10 spell progression, so thatís not bad. Also gets TWF for some weird reason, but anyway. The Rod (I refuse to further use the word Ďpuissantí) basically works like a +1 club (it increases to +4 over 10 levels), and allows you to store a few low level spells and cast them on an opponent if you hit them with the rod and do damage with it. Oh, and it also gives you Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, and Combat Expertise over the 10 levels, look out world, here comes the mage with Whirlwind Attack. That said, some levels in this could help out bridging to Swiftblade or Spelldancer. And come to think of it, this might not be too bad as a PrC for a Duskblade, since the spell storing aspect synergises nicely with the Duskbladeís channelling abilities. But it has serious competition, namely, any other short PrC like Abjurant Champion which advances your spellcasting and grants some useful abilities. And the BAB is awful, 5/10.
    Swiftstaff Scion (PrC) + Balade, the Trickster Staff (Legendary Staff): This was clearly meant to be the staff for bards, but it just doesnít stack up compared with what a bard with decent sourcebook access can do (and it tries to make the bard into a TWF fighter, which just isnít going to work, not with the lack of CHA increases). It adds Color Spray and Phantasmal Killer to the bardís casting list, and a total of +12 to Perform checks, but if youíre optimising Inspire Courage or Inspire Awe Iíd look elsewhere.

    Who itís best for (Player/GM/Both):
    Players. Which is part of the problem, but Iíll get to that.

    Comments, thoughts, and rating out of 10:
    On mechanics: initially this book annoyed the hell out of me. The main source of that annoyance was realising that youíre not being sold prestige classes and items that are separate from one another, theyíre pretty much a package deal, because unless you take a prestige class (scratch that Ė the prestige class for that particular type of staff) Ė then the powers of the item simply donít unlock. That is, this is basically a book that gives you a total of 13 staffs based very closely off Unearthed Arcanaís Legendary Weapons (EDIT: Fizban rightly notes that UA was first printed in 2004, which would suggest these actually pre-date Legendary Weapons). (By contrast, there are one or two staves that are ludicrously overpowered, albeit thatís likely from people not appreciating how the words Ďat willí combined with Ď8th level spellí can be game-breaking).
    But.
    The ones in this book are actually better than the Unearthed Arcana prestige classes and weapons, mainly because while the mechanic is identical, the weapons are available at a much earlier point than the comparable Legendary Weapons, and the abilities are, IMHO, better than those granted by the WOTC weapons. The Battlestaff Scion prestige class, when compared point-by-point against its very clear template, the Battle Scion, comes out a feat ahead in the grant of TWF. And at least they donít have the insanity of ruling that if you leave the PrC you can never come back. The drawback, though, is that the staves are a lot narrower in application than they might first appear. Whilst it is theoretically possible for classes other than those intended to gain one of the staves, there seem to be significant opportunity costs for doing so. Theyíre more interesting and less stupid than Legendary Weapons, but theyíre of pretty limited application outside their intended classes Ė at least, not without a lot of optimisation thought and time going into the builds I would guess. And it doesnít reeeeeally do much mechanically about the fact quarterstaffs are (paradoxically) too versatile a weapon to meaningfully compete in the great game of specialisation that D&D 3.5 all but forces one into. At least, by virtue of the publication date, they wound up doing a close copy of Legendary Weapons and not Weapons of Legacy! So - a 1.5/4.

    On concepts and fluff: I regard it as unfortunately pretty weak and generic. As you might guess from my sig block, I have a penchant for quarterstaffs, and it is refreshing to have a whole book devoted to them, but as said what youíre basically getting here is a slightly improved version of Unearthed Arcanaís Legendary Weapons. Thereís nothing really that inspiring in the fluff as such, or anything that really ties a weaponís history to how itís used in the present day. And particularly annoying is that there is no guide or direction given to the DM to create new weapons for the PrCs to use Ė something thatís a similar problem with Legendary Weapons, and a big oversight given how the writers went to all the trouble of creating four different PrCs to use different types of staff. 1/4 here.

    On presentation: the layout of the book was irritating. Serif fonts at small text sizes again, which doesnít make it easy to read, and sometimes tables were on pages where they didnít match the weapon they were addressing. This might sound a bit picky, but good layout design takes account of this stuff and thinks about how someone is going to use the book. In particular I thought the whole design of the book could have been done easier by laying out the prestige class alongside the weapons it was intended to wield, rather than have a whole section of PrCs and then describe the weapons Ė it made it a lot harder to assess whether taking the PrC and the item was worth it. That, in turn, was part of the poorly-executed, or incomplete, concept of having multiple staves that could qualify for one PrC. It wasnít necessary, particularly given the Battlestaff Scion has only one weapon in the book he can use, and the Faithstaff and Swiftstaff Scions have 2 and 3 respectively, with 6 for the Spellstaff Scion. 0/2 here.


    Overall: 2.5/10.

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Quote Originally Posted by Saintheart View Post
    based very closely off Unearthed Arcanaís Legendary Weapons.
    I'm seeing a first printing of 2004 on Unearthed Arcana, which would suggest it went the other way.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fizban View Post
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fizban View Post
    I'm seeing a first printing of 2004 on Unearthed Arcana, which would suggest it went the other way.
    Interesting, so either they anticipated the design or maybe there were some writers in common - I haven't gone to check.

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Cool resource!

    Quote Originally Posted by Saintheart View Post
    Initial impressions are hopeful. 50% of all damage the paladin takes from evil sources, including spells, is stopped. But it then says ďthe maximum total damage stopped in this way is equal to the paladinís Charisma ability modifier/levelĒ, which doesnít make sense since this is going to be fractions of a hitpoint anywhere above Paladin level 5 or so. The example in the spell description doesnít help at all, which is infuriating given how solid and on-theme this spell could have been.
    I think the intention here is not "+ (Cha modifier divided by CL)", but "(+Cha modifier) per CL". So a CL 10 Paladin with 16 Cha will absorb up to 30 HP of damage.
    Last edited by PoeticallyPsyco; 2021-03-25 at 10:01 AM.
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    Realism, the natural predator of D&D mechanics.

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    It's nice to see some of those older obscurer books get some attention. Personally, I've always enjoyed looking at stuff that was written by people in a time when nobody had any idea what was good or bad. I remember reading something somewhere about the Leadership, the "forgotten feat".

    I hope you'll cover some Mongoose stuff. They have a reputation for being unbalanced, but in my opinion most of their books are actually pretty good, with only one or two utterly unbalanced things here and there. Far more common is abilities which are unusable due to poor writing/editing not making certain things clear and requiring a lot of work on the DM's part. They were also clearly only written with the core rulebooks in mind, so they don't really play well with spaltbooks, or with each other. Despite all of that, there's a lot of really good stuff there, some of which made it into WOTC stuff. My personal favorite is probably The Quintessential Samurai, which basically had maneuvers, but with a much less caster-ish feel. Suffered a lot due to a lack of clear delineation between boosts, strikes, and stances, though.

    And then on the other end of the spectrum there's stuff like the absolute mess that came out of Skortched Urf', which just makes me appreciate how well-written and well-edited everything else is. Good times.

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Originally Posted by Saintheart
    We are uncovering dusty, forgotten texts that are going for a fraction of their retail price.
    To paraphrase Palpatine, we will be following this thread with great interest.



    Originally Posted by Saintheart
    The only exception to this Ė if I can find them Ė will be Kenzer and Companyís Kingdoms of Kalamar booksÖ.
    Do you not have copies of these yourself, or are they just hard to get at right now?

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    This is a neat idea. Kudos! Also, good luck!
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Quote Originally Posted by PoeticallyPsyco View Post
    I think the intention here is not "+ (Cha modifier divided by CL)", but "(+Cha modifier) per CL". So a CL 10 Paladin with 16 Cha will absorb up to 30 HP of damage.
    That would be a straightforward house rule to cover it, and you can see how they made the error, but again - editing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kalkra View Post
    I hope you'll cover some Mongoose stuff. They have a reputation for being unbalanced, but in my opinion most of their books are actually pretty good, with only one or two utterly unbalanced things here and there. Far more common is abilities which are unusable due to poor writing/editing not making certain things clear and requiring a lot of work on the DM's part. They were also clearly only written with the core rulebooks in mind, so they don't really play well with spaltbooks, or with each other. Despite all of that, there's a lot of really good stuff there, some of which made it into WOTC stuff. My personal favorite is probably The Quintessential Samurai, which basically had maneuvers, but with a much less caster-ish feel. Suffered a lot due to a lack of clear delineation between boosts, strikes, and stances, though.

    And then on the other end of the spectrum there's stuff like the absolute mess that came out of Skortched Urf', which just makes me appreciate how well-written and well-edited everything else is. Good times.
    I do have Mongeese :) and so I do intend to be covering it, and I'll move some of them up the list since that's where the interest apparently lies with my adoring audience right at the moment As said this'll be a slow tour since I'm not made of money nor have unlimited time on the hands, and I don't have everything, but I'll try and push a book out as regularly as I can. So far at least I think I've lucked into products that aren't truly hideous, which is encouraging, but one of my aims for this is to try and cast a light on stuff which is unfairly maligned because of its third party status. The other reason I think third party likely gets a bad rap is just because not everyone is going to have the book involved. That was more of an argument back in the pre-PDF days, especially now that this stuff is getting on 20 years old and so generally can't command exorbitant prices at the bookstore or online.

    Quote Originally Posted by Palanan View Post
    Do you not have copies of these yourself, or are they just hard to get at right now?
    I do have access to some Kenzer & Co., so I will be doing a bit. A fair amount of these 3rd party books are still around, it seems on smaller RPG bookstores like RPGGeek. But for example The Game Mechanics (which wrote Staves of Ascendance) seems to have gone completely out of business - there were some references to their stuff being published via Green Ronin (themselves having a pretty decent reputation in this area), but I'm really not sure if the business even still exists.

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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    The Game Mechanics has mostly gone on to other things. That resulted in most of their stuff being pulled.

    I can't find my cites right now, but I did some digging on them a few years ago.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saintheart View Post
    That would be a straightforward house rule to cover it, and you can see how they made the error, but again - editing.
    It's not an error, it's fairly normal to write multiplication with a slash, cf. "10 min./level".

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    Quote Originally Posted by sreservoir View Post
    It's not an error, it's fairly normal to write multiplication with a slash, cf. "10 min./level".
    Yes, but the wording in the book is "the maximum total damage stopped in this way is equal to the paladinís Charisma ability modifier/levelĒ. I thought they were giving us a figure, not a rate or ratio.

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    Great work Saintheart, another thread I'll be following.

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    Quote Originally Posted by thorr-kan View Post
    I can't find my cites right now, but I did some digging on them a few years ago.
    Got it. Discussed here, actually:
    https://forums.giantitp.com/showthre...hese-Companies

    Short version: day job keeps TMG from being active.

    I, too, am looking forward to some Mongoose reviews. Will you be keeping it to supplements for D&D or other game lines as well?
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    Quote Originally Posted by thorr-kan View Post
    I, too, am looking forward to some Mongoose reviews. Will you be keeping it to supplements for D&D or other game lines as well?
    No, likely sticking to D&D, because that's about all my sanity can withstand. I might be convinced to evaluate a d20 Modern Martial Arts title somewhere though :)

    Mongooses coming soon!

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    Book of Familiars, Troll Lord Games

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    Summary
    Well, if you were ever dissatisfied with the paucity of options or usability of familiars, this would be one of those occasions where youíre gonna be familiaring so much youíre going to get tired of familiaring, youíre gonna be saying ďPlease, Troll Lord Games, no more familiaring, I canít take it anymore.Ē This is a near 200-page book devoted to, you guessed it, familiars. But not just the little ones who sit on Wizardsí shoulders! Oh no! Every SRD class can now burn a feat to summon a familiar Ö yes, including the Paladin, but we also added more options for Special Mounts too in case youíd rather just have the Special Mount instead! There are now three grades of familiars available, the latter two designed for higher levels of play Ė Standard, Greater, and Supreme - and the array of creatures available as familiars is hugely expanded too (a freaking Shadow as a Rogue familiar! Wyrms for Sorcerers, Homunculi for Wizards, Ancestral Spirits for Monks! The Bard gets a MUSE!) And all classes can now summon an Animal Companion with a feat, if they want. And thatís before you get to the new feats, powers, tricks, and (a few) prestige classes for them too.

    Date of Publication and Page Count:
    March 2004, 186 pages, and thus in the era of 3.5, which was published July 2003. However, the book still retains bits and pieces of 3.0 terminology Ė there are still references to partial actions, for example. This edition is not to be confused with the Book of Familiars from Troll Lord Gamesí Castles and Crusades titles or with the 2011 edition by the same company, which was specifically built for Pathfinder. As at date of review this book doesn't seem to be casually available for purchase as a PDF on large RPG market websites. You may have to go looking for this one elsewhere in the virtual world or the real world. Letís get into itÖ

    Notable Features:
    Dispel Magic (new Greater Familiar ability): Familiar can cast Dispel Magic, 30 foot radius, centred on itself, at will!
    Disenchanter (new Greater Familiar ability): Familiar who touches creatures affected by enchantment, transmutation, curse, petrification, or other magical transformation, can convey the break enchantment spell on the creature touched!
    Darkness (new Greater Familiar ability): Familiar can plunge an area within 20 feet of itself into darkness as the spell. At will. Pretty good if your strategy is to blind the opposition and then take advantage of your darkvision.
    Shadow Familiar (new creature): specific to Rogues only, basically your own shadow turns into a familiar. Not to be confused with an undead shadow, it isnít the most powerful of creatures, but itís incorporeal and therefore hard to hit, is invisible in a shadow or area of darkness, has its masterís feats and other stuff that a familiar normally would. In other words, itís a fantastic resource for setting up flanking for the rogue. (Also, note that the standard rogue familiars can actually sneak attack, getting the same bonus dice as the master does!)
    Muse Familiar (new creature): specific to Bards, the Muse provides a decent number of effects that either boost the bardís effectiveness with his own songs, or provide bard-related effects, e.g. the bard can literally blind people with his performance under one of the museís songs, or indeed penetrate silence effects. The control on this is that the Muse, who is normally invisible, has to Ďmanifestí in order to use this stuff, i.e. they become vulnerable to attack.
    Fey Companion (new creature): specific to bards who take the Fey Companion feat, a bard can summon a fey as his companion (how powerful depends on the Bardís Perform ranks against the feyís CR). Given the fairly significant spell-like abilities that a lot of fey have, this is an option thatís near the top of Notable Features at risk of blowing right through to Dreadful Features. I mean, the list of available fey companions includes Treants, Unicorns, Pixies, and even Nymphs. The latter means youíve got a 7th level druid as a companion, before you start looking at the spell-like abilities. Itís a DC 15 Perform check for that. Admittedly, the Fey Companion feat imposes some balance in that you have to have a certain number of Perform ranks to call a fey of given CR, and it costs you 1,000 gp and 200 XP to do so, but itís a pretty potent option for a bard.
    Defense of the Familiar (feat): If your familiar is within 5 feet of you, and either you or the familiar takes the Fighting Defensively or Total Defense options, then both of you benefit from the dodge bonus to AC. This is one of the better general-use options the book creates, and a really good reason to actually use your familiar in combat.
    Strike of the Familiar (feat): If you full attack, and your familiar is within 5 feet of you and attacks the same opponents, then both of you get another attack at your highest BAB, albeit with a -5 penalty. More attacks are good attacks, and bear in mind the familiar doesnít actually have to hit anybody to get the benefit of this.
    Nature Fetish Ė Hummingbird (new creature): This is basically the Barbarianís unique familiar, and very elegantly ties into the idea of tribal animals, or tribal spirit animals. These tribal spirits grant the Barbarian certain abilities. Now, most of the abilities are reasonably pedestrian, but then thereís the Hummingbird, which, when you get down to it, provides the Barbarian Flight at the Hummingbirdís speed and maneuverability, i.e. perfect if itís as the hummingbird familiar, 1/day as a standard action and lasts a number of rounds equal to the Barbarianís level. Alternatively, the Hummingbird can grant a 1/day Catís Grace.
    Guardian Cloak (Sor/Wiz 1 spell): If your familiar is attached to you, resting at your feet, or on a perch or staff, your cloak, robe, or cape billows about to grant it soft cover (+4 to AC). Awwww, thanks, master!

    Dreadful Features
    Meditative Conveyance (feat) + Improved Meditative Conveyance (feat): Why have one set of pointless abilities when your familiar can have them too? The combination of these feats allow you Ė so long as you place yourself helpless in a trance state Ė to grant your familiar, and I quote: stunning fist, evasion, deflect arrows, still mind, slow fall, purity of body, wholeness of body, improved evasion, ki strike, diamond body, abundant step, diamond soul, quivering palm, timeless body, tongue of the sun and moon, empty body, and perfect self. (Albeit you have to actually have the abilities yourself to convey them on. And yes, all of them can be granted at once. I mean, this could be a whole new world of roleplaying, where the Monk stays at home in a vegetative state while the familiar goes and does all the adventuring with all of the Monkís salient class abilities.)
    Distracting (new Familiar ability): Or, as it should be named, Trolling. At will, as a standard action, the familiar can cause all living creatures within 30 feet to take -1 to attack rolls and skill checks. The master and the familiar are immune to this ability Ö but the rest of the party, by RAW, is not.
    Sensory Familiar (feat): See, feel, touch, taste, and otherwise experience the world through the familiarís eyes (but canít control or communicate with the familiar beyond how you ordinarily could, which all but removes any potential for scouting via the familiar, which is pretty much the only reason youíd contemplate wasting a whole feat on this).
    Detect Magic (Sp) (new Familiar ability): ďAt will, the familiar can detect magic, as per the spell. The familiar can use this ability once per day per 2 levels of its master.Ē Sounds like someone had last minute thoughts on balance but failed the last minute editing.
    Familiar Rage (Ex) (new Familiar ability): Iím sorry, but unless you have a seriously strong familiar then the ability for your familiar to go into a Barbarian rage is just a Leeroy Jenkins option for most familiars and a guaranteed XP loss for you. That said, the sheer lols of giving this ability to a Red Panda or a Turtle (or the sheer awesome of giving this to a MEGARAPTOR DINOSAUR, yes, you can, from Character Level 11) make it worthy of notation here.
    Joined Turning (feat): If your familiar is within 5 feet, you get +1 effective level per familiar for the purposes of turning undead. Honestly, why do people still think turning undead is actually going to be used for turning undead anymore, and why do people think youíd blow a whole feat on something like this?
    Communion Familiar (new creature): This is one of the cleric-specific familiars available, and you can tell even the writers were tossing up about whether to include this given the big ďDM BEWAREĒ paragraph they include with the section on the creature. And thatís because the Communion Familiar is intended as a direct conduit between a cleric and his god. And the mechanical way this is achieved is by giving the familiar 1/day Commune, and 3/day Augury. (It also includes the standard cleric familiar ability which is Healing/Inflicting Touch: 5 times per day, a communion familiar can heal 1d8+1 points of damage at a touch, which is basically a Healing Beltís capacity for out-of-combat or emergency healing.
    Night Lord (Prestige Class): Ah, the children of the night, vot vunderfully awful PrCs they mech. Over 10 levels, most likely starting at 5, pick up +5d6 sneak attack, a fearful presence that can induce Frightening, summon a dire bat as a familiar, get Multiattack and TWF only on your claw attacks with their 1d6 unarmed damage, and command bats.

    Who itís best for (Player/GM/both):
    Oh, definitely for players, with a little guidance to DMs.

    Comments, thoughts, and rating out of 10.
    On mechanics: Iím a bit conflicted on this one because I understand the reasons the designers went with what they did. Mechanically, Iíd say familiars on D&D standard are improved from a C minus to solid B to B plus in terms of power and useability. Are the rules useable by all base classes? Yes. Are they customisable? Definitely yes, albeit controlled on theme (because Fighter familiars canít necessarily get the abilities that Wizard familiars do). Are they well-balanced? Yes for some classes, no for others in my view. And the main problem in my view comes down to virtually every element of your new and improved familiars being hidden away behind feat prerequisites. It is pretty clear the designers were following WOTCís philosophy that if you want to do something good in 3.5, you have to suck up feat taxes to do it.

    Now, for some of these options, I actually think this is okay. For example, the Bardís ability to summon a fey familiar has the potential to be hideously powerful if you know what youíre doing. It is fair and reasonable that you pay some sort of cost for that. Same with the feats that allow you to get an additional familiar ability beyond what the normal progression of familiar abilities is. And maybe itís okay that the Fighter, Monk, Rogue, and Paladin have to stump up a feat to pick up their own familiar or animal companion but the Wizard doesnít; thatís an advantage of the arcanists, and at its most basic the familiar amounts to a Skill Focus (some appropriate skill) feat.

    However, I donít think the same thing can be said for requiring more feats just to pick up the stronger familiar options. To get the strongest familiars in the game, you need three feats: Summon Familiar, Summon Greater Familiar, Summon Supreme Familiar. As it is you canít get the most powerful familiars until youíre at or above a certain character level anyway, so that in itself is a fairly potent control mechanism keeping the party from picking up Megaraptor Dinosaurs at level 1. Imposing additional feats on a character in that situation is in my view overkill since those feats are basically just dead ends, with no synergy to the class otherwise. This is particularly so given the feats canít be taken in bonus fighter feat slots, so thereís no argument back that non-caster characters have more feats to play with. The writers do try to address these concerns by basically saying that when you pick up the Summon Greater Familiar feat, you keep the familiar you already had with the prerequisite feat, but I donít think this solves the problem; even if action economy is king, a low-powered familiar at level 20 is still a walking target that canít contribute that much.

    I think this balance concern is met by the character level prerequisites for better familiars, without having to take another feat. (On the other hand, I also think that requiring an extra feat to pick up a second familiar is entirely reasonable too. Iím guessing that the designers didnít want level 20 characters running around with three very young dragons in their wake, albeit given level 20 characters can more or less pick this up via other methods, I donít know that the concern was that valid.)

    Also, while the book covers a lot of ground in terms of animal companions, it doesnít do a hell of a lot for Special Mounts than standard D&D 3.5 does. The barbarianís Special Mount can Rage and thatís about it. The paladin gets some stronger Special Mounts Ė Elephant, a Giant Wasp, a very young gold dragon, and a group of others. The Greater and Supreme Special Mounts pick up better Spell Resistance and 2-4 special mount abilities (mostly personal stuff like Bullís Strength, Catís Grace, and so on) but not much is really done to make the mount particularly survivable or make mounted combat any stronger per se. And the Fighterís Hero Weapon is not especially impressive, though not useless either.

    Weighing all of this up, I wanted to give them 3 out of 4 on this element, but the near-obsessive desire to gate everything behind feats pulls this back to a 2/4, which is to say, the balance of the average WOTC book if you ignore the brokenness of spellcasting in general.

    On concepts and fluff: This book blew me away on this element. It really did. Basically the writers took just about every concept of a companion spirit or creature in literature and adapted it for use with all base classes of the SRD. We are literally covering everything from ancestor spirits for Monks through to a heroís weapon for Fighters. It is an ambitious piece of work that just sets the imagination on fire, and it just makes the default familiar of the wizard or sorcerer look like a puny little afterthought by comparison. They even include guidance on what familiars are appropriate for different climates, terrains, or races. More than 100 new powers for familiars, more than 200 possible familiars, including stats for 70 new animals and monsters, everything from skunks and flying squirrels to freaking Dark Familiars (hell, you can even get That Damn Crab!). They have worked hard to try and make familiars for all classes credible, and at least in concepts and vision, they succeed, handily. Don't mistake my list of Notable Features as all the book has to offer, it is just a quick list of the stuff that jumped out at me, the whole book is well worth a read if you can get hold of it. 4/4 on this one.

    On presentation: Oh, small Serif fonts, how I hate you, all 190-odd pages of you. That said, the layout and the line spacing is just slightly better than the average of third party books Iíve seen so far. Itís mostly black and white within, but the tables are done with a different font and are images, breaking up the tedium somewhat. Call this a 0.5/2.

    Thus: a total of 6.5/10.

  24. - Top - End - #24
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    This thread looks very interesting, reading through it now.
    One small request: could you include in your reviews a Page count? I'd just like to know roughly how big each source is. You could also mention if the size of each page or word count per page is unusually high or low for a DnD book.
    A neat custom class for 3.5 system
    http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=94616

    A good set of benchmarks for PF/3.5
    https://rpgwillikers.wordpress.com/2...y-the-numbers/

    An alternate craft point system I made for 3.5
    http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showt...t-Point-system

  25. - Top - End - #25
    Troll in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Quote Originally Posted by zlefin View Post
    This thread looks very interesting, reading through it now.
    One small request: could you include in your reviews a Page count? I'd just like to know roughly how big each source is. You could also mention if the size of each page or word count per page is unusually high or low for a DnD book.
    I'll certainly include a page count, and think about the other issue. I'll go back and put up the page counts now.

  26. - Top - End - #26
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Gonna have to check out the Book of Familiars, wasn't familiar with that one.
    Last edited by Kalkra; 2021-03-26 at 10:28 AM.

  27. - Top - End - #27
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    Quote Originally Posted by Kalkra View Post
    Gonna have to check out the Book of Familiars, wasn't familiar with that one.

  28. - Top - End - #28
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    The Quintessential Monk, Mongoose Publishing

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    Summary
    This is a book designed to give the monk a lot more options. New character concepts, weapons, feats, new skill uses, legendary forms, and rules on how to build a monastery, as well as RPG-ish stuff like getting into duels and even Lion Dances.


    Date of Publication and Page Count
    2002, 128 pages. So itís early third edition. Mongoose Publishing gets a lot of controversy if not hate for some of its products, which I havenít experienced personally and so I hope I can set those concerns aside evaluating the book. It is worth noting that Patrick Younts, the sole author of this book (most of the books Iíve seen so far have multiple authors) has claimed in interviews that he was only with Mongoose Publishing for 6 months, that The Quintessential Monk was his first major work in gaming, and under the publisherís dictates, he had one month to write this Ė 128 pages per month, without exception. (Younts turned in 7 of Mongooseís books over that 6 month period.) As at date of review this book doesn't seem to be casually available for purchase as a PDF on large RPG market websites. You may have to go looking for this one elsewhere in the virtual world or the real world.

    Either way, Mongoose did release a second book Ė The Quintessential Monk II Ė which I will be looking at separately. That book did not specifically update this one, rather, Mongoose doubled down and called the second book a sequel and companion to this one, implying that you could still use both products even with 3.0 shifting to 3.5.

    Notable Features
    Eunuch (character template): -4 to CHA checks involving members of the opposite sex; Iron Will for free and +2 to Sense Motive and Bluff checks. Put it this way, Iíve seen other classes amputate lots of, er, essential features to pick up a free feat that also often turns up as a pointless prerequisite for more desirable classes, and unless youíre really into third party, itís not like weíre playing with the Book of Erotic Fantasy hereÖ
    Temple Orphan (character template): 8 bonus skill points to go into monk class skills and Profession or Craft in return for -4 to Bluff, Sense Motive, and Intimidate (which penalties disappear by fifth level). This is solid.
    Pressure Point Attacks (Variant Rule): Finally something that looks like what we saw in the Night Fight scene of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon! Luckily, because of the lack of specificities in this system, itís possible for characters other than the Monk to use this. In essence, make an attack (at a certain penalty depending on the party of the body involved) against a creature in light or less armor (and with <= +4 in Natural Armor) and you can impose penalties on STR, movement, impose (near) blindness and so on. Fortunately you only need to have Improved Unarmed Strike and Stunning Attack to qualify for this, so a dip in monk followed by some sort of martial adept using things like Emerald Razor or similar works too. Indeed the way itís written doesnít exclude multiple pressure point attacks in the same full attack or flurry, so this could be a reasonably potent way of debuffing an opponent, even with the substantial penalties to striking.
    Throw (feat): When making an unarmed trip attack, can cause opponent to land prone in any direction ďwithin your threatened areaĒ. Are you holding a Reach weapon and therefore threatening squares not adjacent to you, thus creating an AoO chance? I knew you were!
    Choose the Poison (feat): When using a stunning attack, YOU CHOOSE WHETHER THE OPPONENT HAS TO MAKE A FORT OR WILL SAVE. If youíre going to go around stunning people, then it helps a hell of a lot to be able to force the big beefy bruiser with the IQ of 40 to use his single-digit Will bonus rather than him grin at you with his Fort save in the teens.
    Finesse Trip (feat): You know how your opponent gets to use his DEX or STR, whichever is greater, when opposing your trip attack? Well guess what, now you can do that too Ö or at least, you use your DEX rather than your STR when attempting to trip an an opponent. Arguably this might extend to the touch attack that sets off the Trip, too, given the wordingÖ
    Hammer Blow (feat): Give up the extra flurry attack and add damage to the first blow equal to the BAB of the sacrificed extra attack, minus the Flurry of Blows penalty. This is a stronger ability under 3.5 given flurry penalties disappear by level 3 monk and the attack bonuses just keep building up.
    Monkey Taunts the Emperor (feat): If youíre looking to try and tank in battle, this might be useful. Bluff check forces an opponent to charge you on his next action, and if you ready an action to meet his charge, your unarmed damage is doubled. Can only be used once per opponent per combat.
    Grappling Throw (Variant Rule): Hurl people around the battlefield if you get a grapple check off, and render them prone 10 feet away from you.
    Chokehold (Variant Rule): Pin an opponent, force a CON check and make the target unconscious. Beats the weird ground game you have to play with grappling and pinning people normally.
    Falling Rock (Variant Rule): Actually use your Slow Fall in tandem with the fact you are a falling object and can be rather painful as you hit!
    Lion Dance and Push Hands Competitions: Not much mechanical benefit, but beautifully in keeping with Eastern cultures Ė Push Hands comes to us from tíai chíi, or at least the martial arts form of it.
    Heal (Acupuncture) (New Skill Use): Heal check can allow you to negate Hold, Slow, ghoulís touch, restore sight/healing, reverse fear effects, stop a character raging. Again, finally something similar to what we saw in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with Li Mu Bai.
    Knowledge (Arcana) (New Skill Use): FENG SHUI! Arrange furniture and orientation of house to grant small Luck bonuses to skill checks, Appraise checks (Prosperity!), Harmony, Health!
    Meteor Hammer (weapon): the martial ball and chain, also see how it was used against the Bride in Kill Bill Vol. 1.in the showdown against the Crazy 88. Finesse weapon, can flurry with in, threaten a radius of 10 feet, but you can only attack using the full attack action. 1d6 damage.
    Mad Devil Staff (Legendary Form): when wielding a quarterstaff, forego all other attacks and resolve a single melee attack at your highest BAB as a touch attack. Damage inflicts quarterstaff + unarmed damage. Looks a lot like Emerald Razor, could be very interesting combined with the Decisive Strike ACF for monks.
    No Shadow Kick (Legendary Form): +2 to hit with all unarmed attacks when attacking an opponent with a lower Initiative than your own. +4 when itís a flatfooted opponent.
    Iron Legs Kickboxer (Prestige Class): Jean-Claude Van Damme, the prestige class. Well, sort-of. Continues monk progression, most significantly raises the threat range of your unarmed attacks to 18-20, i.e. down to 15-20 with Improved Critical, and thus possibly down to 9-20 if can convince your DM to allow Impact via a Necklace of Natural Attacks to apply. Also raises your critical multiplier to x3.


    Dreadful Features
    Pirate of the Eastern Seas (character template): Restricted to Evil or Neutral alignment on character creation, and for this Ö uh Ö bonus, you donít have Diplomacy, Knowledge (Arcana), or Perform as class skills, and you must always keep your Swim skills maxed. Donít know what went wrong there.
    Blunted Blade (feat): +1 Dodge bonus to AC when wielding a one or two-handed weapon. You canít attack with the weapon but may strike with unarmed attacks at no penalty. Also has ridiculous rules on fighting with more than one weapon. So youíre literally harder to hit standing around with a claymore but can only headbutt people (Huh Ö I think in Scotland they call that the Glasgow KissÖ)
    Crushing Blow (feat): At the end of a charge, if you move less than your standard movement, +1 to damage per 10 feet of movement remaining. ďWow, with Longstrider I canóď Not so fast, they thought of that. Extra movement from magic items or spell effects donít add to damage. Which ruins our fun.
    Clever Monkey Spins the Branch (feat): as a move equivalent action, adjust your grip on a Reach weapon to allow you to attack close-range foes. No, you canít use this to attack someone from Reach in the same round as theyíre adjacent to you. No, that includes AoOs too. For all this trouble you might as well just step five feet and smack the person with a full attack.
    Frog on the Lilypad (feat): YES, YOU CAN WALK ON WATER. Dunno why youíd take a feat for it, though.
    Flying Guillotine (weapon): Ö what?
    Iron Legs Kickboxer (Prestige Class): Yes, this is in the Dreadful Features section too, because it grants the Toughness feat Ö though you qualify for the PrC by having Toughness or Great Fortitude as one of the prerequisites. Sigh.

    Who itís best for (Player/GM/both)
    Players, definitely.

    Comments, thoughts, and rating out of 10.
    On mechanics: This is probably the biggest failing of the book, and it is not really inflicted by the bookís mechanics being wonky. It comes from a lack of system mastery and because of flaws inherent in the 3.0 and 3.5 monk. I felt a little sigh escape me when I saw the introduction assert that Ďas a class, the monk has always been a cut aboveí. Added to the issue is that this is very clearly a 3.0 book which has to compete against the whole range of 3.5 including Tome of Battle. That being said, this isnít bad, and thatís mainly because a monk built with the options here feels a lot more like an actual martial artist. As with the Forgotten Heroes: Paladin book, itís the optionality that saves it. But it doesnít provide too much in the way of stuff thatís really powerful or could move the monk up another tier of usefulness; itís more like some of the ideas (Choose The Poison, for example) go some way to remedying some of the monkís weaknesses. I also particularly liked the character templates mechanically; sure, it can be used to mine a free feat here or there, but it also makes you think a bit more about what sort of person you want the monk to be. Sadly, though, and mostly because the monkís a weak character and the author (maybe understandably) didnít have a deep understanding of the problems that monks have in D&D, it doesnít make the Monk much more powerful. The prestige classes are marginal at best (but only 5 levels in each case Ė well done recognising that dead levels are evil), and the Legendary Forms are only kind-of useful. Most of the options in the book simply could have used a bit more oomph. But it does make the monk a little less sucky, and thatís the way to look at this book. 1/4 here.

    On concepts and fluff: Even on a casual read of this book you can tell that the author was tremendously passionate about monks and unarmed fighting in the Eastern tradition. (Younts actually was, and still is, a martial artist, and said he had about 10,000 different works, fiction and nonfiction, from the genre to draw from in building this book.) That passion is reflected in what comes across as a very strong attempt at bringing in just about every major, recognisable form of unarmed martial arts into the book. As said, this book contains everything from Sumo competitions to Tai Chi to Feng Shui use to Lion Dances (from Chinese New Year) to even building your own monastery. It takes a lot of time to sink the reader into character concepts first, to get the reader really thinking about the type of monk they want to play. It is very clearly an attempt to make the D&D monk much more strongly resemble the Eastern martial arts movie character most people who play the monk want to be. And it introduced some pretty solid new concepts for the time, those being outright replacement of monk special abilities with suites of other, more martial-ish stuff, in the form of martial fighting schools. WOTC was already doing something similar in Oriental Adventures from 2001, but Younts tunes the concept to at least make it more thematic ...and doesn't lock everything up behind feats. Sadly, the fighting schools still aren't great. Does the book fix or turn the monk into a seriously powerful character? Not even close. Does it make the monk more fun to play? Yes. So it does deserve I think a 3.5/4 on this field.

    On presentation: Nice layout that isnít hard on the eye, nice artwork. Yes itís all black and white aside from the cover, but the reams of text are broken up with an eye to a readerís sanity. It gets a 1/2 for this.


    Total score: 5.5/10.



    Next time: Quintessential Monk II!

  29. - Top - End - #29
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    I bought all the Q books back in the day, in hard copy no less, and whilst the content was definitely variable, on the whole I didn't feel like I'd wasted my money (except on the rare occasion that one of the books was a definite dud).

  30. - Top - End - #30
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Trashes & Treasures: Older 3rd Party Sourcebooks, a Walking Tour

    It's been a while since I read the Q. Monk, but I recall it having a lot of stuff that was good for characters who aren't Monks, or at most who took a 1-level dip. Monkey Taunts the Emperor, for instance, can be very good for a Crusader lockdown build. Also, I'll mention that I'm pretty sure Clever Monkey Spins the Branch was functionally reprinted in some WotC splatbook with a much more generic name, as a surprising amount of Mongoose stuff was. For that matter, one could argue that the Divisive Strike ACF was inspired by some of the stuff in this book, although who can really say.

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