Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tommy's Take on: Martial Flavor, for D&D 4e

Martial Flavor is an interesting product.  Its a 3rd party 4th edition D&D supplement designed for the purpose of adding some extra variation to your D&D PCs...specifically, those of the Martial power source.  The book is a PDF, bookmarked and searchable.  It is written Hannah Lipsky, who basically IS Chaotic Shiny Productions, and has art by Rachel Yung.

The premise of the book is simple:  Five cultures, each of which has details on the races and classes that it favors, a discussion of their societal set-up, common threads in a appearance and so forth, and ending in some crunchy bits for your games, such as Utility Powers the PC can choose to take and cultural feats.  Nothing here REPLACES anything in 4th edition, just adds another layer of detail to the Race/Class paradigm.

The art is...not great.  On one hand, I think the colors are very vibrant, and I would be inclined to say they bring the art up a level.  The book is very pretty with the color scheme and tones in place.  On the other, there are several black and white, line art pieces that look much better than the color I don't know if the colors are actually boosting the quality of the color art, or actually bringing it down.  Either way, I would put it a tad below what I've come to expect from RPG art these days.

The Daikort Pact

The first culture is a race of mercenary warriors.  These are ruthless, cutthroat types who take missions from third parties and assign warriors to the job.  As well, the Daikort have a system of favors in place that they barter with one another which can be used to compel a packmate to perform a mission for you.

Sidebars cover naming conventions for the Daikort, in which they take animal names based off of their specialty, and a list is provided of 10 missions performed by the Daikort which can be used as inspiration for Daikort missions in your own game.  All of the Player's Handbook races get a paragraph discussing how well they fit with the Daikort, and the Player's Handbook 2 races get a single paragraph.

A series of sample NPCs (unstatted) are provided, and then the chapter provides mechanical options for Rangers and Warlords (such as replacing Prime Shot with a new Class Ability called Feral Strike).  A list of Utility Powers follows, such as Instinctive Orientation which gives you an internal compass, and Turn the Tables, which eliminates a surprise disadvantage and grants your party an initiative bonus.

14 Feats for the Daikort follow, for the Heroic and Paragon Tiers, many of them triggered off of failing saving throws or taking damage, giving the Daikort a “never say die” attitude.

The Elessim

The Elessim are a culture with a forgotten past.  Whatever has driven them to the circumstances of raising horses on the plains, they don't speak of it and they don't keep record of it.  They pay every God some homage, in fear of offending one by favoring another.

Again, each race in the first PHB gets a paragraph, though this culture favors the two elven races, humans, halflings and half-elves.

The mechanical options for The Elessim are provided for Rangers and Fighters, and all focus on mounted builds (like Fighters gaining an attack bonus when mounted).  The Utility powers have some nice effects, my favorite being Horse-Hearted, which allows for your mount catching something you may have missed and alerting you.  19 Feats are present for Heroic and Paragon tiers, all involving mounts.  A standout here is Fey Rider, which allows Eladrin to take their mounts with them when they Fey Step.

The Ikanoi

The Ikanoi are fantasy Eskimos who are very tribal and friendly with outsiders, if somewhat dismissive of their capabilities.  An Ikanoi will become lifelong friends with one that proves their worth to them, however.  Hailing from the cold grants Ikanoi cold resistance.

Ikanoi are all covered in tattoos, starting with a tribal chest tattoo and vary from there by the experiences of the individual.  Each location is meant for a different part of the person's heritage and experiences, and the author does a great job detailing this.  11 Guiding Ancestors are provided to flesh out the heritage of the PCs, as well as the legends of the Snow Spirits, imps known to steal babies and kill travelers.

The Races section here focuses on dragonkind, dwarves, humans and half-elves, with a single paragraph covering the remaining PHB races, and a second one for the PHB2 races.

Fighters, Rangers, Rogues and Warlords all get treatment here, from class abilities to Utility Powers.  I was less impressed with the Utility powers here, though I like the cultural details more.  20 feats, most of which are cold based, but more than a few of which are tied to the cultural link to the Guiding Ancestors.

The Legions of Arytis

This culture is designed around protecting the city of Arytis, to which they have a slavish devotion.  The children are trained to be guards from day one, and those not physically able to to join the guard wind up in whatever service capacity they are suited for.

This culture isn't specifically geared toward certain races, though dragonborn are mentioned as the best candidate if you decide this culture is composed entirely of one race.  Each core race gets a full paragraph here, with the PHB2 races again sharing a single paragraph.

Fighters and Rogues get the mechanical perks here, with Rogues acting as assassins and spies as opposed to thieves.  In fact, Arytyn Rogues get a noticeable build shift, focusing more on Strength as opposed to Dexterity.  15 feats, but one or two are truly nasty, such as Brutal Killer which grants you a free attack if your Sneak Attack Bloodies your target.

The Sijara

A second nomadic race, the Sijarans are less “horsemen” and a little more “gypsy”.  The appearance section here details the different colors of sashes worn by the Sijarans, with the meanings of each detailed.  As well, Sijarans are known for wearing lots of jewelry “wearing their wealth” as it were.

Half-elves, humans, halflings and tieflings get the most focus here, with two paragraphs covering all of the other races.

The mechanical perks focus on Warlords and Rogues, with the best Utility power (in my view) going to Warlords with their Whirlwind Strategy.  This allows them to shift one ally per round a number of spaces equal to their Charisma modifier so long as the Warlord isn't moving.  18 feats present here, such as Unshakeable Loyalty which allows a Warlord and his allies to make multiple saves against Charm and Fear effects each round.


The interesting part about this book, is that it is weighted more towards fluff than crunch, meaning that its easy enough to take these cultures and drop them into a different game system if you so chose.

I really liked the Ikanoi, at least from a fluff perspective, and I found the rogues of the Legions of Arytis as well as the entirety of the Daikort Pack to be intriguing.  There is definite use here for the non-4e group, but some nice stuff built in for the 4e group.

The plan is to expand this line with Arcane Flavor (and, I assume, Divine Flavor), as well as mini supplements for the cultures inside the books, expanding upon the information here.  In fact, Arytis and The Sijara have already been released as their own titles.

The author does a great job giving important details to the cultures, while providing information in broad enough strokes that a) you can drop it into your game easy enough and b) she doesn't bore you to death.

That said, there are downsides.  I don't know what the going rate is for D&D 4e third party PDFs is, but my gut tells me that $15 seems JUST a touch expensive.  Certainly, if you're going to buy it for a non-4e game, then I would have to see its a bit overpriced.  For me, I would rather pay $5 to have the Ikanoi fully fleshed out, than $15 and get a culture like The Sijara that don't appeal to me in the book as well.

The other thing, to my mind, and I hate sounding brutal..I just don't like the art, especially the color art.  The colors themselves are gorgeous, but something about the art is flat when colored.  The black and white art in the interiors looks much better than the colored cover.

Still, far from a bad product.  If you want a little more variation in your D&D characters, or even a unique group or two for your own fantasy game, you could do far worse than Martial Flavor.