so, i'm functioning on 2 hours of sleep. i'm going to start this review tonight and finish it up over the next day or two...i just wanted to get started and i figured it would be easier to break the review into 2 parts - since the NEW CLASSES and SPELLS chapters will require a bit more reading on my part.
the book has 5 main parts which i'll talk about individually: random tables, exceptional traits, firearms, new classes, and new spells. all of the new spellcasting classes shy away from vancian casting...which is a good thing, in my opinion. i HATE vancian casting and we've pretty much dumped it out of our game and it hasn't been missed.
tonight i'm just going to focus on the random tables and the exceptional traits. i'll touch on the firearms rules and then call it a night.
the book starts off with a nifty chart where you can roll for the type of headgear/helmet your character has. this may seem silly and unnecessary - but i think it's a pretty awesome way to add some depth to both your character and the game. i had the chance to be a part of the "friends and family playtest" for 5E (or whatever it's called) and there was a cool little table in that playtest that allowed you to randomly roll the appearance of magic items. i kept that table (and tossed the rest of the playtest) and started using it in the games i was running. i discovered that simple equipment descriptions open all kinds of roleplaying avenues. instead of saying "yeah, it's a sword and it looks well crafted" because you can't think of anything else...a simple roll on that table led to "you see a sword...it's small, elegant, and seems to have a motif of spiderwebs along the blade. the hilt looks vaguely demonic"...now i had players not wanting to touch it, others who wanted it badly, others who wanted to name it, and still some others who wanted to keep it so that they could trade it back to its makers in a pinch. anyway, enough about 5E - my point is that tables like this are cool. watch, i'll give the table a random spin and see what i get. my halfling WORTHINGTON needs a new hat, anyway. let's see what he winds up with: helm; masked and adorned; skull face and tusks. damn, that's badass!
the other table is titled 100 FINE REASONS CHARACTERS TRAVEL TOGETHER. i had downloaded this a while back and we've been using it whenever we generate new characters. everyone in our group loves it and we've broken it out and used it during other games as well. it's a way to give new characters life and the randomness of the chart allows for some awesomely unexpected twists that have really added quite a bit of depth to our sessions. quite simply - you roll percentile dice and consult the chart. we usually roll to see how we know the person sitting to our right. a few sample results: "met on a ship - shanghied from the same bar while drunk"; "are lovers"; "met in school, hate each other and are plotting each other's demise"; "are from the same small town". you get the idea. very fun and very useful.
i'll give you an example of this chart and what it can add to a game from one of our sessions: the last time we made new characters, i decided to make a VAT-SPAWN (a class from the SECRET SANTICORE). one of his abilities was PLEASURE SLAVE (basically, his sweat is an aphrodisiac). we rolled on the chart to see how my character (named ARCHIBALD) knew rich's character. i got "met in prison - busted out by a mutual friend who died in the escape attempt". we decided that a local official's wife had been, um...using my "services". he found out and had me thrown in jail. rich's character knew the woman as well, and had been jailed for trying to help her get me out. eventually, she was able to bribe some of the guards to smuggle us out together, but the husband found out and had her "eliminated". as we were coming up with this story, i could see that our DM (chris) had developed an evil look in his eye...as if this cool origin we had just concocted was going to come back to haunt us...
one of the ideas i liked in 3/4E was that characters could do cool things that they weren't allowed to do in earlier editions. i never liked the implementation of feats, skills, or powers though. that's where EXCEPTIONAL TRAITS come in...they're like feats or abilities that don't suck, but also don't unhinge the game. basically, when you make a 1st level character you roll on a table to see what your trait is - each class has 12 options. elves can roll on the fighter table or the magic user table. dwarves and halflings roll on the fighter table. at the DM's option, characters can learn new traits as they gain levels. here are some examples: if you're a cleric, maybe you can wield a sword or automatically communicate with any creature. if you're a fighter, elf, dwarf or halfling, maybe you have a magic item that's a family heirloom or you have a loyal, kickass pet. if you're a thief, maybe you're a skilled musician that can earn some gold while playing (and maybe work some magic as well) or you're adept at flipping into position for a backstab attempt. if you're a magic user or an elf maybe you radiate magic or can cast silent spells. all of the options are pretty neat. what i really like is that the standard human classes have traits like "elf bastard" or "dwarf exile" that allow you to play a standard class as a demihuman race with some cool benefits - and also some drawbacks. for example, the dwarf outcast (a thief trait) is a dwarven thief...they roll d6 hp instead of d4, take a hefty minus to most of their thieving skills, gain infravision and languages but WILL BE OSTRACIZED BY OTHER DWARVES. that's just cool.
ok, i'm about to pass out on my keyboard. as you can see, i like the book quite a bit and we're not even into the classes yet! i did notice one thing, though - in the firearms section there are no damage dice listed. i guess that's not a problem if you're using the old "everything does d6" damage rule...but i think guns should generally do more damage than a d6. out of curiosity, i looked back on JB's blog and in the original entry he says that firearms should deal d8. i'm not seeing that anywhere in the book, though. maybe i'm just exhausted.
ok, more later.