Dreadmire

Dreadmire
From: Spellbinder Games
Reviewed by: Joseph Martin

Dreadmire is an RPG supplement from Spellbinder Games.

This is an impressive work. The author states that it was a 10+ year endeavor and it shows. The sheer amount of information in this 224 page book is overwhelming. Just the word count is amazing. An 8×11 book with small text, even considering illustrations, maps and charts contains a lot of wordage. Be prepared to take some time to read though it.

From the back cover: “Dreadmire Swamp is the definitive reference book on adventure life and unlife in the swamp.”

While being described as a swamp source book, Dreadmire is much, much more. This is both everything you would want or need to know about playing D&D in a swamp environment and a campaign setting laid out for you to do so.

This is a hardcover book. The full color cover is good quality and glossy. The art at first glance may seem like it could be a little neater and cleaner but as you go through the book you may think of it as ‘old school’ as I did. This is the kind of art seen in older D&D and 2nd edition AD&D books. The internal pages of the book itself are all black and white. No color illustrations or maps. The maps themselves are well done for the most part. The paper feels like good quality and the book, if cared for, should last quite a while. The text is on the small side. Readers with vision problems may have a little trouble with it.

The book begins with a few maps, some history and descriptions of the swamp and area. The one thing I have issue with in this book is organization. It’s well laid out in a printed fashion but when reading through you find there are factions, races, division and other ‘boundaries’ that are described in the text in several places over the first few chapters but not denoted on any maps. The maps simply have the terrain type and names of towns, villages and such. This is where a little internal color could have made all the difference. A basic overlay or some other indication of which areas are human friendly, orc friendly, evil friendly, good friendly or insect friendly would be of great assistance. Significant and not so significant places and people are detailed well. However, the major characters and points of interest are listed independent of their places of residence so you have to flip around quite a bit to figure out who and what is where.

Having said that, the background is rich and detailed. Any problems the descriptive sections of this book might have are really just organizational. The author has obviously put a lot of work into this book and it shows. You can easily visualize the villages, forests, bogs and river deltas while reading through it. I would love to both run an adventure and play one with a group of Bayou Halflings as the party.

Over 250 new monsters are advertised on the back cover. Many of these are swamp variants of existing monsters. Most of those variants are quite interesting and a needed addition to the target area. Other new campaign centered creatures and more general use creatures are listed. Some of these could be modified to use as character races. Plants and undead are the most numerous additions as you may surmise. Many of the new plants are just given a description and no stat block. Swamps are dangerous places but any character made for this game should take a few ranks in Knowledge (Local Flora and Fauna). Many plants are poisonous. In some cases, that is the least of your worries. I believe there are a few plants listed with a low Challenge Rating that could cause a Total Party Kill.

Many new magic items and spells are provided. In this setting, they are called juju. Once again, there are quite a few that are items modified for a swampy environment but several new general items and spells are given that may be attractive to your average adventurer. Your average everyday magical weapons, armor, scrolls and miscellaneous items are mixed in with a few singular items of almost legendary status.

The new classes are by and large either swamp or campaign related. Muckrangers, Balladmongers, Moor knights and others populate the land along side ‘average’ warriors, commoners and day-to-day classes. Some of these classes are a bit ‘low powered’ and more of a support class. They are useful in the environment but probably not attractive to many power gamers.

Three adventures are provided. The low level ‘Great Bayou Halfling boat race’ is the best in my opinion. Some encounters are not fully fleshed out and left up to the imagination of the Game Master. The intermediate level Bog of the Fungus Demon and the advanced level Secrets of the Sinking Citadel have a few confusing encounters and can be exceptionally deadly.

From page # 205: “A swamp, bottomland forest, morass or quagmire generally refers to freshwater wetlands with trees and woody bushes that are seasonally flooded.”

The appendices of the book include a section about swamp ecology, the environments, dangers, weather patterns and generally all the information you might want or need to survive. If you are running a swamp based game, even if it is not Dreadmire, this is worth the read. A collection of charts, maps and more also give a nice collection of information all in one place.

In conclusion, while Dreadmire is an impressive work, a prospective Gamemaster will need to take extra time out to sort out and organize all the details. While written for D&D 3.5, this could easily be converted to Pathfinder’s D&D 3.75 system. I say easily but the person taking that task on is in for a lot of work considering the number of stat blocks, spells and other minor items that would need to be tweaked.

For more details on “Dreadmire” check out the website http://www.dreadmire.com. Please note that Spellbinder Games seems to be defunct and their web site non-existent. Copies of the games may be hard to find at your local gaming store but can be found online through links on the above web site.

Codex Rating: 15

Product Summary

Dreadmire

From: Spellbinder Games
Type of Game: RPG sourcebook / campaign setting
Written by: Randy Richards
Game Design by: Randy Richards
Developed by: Mark Williams
Cover Art by: Zack Overton, Dan Howard and Janet Chui
Additional Art by: Hannah Spute, Paul Daly, Rick Hershey, J Scott Pittman, Gordon Grant and Octavirate Entertainment.
Number of Pages: 224
Original Retail Price: $29.95 US
ISBN: 0977338339

Website: http://www.dreadmire.com

 

Reviewed by: Joseph Martin

Radiance Player’s Guide

From: Radiance House
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Radiance Player’s Guide is a new Role Playing Game from Radiance House.

I stumbled across this RPG in a discussion about a friend wanting to start a new campaign that wasn’t Pathfinder or D&D 4e.  He asked for suggestions for other systems and someone suggested this one.  It was described as a combination of all that was good about 3rd edition OGL mashed together with good bits of 4th edition as well as some Star Wars d20.  I was intrigued.  In a time when the market is dominated by what is considered the next generation of the 3rd edition rules – Pathfinder – I was interested in seeing someone else’s approach to update the 3rd edition rules.

From website: “Behind the bright lights, beneath fuming factories and above dirigible skies, at fey masquerades, or off in exotic lands… mysteries whirl, eldritch magic unfolds, ghoulish tentacles slither, and angels and demons still struggle in battle for our eternal souls.”

Although the website touts the game as a generic fantasy RPG, the book itself implies a default setting that is fantasy as well as steampunk.  Initially, I did not see a lot of detail about the setting.  The book seems to focus more on the rules than the setting.  The closest the book comes to dealing with the setting is a chapter on something called Electrotech.

Not being a person that is overly familiar with D&D 4e, it was difficult for me to discern between the 3e influences and the 4e influences initially.  At the end of the PDF, it has the obligatory 3e OGL license agreement but I felt there was more 4e influence than 3e.  It might be a gray area in legalities between the 3e OGL and equivalent 4e agreement.

On the surface, character creation is fairly standard for those familiar with d20 OGL.  You determine your attributes (standard d20 six, ranging from 3 to 18), select a race, class, skills, and determine various stats.  However, in the effort to provide with fewer tables and thus fewer needs to page dive into rule books, it provides more straight forward ways of calculating and determining many of the values.  With what little I know of D&D 4e, I was able to recognize some of the influences here.  For instance, many of the classic bonuses like save bonuses or attack bonuses are now rolled up into class level.

Also it has changed some of the aspects of each of the “big six” attributes and added a few more to supplement as secondary attributes.  For example, charisma is less about how your character physically looks and more about your character’s personality, leadership and appeal.  For the physical side of this, the game adds an attribute called Comeliness and it is derived from the race.  In general, comeliness is relative no matter where you go and in this case it is relative to an typical human – 1 to 4 is ugly while 21 or higher is supernaturally beautiful.

There are a considerable number of races to choose from – a total of 24.  There are the ones you would expect- human, elves, dwarves, half-elves and half-orcs.  There are also tieflings like in 4e.  There are also other more obscure races– Asimar (celestial race), Dromite, Goliath, Grippli, Raksasha and Pygmy.  There are also some fairly original races (from what I can tell) – the Atlan (aquatic humanoids), the Drack (draconians), and the Warmech.  The Warmech in particular is obviolsy inspired by the Warforged in Eberron, but changed just enough to be different. Races provide a variety of important things including bonuses to atributes, base size, speed, wound points, racial abilities, base age and, as said, comeliness.

Gone, however, are the notions of feats or powers.  Each class has a set of abilities that the character can choose from.  In much the same way that D&D 4e has powers, Radiant has various tier abilities – core, basic, intermediate, advanced and paragon (similar to the three tier system in D&D 4e).  Additionally, a character has racial abilities to choose from.  All of these take the place of class abilities, feats and spells.  However, how that reduces the book diving, I am not sure because you still will be looking up how the abilities work.

Also rather interesting is the number of classes this game provides – a total of 30.  They range from the standard Rogue, Barbarian, and Druids, as well as other classes influence by Pathfinder and D&D 4e like Artificer, Blackguard, Gunslinger, and Warlock.  Some I think were prestige classes at one time in 3rd edition but now have been rolled up into base classes.  When selecting a class, the player is choosing a Prime Attribute, which drives many things in the system.  Classes also provide base attack (also derived from level), which save you use for defense, armor and weapons proficiencies (although they are no longer feats), core abilities as well as tier abilities.  Core abilities are the abilities the class starts out with and as the character goes up in levels, they can choose from their tier abilities.

This is where a lot of the book-diving the game claims to rid you of, will occur.  Many of these abilities remind me of the old 3.x feats with a little more kick.  Meanwhile, they scaled down the concept of spells, in the interest of balance much like 4e did, and limited the magic users to these tier abilities as well.  The tier abilities are spells as well.  Gone are the concepts of schools, spells per day and known spells.  They are just powers you can whip out whenever.  It does take away some of the complexity behind magic users while balances out a mixed party but it also takes away some of the mystique and appeal of a magic user.

The old 3.x mechanics behind spells known, spells per day, etc were also the difference makers between all the magic users.  In this edition, the difference makers are in the nature of the classes.  Sorcerers, for instance are virtually restricted to one school – the draconic school of magic – and slowly take on draconic attributes as they level.  Other “schools” of magic are represented through other classes like Artificer, Elementalist and others.

Something new to the character creation process is something called a Theme, which is  “a narrative path” for your character.  From the book – “A theme provides an archetypal focus or meaning.”  At first glance they appear like professions in d20 Modern.  However, they are a little more than that.  They provide further ways to customize your character through Minor and Major Awards.  I know one of the major complaints of the 3.x class system is the feeling of cookie cutter characters.  Radiance makes every attempt to resolve that.  Themes are just one way it does that fairly well.

From the back cover: “Radiance RPG blends the best of editions of the world’s most popular role-playing games.”

At the heart of any d20 based/D&D influenced game is combat.  The most common question is “…yea but how long does combat last?”  From the start, Radiance touts that it is streamlined and flexible.  From a character generation point of view, that seems fairly true.  It definitely creates better options than the cookie cutter classes of old d20.  There are two key aspects of game play when judging a system – combat and task resolution.  Skills have no levels and are strictly based on attribute bonus and a d20 role.  Some abilities (racial or class tier) add adjustments to that as well, like feats used to do, except with a range of +3 to +10 and sometimes more.  Difficulty classes are also slightly adjusted from standard d20.  For instances Easy in old d20, Easy was a DC 5.  In Radiance, Easy is DC 10.

Combat has always been a sticking point in any d20 variant, from base to Pathfinder.  One way Radiance streamlines this process is reducing the number of bonuses and stats you have to worry about.  Defenses are all rolled up into the standard  saves – Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.  Armor no longer adjusts defense but instead has Damage Reduction.  It always bothered me that some armor had both a bonus to defense as well as a damage reduction value.  This streamlines all that up.  Radiance uses the Wound/Vitality system alternative to hit points, like Star Wars d20 and others.  This can be a little more deadly than standard hit points.

There is also a chapter, “Exploring,” which covers a lot of the other game rules that you would expect – interaction with the environment,  special rules on environment and movement, travelling through space, breaking things, weather, and a variety of other special rules.  There are also a few pages dedicated to “other Realms.”  These are divine realms of the many deities (see below) and it gives the DM more options for adventures.  There is also a whole section on creating creatures and gives one sample.  I would guess a bestiary is pending.  I saw somewhere in the commentary of a video review of this product that monsters from D&D 4e are easily converted to this system.

Also included is a chapter on the pantheon, complete with 22 deities, all basically similar to the pantheons most RPG players are used to seeing.  However, the gods are another source of abilities called Boons.  These are one-time abilities the players use when they spend Faith Points.  All classes – not just faith-based characters – gain faith points each level.  This interestingly ties a character’s faith into his character, making him thematically stronger.

To complete the book is a considerable chapter on equipment which contains a variety of fantasy based weapons and a few steampunk oriented ones as well.  There is also a chapter on magic items and a chapter called people, which introduce a series of factions, cultures, and people.  I can’t help but get the feeling that I am reading only half the story – that they are giving you some of the setting but don’t want to give you too much.  They are trying to bridge the gap between generic system and the setting they based it on without making you feel obligated to using their setting.

In conclusion, this game has a lot of thought put into it.  The writer defines his goals for the game upfront and for the most part accomplishes them.  It bridges the gap between D&D 4e and Pathfinder/3.x edition d20 systems.  It creates a much more flexible environment for characters while keeping theme and character roles important.  I would not say it’s the perfect system but it is a good system to try out.  I was never a fan of 4th edition and there is just enough of its influence that it’s noticeable but doesn’t ruin it for me.  I commend the writer for his ingenuity, passion and creativeness in this system.  Despite the veiled references to a setting, it is a complete product from a system point of view.  It is also presented rather handsomely with great looking art and a great layout.  I have heard that the hard back is worth buying.

For more details on Radiance House and their new Role Playing Game “Radiance Player’s Guide” check them out at their website http://Http://www.RadianceRPG.com.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

Radiance Player’s Guide
From: Radiance House
Type of Game: Role Playing Game
Written by: Dario Nardi
Cover Art by: Eric Lofgren
Additional Art by: Judah Ben Jehoshua, Eric Lofgren, Mike Muffins, Dario Nardi, Chris Pritchard, Joe Slucher, and Frank Walls
Number of Pages: 286
Game Components Included: PDF or Print version
Retail Price: $ 14.95 (US) (for print); Free PDF
Website: http://www.radiancerpg.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung