EZG reviews Children of the Hammer (Revised Edition)
This pdf is 30 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we!
Now dwarves in Rhûne are different from those in traditional fantasy settings – an ancient race of industrial innovators, they are anything but dour and actually determined by one central concept: They know Ragnarök is coming, the final battle – and they intend on winning the conflict! Thus “do it right or don’t do it at all” could sum up their approach to just about anything – they intend to last, they intend to survive and thus they craft, they innovate, they prepare. Most dwarves in Rhûne follow a calling that aligns them with one of the 3 clans: Clan Redwall consists of the dwarves who could be seen as the holy warriors who train for the final battle and stand watch versus the threat from the North. Clan Hammerfall (a nod to the heavy metal-band?) are the traders, travelers and the clan that provides for the famed alchemical gardens of the dwarves. Clan Runesinger is tasked to preserve dwarven lore and magic and of course, the runes they have saved when the Grand Galdr was sundered.
It should be noted that each clan is also treated as its own subrace of dwarf with an alternate array of racial traits. Clan Redwall dwarves get +2 to Con and Wis, -2 to Cha, slow and steady landspeed (20 ft., not modified by encumbrance etc.), darkvision 60 ft., +2 to saves versus poison, spells and spell-like effects as well as stability, proficiency with dwarven firearms (and +1 atk and damage), count only as staggered when reaching 0 HP (and continue functioning, but losing 1 HP per round) and may 1/day add 1d6 fire damage to their weapon attacks via their ancient connection to the primeval forges.
Dwarves of Clan Hammerfall gain +2 to Con and Int, -2 to Wis, slow and steady landspeed (20 ft., not modified by encumbrance etc.), darkvision 60 ft., +2 to saves versus poison, spells and spell-like effects as well as stability, +2 to bluff, craft (alchemy) and diplomacy, +1 skill point per level and alchemists of the clan gain +1 discovery at first level and +1 damage per die with acid bombs. This race would benefit for an alternative benefit for dwarves NOT becoming alchemists – gearing a race too much towards a given class is problematic and an alternate benefit would allow the clan to shine in other professions like bards, rogues etc.
Clan Runesinger gets +2 to Con and Wis, -2 Cha, slow and steady landspeed (20 ft., not modified by encumbrance etc.), darkvision 60 ft., +2 to saves versus poison, spells and spell-like effects as well as stability, +2 to AC when underground, light sensitivity, +1 natural AC (further +1 every 5 levels), count as one level higher when casting spells with the [earth]-descriptor or for purpose of the earth domain, earth elemental or forge heart bloodlines or the revelations of the oracle’s stone mystery. Dwarves of Wis 11+ gain 1/ day stone call. They also gain spell resistance 11+ character level, which they can lower as a free action. This, to me, feels power-wise like the strongest of the clans, but if you’re familiar with the fluff, it’s also the clan that will have the most problems of drawing in concentrated support, so I wager in setting the balance should work – still, I am always VERY skeptical about playable races with SR, especially when it can be lowered as a free action. Imho, to balance this clan, the lowering should at least be a move action, with a feat making it possible to become a free action at no sooner than mid-level. It’s a bit weird that the clan does not gain the level bonus for the new oracle mystery in this book, though.
New mystery? Yes, we get the Forge mystery alongside 10 new revelations that allow oracles to throw sacred embers, go into defensive stances, bless weapons to become keen, let weapons dance when you crit and rebuke weapons via a rune. It is also the lvl 15 ability of the new sorcerer bloodline, the Forge Heart. And while I’m not a fan of ability-overlap, the rebuking of weapons ROCKS HARD since it’s actually worded in the concise quality I’ve come to expect from Storm Bunny Studios. A bit weird: Oracles need to be level 14 to choose this revelation – but why? They don’t get a revelation at 14th level, but on 15th level. Oh well – in the end a minor glitch.
But back to the bloodline: Essentially, the benefits are in line with the oracle revelations and both even have the same transcendence capstone. Personally, I’m not a big fan of these, but oh well.
Now that these are out of the way, we are introduced to a variety of goods that grows in the fabled alchemical gardens of Clan Hammerfall with 6 new alchemical fruits that offer some neat benefits when consumed – I’m a huge fan of these and hope we’ll one day see more of them. We also get a pouch to preserve these alchemical fruits and a new first level spell to preserve food.
In the second big chapter of the book, we take a look at the industrious clockwork elves, sundered from their immortality and loathed by their ælven cousins, punished for a choice that was not theirs and perpetually defined by stories about them and their accomplishments, oh, also, these are the guys that actually managed to create life via the Automata-race that is detailed in its own sourcebook.
Clockwork Elves get +2 to Dex and Int, -2 to Con, low-light vision, +2 to Knowledge (Clockworks) and Disable Device, +2 to appraise and spellcraft-checks to determine magical properties and worth of clockworks, +1 to AC versus constructs, +4 to craft-checks involving mechanical items or moving parts, immunity to sleep and +2 to saves versus enchantment, +2 to perception, -1 caster level and -2 DC when casting spells from the druid or ranger-lists and as long as they carry something reflective, they get +2 to AC versus rays and may 1/day deflect rays as if they were arrows deflected via the deflect arrows feat.
We also get a variant of the Clockwork Elves, the so-called “Ashen”, who essentially look like elves afflicted by extreme albinism. They get +2 to Str and Dex, -2 to Cha, -1 caster level and -2 DC when casting spells from the druid or ranger-lists, +2 to perception, weapon finesse as a bonus-feat, +1 to attacks and damage versus ælves, light sensitivity, +2 to initiative, treat gun-blades as martial weapons and get +1 to atk and damage with them and when in complete darkness, they get fast healing 2 up to a total of character level x 2 hp per day. This is perhaps the design-wise coolest race I’ve seen so far in Rhûne – kudos!
We also get a new magus archetype, the Spellshot, who may deliver their spellstrikes via their ranged weapons – ouch!
We also get 6 new feats: Ashbound Gaze allows the cursed clockwork elves to intimidate animals, Clocker grants a +2 bonus to Craft (Clockwork) and Knowledge (Clockworks)-checks while Grim Determination lets a dwarf get +2 to any save to avoid a negative condition. Mountain Strider makes dwarves in select terrains 10 ft faster (again: Booooring!), Rifle Mastery lets you reload as a free action sans provoking AoOs and make full attacks with rifles as if they were bows, while Shooter’s Savoir-faire nets the gunslinger 1 point of grit when a foe misses him with an AoO incurred by firing in melee.
Chapter 3 introduces us to new organizations in Rhûne as well as a quick and easy table to track your standing with said organizations. Each of the organizations gets their own emblem. The Ashen Covenant seeks to build a clockwork gate to escape impending Ragnarök and gets 3 faction traits. The respective faction entries also come with pieces of information regarding the benefits one can expect from good relations with the organizations, which is neat indeed! The Clockwork Accord essentially adheres to the Victorian and Edwardian era’s maxims of progress through enlightenment and understanding, representing a group of dedicated scholars that may cross the border of ethics in their search for enlightenment, but never maliciously so…at least for now. The Dawnguard are essentially the lawful good guardians against the Fel Horde, a kind of Night’s Watch sans the black, forced drafts etc. – unlike the Night’s Watch, they should be seen as a standing holy army. The Guardians of the Wall would be another organization, the Order of Redwall.
Chapter 4 gives us a glimpse at the relationship of magic and technology in Rhûne – and it is interesting indeed, for much like in our own world, general skills have given way to somewhat obtuse specializations and while many technologies work sans magic, some don’t and are clearly powered by the arcane or divine – there is no per se dichotomy between magic and technology. Also rather interesting – in contrast to most other steampunkish settings, two prevalent technologies compete in the world of Rhûne, both with adherents and different as well as overlapping fields: Steamworks that harness steam (d’uh) and Storm-tech, which utilizes the familiar electricity. For the most part, Storm-Tech won, though steampowered contraptions can still be found throughout the world. Add to that the rarer clockwork and alchemical engines and we have a neat and distinct variety. Magic on the other hand, is also rather distinct: As befitting a relatively enlightened world, magic is deemed commonplace and a source of power. However, cleverly mirroring our own growing estrangement from technology (Ask 100 people in the street if they know how their fridge or ovens work and you’ll get my drift – not to start with phones or even computers…), magic in Rhûne is also mysterious and most people know very little about it. Furthermore, red mithral, a key-ingredient in dwarven blasting powder cannot be enchanted, vexing scholars across the world.
If this powder was not cue enough – we also get firearms, one being a glaive with attached cannon for large automata, while the other two are more “regular” gunblades. Cool! Speaking of cool – Rangers may now also opt for the new gun combat style.
The final page of the pdf comes with interesting alternative rules: Two allow you to knock foes hit by guns back or to the ground, while another rule simulates the deafening bang of the weapon as well as one that deals with recoil – though especially later, handling this with a bland DC 15 fort-save, could use a more complex mechanic with increasing DCs when using e.g. the new feat herein to make full attacks with guns and different recoil-DCs for different guns. Let’s hope for more complex mechanics for that in the campaign setting!
Editing and formatting are top-notch in the revised edition – I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a BEAUTIFUL 2-column standard with a parchment-style background that is a pure joy to behold. The b/w-artworks can stand up to the best out there and continue the traditions of top-notch original artworks in Rhûne-books. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for ease of navigation. Regarding formal criteria, my only minor gripe is that there is no backgroundless version optimized to be printed out.
This is a gazetteer of 2 races, but it is also so much more – it is our next glimpse into the unique and fascinating setting that is Rhûne and the nifty little bits and pieces here and there WILL make you crave for more. I’m also happy to say that with the exception of the Runesinger-clan, whose SR rubs me the wrong way, I have nothing to complain about the variant races herein and indeed consider them interesting. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider this one broken, just something to be balanced by the DM. If you’re in for the new feats, you’ll probably be disappointed, while there are some good ones, a couple of them evidently are boring filler and should have been used for something different. Speaking of issues: The fact that the oracle mystery and sorcerer bloodline are practically the same are not too great in my book. I always prefer uniqueness over similarity regarding class-specific options – why not e.g. make them offer synergy/different-effects that complement one another?
Now don’t get me wrong – I really love this pdf – especially the writing, the organizations and the fascinating world, the cool fruits and weapons, but I also feel that this pdf could use some more polish. At least a correction of the obvious oracle-mishap. One of the strengths of Storm Bunny Studios I’ve seen so far is that their writing is compelling and that the world comes to life – piece by piece. Better yet, with this pdf, we can see a distinct improvement of mechanical quality over the Automata-file and the races per se are neat. And no, not everything is a killer herein – there are some a tad bland options herein, but they are the exception – hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars – in the end rounding up to 5 due to the cool ones severely outclassing the blander pieces.