#4 of my Top Ten of 2017
This massive rules-book clocks in at 139 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 3 pages of ToC, leaving us with 134 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested as a prioritized review by one of my patreons. The review is based on the updated V.1.2. of the book.
All right, so one of the most underwhelming aspects of the 5e PHB, at least for me, was the rather rudimentary section on items, weapons, etc. – I was hoping that we’d see a big equipment book soon after the PHB’s release, but so far, no dice. Fret not, though, for this is EXACTLY where this book comes into play.
Now, one of the things that surprised me here, would undoubtedly be a general sense of cognizance regarding how it emphasizes the actual use of the game – in the cases where e.g. pre-existing items are altered, the pdf does denote such changes. Similarly, the book’s introduction does state that its intended design-goal is to avoid power-creep, and as such, the added flexibility and diversity provided herein are balanced to take this aspect into account – a big plus, as far as I’m concerned. Further guidelines are provided for your convenience, as “DM’s Corner”-sidebars throughout the book elaborate on methodology, design intent, etc. In short – the general organization is commendable indeed!
Speaking of which: We begin with an interesting topic: Wealth. The book provides standardized exchange rates for iron, copper, silver, electrum, gold, mithral, adamantine and platinum pieces – and yes, in that sequence. As the book concisely argues, placing both mithral and adamantine coinage below platinum in value makes sense in the context of the value-suggestions provided by 5e. The emphasis of 5e on rock-paper-scissors-style mechanics make sense regarding the re-evaluation – but if your game has transitioned to 5e from another system – well, then the book has you covered as well and provides the values to retain the projected value of the older systems. Beyond coin names, alternate currencies and trade goods (with a massive sample table) also can be found – want to know the value of a blood hawk? Check the table. Managed to secure a pound of saffron? The book has you covered. There even is an abstract system for GMs wanting to track e.g. the weight of huge amounts of gemstones. Oh, and trade bars. And favors. The pdf also takes a closer look at 5e’s abstract selling mechanics, providing guidelines for the sale of monster equipment, mundane equipment, etc.
Of course, in order to sell something, you have to have the right buyer – and if you’re like me and prefer this degree of realism, you’ll most assuredly enjoy the buying power by population table. The selling magic items system from the DMG is explained and expanded to cover other valuable goods as well. So yeah, haggling, for when it is relevant, can be found. Lifestyle expenses are also part of the deal, concisely covering expenses and what’s covered by the respective styles. From food to coach cabs, messengers and hirelings and even a simple spellcasting availability system are covered in this book.
If you’re a rather simulationalist gamer, you’ll enjoy the possible synergy here with “The Comprehensive Treasure Manual” – which addresses maintenance cost etc.
Now, while the starting equipment choices by class and background are helpful, I do enjoy the stipulated options to swap items at character creation – the rules are easy to understand: You can’t e.g. swap a light armor for a heavy one, a simple weapon for a martial weapon. While these guidelines can’t obviously account for all differences in monetary value, I applaud giving the GM in question the tools to handle the like.
Nor here we come to the aspect of the book where things get REALLY interesting: Armor properties. We have, for example, armor that provides resistance against poison-coated weapons, but explicitly not against poisoned fangs. There is armor that helps against liquids by enclosing the target. There are rules for ersatz-armor, which degrades upon sustaining critical hits…and so on. Want more realism that requires armors to be custom-fitted? Well, the book has you covered. Speaking of realism: Want alternate rules that make swimming in armor toucher? You can find these herein. Want quicker armor donning variant rules? Covered. The leitmotif of this tome, without exception, is freedom of choice. Don’t like resting in armor being comfortable? The book has you covered. Want a speed reduction for wearing them? You can have that as well – the book is all about customization options. Armor spiked? Yep, included.
The weapons, for greater variety, include damage kickers – plusses or minuses to damage caused, for example 2d6-1 – this is not a penalty/bonus and as such, critical hits feature their effect twice. The pdf even explains the concept of halved dice (like d5s) – which are used only sparingly, but the explanation is certainly appreciated for the newer members of the audience. The weapons themselves also receive a wide variety of new features – take, for example, ranged weapons: Accurate weapons have an easier time hitting foes behind cover; aerodynamic weapons fly further. If you wanted a representation of Kyuss’ signature weapon, we have alternate choices of damage types. Armor-breaching missiles…and yes, a system for firearms can be found – firearms require being “charged”, which may, nomenclature-wise, not exactly be the perfect choice, but this is me nitpicking at a very high level. Weapons that are more durable, those that provide a higher damage-output…there is a lot to tinker with here.
Oh, and, of course, there are weapons galore – from the garrote to the atlatl, from bolas (which may restrain you and even knock you prone), boomerangs, bhujs, polybolos….Did you want your own stats for the maca or the kopehs? Well, guess what – you can find them herein! Heck, from lassos to liturgical maces to concise rules that make saps matter (particularly for rogues!) and extended scissors (!!!) – this selection on its own may be worth getting this book for…but it also talks about improvised weaponry.
Oh, and from bronze armaments to silvered weapons, we also take a look at modifications – including masterwork armaments that do not (thank the dungeon lords…) just duplicate the standard masterwork +1 from other systems/editions, using armor and weapon properties instead, providing a system that is a) more rewarding, b) more in line with 5e-design and c) actually makes masterwork equipment matter more! If you’ve been thinking about some of the classic feats and how the rules interact with them – well, you won’t have to wonder – the pdf does cover these aspects.
Want to know which weapons would make sense for which class/racial class feature, proficiency-wise? Well, a handy table does cover this aspect of the game.
This is not even close to where we stop in this massive tome – next up would be the section on adventuring gear: From caltrops and ball bearings to bell kits, blankets, expanded clothes, earplugs, muffled hammers, various lanterns, different ropes, weapon cords – there is a vast amount of cool equipment…oh, and if you enjoy grittier games or want to go Banner Saga: There are variant rules for stricter starvation! Equipment packs are grouped by class and maximum price and a whole table is provided for your convenience – not just for starting characters, mind you! And yes, each component of a pack has its separate weight noted. If you prefer realistic container and inventory management, well, the pdf does compile containers and provides concise container capacity rules for them. And yes, as always, if you prefer hand-waving these rules, rest assured that you don’t *have* to use these rules – they are variant options in a chapter! Personally, I adore this type of thing, but yeah.
Where was I? Oh yeah, know how it can be pretty boring to just fire the same ole’ bolt/arrow at you foes? Do you like Hawkeye/Green Arrow and want the (non-ridiculous) trick ammo? Smoke-arrows (Garrett from the Thief-trilogy is smiling. Nope, there are only 3 games in the franchise…lalala…), hooked blowgun darts, inking bolts, razor-glass sling bullets, grappling arrows…come on, you *know* you want to use these, right?
The same attention to diversity and care has been applied to the idea of both arcane and divine foci and similar items associated with the magical arts: Totem foci. Mistletoe sprigs, potions…speaking of which: If you love how the Witcher series emphasizes formulae and the importance of knowledge of recipes – you guessed it: There is a variant rule for alchemy, herbalism etc. that requires knowing how to make the stuff. While we’re talking about alchemy: Solvent, glue, eggshell grenades, embalming cream, flash pellets, ghoststrike oil, moonrods, glowing ink – you name it. Similarly, herbalism also covers a rather diverse breadth of options – like the scent-hampering aniseed, basically super-coffee (alertness draughts) or a fortifying root…which will poison you if you don’t have a strong stomach. Speaking of poisons: We introduce a lesser poisoned condition – wwhich only imposes disadvantage on e.g. the checks relating to one attribute – which is pure amazing, as far as I’m concerned – it enhances the versatility of poisons and makes choice and strategy matter more. And before you ask: We get a ton of cool poisons herein, some based on monsters, some classics – all amazing. This chapter is pure glory.
We also get tools. Including rules for shoddy and masterwork tools. And a downtime system usable while still adventuring. Artisan tools are described IN DETAIL. As are gaming sets. Which come with rules for cheating and fixing the game. Mounts. Combat training rules for them. Customizable tack and harnesses. Howdahs. Xebec warships. Oh yes. A 300-entry strong trinket table that is cleverly organized from low to high fantasy (roll 2d100+100 for high fantasy, for low fantasy just 1d100) constitutes yet another highlight in this gem of a book.
We don’t stop there either: Want to depart from the Eurocentric medieval default? Enter exotic lists. Want to play in the age of sail? This book has you covered. Want double weapons galore? Yep, included. Are you one of the polearm aficionados? Well, a mancatcher now has rules distinct from Lucerne hammers, partisans or voulges. Less interested in the historical aspect? Well, what about ornithopter rules? Or some for gliders and airships? I already mentioned firearms, but we also get siege guns, slow matches…or perhaps your PCs want a flail snail to guard their place? Enter the monster market section, where monsters are purchasable, organized by intelligence! Yeah, if you’re looking for a Dungeon Keeper-type of gameplay, this will be really amazing!
Now, chapter 6 of this colossal tome takes one of the most popular variant settings and provides all the equipment-based rules for the setting: Oriental adventures. However, we thankfully do not just mash the different cultures together and instead focus on the Japanese culture. We thus gain Tankos, fukimibari and the tables note the respective equivalents, if applicable. A kunai, is, for example, the equivalent of a throwing dagger. Makes sense. A kyoketsushoge, on the other hand, is pretty unique and thus requires unique rules – all in all, a nice grab-bag here.
The pdf concludes with an overview of upcoming products and product-lines…and the pdf does state that it will be updated further – as new official releases hit stores, so will this book expand further. And this is not an empty promise, either – I had this review almost done when V.1.2. hit sites and I subsequently had to go through this once more.
Editing and formatting, both on a formal and rules-language level, are top-notch. Layout adheres to a nice parchment-style 2-column full-color standard reminiscent of the official D&D 5e-look. There is, big plus, a printer-friendly version included as well. Artwork-wise, the book offer pretty much…nothing. This is pure content. While I’d have loved artwork for the weapons etc., art is expensive. And this costs not even 5 bucks. I’m not kidding you. One slight downside of the book would be that the bookmarks are rudimentary – they only point to the chapter headers, which can make finding the respective material a bit tougher than it should be. Which brings me to another point: OMG; this needs a Print on Demand option right now.
Yeah, I’ve beaten round the bush for long enough: This may well be the most useful 5e-book I have read so far. Beyond the metric ton of carefully and deliberately crafted new material Randall Right provides, we get an astonishing, smart organization for the book – the structure makes sense in a ton of ways and while the absence of an index is a slight detriment, this book if pure gold.
Want to play a gritty game set in our world? Possible. Want equipment to matter? Want poison to be less boring? All of these and more can be found herein. I can honestly not recall when a crunch-book made me smile this often. The explanations for design-decisions are sensible. The rules-language is precise and to the point. The descriptions of items and sheer variety of cool material that you can find within – this book sports one of the best bang for buck ratios I’ve seen in ages. The book adds a level of customization and the potential to add more realism to the game, all subservient to the needs and requirements of a vast diversity of tables. This book never forces you to embrace a component, but if you’re like me, you’ll at least be using some of the amazing options herein. This, in short, constitutes a masterpiece of an equipment book, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval and this, in spite of the minor complaints regarding organization, is a nominee for my Top Ten of 2017. If you are dissatisfied with 5e’s equipment selection and rules, this is your one-stop-shop way to make the game more amazing. Get this now!
You can get this phenomenal tome here on DM’s Guild!