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Relics & Rituals: Excalibur

Written by Damien


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Type: d20 Genre Sourcebook
Company: Sword & Sorcery Studios
Format: Hardcover
URL: http://www.swordsorcery.com
Writer: Evan Jamieson, Aaron Rosenberg, Christina Stiles
ISBN: 1588469565
Retail Price: $ 34.99


First Impression
This is a very handsome tome, the covert art featuring a stylized (possibly Elven) version of King Arthur drawing the sword from the stone. As a d20 genre sourcebook, this product attempts to reconcile modern fantasy trappings with the more folklorish Arthurian themes. Dragons can't talk, but they exist. Elves can be great knights, honour actually means something to the game, and Knights and knightly virtues are inevitably the focal point of the setting.


Introduction
The introduction of this book is very short, but fairly important. It addresses the concerns of gender roles, planar travel (and how it should be limited), and good versus evil. But most importantly, the introduction also introduces two terms found throughout the book; Arthurian Campaign and Excalibur Campaign. The former is a term that denotes any campaign intended to invoke the feeling of Arthurian lore, while the latter term applies to the specific setting assumptions that this book presents, such as the races and monsters.


Chapter One: Arthurian Races
The 8 playable races presented in this chapter supercede those found in the Player's Handbook, and are presented in standard format just as they would be in any other 3rd Edition product. The playable races are Human, Anhardd (Hobgoblin), Cellwair (Halfling), Daoine Sidhe (Elf Lord), Lledrith Sidhe (Forest Elf), Hanner Sidhe (Half-Elf), Half-orc, and Meinedd (Dwarf).

Immediately, the Half-orc really stands out. Since every other race got a new 'lore-appropriate' name, the Half-orc should have as well. It's not a large issue, but it stands stick out like a sore thumb. Most of the races are only slightly modified forms of the races found in the Player's Handbook, except for Anhardd. Hobgoblins in this game are more civilized, and are balanced for player use -- thus they do not have a level adjustment. You can still use standard D&D Hobgoblins, but they are quite different from the Anhardd and should be used as monstrous kin of the Anhardd, not the same race.

The authors did an excellent job of describing the various races and their roles in an Arthurian world, and each description conjures vivid images of a typical member of the particular race.


Chapter Two: Classes
The existing d20 core classes are given the treatment in the beginning of this chapter. Each class is given an entry for how it interacts with both an Arthurian and an Excalibur campaign. The authors really attempt to find a way to fit every class into the game, including the 'most jarringly out of place' monk. It really would have been preferrable to say "the monk doesn't fit," rather than attempt to make it fit. But for those that really like the monk class, I suppose this is a good thing. The ranger also should have been dropped in favour of a non-magic-using variant, though it wasn't. In this part of the chapter, we also get a sidebar entitled "genre conventions vs. the fireball." This sidebar takes a good look at why such direct-damage spells should not play a large role in an Arthurian game.

Next, we get a new base class: The Knight. To be honest, it's really a fantastic class, but it works. Essentially, the Knight is a Fighter with far less bonus feats, and a few abilities used to replace them. Overall, the Knight gets 12 abilities; 5 of which are bonus feats (one being the Leadership feat, which is chosen for you), minor spell resistance, and the ability to ignore some damage reduction (5 points at 10th level, 10 points at 20th). Besides that, we get the Mounted Champion ability which is really just the Mounted Combat feat. The Knight also gets a price break on equipment at first level, his own 'device' (read: coat of arms), and a warhorse which acts like a Druid's animal companion. Not a horrible class overall, but really nothing spectacular, either.

The chapter ends with prestige classes. First, all of the 'core' prestige classes found in the Dungeon Master's Guide get an honourable mentioning, with a small paragraph about how they fit into the Arthurian-style setting, if at all. After this, we get a slew of new prestige classes; Fey Enchantress, Giant-killer, Green Knight, Houndmaster, Knight of the Realm, Knight Templar, Malefic Enchanter, Reliquarian, and Voice of the Land. Of these new prestige classes, six of them are spell-casting classes. Right there, the prestige classes destroy the entire feel and mood of an Arthurian setting. Some of the prestige classes are nice, including the Fey Enchantress, Voice of the Land, and the Knight of the Realm. The rest are either unnecessary as prestige classes (for example, the Green Knight should have been a template), or just plain silly (Malefic Enchanter, Houndmaster). Either way, the authors had a perfect opportunity here to experiment with themed knightly prestige classes for the different races. It's too bad they opted for yet more of d20's famous useless prestige classes that don't make any sense, or aren't necessary.


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