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Sunday, 11th September, 2005, 08:33 PM #1
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Stormwrack - Mastering the Perils of Wind and Wave
The third in a series of beautifully illustrated supplements focusing on play in specific environmental climes, Stormwrack contains rules on play in watery environments. Not only are rules for sea campaigns offered, but rules for including water environments in land-based D&D campaigns and dungeon adventures are also covered.
Included is extensive information on lakes and rivers; hazards such as exposure, storms, and waterspouts; races, including non-aquatic races associated with the sea; equipment, including detailed deck plans for ships; monsters; magic, including psionic elements; skills; feats; and more.
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Sunday, 11th September, 2005, 09:19 PM #2
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Stormwrack - Mastering the Perils of Wind and Wave
By Richard Baker, Joseph D. Carriker, Jr., and Jennifer Clark Wilkes
Wizards of the Coast product number 178670000
224 pages, $34.95
Stormwrack is the third in the series of environment-focused books put out by Wizards of the coast (and the only one remaining for the foreseeable future), following in the footsteps of Frostburn and Sandstorm. It's my favorite book of the three, and yet also the one that disappointed me the most.
The front cover artwork, by Jeremy Jarvis, depicts a scyllan (one of the new monsters presented in the book, and a bit reminiscent of the kraken from the Ray Harryhausen movie Clash of the Titans) fighting two adventurers. Based solely on the outfits that they're wearing, I'd have to say that the adventurers are none other than Hennet the buckle-fetishist sorcerer and Vadania the I-like-using-tree-branches-as-hair-accessories druid of Player's Handbook iconic fame. (Their faces don't bear much of a resemblance to their depictions in the PH, so it's probably a good thing that iconic characters never change their clothing, or I'd never know it was them.) The picture wraps around to the back of the book, where we can see Ember the monk keeping what must be Gimble the gnomish bard afloat amidst wreckage of what was probably until just recently their boat. I'm not overly impressed with the figures, and the scyllan seems to be staring straight ahead at nothing in particular, but Jeremy does do some really nice storm effects in the background.
The interior artwork is a compilation of 8 monochrome and 62 full-color illustrations (plus 10 full-color maps) by a total of 8 different artists. For the most part the artwork is very good, with my favorites including Lee Moyers' scarlet corsair on page 66, Chris Appel's top-view dragon turtle attack on page 200, Eric Polak's aventi paladin on page 35, and Drew Baker's imposing anguillian (a sort of eel-man) on page 137. Almost all of the new monsters have their own depiction (the exceptions being some real-world creatures like seals and otters), and the monster illustrations adhere very closely to the written descriptions. Taken as a whole, I rate the artwork in Stormwrack as well above average.
The book is laid out as follows:
As is becoming the Wizards norm, there is no index in the back, but a comprehensive Table of Contents should do the job just as well.
- Introduction: A one-page explanation to how this book is laid out
- Chapter 1 - Into the Maelstrom: Sections dealing with different types of aquatic environments/terrain, hazards and perils, navigation, and a "narrative naval combat" system making sea chases and combat between two ships easy to run
- Chapter 2 - Races of the Seas: Aventi (aquatic humans), darfellans (humanoid killer whales - much cooler than they sound), aquatic elves and half-elves, hadozee (Spelljammer's "deck apes"), seacliff dwarves, wavecrest gnomes, and shoal halflings
- Chapter 3 - Classes and Prestige Classes: Aquatic adaptations for the 11 main character classes from the PH, scout, spirit shaman, swashbuckler, and warmage, plus 7 new prestige classes focused on aquatic races
- Chapter 4 - Skills and Feats: A look at 15 skills with a focus on how aquatic environments change how they're used, plus 24 new feats
- Chapter 5 - Ships and Equipment: Details on 21 different sailing vessels, 6 ship weapons, 4 ship accessories, 6 new types of armor, 6 new weapons, and 8 new types of gear
- Chapter 6 - Spells and Magic Items: 4 new cleric domains (Blackwater, Ocean, Seafolk, and Storm), 45 new spells, 3 new epic spells, 4 new psionic powers, 2 new special materials, 4 new magic armor properties, 2 new types of magic armor, 3 new magic weapon properties, 5 new magic weapons, 3 new magic rings, a new rod, a new staff, and 20 new wondrous items
- Chapter 7 - Monsters: 46 new monster stats, 1 new template, and 2 new aquatic creatures made from minor changes to MM creatures (monstrous diving spiders and sea snakes), plus a new table for adding these aquatic creatures to various summoning spells
- Chapter 8 - Adventure Locales: 4 mini-adventures with ELs ranging from 5 to 12
- Appendix - Encounter Tables: 9-1/2 pages of encounter tables for various aquatic environments and ELs
For almost all of the chapters, I was much more impressed with the specifics than I have been with the corresponding chapters in previous books in the series. The authors of Frostburn, for example, found it necessary to come up with ways to add acid, negative energy damage, rust attacks, electricity, dispel magic effects, and so on to normal snow, sleet, and so on. Sandstorm had a lesser amount of such silliness; Stormwrack, I'm pleased to say, confines itself mostly to normal aquatic dangers like drowning, slippery decks, hypothermia, and the like; even their few supernatural hazards (airy water, airless water, dead calm, maelstroms, and stormfire) seemed much more likely - perhaps "plausible" is a better word - to me, even in a fantasy campaign.
Likewise, while the previous books seemed to have about a 50/50 "coolness" rating when it came to the new races they offered, I really like all three of the new races presented in Stormwrack. The aventi are basically underwater humans, whose Atlantis-like civilization fell when their island sunk into the ocean, and their patron god changed them into water-breathers. (Marvel Comics enthusiasts may feel like they've heard of this "species origin" before; it's virtually identical to the Atlanteans of the Marvel Universe. Furthermore, it seems as if one of the authors is a fan of the Sub-Mariner, as the names "Nimor" and "Nimora" are given as examples of aventi names; these are very close to the names of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and Namorita, a female Atlantean in the comics - possibly even his cousin, if my memory isn't tricking me.) Aventi are often paladins, and while the concept of an underwater paladin might sound strange, I feel they really make it work. (The proof: I'd be very tempted to run an aventi paladin myself if I ever found myself a player in an underwater campaign.)
The darfellan are a race of humanoid orcas, and while I agree that that sounds rather silly, again, the authors really make the concept work. Darfellans tend to be barbarians, and often hunt Huge creatures to prove their courage and battle prowess. I think it's cool that many of the sample names include a "!" - for those unaware of it, "!" is usually used to represent a sort of tongue-clucking sound. (The South Park episodes featuring "Starvin' Marvin" use a lot of these sounds when the African natives are talking.) About the only thing I'd change about the darfellans is their appearance; while they'd described as having black and white areas of skin (much like a killer whale), nobody mentions (either in the book or to the artists) that killer whale markings tend to be symmetrical; the darfellan illustrations are all rather randomly black and white, and the effect looks less like a humanoid killer whale and more like either a humanoid "Little Rascals" dog or a humanoid Gateway computer box.
The third "new" race is the hadozee, a rehash of the "deck apes" of Spelljammer (which were themselves a rehash of an alien race from the old Star Frontiers RPG from the early TSR days). In any case, it's good to see their return, in any form, and they work just as well here aboard terrestrial sea vessels as they did among vessels that sailed the stars (or "voidspace," if you want to be a Spelljammer purist).
In similar fashion, I really liked most of the prestige classes, and that's an area where it's getting more and more difficult to impress me. I think the reason I liked these is that, much more than in the past, these seemed very focused on a very specific group. A Knight of the Pearl is very much an aventi paladin prestige class; a Leviathan Hunter is almost always going to be a darfellan. Scarlet Corsairs and Legendary Captains aren't quite as racially-targeted, but they're both good fits for leaders of sea vessels. Wavekeepers are aquatic druids, and Sea Witches and Stormcasters are for the arcane spell-focused classes. Each serves a specific niche, and I can see each of them playing an important role in an aquatic-themed campaign.
As for the spells, I was pleased to see a return of some old favorites (airy water, for one), and I'm glad the authors kept the number of new spells down to 45 instead of artificially padding the number by making slight changes to existing spells and pawning them off as brand-spanking-new. And as for the mini-adventures, I was very pleased to see a much broader range of ELs than has been seen in some recent products; with adventures for PC groups of levels 5, 6, 9, and 12, there's a much greater chance that a given group will be able to use at least one of the adventures right off the bat without too much tweaking.
The deck plans for the various ships are very well done, and will no doubt plan an important part in many aquatic adventures. I like the fact that we get a fairly broad selection as far as ship types go.
It was a nice touch adding "DM Tips" in the giant leech and leech swarm combat sections in the monster chapter, suggesting a good way of running an encounter with these bloodsuckers in such a way that the PCs might not even notice their presence (depending upon the result of hidden Spot vs. Hide checks). I hope we see more "DM Tips" in the future; it's a really great idea.
Another cool new item deals with the new stat block format. The very bottom line is "Hooks," where the DM is given a sample quote that the monster in question might say, kind of as a shorthand peek at how it should be played. This is a nice idea; anything that helps the DM can only be a good thing. It also provides a place for in-jokes; since the typical goblin sailor's "hook" on page 177 is "Grr, arrgh!" I have to assume that at least one of the authors is a Joss Whedon fan! (For those wondering what the joke is, Joss Whedon's TV shows - Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly - end with the "Mutant Enemy" logo and an animated "mutant" ambling across the screen saying "grr, arrgh!")
However, when it comes to the monster stats, Stormwrack takes a giant leap backwards, as the quality virtually plummets. I'm not sure if it's a result of the change to the new DMG II format or what, but the entire book is riddled with stat errors. Jesse Decker is listed as the Development Manager and Stephen Schubert, Andy Collins, and David Noonan are credited as the developers; collectively, they have a lot of D&D talent, so I'm at a loss to explain what happened here. In any case, I recommend making the following changes to these stats:
This is by far the worst bunch of monster stats I've seen in recent Wizards of the Coast books; hang your heads in shame, developers!
- pp. 55-56, Timora Argareth, female aventi paladin 5/knight of the pearl 3: Fortitude should be +11, not +9 (+4 as a Pal5, +3 as a KotP3, +2 Con, +2 divine grace). Reflex should be +3, not +1 (+1 as a Pal5, +1 as a KotP3, -1 Dex, +2 divine grace). Will should be +9, not +7 (+1 as a Pal5, +3 as a KotP3, +1 Wis, +2 Iron Will, +2 divine grace). No mention is made of her special mount, which at her level she should have. (There should be a separate stat block for her mount following her own.) Why are her spells cast at CL 6th? - she has 2 spellcasting levels as a paladin and none as a Knight of the Pearl.
- p. 60, Valanthe the Golden Dolphin, female aquatic half-elf rogue 4/fighter 4/legendary captain 4: Fortitude should be +12, not +10 (+1 as a Rog4, +4 as Ftr4, +4 as LCp4, +1 Con, +2 cloak). Reflex should be +11, not +9 (+4 as a Rog4, +1 as Ftr4, +1 as LCp4, +3 Dex, +2 cloak). Will should be +7 (+9 against enchantments), not +5 (+7 against enchantments) (+1 as a Rog4, +1 as Ftr4, +4 as LCp4, -1 Wis, +2 cloak).
- pp. 64-65, Lillikakooet, male darfellan barbarian 2/ranger 5/leviathan hunter 3: Initiative should be +2, not +1 (+2 Dex). Under the "Speed" entry, 20 ft. does not equal 8 squares! (Since a darfellan has a base speed of 20 ft., and since he's got 2 barbarian levels - and thus fast movement, which adds +10 ft. - the "Speed" entry should be "30 ft. (6 squares)" for his land movement rate.) When raging, his Grapple attacks should be at +14, not +18 (+10 BAB, +4 Str); when not raging, Grapple attacks should be at +12, not +14 (+10 BAB, +2 Str).
- p. 65, Seal animal companion: Fortitude should be +5, not +4 (+3 as a 2-HD animal, +2 Con). Reflex should be +5, not +6 (+3 as a 2-HD animal, +2 Dex). Will should be +1, not +2 (+0 as a 2-HD animal, +1 Wis).
- p. 68, Aida Ironheart, female human rogue 4/fighter 3/scarlet corsair 8: She has 11 feats, but she should only have 10 (6 as a 15th-level character, 2 bonus feats as a Ftr3, 1 bonus feat as a ScC8, 1 bonus feat as human). Initiative should be +3, not +7 (+3 Dex, no Improved Initiative). AC should be 20 (24 aboard ship), not 20 (21 aboard ship) - (+3 Dex, +6 +3 studded leather, +1 shield from Two-Weapon Defense, and a +4 dodge bonus aboard ship as an 8th-level scarlet corsair). Touch AC should be 13 (17 aboard ship), not 13 (14 aboard ship). Flat-footed Ac should be 20 (24 aboard ship), not 16, due to uncanny dodge - which in the new format is now actually listed on the AC line! Attacks with Levinous (a magic cutlass) should be at +17/+12/+7 melee, not +15/+10/+5 (+14 BAB, +3 Dex due to Weapon Finesse, +1 Weapon Focus, +1 magic weapon bonus, -2 for Two-Weapon Fighting), and attacks with Deepshard (a magic cutlass) should be at +17 melee, not +15 (ditto, as both weapons are light weapons).
- p. 71, Sibi alin Zakor, male human wizard 7/sea witch 8: Fortitude should be +10, not +8 (+2 as a Wiz7, +6 as a SW8, +2 Con). He should be able to call maelstrom 1/day as well as call major maelstrom 1/day. (They're two different prestige class features.) It should be 1d20+13, not 1d20+15, to overcome his spell resistance (CL 13th).
- p. 72, Octopus familiar: First of all, why is this a Medium creature instead of a Small one? Initiative should be +3, not +2 (+3 Dex). Touch AC should be 13, not 14 (+3 Dex) - unless it's Small, in which case its normal AC should be 23, not 22 (+1 size, +3 Dex, +9 natural), and its flat-footed AC should be 20, not 19. If it's Small, grapple attacks should be at +4, not +8, and all attacks should be at +1 more than listed. (Personally, I think it should be Small.)
- p. 76, Small Water Elemental familiar: Hit points should be 19, not 13 (one-half its master's, and its master has 39 hp). Fortitude should be +9, not +4 (+2 as a Wiz6, +6 as a stormcaster 9, +1 Con). Reflex should be +8, not +1 (+2 as a Wiz6, +6 as a stormcaster 9, +0 Dex). Will should be +8, not +4 (+5 as a Wiz6, +3 as a stormcaster 9, +0 Wis). (A familiar gets its master's saves, using its own ability scores.) Base Attack Bonus should be +7 (same as its master's), not +1. Grapple attacks should be at +5, not -3 (+7 BAB, -4 size, +2 Str). Slam attacks should be at +10 melee, not +4 (+7 BAB, +1 size, +2 Str).
- p. 80, Admarin of the Blue Waters, male merfolk druid 7/wavekeeper 4: Initiative should be +3, not +2 (+3 Dex). Base Attack Bonus should be +8, not +9 (+5 as Drd7, +3 as WvK4). Grapple attacks should be at +8, not +9 (+8 BAB, +0 size, +0 Str). +2 frost spear attacks should be at +10/+5 melee, not +11/+6 (+8 BAB, +0 Str, +2 magic weapon bonus). It should be 1d20+10 to overcome his spell resistance, not 1d20+11 (his caster level is 10th, as the first level of the wavekeeper prestige class does not advance spellcasting ability). As an 11th-level character, he should have 4 feats, not 5.
- p. 80, Large Shark animal companion: Initiative should be +4, not +3 (+4 Dex). AC should be 23, not 22 (-1 size, +4 Dex, +10 natural). Flat-footed AC should be 19, not 18. Grapple attacks should be at +18, not +16 (+9 BAB, +4 size, +5 Str). With 13 HD, it should have 5 feats; since it has 5 listed but Swim-By Attack is annotated as a bonus feat, it should get another as a replacement (normal Large sharks have Great Fortitude and Improved Initiative, which this one lacks; either would be a good match); optionally, Swim-By Attack shouldn't be a bonus feat but a normal one. It only spent 10 out of 16 skill points (sort of - it also managed to spent "-1 skill points" on Swim somehow); if we spend the other 6 on Swim it should have Swim +19, not Swim +12 (+8 racial, +5 Str, +6 points spent).
- p. 116, Doom of the Seas, Fiendish Kraken: First of all, despite the creature's title, the half-fiend template was applied to the kraken, not the fiendish template. (Special Qualities lists "half-fiend traits," it has resistance to acid 10/cold 10/electricity 10/fire 10 and SR 30.) It'll be easier to just rename this creature as "Doom of the Seas, Half-Fiend Kraken" rather than redo the creature from scratch as a fiendish kraken. (Note that this also means reworking the spell description for the doom of the seas spell.) In any case, getting back to our critter: Fortitude should be +22, not +21 (+12 as a 20-HD magical beast - since saves don't change from the original creature type, +10 Con). Constitution should be 31, not 30 (this makes no difference as far as the game stats go, but a normal kraken has Con 29 and the half-fiend template adds +2).
- p. 131, Giant Turtle: With HD 8d10+32, average hit points should be 76, not 87. Since its reach is 10 ft., why is bite (its sole attack) reiterated as having a 10 ft. reach? With 8 HD, it should have 3 feats, not just 2.
- p. 136, Anguillian: With HD 3d8+6, average hit points should be 19, not 28. Fortitude should be +3, not +5 (+1 as a 3-HD aberration, +2 Con). Will should be +5, not +3 (+3 as a 3-HD aberration, +2 Wis).
- p. 138, 1st-Level Aventi Warrior: He spent 6 skill points (3 each on Handle Animal and Intimidate), but should have 8 skill points to spend as a 1st-level warrior: (2 base, +0 Int) times 4.
- p. 139, Blackskate: Either the "Attack" line should read "bite +6 melee (1d8+5)" and the attack bonuses should be switched in the "Full Attack" line (+6 for bite, +1 for stinger), or stinger damage should be 1d6+5 plus poison and bite damage should be 1d8+2. Alphabetically, "damage reduction" should come before "darkvision" in the Special Qualities line.
- p. 142, Colossal Monstrous Crab: Grapple attacks should be at +69, not +65 (+36 BAB, +16 size, +13 Str, +4 racial bonus).
- p. 143, Darfellan: When a harpoon is used in melee, is it a two-handed weapon (as indicated under "Attack" - 1d10+3 with a +2 Str bonus) or a one-handed weapon (as indicated under "Full Attack" - 1d10+2 with a +2 Str bonus)? I don't believe that having a bite attack as a secondary attack negates the "1.5 times your Strength bonus" rule for two-handed weapons.
- p. 143, 3rd-Level Darfellan Barbarian: Masterwork ranseur attacks should be at +7 melee, not +6 (+3 BAB, +3 Str, +1 masterwork). Bite attacks aren't listed as attack options; Attack should include "or bite +6 melee (1d6+3)" and Full Attack should add "and bite +1 melee (1d6+1)" at the end.
- p. 145, Ichthyosaur: Flat-footed AC should be 15, not 12 (-1 size, +6 natural).
- pp. 148-149, Aquatic Elf Dolphin Rider, Drd1/Ftr2: Should have 4 feats, not just 2 (2 as a 3rd-level character, and 2 bonus feats as a 2nd-level fighter).
- The ability scores for the hadozee warrior and first mate (before racial adjustments) are the same as the final ability scores - in other words, the racial adjustments weren't made! Given this, the following two stat blocks need adjustment - p. 151, Hadozee 1st-Level Warrior: Dexterity should be 13, Charisma should be 6, Initiative should be +1, AC should be 14, touch AC should be 11, javelin attacks should be at +2 ranged, Reflex should be +1, Balance should be +5.
- p. 151, Hadozee First Mate, 3rd-Level Ranger: Likewise, after actually applying the hadozee racial adjustments, the following changes need to be made: Dexterity should be 17, Charisma should be 12, Initiative should be +3, AC should be 17, touch AC should be 13, cutlass attacks should be at +7 melee (under Attack) or +5 melee and +5 melee (under Full Attack), Reflex should be +6, Balance should be +7, and Handle Animal should be +7.
- p. 152, Hammerclaw: With HD 6d10+18, average hit points should be 51, not 54 (either that, or it should have Toughness as a bonus feat).
- pp. 157-158, Scyllan: Normally, the swallow whole rules have the AC of the stomach/mouth interior having half of the creature's natural armor bonus. Since scyllans have a +18 natural armor bonus, their mouth interior should be AC 19, not 17.
- pp. 165-166, Albatross: Bite attacks should be at +2 melee, not +1 (+0 BAB, +1 size, +1 Dex due to Weapon Finesse).
- pp. 167-168, Sea Lion: Fortitude should be +5, not +4 (+3 as a 2-HD animal, +2 Con). Reflex should be +5, not +6 (+3 as a 2-HD animal, +2 Dex). Will should be +1, not +2 (+0 as a 2-HD animal, +1 Wis).
- p. 168, Snapping Turtle: Bite attacks should be at +4 melee, not +3 (+1 BAB, +1 size, +1 Str, +1 Weapon Focus).
- p. 169, Stingray: Hide should be +7 (+11), not +3 (+7) (+3 Dex, +4 size, with a parenthetical +4 racial bonus when lying on the sea floor).
- p. 177, Typical Goblin Marine: It's not specified (it just says "warrior"), but it looks like this is a 1st-level Warrior.
- pp. 177-178, Kumi, female goblin adept 2: Masterwork silvered dagger attacks should be at +2 melee, not +1 (+1 BAB, +1 size, -1 size, +1 masterwork). Masterwork silvered dagger damage should be 1d3-1, not 1d3-2 (-1 Str). Light crossbow attacks should be at +2 ranged, not +1 (+1 BAB, +1 size, +0 Dex).
- p. 178, Captain Naki, Goblin Form (female goblin wererat Exp1/Adp3): Reflex should be +3, not +5 (+0 as an Exp1, +1 as an Adp3, +2 as a dire rat, +0 Dex). Will should be +12, not +9 (+2 as an Exp1, +3 as an Adp3, +2 as a dire rat, +3 Wis, +2 Iron Will).
- p. 179, Captain Naki, Hybrid Form (female goblin wererat Exp1/Adp3): Touch AC should be 14, not 11 (+1 size, +3 Dex). Reflex should be +6, not +8 (+0 as an Exp1, +1 as an Adp3, +2 as a dire rat, +3 Dex).
- p. 179, Captain Naki, Dire Rat Form (female goblin wererat Exp1/Adp3): Touch AC should be 14, not 11 (+1 size, +3 Dex). Reflex should be +6, not +8 (+0 as an Exp1, +1 as an Adp3, +2 as a dire rat, +3 Dex).
- p. 179, Weasel familiar: Flat-footed AC should be 14, not 12 (+2 size, +2 natural).
- p. 187, Ambraga, female sea hag Sor2: With an 18 Cha providing a bonus 1st-level spell, she should have 6/5 spells per day, not just 6/4.
- p. 192, Fiendish Huge Shark: Will should be +6, not +4 (+3 as a 10-HD animal, +1 Wis, +2 Iron Will). As an aside, this is also incorrect in the Huge Shark stats in the Monster Manual.
- pp. 192-193, Sahuagin Sentry, male sahuagin Ftr1: Swim speed should be 60 ft., not 30 ft. (This is straight from the MM sahuagin entry.) Masterwork trident attacks should be at +8 melee, not +7 (+3 BAB, +4 Str, +1 masterwork). This bumps up to +9 melee when the sahuagin is under the effects of its blood frenzy.
- p. 193, Sahuagin Lieutenant, male sahuagin Ftr3: Swim speed should be 60 ft., not 30 ft.
- p. 194, Typical Underpriestess, female sahuagin Clr 3: Swim speed should be 60 ft., not 30 ft.
- p. 196, Typical Priestess, female sahuagin Clr5: Swim speed should be 60 ft., not 30 ft. Should only have 4+1 1st-level spells/day, not 5+1. (I suggest dropping one of the doom spells.)
- p. 197, Sahuagin Captain, male sahuagin Ftr6: Swim speed should be 60 ft., not 30 ft. Fortitude should be +10, not +11 (+0 as a 2-HD monstrous humanoid, +5 as a Ftr6, +3 Con, +2 Great Fortitude). When in a blood frenzy, Fortitude should be +11, not +12. Feats should be alphabetized.
- pp. 198-199, Naatrigitt the Fifth, female sahuagin Clr8: Swim speed should be 60 ft., not 30 ft. Flat-footed AC should be 16, not 15 (+5 natural, +1 deflection from her ring). Trident damage should be 1d8+5 plus 1d6 acid, not 1d8+6 plus 1d6 acid (1.5 times +3 Str = +4, +1 magic weapon bonus). When in a blood frenzy, flat-footed AC should be 14, not 15; and hit points should be 96, not 50; and Fortitude should be +12, not +9; and it should read "+1 corrosive trident +14/+9 (1d8+7 plus 1d6 acid) and bite +10 (1d4+2)" not "mwk trident +12 melee (1d8+7) and bite +8 melee (1d4+2)" under the first "blood frenzy" Melee heading; and grapple attacks should be at +12, not +10; and 2 rakes should be at +10 melee, not +8; and Strength should be 18, not 21. (It looks like the blood frenzy section was copied and pasted from the Sahuagin Lieutenant without being updated.)
- pp. 203-204, Vashkal, male anguillian Rgr8: AC should be 23, not 25 (+3 Dex, +4 natural, +6 +2 chain shirt of buoyancy). Touch AC should be 13, not 12. Flat-footed AC should be 20, not 23. Spear damage should be 1d8+8 plus 1d6 acid, not 1d8+4 plus 1d6 acid (1.5 times +5 Str = +7, +1 magic weapon bonus). When attached to a foe, AC should be 20, not 23. His ranger combat style isn't mentioned, but since he doesn't have two melee weapons we can assume he went the archery route; thus, add Rapid Shot and Many Shot to his list of feats as bonus feats. Also, anguillians don't have 4 arms (at least there's nothing about that in the anguillian entry), despite what it says on page 205, and Vashkal's stat block doesn't support him having 4 arms; perhaps the author was getting mixed up with sahuagin mutants?
- p. 204, Anguillian Champion, male anguillian Rgr4: AC should be 20, not 19 (+3 Dex, +4 natural, +3 masterwork studded leather). Touch AC should be 13, not 12. Speed entry shouldn't have "take -10 penalty to Survival to track at double speed" as that's gained as a Rgr8, and these guys are only Rgr4s. Pincer attacks should be at +10/+5 melee, not +15/+10 (+6 BAB, +4 Str). Bite attacks should be at +9 melee, not +14 (+6 BAB, +4 Str, -2 secondary attack with Multiattack, +1 Weapon Focus). Spear attacks should be at +11/+6 melee, not +16/+11 (+6 BAB, +4 Str, +1 magic weapon bonus). Spear damage should be 1d8+7 plus 1d6 acid, not 1d8+4 plus 1d6 acid (1.5 times +4 Str = +6, +1 magic weapon bonus). Anguillians shouldn't have a tail slap attack! Aquatic crossbow attacks should be at +11 ranged, not +15 (+6 BAB, +3 Dex, +2 magic weapon bonus). When attached to a foe, AC should be 17, not 16.
- pp. 208-209, Ugrushaa, female advanced water naga: Base Attack Bonus (as a 14-HD aberration) should be +10, not +15. Grapple attacks should be at +25, not +20 (+10 BAB, +8 size, +7 Str). Also, it might have been nice if she didn't know exactly the same spells as her three daughters, one room away. It wouldn't take up any more space (since they listed each spell anyway), and it would have made for a more interesting encounter.
- p. 209, Galoril, fiendish dragon turtle: The Senses line should include low-light vision. AC should be 26, not 27 (-2 size, +1 Dex, +17 natural). Flat-footed AC should be 25, not 26. There's no need to list fire resistance 10 when dragon turtles are already immune to fire. Swim speed should be 30 ft. (as a normal dragon turtle), not 40 ft. Should have spell resistance 17; none is listed. No reason given why its stats differ so much from a normal dragon turtle (+4 Str, +2 Dex, +4 Con, -2 Wis, +2 Cha); it almost looks like the half-fiend template was partially applied (this would also explain that AC discrepancy, as half-fiends gain a +1 to natural armor). Claw damage should be 2d8+5, not 2d8+4 (half of its +10 Str bonus).
The problem areas aren't limited to just monster stats, either. There were a few typos, misspellings, instances where spell names weren't italicized, and the like, but their number was fortunately pretty few. Other problem areas I noticed:
With this many problems, you'd think I'd be giving Stormwrack a pretty low score. However, the monster stat problems don't weigh as heavily here as they would be if this were strictly a monster book; as it is, the monster chapter takes up only 36 pages out of 224 (well, 221, anyway - the last 3 pages are ads). And, like I said earlier in the review, all of the other chapters seemed to me to be much better than their counterparts from the earlier environment books. Stat block errors aside, I still think Stormwrack is my favorite of the three. It does what it sets out to do - provide the DM and players with the tools needed to run adventures above and below the waves - and what it does right, it does very well. I'm going to go ahead and give it a low "4 (Good)" overall, with the proviso that Stormwrack is horrendously deficient in the monster stats department. Hopefully, errata will be forthcoming soon.
- The Stormcaster Lore table on page 75 claims that stormcasters can fly in storms, but this is not listed as a class feature.
- The spell lists claim stormwalk is an 8th-level sorcerer/wizard spell, yet the spell description on page 122 says it's a sor/wiz 6 spell. (I suspect it's a sor/wiz 6 spell, as it's also a drd 6 spell.)
- From page 128: "When a slashing weapon made of pearlsteel is used in the water, its damage [emphasis mine] is reduced by -1 rather than the normal -2 for fighting in the water with a slashing weapon, and its damage is reduced by -2 instead of half." I think the underlined part above should be replaced with "attack roll".
- The krakentooth magic weapon (a +2 wounding shocking burst trident) is missing Mordenkainen's sword as a prerequisite (for the wounding property). Also, the illustration on page 130 is inaccurate, as the middle prong should be the shortest of the three, not the longest.
- Here's a humorous double-typo sentence beginning: "Threat the coast as a shirt or vestment..." should be "Treat the coat as a shirt or vestment..."
- Why have sails of displacement, minor if there are no sails of displacement, major?
- Mention is made in the otter's description that otters often serve as familiars, but the specific benefit they grant their masters is conspicuously absent, both in the otter's description and on Table 3-1: Aquatic Familiars on page 52. Lacking any further guidance, I'd suggest either a +3 to Balance checks or a +3 to Climb checks.
- There's a 4-line paragraph in the "Animals" section of the monster chapter explaining how some herbivorous animals use their natural weapons as secondary weapons, but this doesn't actually apply to any of the animals in this book, so its inclusion isn't necessary.
Last edited by John Cooper; Thursday, 15th September, 2005 at 12:21 AM.
Monday, 12th September, 2005, 12:17 AM #3
Gallant (Lvl 3)
I pretty much consider a John Cooper review the errata for any project.Hopefully, errata will be forthcoming soon.
I would have liked to have seen some rules for trading and the like, as ships are going to be used for that in many cases, but I guess that's not under the purview of "adventures" at sea.
Monday, 12th September, 2005, 06:51 AM #4
Novice (Lvl 1)
Regarding discrepancies between spell lists and spell descriptions: an email I received from WOTC not long ago said that in any such cases you should always give preference to the spell description, as the spell lists are often compiled late in the process and receive the least amount of proofing.
"I want to decide who lives and who dies."
Monday, 12th September, 2005, 10:21 AM #5
Novice (Lvl 1)
Thanks for the errata, as always! Thankfully, many of these errors seem to be in the sample NPCs, where I NEVER look, although the Doom of the Seas smeg-up is cause for concern!
Best things about this book though:
1. No "Shocking Spell" stupidity like Searing Spell in Sandstorm or Piercing Cold in Frostburn
3. It's not a book of overpowered cheese like its predecessors.
Maybe its just me, but complaints about 4th Ed D&D not respecting D&D's history strike me as being like complaining about the shape your play-doh comes in.
Play Scion. Scion is awesome.
Tuesday, 13th September, 2005, 02:57 AM #6
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Thanks for the info and the erratta.
Wednesday, 14th September, 2005, 06:17 PM #7
"Wildspace", if you want to be a real Spelljammer purist.or "voidspace," if you want to be a Spelljammer purist
Sunday, 25th September, 2005, 11:54 PM #8
Lama (Lvl 13)
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Face the wrath of the storm!
Written by Richard Baker, Joseph D. Carriker, Jr., Jennifer Clarke Wilkes
Published by Wizards of the Coast
224 full color pages
Stormwrack is the third book in the environmental series from Wizards of the Coast. The book uses standard two-column layout and format. For tables, instead of boxing the tables, they use a tan color to indicate spaces. Works well and looks much better than boxed tables which always tend to look on the amateur side to me.
Art is handled by some of the best in the business. David Griffith for example, handles the top art that introduces each chapter. Michael Phillippi brings his awesome talents to play with illustrations like the legendary captain, an elf blooded warrior in green hued mail on page 59 or brave Soveliss charging his horse into a river with a storm of arrows at his back. This doesnít count the talents of others like Wayne England or Sam Wood, nor others like Jim Nelson and Fred Hooper. Suffice it to say that for the most part, I was impressed with the art here.
In terms of set up, the book is broken down into eight chapters. Starting with ďInto the MalestormĒ, the book covers various facets of adventuring on the waves. This first chapter covers a wide variety of topics. One thing it starts with, is where would water based adventurers occur. While we have the standard coasts and islands, and the big bodies of water like seas, oceans, rivers and lakes, it also covers things like marine caverns and sea caves, as well as watery environments on the planes.
While the elemental plane of water is the best known, itís not the only one. For example, how about the fifth layer of the Nine Hells, Stygia? Or how about the realm of Demogorgon, Abysm or the fifth layer of Carceri, Porphatys. Each gets a paragraph of detail and is there more to showcase the unique aspects of the planes rather than act as a guide to them.
Other adventuring issues are covered. For example, rules on drowing, referring to page 304 of the DMG, but covering situations like being stunned or dazed. How about the distance light illuminates in water, or the dangers of hypothermia?
Like previous books, it also covers the dangers players would rather not face, things like unique diseases like sea rot and new marine poisons like the dreade sea snake venom with a 1d6 Con initial and secondary damage. Other dangers like airless water, a pocket of water that water breathing and air-breathing creatures cannot breath in, or maelstroms, supernatural whirlpools.
One thing I liked about chapter one, was talking about naval combat. ďMost ship-to-ship battles are resolved in one of two ways; by devastating battle magic, or by grappling and boarding.Ē Quickly followed by ďthe faster you can get to this decisive (boarding action) stage of the encounter, the better.Ē
Itís something I agree with. While it does include details for narrative combat, things to get character moving into each other quickly, itís something Iím not really concerned about. For those who want things like special maneuvers for ships, including grappling, ramming, and shearing, itís included. Heck, it even notes which forms of attack are useful against a ship, and how siege engines and magic can be used to up the stakes in naval combat. This includes little things like which spells can start a fire, or what certain effects mean against a ship. For example, Evardís Black Tentacles donít attack ships, but they do attack crewmembers that pass within reach.
The second chapter, races of the seas, introduces an old friend and some new ones, as well as providing brief modifications for standard races to make them sea worthy. The good thing is that almost all of them are +0 level adjustment save for the aquatic elf.
The races start with the aventi, no ability adjustments and any favored class, the main benefit of the aventi is that they are amphibious and can be in air or water equally well. Sure, they have a minor ability with water magic, casting it at +1 level if the spell ahs the water descriptor, and they are considered to have human blood, but the main benefit is that they are in essence water breathing humans minus the bonus feat and skill points.
One of my favorite races here, the darfellan, are hunters on the run. Once a peaceful people hunted to near extinction by the sahuagin, theyíve since become hunters with their own strengths. They have the good old strength boost, but a dexterity penalty. While they arenít amphibious and canít survive being submerged forever, they can hold their breath for 8 x Consitituion score before risking drowning. They also have a natural bite attack, a racial hatred towards sahuagin giving them +2 to attack and damage, as well as echolocation abilities.
Another great thing, and perhaps itís just because all the illustrations of the darfellans are so well done, is that they look unique being mostly black with white spots or markings. Some plot elements are even thrown in as the book notes that those who are born entirely black or wholly white, are often special children and great events and things are expect to happen. Perfect for that player who wants something a little different.
The elf aquatic doesnít do anything for me. Maybe because Iíve seen so many varieties of them, or just because there are too many varieties of elf, but these aquatic creatures seem too limited for a land based campaign suffering Constitution damage if out of the water too long.
No, my other favorite race is the hadozee, the simianlike humanoids who were once a part of the old Spelljammer setting. Here theyíve become a race filled with wanderlust who are good natured and love to work aboard ships exploring the world. With a bonus to dexterity and a penalty to charisma, the hadoze can use their arm-flaps to glide, making them very useful on a ship as they work the rigging. Add in their racial bonus to balance and climb checks and their naturals of a ship. It doesnít hurt that their favored class is rogue either!
One nice thing about the take on races, is that they discuss some seafaring cultures and what game effects that has. For example, dwarves have a seacliff cousin that gains strong swimming but lose their racial bonus to hit orcs and goblinoids. Wavecrest gnomes gain a bonus on attack rolls against locathah and sahuagin, as well as new spells to use, replacing the standard kobold and goblinoid attack and standard spell like abilities.
These little switches are good ideas and provide the Gm with some examples of how they may wish to alter other, non-official races to fit into different campaign models without making a class overpowered.
Chapter three, classes, introduces more options for the core character classes. For example, clerics have new deities that they can select. The deities include alignment, domains, and favored weapon. New domains like ocean ,seafolk, blackwater, and storm are included. One thing that surprised me here, was that several of the non-core classes, like scout, were also included. A nice change of pace to see what role a warmage might play in such a campaign, or how the swashbuckler fits appropriately into the shipboard life due to their use of light armor and weapons. Heck, arcane and divine spellcasters also have new options when it comes to their familiars or animal companions.
Still, I suspect more people will be interested in the new PrCs. Each PrC features a quote, background details, how to become the PrC, entry requirements, class features, appropriate role playing information, including combat, advancement, and resources, as well as how the class fits in the world, and what in the game. For example, a knifhgt of the peal in the game, is most often a aventi paladin. Also included are bits of lore and a sample encounter.
Iím not too crazy about the layout of the hit dice and skills, as theyíre jammed right now to the class tables. Itís not too bad when everything fits into one column, like for the legendary captain, but is more annoying when itís a full page progression like the sea witch, where hit dice are kind of just floating there and skills are stretched out under the class progression table.
Iím not going to talk about all the PrCs, but hereís a quick list: Knight of the pearl, legendary captain, scarlet corsair, leviathan hunter, wavekeeper, sea witch, and stormcaster.
My favorite is the leviathan hunter. While itís supposed to be a sea based class, this five level PrC hunts down large creatures and uses their bodies for tropies that can protect the hunter from creature of that type with an armor class bonus. In addition, the hunter gains ďfell the leviathanĒ, which is extra attack damage dice against certain types of monsters of huge or greater size.
Those looking for more ways to customize their characters, will want to flip to chapter four, skills and feats. Instead of just starting off with a listing of new options for skills, the chapter starts off with a section of what roles crewmembers have on a ship and what skills they should have to fill those roles. For example, a captain is usually an expert with ranks in profession, sailor, as well as ranks in knowledge, geography, and nature, as well as survival and bluff, diplomacy and intimidate.
Because crews are a specific type of genre in their own right, even in the greater world of D&D, itís nice to have a list like this. Of course because of the limits of D&D, in terms of being a class and level game, those weaknesses show through more here as some of these roles would have to have a few levels in them as opposed to just being skilled as they would in another game like GURPS or HERO.
After that, we get into the special uses of skills in a water based campaign. For example, maintaining your balance on a ship becomes a little more difficult on a wet deck or on a ship thatís rolling back and forth in a storm. The expanded sues of knowledge and profession, makes me wish that WoTC would come out with a book that covers a much broader range of knowledge, craft, and profession skills so that a GM who wants to have things like profession soldier, or craft bowmaker, could have it all in one spot as opposed to going from book to book looking for example professions and their DC checks to see what they can do.
The new feats feature a lot of heavily involved water based feats. Many of them revolving around the uses of skills in limited fashions. For example, sea legs provides a +2 bonus on shipboard balance and tumble checks, but also a +1 initiative. Is it worth the bonus being limited to shipboard to gain the +1 initiative bonus? Opinions will wary. How about Sailorís Balance that grants a +5 bonus on shipboard balance checks? Should that be an example that other similar feats should be raised? For example, should Combat Casting be +5 to the concentration check?
Other feats, like Blackwater Invocation, are more supernatural. For example, this allows you to spend a daily rebuke undead attempt to cause the water around you in a 30-foot radius to become infused with negative energy that inflicts nonlethal damage to those that enter it if they fail a DC 15 Fortitude save. Steam Magic allows you to ignore the spellcaster check when using spells or spell-like abilities with the fire descriptor as you burn the water to steam as opposed to fire.
Now that youíve got your character, how does she move into the waves? That would be handled in chapter five, ships and equipment. We get a wide variety of boats including small inexpensive ones like the rowboat at 50 gold pieces, to the raft, a 100 gold piece ship. Of course those with the funds to do so will want something a little more useful like the 25,000 gp dromond warship or the magically powered Theurgeme, a colossal vehicle that comes in at 80,000 gold pieces.
While not each ship is illustrated, the ones that are have better illustrations than their counter parts in the Explorerís Handbook. They seem more gritty or slightly more realistic while those in the EH seemed like illustrations on graph paper. The views of the dhow and elf wingship by Wayne England also look top notch.
But whatís a ship without some ballista or firebombs? Whatís a warship without itís great bombards or itís firespouts? To handle those issues, there are new weapons to aid a crew in dealing with opposing ships. The firespout must be a nod to the old weapons of lore as it shots out gouts of alchemistís fire onto other enemy ships. Bombards use gunpowder, but a sidebar notes that you can use the mystic smokepowder substitude or just make it unavailable.
Thatís fine for the ship, but what about the characters on the ship? For them, there are new armors and weapons. Some of these weapons are old favorites like the cutlass, others are designed for water use like the aquatic crossbow or the stingray whip. The harpoon might not be an old favorite, but itís certain appropriate for the watery campaigns.
The armor section consist of some light armors like cord and sharkskin, but also shell, chitin, and living coral variants. Interestingly enough, when looking at the living coral, as well as other places, the 3.0 book, Arms and Equipment Guide, is referenced. A last ditch effort to sell some of the old books before coming out with an Expanded Arms and Equipment Guide, or ?
The new spells in chapter six, spells and magic items, include new domains for clerics, as well as spells from 1st to 9th level for sorcerers and wizards. Spells are broken down by class and level, and for arcane users, by school. As with other sources, the higher the level of spell, the fewer we have. For example, we have ten second level arcane spells, but only one ninth level one. Non-core classes are not covered here, including those PrCs with their own spell list found in the DMG like assassin, and black guard. A little disappointing as they made the original effort to include them up front but not in the spell selection.
Spells cover a lot of options for water and many of them either augment the target of the spell in the water, or give the target some ability of another native. For example, the 3rd level bard spell detect ship, well, detects and identifies ships. The 3rd level druid spell Scalres of the Sealord gives you extra swim movement or a swim speed, and natural armor. Itís a good selection, but like the feats, seems even more limited than the previous environmental books.
One nice touch is that there are even a few new psionic powers here including Helmsman, a 2nd level seer ability that makes the psion attune to his ship and can increase the shipís speed and gains a bonus when making sailor checks.
For new magic items, we have new material like pearlsteel and riverine. The former is light, weighing a quarter less than normal, and reduces the penalty of weapons in water to Ė1 instead of Ė2. A nice touch and not too powerful, but unless the campaign is mainly underwater, I doubt anyone will want to add the 1,500 gold piece cost. The latter on the other hand, changes half the armor class bonus from armor and shields into a deflection bonus. More impressive is that it can be used to create walls and containers and is immune to all damage and unaffected by most spells. How they get it into that initial form though is beyond me. Anyway, the only way to take it down at that p0oint is a disintegrate spell or a few other high powered options like a rod of cancellation, sphere of annihilation or a Mordenkainenís disjunction spell.
We have a few specific weapons and some new armor and weapon special abilities. Want a weapon that inflicts acid damage that doesnít wash away? Then you want corrosive. Want armor that you wonít have to ditch when the boat goes down? You want buoyant armor.
The items sometimes include caster cost and experience points, and sometimes do not. For example, the wondrous items, and rings donít, but the weapons do.
Now that youíre character has his new race, his new PrC, and equipment, both magical and mundane, what about the poor GM? Well, he gets a lot of new monsters to throw at
the players. In terms of game stats, it looks like fellow reviewer John Cooper has found a ton of mistakes. The other thing thatís going to sound weird, is I donít see a breakdown of creatures by CR anywhere. While there is a list of encounters latter on in the back of the book, that incorporates monsters from various resources. Iíd like to be able to look over a list of CRís and find the name and page number in a flash.
The monsters themselves though, outside of the stat block errors, have some interesting potential uses. I can see using the anguillians, a medium aberration thatís in essence a humanoid eel, as a long term foe as itís only a CR 2 and advances by character class. More importantly though, if I want to run wild with a conversion of White Plume Mountain, I now have monstrous crabs ranging from small to colossal! Between this and the earlier illustration of a skeleton rising in a trapped room filling with water, I have to appreciate the nods to the older editions. Another old favorite, the hippocampus makes its return, along with the feared seawolf and the Nereid, a water based fey.
That creature on the cover beating on some of the core characters is a scyllan, an aquatic outsider native to Stygia of the Nine Hells and comes in at an impressive 13 CR, one of the more powerful creatures in the book.
One nice treat is the table that adds new creatures on the summoned monster list showing which creature is appropriate for which list, and what it should replace.
But how does a time pressed GM get any use out of this book? Chapter eight, adventure locals, would be the way to go. It includes four sample locations that can be used as the basis for aquatic adventures. The Sable Drake is appropriate for EL 5, Shatterhull Isle for EL 6, The Lost Temple of Sekolah for EL 9, and the Tamorean Vast for EL 12.
Each section includes maps and notes on how the adventure might be run. For example, the Sable Drake has notes on the crew, including itís wereat goblin captain, Naki, as well as typical crew members, the secret pirate base, a map of the Sable Drake, and notes on how the crew would defend their ship and when they might retreat and where they go to do so. For standard monsters or those found in the book, a page reference is included. For example, Tamoreus, a sotrm giant, has a reference to page 125 of the Monster Manual, while hammerclaws are referenced to page 152 of this book.
The encounter tables in the appendix are a nice touch. This includes different groups ranging from a sahuagin patrol to a warship with a listing of soldiers, officiers, and captain. Tables are broken down by water type, cold, temperate, warm, cold lakes and rivers, temperate lakes and rivers, warm lakes and rivers, and even include upperdark waters, middeldark waters, and lowerdark waters. Each table is then further broken down into a range of EL. Each table has a % roll for specific EL. For example, on the middledark Water EL 3-7, there are four different tables to roll on and it breakdown the EL by CR.
For example, if rolling on the EL 3 chart and getting lacedon ghoul, youíd have three of them for an EL of 3. For an EL of seven with the same result, youíd need eight of them.
There are some minor things that could be tweaked here. For example, at this stage in the game, I donít think we need to see the new races repeated in the monster section for example. Iíd also rather not have three pages of advertising, but hey, what other company is making full color books that clock in at over two-hundred pages for $34.95? While I honestly didnít notice about 85% of the game mechanical errors that John Cooper did, Iíd still like to see WoTC, the originator of the d20 license and all that, do a better job with it.
Those minor things aside, a campaign thatís going to be hitting the waves will get a lot of use out of this book ranging from the new races and options for races and classes, to the new PrCs, spells, and feats. DMs will enjoy the new monsters and the time saving encounters at the back of the book and of course, can always modify their own NPCs to take advantage of these new features.
Monday, 26th September, 2005, 11:40 PM #9
Novice (Lvl 1)
Fair review, but more typos...
A fair review. I quite liked the book (but then, I'm a fan of naval history), and was glad ot see it arrive - the races and roles & skills applicable onboard ship and in a naval environment I think will be useful.
An additional set of possible typo's concerning Hadozee:
- In the "New Races" section, Hadozee have maneouvreability of "Medium" when gliding, whilst in the Monsters section on Hadozee as characters it is "Poor". I'm assuming it should be poor.
- In the Monsters section, Hadozee are stated as having a free feat "Dodge" and always posessing Profession(Sailor) as a class skill. The latter sounds spot on given their description, but I'm not sure about the first....
Hope it helps...
Tuesday, 18th October, 2005, 09:58 AM #10
Take the plunge with 'Stormwrack'
Stormwrack is the third Dungeons & Dragons Environment Series Supplement from Wizards of the Coast, following 2004's Frostburn and Sandstorm, released earlier this year. While Frostburn focused on arctic environments and Sandstorm covered the desert, Stormwrack attempts to, as the cover states, master "the perils of wind and wave."
Designers Richard Baker, Joseph D. Cariker, Jr., and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes (and developers Stephen Schubert, Andy Collins and David Noonan) have crafted a solid book. In a market in which there are so many expensive hardback books that are expensive simply because they're printed as hardbacks, Stormwrack is worth the $34.95 cover price.
If you can work some seafaring adventure into your game.
The first chapter of Stormwrack ('Into the Maelstrom') tells you how to do just that. The amount of information in this chapter is fairly dense, but once you get through it, you'll have a good grasp of how to not only introduce coastal, marine and aquatic environments and encounters to your game, you'll also learn how to incorporate elements of the planar seas (the Elemental Plane of Water, Abysm and so on). This chapter covers everything from how to handle running an adventure across beach terrain to how to handle initiative and naval combat aboard or between a ship or two. There's also adequate mention of "special perils of the sea" - diseases, poisons and supernatural threats unique to a sea-based game or campaign (including a concept called airy water - water breathable by both air-breathers and water-breathers). This chapter is solid and provides a base for DMs wanting to introduce Stormwrack material into their games.
The following chapter ('Races of the Sea') provides information for both players and DMs. Doubling the amount of new playable races in an environmental source book, Stormwrack presents four new races (whereas Frostburn and Sandstorm only presented two new races in this section): the Aventi, the Darfellan, the Hadozee and the Aquatic Elf. Aquatic Elves have been mentioned before in previous 3rd edition and v.3.5 supplements going at least as far back the Monster Manual as a subrace of the elves, but Stormwrack gives them more personality and presence than they've ever been given before, defining their place in the greater D&D menagerie. The Aventi are the most noble of the new races, bringing players a regal undersea race built around tradition and personal honor. The Darfellan and the Hadozee are the two standout races here, however. The Darfellan were once a peaceful race, but a 100-year stretch of attacks by the sahuagin has turned this race into a group of refugees. Their loose tribal-based society affords roleplaying opportunities for players interested in playing a melancholy character with well-earned angst. (The parallels between the Darfellan and the Native Americans treatment at the hand of early America are fairly obvious. Even some of the artwork featuring the Darfellan evokes a sense of Native American pathos.) The Hadozee, on the other hand, are fun-loving, adventure-seeking creatures of exploration and discovery. And they're monkeys. That can fly (sort of - they have vestigial wings that allow them the ability to glide 5 feet for every 20 feet they fall). The rest of this chapter is devoted to how to inject the other established player races into the Stormwrack environment, and even offers a few new subraces - the seacliff dwarves, the wavecrest gnomes and the shoal halflings. Stormwrack improves upon Frostburn and Sandstorm by providing tables for random starting ages, aging effects, and height and weight tables for these new races (and for new subraces as well, which is a welcome addition to these environmental sourcebooks).
The third chapter ('Classes') also improves upon the previous two books' pattern. This chapter devotes its time to class options, explaining how both DMs and players can mold the standard Player's Handbook character classes to a Stormwrack game. However, Stormwrack boldly includes information on how to mold some of the classes presented in Wizards of the Coast's Complete... line of the supplemental books. The scout (from Complete Adventurer), the spirit shaman (Complete Divine), the swashbuckler (Complete Warrior) and the warmage (Complete Arcane) are all mentioned here, giving these classes and the Complete... books their due and showing that they do have a solid place in the D&D mythos (if only more D&D sourcebooks, or even Dragon magazine, gave these other classes more credence, credibility and consideration). This chapter also presents seven prestige classes which all seem interesting to play (especially the scarlet corsair), but seem mostly restricted to an aquatic or marine environment.
The first section of fourth chapter ('Skills and Feats') explains how to get the most out of your character's skills. Rules for listening through water, keeping your balance on a ship while it rocks at sea or how deep you can dive unassisted using your Swim skill are included. The second part of this chapter lists 24 feats distinctive to the Stormwrack environment. Most of these feats are so unique that unless you're adventuring in or around water, these feats will be useless to you.
Expanding upon the vehicle listings from the Arms and Equipment Guide, the fifth chapter ('Ships and Equipment') provides detailed rules and information of more than 20 different kinds of ships, and even goes as far as providing maps and layouts of some them. Combining this information with the ship maneuverability and combat from Chapter One makes it easy to work a seafaring journey or two into your next adventure. Ship-based weaponry and accessories are also covered (including the stats for a ballista and a basilisk). Since wearing metal armor would not be advised for a character at sea (not only is metal armor heavy and prone to corrosion if submerged in seawater for too long, but in game terms, the armor penalty could hinder Swim checks), new armor materials are presented (sharkskin, an alternative to leather armor, has become my favorite). Aquatic crossbows and longbows are presented, along with my favorite of the Stormwrack weapons - the cutlass. This chapter ends with a near full-page of special gear, including the official D&D listings for a sextant and a tricorne hat! Unfortunately, not all the ships or equipment are illustrated, which is missed, especially when these unique fantasy weapons or armor are so detailed in the text.
Four new cleric domains are introduced in the sixth chapter ('Spells and Magic Items'), as well as a number of new spells (including one that changes regular water into the aforementioned airy water). As is the theme of the entire book, most of these spells would seem restricted to an aquatic or marine game or campaign, but there are a few that might find use in a non-Stormwrack style setting as well. Notable spells include stormwalk, a new take on the standard teleportation spell that uses the power of an electrical storm to transport the characters from place to place; mudslide which, as it sounds, creates a mudslide, potentially burying the caster's targets (causing extra damage to creatures who are actually aflame, like salamanders or fire elementals); flowsight, a scrying spell that allows the caster to gaze into any body of water (not just an ocean - flowsight works with rivers, streams, and really big puddles) to view other creatures and objects in contact with that body of water; and tojanida sight which provides Spot and Search bonuses and makes it impossible for the caster to be flanked during the spell's duration. There are three new epic level spells, and four new psionic powers provided as well. Among the new magic items are buoyant and gilled armor, as well as a few new items in the rings, rods and staffs, and wondrous items categories (since I've been pointing out favorites, I'll mention the bag of teeth, a small sack made of fish skin and filled with piranha teeth that, when opened and its contents scattered in a body of water, creates a piranha swarm). There is some repeat of what's been published in previous Wizards of the Coast books; the acidic burst and corrosive magic weapon special ability enhancements have already seen print elsewhere.
Monsters are the focus of the seventh chapter (appropriately titled, 'Monsters'). Over twenty new beasts and creatures are introduced, and while most of them would be restricted to a sea- or marine-based game (like most of this book), there are some neat additions to the D&D bestiary. The anguillian, a seeming cross between an eel and a humanoid, fits in just fine with the rest of the aberration family, and the caller from the deeps, a tentacle water elemental infused with malevolent energy, would give any PC a good scare, if not a good fight. The scyllan (featured on the cover of Stormwrack), a lesser fiend from the frozen ocean of Stygia, is terrifying (any creature with the swallow whole special attack really should be feared). Aquatic variations of the chuul and the yugoloth are also included, as well as statistics for jellyfish and leech swarms (as well as the aforementioned swarm of piranha). New animals include the albatross, barracudas, sea lions and seals, and I have at least one player in my gaming group that would likely do everything he can to avoid the monstrous diving spider.
For DMs eager to inject a little Stormwrack into their regular games, the final chapter ('Adventure Locales') gives you the material to do it. Four aquatic adventure sites (ELs ranging from 5 to 12) are detailed and give excellent starting off points for marine and sea-based games. Secret pirate bases, sea hag sorcerers and a ship graveyard will give players and DMs a good salty taste of Stormwrack, bringing the material provided earlier in the book together into unique encounters not found anywhere else in D&D-dom.
Overall, the book impressed me. As the third in a series, it's hard not to draw comparisons between Stormwrack and its predecessors Sandstorm and Frostburn. There are some elements of this supplement that push it above what's been done before - the increased number of playable races and recognition of the newer non-Player's Handbook classes, as well as an overall tightening of the text and presentation. The material in Stormwrack is as least as good as Sandstorm, if not more useful. However, I felt the artwork in Frostburn has been the best of the three Environment Series Supplements (with Stormwrack's coming in second, easily edging out Sandstorm).
The writers worked hard to make playing in an aquatic- or marine-based game of D&D easy to grasp and understand. However, if Stormwrack were to have any downfall, it would be that so much time is spent presenting a water-y view of the game, that nearly all of the Stormwrack material would not be applicable to a non-aquatic game. Players: I would be sure you can use the material in Stormwrack before purchasing it.
But DMs: I would encourage you to take the plunge with Stormwrack; your players will be pleased.
- Derek M. Koch