Master at Arms - Crimson Cleaver
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    Master at Arms - Crimson Cleaver

    By Aeryn Rudel
    Blackdirge Publishing product number BDPMA07
    8-page PDF, $1.75

    Aeryn Rudel sent me two entries in his "Master at Arms" PDF series (I got to pick which two), which features a prestige class geared towards fighter-types specializing in a specific weapon. Crimson Cleaver is the second of the two, and of the two, I liked it a bit less than Shatterskull Adept, although it's still a pretty cool product.

    The cover artwork features a monochrome drawing by Jesse Mohn of a Norse-looking human wielding a greataxe. The rest of the "Master at Arms" design is the same, with the exception that the background color is (quite appropriately, given the name of the prestige class) red marble instead of blue. Again, it's quite an effective cover for a PDF from a small RPG company - very impressive.

    The interior artwork consists of the full version of our cover model (it turns out his name is Olaf Bonecleaver, he's got 4 levels each of barbarian and fighter and the full 5 levels of crimson cleaver, and he's got frost giant blood from his mother's side - her grandfather was a frost giant jarl), plus the small illustrations of several different weapons used to fill in what would otherwise be white spaces. The Olaf drawing is very well detailed, and best of all it matches exactly the character's desricption, right down to the ring he wears on his right hand. I'm not sure whether Jesse is doing a fantastic job at following Aeryn's written description or if Aeryn is using excellent "stock art" from Jesse and doing a fantastic job in accounting for each detail as he writes up Olaf's background, but the end result looks as if the two have been working together step-by-step each stage of the game.

    Crimson Cleaver follows the "Master at Arms" format by beginning with a historical perspective detailing how two-handed axes (called "greataxes" in D&D and "Dane-axes" and later "poleaxes" in European history) were used and how they evolved. This is followed by a "Design Notes" section where Aeryn explains how and why he designed the prestige class like he did (providing quotations from Norse sagas as he does so), and then the rest of the PDF gives the details of the crimson cleaver prestige class. Part of this is the full stats for Olaf Bonecleaver, a sidebar detailing the poleaxe, and another sidebar detailing a new magic item (artifact, really) that Olaf wears, the horned helm of Thrym.

    The crimson cleaver class features allow for increased fighter advancement (for the purposes of qualifying for feats only - you don't get the bonus feats you would have gotten had you stayed in the fighter class instead of advancing as a crimson cleaver; this seems to be a standard feature of the Master at Arms prestige class, as it's appeared in both of the two I've seen thus far). The 5-level prestige class also provides 2 bonus fighter feats (at levels 2 and 4), and 6 different cool things you learn to do while wielding a greataxe, poleaxe, or similar weapon. Over all, I didn't quite like this assortment of "cool weapon stuff" as much as I did those of the shatterskull adept; the crimson cleaver can sunder metal and stone objects better than normal, knock victims prone, cause those within range who see him making a successful critical hit to become shaken, get a better deal for his money when using Power Attack, get an extra attack when sundering a weapon or shield, and possibly slay outright a sufficiently lower-level opponent upon a successful critical hit. They're not bad, but they didn't strike me as "fitting" as well as those of the shatterskull adept - maybe it's just me.

    John Ball is once again listed as the proofreader/editor, and unfortunately he doesn't do as effective a job in this PDF as he did in the other one I read. This time, he let several punctuation issues get past him, as well as a couple of alphabetization issues, a few typos/incorrect words, an a failure to italicize the name of a magic item. The poleaxe sidebar also mixed up the damage amounts that the weapon deals when used as a bludgeoning/piercing/slashing weapon (the verbiage didn't match up with the chart above it). There was also a tabbing error with one of the title headers, although might more properly be placed at the feet of layout guy Erik Nowak.

    Finally, the stat block this time around had quite a few errors in it, which really surprised me, as the stat block in Shatterskull Adept was virtually perfect. Here are the changes I recommend making:

    * Olaf Bonecleaver, male human (intermediate frost giant bloodline) barbarian 4/fighter 4/crimson cleaver 5: Fort should be +18, not +16 (+4 as a Bbn4, +4 as a Ftr4, +4 as a CrC4, +4 Con, +2 cloak of resistance). Ref should be +6, not +4 (+1 as a Bbn4, +1 as a Ftr4, +1 as a CrC4, +1 Dex, +2 cloak). Will should be +5, not +3 (+1 as a Bbn4, +1 as a Ftr4, +1 as a CrC4, +0 Wis, +2 cloak). Special Actions should include "spell-like abilities" (from his horned helm of Thrym, and they should also be added to his descriptive paragraphs immediately after the actual stat block). He should have 11 feats, not 12 (5 as a 13th-level character, 1 bonus human feat, 3 bonus fighter feats, 2 crimson cleaver bonus feats). None of the bonus feats are annotated as such (usually this is done with a superscript "B"). Finally, it looks like he spent 62 of 78 skill points (assuming his 4 levels of barbarian were his first levels), and even then he overspent Climb by 2 points too many, so Climb should be +20, not +22 (16 is the maximum for a 13th-level character, +8 Strength, -4 armor class penalty).

    Crimson Cleaver is an interesting idea for a prestige class (as is the whole "Master at Arms" line), but I don't think Aeryn did as good a job on this one as he did on Shatterskull Adept, which at this point is my only point of reference. There are around a dozen in the "Master at Arms" line, apparently, so while I didn't care for this one as much, I'm still interested in seeing more of this series. I give Crimson Cleaver a high "3 (Average)" - it wasn't bad, but I don't think this one stood up as well against Aeryn's other works.
    Last edited by Morrus; Monday, 1st September, 2008 at 11:32 AM.

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