2/17/2024 Update: EN World recently published an article about this book's publisher. Based on the allegations of ex-employees, ranging from a toxic work environment to not paying contractors the money that was agreed upon, I am no longer comfortable in supporting this company's work and wouldn't have reviewed the books if I knew about this.
When Everyday Heroes was making the rounds online, one of its big advertisements was showing how versatile their RPG was by making various sourcebooks of licensed properties. Being half new rules and half setting/adventures, the Cinematic Adventures line had quite the selection, from Pacific Rim to Highlander. Rambo, along with Universal Soldier, is the final such planned Cinematic Adventures sourcebook for the near future.
Whereas settings such as Pacific Rim may be easier to come up with PCs for, Rambo is a bit harder to imagine given that the namesake protagonist is part and parcel of the franchise. Who are your PCs and what role do they play, if nobody can play as John Rambo? Well, Rambo Cinematic Adventures has a rather interesting take: it does include a sample adventure that is set in the fictional universe of the Rambo franchise, but more than anything it’s a sourcebook for running “military fantasy” campaigns with advice on incorporating themes found in the franchise. “Military fantasy” in this case is an action movie take on guerilla warfare, where the PCs are cream of the crop special forces soldiers who can take on overwhelming odds, be they in active service or veterans returning to civilian life only to find another kind of threat back home.
The sourcebook starts off with a brief discussion of the first three Rambo films, along with talking about the protagonist’s general backstory and personality traits. Although the 2008 and 2019 movies are briefly mentioned, the ones made in the 80s serve as the primary sources of inspiration. The very silly cartoon show that turned Rambo into a GI Joe knockoff that also fought crazy villains such as bikers and Dracula’s ghost dogs is (perhaps for the best) unmentioned.
The introductory section makes note that the kinds of operations Rambo takes part in are commonly known as guerilla warfare: basically small elite individuals engaging in asymmetrical warfare against a military force superior in numbers and equipment, making use of hit-and-run tactics, stealth, traps, and sabotage of various kinds. When it comes to the US, special forces such as the Green Berets and Navy SEALs are most famous for this. Such soldiers didn’t typically work alone like Rambo did in the film at times, but were often part of groups of 5 to 10 soldiers fulfilling a role of various specialties with a wider array of soldiers and officers who provided them less direct support. Guerilla warriors are quite common in civil wars where they could both blend in and more easily garner sympathy with the native populations. While the line between guerilla warfare and terrorism is often unclear, the book makes the line of distinction being the intentional targeting of civilians which more or less puts one in “bad guy” territory. The book notes that these kinds of soldiers are ideally suited to adventures in tabletop RPGs that aren’t wargames, given their relative autonomy and small numbers often requiring them to go behind enemy lines.
But beyond just action-oriented military-themed adventures, the sourcebook also notes other issues and subjects rather pertinent to the themes of Rambo: the first is often the plight of veterans, who are treated poorly by both the government and civilians. The former in pushing them through the hell that is war and expecting them to sacrifice everything, only to leave them abandoned and without direction upon returning to civilian life. And how many civilians view veterans in polarizing and contradictory ways. Particularly during Vietnam where they were held with fear and contempt. Even in more reverential communities and eras idolizing them as fighters for freedom, they’re often given little more than a handshake and a “thank you for your service” phrase, rarely supporting causes that would help veterans get a better life post-war.
The other theme in the book is an emphasis on the Cold War, and a listing of the major conflicts around the world during that time. It of course lists Vietnam and the Soviet-Afghan War, but it is quite broad in covering everything from the Falklands War to the Ethiopian Civil War. The descriptions are very brief and don’t compare to a Wikipedia article, seeming to serve more as a springboard for what kinds of military conflicts your PCs in a Rambo-flavored adventure may get involved in.
This is a significant section of the player-facing half of Rambo, pretty much covering all of the major options for PC creation. While quite a bit of things can be easily incorporated into a broader Everyday Heroes game, I do get the sense that quite a few options are designed with a specific campaign in mind and would be quite powerful or unbalanced in comparison to some of their “core” counterparts.
Backgrounds use the same general rules as in Everyday Heroes, representing significant events in a character’s upbringing or their formative years. Pretty much all of the default backgrounds from the core rules are available, as soldiers can come from many walks of life. We get eight new ones, usually reflecting someone who grew up in a wartorn, violent, or otherwise militaristic lifestyle that serves as an easy justification for how they became Special Forces as part of their career. They include such options as Refugee (+1 Constitution, proficiency in Endurance and one language, special feature lets you Dash or Disengage as a bonus action whenever you Dodge as an action), Tunnel Rat (+1 Dexterity, Acrobatics, advantage on Dexterity for squeezing through tight spaces and Acrobatics checks for escaping grapples and restraints), Small Town (+1 Charisma, Mechanics, advantage on Persuasion and Streetwise checks made in small towns or residents from small towns), and Violent Past (+1 Constitution, proficiency in Athletics, advantage on saves to resist being Stunned or to end said condition). All of these backgrounds also get Iconic Equipment, several of which are more for flavor such as Veteran having dog tags, service medals, and a VA card, but a few have some pretty practical equipment such as the Tunnel Rat having a GI flashlight or Violent Past having a switchblade knife along with a leather jacket and “wicked scar.”
Professions is a tad bit different. As the PCs are expected to be Special Forces or veterans of such elite units, just slapping the Military profession on all of them is a bit of a cookie-cutter solution. So Rambo has a new mechanic known as a Special Forces Career Path that is a multi-step process of building a Profession and its specializations. The first step is choosing one of four Branches from the US Armed Forces. The second step is choosing the Recruitment Type, where they are either Enlisted, giving +1 to a physical ability score and Wealth Level of 2, or are an Officer with a +1 to a mental ability score and Wealth Level of 3. The third step, Basic Training, takes the last two steps into account, where your Branch and Recruitment Type determines your bonus skill and equipment proficiencies along with bonus Iconic Equipment. Each combination grants Basic and Advanced Equipment at a minimum, but Army Enlisted, Marines Enlisted, and Marines Officer also grant Military Equipment proficiency. The Army and Marines options are predictably physically-oriented in their bonus skills, although Army Officer stands out in getting Insight and Persuasion whereas Marines Officer only gets Endurance and nothing else. Navy and Air Force Enlisted are unique in getting three overall useful skills (Athletics, Mechanics, and either Acrobatics for Navy or Perception for Air Force). Only Navy and Air Force Officers get proficiency in Vehicles, where Navy also gets Natural Sciences but Air Force gets Perception. The Iconic Equipment is pretty standard in being a dress uniform associated with your branch, either combat fatigues or a working uniform or suit suitable for your role, and one type of firearm that is either a semiautomatic pistol (Beretta M9 or Colt 1911) or M16A1 Rifle.
To top off the Career Paths, a PC gets Special Operations Training Feats which are basically bonus feats, with their choice of two Minor feats or one Major feat. They represent more specialized roles based on their duties and assignments. They are roughly in line with existing Everyday Heroes feats in terms of balance, save for being a tad better in that some also provide bonus Iconic Equipment. PCs can take these feats when leveling up rather than just at character creation, too. We have 15 such feats, 9 of which are Minor and 6 of which are Major. None of them are restricted by prerequisites save for Combat Weapons Training, which requires proficiency in Advanced Equipment but grants Military Equipment proficiency and lets you clear firearm jams as a bonus action. The feats are suitably neat and help make a PC good at particular roles, such as Medical Technician Training (Minor) that grants proficiency in Medicine and advantage on such checks when stabilizing creatures at 0 hit points along with medical Iconic Equipment; Network Development Training (Major) grants proficiency in Deception, Persuasion, and Streetwise along with advantage on Charisma checks made to bribe people along with foreign currency and a fake passport as Iconic Equipment; Vehicle Flight Training (Minor) grants proficiency in Vehicles and you have double proficiency on checks with said skill for a specific type of military vehicle and are always considered proficient with its integrated weapons; Alpine Training (Major) that grants proficiency in Athletics, Acrobatics, and Endurance, advantage on Athletics checks when rock or ice climbing, and grants a climbing kit and military parka as Iconic Equipment. There’s also Mental Conditioning and Physical Conditioning as Minor feats that grant +1 to a relevant ability score, but you cannot get more than a net +1 to a single score as a result of overall choices on a Career Path so as to avoid min-maxing.
For those gaming groups that find the Career Path system a bit too daunting, we get a Special Forces Operative as a new Profession plus four non-military Professions that are still suitable for military campaigns. The Special Forces Operative grants +1 to a physical ability score, proficiency in 5 skills (Athletics, Endurance, Stealth, Survival, Vehicles), proficiency in Basic, Advanced, and Military Equipment, a Wealth Level of 2, and their Special Feature lets them re-roll all failed death saving throws once. The “once” at the end is rather vague; presumably it means that if you gain some other means of rerolling, such as spending Inspiration, that this doesn’t stack but otherwise you can reroll it if the option ordinarily wouldn’t be available. That’s my interpretation at least.
Aid Worker represents those who act as doctors and emergency responders in conflict zones such as the Red Cross, and are a pretty strong occupation: they get a whopping 5 skill proficiencies, are proficient in Basic Equipment, add +1 to Constitution or Wisdom, and their Special Feature grants advantage on Charisma checks for gaining aid from others and Charisma saves made to resist attempts to slander you. Their shortcomings is that they have a Wealth Level of 1 and lose the benefits of said Feature against any person who witnessed them committing an act of violence. Arms Dealer represents those unscrupulous elements of the military-industrial complex and the criminal underworld who sell weapons of destruction to the highest bidder. They get +1 Charisma, are proficient in Persuasion and Streetwise skills, are proficient in Basic, Advanced, and Military Equipment, have a high Wealth Level of 4, and their Special Feature grants them legitimate access to buying restricted weapons and armor (selling them to unauthorized people is still illegal). Diplomat represents those on foreign soil serving the interests of their home country and are predictably social-focused: +1 to Intelligence and Charisma, one bonus language, proficiency in four skills related to social aptitude, Basic Equipment proficiency, Wealth Level of 3, and Diplomatic Immunity as a Special Feature which grants them immunity to arrest and prosecution in the country in which they’re stationed (they can still be expelled). Sheriff represents elected officials in American law enforcement who wield authority within their jurisdiction. They’re basically a charismatic cop, gaining +1 Charisma and +1 to two other ability scores, gain proficiency in 4 different skills (Investigation plus 3 social skills), Basic and Advanced Equipment, Wealth Level of 3, and their Special Feature grants them authority over law enforcement working for them and advantage on Intimidation checks against anyone living within their county of jurisdiction. As usual, all of these have Iconic Equipment appropriate for their occupations. However, The Arms Dealer and Special Forces Operative make mention of Operative Packs which as far as I can tell aren’t an equipment pack either in the Everyday Heroes core rules or in this book.
Thoughts: Out of curiosity I decided to see how balanced these Professions are in comparison to the default system in Everyday Heroes. The Aid Worker is more or less in line with the 6 Profession Points, but the rest of them are a bit above in that all of their benefits save the Special Feature add up to 6 Profession Points, and the Special Feature would add perhaps .5 points on top of it. As for the Special Forces Career Path, they can end up a bit over the 6 Profession Points limit on account of the bonus feats, but as campaigns making use of that presume that all of the PCs will be taking it, the relative imbalance is muted.
Classes in Everyday Heroes are what would be known as subclasses in a typical 5e DnD campaign, and Rambo gives us five new ones. Four of which represent common roles found in special forces teams, and a fifth that isn’t necessarily a soldier but reflects skilled outdoorsmen. The book goes over some recommended classes in the core rulebook, either because they already fit well into a military theme such as the Commando or Leader or because they fit the themes of the Rambo franchise and could plausibly show up in a Special Forces team such as Bodyguard or Scoundrel.
While the book doesn’t say it in this section, some classes may be unsuitable for Rambo-style campaigns: the Hacker’s capabilities aren’t in line with what’s plausible in a realistic 1980s setting, while the new Combat Engineer sort of replaces the default Engineer in having several of the same Plans. They are meant to be a more “grounded” option than the soft sci-fi features of the Engineer’s such as a robot companion. Rambo doesn’t outright ban any classes or options, saying that it’s up to the GM what to allow and what sounds reasonable for their campaign. Each of the new classes save the Survivalist (which is the generic outdoors one I mentioned above) have proficiency in Basic, Advanced, and Military Equipment plus Advanced Combat Training at 5th level, the latter of which is Everyday Heroes’ equivalent to Extra Attack. So even the archetypes that are less straightforwardly physical are designed to have some combat capabilities and can wield all kinds of firearms and ordinances with at least some capability.
Combat Engineer is for the Smart Hero, and represents fortifications and explosives experts who with enough time and preparation can reshape the battlefield’s terrain in favor of their allies. They have proficiency and expertise in Mechanics and can choose three other skills from a broad variety but with an emphasis on smart guy/field operations stuff. Their two default talents at 1st level include substituting their Intelligence modifier for attack rolls with thrown or launched explosives and artillery weapons, advantage on saves against the Deafened condition and effects that deal explosive or fire damage, and can end the Burning condition on themselves as a bonus action. Like other Smart Hero classes they have seven plans, two of which are reprints from the default Engineer (Cut the Power and Demolish) but include new stuff such as At the Last Second (automatically disarm an explosive device/trap/countdown timer as an action, higher levels let you do this with faster actions, at range, and/or with one hand free), Bring It Down (gain explosive charges as equipment if reasonable given the circumstances and use them to demolish a structure, higher levels let you plant the charges faster, demolition is more controlled/potent, and enemies have disadvantage on saves to avoid hazards that come from your demolition), and Defensive Positions (create layers of fortifications to place around an area). And yes, demolitions and fortifications have their own unique rules in the next chapter.
Thoughts: The Plans are a bit situational in that several require a bit of in-game time to set up rather than spending Genius points and having them trigger immediately. But they are quite powerful in that they’re broadly useful: being able to collapse enemy structures and erect fortifications are open to all sorts of clever tactics by parties and can really hinder enemy mobility and line of sight. In comparison to a default Engineer this class loses out on a robot companion, thus making them a bit more limited in action economy but the Advanced Combat Training grants them a bonus attack which can make up for this. They don’t have some of the more “sci-fi” Plans such as an Emergency Jetpack or an electrical glove melee attack, but I was a bit surprised that they didn’t get the Customize Plan which IMO would be a great fit for this class. But even without this I rate it as a very strong class, provided that parties have some freedom in choosing where and when to do battle.
Combat Medic is our other Smart Hero class, representing trained soldiers with sufficient healing knowledge to keep their allies from the brink of death while under pressure. They gain proficiency and expertise in Medicine and choose three skills from a broad variety of options. Their default feature gained at 1st level is the Healthy feat for free, which grants +2 hit points per level. They too have seven Plans, and and all but two of them involve healing or otherwise reducing the suffering of themselves or teammates, such as Adrenaline Burst (activated when an ally reaches 0 hit points, grants a bunch of boons to the Combat Medic such as ignoring the Encumbered condition, can carry someone’s body while treating them as 0 Bulk*, and advantage on Athletics checks made to move or break objects), Field Surgery (cures short-term and long-term injuries when using the optional Injury rules, is GM Fiat otherwise), It’s Not So Bad (remove a variety of conditions from an adjacent ally as an action), Hit ‘em Where It Hurts (deal bonus damage that increases with level on a target you hit and can choose from a variety of conditions to apply to them), and Just Take This (give combat drugs to an ally granting a variety of buffs).
*Optional rule for carrying capacity in the core rulebook.
Thoughts: Everyday Heroes doesn’t really have a healer role, where the basic Medicine check during short rest can let one reroll spent Hit Dice for a better result, while most class talents grant temporary hit points rather than outright healing lost ones to represent additional staying power. And there’s the Battlefield Medic and Great Cook feats that play around with Hit Dice. The Scientist Smart Hero class in the basic book is perhaps the closest we get, with Adrenaline Shot being used to grant temporary hit points or can restore an ally who died recently to 1 hit point, or I Have the Cure being a remover of various Conditions. Whereas the Combat Medic’s Just Take This has Pain Relievers as a drug option that heals less temporary HP overall, it can also grant advantage on Constitution saving throws. At later levels Just Take This lets them use that and other buffs on more allies and at the same time. As for their respective Condition remover Plans, I compared the Scientist and Combat Medic side by side:
Scientist’s I Have the Cure vs Combat Medic’s It’s Not So Bad
Have the Cure 1st: Blinded, Deafened, Paralyzed, Sickened, one illness, all levels of Intoxication.
Not So Bad 1st: Bleeding,* Burning, Distracted, Frightened, Prone, 1 level of Exhaustion or Intoxication
Have the Cure 3rd: affect ally within 60 feet
Not So Bad 3rd: activate as a reaction. Also remove Blinded, Deafened, Sickened, Stunned
Have the Cure 5th: DR 10 vs poison, advantage on saves vs poison, illness, and lvl 1 Conditions save Intoxication
Not So Bad 5th: 2 levels of Exhaustion or Intoxication, Paralyzed, effects of one poison
Have the Cure 7th: affect up to 2 living allies
Not So Bad 7th: activate as bonus action, 3 levels of Intoxication or Exhaustion, Unconsciousness
Have the Cure 9th: reduce Exhaustion level by 3
Not So Bad 9th: end effects of a disease
*A new Condition in this book. In short, it has 3 levels but only the highest level applies: at Level 1 you cannot recover hit points, level 2 you cannot recover hit points and take 1d6 damage at the start of your turn, and level 3 has the effects of the prior 2 levels but you gain a level of Exhaustion at the start of your turn. The First Aid action can stop bleeding with DC based on level, and level 2 and 3 require a short or long rest to permanently stop the bleeding. The victim must remain still with pressure applied to the wound throughout the treatment process and rest if applicable.
So the Combat Medic advantage is that they can activate their talent faster, freeing up their action economy, and can cure Unconsciousness and Stunned which the Scientist cannot do. But the Scientist is overall better in being able to use their Plan at range and heal equivalent Conditions and exhaustion/intoxication levels at earlier levels.
While the Scientist is better in certain areas and has an overall better condition remover progression, the Combat Medic can still win out in several areas while serving their own niche. For one, the Combat Medic has more staying power in fights: not only do they get more hit points by default, they have a great variety of equipment proficiencies plus can attack twice per round rather than once. Furthermore their Plans often grant multiple benefits or have faster actions so they don’t have to choose between their default action/attack that round, whereas all of a Scientist's unique plans require an action to activate.
Combat Scout is for the Agile Hero, representing soldiers specializing in stealth and observation, clearing the way forward for the main force and finding and weakening enemy positions. They have proficiency in Stealth, choose to have expertise in either Perception or Stealth, and choose three skills from a variety of Rogue-style options. They break convention from other Everyday Heroes classes in having proficiency in two of the more common saving throws: Dexterity and Wisdom. They are a pretty front-loaded class, getting the bulk of their abilities at the first three levels but have some nice abilities at 7th and 9th level. At 1st level they can perform the Search action for free once per turn, have advantage on Stealth checks to avoid making noise or alerting others with sounds they make,* and can take the Hide action as a bonus action or as a reaction when initiative is rolled provided they then move up to 10 feet into a suitable hiding spot. At 3rd level they basically get the benefits of the Scout feat, which is advantage on ability checks made to detect traps and hidden enemies along with +5 Passive Perception, and they also can choose one skill from a broad list to gain proficiency or expertise in if already proficient. At 7th level they get another skill pick, but they also get perhaps their strongest feature: Quick Kill, which is a special attack requiring a bit of a restrictive setup but once triggered is resolved as a melee attack roll (cannot benefit from advantage even if applicable) vs the target’s Constitution save. If the target fails the save, they are killed or knocked out for 8 hours, but on a success they take damage as per a standard attack and combat begins if the target’s still standing. The Combat Scout cannot use their reaction to Hide as a result of this. The GM is allowed to make certain enemies immune to this, suggesting pivotal antagonists to be the applicable standard. The 9th level capstone features include the ability to Dodge as a bonus action and can perform a Quiet Kill as a ranged attack on a target up to 60 feet away, provided it’s not with a Loud weapon which restricts most firearms from this unless they have a suppressor.
*Although the book says you can’t do inherently noisy actions like firing a gun with this, this is still broadly worded to apply to a lot of situations.
Thoughts: This is an extremely strong class. Any 5th Edition veteran cannot underestimate the importance of triggering surprise on the PC side, and even with lopsided odds the battle can decisively swing in favor of the ambushers. The Combat Scout is pretty much built to roll well on Stealth checks, and their Passive Perception is guaranteed to be at least decent in the event that enemy forces try to ambush the party. Even without advantage, Quiet Kill can still be open to abuse, such as a Manipulator using In Your Head to reduce the target’s saving throw, while a Mastermind may apply I Had That Poisoned to the Combat Scout’s weapon to even the odds in killing or knocking out the enemy should they succeed the save. And while they cannot get advantage, there’s nothing in the text preventing them from gaining a flat bonus such as from the Duelist’s Flèche trick or a Leader’s Inspiring Order. Additionally, Quiet Kill is not limited in use based on rests, so a sneaky and lucky scout can go around an area killing one enemy after another before initiative is rolled. Contrast this to the MMA Fighter’s 9th level special attacks which have a similar feature: they can impose the Unconscious condition along with some other feature, but the target can make a new save at the end of each of their turns to regain consciousness.
For direct class comparisons, they are closest to the Scoundrel from the core rules and are pretty much better in almost every way. The only things a Scoundrel gets over them are bonus actions for things beyond Hiding (Security, Sleight of Hand, Use Object), and their Vital Strike can more easily apply than Quiet Kill but taps out at 5d6 damage. As for skills, the Scoundrel can gain expertise in up to three skills rather than two, but two out of three only kick in at 7th level. The Combat Scout has a broader array of options in also gaining new skill proficiencies plus having proficiency in four skills rather than three at 1st level. At 9th level the Scoundrel can reliably roll 10 at the minimum for various Roguish skills. But in comparison to the vast amount of abilities the Combat Scout gets, the Scoundrel feels positively lacking in comparison.
Commander represents someone who provides support to their allies, using their experience to build trust. What separates it from the corebook’s Leader is that it’s for Wise Heroes and focuses less on talents that give single allies one-time powerful abilities but more team-wide buffs. They are proficient in two good saves (Constitution and Wisdom) and choose three skills from a healthy mixture of physical, social, and scout-like stuff such as Perception, Stealth, and Survival. At 1st level allies who can see or hear the Commander have advantage on saves vs the Frightened condition, can substitute their Wisdom in place of Charisma for Intimidation and Persuasion checks, and whenever they hit an opponent with a ranged weapon they can spend 1 Focus to give advantage on the next ranged attack against that opponent by an ally. At 3rd level they can ignore one source of disadvantage on each attack roll they make, can spend 1 Focus at the beginning of their turn to give themselves and all team members who can see or hear them +10 movement until the beginning of their next turn, or spend 1 focus to let an ally that can see or hear them re-roll a failed saving throw but only once for any given saving throw. At 7th level their “focus fire” ability at 1st level can apply to any of their allies instead of just one if they spend 2 Focus instead, can spend a reaction and 1 Focus to add their Wisdom modifier to the Defense of themselves or an ally if they would be hit by an attack and thus can turn it into a miss, and at 9th level whenever an ally would be reduced to 0 hit points they can spend 1 Focus to have them drop to 1 hit point instead.
Thoughts: The Commander is very much built to be a team player, and some of their abilities can make for interesting builds like a diplomancer/scout via substituting Wisdom for Charisma for certain social skills, or a sniper with their ability to ignore one source of disadvantage such as firing at long range. Comparisons to the existing Leader class are inevitable. The Leader is derived from the Charismatic Hero, who has a lower Hit Die and Defense bonus than Wise, and unlike the Commander they don’t get Military Equipment proficiency or Advanced Combat Training, so by default they aren’t as offensive. However, the Leader’s Command feature can basically allow up to 2 allies to attack one additional time per round along with moving half their speed by spending reactions. The Commander’s offensive boost by contrast is granting advantage on attacks rather than additional attacks, but it costs them Focus which is a rest-based rechargeable resource, whereas the Leader’s ability is infinite-use. Contrast this to the Commander’s bonus movement, which is typically much less (+10 feet rather than half speed or 15 feet for most people) and costs Focus but can affect the entire party by default. Both of them can help with saving throws: Leader’s 9th level ability adds their Charisma modifier to all saving throws to themselves and allies within 10 feet, which is powerful but requires them to be clustered together and thus become grenade or missile-bait, while Inspiring Order adds their Influence Die to a single ally’s attack roll or saving throw. The Commander can spend a similar resource in Focus, but given that it’s a reroll rather than adding onto an existing roll it is circumstantial in whether it would be better or worse than Inspiring Order trick. When it comes to defensive features, the Commander gets some nice abilities in adding to Defense or guarding against an otherwise deadly blow, but those only come into play at the higher levels. The Leader, by contrast, gets Defensive Order which can be taken regardless of level but reduces damage of a struck ally by the Leader’s Influence Die plus Charisma modifier. The Leader is much less effective against high-damage blows, but being taken at much lower levels makes it much more likely to see use in play.
As for which one is better, it depends on what classes your allies have. The Heavy Gunner would certainly appreciate gaining advantage on attacks to offset the Power Attack penalty, and the Scoundrel can more easily trigger their Vital Strike this way. But it is of more limited use to people who don’t rely on ranged attack rolls, particularly melee builds like the Brawler or Duelist. Conversely, the Leader is a better “healer” in having more ways of giving allies temporary hit points, even at 3rd level or with the Motivate trick, and the bonus attacks via Command would see the best use in parties with highly martial characters where an additional hit can deal a lot of damage.
Survivalist is a Tough Hero class, representing those who have peerless skill in living off the land and specialize in setting up traps with which to better ambush their enemies. They are proficient in two good saves (Constitution and Wisdom), are proficient in Basic and Advanced Equipment, have proficiency and expertise in Survival, and choose three skills from various outdoorsman style options. They have a ton of class features taking a full page in total. They start play with Ambush, which is similar to Sneak Attack in dealing bonus damage when unseen but also applies to the damages of traps that they make. Like a DnD Ranger they choose from a list of Natural Terrains which grant them various benefits while within said terrain. They get more Terrain to learn as they increase in level, and their options are fewer in number than DnD but broader and meant to be more generous. For example, a stream in a wooded mountain glade would be considered Alpine, Forest, and Wetlands for the purposes of activating this class feature. At 3rd level they treat any roll of a 6 or less as a 7 when spending Hit Dice to heal, get advantage on Survival checks to set traps outdoors and can find the needed materials for traps when in their Natural Terrain, and at 3rd and 7th level they can choose one skill from their list of class skills in which to gain proficiency or expertise if already proficient. At 5th and 9th level they gain proficiency in an additional saving throw of their choice, but can’t be unusual saves such as armor or death saves. At 7th level they can spend 10 minutes in Natural Terrain to create medicine from local resources to heal a variety of Conditions, and at 9th level they can use Second Wind an unlimited number of times and can use it as a reaction whenever they take damage.
Thoughts: Like the Combat Engineer, the class is at its best when the party can choose their battles. And like DnD’s Ranger, a good GM will advise what Natural Terrains are most likely to matter in the adventures/campaign they have in mind so the Survivalist doesn’t end up with a near-useless choice. The bonus skills and saving throws are nice but come in a bit late, as does the 7th level healing ability whose conditions can be cured the same way by Scientists and Combat Medics with the right Plan but faster and at lower levels. As for the bonus damage, some traps that don’t deal much damage on their own can do quite a bit of damage at middle to higher levels. The “hidden board with nails to step on” is a trap in the core rules that takes 5 minutes to set up and deals only 1d4 piercing, and Land Mines come in different varieties and take a similar amount of time to set up. When paired with the right talents from a Smart Hero, they can be even deadlier: The Right Tool talent can be used to produce such mines as equipment (claymores have a Price of 2 and are detailed in this book), and while it’s not technically a Trap in game terms I can see some groups trying to make the argument that the Mastermind’s I Lured You Into Danger can qualify.
Feats provides us with 12 new Feats, not including the ones from the Special Forces Career Path. 10 of them are Multiclass Training feats for the new classes in this book, while two of them are Minor Feats. Bloodletter makes it so that whenever you crit with a slashing melee weapon, the target gains the level 2 Bleeding condition. The other Minor feat is Weapons Expertise, representing those who may not be physical paragons but are experienced with a weapon in their hands. Instead of using an ability score modifier for attack rolls, they add double their proficiency bonus, and can add their proficiency bonus to damage rolls instead of an ability score modifier. These can only apply to weapons with which they’re proficient, which in practical terms means that they add triple their proficiency bonus as their attack bonus in most circumstances.
Thoughts: These two minor feats stand at opposite ends of the power spectrum. Bloodletter is underpowered in that it only provides one ability, and it only works on a critical hit which is a 5% chance in most cases. Weapons Expertise is overpowered on account that it easily breaks bounded accuracy. While the damage bonus may not be as broken, the attack bonus is: someone with +2 Proficiency Bonus will be attacking at +6, which is doable by someone with an 18 score with that same Proficiency. At +3 someone with this feat has a +9 bonus, whereas the highest someone can hit without special abilities or talents at the same level is +8 (20 score, +3 PB). At +4 Proficiency Bonus they have a +12 to hit, and at that level the world-class duelist/sniper/etc with a 20 ability score has +9 to hit without special abilities or talents.
Clarification: Sigfried Trent in a post further down explained that the mechanical intent of Weapons Expertise isn't the triple Proficiency Bonus to attack rolls, but rather just adding it a second time.
Clarification - Weapon Expertise: The mechanicals intent is that instead of getting an ability score bonus to attack and damage, you can add your proficiency bonus a second time. Because we have a generic rule that says you can't add a given bonus more than once (which you would do if you are already proficient in the weapon) I describe it as doubling your proficiency bonus (like the skill expertise rule does). I should have added an example for it in the book to make it clear, or given a more detailed explanation, so I'll give an example now.
Example: Siggy is a Level 5 Combat Medic with a Dexterity of 8 and the Weapon Expertise Feat. They are proficient in military weapons and are firing an AK-47 rifle. Their normal Dexterity modifier is -1, and their proficiency bonus is +3. When making an attack roll with their AK, thanks to Weapon Expertise, instead of adding the -1 modifier to their proficiency bonus for a total of +2, they double their proficiency bonus for a total of +6 on the attack roll. Likewise if they hit, their damage modifier is their proficiency bonus of +3, instead of their dexterity modifier of -1.
The upshot of the feat is so that a hero without a relevant combat ability score can be almost as good at weapon attacks as someone who invests in a combat stat, but not quite since those tend to lead proficiency by about 1 or 2 modifier points.
As for the Multiclass feats, they hew to the standards in the core rules where they grant a fraction of the features and at reduced rates than someone who began in them at 1st level. Combat Engineer and Combat Medic more or less follow the Smart Hero guidelines in granting equivalent benefits of proficiency in a single smart guy skill and Plans from the class at reduced effectiveness. The Combat Scout is front-lined in granting a bunch of useful stuff for the initial Training feat, and the Advanced Training grants the Quiet Kill which is pretty crazy on account that it can be grabbed a mere 1 level later (minimum 8th level to take the feat) than the default class. Sure they can’t use it with a ranged attack, but that’s at 9th level! The Survivalist feats are similar in that they grant the bulk of that class’ abilities except for the bonus saving throw proficiencies and they have a slightly decreased bonus damage progression than a real Survivalist. The Commander Training feat is similar in granting all of the good low-level stuff for that class save the bonus +10 foot speed to teammates (that’s the Advanced Commander Training feat) or ignoring one source of disadvantage. All of the Multiclass feats save for Survivalist grant Basic and Advanced Equipment proficiency right off the bat. Survivalist grants Basic Equipment, which is rather amusing as the Tough Hero Training feat also grants this and every Tough Hero class in the core rules also does this, so it might be for the inevitable hypothetical Tough Hero class in another sourcebook that has absolutely no equipment proficiencies for whatever reason.
While normally I’d cover Equipment, this post is already pretty lengthy and the chapters coming up before the big adventure are individually short, so I’ll cover those in the next post.
Thoughts So Far: The new character creation details are operating at a higher level of power in terms of combat in comparison to a typical Everyday Heroes campaign. A lot of these cases are designed to be plausible in the context of a military style adventure. For example, Advanced Equipment covers a lot of weapons that most modern-day soldiers regularly train with, so it would feel odd to have a jarhead PC who isn’t proficient with a 9mm pistol. Similarly, in standard Everyday Heroes the Military Equipment proficiency is a rare thing: only a few Professions and Classes grant it, but in Rambo it is rather trivial to gain right out at character creation. Barring certain builds the equipment in this category is just plain better than the Basic and Advanced counterparts: the firearms deal more damage and have longer ranges, the armor has the best Armor Value, and the vast majority of explosives and mine/grenade-like weapons fall under said category.
As for the Classes, none of them look underpowered to me, and appear quite competent in their areas of expertise. In campaigns focusing on guerilla warfare they excel quite a bit. I do feel that the Combat Scout is a tad on the overpowered side, and would be loath to allow it in non-Rambo games given how much of a draw it would be to so many character concepts.
I do like the Career Path rules, and the options within look versatile enough so that soldier PCs can stand out from each other in terms of Profession options. I do feel that some of the choices are odd: while I understand that all military branches have versatile skill sets in real life, as these are the Special Forces, some of the Basic Training proficiencies feel lacking in some critical areas. Air Force Enlisted isn’t proficient with Vehicles, but an Air Force Officer is. Only Army Officers have proficiency in any kind of social/leadership skills being Insight and Persuasion, while all the other Officer branches tend towards the purely mental plus Vehicles (Air Force and Navy) or are entirely physical (Marines).
Join us next time as we cover other important details for an action movie style military campaign, such as new Equipment, Rules, and Game Master Advice!