Necromancers was another very good book with an excellent balance of crunch and fluff. I still say Villains slightly edges it out because it has a much broader scope, but the two are definitely the best DMG splats hands down.
I would think the Witch Doctor and Shaman from the 1e Dungeon Master's Guide would count.might be the first time we actually see fully fleshed-out NPC classes in a D&D product that isn't a magazine. (Though I'm sure you guys are rushing to check me on that even as I type this.)
You mean from the "Tribal Spell Casters" section (p. 40)? Because those are essentially just clerics and cleric/wizards with highly-restricted spell lists (and very low level caps, though that's apparently a function of the races listed).
Exactly, 1e versions of 3e's adepts.You mean from the "Tribal Spell Casters" section (p. 40)? Because those are essentially just clerics and cleric/wizards with highly-restricted spell lists (and very low level caps, though that's apparently a function of the races listed).
Not to nitpick too much, but adepts are actually quite different from other classes. Their spellcasting ability goes up to 5th level - something no other class has - and their spell list, while not too expansive, is a mixture of cleric and druid spells, with a few wizard spells thrown in. Plus, they can summon a familiar despite technically being a divine spellcasting class. It's really an interesting oddity for how it's designed (even if the theme is clear, in that it's meant to be a "hedge witch"-style character).Exactly, 1e versions of 3e's adepts.
Right, adepts are not a perfect analogy, they are sort of a witch doctor multiclass cleric magic user combined into one class with no turning.Not to nitpick too much, but adepts are actually quite different from other classes. Their spellcasting ability goes up to 5th level - something no other class has - and their spell list, while not too expansive, is a mixture of cleric and druid spells, with a few wizard spells thrown in. Plus, they can summon a familiar despite technically being a divine spellcasting class. It's really an interesting oddity for how it's designed (even if the theme is clear, in that it's meant to be a "hedge witch"-style character).
I love randomly generated abilities. Love them. Anything to offset min/maxing.With the PHBRs and DMGRs behind us at last, we come now to the Historical Reference series. That's a bit awkward for me, simply because there are several critiques I have about these works as a whole, rather than being aimed at any of their constituent products. I'm going to set those aside (at least for now), however, in favor of trying to cover each book on its own merits and foibles.
With that said, let's turn our attention to HR1 Vikings. These guys need no introduction, being the ones who gave us Thor, "spear and magic helmet," and showed us all how to train dragons. Though for me, they'll always be the most awesome side to choose when playing a rousing game of Crossbows and Catapults.
D&D, however, doesn't quite slot vikings into any of those molds. In fact, while the Norse pantheon tends to remain one of the top-three most popular real-world mythologies to appear in the game (alongside the Greek and Egyptian gods), Vikings themselves don't appear in the game very much. Mystara got them in GAZ7 The Northern Reaches, and Birthright spotlighted their Viking analogues in Tribes of the Heartless Waste, but beyond that you had to start looking for more generic "barbarians in cold climates" to find similar parallels, such as the various Uthgardt tribes of the Forgotten Realms, covered in The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier or the Wolf Nomads of Greyhawk, but even then, the Viking connections become sketchier.
While it goes without saying, this book - like all of the Historical Reference works - doesn't add to those campaigns (outside of whatever cherry-picking a DM might decide to use it for). Like all of this particular series, it's not a generic sourcebook per se, but rather is set on semi-historical Earth, in this case in the Nordic region of Europe in a period covering roughly the 9th through 12th centuries. I'll also take a moment to note that this book (like the rest of the HRs) included a poster map attached in the back; if you're a collector, be aware of that if and when you go shopping for used copies.
Having said all of that, this book sets the pattern for the rest of the series in how it tries to straddle the line between being a game resource and also being a primer to a historical culture. In terms of what's here, it does a fairly decent job, though I suspect I think that because this one seems to skew just a little bit more toward game resources than trying to turn readers into armchair experts when it comes to Vikings.
For instance, there are only two available races here: humans and trollborn. The former get a Gift, which has you roll a d20 for some quirk that you're born with, either because of the Norns, the actions of your ancestors, or something else. Ironically, this isn't necessarily a straight power-up: you can get detrimental Gifts, or no Gift at all. Trollborn are the offspring of humans and Norse trolls (whom the book calls out aren't like typical D&D trolls), but otherwise come across as your typical demihuman race, with some ability modifiers and infravision, class restrictions and level limits, etc. Honestly, I would really have liked to see some of those appear in a Planescape module somewhere; you're really telling me that nothing in this book could be found on the plane of Ysgard?
It's the new classes that are most notable, however. Or rather, one new class. While we do get a special berserker class - who have shapeshifting powers in addition to your standard "kill everything in sight" battle-fury - we also get a runecaster class. And this is a martial class, not a spellcaster. Even so, their magic system gets its own chapter in the book; long story short is that you can't really use runes in combat: each one takes 15 + 1d20 minutes to activate, has several usage requirements that aren't individually burdensome but can be collectively limiting (e.g. runes must be carved instead of just drawn, must be activated as soon as they're carved, require a successful Wisdom check, etc.). However, they're never "used up," and so can be put to use as often as you want, though the listed runes are all fairly tame in what they can accomplish (e.g. the rune to speak with animals, which apparently has no limit on its duration, will only let you speak to a single specific animal each time you use it).
If that of that sounds familiar, I should note, it's because this is almost identical to the rune magic and runecaster class found in FOR7 Giantcraft. By contrast, the totemic inscriptions in FOR5 Elves of Evermeet are similar, even if several of the particulars are different.
After this, however, the mechanical alterations largely become an issue of what's not to be found, i.e. disallowing various classes, not using certain monsters, etc. This isn't something I dislike; removing existing options is - to my mind - just as important for creating the feel of a given campaign. That said, I always think of how the Dark Sun campaign made sure to add new stuff in conjunction with refusing various other options; this book can't really go that far, since it's one product rather than a game line. The end result is that, while the aforementioned new stuff is nice, this still feels somewhat minimalistic due to how much it rules out.
Actually, no, "minimalistic" isn't the right term. It's more that there's an expectation that what you do use will have greater depth to it. Monsters aren't going to just be throwaway encounters, and magic items aren't just a dime-a-dozen items sitting around in dungeons waiting to be looted; that's the expectation here. It's more about impact than quantity, though to be fair that's more me reading between the lines than anything I recall the book explicitly saying (and is, once again, something that could easily apply to the HR series as a whole).
I've been focusing on the mechanical aspects of the book because those are the parts that interest me most. In terms of its overview of Viking life, the book does okay, but I always found these to be the metaphorical vegetables on my plate. It can absolutely be useful to know about the different strata of Viking society, along with a timeline of events, but I'm of the opinion that the book would have been better off presenting new monsters, highlighting more about the Norse gods, or even presenting some sample adventures. As it is, this feels like it's going just far enough to make sure we can get the pastiche correct, and no farther.
That's really my big critique for this book. As much as I liked what it gives us, at the end of the day it's like being given a bunch of lumber and tools and told to build a house. I still need a blueprint - that is, practical advise on adventuring in a Viking setting - in order to get started. This tells me what a Viking campaign would have, but not how it would play.
That won't be the last time I make that complaint.
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but beyond that you had to start looking for more generic "barbarians in cold climates" to find similar parallels, such as the various Uthgardt tribes of the Forgotten Realms, covered in The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier or the Wolf Nomads of Greyhawk, but even then, the Viking connections become sketchier.