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Skill Focus: Talking
by Ulises T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/28/2009 18:36:20
This work is incredible. Of all the products out there that try to tackle OGL-compatible rules-rich diplomacy systems, this one is by far the best. It covers everything from convincing someone that a bad idea was theirs (when it wasn't), to forcing someone to listen to you outside of combat, to calling a time-out in the middle of a heated negotiation... in short, it covers pretty much every social maneuver the OGL doesn't, and those it does, SF:T covers better. Awesome.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Skill Focus: Talking
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The Second World Sourcebook
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/08/2007 00:00:00
Unlike a lot of other d20 supplements, The Second World Sourcebook is not one that you decide to use in one reading. It took me two complete readings and many section reference reviews before I dared even attempt a review.

Delightfully though, The Second World Sourcebook, by Second World Simulations, is an innovative if not sometimes clunky piece of work. If you are looking for a different take on a fantasy realm, you can not go wrong with picking up this PDF. However, do be warned that you will have to understand the material in its entirety to get the full benefit.

The writer of Second World, Steven Palmer Peterson, is obviously a game designer. This is important in a world of easy d20 PDF creation where there are great supplements but very little thought to how the pieces presented in the supplement fit together. This is both the best and worst part about the book. Everything in the book needs to make sense and fit with something else, and it does near flawlessly. But the drawback is that it presents so much material that it can be overwhelming to even the average Dungeon Master.

To get the aesthetics out of the way, Second World has some wonderful artwork, is well bookmarked (with the exception of the appendix) and contains very intelligent writing. The Second World, in the PDF refers to a fantasy world that shares similarities with the modern world, the first world. These similarities include a geography with our seven continents, corporate stooges and traditional modern conveniences such as vehicles. The second world and our world were on the same path to evolution right up until a catastrophic event in the prehistoric ages.

The book begins by introducing the history of Second world, with the second chapter going into basic information about races, classes and options for both worlds. The six new races are dynamic and adventurous. They present a very daring move to give the PCs and DM something different than elves and orcs, though they are an option. Instead though, you can use the orcas and raptor classes which match up well with the classic fantasy races. This chapter is very crunchy with the many character options introduced. The feats, backgrounds and new skill uses really add to the setting.

The most interesting parts of the book are in the following chapters with the introduction of Wardens, Influence and Pacts. Wardens are prestige classes that grant users special magical abilities. These abilities are bought using Influence, which is the equivalent of social currency in Second World. No longer can you just walk into a store and buy a +4 vorpal sword, with influence, you must gain enough of it to get access to such things. Pacts, like Warden abilities, also use the unique influence currency. Pacts allow you to make deals with planar organizations to gain access to their magics and incantations. The book ends by introducing key NPCs and monsters in the world giving more flavor to the Second World.

For the Player
You have a lot of character customization with this book. With the wardens, pacts and character backgrounds, you have a lot of options. You may have to spend a lot, but players want to invest in the warden powers. They are different, binding to your various chakra points to enhance your abilities.

For the DM
The first thing I introduced from this book into my campaign was the Influence system. It is one of the best economical systems I have seen. The organizations inside of this chapter can easily be modified for traditional fantasy. Tip: If you are going to introduce only fragments of The Second World, do so in small chunks. The concepts are so different that some players may feel overwhelmed.

The Iron Word
This intricate campaign setting is ideal for someone whom wants fantasy but wishes for a more modern take on it. Many of the new ideas introduced take a bit of working to fit into a traditional fantasy setting, but many tips and tricks are given by the author to do this. I do hate that one of the best of these ideas, the warden, is not accessible without spending class levels. I used a trick from the pact system and created oaths to associate with wardens to bypass utilizing a class slot.

Oddly enough, The Second World's biggest problem is how good it is. It fits so well together that it is hard to cut and paste into your campaign unless you are an Iron DM caliber DM. Utilizing the system in its entirety, may provide too much of a modern alternative to DMs. IF you have the patience and experience though, and are looking for something different, you will enjoy every page of this.

.



LIKED: -wardens are unique and a testament of good game design
- influence creates a truly dynamic monetary system
- there are a lot of options and good organization
- the author seems to give a lot of advice on how to fit the elements of the book into a campaign world

DISLIKED: - the wardens are prestige classes
- the pacts weren't bookmarked and they are one of the best parts of the book
- the book is not for novices, this is a Grown DM book.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Second World Sourcebook
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Masters of Arms
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/11/2007 00:00:00
Dig up those old Saturday morning martial arts movies and start making characters. Masters of Arms, by Second World Simulations, us a creative piece that allows one to build a weapons master of any type imaginable and unimaginable.

From your typical daggers and swords to more exotic weapons like the Ranseur and Three Piece Staff. You can even create masters that border on some of the more sci-fish martial arts movies that master things like ?blinking? and ?telekinesis?.

Masters of Arms begins rather dully with the writer feeling he has to explain and detail his math for creating the book. It feels rather booky and slightly out of place. Luckily this only lasts a few pages and then the plethora of weapon goodness begins. The basis of the book is a prestige class called the Masters of Arms. The class is more like a template issuing the pc a maneuver at every level. The over 300 maneuvers are divided into the 40 weapon specialties that follow the class. Each speciality has its own prerequisites which are primarily simple to meet. These maneuvers are more than special abilities. The extraordinary abilities are subtyped as either special attacks, bonuses, counter abilities or , in most cases, combination attacks, where you have to perform a succession of moves to achieve the special maneuver.

The variety of weapons is amazing. If the PHB weapons are not enough for you then you have a half dozen weapons that Masters of Arms introduces. The only problem after the start of the book is the repeating of abilities for different weapons. Though it makes sense, it makes the book absurdly large as it keeps repeating some of the same abilities.

For the Player
Close your eyes think of a weapon and you will find some cool unique moves for them in the book. Picking out a favorite is difficult because every weapon has maneuvers that really utilize its effectiveness in both fluff and crunch. My favorite abilities are the cloak fighting master and blinking master. They are both unusual and utilize non weapons to produce interesting fighting styles.

For the DM
I would have liked to see two more prestige classes to offer a slight bit of uniqueness, but, the limit to the one prestige class does offer a DM ease of implementation. If you want to build a sword and dagger fighter, create a sixth level character and give him six maneuvers. Want to have a mean sickle enemy, just replace the maneuvers.

The Iron Word
Masters of Arms, at its roots, is a giant book for one prestige class. But what versatility does the book give you for that one class. It includes every weapon, melee and ranged, and some imaginative ones. It includes a few non-weapons which are also quite impressive. The 300 page behemoth does suffer a bit from its size and I wish they could have found a better way to list repeat attacks. It also would be nice if there was a way to get these maneuvers without going the prestige class route. However, how can any one complain when someone has put this much thought into how to beat someone with a club.














LIKED: - lots of weapons
- lots of creative abilities


DISLIKED: - only one prestige class
- didn't like the repeat abilities

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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Skill Focus: Talking
by Robert H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/29/2006 00:00:00
Some very nice ideas for social skills.

Likely more useful as a "menu" to choose from and not all will likely be suitable for a given game. As one of my players said, has the possibility of slowing play if over-used, but that said does the nice job of integrating "at table role play" with "social skill ranks mattering".

1 page of cover/contents and 1 page of OGL, 19 of text.


LIKED: Wide range of options presented to work with, you could not like some while getting value from others.

DISLIKED: Very little

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Skill Focus: Talking
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Skill Focus: Talking
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/19/2006 00:00:00
Skill Focus: Talking is a 21 page pdf product presenting a new set of rules for handling roleplaying skills and encounters. The content is suitable to any d20 genre, be it fantasy, modern or future roleplaying. The aim of the product is to provide an approach to roleplaying that allows a character's skills to be expanded and integrated more easily into a roleplaying encounter, rather than relying on only a single die roll. In that sense a roleplaying encounter plays out quite similarly to a combat encounter, with multiple rolls affecting the outcome.

The pdf comes as a single, fully-bookmarked pdf file and includes a brief table of contents. The 21 pages are devoid of any art, although there is a minimalistic cover. Writing and editing is generally good, and the pdf makes extensive use of tables and examples to summarize rules or give examples as to their use in play. One thing missing is a general table summarizing all the skills and their DCs - this would've been immensely useful in using the material. Given the lack of art and borders, this should be very easy to print out.

The pdf starts with a brief introduction to the aim and nature of the pdf, before providing a very useful example on how the new talking skills are used. The pdf provides a number of talking skills as part of the main social skills of the d20 game - Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate and Sense Motive. These talking skills can be used during a roleplaying encounter (limited to a number of times per encounter - so called talking fatigue), each allowing a skilled talker to benefit from the use of the skill. Skills can be to, for example, request favors, and detailed rules are provided on how to do it.

Each of the four social d20 skills has its own set of talking skills. Bluff, for example, includes the skill Idea Ventriloquism, which allows a talker to insert a good idea into the opposed talker's mind during the interaction. Sense Motive, on the other hand, can be used to lie smoothly, or to estimate an opponent response to a suggestion that you may have. The ruleset is complete in the sense that the various talking actions cover most of the topics one would imagine using during a conversation. Each talking skill is detailed and contains all the information required to use it. For reference, the pdf also contains all the details on the primary d20 social skills. A total of 31 talking skills are included, allowing for numerous interesting options to use when playing out an encounter.

The pdf concludes by providing some advice for gamemasters on using the interaction skills, particularly related to NPCs. The various talking skills aren't necessarily well suited to using on PCs by NPCs, given the additional knowledge that DM may have and the fact that PCs are, well, run by players. Hence a number of 'cheats' are provided, small sections on advice on how to handle NPCs and the talking skills. This is probably the only negative part of the system, in that it's not universal between PCs and NPCs like all other skills.

Skill Focus: Talking succeeds very well at making a roleplaying encounter or conversation a more dynamic affair, and hence also a more exciting one. The numerous talking skills provided add an element of surprise and mystery to a given encounter, although more for the PCs than the NPCs. The 'cheats' provide an adequate but somewhat unsatisfying way of handling NPC interactions. Overall, though, a very original and novel pdf providing a system that can enhance any game.


LIKED: This pdf provides a novel and original system for expanding and handling roleplaying encounters in any d20 genre. By providing numerous talking skills, a roleplaying encounter can be spiced up and made more interesting by pitting a PC's skill against that of an NPC. An extremely useful and interesting system.

DISLIKED: The only minor weakness of the material is that it's not equally applicable to NPCs than it is to PCs. While one can understand that it's the nature of the system (and d20 in general), it is in a sense somewhat unsatisfying. Having not actually used this system in play, it's difficult to determine what the best way to use the system is, but I suspect that allowing NPCs the same benefits as PC may actually be a viable solution, despite the pdf's suggestions and cheats. A simple note passed to a player can do wonders for allowing them to roleplay their characters based on how their characters, rather than them as players, perceive how the encounter is going.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Skill Focus: Talking
by Michael D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/18/2006 00:00:00
This is the kind of supplement that the OGL was made for! A brilliant collection of new skill checks that strike the perfect balance between roleplaying and die rolling. They will put a lot of kick into social situations without penalizing players who are hesitant (or slow on their feet) when it comes to in-character dialog.


LIKED: The authors expounded on existing rules without adding any new mechanics. Plus the can apply equally to both 3.5 and Modern gamesets.

DISLIKED: Some of the checks can be used by more than one skill (like Spycraft 2.0). I would have prefered each skill getting some advantages.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Skill Focus: Talking
by Andrew B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/26/2006 00:00:00
When it comes to social interaction between player characters and non-player characters in roleplaying games, there are a few unwritten rules that most successful gamemasters seem to follow. A few silly comments here and there are generally ignored. The GM may try to lead players with statements that give clues toward their character's knowledge about a situation, even if the players themselves seem to be missing the point entirely. The goal is to walk a fine line between allowing the players to immerse themselves in the role of their characters, but still let them act on context clues only their characters can perceive and utilize social skills that they themselves might not possess. After all, even a shy player should have the right to play a brilliant diplomat if he / she wants.

Skill Focus Talking attempts to gather these unwritten rules and codify them, taking some of the arbitrary decisions out of the GM's hands and tying them into the core d20 social skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Sense Motive. Some of the new rules aren't very far off from the standard uses of the skills. Idea Ventriloquism, for example, allows you to make a Bluff check in order to fool your target into thinking that he came up with an idea that you suggested. A fairly straighforward use of Bluff, but these rules give an additional mechanic bonus for using the skill in this specific way. Another example is the ?Take Back? use of the Diplomacy skill. This is more of a meta-game option that allows you to amend your character's actions after the fact, effectively altering the reality of the game.

The book's format is simple and straightforward. The authors chose to include the full d20 text of each skill, and they use pagebreaks so that each skill can be printed out individually if desired. I appreciate this kind of attention to usability. It does result in a bit of redundant text, though, as some abilities are repeated from skill description to skill description. I understand the need for this, although I question whether or not most groups interested in expanding one skill wouldn't also use the others.

The final section has brief notes on using these skills as a gamemaster. A number of the new skill uses can't be effectively used against PCs. Actually, even the standard rules for social skills rely almost entirely on your players strength of roleplaying to work, and it is difficult to ask a player to behave in an obvious self-destructive manner just because of a few bad dice rolls. The book's solution is for the GM to sort of ?cheat? by overacting in one direction or another until the players naturally assume what their characters would. It might not be the most helpful advice, especially for a novice GM, but the added structure gives the GM at least some idea what to do.


LIKED: The idea behind Skill Focus Talking is a good one. Striking a balance between what a character can do and a player's own social skills is an admirable goal, and these rules are a nice way to achieve that end. They work within the current rules structure, and are similar enough that you should be able to insert them without too much added complexity.

I'd also recommend this book to a GM that's merely looking to expand the uses for the various social skills in d20. You should find more than a few things to nab from this PDF.

DISLIKED: My only real problem with this book is its reliance on the vague NPC attitudes system inherint in the core rules. While the authors of this product obviously didn't create that system, by leaning on it they've inherited its flaws.

In a nutshell, the d20 rules allow you to shift an NPC's attitude from, for example, hostile to friendly, but they offer you little to no information as to what that means in game. The rules as written lean heavily on the GM to interpret NPC reactions, which is fine in a game light on roleplaying, but obviously clashes with the more in depth interaction rules presented herein.

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Skill Focus: Talking
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/23/2006 00:00:00
Skill Focus: Talking is a sourcebook with variant rules for several skills, published by Second World Simulations. The zipped file is slightly over 0.5 megabytes, and contains a single PDF file just under 1 meg. The PDF has both bookmarks and a hyperlinked table of contents. The book is twenty-one pages long, with the cover, credits and legal, and table of contents all taking up a single page, and the OGL taking up a second.

The product has no printer-friendly version, but one would be largely superfluous anyway. The product?s only artwork is the half-a-page image on the first page. Beyond that, the book has some small grayscale page borders along a fraction of the side of each page, and some tables and sidebars in grey.

Skill Focus: Talking is a book that tries to bridge the gap between simply rolling dice for social (that is, verbal, instead of combat) encounters, and actually having the players and GM role-play them without using dice at all. It does this by giving new uses, called talking actions, for four skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Sense Motive.

The product introduces this idea with several paragraphs showing how it?d work in actual gameplay. This is followed by a quick chart breaking down the modifiers attached to favors. If you try to convince someone to do you a major favor that could put their freedom or even their life at risk, for example, you?re going to have a much harder time making that skill check.

Following this are the rules for the skills themselves. Each skill has their base description given for ease of reference. After this are the talking actions. Each action is a use of that skill designed to do something specific. For example, you can use your Diplomacy skill to use the Demonize Target talking action. You verbally attack someone?s character, and if you make your check, the people you?re talking to have their attitude towards that person worsen. Each talking action has a static DC to hit, and most also have a modifier used when making an opposed check (the modifier is the opponent?s check result plus that modifier to beat their check).

The product ends by talking about how the GM can use these talking actions also. After all, it doesn?t work quite so well to have the NPC make a high roll and then just tell the PCs that they like this character. The gist of this section is that the GM should secretly make the check, and then verbally describe the encounter according to the results. An example would be if the GM rolled a 20 for an NPC?s Diplomacy check, and then described the NPC in terms that appeal to the players. A short, very generic section on using these skill checks in other RPG?s ends the book.

Altogether, Skill Focus: Talking does a good job of breaking some of the most nebulous skills down into more manageable subsets. By more properly codifying what these skills do, and how they do it, it?s easier (and more fun) to use them in your game. Players and GMs alike will be pleased with the eloquence presented in Skill Focus: Talking.



LIKED: The new uses for the existing skills help to breakdown the limits of these skills, as well as encourage players to actually speak what their characters say.

DISLIKED: It would have been nice if there had been a table cross-indexing the new talking actions. While the product isn't a huge one, an at-a-glance chart showing what talking actions belonged to what skills, and their DCs/opposed check modifiers would have been superb.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Skill Focus: Talking
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/21/2006 00:00:00
One of the touchiest subjects to bring up in an RPG chat forum is how much charisma based skills should be effected by role-playing. This discussion often leads to the role vs. roll argument, which usually leads to heated words and lengthy bans. The Role side believes that the dice roll should offer a minor bonus to the roll where as the Roll side believe that the entire dice roll should determine the results. Second World Solutions appears to have a decent compromise between the two sides with Skill Focus Talking.

Second World Simulations delicately balances the role and roll by transforming charisma based dice rolls into ?talking actions?. By allotting each skill an assortment of talking actions, it encourages role-playing without diminishing the dice roll. With an increased emphasis on the role and how it effects the role-playing, interactions between the player and dm appear very dynamic, yet still regulated by probability. This should satisfy the thespian as much as the shy guy. Players are limited to the use of these actions by their charisma scores, insuring that magnetic personalities do not dominate the action no more than the hulking brute, at least not without a penalty to the roll. It should be noted that these actions are in addition to the normal use of the charisma skills and not a replacement.

For the Dungeon Master:
One would have thought that a possible compromise between the role and roll crowds would fill a 500-page tome. Not so. This compact PDF only takes up 21 pages. Though there is no bookmark, its digestible size is easy to navigate.

The talking actions cover a wide variety of PC to NPC interactions. Force Listen will be a popular action for those PCs attempting to thwart a dangerous combat whereas Gain the Edge will be a choice option for players attempting to gain the edge at the beginning of a hardy battle. Every action has a DC that is adjusted by the normal skill modifiers. And favor modifiers. Favor modifiers are a neat little mechanic for exchanging favors between PCs and NPCs. It helps make sense when incredible rolls result in NPCs doing unexplainable actions. Every NPC dialogue encounter may have a ?favor? adjustment to it. This is a bonus to the DC depending on how big the favor is. This is different from the skill DC modifier.

For the Player:
Players will enjoy the added ?talking? options, whether they have high charisma or not. These options are meant for players whom want to add some diversity to their character.

The Iron Word
I admit, I was skeptical when I first started reading this book. I have seen and participated in far too many word battles and it frequently seemed like there was no solution. This PDF will not satisfy those hardily set on either side, but for those straddling on the fence wishing there was a way to adequately blend roll and role, Skill Focus: Talking is a great supplement.



LIKED: I give this product a perfect score because of the ease of integration and how interesting they make the charisma based (and sense motive) skills. I

DISLIKED: Where's the bookmarking?

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher Reply:
Thanks much for the kind words and detailed overview. I did try to include bookmarks -- admittedly, not many, but covering the same as the Table of Contents. They're showing up in my version at home in the menu bar at the left. I'm using Acrobat Reader 7 on a PC, so I'm not sure if that has any impact. Best regards, -Steve Peterson
Masters of Arms
by Hardy L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/27/2006 00:00:00
I bought this mostly to tear apart and use for alternate Weapon Master class abilities in Iron Heroes.


LIKED: It is very cool, and lends itself to making combat more flavorful

DISLIKED: I will have to do some work to us it the way I want to.

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Satisfied


Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Masters of Arms
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The Second World Sourcebook
by Alan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/09/2005 00:00:00
One of the most intriguing settings and toolkits out there, curiously ahead of its time.

Second World sourcebook presents a parallel earth as a fantasy world, but is also flexible enough to use your favorite fantasy game world as a destination for modern characters. Being able to use Earth and plug in fantasy ideas is a very convenient setup.

The way that the warden powers shapes the world can be used to plug in a variety of different setting locales; I use Nyambe, Freeport, and Legends of the Samurai. It's also my world of choice when running published modules.


LIKED: The in-depth discussion of converting between d20 modern and D&D.
The idea of warden powers
The pact system (Marilith forensic surgeons and summoned bio weapons... how cool is that?)



DISLIKED: Some of the setting elements could use fleshed out a bit more. If there were room...

QUALITY: Very Good

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Second World Sourcebook
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The Second World Sourcebook
by Derek H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/25/2005 00:00:00
This is a most awesome book. Even if you don't like the worlds or the concept of them being connected, there is so much more. Advice on merging D&D with D20 Modern, how to use influence to replace money, pacting with planar beings, and a system of magic that involves binding the power to the caster. Unlike the recently released Magic of Incarnum, the warden powers have an influence (or money) and xp cost. Which is a good thing since the wardens are much more powerful than the incarnum users. Influence is interesting in that it involves the PCs in groups- companies, gangs, communities, etc. You can join or (at increased cost) request favors and items from the various groups. At 80 pages, it has a lot of examples and suggestions.

I can't suggest this book enough if any of the above seems interesting to you. The only problem I have with it is the confusing introduction and history to the First and Second worlds. But, as I wrote above, the rules are much more interesting than the setting.

QUALITY: Acceptable

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Masters of Arms
by Alan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/13/2005 00:00:00
Still the best "weapon specialist" book... now available for 3.5. If you ever felt that the weapon specialist prestige classes or feats out their were a little bland, this book is just the ticket. If you dislike prestige classes, most of the class abilites are also available as feats.

Better yet, the book meshes well with Unearthed Arcana action point rules. If you want to try out some maneuvers spontaneously, using the emulate feat rules, you can try all types of interesting maneuvers in combat.

As always, the enterprising GM or player can also add their own maneuvers with a little math.

The choices aren't limited to typical weapons. You can master magic items like immovable rods, or special abiliteis like telekinesis. Or you can flesh out a feirce beast with the alpha beast prestige class.

LIKED: Adds great variety to fighters and fighter types.

DISLIKED: Er... that Steve still hasn't put out the Second World Sourcebook in this format...

QUALITY: Excellent

VALUE: Very Satisfied


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Bodies and Souls: 20 Templates
by Matthew M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/21/2003 00:00:00
A diverse grab-bag of excellent templates for various genres. Some are designed with sci fi or modern campaigns, but most can be used with nearly any setting with a little work. Tres Excellent.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bodies and Souls: 20 Templates
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Bodies and Souls: 20 Templates
by Steve P. Date Added: 06/07/2002 00:00:00
Review at ENWorld

Bojan (bramadan) has posted a review at ENWorld. I?ve copied the text of the review in the following or you can go directly to the ENWorld reviews of Bodies and Souls here:

http://www.enworld.org/d20reviews.asp?sub=yes&where=-
currentprod&which=baso

Review at ENWorld by Bojan (bramadan)

First let me state a disclaimer. I was asked by Mr. Peterson, author of this book, if I would review it. He was also kind enough to let me have it for free. On a more finely graded scale my mark for it would be 4.5/5. I have not tested any material from the book in the actual gameplay as of writing this review altrough I do intend to do so in the near future.

Now onto the review itself.
I hold to the school of thought that claims that the principal duty of the RPG designers is not to invent the new concepts per se, but rather to come up with ingenious ways to represent concepts already existing (in the vast body of history, fiction and mythology) within the framework of our games. This book is a shining example of just such an endevour.

It deals with a subject of possesion, a time honoured part of our folklore and one that was due some game-mechanical treatment. Possesion is here treated through the use of Templates, very versatile yet sadly underused part of the d20 toolkit. General rules on the Possesions and Exorcism are given together with 20 possesion templates of various types.

General rules are good. They introduce some very well thought of notions concerning game-balance of templated PC's and mention briefly the "author points" a simple yet brilliant solution to the "crass materialism" of the treasure aquisition part of the DnD game balance. Exorcism is covered elegantly in a way that makes it more then just "and then I cast the spell..." routine. Overall Mr. Peterson shows such a remarkable grasp not only of the d20 game mechanics but of the game mechanics in general that I find some of his solutions to simple problems, such as a game-mechanical simulation of a chess game both more elegant and more accurate the base d20 ones. Besides everything else it is this game-mechanical virtuosity that makes him one of the top few people to watch in a d20 market.

Templates themselves are a hit and miss. That is to say they are hit and miss *for me*. They vary between classic horror/dark fantasy to straight comic-book or b-movie. The later, such as "atomic" or "mechanized" are of no use to me so I kind of lose out on about exactly half a book. Other half or so, however, evoked the best of gothic horror without falling into a cliche or parody which so frequently happens to game renditions of the genre. To name the few, "Demon Flock", briliant game mechanical rendition of "Soulblighter" from Myth, or "Fly Lord", the Belzebub template, will, I am certain, evoke just the appropraite mixture of revulsion and fear in my players. Sheer inspirational value of the few outstanding templates would have ade this book more then worth having for me regardless of anything else.
I fairness I have to say that even the templates I am not interested in ever seeing in my games are written interestingly with atention to detail and game mechanical flourish. It is only very few (elemental possesions) that I found somewhat uninspired.

Some of the best parts of the book deal with the "normal" possesions - that is possessions by the regular demons. This part, including three sample cases of possession, is one that will probably see the most use in my games and is executed excelently from both game-mechanical and DM-advice point of view.
If I have a major objection to this book it would be that this part is too short and number of templates in it too few.

General tone of the book is grim, as befits the subject. In this it deviates from more cartoony gung-ho standard of DnD. It includes the subtle suggestions as to the truly evil demonic behaviour that go much beyond the standard DnD fare. Me being a fan of such atmosphere this was a serious bonus. We can only hope that the upcoming "Book of Vile Darkness" will have this combination of style and gut-wrenching villany.

The boom layout is a tribute to PDF as a publishing medium. It has been used to its utmost to faciltate ease of use while remaing unobtrusive. Art is bearable and only marginaly sub-par. Cartoon of scholar-turned-succubus detracts from otherwise rather mature tone of the book. Mercifully, all art is exceptionaly easy to switch off.

All in all this is a very goof work, one that I would have probably missed and would have been worse of for it. It showcases extraordinary talent of Mr. Peterson and leaves me waiting (even more eagerly then before) for his "Masters of Arms"


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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