Doom Striders (final draft)
Doom Striders from Bastion Press is basically a d20 fantasy mecha sourcebook. Mecha being giant robots piloted by people. As vehicles, doom striders first appeared in their "Oathbound: Arena" from last year, but they are fully fleshed out (and slightly changed) in this book. It's written by Sam Witt, who also did Bastion's earlier Airships, which was on fantasy airships.
I am not much of a mecha fan, though I did go to see "Robot Jox" in the theater (because a friend dragged me) and actually quite enjoyed it (though mostly because I am an Anne-Marie Johnson fan. I've always had something of a crush on her since I was a teen-ager. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0424509/).
Generally speaking, they are a reasonably decent fit in some fantasy worlds. Most Japanese science fiction cartoons I've seen tend to blur fantasy and science fiction. Even the Godzilla movies did this - sometimes there would be a giant robot/mecha fighting Godzilla, but other times, there would be Mothra, who has some connection with Faeries and magic (those two little singing women are faeries). Generally speaking, it depends on how high the fantasy is.
Oathbound, Bastion's flagship setting (as they call it), is very high fantasy. It has every thing from fallen angels to airships to walrus people. So doom striders works quite well there. Will they work in your world? It depends.
The first part of this book actually addresses these issues. Quite well, I thought. But then it sort of jumps into running a mercenary campaign, which I think was putting the cart before the horse (or Strider before the Doom). But right after that comes the crunchy info on doom striders, including how to make them.
It's really easy to design a doom strider. Basically, you just pick a Torso size, then pick the limbs you want (size & number), then the head, then fill up all the slots those parts have. (Actually, I had something like this as a kid. Micronauts? Something like that, the head and limbs were held in magnetically.)
Each has a number of slots that can be filled with equipment or weapons. Sizes use the standard d20 conventions, Mediums, Large, Huge, Gargantuan, Colossal, Super-Duper Humongous. Obviously, smaller ones tend to be more like powered armor than mecha.
Game mechanic wise, doom striders are essentially treated as any sort of other creature. They have hit points, ability scores, etc. These things are actually very much Dependant on the Captain or pilot of the doom strider, there is something of a symbiosis. Put a 20th level fighter with a 24 strength in, and well, you'll have a really powerful doom strider. But in a 1st level commoner halfling, and you'd have a wussy doom strider. There are some modifiers, (hit points are multiplied from 1 to 8 times depending on the size), but it's still mostly based on the captain.
For instance, take Birna, a 10th level Barbarian with 112 hit points, an 18 Strength, a Dexterity of 16, and a Base Attack Bonus of +10/+5, and stick her into an "Invictus" model doom strider, which is huge. The end result would have her doom strider having 224 hit points (112 x 2, the multiplier for Huge doom striders), a Strength of 23 (Birna's 18 plus 5 for the Huge doom strider). The doom strider is somewhat like armor, in that it has a maximum dexterity bonus. In this case, the maximum is +1, so Birna's +2 Dexterity bonus is somewhat wasted.
So in a way, you can think of the doom strider almost as a template being applied to the captain, resulting in a creature.
The only major difference is that because some doom striders have a crew, they can perform several things at once. Generally speaking, each additional crew member controls one set of limbs and the weapons mounted on them.
Well, also pretty big is the effect that criticals can have on doom striders. Critical hits just do points of damage to creatures (well, unless you are using Bastion Press's critical hit system from Torn Asunder). But to doom striders, criticals can destroy parts.
Doom striders basically have two choices for weapons - either upsized melee weapons (like a gigantic sword or axe or nunchuku if you have a ninja doom strider), or on board magical ranged weapons. If a melee weapon is used, then using a "full attack" option will allow multiple attacks, if the Captain's Base Attack Bonus allows (that is, over +5).
Besides normal weapons that have been super-sized, there are doom strider only weapons, such as the Lash Hammer, Grinder Club (sounds like a sandwich) and Shudder Fist. You can also put a "Beak" on them, so they can do really nasty head butts. (The cover of the book shows a doom strider with a beak)
If melee weapons aren't your thing, there is a wide variety of ranged weaponry. Blizzard Throwers, Chain Cannons, Lightning Spikes, Devourer Pods, Thunderguns, Shard Cannons. Some are magical, some seem to be almost like guns (the Thundergun and Wyrm Tongue), though these are also magically powered. Each weapon has it's own advantages and drawbacks, so you need to pick the one that fits what you plan on doing with the doom strider.
Besides weapons, there are a variety of other devices that can be installed. Armor (including Reactive and Energized), and other protective things like Glyph Plates, that can absorb spells; Avoidance systems, that automatically make the doom strider swerve and evade; and my favorite, the Shiver Cloak, which is sort of a cloaking device, more like the thing the Predator had than completely invisible. Also jump jets, which let it hover for a while. And passenger and cargo pods, for non-combat uses.
All these gizmos that the doom strider has (and the doom strider itself) need power. There are 3 basic types of power source - Arcanofurnace, which runs on either arcane spell energy or by burning magical items; Vampiric Translator, which runs on life force sucked from either victims or the crew; and Prayer Engine, which either works on divine spell energy or from the faithful nearby. All basically are fuel tanks that hold energy, and the standard unit is apropriately enough, the energy point.
Spell energy basically comes from spell slots from casters. A spell slot generates a number of points equal to it's level. So for instance, a 6th level spell would fill up the tank by 6 energy points.
While this sounds good, the average doom strider will probably burn through 4-5 points per round, more if it uses more than one weapon, and if it has an Arcanofurnace, it probably only has a capacity of 20 to 30.
Luckily, burning magical items is a better option. It generates a number of points equal to it's value per 1,000 gold pieces per round. (But the value of the magic item goes down by 1,000 gp a day. I might make that decrease more for days where the doom strider was used a lot, at least in combat). There is also a gizmo to allow long distance recharges via spells, so you don't absolutely have to use magic items, they're just more useful for high use doom striders..
Vampiric engines generate one point per hit point drained. This can be a pretty good deal because most doom striders powered by them have nets to scoop up people to use as victims. Kind of like the IRS.
Prayer Engines have the same spell slot mechanics and limitations that Arcanofurnaces do, but also get a number of points per round depending on if there are any worshipers of the same god in the area. Some of the pre-made doom striders have passenger compartments to allow worshipers to ride on it. (Polymorphing them into fuzzy dice to put over the rear-view mirror also might work).
As mentioned, doom striders basically work like creatures in combat, so the chapter on how they work in combat is pretty short, only around 10 pages. They're very easy to integrate into regular D&D combat, which is very nice.
Also integrated fairly simply is how they effect character development. Thankfully, there are only a couple of prestige classes, and these are quite apropriate. The Doom Strider Captain, and the Master Engineer. Both are 5 level classes, and are pretty well done, mechanically. They pretty much do what they sound like. There's also a handful or two of doom strider related feats. In a nice touch (I think), they folded the doom strider skills into the Profession category. Profession (Doom Strider Pilot), Profession (Doom Strider Engineer), and Profession (Siege Engineer), all of which are pretty much self-explanatory.
There's about 25 pages of NPCs, with about 25 NPCs, each a Doom Strider Mercenary. Complete with background and stats, grouped into, er, groups. The introduction of the chapter says it lists their favorite doom strider, but this actually seems to be omitted. Except in general terms - you know the Witch Hunters like to use doom striders that have anti-magical gizmos, like glyph plates. And the nasty ones like to use Vampiric powered ones.
There are 23 pre-made doom striders, each fully illustrated. They are given in stat sheet form, it would also have been nice to see the design sheet for them, so you know how they were made.
I've tried to reverse engineer them and while most seem okay, a couple I couldn't figure out how they were made. For instance, the "Shadow Slice" seems to have a Large Arcanofurnace, as it lists 3 slots for it (which is how much a Large takes up). But it has an energy capacity of 30, which the the capacity for the biggest furnace (a 6 slotter). It has a Channel Receptor, which may or may not alter the capacity (the rules say it doesn't, but the chart lists a capacity of 25 for it), but in any event, requires 2 slots, but there is only 1 slot listed on the sheet.
A listing of them in a table would also have been useful. But there's quite a selection.
The art is somewhat different than most Bastion Products. It (especially the doom strider illustrations in back) reminds me of Larry MacDougal's stuff (he was an illustrator for Rifts and some Shadowrun stuff). Somewhat abstract, heavily stylized, but pretty good.
Also, the print size is larger than most Bastion products. Usually, they try to cram in as much material as possible into their books, and use fairly small type face. This, while not for the visually impaired, is pretty big. Though there is little to no white space (and it's the same price as their smaller books). But art aside, it's not one of their better looking books. I've been flipping through Oathbound: Arena, to compare the two rules, and the contrast between the looks of the two books is immense. Arena has a really snazzy layout. Doom Striders isn't bad, but it's nothing remarkable, either. About average.
It's a good book, but it could have been better. As mentioned, while it's 128 pages, the font is a bit too big for my taste (IMHO, though I have to move my head back a little to read it, so my eyes also do agree with the opinion centers of my brain), and some of the text seems like filler. I'm also surprised there aren't any psionically powered engines for doom striders. Seems fairly obvious. I have some confusion about things, like do Wyrm Tongues fire the same shells as Thunderguns (the description says Wyrm Tongues fire much heavier shells, but there is no separate listing for Wyrm Tongue shells), and do the pilots and crew of the doom strider count as worshipers? (No, according to the author when I asked). There also seems to be a glitch on the engine table which confused me (the Channel Receptor problem), at least, it disagrees with the text for the engine types. A couple of times the text refers to things that don't exist elsewhere in the book, like something called "bottled lightning". (Which actually sounds like a drink out of that book I reviewed the other day).
I also really think it needed to have a combat example showing doom striders in action. Being familiar with the rules for doom striders from Arena, I missed a couple of the smaller changes at first. A combat example would have helped make things clearer (and are generally a good thing to have in a book that involves a new sort of combat).
Some of the problems I have with it are just problems I have with mecha, period. I think it probably makes more sense to simply develop actual magic powered tanks. Or maybe mount a doom strider torso with weapons on a turret on an Airship (from Bastion Press's Airships), and you'd have Air Cavalry. And of course, it's tricky writing a review like this where I have to keep track of when to capitalize Doom Strider or not (since the name of the book and the vehicles are the same).
But if you like mecha, and want them in your fantasy game, truly as fantasy creations, not just magic powered robots, this is a very good book. Mechtacular! B+