Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Mysteries of Arena (early draft)

Been a while, I know. Been broke. This was a review copy.
Mysteries of Arena is the latest sourcebook for the Oathbound d20 setting from Bastion Press. If you're not familiar with Oathbound, you might read my earlier reviews of it, but basically, it's set in a world that is essentially a prison for a god and its 7 head minions (angels, really). While it's a prison, the 7 angels can escape it, if they can find someone strong enough (and gullible enough) to beat them in a fight. So they came transformed the prison world into a world that would build strong people, a la Darwin, and called it the Forge.

Arena is the domain of Barbello, one of the least sophisticated (and youngest) of the imprisoned god's minions. She's essentially very petulant and warlike for the sake of being warlike. So her domain, Arena, is essentially one great big eternal battlefield. It was detailed pretty well in last years (November of 2003, I think) release, "Oathbound: Arena".

Despite the name, "Mysteries of Arena", this book is really sort of a companion volume to that book, Arena. It can roughly be broken up into 3 parts: new crunchy stuff (races, classes, feats, spells, critters, etc), the Mysteries themselves, and lastly an adventure. With the crunchy stuff filling up most of the book (say 100 pages of it or so). So to a certain extent, this book can be used for any fantasy d20/D&D game, since much of it, while tailored to Arena's environs, isn't exclusive to Arena.

The new races are pretty alien, pretty much what you expect from an Oathbound product. You have a rock eating species of Dwarves (called Rockbiters); Karnos, which look suspiciously like the bad aliens from Star Trek Deep Space 9 (not what the guy from Benson was, their lackeys); Ramzadi, who are basically Wookiees, except instead of being really tall and hairy monkeys, are really tall and hairless lizard people (But they have the same personality and live in trees and such); Sythiss, which you might guess are snake people; and Ok'weel, which are really weird - they look like mollusk-humanoids.

If you have Torn Asunder, you might remember the Ramzadi from it, but in that, they were just a monster race, in this they are statted up for players. The Sythiss seem a bit too silly - they have clans, and each clan name happens to be one of a real world snake species. Only like it were spoken by a snake person (or person with a lisp). Aspiz, Cobriss, Viperiss, Gartiss, etc. Too cute by far. Also, all of the races have level adjustments, ranging from +1 (for the Rockbiters) to +3. Personally, I think once you get that far (+3), you should do a "monster class", a la Savage Species (or before that, the Second World Sourcebook), because otherwise, these don't work all that well as player characters.

So honestly, the races didn't do all that much for me. Though they do fit in pretty well in the world of Oathbound.

The class section is interesting, as while there is an assortment of prestige classes, we also get 3 new core/base classes. I love those. There's the Duneslayer, which is a fighter type, only specialized for desert warfare (presumably we'll see a dessert warfare class in Oathbound: Candyland); the Operative, which is a rogue like class that is basically a spy or espionage type; and the Sand Mystic, which is a sort of arcane spellcaster similar to a wizard but only occurrs in Arena. Essentially, they use magic crystals made from the sand of Arena, instead of spell books.

On the prestige class side, we get 5 of them. The Spellbinder, which is a prestige class for arcane casters that lets them cast spells in co-ordination with other casters. It's meant for army units of spell casters. It's kinda neat how they work - when 2 or more Spellbinders cast the same spell together, it works as that many number of spells, plus various other improvements (depending on level in the class). This is the best of the bunch, I thought.

There's also the Forest Slayer, which is sort of a sniper/archer type. The Legionnaire, which doesn't sound like it's name - rather than being a Roman army type, they bond with special mounts, like giant scorpions, dire bears, or enmormous penguins. Though just to have the name make sense, apparently they dress like Roman soldiers.

The last two are pretty much tied into the setting. First off is the Shadow Assassin, which are agents of the dreaded Shadow Mage. They are sort of a cross between the regular Assassin prestige class (sans the spellcasting) and the Shadowdancer. They not only work for a specific NPC/Faction in the world of Oathbound, they have to take a couple prestige races as requirements.

Lastly is the Wellspringer. This is essentially a Druid prestige class. But instead of the annoying, stupid, hippie sort of Druid, these are my sort - capitalist Druids. Basically, instead of hugging trees and such for fun and mother nature and all that junk, they do it for money. Because Arena is a desert, it's very dependant on Oases. These Druids can create and maintain Oases and do so for cash. A Druid with a job - amazing!

So for the most part, the classes are pretty good. I'm not sure how appealing they would be for players, but definitely most useful for NPCs.

The Mass Combat system gets a short but major improvement. Basically, units can now gain feats. There's a huge list of them.

The Mysteries of Arena section is actually pretty short. Maybe 38 pages.