Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Goodman Games sent me some books. The Book of Templates, Deluxe Edition; The Demon Hunter's Handbook; and Song of the Blade (and adventure for Iron Heroes, which I don't have). '

Thanks! And expect a review of those in a month or so.

Harold Zoidberg's Blackmoor

I had had an interest in the "new" Blackmoor, even belonging to the email list for it, but generally being broke, I had put it on my low priority buy list. But then a few months ago, someone sent me a review copy of the Blackmoor adventure, The Redwood Scar. I'm not sure who sent, since there was a sticker over the return address and nothing in the envelope besides the adventure. While whoever it was apparently wasn't impressed enough with the resulting review to send me anything else (though I should be glad they didn't send hate mail, like some companies have), I was impressed enough with Blackmoor as a setting that I put it on my high priority buy list. And after some misadventures (while ordering online can seem so easy, sometimes it isn't), I finally got it.

Did it live up to my expectations? Well, yes and no. It's a good setting, but there is less detail and much less of a "nostalgia" factor than I had personally hoped for in a setting book, while a lot more "crunch" than I thought (and like for for a setting book). Basically, a lot more of the book was rules than I thought. Not that I mind new rules, but I bought the book mostly for the setting.

After a very brief preface by Dave Arneson, the book jumps into the races of Blackmoor. Not surprisingly, it's pretty much the standard D&D mix - Humans, Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves, Halfings, Half-orcs. There are slight differences.

The humans come in a few different flavors. Thonian, basically the normal human; High Thonian, who are smart and well groomed, but somewhat clumsy; and Peshwar, a race of semi-nomadic horse riding people.

Similarly, there are two sorts of elves. The Westryn, which pretty much coresponds to the "Wood Elf", that is, woodsy, insular, and fairly strong and the Cumasti, which is more or less the "High Elf".

The only real oddity is an offshot of Halfings, the "Docrae", who are feisty warriors. The normal halfings of the setting are the traditional "hobbit" sort.

Next up, somewhat mirroring the Player's Handbook, are new classes. Blackmoor introduces 3 new core classes, the Arcane Warrior, the Noble, and the Wokan.

The Arcane Warrior is pretty much like the Paladin class, only they cast arcane spells, not divine. Many D&D settings add a Noble class, basically an upgraded version of the NPC Aristocrat class. Lastly is the Wokan. This seems borrowed from Basic Dungeons & Dragons. It's sort of a witch-doctor/shaman class.

All of them seem pretty well balanced and follow typical d20 conventions. The Arcane Warrior does seem awfully restrictive, though, they essentially have to follow the commands and whims of the Wizards Cabal, which many players might not like. And while not terrible, the Wokan does seem a bit underpowered.

The magic chapter is fairly large, around 30 pages. While magic in Blackmoor is more or less the standard D&D fire & forget system, it does get tweaked a bit, at least for wizards. Basically, in lieu of having to carry a spellbook around, they use a "spell focus". Basically a magic rock that they carry. This pet rock also serves as the material component for spells cast with it, which is pretty handy. (I personally always ignored material components for spells, unless they were extremely expensive, so it's not too different for me, but might be for some)

There's an included adventure. I quite liked this adventure, though it's quite different than what you think when you think "Blackmoor". The original "Blackmoor" supplement had the "Temple of the Frog" in it as an adventure/dungeon. An update of that would have been neat. But instead it's part journey, part investigation, part (at the finale) dungeon crawl.

It is a well done adventure, though. The PCs have to talk to a lot of different people, and most the NPCs have definite personalities, if not descriptions.

The physical quality of the book is pretty high. It's 240 pages, but feels bigger, having thick paper. The layout is okay, but nothing remarkable, either. The typeface is fairly big, but the margins are normal sized.

The art is generally very good. The cover piece is a generic Larry Elmore piece that doesn't really say "Blackmoor". In fact, to me it says "Dragonlance" more than "Blackmoor", since it depicts a blue dragon being attacked by some heavily dressed people with a mountain in the background (including one guy with a lance). But for some reason, the piece is so small on the cover, it's actually hard to tell what it is without looking closely, it's like you are viewing the scene through a porthole on a very tiny ship. And although it's clearly Elmore, it's much drabber than his usual stuff, very much brown, dull white, and blue.

The interior artwork is much more eye-catching. There's several different artists with various styles and ability, but there is quite a bit of it and it's generally prominently placed in the middle of the page. The artist whose work stands out the most is one who signs his pieces a squared, presumably Allan Alegado (since he's the only artist with the initials A.A in the credit listing). His stuff is very interesting - at times, he has something of a Jim Holloway style (which is sort of realistic, but with a slightly comic touch), then some are more stylized. Another artist (one who doesn't sign his art) is quite good, but his art came out somewhat dark, they almost look like charcoal sketches. (Unless they actually were, then oops.). His portrait of the antagonist of the adventure is particularly striking.

Ultimately, I was somewhat disappointed with this book. What makes Blackmoor appealing as a setting is its long and highly developed history, both fictional and actual, not new rules material. By focusing on the latter, the reader misses out on what makes Blackmoor special. It also doesn't help the DM actually use Blackmoor as a setting. Books of additional rules for d20 are quite common, while if a DM needs more background on Blackmoor, they'll have to purchase the old TSR modules, as well as the old JG product, or do it themselves (which is fine, but sort of defeats the purpose of using a preexisting setting or buying this book).

For instance, 2 of the most famous things about Blackmoor are the aforementioend Temple of the Frog, and the City of the Gods. But these 2 things never get mentioned, except in the preface saying they were legendary adventures. But we do learn that elves don't use a longsword, but a "longblade". With pretty much the same stats at the longsword. Just a different name. One of the other famous things, the villainous "Egg of Coot" does get a mention, but only a long paragraph.

While you really shouldn't live in the past, it shouldn't be forgotten, either. To a certain extent, a lot of the heritage of our hobby started with Blackmoor, so it would have been nice for it to have been written down, to preserve it for the future. While I don't think this book should have solely been that, I think it missed a great opportunity to go behind the scenes, explaining what the origin of the various places and characters were. And anecdotes about them. More interesting to me than knowing that Elves use "longblades" or prestige classes that PCs would never take. Things like that could have been put in a sidebar or something.

But anyway, it's still a good product, I would give it a B.