||An RPG Resource Review:
Aimed at anyone particpating in a campaign in the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting, this work sets out to provide a wealth of new options - races, classes, skills, feats and so on - designed to enhance your character and integrate him more fully into this specific setting.
The Introduction explains, primarily for those new to the setting, a little about the background and history of the setting, and explains how the depth and 'realism' contributes to making it somewhere a bit more than just a backdrop to adventure, more of a living 'alternate reality' that your characters can inhabit and participate in rather than merely visit.
Chapter 1 looks at Races. Here it explains that, while a standard character generated using the Player's Handbook is quite sufficient for play in the Kingdoms of Kalamar, using the contents of this book will aid you to create a true native of whichever part of the world you select as your home. Each of the standard races (including humans) has a range of sub-races available to add even more flavour and individuality, and characters are also encouraged to choose a region from which to come. Amongst other things, this can affect appearance and influences the initial choice of language. Given the firm rooting in geography, you'll want to read this chapter with a map of Tellene to hand! Each sub-race is given a couple of pages or so detailing their attitudes, appearance and ther 'lifestyle' details as well as appropriate game modifiers - plenty to give you a feel for the background from which such a character would come. The chapter ends with a discussion of typical names, and a chart for determining height and weight.
The next chapter looks at Classes - both the established core classes but in the light of their application to this setting, and some new variant ones. These include the Basrian Dancer, who uses an exotic fighting style based on dance - or is it that he performs dances based on his fighting style? They are good at social skills too. Again, there is plenty and enough of detail to enable you to play one, or for a DM who wishes to have an NPC Dancer appear. Others are the Brigand, the Gladiator, the Infiltrator, the Shaman, the Spellsinger, and the Watchman. Most except the last 2 are pretty self-explanatory. The Spellsinger is more arcane spellcaster than bard, but crafts his spells as songs rather than other forms of enchantment. The Watchman is a mediaeval law enforcement officer, combining observation and deduction with a strong sword arm. Like the Basrian Dancer, each new class is presented with a wealth of background and game information to render it completely playable.
Next comes Chapter 3: Presige Classes, which lists some new ones for you to aim for as your character develops. Perhaps an Alliance Merchant takes your fancy, but you need to be good at trading as the requirements include running a business with an annual income of 20,000 gold pieces! These traders tend to value power and influence as much as they do gold pieces, however. Or perhaps a Bounty Hunter is more your style. If you are evil and happy to trade in people rather than items, consider the Dread Slaver - although this one is more likely to feature as an NPC enemy in most campaigns. Those skilled with their hands and also with magic may wish to become a Golem Master. Paladins in particular might be interested in the Living Blades of Kotesh, an order that specialises in ridding the world of undead. A Muse is an inspiration to all around him, in combat or in more peaceful pursuits. Restorers - limited to evil hobgoblins - seek to bring back ancient ruling lineages, while Sentinels of Providence strive to prevent evil entering Tellene from other planes or worlds. An odd group, the Vessels of Man are mostly former clerics and other people who have lost their faith and now wish to prove that Tellene doesn't need deities any more... and as well as debating the point (endlessly) they also go around desecrating temples and killing clerics. Warlords and Wavemasters are those who command on land and on sea. Each is again presented with both background and game information to make them immediately useable, although several are best suited to NPC use unless you have a particularly nasty bunch of characters to contend with. The chapter ends with brief notes and ideas on creating your own prestige classes.
As one might expect, Chapter 4 deals with Skills, presenting the usual mix of 'how regular skills work in this setting' and a few new ones tailor-made for Tellene's particular style. True to the 'realistic mediaeval' approach in world design, the Craft skill gets good coverage with details of a number of useful things which could easily enable a character to earn a living in between adventures, or enable you to quantify the performance, products and income of an NPC artisan. It can also make for good background, giving a character a few levels in whichever craft his family practiced, which he may have been apprenticed or trained in before becoming an adventurer. The Knowledge and Profession skills get a similar treatment, and can be put to the same uses. Given the efforts to develop a realistic system of languages, the Language skill gets broad coverage with notes on each language spoken in Tellene. There's also a variant language system for those who require even more detail, dividing languages into Modern, Trade Tongue and Ancient; and allowing characters to learn to speak, read and write languages as separate skills... or even be illiterate! Your ranks in each separate language determine how well you speak it, rather than the coarse you know it or you don't approach of the standard rules.
Next is a chapter on Feats. The collection of new ones presented here include ones that your familiar can take, and ones based on the region from which your character comes. The Familiar feats can be taken directly by those familiars able to gain feats, or the familiar's master may use one of his own feat slots to give the familiar one of these feats instead of gaining one himself. Most of the Regional feats can only be taken at 1st level, as they are a reflection of your background and upbringing rather than something you learn later in life. This applies to appropriate feats in other categories as well, such as Natural Mathematician or Natural Swimmer - some things you are just born good at! A couple of interesting ones - Hammer and Anvil, and Like Mind - need to be taken by 2 characters to work, and allow those two to work in concert to great effect. Hammer and Anvil improves their skill at working together in combat, flanking opponents with great efficiency; while Like Mind embues the two of them with an empathic link.
Chapter 6 explores Religion. There's a large and diverse pantheon of deities vying for your worship (some 40-odd), most based on specific philosophies and aspects of life rather than being "The God of the Elves" or whatever. Most people do not pin all their hopes on one god - unless they have the professional link of being a cleric for that god - but pray to whichever deity seems to be most appropriate for their particular need or situation. There is an extensive list of religious texts - it seems just about every god in the pantheon has either written or inspired one. Clerics, naturally, need to be well-versed in the canon of their chosen deity; while more devout followers may well have read those of their favourite two or three gods. There are lists showing useful information like alignments, favoured weapons, symbols and so on; and even a chart to aid in the conversion between Tellene gods and those of other published Dungeons & Dragons worlds. Lots of detailed background here, even down to when clerics of particular faiths are supposed to pray and get their spells replenished, to enable you to make religion come alive within your game. To aid this, there's a section on how to become a temple official in your chosen faith, and how to advance in that calling as opposed to just gaining levels as a cleric. A good grounding for NPCs or for characters who have settled in one place. Tasks such as leading worship, running the temple premises, training new clerics and so on may not sound the stuff of adventure, but they do contribute to the creation of an 'alternate reality' in which each character has his own life all the time, not just when there's an adventure to be had. Other powers become available to senior clerics, such as divine channelling... and some folks may aspire to sainthood. The concept of the Divine Right of Kings is also discussed.
Chapter 7 discusses Equipment. Things like alchemical mixtures and herbal concoctions with their strange and exotic effects... and rather a lot of poisons, if you like that kind of thing. Slaves are covered, as well as tools for whatever trade you wish to practise or task you wish to carry out. There's an assortment of new weapons and armour to choose from as well. To buy all this, the coinage of Tellene is illustrated and explained.
Next, Chapter 8 looks at Combat. In particular, the different types of training available and the likely career of a fighter on Tellene, including the various units he might choose to serve in and the specific benefits members of each receive.
This is followed by an examination of what it means to go adventuring in this setting. It describes the main regions in some detail, with material that may spawn ideas of places to go and things to do; or which may be used to further create a living background for a character. History, places, geography, events... a whole range of local colour. There are also organisations to join, to be hired by or to have as sworn enemies. There are some locations suited to adventure, and information on travel on road and by sea. Find out how much it costs to hire transportation, or to stay somewhere for the night... and about the exotic diseases you might contract on your travels. If your sights are set higher, the next section discusses nobility and how to gain noble status.
Chapter 10 looks at Spells. A list of some famous spellcasters of Tellene accompanies the expected collection of new spells arcane and divine. This includes a chart showing how the clerical domains match up to the pantheon, with each deity having their own specific domain as well as access to a selection of the standard ones. A nice touch to ensure that each faith is unique. Coupled with this is the next chapter on Magic Items. Magic is definitely part of life on Tellene, but it is not something that everyone has access to... and no magic item shop to drop by and stock up for your next adventure. You need to research and discover such items, or craft them for yourself. There's a selection which you may find, if very lucky, in some hord or corner of a might wizard's library.
The book ends with an extensive glossary, a 'place of origin' table for those who'd prefer to leave it to chance where they come from and a character sheet.
Overall, this is a masterful player (rather than character) oriented work that inspires you to create a character who really will come to life within the setting.
Rating: [5 of 5 Stars!]