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Brothers by Blood
by K. M. Koch Date Added: Wednesday 25 July, 2007
As a recent returnee to D&D through the purchase of a few source books that happen to catch my eye, but still lacking a play group of any sort, I've looked for solo d20 adventures to satisfy my roleplaying entertainment. I've looked around, and other than maybe one or two titles that I could confirm are d20 AND solo, there only exists fan-made solos or old 1st Edition AD&D titles that you'd have to convert manually.

Brothers by Blood sounded more interesting to me than Fallen from Grace and I really wanted something I could have in hand rather than needing a laptop handy (or would have to print myself). I ended up trying to play through it about four times.

Physical presentation:
The cover art is nice and stylistic. The main character is turned away from the viewer so that his (your) identity is anonymous, while the setting of the sewer with portcullis and hobgoblin are what you're going to encounter at least once if you play through multiple times. The main character even has a tattoo of the Shadowed Fist guild on his left arm, which is a nice detail relevant to the story.

The cover is very sturdy and I'm not afraid to carry this around in my bookbag, even though it's softbound.

Page layout and editting:
The margins are fair with appropriate print. The interior art is decent line art and is usually appropriate for a particular passage on the page on which it appears. I would have liked to see more interior art. Also, there is a distinct lack of maps with this product which I will explain why would be so important below.

This book needed little editing that I could find right away. There are a few errors here and there. Notably, the "Pick Pockets" Advanced Game Skill's d20 equivalent is actually "Sleight of Hand" instead of "Pick Pocket" like the book says.

I skipped the Basic and Advanced game rules and used d20 rules right away. The book pretty much gives you everything you need to run this with d20 rules EXCEPT for a Difficulty Class for various Skill Checks you must roll for while playing. This information really was crucial because I frequently would have to stop playing to calculate the DC. In the case of a few Listen checks, this was particularly problematic without cheating ahead a little because you don't know how far away or what the sound is for the calculation. In the instances of lockpicking, I presumed all the locks were average which gave them DC 25. This made the game more challenging, but I'm not certain if that's what the author intended or not.

The book also contains random number tables for you if you lack dice, which was convenient.

Basically, someone attempts to assassinate your brother with a poisoned blade and you take it upon yourself to go find the antidote in a rival thief guild. You have two hours to make it there and back with the antidote before your brother dies. Each passage includes a time indicator on how long you've spent to get to where you are at in the book. Along the way, you find that there are more twists and turns to the story than you think.

I found this two hours for the plot to be entirely too short. The elapsed time mechanic of the book tries to give you less of a dungeon crawl feel while playing, but ends up being a lot of recording and calculation. It also gave me a lot of frustration when I realized (after being lost twice, once in the sewer and once in the city and giving up on saving my brother or through a natural death after running into various orcs and hobgoblins) on my fourth time through via the most efficient "faster" sewer route (per my own mapping attempts) that by the time I arrived at the halfway point to the other guild's hideout, I was already over the 1 hour mark. Logically, this again left me with no way to get back to my brother with the antidote in time. At that point, I took a break out of frustration and haven't had the time to go back since.

A map also becomes very important when you're attempting to navigate through the city streets and are being chased by mysterious men in black or the City Watch. The way the introduction reads, you would presume you are to logically head south. This is how it generally also works for the sewers as well. However, if you head south, you run into a wall and a bay of water. It is also very hard to figure out which way the streets run exactly and where you are in relation to given information about the rival thieves guild's hideout unless you spend lots of time wandering around hoping you get there quickly without getting sidetracked or caught by the City Watch. In the end, you practically have to cheat if you want to save your brother and avoid any actual exploring because you now know where all the time killers are.

Subtracting the elapsed time mechanic from the game, the plot is pretty interesting and the book gives you things you can do that will make you feel like you're actually doing something besides rolling dice and picking a path. As a thief character, this book is nicely geared towards thief skills and there are plenty of opportunities to exercise them. If it weren't for the feeling that you need to frantically rush through the entire sewer, you'd want to take every opportunity to try out all the locks you can.

The enemy encounters are all pretty fair and you're given enough tools to deal with the situation (even with my rolled-up level 3 rogue d20 character, I only modified the longsword of my equipment the game book gives to a regular short sword and was fine). At no point however did I use the sap or find a reason to use the sap. It seems that it is purely for character flavor. Also, the rules mention nonlethal damage, but there doesn't appear to be any purpose for it that I could find.

The Appendix D: Opponent Statistics (d20) in the back are complete enough, but could include more such as the actual creature they used from the Monster Manual ("Small Viper Snake" versus the book's "Snake") and notably is missing the poison and disease effects for the "Snake", "Giant Rat", and "Giant Spider".

Overall Value:
I'm glad I picked this book up on sale as I think it's really worth about $9.99 versus the $15.99 MSRP. It's fun, but can be frustrating as well, especially when it's just you and you have to stop and calculate something or figure out how you messed up your map.

If you have a d20 3rd level human Rogue or Rogue multiclass you're dying to play, give this a shot. I suggest to play through and dump the Elapsed Time aspect of the play or give yourself three or four hours instead of two. Also, bring graph paper and pencil, because making a map will make the experience a whole lot easier.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars! [3 of 5 Stars!]
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