Thursday, January 16, 2014

The 18 Most Rewarding 3e D&D Books for Pathfinder GMs (Part 4)

Rerun week continues here at The Daily Bestiary, with a “Best of” list I submitted to Reddit’s r/rpg subreddit last March.  We’re almost at the end, so please enjoy Part 4!

4) Oriental Adventures James Wyatt

Maybe one day, we’ll get a Dragon Empires hardcover. Until then, Oriental Adventures is a must-read.

This is a Core +1 book without a doubt—with all the new races, classes, feats, gear, spells, and monsters you need to run Asian-inspired adventures all in one place, including a setting in which to put all of them to use. (Although you’ll probably want Ultimate Combat for the Pathfinder-standard samurai and ninja, and the Dragon Empires Gazetteer or the Advanced Races Guide for races like the kitsune and tengu.)

What’s weird about this book is that the setting is a borrowed one—they teamed up with the Legends of the Five Rings folk to license Rokugan, which at the time Wizards also owned. This ends up being a good thing, though, as it lends the setting an automatic richness and loved-in-feel.

But it also contains plenty of races and classes that don’t belong in Rokugan. And that’s even more fantastic. It’s a book that encourages you to tinker under the hood—and then models how to do it for you: “We’re going to set aside all these demihuman races and just use the humans and rat creatures. And we don’t need all these spellcasters. Shugenjas will do, plus shamans for this one branch of the Lion Clan for a touch of mystery, and forget the wu jen entirely. But that’s just us—here’s the tool box; which ones do you want to use?” So if you want to recreate Kara-Tur, you can. You want to work the nezumi and korobokuru into Golarion, no problem.

Role-playing is constantly giving us more rules and monsters and goodies to put in our games. This is the rare case of a book encouraging us to play around and take a few things out—and making us feel empowered and excited for doing so.

Further reading: For best results, dig up Dragon #318 to convert the 3.0 OA to 3.5, which brings you a little closer to the Pathfinder standard. Then look for the compatible Rokugan books from AEG if you want to see the setting fleshed out some more. [Edit: One of them is sitting 75% read next to my bed.  Are we noticing a theme? Middle school me would be horrified to learn that adult me has so little time to read, and high school me would be horrified at the number of books I’ve only half-read. Sigh.]

3) Eberron Campaign Setting Keith Baker

Raiders of the Lost Ark meets The Maltese Falcon meets The Mummy meets The Name of the Rose. Wasn’t that the original pitch? [Edit: I still need to read/watch The Name of the Rose.  And I can’t remember if I ever saw all of The Mummy, though The Mummy Returns was surprisingly delightful.]

Aside from perhaps Dark Sun, no setting completely upended our expectations about what D&D could feel like than Eberron. Eberron was pulp adventuring. Eberron took magic seriously and combined it with technology for a steampunk (or at least spellpunk) feel. Eberron upended our expectations for D&D races and classes, added new concepts like the warforged and dragonmarks, and offered a whole world of adventure, not just a continent.

But why do you need this book? You have Golarion, right?

There’s a reason every major Pathfinder book has Wayne Reynolds on the cover. So did every major Eberron book. Eberron was about action and possibility—same as Golarion. Eberron promised, “If it exists in D&D, it exists in Eberron.” Golarion bills itself as “The best of all possible worlds.” So Eberron is Golarion’s spellpunk twin. The Eberron Campaign Setting is 300 pages of the same spirit, just at a different level of technology and with a slightly different rule set. Even if you never use a single feat or secret society or airship design from Eberron (but you will), you should read it for its spirit alone.

Further reading: As I said above, the Eberron books are uneven. Unlike the Forgotten Realms, which settled into three very comfortable rhythms for its sourcebooks (gazetteers, detailed exploration of a single theme, and linked adventures with some setting background), Eberron authors seemed to invent a new style for each book—from gazetteers (Secrets of Sarlona) to public and secret society write-ups (Dragonmarked) to in-depth city sourcebooks (Sharn: City of Towers) to little more than fleshed-out encounter options (Secrets of Xendrik). So browse before you buy, and see what books fit your gaming needs and reading style.

My original version of this entry was Books #3–#1 on the countdown, but I wanted to make this a five-day thing, so I did some reorganizing so that we’d have something to read tomorrow.  But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving you with a short entry!  Let’s ditch the italics and talk about some reader comments…

All of the books so far are great.  I would have probably listed Stormwrack in place of Frostburn myself, but I’ve always loved seafaring adventures, even if I’ve never been able to maintain a sea game as a DM.

I can totally see that!  With some of the environment books, personal preference is definitely going to come into play—if you’ve been itching for a sea campaign, a book on alpine and polar adventures isn’t going to be as motivating.  In the end, I went with FB because I just thought it edged out SW in several categories: more compelling PC races and classes, a wider variety of monsters, more interesting encounter locations, etc.  But as a lover of Norse myths and saga, I’m also biased.  Stormwrack was certainly solid, and I’d recommend it for anyone who liked FB (whereas I’m more hesitant about recommending the rest of the environment-themed books, unless like me you’re a pretty diehard completist).

Creature Catalog was actually the very first 3E-compatible book I encountered in a bookstore, before I even ran across Wizards’ core rulebooks, and I’m still sorry that I never got into Scarred Lands.

Like I said, I can’t recommend the Ghelspad and Termana gazetteers enough, especially in concert with the Creature Collections.  (Also, the fact that the gazetteers have largely held their value even used tells you something about their worth.)  Go look for them.  Also, the final gazetteer, Strange Lands: Lost Tribes of the Scarred Lands has been in my to-read pile since I finally tracked it down last year—if it’s good you’ll be the first to know.

Finally, dr-archeville wrote a pretty comprehensive response (which you can check out here), including this line I wanted to spend some more time with:

[M]y group never played in Eberron (though we did use some stuff from it, like the Renegade Mastermaker prestige class from Magic of Eberron), and I was burned by too many early Eberron books that, as you say, were far too dry for what had been advertised as a noir/pulp/steampunk take on D&D.

Hopefully my suggestions encourage you to take another look.  After that, here’s where I’d go next: Sharn: City of Towers is pretty much a must-read too, though it may take you more than one read-through to find all the good stuff buried inside because of how it’s organized.  City of Stormreach is also great.  Originally I was worried it would tie too closely to the Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach game (which terrified me because I don’t game the video at all), but it ended up being quite a nice stand-alone book—one that made sure all the juicy fun was front and center, having learned from S:CoT.  Adding that to the books I’ve mentioned previously, that’s a total of eight Eberron books, which should keep you busy for a while. 

After that, see my above warning to browse before you buy.  The Eberron books lean heavy toward encounter sketches, drop-into-play NPCs, and role-playing prompts—which is great if that’s what you’re looking for, but can be jarring for anyone expecting a more traditional sourcebook.

I have more to say about the Eberron line—2+ single-spaced pages more, in fact, covering everything from setting philosophy to font choice—but I think that’s a conversation for another day.  I’ll see you the rest of you here tomorrow for Part 5!

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