27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Derek M. Koch
- Published on Amazon.com
Stormwrack is the third Dungeons & Dragons Environment Series Supplement from Wizards of the Coast, following 2004's Frostburn and Sandstorm, released earlier this year. While Frostburn focused on arctic environments and Sandstorm covered the desert, Stormwrack attempts to, as the cover states, master "the perils of wind and wave."
Designers Richard Barker, Joseph D. Cariker, Jr., and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes (and developers Stephen Schubert, Andy Collins and David Noonan) have crafted a solid book. In a market in which there are so many expensive hardback books that are expensive simply because they're printed as hardbacks, Stormwrack is worth the $34.95 cover price.
If you can work some seafaring adventure into your game.
The first chapter of Stormwrack ('Into the Maelstrom') tells you how to do just that. The amount of information in this chapter is fairly dense, but once you get through it, you'll have a good grasp of how to not only introduce coastal, marine and aquatic environments and encounters to your game, you'll also learn how to incorporate elements of the planar seas (the Elemental Plane of Water, Abysm and so on). This chapter covers everything from how to handle running an adventure across beach terrain to how to handle initiative and naval combat aboard or between a ship or two. There's also adequate mention of "special perils of the sea" - diseases, poisons and supernatural threats unique to a sea-based game or campaign (including a concept called airy water - water breathable by both air-breathers and water-breathers). This chapter is solid and provides a base for DMs wanting to introduce Stormwrack material into their games.
The following chapter ('Races of the Sea') provides information for both players and DMs. Doubling the amount of new playable races in an environmental source book, Stormwrack presents four new races (whereas Frostburn and Sandstorm only presented two new races in this section): the Aventi, the Darfellan, the Hadozee and the Aquatic Elf. Aquatic Elves have been mentioned before in previous 3rd edition and v.3.5 supplements going at least as far back the Monster Manual as a subrace of the elves, but Stormwrack gives them more personality and presence than they've ever been given before, defining their place in the greater D&D menagerie. The Aventi are the most noble of the new races, bringing players a regal undersea race built around tradition and personal honor. The Darfellan and the Hadozee are the two standout races here, however. The Darfellan were once a peaceful race, but a 100-year stretch of attacks by the sahuagin has turned this race into a group of refugees. Their loose tribal-based society affords roleplaying opportunities for players interested in playing a melancholy character with well-earned angst. (The parallels between the Darfellan and the Native Americans treatment at the hand of early America are fairly obvious. Even some of the artwork featuring the Darfellan evokes a sense of Native American pathos.) The Hadozee, on the other hand, are fun-loving, adventure-seeking creatures of exploration and discovery. And they're monkeys. That can fly (sort of - they have vestigial wings that allow them the ability to glide 5 feet for every 20 feet they fall). The rest of this chapter is devoted to how to inject the other established player races into the Stormwrack environment, and even offers a few new subraces - the seacliff dwarves, the wavecrest gnomes and the shoal halflings. Stormwrack improves upon Frostburn and Sandstorm by providing tables for random starting ages, aging effects, and height and weight tables for these new races (and for new subraces as well, which is a welcome addition to these environmental sourcebooks).
The third chapter ('Classes') also improves upon the previous two books' pattern. This chapter devotes its time to class options, explaining how both DMs and players can mold the standard Player's Handbook character classes to a Stormwrack game. However, Stormwrack boldly includes information on how to mold some of the classes presented in Wizards of the Coast's Complete... line of the supplemental books. The scout (from Complete Adventurer), the spirit shaman (Complete Divine), the swashbuckler (Complete Warrior) and the warmage (Complete Arcane) are all mentioned here, giving these classes and the Complete... books their due and showing that they do have a solid place in the D&D mythos (if only more D&D sourcebooks, or even Dragon magazine, gave these other classes more credence, credibility and consideration). This chapter also presents seven prestige classes which all seem interesting to play (especially the scarlet corsair), but seem mostly restricted to an aquatic or marine environment.
The first section of fourth chapter ('Skills and Feats') explains how to get the most out of your character's skills. Rules for listening through water, keeping your balance on a ship while it rocks at sea or how deep you can dive unassisted using your Swim skill are included. The second part of this chapter lists 24 feats distinctive to the Stormwrack environment. Most of these feats are so unique that unless you're adventuring in or around water, these feats will be useless to you.
Expanding upon the vehicle listings from the Arms and Equipment Guide, the fifth chapter ('Ships and Equipment') provides detailed rules and information of more than 20 different kinds of ships, and even goes as far as providing maps and layouts of some them. Combining this information with the ship maneuverability and combat from Chapter One makes it easy to work a seafaring journey or two into your next adventure. Ship-based weaponry and accessories are also covered (including the stats for a ballista and a basilisk). Since wearing metal armor would not be advised for a character at sea (not only is metal armor heavy and prone to corrosion if submerged in seawater for too long, but in game terms, the armor penalty could hinder Swim checks), new armor materials are presented (sharkskin, an alternative to leather armor, has become my favorite). Aquatic crossbows and longbows are presented, along with my favorite of the Stormwrack weapons - the cutlass. This chapter ends with a near full-page of special gear, including the official D&D listings for a sextant and a tricorne hat! Unfortunately, not all the ships or equipment are illustrated, which is missed, especially when these unique fantasy weapons or armor are so detailed in the text.
Four new cleric domains are introduced in the sixth chapter ('Spells and Magic Items'), as well as a number of new spells (including one that changes regular water into the aforementioned airy water). As is the theme of the entire book, most of these spells would seem restricted to an aquatic or marine game or campaign, but there are a few that might find use in a non-Stormwrack style setting as well. Notable spells include stormwalk, a new take on the standard teleportation spell that uses the power of an electrical storm to transport the characters from place to place; mudslide which, as it sounds, creates a mudslide, potential burying the caster's targets (causing extra damage to creatures who are actually aflame, like salamanders or fire elementals); flowsight, a scrying spell that allows the caster to gaze into any body of water (not just an ocean - flowsight works with rivers, streams, and really big puddles) to view other creatures and objects in contact with that body of water; and tojanida sight which provides Spot and Search bonuses and makes it impossible for the caster to be flanked during the spell's duration. There are three new epic level spells, and four new psionic powers provided as well. Among the new magic items are buoyant and gilled armor, as well as a few new items in the rings, rods and staffs, and wondrous items categories (since I've been pointing out favorites, I'll mention the bag of teeth, a small sack made of fish skin and filled with piranha teeth that, when opened and its contents scattered in a body of water, creates a piranha swarm). There is some repeat of what's been published in previous Wizards of the Coast books; the acidic burst and corrosive magic weapon special ability enhancements have already seen print elsewhere.
Monsters are the focus of the seventh chapter (appropriately titled, 'Monsters'). Over twenty new beasts and creatures are introduced, and while most of them would be restricted to a sea- or marine-based game (like most of this book), there are some neat additions to the D&D bestiary. The anguillian, a seeming cross between an eel and a humanoid, fits in just fine with the rest of the aberration family, and the caller from the deeps, a tentacle water elemental infused with malevolent energy, would give any PC a good scare, if not a good fight. The scyllan (featured on the cover of Stormwrack), a lesser fiend from the frozen ocean of Stygia, is terrifying (any creature with the swallow whole special attack really should be feared). Aquatic variations of the chuul and the yugoloth are also included, as well as statistics for jellyfish and leech swarms (as well as the aforementioned swarm of piranha). New animals include the albatross, barracudas, sea lions and seals, and I have at least one player in my gaming group that would likely do everything he can to avoid the monstrous diving spider.
For DMs eager to inject a little Stormwrack into their regular games, the final chapter ('Adventure Locales') gives you the material to do it. Four aquatic adventure sites (ELs ranging from 5 to 12) are detailed and give excellent starting off points for marine and sea-based games. Secret pirate bases, sea hag sorcerers and a ship graveyard will give players and DMs a good salty taste of Stormwrack, bringing the material provided earlier in the book together into unique encounters not found anywhere else in D&D-dom.
Overall, the book impressed me. As the third in a series, it's hard not to draw comparisons between Stormwrack and its predecessors Sandstorm and Frostburn. There are some elements of this supplement that push it above what's been done before - the increased number of playable races and recognition of the newer non-Player's Handbook classes, as well as an overall tightening of the text and presentation. The material in Stormwrack is as least as good as Sandstorm, if not more useful. However, I felt the artwork in Frostburn has been the best of the three Environment Series Supplements (with Stormwrack's coming in second, easily edging out Sandstorm).
The writers worked hard to make playing in an aquatic- or marine-based game of D&D easy to grasp and understand. However, if Stormwrack were to have any downfall, it would be that so much time is spent presenting a water-y view of the game, that nearly all of the Stormwrack material would not be applicable to a non-aquatic game. Players: I would be sure you can use the material in Stormwrack before purchasing it.
But DMs: I would encourage you to take the plunge with Stormwrack. Your players will be pleased.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Robert J Defendi
- Published on Amazon.com
All right. I've been looking forward to this book for a long time. I've heard great things about Frostburn. I had a positive reaction to Sandstorm. This is the third book in the environment series and it deals with one of my great loves . . . the sea.
So how did Richard Baker, Joseph D. Carriker, Jr., and Jennifer Clarke Wilkes do? Did this Wizards of the Coast book meet my (admittedly high) expectations?
I can't recommend this book. I wouldn't have bought it but that's because it fell woefully short on the only areas I'm likely to use. Your game might differ, so lets discuss what they book actually contains.
Chapter One discusses the uses of this book and the type adventures a GM might run. This discusses aquatic adventures, planar adventures and the like. The chapter ends with a discussion of a stripped down narrative way of handling naval combat, under the premise that in a D&D campaign, naval combat won't be exciting for the players (this is the first time I disagreed with a premise of the book).
Chapter Two contains four "new" aquatic races. Now, the Aquatic Elf is an old D&D standby, but please, WotC, enough already. I've got more sapient races in my D&D games than I know what to do with. I've got enough. Stop deluging me. Races are getting as bad Prestige Classes.
The second half of the chapter deals with existing races and their interaction with the seas. This is more in line with what I wanted.
Chapter Three is classes. The first half deals with class variations, such as how to handle an sea-based druid. This is what these books should be about. The second half deals with Prestige classes.
Sigh. Those who follow my reviews know my deep hatred of Prestige Class proliferation. Now this book had a shot of getting a pass from me like Waterdeep. I mean, the sea is an alien environment. A few new prestige classes might be a must, especially dealing with characters that actually live or work underwater.
They had seven. Seven!
I think I'm going to swallow my tongue.
Chapter 4 has the same problem as the previous two. It begins with some expansions to skill rulings, which is delightful. Then it moves on to continue Feat proliferation. Twenty-Three new feats by my count. Really, isn't there a Betty Ford program for these people? A few, like sea legs, I can see. Now stop it.
Chapter 5 deals with ships and equipment. This is the chapter that made me want to toss the book. I'll get back to it later.
Chapter 6, Spells and Magic Items. You guessed it. Spell proliferation. Has anyone explained to these people that there's a point where "crunchy bits" become "soggy bits?" They also have new psionic powers, which was novel enough for me to be charmed (I don't have a psionic proliferation issue, but I have faith WotC will get me there eventually). New magic items are good. I think my favorite part here was the new Epic spells. Hey, high-level campaigns don't get a lot of love from game companies.
Chapter 7 is monsters. New monsters don't dilute or unbalance a game (yet) and this is a new environment, so huzzah. Some of the monsters, like the hippocampus, are a bit familiar as well, and I welcome them back.
Chapter 8 is adventure locales. I've enjoyed this chapter in the previous books, and this one is no exception. Hear that? I liked the last two chapters.
So, let's discuss the book overall.
Half of it is filled with stuff (Chapters 2-4, plus 6), for which I frankly have no use. What are the odds of one of these prestige classes ever making it into one of my games. Compare to the hundreds of prestige classes out there and honestly tell me why I'd be willing to pay for that paper and ink. The same is true for races and feats and spells. WotC needs to learn to pick their battles. If these chapters were focused, like a laser, instead of this scattershot approach, drowning us in game mechanics, I would have liked them. They aren't. So half the book is all but useless to me.
Now we get to two deeper issues, however.
First of all, research. I felt like a lot of research went into this product, there was all sorts of things that I didn't know, and I'm a bit of a nautical buff. Still, the things I did know often have glaring omissions. It's as if they wrote rules without thinking them through, or as if they didn't fully understand the implications of what they wrote.
Let me give you a couple examples.
First of all, there's the sinking ship. Now they have rules based on such facts as how much damage the ship has taken, and a ship can sink very fast with these rules. Still, they never mentioned that ships are made out of wood (at least most ships a PC will see). A real age of sail ship wouldn't typically sink quickly. They'd sink until their deck was a foot or two below the surface and stay that way for an hour or more, until the wood became water-logged enough that it went down the rest of the way (they might sink fast if they were very heavily laden, but the book doesn't address that). Now, this is an extremely important fact, one that would radically change the way a sinking ship is handled by the players, but it's never mentioned at all. If they had just spent one sentence on that fact then the DM could have used those rules to model it and this would have been a usable rule. Either they didn't research enough to understand this or they didn't think it important to tell the reader. Either way, the book doesn't get you the information you need. Since I found one important fact missing in an area I knew about, I now doubt the stuff I didn't know.
A second example. They use age of sail ships and they have some cannons, but they also have much older ship weaponry, the kind that you can't use from an age of sail ship. I don't see where they ever mentioned that you can't use a catapult from most of the ships in this book without damaging the rigging. They discuss that there might not be gunpowder on some worlds, ruling out cannons, but they never give an alternative. The ships on this book are designed based on a level of ship technology that can't evolve without cannons. If you are going to say that they might not have cannons, a reasonable alternative is needed, and in a game with little one-shot alchemist items in the PH, it would seem they could produce something. Heck, Wizards, back when it was TSR, actually published an article in Dragon where they discussed this problem (They owned Dragon back then if I have the time line correct). Someone at the company should know their intellectual property better than I do. Again, it's like they didn't follow through.
But this isn't the biggest problem for me. I'm used to companies screwing up ships.
No, the biggest problem is you have a book built around water adventures. Your game might vary, but in my game 90% of the time I'd use that book I'd be dealing with a ship. The book has perhaps 20-30 pages that directly relates to ships. I don't see anything in there what would improve my nautical game. I see very little in there that would improve anyone's nautical game. Instead of giving better rules for ship combat, they give sketchier ones. Instead of sprinkling the book with boxes describing details of ship life, they discuss world building logistics that are more likely to make your world more improbable. Instead of giving us useful ship data, they skimp over it with a minuscule treatment. They could have taken that old Dragon article, updated it straight to 3.5 and had a more useful book (and that article had a lot of problems of its own).
So you have to look and decide if this book is right for you. Maybe you need more aquatic races because your starting an exclusively underwater campaign. Maybe you want skimpier ship combat because you know your players will hate it. Maybe you don't intend to use the ships from this book (or don't need them, or only need one or two). If that's the case, this might be the book for you. It's not that it was poorly written, I've had this many problems with books and given them a recommendation. It's that this book's entire focus seems to be geared toward a different type of game than I would ever run.
Maybe you're the one it's focused at. If that's the case, buy it. If not, let it be.