Sunday, February 13, 2011


Well, I just finished the last of the 3.5 era environment books (except for Dungeonscape which I never had any interest in reading in the first place) Stormwrack, the one devoted to "the Maelstrom" which is what the authors call every body of water from a water trap in a dungeon to a bog on the coast to, naturally, the actual ocean. This cheesy terminology isn't limited to calling any ole puddle of water "The Maelstrom;" they also helpfully label water coming over the side of a boat greenwater (for reasons that aren't exactly clear to me) and deep water from trenches or abyssal plains blackwater (for reasons that make a bit more sense.)

By this time, after having read Sandstorm, Frostburn and Cityscape already, my expectations and hopes for Stormwrack weren't exactly great, plus I had a pretty good idea of what to expect by now. Sure enough, Stormwrack continued the trend of providing a bunch of kind of generic oceany stuff, page after page of rules that I won't ever need, use, or appreciate, a few corny new races, including killer whale people and the aventi, who are basically underwater samurai with an Atlantis-like background, and a race that's a combination monkey and flying squirrel. I wish I were making that last one up.

The rules really point to a major point of departure between where the designers were headed and where I've been. Most of the "new skill uses" and several of the new feats were ones that I don't think need to be spelled out. I see the skill system as an interesting, yet ultimately completely reactive tool. By which I mean, players tell the GM what they want to do, and the GM decides which skill most closely approximates that, makes up a reasonable DC based on a bazillion samples of reasonable DCs in the rulebooks and the dramatic needs of the game. The designers clearly favor a more restrictive approach; one where what you can do is spelled out ahead of time in exacting detail. If it isn't spelled out ahead of time, well, then you can't do it. Some of the feats are also... redundant to common sense. For example, the swim-by-attack (and the fly-by-attack feat from the Monster Manual for that matter fit this profile)--it's basically just Spring Attack for swimmers. Why can't you just take Spring Attack and use it while on the ground, in the water, or (if you're capable) while flying? I dunno. No reasonable explanation that I can think of.

That said, Stormwrack did have some good stuff here and there. The monster section, as usual, has some useful stuff in it. The four locations were surprisingly interesting, given that most of the past samples of that kind of thing ended up being so generic and bland as to be nearly useless. One of them is even genuinely creepy.

I found myself more intrigued by the concept of a seafaring campaign--whether as sailors or in a Little Mermaid underwater environment--the most interesting thing about the book, though, honestly. The reality of Stormwrack itself was... meh. About the same as the rest of the environment books, I suppose. If you liked any of those, this one is excellent. If you thought those were disappointing, this one's about on the same level.

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