Game: Tome of the Ancients Volume 1: Artifacts
Publisher: Dungeon Dwellers Guild Games
Series: Tome of the Ancients
Review Dated: 19th, January 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 3/10 [ Not good enough ]
Total Score: 12
Average Score: 6.00
Tome of the Ancients Volume 1: Artifacts.
I picked this one up because the reviews have been excellent so far.
Unfortunately, the product cannot live up to the hype.
* * *
Written by: John C. Walborn and Theodore C. Zion
Published by: Dungeon Dwellers’ Guild Games
Page Count: 45 pages including cover, 2 pages of OGL, introduction, product registration, etc. 35 pages content.
* * *
The product purports to add context to the magical items in a fantasy d20 game. From the introduction:
“Every item, even the most minor, has a history and a name. The wizard who crafted it was proud of his creation. He made significant personal sacrifice to make the item. That should show through to the player when they discover it.
Thus, the goal of this book is to assist you in creating magical items that enhance the story and depth of your game. So, without further adieu, I bring you Tome of the Ancients, Volume 1: Artifacts…”
The product is basically a set of lists for the creation of magic items, albeit under the guise of being ‘artifacts’. An item is created using the book by rolling on a series of tables –
1 – Crafting Race (10 entries)
2 – Crafting Faction (10 entries)
3 – Climate where Crafted (5 entries)
4 – Alignment of Crafter (5 entries)
5 – Item Type (5 entries – Weapon, Armor, Clothing, Jewelry, Odds & Ends)
6 – Item Size (5 entries, from tiny to huge)
7 – Item Significance (5 entries)
8 – Item Status (5 entries – hidden, lost, for sale, broken, in use)
None of these charts are particularly imaginative, except perhaps in the sheer limitations involved (5 possible alignments for the manufacturer? why not all 9? nice to see half-elves can’t craft magic items, Evil Kingdoms get their own items, but good kingdoms don’t, etc). Each chart could easily have been enlarged to a full page of options instead of the very short lists presented.
Once these rolls have been made, you proceed on to the determination of the individual powers of the items in question. These charts are where the ‘system’ really starts to take a hit. Remember that “Item Significance” table? Well, it turns out that this is how you determine how powerful the item is. No longer is item power linked to Challenge Rating or anything else.
Using the magic weapons as an example, you then roll to determine the ‘plus’ of the item, as well as determine whether or not the item has any special abilities. Weapons under this system have only 12 special abilities instead of the twenty-some-odd in the DMG. And none of them have price equivalents. Some of the special abilies are new, but the rest are from the DMG. Once again, I reitterate, no prices, no creation rules or requirements, etc. Just 11 charts to determine the full abilities of the magic weapon.
The sample items start to make up for the lack of functionality in the rest of the product – here are included a fairly large collection of sample items created with the system.
“Froggie’s Magic Twanger: This abnormally short bow was obviously crafted by and for a Halfling, judging by its small size and the use of hickory for its construction, a wood often used by Halfling pipecarvers. The wood is dyed a dark brown and the bow and string are decorated with small bird feathers, serving as mild camouflage and to quiet the twang of the string when released. It has a +1 enchantment, plus the ‘Piercing’ special property, giving it a +2 to hit against worn armor (NOT natural armor.) The bow is available for sale from a reputable merchant.
So, the weapon is for sale, but no list price is given. And you can’t quickly look up the list price in the DMG since it includes a weapon property that is non-standard. On top of this, a large part of the detail provided in the description is not something that could be rolled up by the tables presented (type of wood, decorations).
In the armor chapter there is another can of worms to open. The first chart for determining armor type includes several entries that make no sense whatsoever. The roll to determine what type of armor is being generated results in an AC bonus (from +1 to +10) with examples of what kinds of armor provide those bonuses. Except that the armor types don’t match up with their d20 counterparts. For example, +1 armor includes heavy cloaks, +7 armor includes dragon leather, +8 armor includes adamantine chainmail, +9 includes mithril platemail and +10 includes adamantine scale mail. The adamantine and mithril entries are very much out of line with the adamantine and mithril entries in the DMG / SRD, and the other ‘new’ armor types introduced are not given full stats (no armor check penalty, max dex bonus, etc). This time the special abilities presented are less similar to the ones in the DMG, which makes them even more problematic as they don’t include crafting requirements nor market price.
In the remaining sections, we encounter another issue of game balance, being that the items include new ‘chakras’ for magic item placement. Thus you can have a handkerchief that provides a +5 resistance bonus to saves
* * *
Fortunately, the product makes up for some of these faults in the sample items, each is fairly well described (although very briefly) and is fairly interesting, if not incredibly exciting. But this is always hampered by the inability for Player Character spellcasters and crafters to manufacture items of this kind, and is further compounded by a complete disregard for compatability with the existing magic item creation system presented with the d20 system.
Finally we come to the layout. It is atrocious. The product is single-column, left aligned, in a 12 point font with 1 inch borders (in other words, basic word processor ouput) with a simple graphical footer a full inch above the bottom of the page. In all, the product is nowhere near an average product, even for $5 (let alone the $14.00 price tag quoted on the back cover of the PDF). It isn’t attrocious, mind you, but still pretty poor except as an idea mine for sample items if you throw away the item generation system. A product like this might have competed in the first year of the d20 PDF market, but it is a painful read now.