Game: Masters of the Wild
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Review Dated: 5th, April 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 3/10 [ Not good enough ]
Total Score: 34
Average Score: 4.86
Masters of the Wild is the official class book from Wizards of the Coast and it covers Barbarians, Rangers and Druids. The three prestige classes have squeezed into the one book because they’re supposed to have the wilderness in common and because there was an uneven number of basic character classes. The book arrived on my desk at the same time as the second issue of the Gaming Frontiers magazine. Masters of the Wild is a 96-page black and white book that costs $19.95, Gaming Frontiers is a 160-page colour magazine that costs $17.95. I guess you have to pay more for official products.
We are told that Masters of the Wild will provide you with a way to customise and personalise your character. What it means to say is that it’ll provide you with a way to power up your character.
It’s unfortunate that the supplements from Wizards of the Coast seem to be forced to pander to the lowest common denominator of roleplayer quality and to pitch themselves at the lowest level of gaming intelligence. This means that space is wasted in Masters of the Wild while we’re told in painstaking detail that Dwarfs aren’t likely to become barbarians because they normally have traditional and routine family life and that this is a shame because the dwarfs naturally high Constitution would make it a kick arse barbarian. There’s similar obvious observations mixed with power gaming basics for each of the three character classes. Worse, even more space is wasted three times over with childish and inappropriately generic descriptions of what you, as a class, feel about other classes. For example, the Ranger on the Rogue begins with “You have a lot in common with the party rogue because your skills overlap but don’t compete.” I’m currently playing a Ranger in a game of Dungeons and Dragons and he doesn’t have anything in common with the party rogue. Drats. The official controllers of the game have just told me I’ve been roleplaying wrong! Well no, of course they haven’t. They’re just filling up space with generic examples that provide some meat for gamers who were struggling with the class concept – as I said, pitching to the lowest common denominator.
Masters of the Wild begins with the Barbarian class and in addition to the useless filler I’ve described above it has a section on when to rage. This is an entirely power gaming chapter that sets about trying to work out the most game advantageous time to rage. The advice is for the younger, lower level, barbarian to rage only against the “level boss” and for the elder, more experienced barbarian to make use of his greater rage tally to rage whenever he feels threatened. If you look at that on a game world level they’re suggesting that the hot tempered and inexperienced barbarians carefully control their rage but for the wizened veterans are the sorts to fly off the handle long before the real challenge. Er? That doesn’t seem likely to me.
The Druids come next and arrive along with a side bar which points to better and more detailed books to read to discover about druids. In addition to the unsatisfactory chapters on what druids think of other classes there’s some advice on wild shape. In fact, there’s a published new set of rules wild shape that is supposed to supersede the core rules on wild shape (that’s an $19.95 errata). There’s advice on which wild shape to take; insofar that birds make better scouts but bears are scarier
Rangers are saved for last. The infamous urban ranger is mentioned again. I just don’t think that particular concept can be clearly put across in the token effort it’s given. How big does the city need to be before someone can “range” in it? How much of an urban wilderness does it need to be before it counts? Where does the urban ranger’s magic come from? Then there’s advice on picking the Ranger’s favoured enemy. They briefly consider two plausible reasons for a favoured enemy; a personal background reason (along with the clichéd ‘orcs destroyed my home!’ background) and the campaign setting idea but in true munchkin fashion suggest a better idea is to speak with the DM and find out which creature you’re likely to encounter the most so you can get full use out of the talent.
There’s a tiny section on new ways to use skills – by skills they mean Handle Animal (and the ‘new’ use of the skill to teach the animal tricks), Hide (and the equally ‘new’ use of the skill to slyly follow someone) and Wilderness Lore (and the oh-so ‘new’ use of the skill where its used to follow tracks through the wilderness).
There’s a long section on feats. This is why many people buy the book; official power ups. There are loads of them but I think the Ranger looses out in the balance. I suppose they’re good enough, official products tend to keep the game balance in check even if they ramp up the munchkin factor. That said I don’t see why you have to be able to wild shape into a dire bat in order pass the prerequisite for the Blindsight feat. Sure, dire bats have the ability to “see blind” but surely any other creature of similar Challenge Rating and natural blind sight ability would suffice?
The third chapter is given over to tools of the trade. The tools of the trade are weapons, exotic weapons, magic items and potions. Most of the space is given over to the magic stuff but there’s a tiny side bar that suggests druids might also make potions. There’s a whole bunch of magic collars – nothing kinky, they seem to be designed for those shape shifting druids, however the new rules of wild shape make it even clearer that items either merge into the druid’s body as she changes shape or fall off and land at her feet. If you’re in the business of clearing up the exceptions to the rule then it would make sense to include just this small caveat on magic collars.
The animals have a chapter all to themselves, a chapter designed to help the druid get more beast for her buck. Here we’re told that the wolf makes the best choice for low-level druids since it can track and fight and then as the druid progresses in level she can pick more cumbersome animals that do lots more damage. We’re told the bear stands a chance of doing 20 points of damage in a round and the dire tiger 120. There’s no room in this chapter for a discussion on finding an animal companion that makes sense for the druid’s background or personality in any way. In fact, rather than suggesting that the druid naturally evolves a kinship with any given type of animal there’s detailed text on “shopping for an animal” wherein the druid combs the forest for the animal with the best stats she can find. A later chapter, “breaking the limits”, offers further ways to enhance your animal gladiator, err, sorry, companion, with armour and magic. The chapter continues then into the surreal heights of dire elephants and legendary sharks. I think they would have been better of sticking only to the stat blocks rather than attempting to describe these animals. The legendary shark, for example, has the description “The legendary shark hunts anything it finds in the sea.” Well then, the local sea cucumber population had better watch out.
The rest of the book is given over to a wealth of strange Prestige Classes and new spells. The internet is full of wonderful prestige classes and new spells but the ones presented in Masters of the Wild are the official ones from Wizards of the Coast. Prestige classes include the likes of “Bane of Infidels” a leader of an evil cult and although you’re required to have the Leadership feat you don’t actually appear to need the tribe of xenophobic warriors you’re the leader of. The Oozemaster is prestige class that has you slowly become to resemble the infamous oozes of the dungeon. We’re told that no one has mastered the Speak with Ooze spell. Luckily for the oozemaster I noticed a Speak with Anything spell in the back of the book. Perhaps I’m being too cruel because there are some decent prestige classes and interesting spells tucked away in there. If you’re inspired by some of the template characters from popular fantasy novels then I suspect you’ll find a good prestige class to match them in Masters of the Wild and you’ll be able to bring them into your high fantasy game without working through the mechanics yourself.
I didn’t much like Masters of the Wild. I just don’t like the “how to build a better character” approach from a book claiming to be a way to personalise your character. Masters of the Wild is professionally put together though, it starts with a two-page table of contents and that’s something missing from many of the smaller d20 publishers’ products. I’ve bemoaned the fact that Wizards of the Coast pitch their books to the lowest level of gamer but I can see why they have too build up from the ground. My advice, though, is if you consider yourself to be something of a more discerning gamer is to pick character class books and source books from the high quality independent publishers out there.