Game: Into the Blue
Publisher: Bastion Press
Review Dated: 13th, December 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
Into the Blue is a decent book. It’s just a hop and a splash a way from being a much better book. Into The Blue is Bastion Press’ d20 sea supplement. We’ve new races and spells as well as suitably detailed studies of different aquatic environments.
Where’s the hiccup? Despite explaining how alien an all water environment is, how hard it is to think in three dimensions and how deadly a mistake that can be – there’s no underwater combat rules here. We’re encouraged to use The Deep from Mystic Eye Games instead. I like license ability of d20 products to cross-reference and cite one another; used correctly this gives us, the buyers, more bang for our bucks as products can support one another. In this instance Bastion Press have relegated Into the Blue to a position of a third generation supplement. You need D&D, you need The Deep and then you can fully use Into the Blue. True. If you don’t to sweat details over underwater combat then there’s no real problem here. Indeed I’ve a lot of support for Lee Hammock’s, Into the Deep’s author, assertion that there’s no point in treading rules already covered elsewhere. In the interests of completeness; one of the art directors for Into the Deep is Hal Greenberg. Hal’s a talented guy and a great sport. He’s also closely associated with Mystic Eye Games.
In most other respects Into the Deep is refreshingly thorough. The start of the book looks at general ocean issues – and this includes pointing out the technical difference between an ocean and a sea and when the supplement itself will be using those scientific distinctions. There are notes on hazards and issues like salt, the weather and even tides – all of which could be hazards in their own right. Imagine how a tide going with you could reduce your travelling time and how annoying it would be to have to travel against the tide for an extended period. We’re reminded that spellbooks are going to be destroyed unless they’re made of water proof (and more expensive) materials. I’m not so sure on this one; pages inscribed with magic energy are subject to something as trifling as water? Surely they’re just as likely to be effected by air? Or touching the ground? Or being left open at midnight? Anyway… the comment is a reminder that some taken-for-granted aspects of day to day adventuring can’t be taken for granted when you’re under water.
The bulk of the book is divided up into three main sections; Coastal Waters, Open Sea and Deep Sea.
Coastal Waters is that region near the cost and where aquatic and land communities might live close to one another (knowingly or unknowingly). As with the other two Sea sections Coastal Waters includes an early look at some of the animals you might expect to find here. But I know what a seahorse is. I’m actually less interested in a D&D book telling me about seahorses than I am in a D&D book telling me about cows. At least with a paragraph about cows I’d have the reassurance that the price for leather based items have been thought about rather than plucked from the air. You’d think cows would have a really short life span in a world filled with dragons, orcs and goblins and yet leather is pretty cheap. We can’t even rustle up that half-hearted debate for seahorses or the other animals the Coastal Waters chapter wants to tell me about. Sticking pre-fixes like “Riding” and “Sentinel” in front of Dolphin isn’t all that exciting either.
Into the Blue is scattered with new PC suitable races and we see the first of them swimming in the Coastal Waters under the guise of the Otterkin. I wish there was a small appendix or sub-index which quickly listed the page numbers for all the new PC okay races. Yeah, Otterkin are humanoid otters which have grown legs to, er, better equip them for, um, nautical life.
There are some interesting issues in the Open Sea. Line of Sight is unusual because you’ll be able to see as far as the horizon allows. The open sea is a vast expanse and it’s quite easy to imagine floating cities in a fantasy setting. Into the Blue picks up on this and finds room for the rather scarier Bloat Island. Ah, alright, the Bloat Island doesn’t sound scary but at Challenge Rating 30 it’s rather unusual. Here is your “big monster which pretends to be an island” scenario but at least Bastion Press’s write up with aplomb and I’ve reason to use these stats and description as is (not that players in any game I’ll run will see level 30).
In addition to the new monsters for every one of the three main water areas there are helpful comments, reminders and observations on the plant and animal life as well as threats and resources. Looking at the PC suitable races in the Open Sea section we can find the Orcam (which I always want to write as Occam). These sea folk like to ride whales and have, er, arms and legs for, um, enhanced swimming speed. Seriously though, the advantage and common sense call in ensuring that the new PC suitable races are bipedal is that they can be used in and out of the water and this makes the DM’s life a darn sight simpler when one of their players begs to play one.
The Deep Sea can’t quite compete with scary monsters though I think it should be able to. However heard of swimming down and into safety? The critters which caught my eye are the Deep Harvesters and this is because they have that should-be-extinct but actually live on in ocean trenches, dinosaur look about them. Deep Harvesters have a Challenge Rating of 14 (and a bite at +21 melee (2d6+5)).
Also lurking around in those trenches you’ll find the Trench Elves. Pick a location and you’ll find a specialised elf race for it (space elves, under-the-table elves). The Trench Elves have the faint whiff of Lovecraftian charm to them but they’re certainly not going to compete with the Drow for the position of most popular elves in RPG fan circles.
There are 26 new spells in the book. That’s not bad going as they’re packed into just a few pages. I think that’s enough for any DM to dazzle a gaming group with a wizard or sorcerer casting strange and alien spells from the tide pool below. We also have the required amendments to the spell lists so you can tell at a glance where these new spells slot in – a handy resource and often ignored by supplements. There’s no new domains though nor re-examination of what the Fire Domain might look like/mean to an undersea cleric.
The font size in Into the Blue is good. I’ve used phrases like “finds room for” quite a lot in this review and there is the feeling that Into the Blue has managed to pack a lot of helpful information into 96 pages. That’s not bad value for $US22.95 either. I do think some of the information is rather too basic though (perhaps a problem when RPGers are as likely to be young school kids as they are to be academics or industry experts).
Into the Blue works best as either additional support for a DM who wants to go all out in an aquatic adventure or as a fairly nice investment for the collector DM who wants to dabble in a few, especially coastal, encounters. There’s nothing in the “wow factor” category which suggests you should go out and buy the book and/or throw your players into an aquatic adventure. I’m running a campaign with a naval setting and I can’t really say I’ve been inspired by anything in Into the Blue other than a land bridge of sand which connects two islands during low tide but not during high tide.