Game: Agility & Athleticism
Publisher: Eldersygn Press
Series: SkillCraft: d20
Review Dated: 21st, December 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 28
Average Score: 7.00
Agility & Athleticism is the first in Eldersygn Press’ SkillCraft series. This review is based on a paper mockup of the product; with full art, layout and final editing and so is pretty much identical to the shop product in every way.
There are tick boxes in Agility & Athleticism which, in theory, you tick to record an easy reference of which skill variants are allowed in your active game. The concept of pencilling ticks (or checks and checkboxes) in a book will fill some people with horror. I know gamers who wrap their books up in brown paper to keep them safe. I know gamers who don’t consider a supplement accepted until it’s knighted with house rules. I think we can side step the debate by coming up with other ways of remembering which rules are in use in a campaign.
In fact one of the goals of Agility & Athleticism is reduce supplement juggling. Supplement juggling occurs when you’re using patches of rules from various additional books. This doesn’t normally occur too much in a D&D d20 setting as there’s a wealth of supplements and easy enough to find supplements which you’ll most off. This is especially true of prestige classes and spells – both of which are sexy topics (well, only if you’re a gaming geek, my girlfriend tells me, but you get my point). To an extent skills have been left out. In fact, elsewhere in GameWyrd you’ll find reviews which hasten over boring “new use for old skill” chapters. The SkillCraft series is all about skills and is designed to be the one stop shop for expanded skills. Agility & Athleticism concentrates on skills which focus on, you guessed it, agility, dexterity, athleticism and mobile prowess.
Let’s be explicit. The skills which Agility & Athleticism study are: balance, climb, concentration, escape artist, hide, jump, move silently, open lock, ride, sleight of hand, swim, tumble and use rope. For each skill Eldersygn Press fully fleshes out the core rules, adds the epic skill usage and includes variant rules – some of you might see elsewhere (there’s a page of copyright acknowledgements at the back) and some of which are entirely new.
Let’s be dastardly and pick a really awful skill and see how much Agility and Athleticism can add to it. Let’s pick “open lock”. The core rules section looks at the DC values suitable for opening different types of locks in different time frames. Variant rules include underwater lockpicking, improved locksetting (wherein a skill in opening locks assists you in setting secure locks) and duplicate keys (wherein having deciphered a lock puts you in the position to create an accurate and duplicate key for it). The epic skill use in this case less than enthralling and is Faster Open Lock. A suitable feat is “Surreptitious” which gives a +2 to open lock. That’s not bad for a deliberately awkward example. There’s about a page for open lock and some of the skills have a more. A sampling of other skill usages include dinosaur riding and glider flight for the ride skill and underwater dodging and current riding for swim.
In Archetypes and Anomalies we look at how a focus on certain class skills can cast a character class in a certain style. Those are the archetypes. By adding a focus on cross-class skills we include the anomalies. For example, a rogue which focuses on certain agility skills could have any one of the following archetypes: cat burglar, acrobat, tomb looter, pirate, brigand, pickpocket, sneak and adventuring lockpick. Ride is a cross-class skill for the Rogue Class and if choose to spend sufficient points in it then we may end up with the Highwayman anomalies. There are rule quirks for the anomalies; typically they have a new class ability but it comes at the cost of an old class ability or skill.
I think it works. Agility & Athleticism is certainly world neutral. It does serve as a one stop shop for skills – to as much an extent as possible. I’ve talked about the roleplayers who’ll wrap books up and who will scribble in books but there are also roleplayers who will collect, specifically, rule expansions in favour of settings and SkillCraft clearly qualifies for this.
There is a lot more in Agility and Athleticism. This is a 90 plus page d20 supplement. There are prestige classes, feats and new spells.
Not surprisingly the new prestige classes all have an agility shtick but rather nicely Eldersygn don’t limit the list to physical classes. There are plenty of arcane style prestige classes too. In total there are six prestige classes: Arcane Outrider, Beast Slayer, Nimblestrike Swordsman, Peregrine of the Ethereal Mist, Umbrous Fallaciter and Urban Ranger.
There are plenty of new spells too and the Agility Domain for Clerics. I thought at first that the Agility Domain was rather strange but it just took a moment’s thought to accept it. I didn’t think twice about a Knowledge Domain – but the importance and role of knowledge is clear to me. I think it’s entirely possible, especially in a fantasy world, that the importance and even sanctity of agility.
Chapter Three is all for the Gamesmaster. Here we look at magic equipment (new standard equipment already having been included by the book) and mechanics for skill based challenges. Eldersygn proffer the could-be-controversial but safely optional “XP for Skill Use” rule. The d20 system does not do this. You get XP for being heroic normally but there’s no specific reward for doing well in a challenge. Agility and Athleticism’s system works quite well; rewarding a suitable amount of XP for suitably hard challenges. The catch is that players might not – might not be able to – put point in those skills when they next level up.
There’s an entire pre-written adventure in the book and it is about 15 pages long. This chapter could easily have been filler but it’s not. Even as someone who does not particularly like pre-written adventures I have to say that this dungeon crawl with a twist is quite good. Miners From Afar, as the module is titled, is best suited to four characters of about forth level though scales up or down a level easily enough. As you might expect the action has plenty of agility and athleticism moments; ideal if you’re trying to convince your players that skills do make a difference. There are some nice illustrations of monorail-cum-mining-carts (can you see jump rolls being made there?) and a pretty decent map of the entire mine. I’m not going to touch on the plot except to say new monsters. My concern about the pre-written adventure is that it breaks tradition with the rest of the book. The rest of Agility & Athleticism is about rules which can and will be used again and again – but you’ll use this, or steal ideas from this, once. An adventure isn’t a resource that helps you avoid flicking between supplements.
There are nearly twenty pages of appendices. A few pages, of course, go to the legalise foo and copyright statements. The vast majority of the appendices contain mechanics. There are modifiers for age, aid, armour, disease, falling damage, holding your breath, magic, monsters, planes, poisons, spells, taking 10, taking 20, terrain and weather. There’s more too; that’s not an exhaustive list. Even here we’ve variant rules like tribal and totem focuses. The appendices are not fillers. There are nicely composed diagrams to illustrate concealment for example. Sure; some of these rules are found easily elsewhere but Agility & Athleticism has all this in one place so you can use the book as the ultimate resource.
I suspect I’ll continue to pay little attention to new uses for old skill sections in d20 supplements but Agility & Athleticism is better than that. With Agility & Athleticism GMs have a rare accessory; a d20 sourcebook that’s as useful for high fantasy games as it is for gritty low fantasy games. It’s a good book. I think it’s almost possible to say that D&D isn’t always used at its fullest. Skills can be a faff and can often struggle to be worthwhile at times. Of course, the agility skills tend to be the exception to this as its easy enough to put challenges into an adventure which require their use but Agility & Athleticism succeeds in getting more out of them.