Game: The Cavalier’s Handbook
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 20th, February 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 5
Average Score: 5.00
This is a review of The Cavalier’s Handbook from Green Ronin. A Cavalier is typically a mounted warrior, a fighter on a horse (or a supporter of Charles I of England). It’s funny how the combination of mount plus fighter creates a new class angle in the way that doesn’t happen with the other classes. A ranger and mount – The Mongol’s Handbook? A bard and mount – The Troubador’s Handbook? A sorcerer and mount – The, um, er, Mounted Sorcerer’s Handbook? So even before I open up the book I already have expectations. I’m running a generic d20 game and I wanted mounted warriors to be significant, significant enough to warrant paying about $20 for a 96-paged supplement. Let’s see what The Cavalier’s Handbook can offer me.
The book gets off to a good start. The introduction scolds my initial definition; “More than just a mounted warrior…” the book insists and then continues, “…, the cavalier represents excellence in arms, unsurpassed equestrian skill, and a devotion to the code of chivalry.” And yes, the phrase “secular paladin” is also used and that’ll be promising if the class does not have any supernatural abilities, especially not the annoying and mystery destroying Detection Magic. The introduction also plugs a way at “why play a cavalier?” but I think that’s the wrong question to ask and answer. Why should the DM include cavaliers in the game? That’s a more relevant and tougher question to answer.
It’s also worth noting that Green Ronin has already published The Noble’s Handbook so whereas the chivalry angle is a nice one to explore we have to be sure we’re not getting old rope for new money.
Chapter One offers up the character class stats for the Cavalier itself. Huzzah. There are no magical class specials here to add inexplicable awkwardness to the character. There are magic-like class specials like “Fearless” (available at level 19) which empower the Cavalier with an immunity to fear (not that you couldn’t guess). Cavalier is one of the exciting classes as there is a special at every level. The chapter is as thorough as we would hope. There are paragraphs on religion, background, races and role. As we have all the space we need we’ve also rules for the Epic Cavalier.
The Knights of the Table Round are cited as helpful examples. Lancelot cheated with Guinevere and so wouldn’t really be represented well via the Paladin class (besides, Lancelot didn’t have any divine powers and didn’t have a beef with Gawain who was sometimes obviously ‘not quite good’). I suppose here we’re also trying to reinforce the concept that you couldn’t do justice to Gawain or Lancelot with the standard fighter rules either. At this point in the book I’m still not convinced.
There’s a bunch of sample Cavaliers – which is a bit of a waste of space.
There’s a section for the modern Cavalier. Here we have rules for treating the Cavalier as an advanced class for d20 Modern. This is an unexpected treat and a real bonus. It’s a whole extra dimension to the supplement. As an advanced class (or d20 modern prestige class) the Cavalier works really well. The illustration of the fun wielding woman on the large motorcycle shows at a glance just how versatile the class is.
There are prestige classes in the next chapter. The Holy Crusader is another take on the religiously mounted warrior. A Knight of Charity gives all that she has away to others. A Knight of Infamy spreads discord and evil. Cavaliers must be lawful and a Knight of Infamy must not be good. A Knight of Quality is a “quintessential knight”, or so we’re told. There are also Knights of Renown and the admission that they’re an extension of the Knights of Quality. A Sister of the Sidhe is a female eleven cavalier. There are samples of each prestige class throughout the chapter. There’s nothing that really stands out there. The “Knight of” series is unfortunately bland. The samples are just filler. If I was playing a mounted warrior, a cavalier, then I would be frustrated by my career options.
This is a d20 product and so there are new feats. There’s actually seven pages of new feats and most of these are brought into play because the character is assumed to be mounted. I’m not quite sure why something is a general feat (Steed Defense (General)) or when it’s a steed feat (Steed Focus (Steed)).
Along with these feats there are variant rules for social classes and lineages. These rules do expand and overlap with the Noble House rules from The Noble’s Handbook. The additions here aren’t just a sandbox for the Cavalier class to play in but can be applied to any class. This helps bring the rest of the game up to date with politics and social power plays. I thoroughly approve but then I’m one of those gamers who appreciate that angle in their scenarios. The irony is that we can now do the socially elite mounted fighter without using the Cavalier class at all.
Another variant rule bite briefly looks at taking the Knight of the Cavalier. This is a fantastic idea. The best d20 classes are the generic ones (I think). More people will be able to use the book if it could cope with mounted Samurai warriors, Mongol like mounted archers or demi-human mounted warriors.
There’s a token gesture to Coats of Arms and Heraldry. This is nice. I wish there was more.
I think one of the main problems with the mounted warrior concept in D&D style fantasy and in almost any other fantasy is the steed itself. It gets in the way. Dungeons, for example need to be wide and tall enough for horses. It’s hard to do nautical or desert based adventures if there is an animal to feed. If you’re willing to be ruthless about it then the steed can simply be abandoned (or killed). That’s bad enough with a horse but if the mount is a fancy and exotic creature then the player is likely to be miffed. There’s even more of an issue if the mount was exceptionally hard to come by. In Chapter Four there are rule mechanics for all sorts of mounts but little help on how to incorporate them smoothly into a game. Just how much does the Crag Crawler eat anyway? And what? The Crag Crawler is a giant riding lizard. There are quite a few exotic steeds in the book including giant flies, lich steeds and intelligent extra planar creatures.
Retainers can be nearly as annoying. It takes a very good GM to do the voices and personalities for a dozen or so hangers on which follow the group around. It takes a good player to allow his [tangible power assets] to be behind the scenes for most of the game.
Whereas I can see the attraction of playing an expert warrior on an exotic mount and with some bodyguards or backup wizard I cannot see the attraction of letting the character into a game I’m trying to run. What about the rest of the group? They’d be in danger of being overshadowed.
Flick back to the lich steed rules and then forward again to the collection of magic rings. Ah well! I suppose spotting the Tolkien influence in a fantasy RPG is a bit like spotting trees in a forest. These magic rings are part of the Armory chapter and are nestled alongside items typically associated with knights.
Cavalier really is a synonym for knight as far as The Cavalier’s Handbook is concerned. Chapter Six looks at Honour and Tournaments. This is a brief section which does little more than explain the concept and assign some points for victory conditions. The last chapter talks about Orders. Orders are groups of associated Kni.. sorry, groups of associated Cavaliers.
Okay. The Cavalier’s Handbook does what it says on the tin. It is a thorough class book. The Cavalier is a new class and the rules here make it work. I’m just not impressed by the class, it doesn’t inspire me to allow it into the game and I think the worse angle to take (given we have the The Noble’s Handbook) was that of a noble fighter. There’s not much reason to have both. I’d rather have the Noble’s Handbook. That said, there’s no reason to avoid the book if you do have a genuine need for a regal mounted warrior in your game.