Game: The Quintessential Dwarf
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 5th, July 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 14
Average Score: 7.00
The Quintessential Dwarf is a book dedicated to the dwarf and the dwarves are a particular hard race to dedicate an entire book too. Whereas people are willing and happy to imagine elves as arrogant scholars, wild tree people, sage druids, mysterious archers or even sailors and giant eagle riding cavalry most people will grumble sceptically if you try and present the dwarfs as anything other than miners-cum-warriors who live deep inside the heart of the mountains. The Quintessential Dwarf does not stray too far from this stereotype, it would probably be foolhardy to do so, but the book does push forward some fairly decent sub-races. I’m a great fan of the Collector Series, rating all the previous books highly but the Quintessential Dwarf does struggle to add as much depth and flavour as earlier books in the range have. Despite this struggle the Quintessential Dwarf is still a good book, it’s valuable to players and GMs both as well to those people who want to make heavy use of dwarves in their game and those wanting to add more detail to those dwarves who do feature.
A great success of the Collector Series has been the character concepts. The concepts offer small game mechanic changes to your character class – an extra bonus to your Craft skill but a penalty to your Diplomacy in exchange. More importantly, the character concepts provide a strong role-playing handle for your character and have suggestions as to what might motivate such a character, what others might think about them and why the might go adventuring. I like the character concepts in the Quintessential Dwarf; they range from the blighted, inbred dwarf all the way through the famous “oreborn” and even the dwarf “topsider”. There are not enough character concepts in the Quintessential Dwarf though, not in comparison to rival books in the series. For example, there are 16 pages of character concepts in the Quintessential Rogue but there’s only 8 pages in the Quintessential Dwarf. You’d probably be right if you said that 8 pages of concepts is enough but if you’ve been spoiled rotten by previous books with twice the amount then you’ll notice the difference.
The Quintessential Dwarf is a 128-paged book and that’s the same as the others. Having whinged about the shortage of character concepts I’ll have to admit that the space saved is used on other topics and this will be a bonus if you don’t happen to like the character concept idea.
What about the required prestige classes then? If I was going to compare quantity to quantity then I’d note there’s about 13 pages of prestige classes in the Quintessential Dwarf and about 13 pages in the Quintessential Rogue and so that the pair in parity again. The prestige classes are pretty good; they’re balanced in terms of game mechanics and they make a brave go at pulling out more from the dwarf stereotype. The Forge Mage and the Tunnel Rider prestige classes are two good examples of trying to extend the poor range of dwarf possibilities by adding to and enhancing what’s already there. I’m less keen on the Cannoneer since I don’t like the whole rune canon idea but on the other hand a good prestige class comes from the typical Mongoose insight to include a Druid class (the Deeping Druid) as one that’s not restricted to the cliché woodland grove image.
The Tricks of the Race chapter is best described as dwarf inspired but fairly generic. The chapter is largely dedicated to the arts of brewing potent ales and tunnel fighting tactics but it includes the “old skills, new uses” section too. I think the brewing and the tunnel fighting sections are both onto a winner. I imagine there are hoards of players around the world who’ll bravely have their favourite heroes attempt to glug down the most exotic and manly sounding dwarf ale possible. I would think there are even more players who would very much like to show off their prowess by pulling of a sly combat move which is successful enough to earn them a bonus to their attack or defence. These tunnel-fighting moves aren’t as combat wombat as they might sound to be at first. It can often be hard for the GM to spice up the dice rolling doldrums of combat with descriptions of the melee but by bringing in actual tactics the player’s game calls in the melee evolve from more than “I strike the orc” to “I’ll press tight against the side of the tunnel wall and strike out at the orc” – as they attempt to earn the defensive advantage from the move (the orc needs to be careful he doesn’t miss the player character and damage his weapon against the tunnel wall).
The list of dwarf feats seems to be particularly interlinked and prone to interesting names. For example, in order to have the Pixie Butcher feat (a good bonus to fighting creatures smaller than you) the dwarf needs to have the Goblin Slayer feat (a not so large but still useful bonus to fighting creatures smaller than you) but before he has that feat he needs to have the Rat Hacker feat (a smaller bonus to fighting creatures shorter than you). In fact, the Goblin Slayer feat seems to be something of a nexus point of requirements. The feats that lend themselves towards Rune Magic and Ancestral Enemies (where you also need to have the Goblin Slayer feat too – maybe tall enemies are never annoying enough to count as an ancestral enemy?) interested me more though.
The Tools of the Dwarfs chapter is more than just a list of armour and weapons. There’s some helpful miscellaneous equipment in here too. The shieldhook is a long pole with, yup, a hook on the end that’s pretty useless at dealing damage but just great for tipping shields down and rendering them useless in the arms of the enemy. The mechanical trapspringer is a device that trundles along and thumps the ground with hammers in an attempt to spring any hidden tunnel traps before any dwarf wanders through the area. There’s even rules for a pull cart and a stand-alone crossbow shield. However, you’ll also find the rules for Rune Cannons in here. I just can’t get Warhammer Fantasy Battle out of my mind when it comes to Rune Cannons. If you can imagine bazooka like devices which are covered in runes and wielding by specially trained and especially brave dwarfs fitting into your campaign then you’re probably not going to find too much wrong with the Rune Cannon concept. On the other hand, if you find the idea to be rather too fantasy for your fantasy game (very much high fantasy when you’re trying to be as realistic as possible) then all of this hard work and the accompanying prestige class is wasted on you.
The dwarf sub-races are better than expected. Metallic dwarfs are not to be found anywhere, thankfully. Instead you’re introduced to Cliff Dwarves (who, yup, live in cliff faces rather than isolated mountain ranges), Devil Dwarves (who worship those unpleasant entities you would expect to find deep underground), Rage Dwarves (who have been at war for so very long that the whole clan is evolved/devolved into a whole new barbaric race), Sacred Dwarves (who have established a rich connection with the Elemental Plane of Earth but forfeited the ability to naturally produce offspring as a result. The Sacred Dwarves produce their young through magic and earth wombs and if you’ve read up on old Cornish legends on dwarfs then you might very well find this idea rather appealing. I certainly think it’s a great twist.) and the Silverbore Dwarves (who have a history of tunnelling through the planar wilderness).
I found the chapter on Dwarf Magic a little cumbersome but given that its pretty much a chapter on Rune Magic it might be wrong not to expect a little weight to it. The book presents a detailed system by which different runes can be created, charged with magic and then activated. Runes work a little like scrolls in that it takes less skill to use them than it takes to carve one but unlike scrolls they’re more robust and tend to have a longer lifetime and can be re-used more often. The examples in this chapter are invaluable and I don’t think I would have been able to bring the concept onboard without them. In essence the runes are powerful but rare (especially if you’re not a dwarf) and extremely expensive to create. The idea of interchangeable grafted runes is a little more fantastic but it does remind me somewhat of the War Mage’s war harness and so I suppose there’s room to add some background world plot twists and turns if you’re making use of both Mongoose products. It’s the same author on both.
There are a few pages on dwarf deities. There’s only three described but this is done on purpose since the author’s cleverly picked out the Triumvirate. The Miner, the Hidden Mother and the Smith are common to many different dwarf religions even if they have different names. The short chapter studies what the temples of each might be like and what demands the god might make on their followers.
On Mines, Smelters and Forges there are 20 pages of tables and rules. It’s a little dry at times but the long-term value of such a chapter is great. I don’t think there are many GMs out there who could tell you how many swords a smith could make in a month off the top of their head. The rules on mining even go some way to turning this dwarf bonus from its current status of easy-to-ignore into a little bit of a sub-game in its own right. You might just be able to run a game as a change from the empire building style to a dwarf clan building campaign.
The Beasts Below chapter would have “is a hard worker” on its report card if it was a school kid. The chapter is an attempt to add something to the ecology of the dwarf subterranean world. It introduces riding mounts for dwarfs as a priority and some other creatures as a bonus instead. I think whether you’ll use any of these dwarf mounts in your game very much depends on your blend of fantasy, on whether you can see dwarfs riding on the back of giant snakes or beetles.
The book finishes with a nice section on dwarf holds. There’s everything in this condensed chapter from the cost of construction to the cost of hiring dwarf experts. I’ve taken to accepting the forts/holds/guilds/library section which finish off each of the books in the Collector Series as something of a bonus, by the time you’ve get to them you’ve already read though everything you would expect from the book. As a bonus section the chapter does very well. It’s not the sort of thing that deserves a book on its own and although you might end up feeling that some subtleties have been missed out or some facets overlooked there’s enough information given to make it usable and helpful.
I liked the book. On it’s own the Quintessential Dwarf earns a solid vote from me and I’ll admit that every book should be judged in on its own merit. That said; I wasn’t able to shake off the mild but haunting sense that it could have been better.