Game: Heroes of High Favor: Dwarves
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
Review Dated: 11th, July 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 5
Average Score: 5.00
Heroes of High Favor is half a book; at least it is the size of half a book, being only 15cm wide. It’s 62 pages long and comes it at $9.95. That’s interesting; a cost per word evaluation would come down unfavourably on the book, it took me just a few seconds to shuffle around in a pile of RPG supplements behind me to find a “normal” sized 64-paged book and a 62-paged book and each cost $12.95. On the other hand, $9.95 for a paperback RPG supplement is fairly cheap and it must appeal strongly to youngsters making the first purchase, poverty ridden students or even people just wanting a cheap and easy way to inject some new prestige classes into their game.
I’ll tell you what’s not cheap and easy and that’s the Badaxe Games website. It’s a slick and professional production and well worth a look. The site, as does the jargon on the back of Heroes of High Favor, promises “games with grit”. I haven’t found much grit in the book though.
I wouldn’t recommend buying Heroes of High Favor if it’s grit you’re looking for. The book is better described as a standard power-up for the dwarves. That might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I do think this offering from Badaxe is better than the awful power-up class books WotC finally finished vomiting all over the marketplace. True to form with this sort of book, Heroes of High Favor provides a list of feats, prestige classes and token note on dwarven roleplaying. The final chapter, dwarven roleplaying, is 2 pages long; that’s two of these small pages or one side of a “normal” book. Well, actually, perhaps I’ve been a little cruel describing the book as a “standard power-up” since there is a twist in focus which does help to inject some life into the book. Heroes of High Favor is designed to focus on the multi-class options available to the dwarf. Since favourite class of the dwarves is the fighter the book takes multi-class fighter possibilities and beefs them up into prestige classes.
The prestige classes are certainly more than just the token effort I’ve written off the roleplaying section as. In fact, the prestige classes include paragraphs on the class’ role in society and their role in any adventuring party. There’s generally as much text on the actual combination of the two core classes that go together to inspire the prestige class. The text presented in these sub-sections is really concerned with which attributes a player would be better of purchasing, which feats he would be wise to have in order to gather the biggest possible advantage and other power-play tricks. I suppose this is a cheaper alternative to buying a popular computer RPG that uses 3e rules and clicking on the “Recommend” button to see what the best number crunching option is. The phrase “iconic multi-class” seems to have been coined to describe these multi-class inspired prestige classes. I have mixed feelings on the actual prestige classes. One of the strengths of Heroes of High Favor is that all the prestige classes are detailed through 10 levels and this is something that other books dedicated to prestige classes and printed on twice the amount of paper often fail to do. On the other hand I simply recoil at the barefaced way in which these prestige classes, iconic multi-classes, are presented as ways to make your character bigger, better, stronger, faster and how this may sometimes involve careful diplomacy with the GM and how it -should- impact your choice of class and advancement right from the start. What ever happened playing a character that’s best suited to the campaign style or world setting? Mixed feelings continue, some of the special abilities these prestige classes get are just too powerful and too silly but yet they are explained clearly, succulently and sometimes with clarifying graphics.
For example, the Battle-Rager’s (Fighter-Barbarian) “Against the Odds” ability is shown alongside a figure of a Battle-Rager facing off against a hoard of goblinoids on a grid-map and why each of the goblinoids further invoke the abilities AC bonus. This is a level one ability that sees the Battle-Rager’s AC increase by +1 for every melee opponent who threatens his space. I think this is too powerful. Worse – I can’t get the image of a Battle-Rager surrounded by crippled dagger wielding goblins, gaining +8 AC and therefore somehow managing to avoid in the incoming fire from Drow archers. If these crippled goblins were trying to attack the Battle-Rager with sharpened branches that had a 10′ reach then the lucky dwarf would have +24 AC and I think the Drow archers would be left to try and see if their prototype cruise missiles could take him down.
Before the reader gets to make his own mind up on the prestige classes he’ll have access to the skills and feats section. The feats follow a fairly standard pattern; Axe Mastery has sensible prerequisites and gives the benefit of +1 attack bonus with all axes. You can guess what Spear or Crossbow Mastery might do.
There are some fighting styles too. Pick a fighting style and you’ll be better at it, there are prerequisites for each style and further involved rules to make sure the character is actually following the style in order to benefit from it but I think styles are best thought of as complex feats. If you’re in any doubt as which is the best option to boost your own character’s combat abilities then some of the iconic multi-classes have suggestions to help answer these concerns.
The dwarf rune system is on a similar style. It is simple and offers much in the way of boons and benefits to the otherwise humble dwarf. The runes cover more than just additions to the wielders attacking ability and there are runes for all sorts of things. Runes are treated as an additional level of masterwork for items and greatly increase the market value of the item.
The simple system is extended to dwarf craftsmanship. If you fancy plate armour but you’re rather fond of your Dex bonus then you simply need to buy yourself a highly mobile suit of plate armour made by dwarves. That’ll claw back some of your Dex bonus and then you’ll be free to try and get some more of that bonus back by inscribing runes or by some other magical enhancement.
I think the fighting styles, the runes and even the craftsmanship really are something of the “Dark side of the Force” in that they thrust all sorts of hitherto out of reach power and bonus scores at the players in a way which seems foolish to refuse and easy to achieve. I have to say that despite this grave concern I’m very much appreciative of the fact that this is all done in a very simple way, easy enough for my mere mind to get to grips with, and it’s all done without much in the way of new stats, numbers, charts and tables.
I don’t know. Perhaps I’ve lingered on all the failings I’ve found in the small book and given it too much of a negative spin but I just kept on hoping it would climb higher and live up to that potential I could feel bubbling just beneath the surface. I’m certainly not put off Badaxe Games, in fact, I’m rather taken by their fresh style and I’ll be keeping an eye out for future publications from them… especially if they’re not designed to “enhance” core races or classes. Heroes of High Favor: Dwarves is the first book from Badaxe Games so maybe even future offerings from the Heroes line will be slightly realigned. There are certainly only positive things to be said for the artwork; it’s all rather good and I imagine designing suitable illustrations may be made harder by the smaller page size.
My mixed feelings on this book translate into a 5/10 mark at GameWyrd and so when I have to translate that to a score out of 5 it’ll get the rather kinder on the eye 3/5. Only roleplayers ever decide .5 rounds down and I wish they wouldn’t.