Game: The Bonds of Magic: The Faithful
Publisher: Malhavoc Press
Review Dated: 15th, November 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Was your first character someone who had sworn revenge against raiders who had attacked your village and killed your parents? It’s the first character in The Bonds of Magic: The Faithful too!
Am I being too harsh? I really don’t know. It is an ultimate cliché but here the raiders happen to be chaotic evil Grey Dwarves who fit rather snugly as the polar opposite of the lawful good Wind Deity’s teachings that the revenge-sworn Cleric follows. This volume of The Bonds of Magic tries to walk a tightrope line between “usable” and “used” and does that tricky task fairly well. On the other hand the product does a good job at illustrating just how hard it is to explain why every single ranger hates one race or another. “They killed my parents!” is a common cry of anguish.
Let’s play safe. Let’s assume that there could be spoilers further down in this review. If you think your GM is likely to pounce on 25 ready-to-go Divine Spellcasting characters as NPCs then these spoilers might apply to you. If you think your GM is likely to pounce on anything that 3ed edition guru Sean K. Reynolds is likely to produce then these spoilers might again apply to you. If you think your GM is likely to pounce on anything that comes out from Malhavoc Press the publishing company of another 3rd edition guru Monte Cook then, yet again, these spoilers might apply to you. This product oozes prestige and pounceability.
The guru factor is worth mulling over. This isn’t an expensive product. It’s a 36-paged PDF. You can buy it for all sorts of reasons and still get value for money. One obscure but perfectly valid (I hope) use for these 25 NPCs to see just how the game designers imagined Nth level characters should be equipped. If like me you’re completely bamboozled by the idea that characters will always find a way to stock up on increasingly powerful magic items, no matter the campaign, as they level up and you’re desperately trying to imagine how powerful this collection of weapons should be so you can modify the Challenge Ratings in the monster manuals which assume that characters will have this stock then this cheap download is a vital first step on that quest.
All the NPCs in the supplement are perfectly average – but not. Every single one of them are built on the default array of attribute values (15,14,13,12,10,8) and then correctly modified by their race. On the other hand, every single one of these NPCs has a new feat, spell or magic item. I think this is a pretty good way to do NPCs. I know I hate it when the GM introduces yet another NPC who’s more dexterous than my especially dexterous character or yet another NPC who’s knowledge of ancient dwarven rock war chants is greater than your rock war chanting dwarven bard. In order for an NPC to be noteworthy then sometimes they need to be different in game terms and not just in personality and a single new feat, new spell or interesting magic item can be the safe way to do that. The new feats, spells and magic items also move to block the most obvious argument for not buying 25 pre-designed NPCs. You can’t so easily claim “but I could have followed the rules I’ve already paid top dollar for and designed that NPC myself” when they possess something unique (and designed by the 3rd ed guru, remember) to The Bonds of Magic. Mind you, if you insist on focusing only on the new game mechanics in the last few pages of the download then the product isn’t really the value for money it could be.
The very first NPC in the book doesn’t score as highly on the originality scale as she might have. The second NPC is an angst-ridden half-orc determined to make up for the evil ways of his orc heritage. Doh! It really is a coincidence though. The NPCs aren’t ordered in ascending originality order but alphabetically and this half-orc just happens to be called Bath for some reason. Besides, as with the revenge sworn cleric who came before him, his tale isn’t quite as straight forward as the age old character background idea normally is. Bath is likely to be up against an orc assassin who appears later in The Bonds of Magic (Vol 2). You don’t have to use them together but if you want to then they’re lined up nicely. Sometimes the NPCs here have a throw back or background connection to an NPC from the first offering in the Bonds of Magic series. I’ve not read that particular product and it’s clear that I don’t need to have had to use the NPCs in Volume 2; it’s just something else I could do if I did happen to have the first supplement. The sly tactic works though, it makes you think about buying the first.
If you’re beginning to worry that The Bonds of Magic is doomed to only produce unoriginal character concepts then it’s worth repeating that it does try hard to provide the GM with characters he’s likely to use. A blind dinosaur cyborg from the future turned monk might be an original idea but it’s not likely to be used in most people’s D&D games. Make no mistake about it. This is a D&D flavoured d20 product. There are plenty of more original but still usable character concepts; the smart (smarter) ogre ranger, the gnome cursed to drink blood, the ghoul cleric who’ll only eat the flesh of other undead and a frustrated but lawful halfling Paladin. These aren’t picked out from the remaining 23 for being the most original; these are just the next four in the list. The shtick for The Bonds of Magic: The Faithful is that all the NPCs are, in one way or another, divine spell casters. You’ve got a list of clerics, druids, rangers and paladins to pick from. The challenge ratings for the NPCs range between 5 and 12. Actual character levels dips down as low as 3 but racial modifiers push the CR back up to 5. The NPC who fits that particular cast is a half-fiend human Cleric.
Clerics are tied to particular gods. It’s easy enough to chop and change the names of deities around to suit your own game if their portfolios match. Thankfully, I think Sean K has come up with a pretty good mix of cleric domains and it is also pretty clear from the character background and concept as to just what those domains are likely to be. Effort has been made to make the NPCs as “plug’n’play” (or should that be plug’n’pray – to steal an old Windows joke and warp it just for D&D!) as possible. Geography is kept especially vague on purpose. The NPCs come from “the city”, or “a valley” or “the woods”. Your not tied to any particular region or campaign world. On the other hand, the biology isn’t so forgiving. There’s not that much in the way of human NPCs with interests in other human affairs. If you want to plug’n’play with the Gnone Ranger then you also need to have active kobolds near by and red dragons in your game too. If you want to use Quillan the human ranger then you need to have shape-shifters and monstrous humanoids in your game too (his father disappeared while Quillan was just a kid, you know. They killed my parents!). If you’re playing in typical and traditional D&D then you’re likely to be using all these races anyway so it’s less of a problem.
There are ten new feats. Evilsense as a refined Detect Evil is particularly nice for high fantasy quests but could kill dead a murder mystery. Expanded Domain Preparation is another that stands out in my “oh, I might use that list” as one that seems to make a particularly good reward from a pleased deity although I may have to add the keyword “expanded” into the blacklist along with “improved” and “advanced” if it gets used too often. That particular blacklist would filter out about a third of the new feats here.
I all the new spells are pretty good! It’s not often that happens. “Ooze companion” is a particularly interesting spell – if only for the inherent dangers when the thing wears off after the day/per level. I can’t believe I didn’t think of Mistsight myself or that no one else seems to have suggested it before now either (and that’s a complement to SKR).
The magic items are what’s I’d call typical D&D. The equipment list really does sit squarely in the genre. We’ve got ogres with “boots of elvenkind” although what kind of elves would have orgre-sized feet I’m not sure and I don’t want to know about. Again, as with the wide range of biology, if you’re in a typically styled Dungeons and Dragons game then the players will have equally as interesting magical equipment as to moot any concerns about this sort of thing.
I enjoyed reading through these 25 NPCs and their short backgrounds. If this download and been a chore to read then I would have been as surprised as I would have been disappointed. Fortunately it’s been put together with typical precision and flare. I can honestly see times when I’m in the role of the busy GM, need an NPC quickly but don’t want to skimp on the details and so reach for one of these guys. Since that’s the case then Skreyn’s Register – The Bonds of Magic – Volume 2 – The Faithful succeeds and does pretty well.
Oh yes; one last thing. The cover art is fantastic. It looks good and it gets the mind going too. It’s a clever play on traditional images and should be counted among the book’s merits if/when it makes paper.