Game: Unearthed Adventurers: Volume I
Publisher: Malladin’s Gate Press
Review Dated: 1st, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 23
Average Score: 7.67
Ninety-one pages for two core character classes. That’s something. Let’s be clear; there are only two main core classes in Unearthed Adventurers: Volume 1 and not the three the supplement sometimes says there is. You’ll get the cultist and the swordsman, you’ll loose out on the divine knight. A whole class missing: that’s either a series of unfortunate typos or a serious omission and severe kick in the teeth for the $7.50 supplement. Fortunately, it’s the former, Unearthed Adventurers is sold on the grounds that it offers up two new core classes and so no one will buy it expecting to find the divine knight inside.
The Cultist steps forward as an ideal candidate for that most obvious hole in the 3.0 character rules; the specialised divine spell caster. The Cultist does not share the traces of combat ooph that are present in both Cleric and Druid; the Cultist focuses more on spells. The Cultist doesn’t worship a deity. All of a sudden Malladin’s Gate has rather succinctly offered an explanation as to what is a cult and what is a religion in a fantasy world setting. The Cultist worships a powerful planar creature, a demon, an elemental lord or dragon, for example. The Cultist doesn’t have to be evil either, worshipping an elemental could easily lead to a true neutral path and following the dictates of a lawful good aligned dragon would probably lead to lawful good cultists.
For spells the Cultist has access to three domains provided by their powerful master and these three domains must be prioritised. The class will have a primary domain, a secondary domain and a tertiary domain. Spells from the primary domain are available at first, then as the Cultist levels up she’ll gain access to spells in the other two domains. A 20th level Cultist is still only able to cast 5th level spells from their tertiary domain and would have access to high level spells from their secondary domain after being able to cast high level spells from their primary domain. I like this too, it does seem to be very much like cults. You join the cult and if you serve well might be promoted into higher circles, told about deeper secrets and taught more exclusive spells.
The Cultist class special abilities really do define the character. Every four levels (which is quite a long way to go without between feature) starting from the first the Cultist is able to practise a new virtue. Virtue is a slightly misleading word, it implies something wholesome and good, but in this case the virtue could easily be a vice. The virtue is something that the cult practises and something that the planar being embodies or approves of. The cultist is rewarded for following these tenants with powers and this makes quite a good system for the class special. As the cultist levels up he picks a new virtue and so cultists can be quite different from one another. A cultist following the “Courage” virtue will be rewarded with an immunity to fear, even magically created fear, and will be proficient with all martial weapons and heavy armour. A cultist following the “Study” virtue can’t be chaotic, will be as proficient with weapons as a wizard is, wont be given any armour training but will have some arcane spells as a power. In addition the Virtues have explicit tenants that must be followed.
All these virtues do take up a bit of space in the PDF download but not nearly enough to explain how two classes take up ninety or so pages. In fact, there’s so much written on the Cultist and the Swordsman that each is presented in their own book within the supplement. The Cultist class, all his virtues and a nice but short discussion on playing the character are only the first chapter in the Cultist book. Skills and feats come next. Unearthed Adventurers introduces wholly new feats and reprints some from OGL sources too. I think this sort of thing is a good idea; it’s the best of both words.
There was no real surprise to find a whole host of new domains and spells in a chapter of their own. There’s a wealth of them: 20 new domains in fact and too many spells to count.
I can only think of one other company that’s explored crafting prestige classes out of multiclassed characters. Malladin’s Gate takes their newly created Cultist and sees how it might multiclass with all the core classes and then takes that extra step and turns it into a prestige class. The Cultist-Barbarian based prestige class is the Shaman, they manage to come up with the Warrior Priest for the tricky Cultist-Cleric mutliclass and the Reaper for the Cultist-Rogue, to name just a few. There’s also room for a few straight up Cultist prestige classes. There’s more than just crunch here – and the PDF is advertised as value for money crunch – the highlight of these multiclassed prestige classes is the look at class common ground and contradictions for each. These discussions are frequently useful and always intelligent. The only downside is that the layout gets a little confusing at times, the progression tables for the prestige classes appear either at the top or the bottom of each page and sometimes appear before the PrC is introduced at all.
We’re not finished with the Cultist yet though, oh no, there’s one more chapter to go. The GM’s Information chapter is primary made up of sample powers for the cults to worship: things that aren’t deities but godlike nonetheless. Sure, we’ll find dragons and demons in here, you’ll even catch St John of Academy Handbook: St. John’s College of Abjuration fame. What really caught my attention was the inclusion of wolf spirits.
And so on to the Swordsman… and yes, now we can see why the supplement manages to spend over forty pages for each class.
The Swordsman’s shtick isn’t the sword. In fact, the Swordsman doesn’t have to be male or even use a sword. A female pistol dueller will do. The class tries to differentiate itself from the Fighter class through the styles of fighting. The author argues that Fighters tend to be self-taught soldiers, people who learnt to fight the hard way, nitty-gritty no nonsense melee masters. Swordsmen are artists. Swordsmen would be the nobles taught to fence since childhood, or, or, um, struggling here, or the renaissance pistol dueller, the martial artist or perhaps the captain of the expert mercenary company.
The Swordsman class is all about style. The class’s special feature is rather boring but undeniably effective. The Swordsman gains large bonuses to their primary weapon (+2 at level 1 and up to +6 up to level 20). Their primary weapon is defined by their fighting style, their technique. Since this is all about being taught the art of fighting rather than learning it through the school of hard knocks it makes sense that the techniques are bound up with a new knowledge like skill set. A Swordsman with Fighting Technique: Bassal 12 knows more about the Bassal combat style than a Swordsman with the skill Fighting Technique: Bassal 9. This doesn’t mean that the first Swordsman has a higher BAB though. It does, however, mean that the first Swordsman can access the Power Attack feat for free and that’s one more free feat than the second Swordsman has learnt. As the Fighting Technique skill increases, as the Swordsman masters the style, a whole range of free feats become available to them. The character doesn’t buy the feat; he can simply use it providing he is fighting with the appropriate weapon for the technique and in the right stance. There are more than enough of these fighting techniques to keep most people happy. They appear en mass in chapter three of the Swordsman book.
As the Cultist was multiclassed against the 3.0 core classes and then stepped forward into prestige classes so is the Swordsman. In a way the Swordsman makes a tricky mutliclass topic because the of the training and discipline inherent in the class. The Swordsman-Druid multiclass is known as The Way Of Proteus and it makes heavy use of the Druid’s wildshape ability to see the character master animalistic fighting styles. The Swordsman-Fighter multiclass is the Weaponmaster, the Swordsman-Ranger is the Master of the Hunt and the Swordsman-Wizard is the Bladecaster. In addition to all this there’s a couple of straight Swordsman prestige classes too.
I’ve made mention to pistol duelling twice and that’s because the Swordsman book in Unearthed Adventurers contains rules for black powder rules. That’s handy; the class really does conjure up images of the Renaissance Europe. The black powder rules are found in this book’s GM information chapter.
There’s no doubt that the two core class creations are hugely supported. If you’re using either class in your game then you won’t run short of material. The Cultist will be the easier of the two to integrate into most games since there is nothing quite like it in 3.0 rules. The Swordsman will be a tougher squeeze because conceptually it’s similar to the Fighter; a class dedicated to fighting. The game mechanics of the Swordsman class means it plays very differently from the Fighter though. Both classes are rather light on special abilities, earning a new class special every four or so levels and really only ever improving on what they already had. On the other hand, both classes pick critical features from a pool of abilities (virtues for the Cultist, fighting techniques for Swordsman) and so its easy to create a wide range of characters.
Unearthed Adventurers is crunchy. It’s very crunchy. It’s very light on the illustration but since it has some pictures at all it is different from previous Malladin’s Gate Press products. Since there are so few illustrations and light grey sidebars the PDF isn’t too much of a hassle to print. The PDF is without bookmarks and I’ll always whine about that.
Unearthed Adventurers certainly succeeds. It sets out to give you two new core classes and it does, they’re worthwhile, complete and balanced. The supplement then goes beyond the call of duty by producing the multiclass inspired prestige classes. The product could do with a bit of spit and polish but on the whole is a good, strong and useful buy.