Game: Bastards & Bloodlines
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 25th, April 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
“Are You Ready To Get Freaky?” asks the back of the entertainingly titled Bastards & Bloodlines. I suppose it’s fair enough, some of the crossbreed races presented by the book are freaky; especially those half-Beholders depicted on page 4. The freak factor isn’t anything to sing about though. I’m much more impressed by the book’s professional shine and player friendly vibe. Bastards & Bloodlines is concerned with those half-breed fantasy races that could be used as a PC or NPC race, it’s more of a handbook than it is a beastiary.
Okay, so it’s a crunchy book. There are lots of game rules for new half-bred races, a new type of magic and plenty of templates. Despite all the numbers and dice in the 112-pages the book is pleasant and easy to read. The introduction contains an intelligent discussion on the merits and flaws of having half-breeds in your campaign world. Most D&D games do run with half-breeds; half-orc and half-elf so why not half-goblinoids (halfling-goblin, for example) or half-ogre? There’s plenty of inspirational flavour in the Specific Half-Breed chapter too. Each half-bred race introduced by the book has an introduction which explains why or how the half-bred race came into being (divine magic, polymorph spell, sexual compatibility, etc), a nicely written description (which accompanies excellent artwork for each), plenty of information on the racial demeanor, typical backgrounds for members of the race and their role as adventurers. The stats include favoured class (often the first thing forgotten by third party publishers) and level adjustment notes for powerful half-breeds.
Bastards & Bloodlines is one of those books that invites you to flick through it, ogle at the artwork and then get sucked into the text. The illustrations are great; people will call the Lurker (half gnome, half cloaker) and mind ripper (half humanoid, half mind flayer) as freaky but I think they’re the good sort of freaky. No one will call the houri (half elf, half nymph), piper (half halfling, half satyr), or trixie (half gnome, half pixie) freaky though. If anything, there’s more eye candy than nightmare in the book. James Ryman and Julian Allen are artists I’ll remember. I already look out for the name Macbin on books (chiefly thanks to Spaceship Zero).
The Specific Half-Breed chapter is about half of the book. It finishes on page 63 and with the Wyrd (nice name :) ) As a half-elf half-ogre mage the Wyrd has an effective level of +6. That means a level one Wyrd is about equal to a level 7 “normal” character. Ouch. That’s really awkward for a GM to handle, effective levels really are cumbersome mechanic. The Wyrd isn’t even the highest EL in the book; the Fire Jovian (half-human, half-fire giant) boasts a mighty +7. There’s a couple of +0 EL half-breeds, a few +1 and little more +2s and certainly no -level EL breeds. One of the reasons your players will read the book and opine “Cool!” is because the characters are more powerful. The good news for the GM is that all these ELs are nicely summarised in tables at the back of the book along with other charts. The most important thing, in my mind, in the Specific Half-Breed chapter is that, again and again, I found myself thinking o O (“Yes, I can see that half-breed in play. I can use that.”) That is true even with the more exotic and alien of the half-breeds. This is an important success. It’s a book you’re going to use.
In many ways Bastards and Bloodlines is a GM’s book more than it is a players’. The summary tables at the back and the high Effective Levels are just two symptoms of this. There’s no room for sample characters for each Specific Half-Breed in the book but there are sample characters for each of the crossbreed templates. The templates cater to the stranger of the half-breeds (differentiating between half-bred and crossbred, even). There’s the half-beholder, half-creature (biped), half-creature (quadruped), half-doppelganger, half-medusa, half-rakshasa, half-titan, half-vampire and even half-elemental. I scoffed at the half-elemental too and then read it. It’s more like a quarter-elemental. Some powerful (god-like being) infuses an elemental with something else to create a powerful hero or guardian – but that’s not the half-elemental, any kids that being might sire are the rarities known as half-elementals. In the case of many of these half-breeds the very nature of their half-breeding is likely to be a key plot device (an evil half-titan is twice as interesting because it’s a half-titan). For a GM to be able to quickly grab some stats (a half-titan minotaur in this case) from the book means she’ll be able to quickly grab a memorable NPC and still have room for fleshing out the details later.
The templates aren’t as good as the specific classes. I think that’s just because the specific classes are the cream of the crop, the most interesting combinations and then the templates work with one interesting parent and let you fill in the blank. The strength of the template is, of course, that it can be applied to any other creature you’ve got rules for.
Weakest still are the rules for half-breeds where the book doesn’t offer either a specific half-breed or template. The making your own half-breed chapter can be rather succinctly summarised as “use your best judgement.” I totally agree, however (and as is my beef with books like Savage Species) I don’t want to pay for a product just to tell me that. Bastards and Bloodlines offers up some help, some guidance and then swiftly moves on. Buy the book for the specific half-breeds, the templates, the new magic rules, prestige classes and feats – but not for the making your own half-breed rules.
There are new feats and prestige classes in Bastards. These feats and prestige classes are undeniably best suited to half-breeds. It seems like every second review that I point out feats and prestige classes are ten a penny and every third review that I point out there’s this under catered to niche for which the book’s feats and prestige classes help support. This is true with Bastards and Bloodlines; there aren’t many half-breed styled prestige classes and these ones are good. I’m rather taken with the Spells of the Blood section in this last chapter though. The premise is simple; you have to have the right heritage to cast the spell. If you’re not (at least) half-nymph then you can’t cast this spell. Simple. A great GM tool to boot.
Bastards and Bloodlines is a rare thing. It’s a crunchy (game mechanic heavy) book than manages to inspire me with plot ideas. It’s a good-looking book and an easy book to use. Comparisons with Mongoose’s Encyclopaedia Arcane: Crossbreeding seem to be as inevitable as they are inappropriate. Apples and Oranges. EA: Crossbreeding is about wizard PCs putting together crossbred creatures, Bastards and Bloodlines is about playable character races.