Game: Artifacts of the Ages: Swords and Staves
Publisher: The Game Mechanics
Review Dated: 23rd, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Magic swords… Zzzzz Zzz, oh? Huh? Let me wake up and try again.
It’s not just that I don’t find books filled with magic swords and staves boring, I think they’re one of the faults AD&D didn’t manage to shake in its evolution to d20. I hate the fact that challenge ratings /assume/ characters will have X amount of Y strength magic items. Even worse is the suggestion that entire classes – d4 hit points – are balanced on the assumption that there will be plenty of magical healing around. Too much magic can be a bad thing.
I want carefully paced, tense, and dramatic fantasy. I’ll play high fantasy as readily as low fantasy but when the game dissolves into a magical shopping trip then I start to protest. It’s hard to suspend belief when you feel the local peasants only need to look into the rain barrel around the corner to find a potent magic item (hello Neverwinter Nights), sell it to a merchant with a never ending supply of gold (providing you don’t try and rob him) and walk away rich.
In my opinion it is a bad call for a publisher to encourage people, to tempt people, to flood their games with a sea of magic items. A tsunami of extremely powerful magic items is even worse. Yeah, I know, there are some extremely high fantasy settings; Forgotten Realms, for one, Oathbound more so, in which the world isn’t short of magical weapons – but that just means the GM has a finer, harder, balance to maintain.
I know. This is supposed to be a review of Artifacts of the Ages: Swords and Staves. Before anyone accuses me of ranting let me assure you that this is a review, I’m simply describing backdrop and mind set that the book is being reviewed against. It’s worth doing, it would be impossible to describe how successfully Artifacts of the Ages: Swords and Staves won me over otherwise.
It’s a strong book. Artifacts of the Ages adds the magic back to magic weapons. This is more than I was expecting.
There are prestigious names attached to the book; the authors have that panache which has grown around those ex-Wizards of the Coast staff who left in round #2.4 of corporate cleaning and, perhaps more importantly, experience elsewhere. There’s a Green Ronin logo on the front cover of the book although the term “imprint” isn’t bandied around.
The key to Artifacts of the Ages: Swords and Staves success is that rather than being an unrestrained crunch fest it’s a carefully gauged, story enhancing, GM aid. The book is interested in legendary items but in this case legendary isn’t purely a synonym for power; it’s also a plot device. Legendary Weapons grow in power as their wielder does. This is a remarkably simple but effective idea. This means that the weapon doesn’t overshadow the character, that the GM doesn’t have to worry about the weapon as a Deux Ex Machina and it means the players are more likely to get attached to the weapon.
The legendary weapons, this artifacts, don’t attach themselves to just anyone – it took Author to draw Excalibur from the stone. To wield either a sword or a stave from Artifacts of the Ages a PC needs to meet the artifact’s requirements; just like a feat or prestige class. In fact, prestige classes are the key. The Battle Scion, Spell Scion, Faith Scion and Swift Scion are prestige classes that allow the character to become (meet one of the requirement) an artifact wielder and maintain core mechanics of their character.
Artifacts of the Ages: Swords and Staves is an 80-paged book and we finish up with the prestige classes and sundry information at page 12. The rest of the book delivers the bang for your buck: the artifacts. Lingering a while on bang for your buck – Artifacts of the Ages costs US$ 16.95. That’s pretty good these days. That’s just about US$ 5 more than this 32-paged supplement beside me and US$ 4 cheaper than a GM screen behind that.
As you’d expect there are swords and staves in the book but there’s no sudden dive into stat crunching. These are legendary items and so have histories of the own. In a rather nice touch the book retells these histories, breaking up the titbits of information into levels of knowledge (history) DC values. Each item has a host of special abilities and powers but, as promised, they only kick in as the hero wielding the item advances in level.
It’s a pretty book too. The supplement is dominated by illustrations of swords and staves but this never becomes a problem, the pictures are often set on the far right of the page, inset with the sidebar. The effect is a pleasant one.
If the goal of Artifacts of the Ages was counter the disposable magic item culture in D&D then it’s been a wholesale success. This might be a book about magic swords but I can read it without falling asleep and after reading I want to use these rules.