Game: Wrack & Ruin
Publisher: Bastion Press
Series: Oathbound: d20
Review Dated: 30th, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 17
Average Score: 5.67
In many ways Wrack & Ruin marks a special moment for Oathbound. The cleverness, the flexibility, the flavour and the sheer scope of this colourful high fantasy setting come together in one distinguished product. Wrack & Ruin just bristles with life, it is packed to the hilt with information, plot bytes, game mechanics, flavour and artwork. The City of Penance feels more real than ever before. It seems that the book’s authors know their creation inside and out and are tripping over themselves to share as much of their knowledge as possible.
Wrack & Ruin isn’t just a splatbook. Splatbooks are typically a whack of mechanics for a popular but wafer thin niche, you know, like Drow or Fighters. Wrack & Ruin isn’t trying to stretch a niche as far as it will go, this book has the luxury of being able to draw from a hugely diverse (and just huge) city. Penance is the fantasy equivalent of MegaCity One. Writers have been weaving stories from the latter for decades. In the inhabited sections of the colossal city the politics is crucial. Bloodlords rule over cantons. Although they can only do this in a way that The Queen approves of, they’re effectively in charge of hundreds of thousands and extremely powerful armies. We’re given a further insight into this deadly to and fro. Most of the city is inhabited or only scarcely so and these areas are known as the Wrack. The Ruin is an even more tempting area to adventure in, it’s a vast maze of streets and houses that have been built over and buried. If you’ve struggled to explain the presence of so many underground strongholds and the plethora of powerful foes that challenge high-level characters but never seem to bother with conquering the world then Oathbound and Penance is your saviour.
The Oathbound setting is so large and there are just so many races (and prestige races!) available that I find it hard to keep track of them all. Reading the first Oathbound novel, Forged, before Wrack & Ruin helped. I do think Oathbound, if Bastion Press keep supporting it, can become the next Forgotten Realms. In my opinion it’ll be much better than the Forgotten Realms simply because Oathbound designed to cope and use thousands of weird races. Wrack & Ruin introduces new fantasy races, some quite powerful, to Penance and there’s absolutely no sign of the “why hadn’t I heard of them before?” problem at all. Bonus.
Wrack & Ruin is a black and white book – but I didn’t notice. I may have become accustom to colourful Oathbound, but this supplement proves content is better than candy. US $25.99 for 98 pages is pretty good value. The book actually tallies in at 128 pages but right near the end there’s 30-paged pre-written adventure and I don’t count it. Pre-written adventures have to be something different to warrant a positive mention from me and in this case it seems best to discount it completely.
The supplement hits the ground running; we go through the main races that are found in the Wrack. Humans, plenty of the more common Oathbound races and significant new races are all present in numbers worth noting. More than just races, the book looks at how different Bloodlords deal with the empty spaces of the great city and how it can be used. The undercity, the maze, is the perfect dungeon crawl environment and it retains the Oathbound colour; there are sections in the maze where gravity, even time, does not function as you’d expect.
Okay. It’s reached the point where I’d consider listing some of the extras in Oathbound to be something of a spoiler. If you’re playing in Oathbound and are enjoying the surprises then go read something else on the site.
The Nkoll, a snake-like, tentacled race, aggressive race had a go at taking over Penance. As you might except most people in the city consider them to be history, if they’ve heard of them at all. The Nkoll have re-grouped and are building a powerful empire in the maze. They’re not be underestimated. The Scar are an angsty race. They’re ugly and know it. The race is, by and large, infected with natural symbiotic organisms that protect them some sunlight and natural diseases but make a mess of their face. Just a word of nit-picking (eww, gross pun) organisms can’t be alternatively describes as parasitic and symbiotic, the relationships are mutually exclusive. Incidentally, the Scar like sunlight but would burn in it without their face destroying symbiotes. The Wyrgith are yet another evolution of the Drow. Genetically unstable race, anyone?
The Rafter Prestige class is extended. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this. Career Rafters can continue through levels 11 to 15 and enjoy impressive class specials every step of the way.
Channeling was introduced in Plains of Penance as an alternative form of spellcasting. The world of the Forge oozes divine magic and channelers are able to manipulate this directly. Wrack & Ruin summarises this but I suspect those gamers who succumb to the lure of this book will go out and buy Plains of Penance if they didn’t already have it. Channeling is summarised because Wrack & Ruin introduces more Channeling powers and the Spellwarden Channeling prestige class.
I bet Oathbound is some gamers’ favourite setting simply because of the prestige races. Wrack & Ruin adds the Focus of the Arachnid, Focus of the Chameleon, Focus of the Cockroach, Focus of the Exile and Focus of the Mole to the list. Prestige races and foci allow people to evolve. You can evolve your character up through the foci tree, meet the prerequisites, pay the XP and change physically (and game mechanically) as a result. The first stage of Focus of the Cockroach has the character grow a second, back-up, brain in their abdomen at the first stage and an armoured (if unsightly) exoskeleton at the next level.
The vast majority of the book tours the Wrack and the Ruin – pretty much doing what it promises to do. We’re taken through interesting places like the Queen’s enclosed hedge maze at the centre of the city or the Nkoll controlled area. There are some interesting ways into the maze such as a harem that lets people in through their entrance on request of a “deep special”. There’s a whole bloodhold hidden in the wrack, it’s such a secret that the inhabitants might even be nomadic, moving around the vast underground area like hunters on the plains.
There’s no doubt about it, Wrack & Ruin does very well. The book ties in nicely with what’s gone before and this helps build the Forge into the engaging and exciting setting that it should be. The new additions in the book suit what’s gone before and are refreshing enough to inject life into a flagging Oathbound game. The mix of crunchy bits and flavour is just about right. Wrack & Ruin does the Wrack and the Maze justice. If you wanted to simply read about these locations, discover how they happened and how powerful Bloodlords respond to it then the book comes good for you. If you’re strictly buying supplements for crunch bits then the first third of the book will appeal strongly to you. There are plenty of gamers without my distaste for pre-written adventures and they’ll enjoy the thorough scenario at the back of the book.