Game: A Question of Honor: A Guidebook to Knights
Publisher: Alea Publishing Group
Review Dated: 27th, September 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
The Alea Publishing Group are one of the new generations of d20 publishers to spring up. They don’t have a 3.0 edition legacy nor do they have 3.0 edition baggage either.
Their PDF d20 products are entirely 3.5 and so, hopefully, everything will be smoothly cross-compatible. Mind you, having said that, one of the new feats in the supplement is marked with a great big 3.0.
It just takes a quick look at A Question of Honor: A Guidebook to Knights to see that Alea has got the tricky stuff exactly right. The PDF is slick and pretty. It’s decorative, illustrative and yet uncluttered and trim.
More importantly, although there’s the usual dose of prestige classes, there are some good and original ideas in here. Original ideas? D20? I’m not kidding. It’s good to see companies like Alea entering the hugely competitive d20 market and bringing fresh-faced innovation with them.
It just takes a quick look at the very same A Question of Honor: A Guidebook to Knights to see that Alea has made some telltale rookie errors and have some more serious mistakes. English and editing are weak throughout the product.
This is a rather insidious disappointment because in every other respect the PDF has that professional gloss. The telltale rookie errors are, perhaps, less worrying. There are no internal hyperlinks or bookmarks in the product. This makes it harder than it needs to be to read and jump around the PDF. There’s no friendly printer alternative either. Ouch. My ink! My ink!
Let’s combine the bad and the good and have a look at the refreshing innovation from Alea and the problem with sloppy writing. In other words, let’s have a whopping great quote from the book (but safely within the ‘fair use for review purposes’ clause – Ed).
Oh. I could find many more quotes with shakier English in but this section on Minor Attacks of Opportunity shows how important it is to be crystal clear when describing game mechanics.
“As stated above, some Combat Stills use unspent attacks of opportunity. However, when it is discussed about a character provoking an attack of opportunity, it only applies to a character making an attack with a Combat Skill. These are called minor attacks of opportunity so as not to be confused with a normal attack of opportunity.
Furthermore, a minor attack of opportunity is used in place of your normal attack of opportunity when dealing with Combat Skill checks; however, you may not use a normal attack of opportunity in place of a minor attack of opportunity when using a skill check (see below for skill descriptions and an example to illustrate this concept more clearly).”
The information to take from the Combat Skills is that there is a range of moves and techniques that fit inside the usual d20 combat. If you have an attack of opportunity then you have a chance to try something rather more impressive than simply swinging out for an extra hit.
There are also combat skills that give you a chance to try and recover from a failure and stop your assailant getting an attack of opportunity against you (erm, a minor attack of opportunity, I mean). Combat Skills are bought outside the usual skill system and are not feats. That’s right. They’re not feats. Combat Skill points are directly tied to a character’s base attack bonus. Characters earn 8 Combat Skill points per 1 BAB. A fighter with BAB +3 will have 24 Combat Skill points to spend but a wizard of the same level with BAB +1 only has 8 Combat Skill points to their name.
Okay. This means that characters are probably more powerful than they’d otherwise be – but only slightly. I like the system because it piggybacks so cleanly. A GM could ignore these extra rules for a fight without picking on the combat characters.
For example, a melee that sees the entire gaming group against some bandits could be done without these rules in order to keep things quick. A high drama duel between one PC and a villainous Baron at Court is the ideal time to use them.
A Question of Honor does tend to increase the power level of the game. Stop right there. Game balance is incredibly important but it is specific only to one gaming group and one campaign setting at a time, perhaps only the gaming group.
Why some people expect products, especially third party d20 products, to be balanced exactly to their gaming style and why they whine when this doesn’t happen, is a mystery to me. This guidebook to knights doesn’t suit a low fantasy, low level and gritty game.
A Question of Honor is upfront about this and actively points out when a prestige class or similar mechanic is especially powerful.
This is a guidebook to knights. A knight is an armoured warrior? An honour-bound warrior? Some guy on a horse? Authors Cameron Guill and Joshua Raynack are perfectly aware of what a knight is – or was. They’ve done their research and this is good to see.
At the start of the supplement, we’re told that the guidebook will do its best to cater to both the fantasy version of knights and to provide a historical portrayal of knights too. They offer a historic feel. This is good. If we’d been told the guidebook was able to provide d20 mechanics to suit historic knight combat then I’d have horribly sceptical.
The d20 system is lost to fantasy but it is possible to conjure up a strong historical ambience. Look at Green Ronin’s impressive Testament for the divine proof.
There are some nice ideas for armour. Exotic bits of protection – kidney belts, for example – kick in only when there’s a critical threat. A kidney belt doesn’t increase your armour class until someone is making that second roll to see whether a critical threat turns into a critical hit.
The natural complement to this are those weapons and techniques which might make it easier to turn a threat to a critical hit. Armour tends to come a poor second to a high dexterity but this seems to even the scales slightly.
I did note that most of these innovate new rules didn’t come in the form of prestige classes and feats. This doesn’t stop the supplement being full of them. It is. It’s here, especially that the PDF pushes the power level of the game upwards. Feats are potent and prestige classes powerful.
The Advancement Feats, in particular, will appeal to those gamers who like to do well with numbers. Ancestral Feats imply something special about your bloodline. I think they’ll work well in a game without elves, dwarves, gnomes, etc but where the campaign world might have had such races in the past.
Taboo feats aren’t quite as interesting as they might sound. There are no perks for shirking taboos; instead, there are perks for picking a taboo and sticking to it.
The knight becomes a prestige class. Okay. I suppose a Knight is a prestigious and skilled lifestyle-cum-occupation. Since this is a d20 supplement there are dozens of knights. Black Knights, Knights of the Dawn, Dwarven Tor, Ancestral Knights, Champions and the two famous orders – Knights Templars and Knights Hospitallers. And more. I tend to grumble about 5 level PrC’s that can be entered into before the PCs reach 10th level but this isn’t too much of a problem here.
Still, it’s somewhat ironic that a few characters will strive not to become a Fallen Knight because the player has decided that it is a dead-end class. Kudos to Alea for including the Dwarven Tor in their prestige class selection. The problem with the knightly image is that it is strongly bound to human history in a way that wizards and sorcerers or even just clerics and fighters are not.
Ah yes, speaking of which, how is it possible to have Templars and Hospitallers? These knightly orders are specific to the Crusades. If you want, it would be a bit like having a football team in your fantasy game called Manchester United, a hero called Robin Hood or a pair of bards called the Warner Brothers.
There is an answer, I suppose, and that’s that the establishment of an order to protect an important temple or a string of religious buildings is perfectly feasible.
Then there’s Terra. This campaign setting from Alea will not win any prizes for the most original name. A Guidebook to Knights has hefty samples of Terra material in it.
It might just be that the rather familiar “Terra” was picked as the setting name on purpose. There are distinct overtones of Earth in the campaign world previews. We’ve already paused to note how the Templars and Hospitallers are echoes from Earth history. What about Argos? The full-colour map of Argos is worthy of a mention. It’s good.
Alea is not short of artistic talent and are therefore free of a common problem for small PDF companies. The map of the Hill Lands and the sea is too small scale to really be sure that it looks like the eastern end of the Meditation – but if it was then the cities are positioned as to reflect the important battles in the various Crusades.
Alea has done well. At least, they’ve done well where I’d expect them to do trip up. They’ve not scored quite such a success with the bread and butter of the supplement.
I think this will be easy to fix. I have got a positive feeling about Alea, I think they will tidy up the writing, I think they aim to be as professional and as successful as they can. It’s a company to watch.
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