Game: Bow & Blade: A Guidebook to Wood Elves
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 30th, October 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
Occasionally a lucky reviewer will discover that a fulfilment house, people who work for and with a whole bunch of publishers, has sent a package of new supplements and games to review. You can tell when reviewers might have received the same package because they start to review the same bunch of books. I noticed this for the package of RPG supplements that I found Bow & Blade In. I also noticed that almost every reviewer reviewed Bow and Blade: A Guidebook to Wood Elves first. I’m reviewing it last (and late). Whereas I didn’t mean to review it late on purpose, I did intend to leave it to last. Why? Trepidation. I’m not the greatest splat book fan. Without being too mean the various “guides” d20 products in the marketplace to tend to have the whiff of splat about them. On the other hand, Hammer & Helm the dwarf guidebook companion to Bow & Blade, also written by Jesse Decker, is one of the best race supplements in the d20 marketplace.
I’ve a small problem with elves. All too often they’re just a bit naff. Writers sometimes try to portray elves as being everything once – cultured but primal, chaotic but orderly, compassionate but xenophobic – and the result is that they end up being none of these. Chris Thomasson, co-author for Bow and Blade, summed this up well. He admitted that he “thought elves sucked”. Bow & Blade wins him around, of course.
Bow & Blade wins me around as well. Don’t put up with naff elves, let Bow & Blade save them. Ah, well, I’m happy to embrace the rather far out alternative option suggested for Wood Elves by the book. Let’s have Wood Elves actually related to the element of wood. This option comes after Bow & Blade’s new elf subraces. Fancy Fire Elves, Metal Elves, Water Elves or Wind Elves? You’ve got their full racial character stats here. Unfortunately we’re looking at a Level Adjustment of +3 for all of them. GMs will have to deal with the less than graceful game mechanic and explain why the Wood Elves are the significantly weaker cousin race.
Then there’s the Feral Elves. Feral Elves are those elves that have evolved (or devolved – always a catch #22 to grab my attention) to be much closer to the wilds. At 8th level feral elves are able to undergo a lycanthropic like transform and turn into the wolf-like nugaran form.
There’s a small section for a Wood Elf Religion. There’s not enough here to be significant, just enough to cover the basics if GMs go the route of fire, wind, water and metal elves. There’s a little more in the way of new skills and extended uses for old skills. Whereas some gamers appreciate the immediate impact of new skill mechanics I can never quite see the need to wait for a publisher to state the pretty obvious in black and white before using it in my game.
There are new feats. I have to wonder whether the third party feats for the d20 system is in the thousands yet. My initial reaction to a chapter titled “feats” is to go into skim mode but Bow & Blade moves quickly to catch your attention. There are Blood Magic feats, Soulbond Feats and the Soulgift Ceremony before any mention of a new feat. Elves can mingle their blood into their magic, it costs them, it hurts, it has nasty side effects, but with Bow & Blade they can do it. These are the Blood Magic feats. Elves can bound their souls with certain powerful creations; this is done with the Soulgift Ceremony and leads to the Soulbond feats. There are pros and cons to this and that’s not counting the risk of being tricked by an evil outsider. Reading through the Soulgift ceremony I found myself immediately plotting campaign world links with the feral elves – did a soulbound result in the first feral elf? It’s always a good sign when a supplement inspires campaign world ideas.
Bow & Blade shakes the monotony of the obligatory new prestige classes too. The classes include the Initiate of the Ashen Path, Lifeweaver, Metallurgic Savant, Soul Archer, Speardancer, Wildheart Fanatic and Wildsinger. In most cases I think those classes come up triumphs in the “interesting name” stakes at least. The surprisingly obvious but apparently lateral bit of thinking for prestige classes is to allow different possible batches of requirements. You can qualify as a Lifeweaver in two ways; by completing the Path of the Lifeglyph (meeting one set of requirements) or by completing the Path of the Lifeprayer (and meeting an alternative set of requirements). In the introduction we’re told that the book wants to evoke flavour through mechanics and that’s certainly managed here.
The chapter full of new creatures comes before the chapter of new magic spells. That’s normally the other way around. For someone who claims not to like splat books much I have a noted weakness for monster manual style chapters. I like being able to put together a coherent ecosystem. In other words, I like bestiaries that manage to inject flavour as well as hit points into a game. Once again Bow & Blade manage to do that here. The Vine-Corrupted is a template that can be applied to any animal, turning it into an evilly angry plant.
The new spells, a chapter later, follow the environmental theme as well. It’s very much the case that Bow & Blade is a guidebook to Wood Elves, not just Elves.
Specially prepared arrows do all sorts of wonderful things with the Bow & Blade rules. Some arrows elongate as they fly through the air so they can be used to trip people up. A more useful version of the same technique is an arrow that when fired manages to transform into a tough cable with one end stuck to the archer’s hand and the other to the object it hits. Spiderman like, I suppose. The same chapter has a bunch of similarly quirky magic items.
Bow & Blade finishes with typical Green Ronin professionalism. There are thorough appendices with all the charts for the new prestige classes and then a comprehensive index. It’s especially handy that there’s such a detailed index because Bow & Blade is likely to be a book GMs will refer too often.
Bow & Blade does an excellent job at marching a fine line. The book is as likely to appeal to one set of gamers as it is to a different set who look for entirely different things in a supplement.
Bow & Blade joins Hammer & Helm has one of the best books in the good Races of Renown series.