Game: Novice to Master
Publisher: Heathen Oracle
Review Dated: 14th, November 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 19
Average Score: 6.33
About a year ago I reviewed Bane of the Salt Fen Lich from Heathen Oracle. It was a pre-written adventure and I think most pre-written adventures are as original as a book of fantasy d20 prestige classes. From Novice to Master: The Manual of Classes is a PDF full of prestige classes.
But wait. There was a welcome catch, an added extra, with Bane of the Salt Fen Lich and there’s an important boost with From Novice to Master too. It was the use of artwork in the Bane of the Salt Fen Lich. The pre-written adventure was well written, professional and nicely constructed but it was the innovative use of character portraits that players could sit behind that made it stand out from the crowd. We don’t have cut out character portraits but we do have extremely good, full colour, portraits for the fifteen new classes. The illustrations are stunning. I’ve seen luxury, spoil yourself rotten, art showcases masquerading as collections of NPCs or monsters just to give you artwork like this. These luxury books costs a small fortune and although they’ve the advantage of paper, From Novice to Master has the advantage of not costing a small fortune. Also, a book of classes is probably a more attractive purchase than a book of NPCs when it comes to many gamer’s budgets.
V Shane, the artist from Salt Fen Lich, heads up a cast of talented artists again. Mark Brooks, John Huston, Jeremy Jarvis, Mattias Snygg and Joe Minns all score interior illustrations in the credits to From Novice to Master and given this performance I expect we’ll be seeing more of their work. It’s Christopher Health who triumphs again as the author here as he did in the Salt Fen Lich.
Oh yeah. From Novice to Master isn’t a collection of prestige classes either. It has prestige classes in it but it has twice as many new core classes. I came to d20 not with a history of playing D&D but to check out the attempt at a massively wide spread and abstracted gaming system. I don’t have quite the fanatical loyalty to the usual classes as some old vets do. This might explain recent effusive comments about Arcana Unearthed and DarkLore. From Novice to Master serves as an introduction to the Azieran campaign world and its one that offers new core classes, something, therefore, of an alternative Player’s Guide. Actually, it’s less of an introduction and more of a tease, the reader is left to make best guesses from the flavour of the classes and prestige classes as to what Azieran might be like.
The Bounty Hunter is an expert hunter, tracker and killer. There’s no alignment restriction on the Bounty Hunter, they can either the semi-law enforcer, tracking down criminals or the evil killer who goes after people simply for money. It’s a core class with a new special ability at every level.
Cavaliers are fighters with a strict code of honour. They’re deadly on horseback and offer up the Azieran knight equivalent. Cavaliers have a special ability at every level but most of the time it’s a horsemanship variant.
They see themselves as the weapons of a god. Yeah. The cleric / barbarian mix is rather tempting and that’s just what we have here. Oh, they’ve a little magic to play with too. Excellent. Favourite class ah-hoy!
There’s a touch of cleric in the Crypt Tracker too. After a few levels of experience Crypt Trackers can attempt to Turn Undead. There’s a touch of the ranger in there too – favoured enemy undead. I quite like the mix. Unless you had some fanatical hatred of the undead why on earth would you go rooting around in Crypts? For treasure? Well. Perhaps. We’ll have to see whether the Azieran setting has treasure-laden crypts.
Duellists are specialist fighters. After that they can be pretty much anything; honourable, evil, social or loners. Duellists are unusual for fighter styled classes in that they have a slew of special abilities; nearly one at every level, only the 19th is empty.
Gladiators are combat orientated characters too and they manage to make that elusive “special ability at every level” mark. Why does it matter? I think if you’re going with the high fantasy that d20 tends to lend itself to that you might as well embrace the trend and enjoy an interesting character. A special ability at every level ensures that there is always something new to play with.
Don’t let the small rush of action orientated character classes mislead you. There’s a decent range of classes in From Novice to Master. The Harlequin is great mix of agility, chaos and magic. The combination of illusions and quick weapon draws is likely to see the Harlequin become the quick favourite of many. The class has panache.
As to put the final proof that the character classes in From Novice to Master are certainly not all combat orientated – we have the Healer class. This is magical sort of healing, the type that facilitates an easy flow of action. If you’ve plenty of willpower you may even notice that illustrated healer has glowing green hands. You’ll certainly notice the plethora of “Healing Hands” abilities.
Trap Masters are as you would suspect; they’re the master of traps. From Novice to Master describe them clearly as rogues who’ve gone off the idea of stabbing people in the back and are far more attracted to the challenge of sorting mechanical traps. With both Crypt Trackers and Trap Masters in the PDF we’ve a good clue as to what the Azieran campaign world might be.
These core classes do include spell casters but nothing comparable to the wizard or sorcerer classes. The healer is the most magical class so far and she’s heavily specialised. We have the prestige classes still to come though.
The Aegis Sentinel has a touch of the supernatural about it. The prestige class is an uber-body guard and in addition to simply enjoying Uncanny Dodge it has the protection of the Aegis Aura and Danger Sense.
Dragon Slayers certainly are combat focused but they’re not, fortunately, only interested in “dragons”. In this instance dragon is a catchall term; dinosaurs and other scary lizards can all expect to have the tables turned and their tails chopped by these Slayers.
The Lord of Time prestige class doesn’t make use of spells either. The class certainly has a wash of magic-like effects, gaining more power over the “element of time” at every level. Haste and Slow are easy effects for these people; watch out for full space-time disjunctions, time stops and longevity.
A central prestige class to the Azieran setting seems to be the peacekeeping Malkan Knights. They’ve a Jedi shtick about them; able to construct a wand like magical sword. It’s a +5 weapon too. Scary.
Magical weapons are an important aspect of the Rune Forger too – just in a different way. I like the idea but I worry that they’ll be one of those classes that either don’t get to blossom or which have to dominant much of the plot in order to do so.
The Somniomancer is the last of the prestige classes. It’s a magical one as the “mancer” suffice suggests – but can you place the “Somnio” prefix off the top of your head? Somnio the Latin verb for dream. Somniculose means sleepily or drowsily. Somniomancers are spell casters who draw and regulate their magics by entering a dreamlike state. They become something of a sleep walking spell caster.
There’s more than just the fantastic artwork and the range of interesting classes in From Novice to Master. There’s quality to. The PDF is well written. I think Heathen Oracle are faced with a challenge, it seems rather late in the game to be a small PDF company doing either new prestige class supplements or a new campaign world. It’s a crowded market place already. Mixing the two and using the prestige classes to introduce the campaign is a good idea though.
I am not quite as in awe of From Novice to Master as I might have been even a few months ago. The bar to measure PDFs against just keeps on rising. I do think the PDF is rock solid though. It’s certainly worth buying. In fact, the purchase comes with a free copy of Calante Brochure and its excellent maps. I’d say its worth checking out From Novice to Master’s shelf at RPGNow just to check out the pallet of artwork there.