This review is a long time coming, and for that I apologize to Hannah Lipsky, of Chaotic Shiny Productions. She had sent me her work, Martial Flavor, for review some time ago and I put it in the proverbial backburner and it sat there longer than intended. Again, my apologies. So, with that out of the way, on to the review.
The first thing that you should know about Martial Flavor is that it is not a piece of fan work available for free, but rather it is a commercial product that Chaotic Shiny Productions released under the 4e D&D Game System License. As a commercial product, it then deserves a bit more scrutiny that something available as a free download.
The book presents five different cultures created for martial classes, with each culture getting a healthy dose of background benefits, powers, feats and class features. The 5 cultures in the book are the following: The Daikort Pact, The Elessim, The Akanoi, Legions of Arytis, and The Sijara.
I’ll highlight one of the cultures here in detail, as an example of what the book offers, then I’ll briefly cover the other cultures. The Daikort Pact is a uniformed band of ruthless mercenaries with an interesting in-game concept known as “Favor”, which is how they tally non-monetary debt. It is an abstract concept, that can be used in game, for example, as food and housing in exchange for a job, or an assassination or recon mission. The fluff states that members of this group take Favor very seriously, and it reads as if it’s something for the DM to come up with if using this culture in his game. The chapter is rounded out with sample characters and stories, feats, and utility powers.
For some reason, only Rangers and Warlords received powers. So if you are playing a Fighter or Rouge, being a Daikort Pact one will give you no new powers specific to you. I don’t believe the intent was for Daikort Pact characters to be only made of Warlord and Rangers, as there is a Rogue sample character described in the chapter. Even the multiclass feats in the chapter are only for Warlords and Rangers, which again leads to my confusion as to those two classes are the only ones meant to be used with this culture or not.
I do like the creativity that went behind the powers and feats. There are 3 utility powers per Class, and although they have not been playtested by me, they do not seem too overpowered or unbalanced. For example, there’s a utility power that grants a strength bonus to a saving throw to shrug off an effect, and a feat that allows an intimidate check versus an enemies’ will defense to cause them to attack and defend at a -2 on their next turn. Again, nothing too unbalancing.
The rest of the cultures are The Elessim, prideful horsemen who make their lives on the plains, and whose feasts naturally gravitate towards mounted combat. The powers here are directed at Fighters and Rangers.
The Ikanoi are a tribal culture of people from the frozen north, who value tradition and their ancestors teachings above all else. The cool things about this culture is the tattoos they adorn themselves with, as a reflection of the teachings and histories of their ancestors. The powers here are again directed at Fighters and Rangers.
The Legions of Arytis are city fighters, defending their home, and learning how to do it since childhood. I like the fact that the entire culture is built around its population defending the city of Arytis with an almost fanatical zeal, and although the chapter states that all races live in harmony, Dragonborn would make a great “single” race to fill the city. Fighters and Rogues get the powers here, and a lot of the feats require being of those classes as pre-requisites.
The last culture detailed is The Sijara, the free people. They are a nomadic culture, and reminded me a bit of a traveling band of gypsies. Rogues and Warlords get the utility powers here.
The strength of the book, in my opinion, isn’t really in the mechanical aspects of the cultures, but more so on the fluff. This is not to say that the mechanics are bad, but not having playtested them, I can’t obviously judge them too harshly, or give them too much praise, I can however comment on the fact that they do not look too unbalanced. Hannah has created a great mix of cultures though, each one unique and different from the other, and on that alone, the book has worth. They can obviously also be translated to other games using only the fluff. Good stuff. The artwork varies from really good, to “meh”. Standard fare for a small publishing endeavor I’d say.
So again, this is a paid product. Martial Flavor will run you $14.95, in my opinion, just a wee bit tad high for a PDF. For what it’s worth, Wizard’s own Dragonborn book cost only $9.99.
From the Chaotic Shiny Productions website, here’s what you get when you buy it:
- A fully bookmarked ebook with over 50 pages of cultural information, background benefits, NPCs, feats, and powers
- A printer-friendly version of Martial Flavor, for those of you who prefer reading things in hardcopy
- Printable power cards for each of the new culture-themed utility powers
- Unlimited free updates whenever a change is made to Martial Flavor
Off all that, the printable power cards seem pretty neat and useful, as the fact that WOTC’s character builder’s lack of integration with 3rd party products such as this make using these types of products a little difficult. Only, of course, if you use the DDI tools in your games and character creation.
Chaotic Shiny has also released 3 companion PDF’s to the book, casting a spotlight on 3 of the cultures presented here, and expanding upon them. The other 2 are currently in production as of this writing. Those pdf’s sell for 4.95 each, and are 20 pages long.
So do I recommend it? Overall, yes, but only if you are looking for a way to spice up your martial characters and your Dm is willing to incorporate some of these cultures in his game world. Or if you are a DM in a creative slump and looking for nice fluff to populate your campaign world with.
Here are other reviews, and links to the official websites: