Races of Stone

It might be surprising that I waited so long to acquire this book.  After all, I love dwarves.  As a race they exhibit tremendous heroism yet remain deeply flawed.  Back in the days of 1st edition it was clear that dwarves lived *ON* the mountains more than *IN* the mountains.  Their homes were close to the surface, and full of natural light.  Over succeeding revisions, dwarves have moved deeper and deeper underground and come to resemble their Duergar cousins more and more in behavior and outlook.  So I was reluctant to purchase this book – I was afraid I would get nothing but ‘dwarves are miners and they live underground’.  After all, the title is ‘Races of Stone’.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

The dwarves continue to march deep into the earth, subsisting on root crops and weaving cloth from the mycelium of soil fungus.  While this doesn’t match my image of what a dwarven society should be, the book does provide a lot of thoughtful details about the society as a whole based on living conditions where carving out a few more cubic feet of space is a major endeavor.  It moves on to discuss Dwarven deities (many of whom were covered in Deities and Demigods), and two short dwarven legends.  The chapter ends on a high note – eight dwarven phrases, a random name generator (including syllabic definitions), and a brief description of their economy (including a justification for hoarding wealth).  The chapter also includes a ‘city’ (worthless), and suggestions for dwarf characters of each base class (also worthless). 

The second and third chapters are organized in the same fashion, detailing gnomes and goliaths, respectively.  While the chapter on gnomes offers few surprises, the few snatches of words and phrases may help add depth to a campaign.  The goliath requires a few extra words.  Besides the information presented in the earlier chapters, the goliath also provides all the information that would have been included in the Player’s Handbook.  The Goliath are a +1 level adjustment race, but the racial attributes include a +4 Strength, +2 Constitution, -2 Dexterity and the Powerful Build racial trait, allowing them to use large weapons and be treated as large sized when it is advantageous to them.  Would I trade a level of Fighter for a +2 to attack and a +3 to damage?  That’s a lot better than the +1 BAB I would otherwise get.  Throw in the larger weapon damage and it seems like a no-brainer.  There are a few other additional racial benefits that aren’t to be scorned (the ability to make standing jumps as if they were running jumps).  Overall, while the information on the Goliath is good, the race itself is too powerful – it deserves a +2 Level Adjustment at least.    The Goliath chapter is notable in providing information about two communities, including stats of many members of one tribe (the dwarf and gnome communities lacked even suggested class/level for notable NPCs). 

Chapter 4 provides information on sub-races and monstrous races related to the ‘races of stone’ described in the first three chapters.  The Dream Dwarf and Whisper Gnome both seem more powerful than standard races, but lack a level adjustment.  The Whisper Gnome retains most Gnome abilities, but gets bonuses to stealth skills, better magical abilities, and darkvision.  The dream dwarf replaces the standard penalty to Charisma for dwarves with a penalty to Dexterity instead, but gains 90’ darkvision, the ability to see ethereal creatures, a bonus to divination spells and retains most of the signature abilities of the standard dwarf race.  In the case of the Chaos Gnome, the +1 level adjustment seems inadequate to cover an additional +4 in ability bonuses, the Luck Domain granted power and immunity from confusion effects.  The other two races seem to be similarly more powerful than the races in the Player Handbook, but by including racial Hit Dice, it becomes at least a little debatable if they are clearly superior.  In the case of the Stone Child, a +8 Strength, +8 Constitution, +2 Intelligence and -2 Charisma (along with some other nice abilities) is offset by only having 2 HD while being treated as a 6th level character.  Considering that they are Outsider HD (good base attack bonus, 8 skill points per HD), it’s at least tempting.  The Feral Gargun counts as a 4th level character with 2 racial HD (monstrous humanoid), but gains a +4 Strength, +2 Dexterity, +4 Constitution, -2 Intelligence and -2 Charisma, along with natural armor and the powerful build ability – a good trade for most melee characters that aren’t worried about skills.

It should come as no surprise that the next chapter details 15 available Prestige Classes, focusing on classes that have dwarf, gnome or goliath as a racial prerequisite.  For the most part, the prestige classes fit a particular niche and are well designed.  The prestige classes all offer brief notes on how to make a similar prestige class (expanding it to other races, changing the stone affinity to forest affinity, etc).  I particularly like the Dawncaller Prestige class – designed for a more martial bard.  The class is featured heavily in the description of the Goliath race, and seems balanced.  Prestige classes that grant additional spell casting tend to offer +1 caster level at each level, making them more powerful than base classes.  One prestige class, the Iron Mind, is a psionic prestige class, but the manifester level does not increase at 1st and 6th level, making this one both well-designed and well-balanced.  Essentially, the class develops a mystical connection with heavy armor that protects the mind as well as the body. 

Chapter 6 includes both new feats and new uses for existing skills.  The new skill uses are a surprising gem.  The rules include using sleight of hand to disguise spell casting, rules for rappelling (climb and use rope), using the craft skill to create artistic compositions, and rules for heckling during a performance (using bluff opposed by concentration).  The feats also include several worthwhile feats, though some continue the trend of making everything a feat.  For example, there are feats included for flinging enemies as part of a grapple – it’s good to have the mechanic, but it is questionable if it should require a feat or just be part of the regular grapple rules.  The chapter also includes Racial Substitution levels.  I don’t consider any of these particularly worthwhile – for example, dwarven fighter substitution levels may provide a specified feat in place of the fighter’s bonus feat – by accepting the substitution feat instead of choosing their own, they gain a d12 HD for that level only.  The Goliath has the powerful build, allowing them to be treated as large creatures when it is favorable to them.  A goliath barbarian substitution level makes them truly large (with all the associated penalties) but they gain no other benefits to being large, since they already had them.  They are not increased in size sufficiently to use huge weapons, for instance. 

The next chapter feels like hodge-podge of unrelated subjects.  It includes new armor, weapons, magical items, spells and psionic powers.  It also includes information on non-standard mounts (Dire Eagle, Ankheg, Delver, among others), elemental cohorts, dwarven craft items (Masterwork items with increased hardness, hit points and saving throws) and a few other random tidbits.  The armor is fairly disappointing – there’s nothing here that’s clearly better than items in the Player’s Handbook.  Even worse are the item names (Extreme Shield, anyone?).

The final chapter concludes with information on running a campaign.  This includes a large number of useful stat blocks, cultural holidays (with suggested benefits for members of the race), and several new creatures.  When I first glanced through the book, I was afraid that the creatures would be no more than standard monsters with the word ‘stone’ added to the name (stone drake), but I was pleasantly surprised to see that some real thought went into the creatures.

Regarding the book in general, I found the artwork particularly distracting.  Black and white drawings appearing in this book also appear in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.  Seeing artwork recycled was particularly jarring to me.  Despite this, my expectations were greatly exceeded.  This is a book that I wish I had purchased earlier for my collection.  While I don’t expect to refer to it often, I believe that there is enough useful information for me to refer back to on occasion.  A player should only purchase this book if their DM will allow material from it, but a DM may find some of the ideas contained in this book as a useful springboard to an adventure or campaign – and having a resource of stat blocks to lift in a pinch can be useful as well. 

Book name: Races of Stone
Author: David Noonan, Jesse Decker, Michelle Lyons
Publish Date: 08/2004
Number of Pages: 192
Retail Price: $29.95
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
ISBN Number: 0-7869-3278-3
Rating: 7/10