Sandstorm



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Sandstorm

Author: Various
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Publish Date: 05/2005
ISBN: 0-7869-3655-X
Pages: 224
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $34.95

 

Due mostly to the fact that my homebrewed world contains a vast desert that takes up roughly a third of the main continent, it was a given that I was eventually going to pick up a copy of Sandstorm. I’m glad I did. Not only did the book contain a great amount of useful (and useable!) information, in many ways it outdid the first book in the “terrain series.”

Like its predecessor, Frostburn, this book begins with a chapter that details what a waste (desert) environment is as well as a few potential ways such an inhospitable environment can come to be. The real jewel of this book is located in this chapter: rules for environmental dangers, such as slipsand, sun glare and heatstroke. Using the environmental dangers given in this book, a good DM could easily make the desert such a deadly and inhospitable place as to make an excursion to Baator seem like a vacation in the sun.

The second chapter dealt with the more “crunchy” aspects... races, feats and classes. I was actually very surprised by this chapter. Normally, I dislike almost every new race offered up by a splatbook. This was certainly true of the first race, the Asherati, but the second race, the goblinoid Bhuka actually appealed very much to me. I thought it was extremely well-written and I’ll definitely be using it in my own game. The feats looked fine, with nothing immediately jumping out as being broken. I liked that the Touchstone feat came with a few desert-based locations, which were detailed just enough to make them interesting inspirations for potential adventures.

The book moved on to a chapter about prestige classes. Much like races, I normally detest most new prestige classes offered by splatbooks, as they’re usually poorly-conceived and include little to no relevant flavor text. However, this book showed a definite improvement from the norm. Not only was the mechanical information for each prestige class included, but roughly two pages of relevant information was also attached, which gave ideas for inclusion into a specific game, usual tasks of members of the prestige class and the like. Further, most of the prestige classes seems to be geared towards filling a specific niche in desert life, as opposed to simply having a desert theme. For example, the Lord of Tides operates well as a spiritual leader for a nomadic desert tribe, due to its ability to locate potable water sources. The Sand Shaper seems like it would be extremely useful in designing the quintessential epic desert villain.

The next section, the equipment and gear chapter, is where the book took a bad turn. Most of the weapons were poorly conceived. I could never see myself including giant mechanical scorpions claws as a weapon in my game. The great scimitar and great falchion just seem to be bigger versions of existing weapons. I would certainly have designed the atlatl differently. However, weapons like the khopesh and manople helped to compensate a little for the other poorly-designed items. I was pleased to see so many alchemical items included, as that seems to be a subject that most splatbooks touch on very little, if at all.

The magic chapter was typical for a splatbook. I’m not certain if I like the new Drift Magic feat/ability, which basically lets you increase your caster level if you happen to be in a sandy place or are carrying sand around with you. However, many of the spells seem like they would be extremely useful. Likewise, many of the magic items seemed to be well-designed and I was actually impressed with the one new special material that the book detailed.

The chapter on monsters was nice and offered up several beasts I would consider using as nearly unique opponents to a group of desert-dwelling adventurers. Additionally, the chapter contains a section detailing several desert-based animals and vermin, including the hippopotamus, jackal and (my personal favorite) the giant ant lion. That said, a few glaring errors in the Desert Devil monster entry jumped out at me, which doesn’t say much for the designer.

The last chapter contains a handful of detailed adventure sites. I was highly impressed with what was offered and could easily see myself using these sites with little or no alteration. My only gripe is that the most interesting site of all, Harrax: The Dead Throne, had maps that were extremely confusing. It was difficult to tell what was supposed to be above the sand and what was supposed to be subterranean. Otherwise, it was the perfect chapter to end the book with.

I’d recommend this book to anyone, DM or player, that hopes to spend a good deal of game time in a waste environment. The information is, for the most part, extremely useful and well-designed. I’d buy it for no other reason than the well-designed environmental hazards. For my money, Sandstorm is definitely one of the best that Wizards of the Coast has produced yet.