AEG

Undead

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Undead

Author: Various
Publisher: AEG
Publish Date: 2001
ISBN: 188795339-6
Pages: 128
Rating: 2 out of 10
Retail Price: $19.95

This book has probably the most interesting cover I’ve seen on a d20 book. A bloated and diseased undead corpse missing its head is swinging a flail made from its own hair with both hands while its skull looks up at it. This was one of the main reasons I picked this book up. Obviously, the fact it was an entire book dedicated to the undead was another. I knew the material was released for 3.0 when I picked it up, but conversion to v3.5 is usually so simple that I don’t mind.

The book begins with a chapter called “That which cannot live...” It’s about general concepts behind the undead, such as what happens when the body dies, why anyone would actively seek undeath, and how many of the undead view religious faith. This chapter makes the simplified assumption that there’s a single “land of the dead” where dead souls go to wait out eternity. Some (mostly incorporeal) undead claw their way back from this place in an effort to return to some semblance of life. Other undead (such as mummies or liches) actively seek their undead state for various reasons. Finally, there are undead that are created by circumstances beyond their control (such as ghouls and skeletons). Most of this is old hat to experienced DMs and players, but there were enough nuggets of originality to make this chapter an entertaining read.

The next chapter was much more mechanical, dealing with prestige classes, feats, skills and the like. In many of their books, AEG has offered new uses for existing skills, which seems like a much better idea than trying to create entirely new skills. For example, in this book, a DC is given for a new use of the Knowledge (religion) skill, which allows you to perform certain burial rights to make it more difficult for the body to be raised as an undead. Where I think they messed up in this book is with a skill called Craft (autopsy). Aside from the fact that performing an autopsy doesn’t actually produce a physical object after the check, there is nothing listed here that couldn’t have been better represented with the Heal skill. Additionally, the feats were fairly sub-par. One that required little more than a high Cha score allows a person to sneak attack the undead. Another duplicates the cleric’s turning ability for a non-cleric.

Thirty pages of chapter 2 were dedicated to prestige classes. Frankly, I was less than impressed. The chirurgeon was designed with grafting undead body parts in mind (sort of Frankensteinean), but the Graft feats from books like Libris Mortis and Lords of Madness accomplish this much better and with less overpowered abilities involved. The dying was an interesting, but poorly implemented, idea that focuses on a PC that is slowly succumbing to the sickness of undeath that was infected in him by an undead attacker, but upon reaching the 10th level, the PC dies. While interesting, I don’t think that the progression towards death should be based on class levels. If a member of the PrC has a craft feat and constantly uses it to craft magic items, why should that stave off death? The wasteland druid, a druid that can wild shape into undead forms, was so poorly justified (in nature, a balance between life and undeath must be maintained?!?) that it was a struggle just to finish reading it. I was as unimpressed with the prestige classes as I was with the final part of this chapter, the equipment section. Half of the items are already defined in the Player’s Handbook and of the remaining, only half were given any sort of purpose. I assume that wooden-tipped arrows are supposed to be used against vampires, but I can’t find anything to back that up. And what use is it to mention that mirrors larger than the small steel mirror in the Player’s Handbook “cost 100-500gp each and lack portability?” This chapter was a very big letdown.

The next chapter was somewhat better. It detailed what happens to the soul after the body’s death, assuming again that there is a single land of the dead, Gehenna, where souls are judged and sent to the appropriate afterlife. Apparently, though, Gehenna is split into powerful factions, one that deals with death and the other that deals with undeath. This information served as little more than a backdrop to introduce the lords of these factions, which I take to be new gods, given that they have clerics and domains of their own. Something I saw as a problem, though, is that the “new domains” section of this chapter contained thirteen domains. Eight of these were domains from the Player’s Handbook and two were from another AEG book (Evil). This hardly seems like a section of “new” domains to me. Most of the spells offered in this chapter were either overpowered or badly justified. For example, one 2nd level spell creates a +2 staff of bone from thin air that does double the damage of a quarterstaff and has double the threat range. I’m slowly and sadly shaking my head as I type this. The final part of this chapter, which dealt with new magic items, was somewhat better than the rest. Each of the new items is introduced as though the reader is receiving a lecture on the discoveries of an ancient necromancer, which I thought was a nice method. There were two problems with this section, though. The first is that each item came with a description of how the item is to be made. Normally, I would think this was a good thing, but the methods were so simple that one has to wonder why it would take more than an hour to craft any magic item. The second problem is that many of the artifacts in this chapter would give some of the items in the Epic Level Handbook a run for their money, such as the heart of a dead lich that not only allows you to trap the souls of mortal beings within it, but also gives you their class levels. I’ll repeat that... gives you their class levels. It actually specifies that this item can hold any number of souls, meaning that there is literally no limit to the number of class levels you could steal and stack up. I don’t think I need to say more.

The fourth chapter, possibly the shortest, was meant, I think, as much for players wishing to play undead PCs as it was for DMs. It gave examples of common undead stereotypes and tips for how to play them. Honestly, I think this chapter could have been left out of the book completely. Does anyone really need to be told how to play a power-hungry lich? One of the examples, the zombie servitor, comes right out and says that playing this example is “nobody’s idea of fun.” Why the hell even offer it as an example then?

Chapter five, another short chapter, dealt with running campaigns around the undead. Now this chapter was actually fairly worthwhile, especially to a new DM or a DM looking for ideas on creating a new campaign setting. Concepts such as how the undead are viewed in society, how to treat undead in a campaign with various levels of present magic and technology and how to present adventures to an undead group that could theoretically exist for thousands of years, going centuries between each adventure are all touched on. This information might be worth reading by someone looking for a new way to present an old monster.

The final chapter is titled “Secrets of Undeath” and it deals with the creation processes for what the book calls “self-preserved undead.” I wasn’t overly fond of the fact that to the authors, this apparently only included liches and mummies, but I do have to hand it to them that they did a fair job of presenting methods of undead creation for both “species” that was entertaining to read.

The major problem I had with this book, even larger perhaps than the problems I’ve mentioned above, is that the editing was simply atrocious. The book was so full of spelling and grammar mistakes that I imagine the editor must have been blind. This made the book a struggle to work through, even the bits that were actually worth reading. This taken with the sheer number of other problems the book has prevents me from seriously recommending this book to anyone looking for a good d20 book.

Toolbox

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Toolbox

Author: Dawn Ibach & Jeff Ibach
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
Publish Date: 2002
ISBN: 1-887953-72-8
Pages: 192
Rating: 10 out of 10
Retail Price: $26.95

Toolbox (or as I call it, "The Big Bitchin' Book of DM Help") is basically a large book of random roll charts. I'll just come right out and say it plainly...this book has a chart for EVERYTHING! Did one of your players surprise you by having his PC pickpocket some random nobody NPC? No problem, just turn to page 127 and choose from not one, but ten full lists of random pickpocket results. Did a PC just get hit by an Insanity spell and you want to make it a memorable event? Simply flip to page 86 to find charts containing random insanities and phobias. What do you do when the PCs start making trouble while trying to get into town? Easy...you open the book to page 113 to find not only a chart for random gate guards, but several charts for guard ranks and titles as well. Do you need to know the name of the king's second cousin Phil's first puppy he had when he was a kid? There's probably a chart for that as well.

This book is a wonderful resource for any DM who is working on a city, dungeon or other location for his game and needs a bit of help getting over a few mundane potholes in the work. It's also a lifesaver in the middle of a game when a player surprises you with an out of the blue question you weren't prepared for. I firmly believe that every DM should have a copy of this book in his collection.

World's Largest City

Before you drop $100 for a book (or maybe less if you find it used), you’d best know what you’re getting yourself into. Beyond the book, a weighty 700+ page tome, there are sixteen poster maps included (17in. x 22in.). Each of the maps details one of the sixteen districts in the city.

The book itself is divided into 16 sections (averaging approximately 35 pages each) which accounts for about 85% of the book’s contents. The remaining 15% comprises the introduction (19 pages), and an NPC appendix (80 pages). The NPC appendix does not provide information on any named NPCs described in the book. Instead, it provides a ‘general stat block’ for each of the PC classes and NPC classes from level 1 through 20. Taking a general stat block, one modifies it on the fly to adjust to a race other than human, perhaps with other general modifications. Within the text are suggestions for level/class combinations for the significant people. While this may be a useful reference for some DMs, those with access to an NPC generator will likely see little reason to use the NPC information in this book.

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