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Guns, Germs & Steel

I have been told repeatedly that if I am creating a new world for role-playing, this book should be required reading. In this ambitious book, Jared Diamond lays out the foundations for why some societies came to dominate others. It is important to note that this book covers more than just the recent domination of Western Europe from ~1500 AD.

The question of why some societies come to dominate others is one that is difficult to ask. Even asking the question can lead to charges of racism. If one race (say whites) were able to thrive and develop a sophisticated society in an environment where another race (say Aboriginal Australians) lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly 40,000 years, doesn’t that indicate a fault with the aborigines? One cannot deny the historical fact that when Europeans arrived in Australia they possessed more sophisticated technology, were more numerous, and far more Aborigines died of European diseases than vice versa. In this book Jared Diamond provides an explanation that has nothing to do with the races in question or perceived differences – instead, his explanation is based on geography and historical distribution of animals and crops that make farming possible.

Gladiator: Sands of Death

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Gladiator: Sands of Death

Author: Matthew Sprange
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Publish Date: 2001
ISBN: 1-903980-05-4
Pages: 80
Rating: 7 out of 10
Retail Price: $16.95

Gladiator: Sands of Death is one the books put out by Mongoose Publishing in their early days, when they were really trying to prove that a third-party publisher can produce quality work. As the title suggests, it’s about arena combat, gladiatorial bouts and chariot racing.

The book begins with a chapter that gives a look at what an arena is and how it works. The hierarchy from slave up to arena master is presented and described, as is the mob of spectators and the influence they can have on an arena fight. The book makes an effort to talk about how the various races view and interact with arenas, but I think in this it falls short of the mark and plays to Tolkienesq stereotypes. Near the end of the chapter, there’s a short discussion about using gladiatorial combat as an entire campaign, where the PCs play as slave gladiators throughout all their levels, trying to earn their freedom. I think this a good enough idea in theory, but since the book assumes that only warrior-type PCs will be gladiators and doesn’t make any allowances for magic equipment to be used, this might get a bit stale to the players after a while.

The chapter really makes up for its shortcomings when it details arenas of every size and type, all the way from a pit dug in the basement of a seedy tavern to a grand and fantastic arena that would put the real-life Flavian Amphitheater to shame. What’s better, it gives a detailed example for each category of arena, which can be dropped into the average game at any time.

The second chapter deals with the workings inside the area, specifically the combat. It opens with the presentation of a new NPC class, the slave. This give level progression is supposed to be used to represent the lowest of the low, which I think is a good idea. The problem is that it’s mechanically identical to the commoner NPC class, save that it gets a +1 bonus to all physical ability scores and a -1 penalty to all mental ability scores and gets to choose one skill to always be a class skill, no matter how he may multiclass later. To me, this isn’t lower than a commoner, this is superior to a commoner.

The chapter moves on to a couple of prestige classes, which are fine for a gladiatorial game, but won’t be horribly useful to anyone not playing a game contained entirely in the arena. As well, there are a handful of feats, most of which are likewise most useful in the arena, but not so much elsewhere. A couple of new exotic weapons are discussed, but I found most of them to be redundant at best and outright silly at worst.
Various types of matches are touched upon, which is important for any book that’s going to talk about gladiatorial combat. Any fool can put two guys into an arena and let them beat on each other, but this will get boring to the crowd pretty quickly. Pitting unarmed men against animals or chaining pairs of gladiators together at the ankle makes for a much better spectacle. This is backed up by a system of fame that the book introduces later in the chapter. A gladiator’s fame modifier is a representation of how well-liked he is by the crowd, and it can go up or down depending on how well or poorly he performs. This is translated as a morale bonus to some of the gladiator’s attacks. Finally, chariot racing and chariot combat are touched on. I think the rules presented were fine, but they might get a bit cumbersome at the table, since the gladiator is likely to have to make at least one roll every turn, lest he end up overturning his chariot and possibly killing himself.

The final chapter details a new system of play that uses D&D rules, but can be played in lieu of D&D. In this game, each of the players is a stable master and must buy gladiators, animals, equipment and all the other things that make for a good spectacle in the arena. They are then put through a series of challenges against one another, using the D&D combat system as a basis. After each match, fame and money are awarded based on the type of match it was, how well the gladiators performed, etc. The first player to have his stable reach whatever victory condition was set before the game began wins. I think this could be a very interesting way to spend an evening when some of the players can’t make it to game.

Gladiator: Sands of Death is a decent book for the price, but the DM is going to have to be willing to take what he wants and discard the rest. I think the book could have done much better with regards to including magic-users and there were multiple opportunities for the inclusion of monstrous races that went unused. It’s not likely to be an overly useful book unless arena combat is a big part of the game, though, and characters built solely with this book are likely to take a back seat in any situation that doesn’t take place in the arena.

Viking Age: Roleplaying the Myths, Heroes & Monsters of the Vikings

For the glory of Odin…

They were bloodthirsty. They were savage. And they dominated Northern Europe in the 9th and 10th Centuries. They were the Vikings, and they had just one goal: to die heroically so that they could enter Valhalla and serve Odin in the last battle, Ragnarok.

Avalanche Press brings you the most complete RPG book on Norse-mythology ever. Learn about Norse culture, Viking warfare, and the special magic known as sejr. Take the roles of a crazed berserker, a wise rune-caster, or one of the gods. Viking Age offers eight new character classes, a host of new skills and feats, and two new magic systems. Take your d20 campaign to a whole new level of adventure, playing a Norse god trying to stave off Ragnarok. Packed with historical information and new rules, this is the definitive RPG book on Vikings and their gods – how they lived, how they fought, and most importantly, how they died.

Celtic Age: Roleplaying the Myths, Heroes and Monsters of the Celts

At the time of Christ, a legendary culture was on the rise in Northern Europe. Two millennia later they would be remembered for their reverence of nature, their treatment of women, and their courage in battle. Had they been allowed to expand and grow, they might have had their own Golden Age and Western culture might be very different today. Instead, they met the Romans, who eventually conquered them all. This magnificent people was the Celts, and this is their story.

This volume explores their culture. Find out who they were, what they held holy, the monsters they fought -- both real and mythical -- why they battled each other, and what gave them joy. In addition to providing tons of detailed material on the Celts, this book allows you to bring them into your d20 campaign. A host of new Character Classes, Feats, Skills, and other special new rules, makes this the definitive book on fantasy role-playing in the Celtic Age.

The Little People: A d20 Guide to Fairies

Between gods and mortals…stand a famous race of magical beings. This first supplement for CELTIC AGE examines one of the most beloved and revered classes of creatures in Western culture: the fairy. THE LITTLE PEOPLE breaks them down by region, offering a unique perspective on how fairies differed from place to place. Stats for all the famous ones you know such as Oberon, Puck and the Leprechaun are included as well as a system for creating original fairies of your own. Not some “bold, new vision” of the fey, these are the legends as they were perceived by the people who thought fairies to be real.

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