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Saturday 11 June 2016

A Treasure's Treasury Trove

The first point to be made about the Book of Loot is that it is a dull read. The second point to be made is that it is not a dull book. The distinction needs to be made because it is not written to be read from end to end, which is the dull way to read it, but rather referred to and dipped into for ideas and inspiration—and those ideas and inspiration are anything other than dull! In fact, the ideas and inspiration to be found in the Book of Loot are not only great, but they have the potential to be great fun.

The Book of Loot is a supplement for 13th Age, the dramatic Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG published by Pelgrane Press. It presents a hoard or thirteen’s worth of treasures, each individual item linked to one of the thirteen Icons, the archetypal gods and major NPCs, in the game’s default setting of the Dragon Empire. The items are further categorised into further fourteen types with one, two, or more entries for each type. The types are in turn Armour, Robe, Shirt, and Tunic; Arrow, Crossbow Bolt, and Sling; Belt, Swordbelt, Kilt, and Girdle; Book, Scroll, Tome, and Grimoire; Boots, Shoes, and Slippers; Cloak, Mantle, and Cape; Glove, Gauntlet, and Mitt; Helmet, Circlet, Crown, and Cap; Necklace and Pendant; Ring; Staff; Wand; Weapon; and Wondrous Item. What this means, with thirteen Icons and fourteen types, is that the Book of Loot describes at least one-hundred-and-eighty-two items of treasure—and the true figure is closer to two hundred!

The Book of Loot is neatly organised with chapters devoted to each of the thirteen Icons and then each detailing the various items under each of the fourteen types. Each chapter opens with a description of where items related to the Icon might come from and what they form they might take. So for example, those items related to the Elf Queen tend to be either well made, if ordinary looking, or simply beautiful works of art, whilst those of the Archmage can be showy, whimsical, devastating, or all three, since they serve to showcase his power to both his allies and his enemies. Then it proceeds through the types, one by one, giving in many items that can in varying forms. For example, under the ‘Armour, Robe, Shirt, and Tunic’ type for the Dwarf King two items are described, ‘Solidity’ and ‘Thrice-Forged’. So these might be ‘Armour of Solidity’, ‘Robe of Solidity’, ‘Thrice-Forged Shirt’, and ‘Thrice-Forged Tunic’. What this means that in a very many great instances, the actual form that a magical item comes in is not important and that a wider array of Character Classes will be able to make use of them. Rounding out each of the chapters is a trio of adventure hooks, each involving a magic item, for a total of thirty-nine, plus another six involving magical items in a more generic sense, for a total of forty-five in the supplement.

Each magic item is accorded a paragraph or two, each comes with a quirk, and many are written with a sense of humour. For example, “Swift Shot: Once per battle, if you’ve got elven grace, and you get an extra action, and you use that standard action to make a ranged attack with this ammo, then the size of the die rolled to determine whether or not your elven grace triggers doesn’t increase. If you’re not playing a wood archer, your eyes probably glazed over two clauses back.” Of the quirks, the ‘Armour of Darkness’, tied to the Prince of Darkness and which grants an Armour Class bonus in darkness (at night, underground, or indoors), but a penalty in sunlight or bright light, also leaves the wearer finding bright light painful, increasingly pale skin, and sadly, allergic to garlic; the Emperor’s Spellbreaking Ring, a chunky affair that enables a user to use an opportunity attack triggered by a spell to counter the actual spell, but the wearer no longer respects personal space; and The Three’s Weapon of Feinting gives the wielder an Armour Class bonus if he misses an attack, but makes him blurt out lies when put under pressure. In this way not only does each magical item give a player one or more powerful abilities, they also alter his character’s behaviour and so give the player role-playing challenges.

Topping and tailing these thirteen chapters is the book’s introduction and a chapter on Treasure Troves. The former sets out what the Book of Loot is for and how it works, but notably it panders to the 13th Age’s love with a set of lists. So you have lists of ‘Items that Demand a Story’, ‘Relentlessly Practical Items’, ‘Unforgivable Puns’, and more. The latter explores what else might be found in a treasure trove beyond magical items—coins, gems, jewels, and actual treasures. This nicely ables the GM to design interesting hoards for his players to loot. Rounding out the supplement is set of tables that addresses a problem in the Book of Loot—finding anything. As everything in the supplement is organised by Icon rather than type, finding anything by type is a bit more awkward than normal. So a set of tables for each type of magical item lists everything in the previous pages, as well as summarising each item’s power, tier in the game—Adventurer, Champion, or Epic, Icon, and of course, page number. So the tables work as a set of indices too.

Physically, the Book of Loot is far from perfect. It needs another edit in places and the layout is scruffy in others. Over all, in places it does feel a bit rushed. The book is lightly illustrated, but all of the illustrations nicely capture the feel of one magical item or another. Nevertheless, the book is well written and it is clear that the author had fun writing it.

As much as the Book of Loot is a chore to read from start to finish, each individual entry is actually a pleasure to read because it is invariably clever and interesting and does so much more than your run of the mill +2 Sword of Giant Slaying or Ring of Invisibility. Arguably this is one of the most inventive and interesting hoard of magical items ever to grace a d20 System supplement and it almost deserves to be on the shelf of any GM or Dungeon Master who creates his own adventures and dungeons. The only reason why it should not be is that a great many of the items in the Book of Loot are more complex than those typically found in Dungeons & Dragons because they have to take account of the greater complexity, often dramatic complexity, such as the relationships between each player character and the Icons, to be found in the 13th Age. That said, there is nothing to stop the DM from adjusting any of the items in the Book of Loot to suit the mechanics of his choice.

The Book of Loot is quite possibly one of the best treasure books ever written for Dungeons & Dragons—it is unsurprisingly, the best ever treasure book written for use the 13th Age RPG. Inventive, fun, and full of clever creations, the Book of Loot is an excellent addition to the 13th Age line and a hoard of treasures worth looting for just about fantasy RPG.

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