Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday 8 November 2019

Friday Fantasy: Warriors & Weapons

There is no denying the continued and growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, with it having appeared on the television series Stranger Things and it no longer being seen as a hobby solely the preserve of typically male, nerdy teenagers and young adults. Yet as acceptable a hobby as roleplaying and in particular, playing Dungeons & Dragons has become, getting into the hobby is still a daunting prospect. Imagine if you will, being faced with making your first character for your first game of Dungeons & Dragons? For nearly all of us, this is not very far from being a challenge, for we all started somewhere and we all had to make that first step—however many years ago it was. What do you play? What choices do you make? As well written as both Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook are, both still present the prospective reader and player with a lot of choices, but without really answering that first question after deciding that you want to play, and that is, “What do I want to play?”

Step forward Warriors & Weapons, part of the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ published by Ten Speed Press. It is an introductory guide to Dungeons & Dragons, designed as a primer to many of the types of characters that can be played in the game, plus the arms and armour they will equip themselves with and the various tools they will carry when go adventuring. Notably, it is profusely illustrated, no page consisting entirely of text. The artwork is all drawn from and matches the style of Dungeon & Dragons, Fifth Edition, so as much as it provides an introduction to characters in the roleplaying game, it provides an introduction to the look of the roleplaying game, so providing continuity between the other books in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ and the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the core rulebooks. This use of art and the digest size of the book means that from the start, Warriors & Weapons is an attractive little package.

As to the content, it can really be divided into three sections—‘Fantasy Races’, ‘Character Classes’, and ‘Equipment’. The first covers nine Races found in Dungeons & Dragons. These are Human, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling, Dragonborn, Kenku, Tabaxi, Tiefling, and Tortle, with each being accorded a double-page spread. Along with an illustration, this opens with a simple set of questions and a suggestion, such as, “Are you fascinated by how the world works?”, “Do you sometimes talk too much?”, and “Do you long to see the world and make new friends along the way?”, which the book answers with, “You might be a Gnome!”. This is accompanied by more information about the Race, some ideas of their typical names, and typical attributes, so Intellect, Industrious, Dexterity, and Tricky for Gnomes.

The six Character Classes in Warriors & Weapons, all of a martial bent, are given a similar treatment. They are Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, and Rogue, each entry asking questions similar to those of the Races, detailing their archetypes, their equipment and attributes, and so on. Thus the Martial Archetypes of Battle Master, Champion, and Eldritch Knight for the Fighter Class, that they can use all arms and armour, and gain from Second Wind, which gives them greater resolve. Further each Class is accompanied by an exemplar or legendary member of that Class. So there is Wulfgar the Warhammer for the Barbarian and Shandie Freefoot for the Rogue, with descriptions of what they can do and what it would be like to play them. All six are notables from the Forgotten Realms, veteran fans likely to enjoy the inclusion of Minsc the Mighty along with Boo the Hamster. 

The Class section ends with two things. The first is a ‘Class Flowchart’ which asks a few questions and quickly guides the prospective player to the Class that he might like to play. It does seem odd to have this placed after the descriptions of the Classes rather than before and it seems even odder not have a ‘Race Flowchart’ in the previous section. The other is a look at ‘Character Background & Inspiration’, basically introducing some of the Backgrounds from the Player’s Handbook. Lastly, it asks what makes your character special beyond Race and Class, including flaws.

The first two sections have been all about who are you and what do you do. The third and final section, deals with equipment, detailing not just clothes, but arms, armour—the latter with a special warning about the dangers of encountering a Rust Monster, and kits and packs. Packs in particular get some attention, a full page illustration and a description each, all handily presented. If there is a single niggle with the whole of this useful reference section, it is that the Pike is included in the description of polearms rather than the humble spear.

Rounding out Warriors & Weapons is some last words about building a hero, telling the reader that he is on his first steps composing his adventurer’s story. It opens up a little to ask the player to wonder about the other heroes his character will adventure alongside, what and where his adventures take place, and of course, why? It explains a bit more about the play of Dungeons & Dragons, so serving as a light primer before the player gets to the table.  

There are just two issues with Warriors & Weapons. The first is that as an introduction to the types of characters you can play in Dungeons & Dragons, as its title suggests, it only gets half of the job done. It does not cover Clerics, Sorcerers, and Wizards, or indeed any of the other spellcasting character types in Dungeons & Dragons. All that is covered in Wizards & Spells, the companion to Warriors & Weapons. So to learn about those character types—and thus all of the character types in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition—the prospective player as yet unsure as  to which to play will need to buy the two books. That said, neither book is expensive. Unfortunately, Wizards & Spells is not available until March of 2020, so the prospective Wizard-playing player wanting to know more will still have to consult the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set or the Player’s Handbook.

The other issue is that Warriors & Weapons includes some non-standard Races. These are the Kenku, the Tabaxi, and the Tortle. None of these three are in the Player’s Handbook and so any prospective looking to play a member of these Races is going to be disappointed. Further, there are no pointers as where the details of these Races can be found. Obviously, the next step from Warriors & Weapons is the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set or the Player’s Handbook, but not for those Races. For a book so obviously intended to be helpful, their inclusion and their lack of pointers is odd to say the least, if not simply just unhelpful.

Physically, Warriors & Weapons is an attractive little hardback. It is bright, it is breezy, and it shows a prospective player what he can play, both in the art and the writing. Further, the art shows lots of adventuring scenes which can only spur the prospective player’s imagination.

Now obviously, Warriors & Weapons is designed to showcase Dungeons & Dragons and introduce the prospective player to what he can roleplay. And this it does well enough, given that another book is needed to cover all of the choices available. It should be noted that given the lack of statistics and other values, Warriors & Weapons would also work as an introduction to Dungeons & Dragons-style retroclones, though in its look, it is brighter and breezier than the style and tone of the typical fantasy roleplaying game from the Old School Renaissance.

As an introduction to some of the character types you can play in Dungeons & Dragons and a little of the types of adventures such characters can have, Warriors & Weapons very nicely works as a book to give as a gift for the prospective or curious player. Especially if he has played any of the Endless Quest solo adventure books published by Wizards of the Coast. Warriors & Weapons though, is also a book to have at the table as a reference guide. Of course the Player’s Handbook does that too, but Warriors & Weapons, by virtue of its size, its brevity, and its lack of gaming stats, is handier and easier to use. So questions like, “How does a Fighter fight?” or “What does a Dragonborn look like?” or “What is scale mail?” or “What is in an Explorer’s Pack?” can all be answered by flipping through the pages of this smaller, much shorter tome.

Warriors & Weapons is not perfect by any means, but it is a bright and easy read, the first part of what should serve as a light introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. One that nicely works as a gift as much as it does a reference work.

No comments:

Post a Comment