The appendices of the PHB are pretty straightforward, but useful. The section on conditions is nice – I liked that method of standardizing conditions in 4e very much, so it’s good to see it get use. It is also one of the only places in the ebook to use line art, but it does so to wonderful effect. These pages have some of my favorite art in the game, and they sand out nicely in contrast with the rest of the art.
The Gods of the Multiverse section is primarily there to give clerics some choices, and I support that, but it also does a few interesting things.
- It suggests that other domains – at the very least, death – will be in the DMG
- By including the ‘real world’ pantheons, they gave some tools to GMs looking to build their own campaign worlds. It’s not a LOT of support, but the absence of anything but setting gods would have felt a little flat.
- Dragonlance gets a place of prominence along with the big three settings, and I’d be very surprised if that is not deeply meaningful. Absence of Mina from the list of Dragonlance gods may also suggest a rollback (which would rock)
- One very interesting and notable absence: The Raven Queen. And, in fact, Nerull is back among the Greyhawk gods as the god of death (Nerull being the god whose mantle she stole). On one hand, this is a shame, as this was one of the few pieces of really vibrant color in 4e, but on the other hand, it’s cool to consider that it might actually happen, perhaps in a mega-adventure akin to the Planescape classic Dead Gods
I am not sure what I think about the Planes of Existence section. I am a die hard Planescape fan, and I genuinely can’t tell if the overall configuration has changed or if it’s the same and it was just explained poorly. I’m sympathetic – the idea that the inner and outer planes don’t actually overlap is a bit of a brain bender, and I think that’s still the case, but the big diagram makes me nervous. That said, the explicit mention of Sigil and the Gate Towns is pretty welcome to my eyes.
Appendix D gives us low level monsters, a lot of which are a useful reference fro the druid’s shapeshifting abilities. They look neat, but largely very basic, and don’t offer a lot of insight into challenge construction, or what a given CR actually means.
Appendix E, Inspirational reading, may be my favorite thing in the book. As someone who was absolutely swept away by the list in the original books, this is a welcome sight, and nicely updated for the modern day. It’s actually a wonderful mix of past an present, and knowing it’s there makes me smile.
The index is competent, though the font is tiny. I get the needs of space, but reading it makes me feel old. That’s followed by some character sheet blanks for copying, and that’s the book.
Now that I’ve reached the end, let me talk a little bit about the book itself. I talked a lot about the exterior, and the interior deserves similar treatment.
- Layout-wise the book feels closest to a 3e book to me, albeit with 4e influences in terms of the style, color and presentation of art. This is a great choice. As much as I like calling back to older editions in the design, I don’t want to go that far back in the layout.
- As I noted with the cover, there’s a tendency towards painted art, which I really like the feel of. Contrast the spellcasting on page 205 (illustrator-y) with page 206 (a painting). This is no sleight to Wayne Reynold’s style. It’s fantastic, but it has become synonymous with Pathfinder, so it’s good that D&D looks different.
- I don’t have the keen eye for fonts that some do. These look like the 4e fonts (myriad and minion, maybe?) and if they’re not, they’re close.
- The page numbers are kind of light, as is the footer text tellign you what chapter you’re in. Mild annoyance.
- The lower right hand corner of the pages is color coded to distinguish the four sections (chargen, rules, magic and appendix) and it bleeds to the page edge, so you can easily flip to a section. This would be awesome, but the light footer makes the next step in navigation awkward.
- A subtle touch – table background colors vary based on the section you’re in.
- There are some very nice touches slipped in, like each class having a unique icon.
- Every layout person who I’ve shown the book to has wanted to see their indesign files. Their attention to detail in the layout suggests they either have some super ninja tricks, or they took a lot of time on it. Either way, it’s just very well done.
- I am amused that it ends with a badger.
- The diversity in the art is pretty impressive, but importantly, it’s also awesome. The non-white-dude illustrations are also really great illustrations, and that’s super important.
- There are a handful of art pieces that fall flat (one of the elves has a freaky-ass face) but the majority range from good to great, with a handful of wow.
- The raciest picture in the book is probably the druid on page 67. That’s good to see.
Only good, I hope. That may sound snarky, and it is, a little. Dead Gods had problems. But more, adventures that revolve around an NPC doing something (in this case, becoming the Raven Queen) tend to be the very worst kind. To this day, I still own no Iron Kingdoms stuff – despite the fact that I know it’s great – because the Witchfire trilogy of adventures was so bad. ↩