Rules & Supplements Part 4 (Environments)

Today I want to share some source books that can go along way for themed campaigns, specifically those that are themed to a location.  Most campaigns tend to take place in very similar climes.  There are hills, forests, some mountains, and all four seasons.  It isn’t a bad thing, a lot of the earth is covered in regions similar to this, even if they tend towards winter or summer attributes for more of the year.  But sometimes you want or need to take your players out into the world.  They may need to visit a vast desert or the unrelenting tundra.  Maybe your group wants to play a whole campaign in such a region.

For those of you around for the 3.X era of rapid book release, you will probably remember today’s resources.  Some of you may dislike this books for a variety of reasons.  Most of those I have seen are fair.  Price is large, even now for PDF, but what book isn’t?  A lot of complaints (at least from what I have seen) are about the prestige classes and races.  These are exactly the things I am looking to be less covered in an environmental book though and it is why I like each of them and why I suggest them.  Personally, I would have preferred throwing out races, prestige classes, and even adventure sites to reduce the cost and give me something more strictly environmental.  There are certainly more, but I like these as a springboard for environmental source books, so if you already know and don’t like these I will share more later (don’t worry).  Oh and before I mention these, if anyone knows of a really good jungle supplement, please let me know.

Stormwrack: Mastering the Perils of Wind and Wave

I’ll be honest, this is not my first choice in water-based supplements.  That being said, this post is about springboards and environment books usable for a “normal” campaign.  I’ll save the other one for a different post.  This book is absolutely fantastic, nonetheless, for a campaign based on or around the sea.  The first thing of note here is the section on water hazards, some of them the types of things that can happen in almost any campaign.  From drowning to hypothermia this book helps you figure it out.  Beside that though it covers things like depth, light, and currents; the things you may forget to think about when making a body of water an important part of a campaign.  Then, of course, you get into terrain features and supernatural dangers.  With this you can give a water-based environment the depth of a basic campaign helping you to make kelp forests as distinct and detailed from other seaweed as a forest is from bushes.

Now lets get into the other side of the water.  This book helps you figure out and describe sea voyages.  The problems and encounters when you are out to sea, as well as how to utilize a naval battle.  Stormwrack includes races and prestige classes to help flavor you for a full sea-based campaign.  While these are mechanically 3rd Edition, they certainly make for good inspiration on flavoring your own characters or NPCs.  More easily adapted are the variety of materials, weapons, items, and even spells that are nautical themed or specifically designed for life at sea.  I have to say the monster section is a little lacking, but it does include some staples to be considered by a DM running this campaign.  Leeches, giant lobsters, coral monstrosities, and the like are all there.

Sandstorm: Mastering the Perils of Fire and Sand

I really like this book for a few reasons.  First, I am biased towards a desert setting.  I love the Dark Sun Setting, I need to find time to look into Al Qadim, and Egyptian mythology and The Mummy hold special places in my heart.  This book, though, is less setting specific.  While it, like the others, begins to create a basic setting through races and prestige classes most of it is generic desert stuff.  Right off the bat I loved this book for what it was willing to address and include.  While much of it assumes a desert of endless sand dunes, it provides that there are vast salt flats and terrible fields of volcanic activity that are equally hot wastelands.  In terms of dangers there really aren’t many for a desert: sun, heat, sand.  Obviously that is a little over simplifying, and this book does a great job on expanding upon the variety of dangers that are made up by sand, wind, and sun.  There are 3 full pages on heat alone, aside from other dangers and a section on the sun.  From there we have a good number of exceptional and supernatural environs.

The equipment section here is a little short, but has some interesting weapons and armor made for the desert.  Something helpful considering how much equipment is made of metal in a standard campaign.  To make up for it, this book has a lot of monsters compared to Stormwrack.  New lycanthropes, undead, beasts, and even a dragon are included.  There’s a new troll, new sphinxes, and giant vermin.  All in all, this is one of my favorite setting books.  I know I am biased, but this book gives you exactly what you need to have an entire campaign set in a vast and varied desert wasteland.  You have plenty of environments, both normal and exceptional, plenty of dangers, just enough equipment to cover the necessary differences, and a wide enough variety of creatures for many different arcs.  You don’t need a new zombie and skeleton for a desert game, but the inclusion of some unique undead and a special lich mean a lot.

Frostburn: Mastering the Perils of Ice and Snow

Where the last book brought us to hot wastes, this book brings us to frozen wastes.  Like Sandstorm, this book address some of the ways in which this type of setting can exist.  For example, you may not just be in a northern tundra, but rather a very high altitude or anywhere during an ice age.  This is good because it adds to it additional possible dangers and expands the use of the book itself.  Of those hazards the book expands upon, it includes everything from the effects of cold and the different types of cold to hypothermia and snowblindness.  Also included are terrain features, varying strange snows, and supernatural occurrences of plains of snow.  This book also improves upon the race section.  While it still includes a couple new races, it focuses more on wintry versions of the main races.  While I have nothing against the race sections of the other two books, this method is better for helping develop an environmental backdrop.

As with the other two books there are sections on equipment and magic.  I appreciate the weapons portion, especially since they included a graphic.  The armor section leaves a little more to be desired, but stats for items like fur clothing is included.  Frostburn follows suite in the tracks of Sandstorm with regard to monsters, which is good.  There are plenty of animals, vermin, and unique type of standards like undead.  They also include a number of dire animals to be the giant Ice Age versions we all know of from childhood: the mammoths, the sabertooth tigers, and gigantic elk.