|Owen K. C. Stephens|
After a long wait, one of Super Genius Games' most popular lines is back!
Welcome to the ninth book in the Loot 4 Less line, in which we deal exclusively with items that have a cost to consumer of 2,500 gp or less. And to increase the level of difficulty in terms of providing you with low-cost items, we also don’t deal in one-shot (or even two- or three-shot) magic items. Here in Volume IX: Bell, Book, & Candle, we’re looking at a narrow range of wondrous items that you ring, read, or light up. Many of these items are useful for spellcasters (in keeping with the origin of such items in myth and legend), but at least a few in each group can be useful to any character. Everything in these pages has no charges and can be used in adventure after adventure.
Additionally, these items are all of real use. No spot-on-the-wall spells stored in a wand with a switch. We deal only in things that are of at least some practical use. No one is going to kill a teammate to take an everburning candle, but is that such a bad thing? These items can flesh out the equipment lists of low-level characters, can be found in treasure troves of mid-range monsters, or can be passed out as party favors at the celebrations of 30th-level wizards.
As an added bonus, to help make the vast category of “wondrous items” more diversified, some optional rules in this volume give various spellcasters advantages when making magic bells, books, or candles (as opposed to less interesting items that take the form of apparel or jewelry). These rules are not major power boosts or likely to come into play often, but they help make these classic icons of mystic power a little different from other wondrous items.
My review was too freakishly big to fit into the actual review section, so here it is instead:
Conceptually, the Loot 4 Less series is an interesting premise: providing low cost magic items which can be utilized by low level adventurers and provide minor abilities, perks and utility for a party that is low on resources. Throughout the line, the results have been a mixed bag in their range of functionality and inventiveness--but the occasional entries that are exceptionally clever have kept me perusing throughout. So, whether you're looking to add flavor for burgeoning adventurers or aiming for an altogether low magic feel to your campaign there's a definite appeal to the line--but how does Bell, Book, and Candle stand up?
In a departure from the more standard fare of armaments and gear, here we have a collection focused on a trio of item classes which usually don't get a lot of attention from these sorts of supplements--a plus out of the gate. Presented are six bells, five books and six candles for a total of seventeen items; in the fashion now standard for the Loot 4 Less line, sidebars are interspersed among the content. These sidebars serve to explain the reasoning behind the pricing determined for the item abilities as well as discussion on the mechanics of said abilities.
I've found the 'behind the counter' portions of these products to be interesting reads throughout--even if at times I haven't necessarily agreed with the results; a GM could potentially utilize the same mechanics to fashion items of a similar ilk, which is fairly nifty. That said, let's proceed!
Bell, Book, and Candle starts off with the standard introduction to the line and a segment discussing 'investment items'--arguing the merits of providing a low level-party with functional items and avoidance of inundating new adventurers with 'one-shot' goods. There are good points to be found here, but the best is that which argues for a more memorable experience--a theme I feel strongly about--to a period in campaigns which frequently lacks of excitement in the encounter and treasure departments.
Following the introduction, we start off with the six bells of the book, prefaced with notes on item creation (as well as an interesting optional rule for Bards to create the bells without Craft Wondrous Item--neat!) The first entry is the Alarm Bell, a pretty straightforward offering with plenty of utility for a party to secure their surroundings. When set, the area of effect can be tweaked to not trigger on particular qualifiers (creature size, type, combinations thereof), given a password, etc. Very functional--also sort of a 'gimme' for bells.
What I found inventive was that the Alarm Bell scales a perception bonus off of the hit dice of the individual who places it; this small touch is enough to make it an item I could see players holding onto throughout the life of a character. Handy at nearly all levels and reasonably interesting--a good start. Next we've got the Distant Chime, the sound of which can be moved from its point of origin to anywhere within 30ft and the wielder's line of sight.
There's the start of potential with the Distant Chime, but I have a hard time puzzling out how projecting the sound's origin a mere thirty feet would prove tremendously useful outside of fairly narrow circumstances (let's wake up Baron von Crinklebritches from under his balcony!, etc.) I think the distance coupled with the line of sight limitation are a bit restrictive for a fairly benign effect--it would be neat if the implement came with a matching component that allowed remote signaling or the like.
Third among the bells is the Gog of Vexing Ringing which can be thrown at a target once per day as a ranged touch attack; if it hits, while silent to others in the vicinity the victim hears a constant cacophony of annoyance which effectively deafens them. Alright, this one's pretty hilarious--and I don't think I could bring myself to to fault a Bard or the like running about throwing sticky gongs at their enemies to aggravate them. Definitely an entertaining item, very inventive and almost assured to get a laugh out of your players if handed out. Well done!
The Silver Bell is next, a very straightforward implement tailored to Bards; when rung with a move action, the Silver Bell supplements bardic performances and grants additional rounds of use per day. Short, simple and useful without being imbalanced--a solid offering.
Fifth we have the Temple Bell, the patterns on which change to match the symbols of the wielder's worship--functioning thereafter as an appropriate holy symbol to boot. For a full-round action, the wielder can ring the bell and pick an alignment which does not match their own--prompting a fortitude save (which, like the Alarm Bell, scales off the wielder--half their level, in this case) to avoid being stunned.
In a large fight, the stunning effect of the Temple Bell could be a very useful to buy some time and with the scaling save DC it can remain relatively pertinent throughout; the wielder has to be modestly picked about which alignments they choose to affect to avoid vexing fellow party members (so I suspect the standard target will simply be 'Evil' in most circumstances). Overall, a neat utility item in a pinch and I really like the flavor of it doubling as a holy symbol, giving incentive to keep it in hand and added some neat visual aesthetic as well!
Last, the War-Minstrel's Kane which can be strapped to the wielder's arm to double as a +1 buckler; it can then be struck to add a bonus to one form of Perform chosen for a specific War-Minstrel's Kane. Straightforward functionality presented in a very inventive fashion that I can't help but grin at; this is the sort of item that is both entertaining and useful--and as the last among the bells, serves to summarize the lot. Entertaining, useful and certainly a far cry from typical low-level treasure. Excellent!
With the bells wrapped up, it's on to the books--opening up with optional creation rules to allow those with Scribe Scroll to fashion the books without Craft Wondrous Item; again, pretty neat. First up we have the Legerdemain Ledger, which I quite frankly love; after reading it, I couldn't resist working it into a campaign immediately and for player entertainment it did not disappoint!
Functionally, the book is an accounting ledger into which you can make entries for individuals, code words, etc--by placing coinage onto a blank page and speaking a command word. The coinage is then stored and an entry appears crediting the appropriate designation; later, another command word can be spoken to make withdraws (although no more than what is entered for an individual.)
Entertaining, very functional, interesting and practical; alleviate crunch concerns on the weight of coinage if that's your bag while essentially the ledger functions as a very stylish bag of holding tailored explicitly to coins. At any given time, 10,000 coins of any combined denomination can be entered into the book and it always weighs one pound. Beyond being a cool item, there's fantastic potential for adding it into the story of a campaign and drawing inspiration for its placement--the possibilities for finding one of these filled with cooked accounting or corrupt pay-offs or the like are considerable. Fantastic!
Moving on, we hit the Live Journal--and after we all finish groaning at its title, the book in this instance is a parchment in a scroll tube which records conversations in its vicinity and holds a collection of ten such recorded conversations. There are plenty of possibilities for plot or intrigue with this item--both utilized by the party or engaged by NPCs--and it is both straightforward and functional. Pretty cool, just be prepared for your players to throw things at you when you tell them what it's called.
The Manual of Monsters is next, with individual copies designated to specific types of creatures designated during creation; if the wielder studies from the book they gain a sizable bonus to knowledge checks to identify creatures of the manual's type. Simple, sweet and functional; I'm envisioning a monster hunting Inquisitor sifting through their growing collection of monster tomes to prepare for a venture or a Pathfinder Chronicler creating them as a series during their travels. Another nice entry!
Fourth we reach the Sorcerer's Spellbook, a curious offering which allows a character of a spontaneously casting persuasion (including bards, oracles, etc.) to gain access to a random spell each day after studying its contents. I like this item conceptually because of the potential it offers to bear unusual and unexpected offerings to your party's sorcerer or other spontaneous casters (and imagine if you coupled this with Rite Publishing's 1001 spells!) but I feel the entry falls woefully short in the mechanical presentation.
As written, the reader gains a randomly selected spell from their class list of a random level--but there is no designation of parameters for this (can the result be a level above what they can even utilize?) nor suggestions for how to approach the randomization. Yes, it can be gleaned that one might fashion a chart and fill it with entries appropriate for a given character--I just feel that this is one entry that could have benefited greatly from one of the sidebars present elsewhere in the product. Regardless, it's a cool idea for keeping things interesting for spontaneous casters that gets a thumbs up.
The Thaumaturge's Thesaurus rounds out the end of the books, offering another interesting twist for spell-casting characters; reading the thesaurus allows an individual to prepare two different spells in the same slot--which in practice essentially allows someone to decide to spontaneously cast a particular alternative spell in place of one specific spell. Pretty neat for utility, and while it broadens a set's selection it is handled in a clever fashion I feel--more high marks.
At last, we're into the candles--and as in the prior sections optional crafting rules are presented, this time allowing for those with the hex class ability to craft without Craft Wondrous Item. Very nifty. Our first entry is the Artificer's Rushlight which offers alternative functionality when casting the greater magic weapon spell--allowing the target to also be armor or shields with an AC bonus in lieu of the enhancement bonus normally granted to weapons. What's particularly neat is that portions of the enhancement bonus can be eschewed in favor of providing magic armor or weapon special abilities after the normal +1 is satisfied--pretty neat!
The Candle of Adversities is next, functioning in a similar vein to the Silver Bell--it enhances the durations of a Witch's hexes. As with the bell, this is simple, straightforward and fairly handy for a character--a party witch will certainly be keen for one. Third is the Candle of Calamities which enhances the area of effect for a Witch's hexes a number of times per day; we're seeing a trend, continued with the Candle of Tribulations for hex range. Between the three, a small utility set for a player to pine for at low levels to get more mileage out of their class ability thereafter. Not bad.
Fifth is the Everburning Candle, which is really kind of a gimme item; it can be extinguished and re-lit, but never burns out completely. Fair enough.
Following next is our last entry, the Imbued Votive--something of a ritual item used during spell prep for a divine caster once per day to increase the DCs of their spells against one named creature type. Alright entry, I could see it being debatable on whether or not it's right for a given campaign (if you're especially heavy on individual creature types, you've effectively given the character a blanket DC increase, etc.) The flavor of the item is decent, at least.
Overall: 10 pages with 2 occupied by cover and credits, leaving us with 8 pages in the product; five pieces of art among the content both black and white and color for a decent bit of spice to flavor. I did not find any glaring editing issues--though while the majority of the material is sorted into a three column format one of the sidebars is a bit awkward in its placement (a very minor nitpick).
At the price point, you're getting seventeen items--and of the lot, I feel that they're almost universally fantastic. Despite mixed feelings across other entries in the Loot 4 Less line, I think that Super Genius Games really hits it out of the park with Bell, Book, and Candle both in creativity and practicality. Especially considering the rarity of finding these sorts of items among supplements in any quantity, the value here is exceptional!
Out of the Loot 4 Less series, I found this to be by far one of the strongest entries and by virtue of how frequently the contents evoked brainstorming and grins alone, I've got to go with 5 stars. From a gong shield to magic accounting and creative twists on utility, I feel this one's a must-have for any GM looking to offer fun, flavorful treasure to their players that they'll want to hold and enjoy from first level to twentieth--and at the end of the day, I can't think of a higher qualifier for a magic item supplement than that.
Well done, Super Genius Games!
|Owen K. C. Stephens|
Nice review Goz.
I am tempted by this one and in all truth the idea of this line hasn't really appealed to me. This one though is more appealing to me. As we get none standard magic items. The first candle mentioned I find the most appealing of the lot. Might be time for me to go back and take another look at some of the books.
Nice review, Gozuja! Glad you seem to be joining the reviewers! I have a similarly wordy one in the making. :)
Thanks End--I've got an awful lot to catch up on yet, much work cut out. I'll look forward to seeing your take on this one for sure.
Nice review Goz.I am tempted by this one and in all truth the idea of this line hasn't really appealed to me.
Thanks DM, and I can definitely see where you'd get that feel from the earlier entries; I wasn't really blown away by the initial fractional magic weapons or the discount armor--they weren't especially compelling items and even if they would serve as low-level loot, you'd very quickly outgrow them. Weird crunch and not as much flavor.
On the flip side, when you've got a collection of clever trinkets and the like such as these, it's the sort of thing that you can hand out almost any time for interesting flavor. I'm hoping that this volume is indicative of the sort of content that will be continuing--they've improved quite a bit from 'one or two especially interesting entries'.
I think turning the focus overall towards more nonstandard items would be a great trail to blaze!
|R. Hyrum Savage Super Genius Games|
Hmm...books, bells and candle magic items...do you mean this cultural standard or are others valid? I seem to recall some Eastern setting like that... Additionally, "books" are, at eats in my opinion, done better in NeoExodus and Secrets of Forgotten Magic Items... but I'm done for today. Good night to you and yours!
|Owen K. C. Stephens|