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Master Dao Rin
8 June 2003, 05:47 PM
Title: Hero's Guide
Authors: Rodney Thompson, JD Wiker
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Release Date: 06 June 2003
Cost: $29.95 (US)
Pages: 160

First off, I like to say that this book must have had the Will of the Force behind it, because the Hero's Guide arrived on bookshelves here on the exact release date published by the distributors, June 6th. While fancy Core World Americans may think this is no big deal, here in the fringes of space (ie Canada) this is a frickin' miracle and unheard of. Heck, Amazon.ca still lists it as not available. Needless to say, I'm as happy as a Sith Lord at a Jar-Jar LARP convention with a mission to wipe them out - all of them. :D Therefore, I'm giving this product a bonus +10% Force Award to the final overall score.

Now, lets get on with the review.

To start, I wanted to write a review for this - the book is that good. Echoing what others have already said here on the SWRPGnetwork boards, this is a must-have product if you are seriously contemplating a SW-RPG game with access to more character ideas. Simply put, this book makes the Core Rulebook classes, feat, and campaign sections feel bland. Keep these statements in mind as you read the rest of my opinions in this review.

The art work is as superb as previous published Star Wars products, with the addition of a new artist if I'm not mistaken. Lets just say you definitely want to check out page 101 "Mystryl Shadow Guard" before anything else, not to mention the Martial Artist pics. Yummy - these one beats the twi'lek Ace and Instructor illustrations.

But, testosterone aside, the very first illustration is of some cyborged female bounty hunter robot or mercernary or something that literally sparked my imagination and started me thinking about character concepts and what this book had in store. The only illustration that didn't capture the text it was associated with was the Yuuzha Vong "priest" - didn't say priest to me at all, especially with that goofy grin on its face. :rolleyes: That aside, Sean Glenn definitely needs congratulations on an excellent sense of art direction, as does the artists for their great work overall.

The overall content of the chapters, as inferred from above, contains something useful and sparked ideas and my imagination throughout, especially the Skills & Feats and Factions section. I was initially hesitant of the idea of "Sympathy", since reputation can be massaged into containing this concept, as I'm sure we all did before this new feature came out. But, I must say, Thompson and Wiker did an excellent job of convincing me that this added burden towards stream-lined game play was worth the trouble of keeping track of. If GMs don't let the number of employers their players do jobs for get out of hand, this new feature is sure to add a new texture to your games. I also especially like how they introduced and explain the new "spellcasting" feat. Thats right, you read it correctly - spellcasting in Star Wars. :D All in all, very nice work Rodney and JD; you deserve all the praise people are giving you.

That said, its not all peaches and cream. The editing is up to WotC's usual standards - which means to say: they need a second pair of eyes. Human error aside, I'm quite positive WotC could take a more professional approach towards editing their products. Words and text introduction are missing in not a few places, but the one that takes the cake is under weapon specialization: "A soldier may soldier this feat as one of his soldier bonus feats." Really now ... :raised: :rolleyes:

In addition, some feats include prerequisites that aren't associated with the class, but the class is allowed to select them anyway as one of their bonus feats. For example, Improved Feint requires Combat Expertise, but this new feat is a bonus feat for Jedi Guardians and not Consulars; it's the same with Superior Expertise. And under "Chief Engineer" what the heck is "Fix Tap Vitality"?!? Man, I always knew engineers were a weird bunch, but huh? ;)

Adding to that, apparently some text was changed without the author's knowledge - the one we know of is under Lighsaber Form IV, which I assume is Anakin's form. Apparently, the printed text states that this feat doubles the DEX bonus you get from Weapon Finesse and adds that to damage. Whereas, the author's intent was only to double the STR modifier for two-handed weapons from x1.5 up to x2 on damage rolls. Big difference in concept there, and makes you wonder what else was left out of the text elsewhere in this product and others. While I'm sure this is common practice in game designing, I should think that a change like this would be passed by the author for their input, since presumably the author has a very good reason for typing the text the way they do.

Personally, I much prefer Rodney's original idea, but I also don't see this as a big game unbalancing mechanic, since now you are wasting TWO feats to accomplish the same thing instead of being intelligent and just having a high STR stat and saving two feats for something more useful - like the cool new Force feats put in this product. Obviously not heeding the advice in the first chapter, I imagine players will think themselves clever by continuing to use STR as the new Jedi dumping ground and wasting two feats to save/add a couple of points of VP and DEF. To each their own, I guess.

Layout is like the previous two recent releases and makes finding things easy, as does the table of contents. Can't say much more than that.

The good points of the book are obvious, and individual, so I will only go into a chapter-by-chapter review of what I didn't like in each section.

Chapter One is an introduction to the product. It goes into detail about how to play characters - too much, in my opinion. The phrase "Its your game, do whatever you want" came through to the point of nauseum. A trend that is appearing more often, recent role-playing books seem to assume we have are having some sort of security issue with gaming and game designers and feel the need to reinforce the idea that we are responsible for doing whatever we want in the game. Yeah, sure, by why are we buying your product then? We're buying it because we want to hear the author's opinion, not because we feel insecure about making stuff up on our own.

The vital reminder section and Min/Maxing was a waste of page space in my opinion, and the intro on page 5 would have sufficed for the entire first chapter. Therefore, saying that, the rest of the chapter's information was necessary - if somewhat misplaced. Indeed, this entire chapter should be found in the Core Rulebook, since its such an integral part of the system and is as useful for GMs as it is for players. Thus chapter one feels like wasted space which could have been better used with more feats, prestige classes, or anything else every other chapter addressed.

Chapter Two, character archetypes, is great for what the product's intention was - namely character ideas. However, I am left wondering the same question I've always had with archetypes: Since they only use the base classes, why the heck do you need to reprint a level progression table and waste space?! Why not just tell us: "Just use the noble and scoundrel classes, favouring the noble class, and here are some variant class abilities you may consider ..." I betting a lot of pages were wasted re-listing the various base classes and their progression would could have been better utilized with more concepts or room in other chapters. Other than that, its a good chapter, especially the Prowler and Scrounger archetypes.

Chapter Three, skills and feats, is the centerpiece of this product and, editing problems aside, is well worth the price you pay for this product. I especially like the new uses to skills part - sense motive is quite intriguing and useful to all players now ...

What I don't like is the introduction of "1st level only feats". Now, certain feats can only be purchased at first level, which seems to defeat the spirit of the SW-RPG system with its flexibility and "Depth" core value. What if I discover my "aristocrat's honour" later in my character's career by multi-classing into the noble class? This restriction seems to me a pointless addition to the rules, along the same arguments as the "Force Sensitivity at 1st level" debate and all those gripers. Another problem is why the various Lightsaber forms are not considered as bonus feats for the two Jedi core classes. Since these feats should be open to ALL Jedi, why waste the personalising feats that are represented by the level feat gains? I'm left scratching my head at this one ...

Chapter 4, prestige classes, lists a good selection of new options for players. I liked them all, but one point of contention: Why does the priest class include Influence as a prerequisite feat, yet include Influence in the same list of bonus feats available to the priest class at the appropriate advancement in levels?

Another minor gripe: The ISB Agent's back-up special ability - the maximum they can summon is 10 low-level stormtroopers?!? Shouldn't that be character level and not class level? Hardly what I call an effective use of force ...

Another one: Why do Chief Engineers get 6 skill points per level while Tech Specialists only get four? If anything, I'd think CE is a logical seague from the Tech class and should stay in the same vein of 4 per level ... Same with Master Duelist - they are essentially a fancy Jedi Guardian, so why more skill points?

Chapter 5, factions, is a great section, and almost beats Ch. 4 on usefulness to players. Two gripes:

1) Since the designers were so kind as to provide extra starting credits for advanced level beginning characters, why did they forget to apply the same to Sympathy and factions? Does a 13th level Jedi Master really begin play with 0 sympathy with the Jedi Order faction? How about Imperial Moffs and the Galactic Empire? Surely even Obi-wan in the The Phantom Menace, as a excellent 6th level apprentice, has some Sympathy from the Jedi Order ...

(2) I am really miffed about the fact that they detailed several factions, but only gave out information in passing on the most important ones - namely, the Jedi Order, the Sith, and the Galactic Republic. To paraphrase: "these factions are so detailed in other supplements that they don't need details on the new factions bonuses and sympathy we created for the rest of the organizations." As it stands, belonging to the Jedi Order or allying yourself with the Republic means nothing more than a pat on the back, while belonging to the Hutt Empire or the Bothan Spy network has real value in terms of resource access and special feats and bonuses. This is in spite of the fact that, under creating new factions, it specifically states - and I quote: "A faction should be something special. Each faction should have at least one feat or prestige class available only through Sympathy or a membership in that faction." So where are they? Don't give me the hogwash about Jedi prestige classes, since the Jedi are a core class, and those optional prestige classes are only open to characters from those core classes.

Why not allow Jedi members, being that they are open to all knowledge, some form of bonus feat to "break" the requirements of certain feats - like being able to take "Climate Specialization" despite not haveing Fringer levels? How about creating "Broaden Your Horizons" by allowing a member of the Republic a bonus class skill point when joining such as cosmopolitan organization; or maybe being able to call in the Jedi or maybe Republic military or calling on the Senate as a loyal citizen for protection against hostile trade embargoes? I wanted something new and unique, but was left greatly unsatisfied. This is the one black mark that stops the product from having a 100% rating.

Chapters 6 through to 9, Equipment, Combat, The Force, and Droids respectively, are all very useful and great additions to the book. One gripe: Why reprint the two pages for Force Spirit again at the end of chapter 8? Waste of space in my opinion ...

Overall, a great product and a useful one to all players and GMs of the game.

Content: 80%
Art: 85%
Layout: 90%
Game System: 90%
Overall Score: 95% (not an average)

Jim Williams
8 June 2003, 06:31 PM
Since they only use the base classes, why the heck do you need to reprint a level progression table and waste space?! Why not just tell us: "Just use the noble and scoundrel classes, favouring the noble class, and here are some variant class abilities you may consider ..."

I don't mind the progression tables for a few reasons.

1) I'm lazy and don't want to figure BAB, etc.

2) The author(s) had a specific progression x,x,x,y,y,z,z in mind and I'm willing to accept that it is probably important to the archetype, especially for when the variant ability is picked up. At least that was my intention for the Archetype I wrote up.

Darth_Cassed
9 June 2003, 06:47 AM
Thanks for the extensive review Master Dao Rin, I've been looking forward to purchasing this book.....sometime...... Anyway, now I know what it has. Most books by Moridin are great, though, and JD Wiker is always worth paying for.

Sasche
9 June 2003, 07:03 AM
(2) I am really miffed about the fact that they detailed several factions, but only gave out information in passing on the most important ones - namely, the Jedi Order, the Sith, and the Galactic Republic. To paraphrase: "these factions are so detailed in other supplements that they don't need details on the new factions bonuses and sympathy we created for the rest of the organizations." As it stands, belonging to the Jedi Order or allying yourself with the Republic means nothing more than a pat on the back, while belonging to the Hutt Empire or the Bothan Spy network has real value in terms of resource access and special feats and bonuses. This is in spite of the fact that, under creating new factions, it specifically states - and I quote: "A faction should be something special. Each faction should have at least one feat or prestige class available only through Sympathy or a membership in that faction." So where are they? Don't give me the hogwash about Jedi prestige classes, since the Jedi are a core class, and those optional prestige classes are only open to characters from those core classes.

Well, from your description, I think I have to agree with the writers on this one. But if you really have such a problem with the "limitations" put upon Jedi, then looks like a House Rule is appropriate. While I haven't read it myslef though. I am only going by the description here in your review.

IMO, I think they are simply giving "bonuses" to the Non-Jedi, to bring them up to a more level playing field. Make them as appealing as Jedi classes.
I know some people think that the Jedi should always be the most powerful. I suppose I agree to a point. This is fine in the general story world, or in the movies. But for a gaming system, this "unequal" balance makes no sense at all. Since all PCs are supposed to be heroes, they should all be playing from the same level playing field.

TDZKRAWKS
9 June 2003, 01:13 PM
I agree w/u all the way on the chapter 3 review the rest of it was just as good, but i just thoguht i should point that out.

Master Dao Rin
9 June 2003, 01:35 PM
Originally posted by Sasche
I know some people think that the Jedi should always be the most powerful. I suppose I agree to a point. This is fine in the general story world, or in the movies. But for a gaming system, this "unequal" balance makes no sense at all. Since all PCs are supposed to be heroes, they should all be playing from the same level playing field.

Well, thats the thing. Joining any other faction than Jedi Order or Republic gives one a special ability not available to anyone outside the faction. Yet, for Republic die-hards, there is nothing. Sure, I could waffle on the Jedi thing, but there was nothing for being a Republic loyalist. Not even amnesty or unrestricted travel throughout the galaxy even or something like that. Such a wasted opportunity to bring something new into the game system of Star Wars ...

I wasn't looking for anything unbalancing but, like you pointed out, this lack does not make for a level playing field with the other factions. At the very least, the authors did not make it clear what the game benefits of allying yourself with these factions would be to a character.

Sasche
9 June 2003, 06:00 PM
OK, I see your point with the Rebels. That does suck.

And your ideas sound good (travel and such). I would also throw in free repairs or weapon supplies when on Rebel missions.

Moridin
10 June 2003, 08:37 PM
Thanks for the great review, MDR, and for everyone else's feedback.

Master Dao Rin
10 June 2003, 11:26 PM
No problem, Moridin. And thank you for all your hard work on creating this supplement - its gonna get a lot of use IMC.