Review: Raiders Guild Players Guide

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The Raiders Guild Players Guide is the first product for the Raiders Guild line from Axe Initiative Games. You may know these guys as the people behind Pelgrane Press, which means The Dying Earth RPG and Gumshoe; Axe Initiative was formed to shield Pelgrane from any GSL liability.

Thus, I figured the Raiders Guild line would bring the usual Pelgrane sense of theme to the world of 4e. Both Dying Earth and the Gumshoe lines excel at setting mood, and very different moods to boot. Robin Laws wrote the core systems for each of them, and the Raiders Guild line is branded with his name as well, so there’s another point in Axe Initiative’s favor.

The high concept behind the Guild is pretty simple. There’s a guild which organizes and supports adventurers in their ventures beyond civilization. It’s a rationalization for dungeon delving. To quote: “it acts as a clearinghouse for information and opportunities, lobbies authorities on behalf of the trade, and suppresses the efforts of bandits and thieves.” In a sense, it’s the answer for anyone who wonders how fantasy nations co-exist with hordes of high level adventurers swanning around.

I waited for the first product for like half of forever, by which I mean over a year… yep, the first announcement was back in March of ’08. Product is finally here! It’s $2.99 at RPGNow. I don’t know if there’s a hardcopy edition planned; Axe Initiative is publishing through Goodman Games, who have generic Raiders Guild material listed as summer releases, but who are not advertising this particular product. Well, I have Twitter, I’ll ask people who might know and update if I find out.

Right; on to the product.

Opening

It’s player-directed from the beginning. The opening fluff is written in second person, placing you the reader into the shoes of a new Raiders Guild member and explaining why it’s a big deal. The sidebar on the first page contains a checkbox with five concrete reasons why your character might have been recruited.

It’s also high-speed. Robin Laws believes strongly in good opening pitches. You find out three paragraphs — again, on the first page — who the Raiders Guild is, who conflicts with them, and what a Raiders Guild adventure is like. Not surprisingly, Guild adventures start in media res. This is all direct, quick, and to the point.

About the Guild

The majority of the book — 10 pages — explains the Raiders Guild and discusses its history. It’s a good, complete primer. It covers how people join, the political structure of the Guild and how it interacts with other political entities, some of the assumptions about a Guild campaign, and the way the Guild was formed.

It does not specify any current Guild leaders, and it leaves everything loose enough so that there’s room for the DM to customize. I suspect this is on purpose, although that’s not made explicit. The Raiders Guild is designed such that it can be dropped into anything from a points of light world to high fantasy. A couple of paragraphs here and there imply that it’s meant to be flexible; I imagine that the DM book or adventures will provide guidelines on adaptations.

Sidebars throughout the book hold more checkboxes providing ideas for how characters feel about specific issues. E.g., on page 5:

Admiration
The stalwart Raider I most admire is:
☐ A trailblazing hero of my own primary class.
☐ An inspiring exemplar of my race.
☐ A dedicated smiter of my most despised enemies.
☐ A stunningly desirable adventurer, whose mere glance speeds the beat of my heart.
☐ Whichever one who most recently bought me a tankard of stout.
☐ Other.

I think the second person format here draws the reader into the mindset of a Guild PC. It’s a nice touch.

Enemies

The Guild section is followed by two pages on the Archivists, the antagonist organization. Archivists were originally dedicated to protecting the world by hiding and hoarding information on dungeons: their founder had a vision of the world ending as a result of some idiot dungeon crawlers getting their hands on the wrong thing. Over time, they became corrupt and fanatical. Nice stuff.

New Mechanics

Finally, there’s a new PC race in three pages, the Skreek. You get the usual race writeup — favored classes, possible names, and so on — plus three racial feats. They’re bat-people with pretty solid flavor.

Mechanically, they get bonuses to Dexterity and Wisdom, and they get a pair of skill bonuses to Stealth and Perception. They have a weakness, and a minor advantage during surprise rounds, which more or less cancel out. They have Sure Climber as a racial feat.

They also get darkvision and Blindsense 10, which is awfully good. I think this is the first PC race with darkvision. On top of that, skreek have an encounter power which is almost exactly like the dragonborn Dragon Breath, except that it does a little less damage, the attack bonus doesn’t scale, it always uses Dexterity, and it dazes targets.

Both the darkvision and the encounter power give me pause. I’m not sure if the lack of attack bonus scaling is meant to balance out the addition of a daze, but if it is, I’d say it doesn’t work: you just wind up with a power that is superb at low levels only. It’s also poorly balanced in that it’s extremely useful for a skreek rogue but nearly useless for, say, any class which uses Wisdom as a prime attribute. More than any other race, the skreek have a single class written all over them.

Summary

Great fluff. I wish there was more to it; as a DM, I want more information on how Robin thinks Raiders Guild adventures should be structured. But leaving aside my greed, I realize that the first actual module will give me all of that. I can work from example.

Further, we do get everything we need to know about the Guild in a tidy, engaging package. So I’m very happy there.

The mechanics, as is perhaps apparent, bother me. I haven’t playtested them, so I can’t say for sure that the skreek are overpowered, but my suspicions are strong. Rogues gaining combat advantage as a minor action is very good; rogues spending action points during a surprise round is very good; rogues who can see in the dark are very good. Even if the mechanical advantages weren’t superb, I think skreeks are also going to wind with the Shadowrun decker problem. Every encounter ought to start with the skreek creeping ahead and getting in a sneak attack first strike or two, which is dull for the rest of the players.

On the other hand, even without the mechanics, it’s worth $2.99 if you’re the sort of person who is willing to pay for fluff. I am. Note also that it’s not bound to 4e at all; you could layer this on top of any fantasy campaign.

Thus, the recommendation is “buy if it sounds attractive.”

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One Response to “Review: Raiders Guild Players Guide”

  1. blizack Says:

    Sounds like a pretty cool idea. Reminds me a little bit of a similar idea in Monte Cook’s Ptolus hardcover, though I’d probably enjoy this more as most of Cook’s stuff rubs me the wrong way for some reason.

    I have noticed that the 3rd-party-written races, at least the ones I’ve read, never seem to work quite right. It’s a shame.

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