Friday, July 30, 2004
The Guy Who Types
Review: Before you buy this book, you have to realize what its about - an entire harcover supplement focusing on Yuan-Ti, Naga, and other scaly races ("The Scaled Ones"). This has the potential to be an interesting, if a bit narrow, topic. If you're willing to pay $30 for it, you'll pretty much get what you asked for - a wealth of information about stuff that goes hiss in the night.
The book is divided into 13 chapters, so I guess its easiest if I sort of review each separately.
The first chapter deals with the Yuan Ti. It opens with an overview of the different subraces (Purebloods, Halfbloods, Abominations, Anathemas, and a short note on 'other' subraces liek Holy Guardians, Magekillers, Tainted Ones, and Brood Guards). I think it would have been nice if the statistics for soem of their race had been re printed, maybe instead of a few of the more boring new monsters, as it does get a little annoying to keep scrambling between different books when you're trying to run a fight wit ha few subraces involved.... Anyway. The chapter then delves into some racial history, describes their cold and serpentine outlook, and gives the reader information on the various houses (clans, really) of the Yuan Ti. Througout these first sections, you pick up some terminology that is used throughout the rest of the book, like the phrase "vrael olo" which refers to Yuan Ti. This stuff is fairly solid, providing enough societal details to aid an unimaginative DM who wants to run a serpent-inhabited adventure. More information on Yuan Ti family life, their gods and magic, their racial relations, and finally two fairly uninteresting sample villains. This chapter contains only two illustrations, both decent.
The second and fifth chapters follow the same format, except that they deal with the Naga and Sarrukh (the newly introduced "progenator race") respectively. The Naga chapter is very short, but one of its three sample villains is pretty neat (I like the illustration of him, although the other naga in the picture is looking a little... odd....) The Sarrukh chapter, like the first chapter, contains only two pictures - one of a skeletal Sarrukh being discovered by an adventurer in a dungeon, which is a good piece, and the other of one of the sample villains. Passable, but not great. He doesnt really look very sinister with little golden wings on his back...
The third chapter, "Lizards" discusses the bipedal scaled ones - several races (although, interestingly enough, not the lizardfolk - theres a section for the half-fiend lizard kings, but not one for the normal lizardfolk!) This gets a little monotonous, since every race is, more or less, a humanoid lizard, albeit different sized/colored and with different societies. There are numerous illustrations throughout this chapter (one a reprint from onsters of Faerun), and most of them are alright. The "The Lizard King's Feast " piece is exceptional.
The fifth chapter introduces the Ophidians and Pterafolk (you guessed it, humanoid pterandadons...) Its short, but pretty boring. One of two pictures is vibrant and interesting, the other is rather bland.
The seventh chapter details serpentine and lizardlike monsters. It contains a few interesting beasties - a few dinosaurs, a lot of snakes, a description of the Lizard Kings described in an earlier chapter, statistics for the Sarrukh (who are underpowered...) a Lycanthropic Weresnake, some new kinds of Naga (including a "Naga Hydra," which is an interesting idea), a variation on the flesh golem called the "Serpentflesh Golem," two new breeds of Yuan Ti (Mageslayers and Holy Guardians) and the half breed Troglodyte/Lizardman Tren. All in all, a good chapter, quite colorful (almost every beast has a picture, most of them quite good). Possibly the best chapter of the book.
The 8th chapter, Realms, is my least favorite. I wish they would have cut this out and instead detailed the other chapters a bit further, added some more monsters, spells, or items, or even reprinted the Naga and Yuan Ti statistics so that they were convieniently in one place! But, instead, we get a chapter all about different locations influenced by the Scaled Ones. Not a bad idea, but since each location is poorly detailed and often fairly uninteresting, its my least favorite chapter in the book. I'd prefer to know more about the races so that I could think up my OWN cities and sites. A few interesting pictures, though, which might inspire some adventure ideas.
The next chapter is short, a discussion of how to use the Yuan Ti as villains in a campaign. It ends with yet more NPC descriptions, one of which is accompanied by a sinister illustration.
Next comes a four page, unillustrated chapter of feats. Mostly boring stuff.
After the Feats chapter comes Equipment, which is also short and almost unillustrated. The section on Yuan ti grafts (taken from the Fiend Folio) is an interesting concept, but gets little space. Numerous poisons and special weapons appear.
Again, a very short chapter, containing only 14 spells... The Spells chapter. One good illustration, nothing else of note. Out of curiosity, why are lava-related spells used by serpent folk....? Hmm.
The NEXT chapter introduces six new prestige classes, each with a decent illustration. Most are just mediocre, but I personally liked the Naga Overlord. Good villain class, centered on domination and follower-augmenation. Anyway...
The book ends with a chapter of short, bland adventures, and an appendix with some helpful information.
All in all, Serpent Kingdoms isn't going to be a great addition to most Dungeon Master's libraries. Still, it does what it set out to do- provides a plethora of information on the Scaled Ones. I would have liked it much better if it had had more monsters and prestige classes, rather than those premade adventures, and as I already said, the 8th chapter ate too much space that should have been used for other things. Its a decent, somewhat narrow supplement. Buy it if you really like serpentkind, or need to get every single Realms book. I personally think your imagination wil ldo a better job of fleshing out the Scaled Ones society and coming up with fun adventures, but this is a decent starting point, with a few cool illustrations to boot. I give it a 7.5 (which I round up to 8).
Wow, I really wrote a book here, eh? Well, you didnt have to pay for it : )