Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tome of Terrors and Treasures Review Part 1: Races

I recently got C.R. Brandon's Tome of Terrors and Treasures, a supplement for Heroes & Other Worlds. Having lightly read through the first half (or 70-80% to be accurate) of the book, it's time for a small(?) review. As the title says, for right now I'm only covering the playable races section of the book. The other Terrors and Treasures will be covered in future posts. Sorry ~('-'~)

An illustration of a Kobold captured by my crappy cell camera

The bulk of the PC races are organized in two sections, Humans and Demi-humans and Humanoids. You may note that this is older D&D terminology. There are three hiccups though. First, not all of the creatures in the Humanoids section can be played. Second, there are other playable races such as Satyrs, Centaurs, and Gargoyles that appear in other sections. Third, there is no index of playable races (although I did make an index on the HOW forums). This isn't a huge problem but if you don't know where everything is it can be a hassle.

I was actually surprised by how many OGL monster races appear in the book but aren't playable and that some "iconic" OGL races are omitted. There are no rules for playing Merfolk, Locathah, or Tritons, which understandable since they can't walk but feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity. Sahuagin aren't playable either, and Malenti aren't even in the book. The Planetouched (Aasimar and Tieflings) are completely absent, although they've always held an unstable position in OGL's pantheon of options. On the plus side, ToTaT doesn't have seven flavors of Elf.

The format for each race's statistics is now in an OGL-style format as opposed to the Minimum Scores chart in the HOW core rulebook. The stats are converted from the OGL/D&D 3.5 but Brandon takes some liberties with the stats, such as Duergar who have lost their Enlarge Person ability. Each set of stats ends with a Favored Class line which is never explained in the rules and always seems to be Adventurer. Given the large differences in the Experience systems between D&D 3.5 and HOW I don't have a clue what Brandon was trying to do there.

For most of the monster races, the trade-off for increased power is the loss of the EN. The problem is that it seems applied to ALL monster races, even weak ones. I'm going to quote some rules text. 

- +2 DX, no EN, no other modifiers
- AR-1 (DR 1/- in OGL terms)
-Low light vision
Compare that to this:
- +4 ST, -2 DX and IQ, no EN
- Darkvision out to 90 feet
- AR-2
- 3 natural weapons that each deal 1d3 damage
- Stench, a passive offensive ability that can debuff any and all non-Trogs with 30 ft./6 spaces
Now compare those two to this:
Hill Dwarf
- +2 bonus to notice unusual stone featues
- +4 bonus to resist tripping and knockdown
- +2 bonus to resist poison
- +2 bonus to resist spells
- +1 bonus to attack/cast spells against goblinoids
- +4 bonus to dodge Giants
- +2 bonus to appraise tests on metal/stone
- +2 bonus to crafting tests (metal/stone)

While the Trog edges the Dwarf in terms of combat, the Dwarf is a much all-rounder and utility character. Meanwhile, the Tengu has nothing to offer besides the novelty of playing as a bird-person. Fortunately, Tengu and Dwarves (and maybe Halflings) are all outliers and the relative power level for all races is pretty balanced across the board.

In closing, ToTaT delivers well on the playable races front, offering some neat new ones and some OGL-derived alternatives for the core HOW races. GMs hoping for Undead and Aquatic races unfortunately won't find them here (although conversion should be easyish). The main flaws are that some races are kinda lost in other sections that can be overlooked and that a handful of races (Dwarves, Tengu, Halflings) might be either underpowered or overpowered. If your burning desire is for more playable races or iconic races based on the OGL for Heroes & Other Worlds then I highly recommend Tome of Terrors and Treasures to you.

Coming soon-ish: Part 2 (Monsters) and Part 3 (Magic Items/Treasure) of this review.


  1. Hey Buzzclaw, Thanks for starting your review. Yes some of the potential character races are "weaker" or less well rounded than others--that is due to what folks are most likely to play, as well as what most Referees will normally allow to be played.

    That being said--I did run friends as a party of tengus--and it was a "unique" experience as players had to be more sneaky and clever to survive and get things done. We are now discussing dumping halflings altogether and using tengu only as that style of weaker race. More fun than goblins and not as "common" as halflings...

    Bird is the word!

    1. Tengu are also better than Kobolds ;)

      While I understand your approach in the Tengu design, I think I'll probably end up homebrewing a slightly beefed-up variant of the Tengu for my own use.

      And thanks for following the blog, Brandon :)