Mastercraft Anthology Print E-mail
Written by Ryan. Costello, Jr   
Saturday, 13 September 2008 19:01

$4.95! Before you can even tell what game this sourcebook is for, you know the price. Mastercraft Anthology collects material from the extensive Legends & Lairs line of d20 OGL sourcebooks.

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Expectations

 I expect to get more than my five bucks worth. What I fear is that I paid for an advertisement for other sourcebooks with nothing to show for it. The book wears no masks. It admits the material within is a sample of the Legends & Lairs line. Dragon and Dungeon magazines were not much more than advertisements for Dungeons & Dragons, and I loved those publications. Cartoons from the 80s, like GI Joe were criticized for being half hour toy commercials, and I’ve embraced those commercials whole hearted. Here’s hoping Mastercraft Anthology can compare.

 At a Glance

 Soft cover. Black and white interiors. Aesthetically, Mastercraft Anthology reminds me of the early 3.0 WotC sourcebooks like Masters of the Wild. That’s appropriate, since this is a 3.0 sourcebook (more on that later).

 I really appreciate the cover. The colours and style are high quality, the magic wheel in the centre is intriguing, with ruins and a dragon icon all leading me to wonder just what this item might be used for. Behind it is a variety of art pieces that can be found within, a nice tool to intrigue gamers judging books by their cover. There is no denying the yellow price tag out pops the rest of the cover, and the way it looks like a sticker means I’m sure many others have tried to peel it off. Fortunately, for anyone that wants to know what great secrets hide beneath, the first page is a black and white reprint of the cover without the balloon. There’s a foot and the rest of a shield.

 The artwork within is high quality. It is shaded to be printed in black and white, always better than a colour image turned black and white. The sample luinous, owner of the obscured foot and shield from the cover, demonstrates the power of a black and white image. Without reading any description, anyone can immediately see that this is a race whose skin radiates light. The clean, shadowless skin stands out even against the white of the page. Bonus, this female luminous is an A-cup, an extremely rare size of breasts in fantasy artwork. Sure, the armour doesn’t protect everything it could, given that the race’s prominent feature is its skin, this is forgivable.

 The legendary class profile pictures are all excellent illustrations that could be used as a portrait of any rogue character. Picking a favourite was hard, but I have to go with the Jack-of-Knives. Not only is it a very dynamic image with nice emotion expressed on his face, but the amount of knives they manage to fit onto this character is impressive.

 On page 80, you’ll believe a familiar can cry. A heart broken toad is moments away from tears as it sits on the chest of its master, right next to the arrow that killed him.

 Finally, there are the traps. The last twenty pages of the sourcebook are filled with diagrams of traps, explaining their mechanisms and offering transparent looks into these devious devices.

 Highlights

 Variety

 There are races and classes and feats and spells. New rules, new ideas, and oh the traps. What looked like a quick read turned out to be so densely packed with options, it took longer to read than the average Wizards of the Coast sourcebook. Sure, there’s maybe a dozen pages that are not reprinted from another source, but at least you go into it knowing that. Unlike when the first Complete series came out and neglected to mention a big chunk of the content was originally in the Miniatures Handbook and the softcover 3.0 sourcebooks.

It would be wrong to say there is variety and end there. There’s variety at speed dating, that doesn’t mean there is anything worthwhile there. I would estimate that half the options are decent and a quarter are bad (more on that later). That leaves a quarter of really good content. Legendary classes are a unique alternative to prestige classes that allow players great customizability. Although there are some aspects to the rules that I disagree with, like solo questing as a prerequisite that reminded me of what I disliked about Weapons of Legacy, it’s nothing that a few house rules can’t take care of.

I always appreciate rules that translate staples of fantasy fiction into functional mechanics. Faith Ceremonies bring to life rituals where multiple robed casters combine their powers to greater effect.

Good Advertising

Ever seen a movie trailer that really excited you, then saw the movie and thought it was absolute garbage, with the few decent moments ruined by months of seeing them in the trailers? Well I haven’t seen any of these movies, but these trailers have me interested in watching a few if I get the chance.

Continuing the metaphor, ever seen a movie trailer that you remember enjoying but can’t remember what it was for or who was in it? Masterwork Anthology names its chapters after the books the material was originally found in, and includes an image of the sourcebook’s cover in the chapters’ introductions.

One of my worries was that each entry would mention material not reprinted in Masterwork Anthology. That there would be hidden shilling within the shilling I’d signed on for. Like they might present rules for a Taft Rider prestige class, include all the rules for what that character can do while riding a Taft, and then tell you to go buy the $40 Taft handbook to know what a Taft is. I only noticed one instance where a rule is referred to in another sourcebook, and it felt more like an accident than a nefarious plot.

Format

Normally I would criticize a book that contains both player-centric options and DM-centric options, asking Who Is This Book For? This book is for people curious about 3rd party material but too cautious to buy a full priced sourcebook. Because Mastercraft Anthology is a buffet, it needs a mix of player and DM material. However, the editor made a wise and subtle choice to include all player options in the first part of the book and DM material in the second part. So if a DM wants to run an adventure on the high seas or trick out a monster using the Experimental Creatures rules, or maybe spring a really sneaky trap on the players, he can still lend out the book to his players and instruct them not to read past page 87. Players always listen to their DMs, right?

Low Points

It’s Complicated

Not all of it. Of the 25% of bad material I estimated above, most of that would be good ideas executed badly. Ideas like the schools of combat. Rules for fighting academies would normally be welcome, if they did not take up so much of a character’s in-game time, cost it XP and provide basically a second set of feats, making it a lower level character overloaded with options.

The entire Seafarer’s Handbook reads like a miniature game shoehorned into the d20 system, but too specific and without enough compromises between reality and rules. Adding a rule for every aspect of boat movement and combat does not recreate the experience of being a sea captain. More like being a sea captain’s accountant.

3rd Party 3.0

Two terms that strike fear in the hearts of 3.5 loyalists. This is a 3rd party production. It is not as polished as most WotC offerings (Complete Divine excepted). It does not have WotC’s production value. It also makes references to lore that has nothing to do with WotC’s mythology.

Being 3.0 rather than 3.5 has more setbacks than just needing to ignore references to the ambidexterity feat. This is older material, from before years of evolution of the game. For example, the Faith Caster is what we would call a new base class, but the game calls a variant class. Some of the rules and options are redundant now, even if they came first. Rules like swarms of humanoids can be found in the Player’s Handbook II. Many of the prestige classes are similar to ones we’ve seen since. I give Fantasy Flight Games credit for being ahead of their time, but I will usually choose a WotC released option over a similar 3rd party option that came first.

Format

“Wha?!”, you say. Wasn’t format one of the highlights? It is, if you design your characters from the bottom up. If you start with a concept and are looking for something specific, like a feat or prestige class, Mastercraft Anthology’s format makes it difficult to find what you want. There are only prestige classes for certain character themes, feats are not all in the same chapter, etc.

Also, the new races are some of the weaker options in the book, so it is unfortunate that this chapter starts the book. Maybe they were emulating the Player’s Handbook , it doesn’t make the races any more interesting or any better a choice to open with.

Juicy Bits

The Enhanced Familiar feat is a nice way of bumping up a familiar’s potency.

Spellbook Mastery is another handy feat for Wizards, increasing the number of spells learnt every level.

Burrowing Bony Digits is the best kind of Necromancy spell: A clever one.

Dig is a simple utilitarian spell that any wizard with an aversion to manual labour might have created. Its secondary use as a weapon against creatures of the Earth type is a nice touch.

Titan’s Strength really excited me when I first read it. The spell provides a significant effective strength bonus to lifting, carrying, and dragging without increasing the Strength modifier. If something really heavy needs to be moved, this spell does the trick.

Personal Experience

I have not used any options from this book. Truth be told, when I was moving, this book went in a pile with a couple of second edition sourcebooks I hoped to sell second hand. How much I expected to get for a book with $4.95 on the cover, I don’t know. At the last minute, I decided to take it out, at least to review. That’s when I discovered I’d judged this book too harshly.

Overall

The positives of the format outweigh the negatives, I would say, and make the most sense from Fantasy Flight Games’ point of view.

Since this is an elaborate advertisement for the Legends & Lairs series, the best way to judge it is based on how many of the books in the line I would consider buying. Path of Faith looks like it has the options I found missing from Complete Divine, the Monster’s Handbook has some potential, and I feel like the Traps and Treachery books are a godsend. I would consider Spells and Spellcraft if I wasn’t already up to my neck in spells thanks to the Spell Compendium. I might pick it up anyway. Path of Shadows intrigued me enough to pick it up if I ever saw it, I suppose. That’s more than half the books advertised. I would say Mastercraft Anthology does its job.

If You Liked This Book…

Wow, where to begin? Most of the options are similar to the first Complete series. Better nautical rules can be found in Stormwrack. Some ideas touched upon in the Monster’s Handbook chapter are comparable to Savage Species. And of course, any options you liked are expanded upon in the other Legends & Lairs sourcebooks.

Date Released: 2003

Date Reviewed: September, 2008