Martial Flavor is a D&D 4th Edition product by Chaotic Shiny Productions. It used to cost 22 dollars but that has a little slash mark through it now and slightly larger, bolder digits proclaim the new price is $19.95. I paid $0.00 for it, as a disclaimer for this review. I won mine in a contest. It is the only contest I’ve ever not-failed at (since I also didn’t win). That won’t make me any less objective about the review. It’ll just make me weep at my own life as I write the review.
What I should disclaim (is that the proper word?) is that I’m listed in the credits as one of the playtesters. Yes, I had some minor input into the process by which this product came to life. That also will not make me any less objective about the review. it’ll just make me smile at my own accomplishments. Now that we’ve canceled joy and sorrow with each other and thus returned me to my typical metered temperament, we can return to the review.
The stated goal of Martial Flavor is to help people bring more story to their D&D 4e experience by introducing cultures and their powers for D&D 4e, geared towards martial characters. These martial cultures include information on their appearances, hierarchies, spirituality, rituals (not the kind you burn gold on), races and some example adventurers. Sidebars contain useful little tidbits of information further strengthening some aspect of the flavor of each culture.
The book is 55 pages including cover and back cover. Alongside the flavor, each culture contains powers and feats to help players model some of the culture’s behaviors and patterns. The powers are all utilities and there’s about a page of them for each culture. The crunch is not the focus of this book, and is minor in comparison to the flavor, as it were. I hesitate to go too deeply into each culture however, because the biggest selling point of this product are the cultures.
The PDF is full color and contains a number of illustrations by Rachel Yung. I’d like to tip my hat to Ms. Yung as I found a lot of charm in her illustrations. They aren’t the kind of glossy explosive digitalcolors you see in the big business books, but they have an earthen, free-handed feel (though of course I don’t know exactly how she did them) that I enjoyed, with soft colors, nice detail and lovely style that was to me reminiscent of some of those traditionally-animated films I grew up with like The Prince of Egypt and The Road To El Dorado. I’m very fond of the art in this book.
There are 5 cultures in the book. The Daikort are a group of mercenaries who’s internal culture has a concept of non-monetary debt, Favor, that they accrue and barter with one another, taking it even more seriously than they do Gold. The Elessim are plains riders who breed horses and store writing in patterns of knots, their history before the plains being shrouded in mystery. The Ikanoi are tribes of ice-faring ancestor-worshipers who, although for the most part are presented in a somewhat Primal (to borrow a 4e term) form, also include some information for adapting them into a more advanced and organized culture in the icy realms. The Legion of Arytis are a city of soldiers, where all people are inducted into the Legions and trained for war, prepared to face any threat to their city-state (which can also be adapted as part of a larger kingdom via one of the sidebars). Last but not least, the Sijara are a nomadic culture reminiscent of gypsies, who travel in family groups and who philosophically explain away their thieving natures, though some of them are honest.
Within all of them I found things to like, things I wasn’t hot on, things that inspired other, different things. They are multi-faceted enough that they are good to take from and good to use completely. As someone with a setting in my head which I gear my games towards and certain preferences, I wouldn’t use them as presented, but they served to inspire other things. Setting material hovers in a nebulous plane as to its ultimate use. The Chaotic Shiny site above has loads of previews of the material. Peruse them and find out for yourself – what would you use this book for?
The powers and feats in the book are a mixed bag. All of the powers are Utility powers and some are non-combat utility powers. Some of them are rather weird – an encounter power that lets you discern the natural north for example, is probably not what I would consider a high pick in the 4e draft. But those which are not strange are rather balanced from my reading. The feats tend to follow a strict theme, for example the Elessim get lots of feats that have to do with mounted combat. All of them require that you play as that particular culture.
Because of the relatively light-on-rules nature of the book, it could serve as a useful tool for people playing other editions of D&D as well. Ultimately whether you buy this book or not really depends on what you feel about buying RPG setting and story material. These cultures can serve as good inspiration for you and your players. If you like setting material, system be damned, then this book is right up your alley. If you only want it for the 4e powers, you already know what your opinion of this book is. Personally I had a rather good time of reading it, so I recommend it.