“I’m inclined to think that a military background wouldn’t hurt anyone.” ~ William Faulkner
As Players, we assume quite a bit when we create a new Dungeons & Dragons Character. Most of us have never held a sword, or even a knife, before we create that first Fighter or Rogue Character. And even those that have held the correct end of something sharp, it’s doubtful that we’ve used it in a fight or to survive against a foe.
But many Players, myself included, are drawn in by stories of daring swordplay, of combat and battles fought between warriors in armor wielding live steel. Tales of heroes such as Conan or Fafrd & the Grey Mouser are thrilling because they live their life boldly, fighting their way through life. So even though we, as Players, have never experienced a life of battle, the drama and excitement of these tales make us want to create dynamic Characters that can hack their way into legend.
To assist with creating one-of-a-kind heroes of battle, Chaotic Shiny Productions has published a new supplement called Martial Flavor, which details five new backgrounds to bring your new Character to life.
- Designers: Hannah Lipsky
- Illustrations: Rachel Yung
- Publisher: Chaotic Shiny Productions
- Year: 2009
- Media: PDF (55 pages)
- Price: $19.95
Martial Flavor is a supplement package detailing five new Character backgrounds that can be added to any Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Setting. The package includes both a full-color pdf, as well as a printer friendly black-and-white pdf for easy printing, a link to download the Power cards for reference, and a sneak peak of the upcoming Martial Cultures supplements.
These backgrounds are designed to be used with martial-based Classes, and there are over thirty new Powers and eighty new Feats to enhance Characters and add flavor to their chosen milieu. Alternate Class features are also provided, allowing for the creation of truly unique Fighter, Ranger, Rogue and Warlord Characters than have been typically played in previous campaigns.
The production quality of Martial Flavor is quite good, with the information presented in a logical manner, and the Powers and Feats detailed in the same format as “official” releases. The artwork is fair to average, but with ample illustrations to enhance explanations of the various Character Backgrounds.
While the five backgrounds in this supplement may not be entirely unique to fantasy role-playing, they do offer the opportunity for some interesting development not only for a Character, but for a campaign setting as well:
- The Daikort Pack are a band of skilled mercenaries, known as much for their peculiar sense of honor as for their ability to get the job done.
- The Elessim are a barbaric people who dominate the plains with their unmatched horsemanship.
- The Ikanoi long ago mastered the arctic wastes, and look to a future that they hope will be a continuation of their storied past.
- The fabled city of Arytis is guarded by her tireless legions, men and women utterly dedicated to their cause.
- And the Sijara wander the ways of the world forever, freed from the bonds that tie other peoples to their fates.
The Author has designed these five backgrounds to offer a considerable amount of diversity to both the Dungeon Master and the Player seeking a new Character “hook”. For instance, the Daikort Pack is a mercenary company that could contain a wide variety of races and classes working for the greater goals of the organization. Likewise, the Legions of Arytis offers the chance to add a secretive and hidden city-state to a campaign, where citizens of a variety of races can serve to protect their home from dangerous outsiders – or the background could simply be substituted for the militaristic culture in an already existing campaign city.
The Daikort Pack is a lethal cabal of skilled warriors, trained to live, track, and fight in any climate. Their base never stays in the same place for long, nor does their allegiance. They will use any skill to get the job done, and are rumored to teach their recruits a few tricks that go beyond mere martial training.
The embodiment of martial strength, the Legions of Arytis have guarded the city for time immemorial. Utterly devoted to protecting their city, they are the best of the best of all of the citizens who have trained for the duty.
Each and every citizen of Arytis begins their military training as soon as they are old enough to lift a sword. They learn how to forge weapons, how to scout terrain, how to treat wounds in the field, and how to infiltrate enemy encampments. But most of all, they learn how to fight.
The other backgrounds, such as the Elessim, Ikanoi, and Sijara seem to be designed as racial sub-cultures that can be added to an existing setting without creating too many continuity issues. The Author provides ample information to allow Dungeon Masters and Players to decide what race would best typify each sub-culture. So in one campaign, a Dungeon Master might decide to make Sijara a sub-culture of Halflings, while the tattoo-sporting Ikanoi might be a dwarven clan from an ice-bound mountain – and then just as easily change the racial make-up for a new Campaign, based upon the needs of his Players.
Both male and female Sijara wear their hair long. Most of the time, they leave it loose. Bound hair is the sign of a serious situation, such as a business transaction, battle, or important ceremony.
Because of their nomadic lifestyle, Sijara wear their wealth. For most this takes the form of jewelry – especially facial piercings – and flamboyant clothing. Sijaran adventurers often sink their wealth into armor and weapons. After the first successful adventure, a warlord might trade in her plain steel blade and a heap of coins for a longsword so ornate it’s nearly impossible to wield. The next time she needs money, she’ll simply reverse the bargain in another city, without ever having had to carry the coins from place to place.
Ikanoi are covered with tattoos from head to foot, with each portion symbolizing a different part of their story. However, they rarely display any of these sacred markings. Growing up dressed to accommodate arctic weather, they still do their utmost to cover up even in tropical climates. Revealing any tattoos but those on the head, neck, hands and feet is a mark of overwhelming trust.
Each Ikanoi sports near-identical chest tattoos, given as soon as they are old enough to bear them. These markings tell the story of the tribe, from its inception to its present day. Younger Ikanoi will have slightly more compressed versions of the markings near the center – the tribe’s early history – to leave room on the edges for the tribe’s recent history. This covers great battles, migrations, shifts in tradition, and other things important to the tribe.
Each background in the supplement gives detailed information regarding Background Benefits, Appearance, Hierarchy, Spirituality and Ritual, and Racial types in order to allow Players to create an involved background history, should they so choose. The Author also offers ample Sidebar “fluff” to give additional information useful to both role-playing and Character development, with sample Characters are provided as examples in how each background can be used effectively to create unique new personalities.
The Powers and Feats provided for each of the five Backgrounds in Martial Flavor are well-balanced and were designed to enhance Classes by adding new and distinctive abilities. And allowing certain Class features to be slightly altered by the Martial Flavor backgrounds was a very creative way to make sure that Players had options to make their Characters unique.
Ikanikon rogues may replace their First Strike class feature with Seasoned Strike.
Seasoned Strike: As long as you are not on difficult terrain, you have combat advantage against any creature that is on difficult terrain.
Elessin rangers may choose the Raider Fighting Style.
Raider Fighting Style: Because of your riding experience, you gain Mounted Combat as a bonus feat.
Fighters from Arytis may choose to replace their Fighter Weapon Talent class feature with Fighter Shield Talent.
Fighter Shield Talent: While you are carrying a heavy shield, one ally adjacent to you gains your shield bonus to their AC and Reflex. You may change this ally as a free action. In addition, your check penalty for carrying a heavy shield is reduced by one.
Overall, I enjoyed Martial Flavor by Chaotic Shiny Productions quite a lot, and I really think that the five backgrounds, particularly the Ikanoi and the Legions of Arytis, could add some real flair to any Dungeons & Dragons 4e Campaign. The Author did an excellent job of adding Power, Feat, and Class Feature options which would enhance a Character’s development without being unbalancing. And there is plenty of “fluff” material to allow a Player to create mannerisms of speech, dress, and attitudes to satisfy any die-hard role-player.
The only negative issue I found with Martial Flavor was the price, which is a bit steep for the GSL 3rd Party PDF market. But there’s quite a bit of good material to be found in the supplement, and might still be worth looking into, especially if you’re a Dungeon Master looking to do some world-building, and need some exciting new cultural content.
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.