Review: Soldiers of Fortune by Matt James

Yesterday, February 14th was Valentine’s Day, and what would Valentine’s Day be withSoldiers of Fortune Cover Imageout some love for D&D 4e by 3rd Party Publisher Open Design.  Today, I’m here to give my 2 cents about the new supplement for D&D 4e, Soldiers of Fortune by Mr. Matt James.  Dungeons and Dragons has always been role playing game which focuses on fantasy, magic, dungeon delving and combat.  Glorious, glorious combat.  Soldiers of Fortune focuses on two things that D&D has also frequently held close to its heart: mercenaries and war.

Without  further ado, I’d like to get into what I liked and disliked about the supplement.

Soldiers of Fortune focuses on the above in great deal.  It provides links to the Midgard setting and discusses war and mercenaries in that setting so a small degree (not so much that the book is setting specific though).  The book offers great stuff for both players and DM’s: there are some new Monsters and NPC’s, which the DM will love, but there are also smattering of new feats, as well as new items, paragon paths, backgrounds, and a new template, which can be applied to any character.  Chances are, there will be something you will like in this book, if, of course, you are interested in mercenaries and the stories in which they are involved.

Apart from all the crunch, for which there is a fair amount, the book is filled with lots of fluffy goodness.  I really liked the first few sections of the book.  Section one provides some great intro material.  You get some fantastic plot hooks which could easily be used in even a non-mercenary game and you also get a host of other good ties for any good war story.  Section two provides a very brief setting specific overview, but doesn’t get too involved.  It does however provide some very good descriptions of the various races of the setting and how they view war.  Part 3 of the book was especially juicy; this section discussed the Midgard Strategems (essentially a fantasy version of The Art of War), which I found easy and inspiring for NPC personalities and story plots.

One of my favorite sections in this book is the adjudication of wars as massive campaign long skill challenges.  Those could be very, very awesome.  Though they might be a bit difficult to keep track of without a very well-kept and organized DM’s notebook (or Obsidian Portal) they seem like they would be a lot of fun to run and would also make nation spanning conflicts easy to handle.

The latter half of the book is where you start to get into all the crunch.  Section 4 offers up the mercenary “Theme” which you can apply to virtually any character out there.  It also gives you a bunch of new powers, feats, and paragon path opportunities.  Section 5 gives a few new magic items, but spends most of its time talking about war-related rituals and martial practices (these were great!).  I especially liked the “Mass Burial” ritual and everything that entailed.

Section 6 provides a short adventure which has some nice little encounters that you can run if you are so inclined.

Section 7, is by far the longest in the book; it provides a bunch of new NPC Templates, which you can slap onto an existing NPC or apply to a character to make anything from a Bodyguard to a Saboteur.  This section also offers of bunch of new monsters and mercenaries which you can use.  The End of the section also give you a few Siege Engines and accompanying rules.  Yummy.  Siege Engines.

I really liked most of what I read here.  I thought the adventure was interesting and well designed, which holds true of most of the other content as well.  However, the book was not all gold and cupcakes.  I do have some bones to pick with it, most of which has to do with choice of direction rather than design.  I liked what was included, but if I had to choose between having an adventure which spans only 12 pages and a bunch of other new feats and powers, I would much rather have had the other crunchy bits.  Since this book is working with a very slim page count, I would have cut that to make room for more content in the sections which needed it.  I got all the fluff I would want out of this book, but I felt like I could have gone for some more powers.  The feats, while good, were not very far reaching.  You don’t get many here.  I also thought that the powers section could have used some better balance.  Though you do get a variety of powers over each of the tiers, you don’t get any Martial Powers in the Epic tier at all.  I thought that was pretty lame considering the classes that I would most likely play in any mercenaries style game would be the fighter, warlord, or rogue, none of which could benefit from the powers here without multi-classing.  Although the book says that you can use any of the powers in the book for a character in a Soldiers of Fortune game, I could see that getting shot down pretty easily by a DM since some of the powers would obviously not be available to martial characters who don’t put in the arcane (or primal, divine, psychic) study.

Apart from that though, I don’t have much else to say.  I liked the book a lot and I will get a lot of value out of it for my future games, which all tend to take some type of war bound twist.

If you like D&D 4e and you enjoy stories which involve mercenaries, you will most likely enjoy reading through this book and get a good amount of use out of it for your game.