The Warrior's Companion by Bryan Steele

I just finished giving The Warrior's Companion a thorough going-through, and my nutshell review is: It's a good book, well worth the purchase, that will add to your game.



...it's not a perfect book...

That's not to say it's a perfect book, though. There are a few wasted pages in the book one downright piece of bad game design.

Introductions in these types of books really aren't needed. Many times, they're a waste of pages unless the reader in learning something new. In this book, the first two pages are spent telling the reader what he's going to find later in the book. Why do that? Slap a table of contents on one page if you like, then get to it. Don't waste space telling what the chapters in the books are about--I'll be able to tell that when I get to those chapters. It's redundant information.

Another weak spot of the book begins on page 7 where Steele spends six pages (of this 92 page book) describing what a warrior truly is and applying that concept to each base character class. While I think this is a good idea--I am interested to read about Noble classed warriors and Thief classed warriors--Steele did a poor job of adding any information in this decent sized section that you mostly likely don't already know.

"Warriors of the barbarian class tend to be straightforward fighters; pitting their sheer strength and ferocity against their enemies. Hitting an enemy hard and fast is key to a barbarian's fighting style, reducing most foes in a single stroke to a bloody ruin. They must be flexible enough to deal with the occasional opponent that can weather their blows--and likely deliver some equal lethality!" That's a paragraph taken from the "Barbarian Warriors" section. Do you see anything there that you didn't already know? I bet the "Thief Warriors" section is going to say that they fight in a totally opposite manner, using Finesse attacks more often than not. Guess what? I turned to that section, and that's exactly what it says!

So, while I think the idea for the section was a very good one, the execution (the writing) is poor, giving us a section of the book that is largely a waste of pages.

I keep harping on page count because that's the golden commodity in a sourcebook. We gamers want pages and pages of stuff that we can use in our games. We despise pages that might as well not be there.

Adding insult to injury, after the warrior/class discussion, the book turns to a similar warrior/nation discussion. Here, Bryan discusses warrior cultures from various locals among the known lands of the Hyborian Age.

I'll admit, this section is written better than the warrior/class section, but I still don't think its worth the seven pages devoted to it.

From the white space in the book, and the poor quality of the information in these sections, I wonder if Bryan wasn't up against a mean deadline and just finished the book as best he could.



The biggest flub in the book comes in the section that brings optional Permanent Damage rules to the Conan RPG. There are a couple of triggers that key when, in a combat round, Permanent Damage might be possible. This is not unlike the key marked with the Critical Threat number, when rolled, that signals a Critical Strike may be at hand.

One of Bryan's rules is that the Permanent Damage may be possible when maximum damage dice is thrown after a successful hit. This is a poor, poor choice for a professional game designer to make. I'm afraid he didn't play test this nor put a lot of thought into it, because, what is says, is that weapons that typically do more damage are a lot less likely to deliver Permanent Damage to an enemy than smaller weapons that do much less damage.

For example, dagger does 1d4 damage. That means, using Steele's rule, that a character has a 25% chance of addressing the Permanent Damage chart after a successful hit is made.

A broadsword, on the other hand, that does 1d10 damage, only has a 10% chance of addressing the Permanent Damage table.

Does it make sense to you that, after a successful hit is made, that you're more than twice as likely to visit the Permanent Damage chart when using a dagger than when using a big, honkin' broadsword?

Doesn't make sense to me, either.

As I said: It's a flub. It's a plain old bad call, and it shouldn't have made it through play test.




There's two sections in the book that just strike me as "strange". I don't like the optional rules put forth, but you may. So, this may not necessary be a poor part of the book for you.

What I'm talking about is The Narrative Combat System and the Dual of Fates. This is an alternate set of combat rules (that, thankfully, don't take up too much space) that a GM can use in a game to speed up combats without using the combat system from the Core rulebook.

The Narrative Combat System is designed to breeze through situations where the player group is much more powerful than their opponents and are likely to tear through their enemies without taking much damage themselves. It's a decent idea, but I wonder if it's not attempting to cheat the game from one of its major draws--the gritty combat of the Hyborian Age.

The Duel of Fates option is designed to quickly play out those moments in a game or Conan story when the hero sees the Major Bad Guy on the battlefield then rushes to engage him--just the two of them, battling it out, while the carnage ensues around them.

While cinematic, I still ask myself, "Why not use the default combat system? Why speed up a major game moment like this with quick, abstract rules?

So, for me, both of these sections are a waste of space. You, on the other hand, might get some use out of the concepts.




...but its got some damn good things in it....

Enough about what's wrong with the book. I do think the book is worth buying and using in your game, so let's discuss what led me to that recommendation.

This first to speak of is a new Code of Honor slanted towards warriors. If you use the "Honor" system in Conan as a roleplaying tool (I do), then this is a good thing.

Another thing I like about the book is the rules for Permanent Damage. I meantion above that there is a major game design boo-boo presented in the book that dictates when, in combat, the Permanent Damage table is consulted. But, if you can work that out for yourself (I came up with a better house rule), the Permanent Damage chart, itself, is a good piece of work.

What Bryan did here was scale the injuries based on what a character can take (using his Constitution, Strength, and Dexterity scores) and how bad the damage is--more damage is more likely to severely hurt your target where as less damage is more likely to do little else than leave a scar.

It's a nice rule addition to your game (once you House Rule the flub), and I'm eager to try it out in my campaign.



While the sections on warrior classes and warrior countries are probably the weakest part of the book, one of the strongest sections is that which Bryan wrote on New Class Benefits. This is an excellent rules sections that covers each core class, providing warrior-type customizations to all the classes.

For example, Barbarians are given a choice to drop their Versatility (which cuts the penalty for wielding weapons for which the barbarian is untrained) class ability but gain a Cultural Weapon. The Cultural Weapon is sort of the Conan version of weapon specialization in the D&D game.

Borderers get new combat styles. Nobles get new social abilities. Soldiers get new formation choices. You get the idea.



Next up, Steele provides new, warrior-influenced Feats and Combat Maneuvers.

A section is devoted to Monastic Scholars (which is really well done).

And, one of my favorite sections details using skills in new ways (plus a couple of new skills). For example, if a warrior character has at least 3 ranks in Appraise, he can use the skill to judge the quality and potential of a enemy's armor and weapons. I particularly like the Temporary Aid that can be given if a healer has the Heal skill with 5 ranks.

There's three good sections on new armor, weapons, and equipment. Steele did a very good job here on what he chose to "display".

And, this section is followed by another of my favorites: A section that discusses a PC modifying his armor and weapons. Put a basket hilt on your sword or slaps some arrow padding in your armor. Sections like this one are the reason you buy the book.

There are a few prestige classes presented, including the Pit Fighter, and some famous NPCs of each type.

At the end of the book, a new character class is presented, the Martial Disciple, taken from Mongoose's Sign & Portents magazine.




PRO's: Lots of good "warrior" stuff that you can use to alter (and, I think, improve) your game.

CON's: Quite a bit of wasted space with stuff that will not add to your game.

Bottom Line: The Pro's outweigh the Con's. If you like what I've said in the positive section of this review, you'll definitely get some use out of the book.
 
Supplement Four said:
For example, Barbarians are given a choice to drop their Versatility (which cuts the penalty for wielding weapons for which the barbarian is untrained) class ability but gain a Cultural Weapon. The Cultural Weapon is sort of the Conan version of weapon specialization in the D&D game.

That was a weak point for me, as I have said before. By doing this, it removes one of the few advantages a soldier has over a barbarian. IRL, many "barbarian" nations have warrior societies which specialize in learning weapons (hence, in game terms, multi-class into soldier), but don't become as generally skilled as the rest of the nation (again, in game terms, shown by the loss of skill points by multi-classing into soldier). This variant ability just makes that bit of realism moot.

I would never allow that variant in the game. If a barbarian character wants to specialize in his cultural weapon, he should join a warrior society and train (i.e. take levels in soldier).

There was a reason behind not allowing barbarians to have weapon focus and such feats beyond 7th level. That ability nullifies this.

Some of the new borderer stuff also seems to be overpowered. The terrain tactics for the Borderer give an unnamed +2 bonus to attack rolls and Tumble skill checks to everyone who can hear the Borderer shout out directives on how to use the terrain. Since it is unnamed, it stacks with all other bonuses - which means if a military group has five scouts with this ability shouting out tactical advice, everyone has a +10 to attack rolls and Tumble checks (I guess the five Borderers would only get +8 since they can't listen to their own advice). One could hire some scouts and make one's army invincible!

I did like the noble abilities in the book. I thought the maneouvres were good also.
 
I like the Spearman feat.
And the soldier spear-using formations.
With those rules warspears become slightly more useful.

I must confess: I love spears and I dislike the way they seem useless in normal d20 rules.
 
VincentDarlage said:
That was a weak point for me, as I have said before. By doing this, it removes one of the few advantages a soldier has over a barbarian.

I haven't thought it out that far. You make a strong point. Clearly, you think about all angles (which is why your Conan RPG books are superior items in the line).

And, by this you illustrate one of the problems I have with this book. Like the big flub with the weapon max damage and the Permanent Damage Chart, it doesn't seem like Bryan play tested many of these rules. If he did, I'm not sure he ran the playtest the way he should have.

I didn't mention it in my review (because I do like the book, and I do think it is worth the price on its cover--I felt I'd made my point that the book is not perfect), but another thing that bothers me is in the skills section.

I do love it when Conan authors take the basic skills from the Core book and show us players how to use the skills in new and imaginative ways. That kind of stuff is gold.

But, what Bryan did was add a skill rank requirment to the option. For example, Armament Judgement can happen with Appraise at 3 ranks for better.

Although I like the skill, I think the addition of putting a rank requirement on the option is a poor game design choice. How are we players and Game Masters supposed to remember that? Are we expected to always look it up?

If there was some rhyme or reason--a pattern--to the ranking, it could probably work. You'd need a section that discusses what "having 3 ranks in a skill" means. But, without a pattern to go by, all a player has left is his memory: "Was that 3 ranks or 5 needed to use Appraise as Armament Judgement?" I dunno. Look it up.

I even question why ranks are needed? It's better to put a DC on the skill attempt ranther than put a rank requirement.

So, another gribe that can be added to my review is the coupling of rank requirements.



I'm harping a lot on what I don't like about the book. I want to make it clear that I do think the book has much to offer and is a worthy addition to a Conan game.

I just wish Bryan had thought out some of this stuff a little better before it saw print.




I did like the noble abilities in the book. I thought the maneouvres were good also.

I'm fond of the Wood, Stone, Steel chapter and the various equipment modifications. I wish Bryan has taken some of the pages wasted at the front of the book and expanded this section.

The d20 3.5 system has a focus on customizing characters. No two of the same class and same level need be alike, if a player doesn't wish it. This chapter does the same thing for equipment--making one character's club different from anothers.

More of this type of thing is definitely welcome in my game.
 
Supplement Four said:
I even question why ranks are needed? It's better to put a DC on the skill attempt ranther than put a rank requirement.

I agree with you here, to a degree. And having such low rank requirements to begin with seem pointless. 3 skill ranks? The cost is negligible, requiring next to no investment in the skill. On the other hand, I used a similar mechanic for my Knowledge (Mystery:Religion) in Faith and Fervour, as well as Knowledge (Fencing). My intent was to give value in investing in those skills. Not sure what the point is, though, in having a requirement like 2 or 3 or 4 skill points. There is virtually no investment factor in those requirements.

Supplement Four said:
I'm fond of the Wood, Stone, Steel chapter and the various equipment modifications. I wish Bryan has taken some of the pages wasted at the front of the book and expanded this section.

The d20 3.5 system has a focus on customizing characters. No two of the same class and same level need be alike, if a player doesn't wish it. This chapter does the same thing for equipment--making one character's club different from anothers.

Yes, I like the idea of doing that as well.
 
VincentDarlage said:
On the other hand, I used a similar mechanic for my Knowledge (Mystery:Religion) in Faith and Fervour, as well as Knowledge (Fencing). My intent was to give value in investing in those skills. Not sure what the point is, though, in having a requirement like 2 or 3 or 4 skill points. There is virtually no investment factor in those requirements.

I haven't read your work in F&F yet (I'll get to it....lots to read having just purchased the entire game line. I haven't been reading this stuff for 10 years the way you guys have.), but I mention above that I think the idea will work if the rank requirement is something easy to remember--and the same rank is used for different skills.

For example, 10 ranks in something would be easy to remember. A player would remember, "When a skill has 10 ranks, it usually means something about the skill..."

It's the skipping around that I don't think is good game design. I shouldn't have to look it up everytime I want to play a skill a certain way.
 
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