Publisher: Malhavok Press
Optional and evolved rules for 3.5 brought to you by one of the fathers of the edition, Monte Cook.
Monte Cook admits he is not the rules guru some might expect him to be, saying he has trouble keeping track of which versions of rules he revised ended up being published, not to mention he was not involved in turning 3.0 to 3.5. However, he gets the intentions of the rules having co-designed the philosophy and therefore can see areas of improvement for the game. I expect good rules and great insight.
At a Glance
The cover aesthetic is an interesting thing. The central figure is off-centered and framed by an asymmetrical shape with defined edges and round corners. It is chaotic yet visually appealing. Within the frame is a vicious sort of wizard, presumably Malhavok the D&D character Monte Cook named his company after. The design of the character as well as his layer project power and evil, but also thought. The outer frame is a blood red archaic calendar with a combination of printed and hand drawn details. At a glance this is a very pleasing cover that stands out next to most third party material. Upon closer inspection, it is very strange.
The interior is black and white with sparse artwork. However, the layout makes use of white space and a few consistent elements to make even generic pages interesting. First of all, there is a piece of the calendar from the background of the cover along every seem. Second, the page banners have a thin line that curves at the end of the even pages. Third, the lines are spaced out slightly more than usual for a sourcebook. Anyone interested in self-publishing that is hesitant because they can’t afford much art should use The Collected Book of Experimental Might as a learning sample.
Often overlooked in third party material, Monte Cook shows how flavour text can be as important as rules text. He could have explained the rules for Grace hit points versus Health hit points and left it at that. Instead, he goes into detail about the difference between the two hit point categories, why one heals faster than the other, and the concept’s roots in fiction. With a few extra paragraphs, he addresses criticism about hit points that date back to first edition and even Mike Mearls admits 4e could have quantified better.
Design notes in the magic section offer a brilliant insight into a heretofore unnoticed problem with all the resurrection spells: A millionaire is immortal. How can an adventure feature an assassination plot be the least bit intriguing when a few thousand gold solves the problem? This can be added to the usual complaints about players brushing off the fear of ultimate consequences because the ultimate solution is a few rounds away.
The Book of Experimental Might not only addresses this problem, but it is wise enough to address all the ramifications of addressing the problem. Simply removing most resurrection spells would lead to a very lethal game. Instead, old rules are modified and new rules are added to create a system of handling death that is both better balanced and more reasonable.
As mentioned about, hit points are divided into two categories: grace and health. Grace hit points heal at a rate of one per minute of rest, meaning characters that take the logical few minutes between fights are rewarded. A new special action in combat is the “take a breather” which works similar to 4e’s healing surge, only using the Grace hit points rules and with a few more options. Characters also start with more hit points. Save or die spells have been modified to typically deal 10 damage/caster level. Still significantly lethal, but with a chance to survive, especially with the new Disable, Dying, and Dead rules that tie a character’s survivability to its Constitution score and modifier.
An added benefit of these new rules is that a cleric character need not be so worried about using up all its spells in case of emergency healing or resurrection.
There is still one resurrection spell, however it’s near epic level, takes days to cast, and has a chance of failure. The Collected Book of Experimental Might makes death nearly permanent, the way it should be.
It has been said that 3.5 fighters are weaker than they seem. Monte Cook apparently took that criticism personally. A chunk of rules address fighters first, other warriors second, and non-warriors third. More feats, new feats, double feats, uber feats, and fighter disciplines all work towards improving the versatility and abilities of the fighter. What’s surprising is few changes had to be made to the fighter class itself to accommodate all these options. Although they are heavily tied to another optional rule -that all characters should get a feat a level- these options can be tweaked back to the 3.5 feat every three levels formula or to the Pathfinder feat every other level formula.
The Collected Book of Experimental Might was created for Monte Cook’s home campaign and therefore certain casualness is expected. However, roleplaying rules are very much tied to vocabulary. So when a rule just says “level”, is it referring to class level? Character level? For someone who believes players should skim the rules and then go with the flow this isn’t a problem, but just believing players should be that way doesn’t make them that way. Ambiguity in vocabulary can and has lead to arguments around gaming tables for as long as dice have been rolling. The Collected Book of Experimental Might’s loose vocabulary does nothing but encourage such arguments.
This is not Unearthed Arcana. The Collected Book of Experimental Might options are designed as an alternate system, not as separate alternate rules. Some rules can be taken piecemeal but many are balanced with the understanding that all options will be used. Some of these options on their own drastically change power levels, like taking the rules that make killing a character harder but keeping all the rules that make bringing back dead ones easy. Before splicing ay one idea into your game, see if you need wire cutters to get it unplugged first.
46 pages of this 140 page book are dedicated to feats. This may seem like a good thing, especially with the proposed feat a level rule. The problem is that the entire list of feats from the Player’s Handbook is reissued with a little tweaking to accommodate the new feat boosting and fighter bonuses. This could have been resolved more efficiently with an equation for applying these boosts and bonuses, most of which are fairly formulaic. Not only would an equation have alleviated the need to reprint so much Player’s Handbook content, but it would have meant that non-core feats (and feats that appear in the Monster Manual) could be used just as readily.
This sea of feats drowns the few Player’s Handbook feats that have been otherwise changed as well as any new feats. And there are a number of new feats, some of which are excellent additions to the 3.5 rules. They are just hard to find.
The advent of Alternate Class Features meant many wizards and sorcerers said good-bye to their familiars. After all, not every famous wizard of fantasy fiction had a familiar and most players forgot everything about their familiar except the bonus it grants. The Collected Book of Experimental Might keeps the familiars optional, thanks to Wizard Disciplines, but also removes their physical aspects. Described as “an extension of your own soul given quasi-real substance in the real world”, this is the best representation of familiars ever.
As mentioned at great length already, the rules for Grace and Health are so useful and well thought out, they are worth the book’s purchase.
The magic chapter does what the feats chapter should have done: It applies a formula (even a loose one) to convert existing rules to fit the Collected Book of Experimental Might’s options (in this case spell levels 1-20 instead of 0-9). As a result, the entire Player’s Handbook spell list is not reprinted and some of the new spells can stand out. Spells such as: Escape Death, a wonderful escape route for reoccurring villain casters; Fires of Hell, for evil clerics looking to burn away their good enemies; and Nonesuch Spell, an easier-to-manage version of antimagic field.
I have not had a chance to implement many of these options yet, but I have personally felt robbed by a character returning from the dead too easily, have seen too many familiars stuffed in a bag and forgotten, and have suffered as a cleric who is the only means of healing the party.
My favourite purchase from the last year, and that includes the Pathfinder RPG beta rulebook. I will not use every option in this book, but there are enough really good ideas in here to be worth my purchase. Some of the rules hint at 4e retro fit, which works on some occasions –like a 3.5 version of the healing surge- and fails on other occasions –like feats that operate x times per day and force a brief condition, usually stunned, onto an opponent. Since these rules are optional, this is the best way to add the 4e dynamics you like to a game run using 3.5 rules, with no commitment to 4e mechanics or the dynamics you dislike.
If You Liked This Book…
The Pathfinder RPG (in Beta as of this review) is the entire 3.5 OLG system updated and enhanced.
Monte Cook’s current endeavour, Dungeon-A-Day uses the 3.5 rules but can easily be converted to support the Collected Book of Experimental Might options.
Date Released: March 2009
Date Reviewed: May 22, 2009