Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Strongholds & Followers - To Consider Before You Buy

On Friday I gave my first impressions of Matt Coleville's Strongholds and Followers. Over the weekend and the past few days I've had more time with the book. Today I want to give a sort of semi-review. My purpose here is not to give a full critique of the writing and its worth, but rather to point out the things I think it does well, and the things I wish they'd put more work into or given more consideration to. This will come out as a list of the Good and the Bad. I'll explain what I mean with each one. With luck, if you're on the fence on buying this book, it should help you figure out if you want to or not.

The Bad
I like to start listing out the bad. I do this for two reasons. One, if people are looking for potential deal breakers, why make them wait? Two, it lets me end with the positive. There are negatives to everything. The idea here is to list places where a reader may face confusion or run into other problems.

Lack of an Index
The lack of an index can make finding certain information harder. The table of contents is pretty good, but an index gives a level of specificity that I almost always want. If a term confuses me, or I want to know more about how it works, a table of contents won't help me but an index will. Many RPG books lack indexes, and Strongholds and Followers can now count itself among them.

Spaced Out and Hidden Information
Certain terms come up in Strongholds and Followers with nothing beyond a general context of what the word is, means, or what the function does. In some cases the term is not properly defined or explained in the chapter, and in at least one case is not explained until an entirely different section on the opposite edge of the book. This makes it harder to only use parts of the book, because the information for each section is spread out throughout the other sections. In other cases, a term is featured prominently in tables or stat blocks, but defined only once - in a random sentence in the middle of a paragraph. One example of this is the 'Size' category for strongholds, which is defined in a sentence in the middle of a paragraph. Another example is what the 'upkeep' is for a unit of troops which is mentioned several times when talking about strongholds, but not mentioned anywhere until the very endof the Units and Followers section, and not listed on the stat cards for the units themselves.

It's More A Hammer Than A Toolbox
To be clear, it is a hammer, a chisel, and another specific tool. The point is Strongholds and Followers does specific jobs well, and is less useful for things that are not those specific things. It does not have the full utility of a toolbox, and leaves many things up to the GM. This is not explicitly a bad thing, but I am listing it here because it might be a reason to not buy. For example, while having a stronghold opens the door up to politics, the book - and the mechanics as presented - have very little to do with politics beyond "you have X many troops and Y facilities capable of these specific functions."

The Good

Its a Very Good Hammer
If I am going to list the fact that the book is only a specific tool as a bad, it is only fair to say that the tools it chooses to give you are very adept at their task. The rules for building strongholds and castles are clear, as are the explanations of what they are capable of doing. Some information is scattered a bit, but it is all in there and generally in a logical place for it - even if some redundancy could save a lot of time.

Abstract In A Good Way
The book gives you abstract ways of handling large units, which in turn lets you deal with wars and maneuvers of large troops in a simple fashion. Yes, it can be confusing to figure out how much bigger a 1d6 unit is than a 1d4 unit, but that also lets you customize those numbers for your games which I really like. I like the idea of having one 1d10 unit because of number of troops, while another 1d10 unit is because of just how badass each member of that troop is.

It Hits Every Part of D&D
The book has something for near every part of D&D. There are the rules for building strongholds for the players, but also rules for villains to help the GM. There is an adventure to help get PCs into their first stronghold. There are ways to build things for each class. There are magic items. There are monsters. Maybe not all of these will be useful to everyone, but if you're playing a D&D game there is going to be something here you find of use.

Easy to Read
This may be subjective, but I like the way Matt Coleville wrote the book. It comes across as easy to ready and understand. It's written as a conversation - or one of Matt's "Running the Game" videos - and not as an abstract work that loses nuance in trying to be clinical and objective in how it discusses things.

Overall it's a good book and a solid addition to my D&D collection, and one I would recommend for anyone running a game - particularly if you have players who want to build a stronghold and take on all comers. It's not Birthright and that may be a point against it. Then again, it's not Birthright, and that may be a point for it.

Objectively, almost every tick I put against the book are flaws you see in a lot of RPGs. Yes, it's nice when they are checked tick boxes, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't see them all the time in other games.

The content is good. Matt Coleville and the MCDM crew should be proud!

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