By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Necromancers of the Northwest is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 23 pages of content for the Spartans.
After a short introduction as well as a short historical story, we are introduced to culture, religion and lifestyle of the Spartans and the peculiarities. This not being an historical exercise, the information is rather sketchy, elaborations are expanded to transform Sparta as a nation into a fantasy realm before introducing the spear-wielding Hoplite class. The class gets d10, a good fort-save, full BAB and no spellcasting. No information on how many skill-points per level the hoplite gets, though, essentially being a MAJOR glitch that makes the class, as written unusable.
Which is a pity, as the class uses the disciple/major disciple mechanic you’ll know from e.g. SGG’s different genius guide classes. We get 14 disciplines to choose from as well as 8 major disciplines. The class focuses, not surprisingly, on cooperative phalanx-formation, spears and tower shields. Unfortunately, though, neither the capstone ability, nor the rather bland disciplines really caught my interest. Even worse, they are not balanced among themselves: Would you rather take a bonus feat or rerolls for ALL diseases and poison-saves? Thought so. The information on playing the hoplites and their lore-sections are ok pieces, but nothing to truly write home about.
The next section deals with alternate lass features. We get 2 Barbarian ones centring on being tough as nails, a level 20 bard performance that grants +4 morale bonus to atk, damage, AC and saves. I may be biased but I consider my Northlands-skald capstone much cooler – the Spartan bard’s performance feels like a high-level buff and not like a true level 20-capstone. The new Cavalier order, the order of Lycurgus, is unbalanced to the extreme, gaining an ability at 8th level that prevents the cavalier from being slain and instead drop to 1 HP, regardless of the damage. To add insult to injury, he can use this more often at higher levels.
The cleric’s alternate battle blessings feel rather like bardic performances than cleric abilities to me, buffing fighting prowess via a burst of energy. Druids can get a rather bland bonus to survival for resist nature’s lure. Fighters can specialize in a particular armour or give up one their bonus feats (one of their defining characteristics) for exploits that are generally a) more powerful (i.e. immunity to charm and compulsion) and b) should have been rather hoplite exclusives, as they detract from the unique feeling of being a Spartan warrior when made available to just about any fighter. Monks (and Rangers) can change evasion for durability, which does essentially the same for fort-based spells and effects and a lame 2 bonus against being nauseated and sickened.
Oracles gets the new mystery of Delphi – which actually is once again an example of the good design NNW is capable of: The oracle is very iconic and the abilities are all recognizable from Greek mythology -nice! Paladins can exchange smite for defensive abilities. The new rogue talents are nothing to write home about and enable the rogues to scavenge from the fighter exploits, further underlining characteristic abilities that enhance the iconicity of classes. Not my cup of tea. Sorcerers get a new bloodline (“Warrior’s Blood”) that makes you tougher. I’m not sure why a sorcerer would take the bloodline, though: It had no truly outstanding power or spell.
Finally, the pdf provides 11 new traits, 3 general ones and 3 per upper and middle social class, while the lower class gets 2 traits. The 2 pages of traits are among the best content in this file.
Editing is ok, I only noticed a minor glitch. Formatting, though has us without skills for the central base-class of the product, a devastating error that just should not happen. The pdf is bookmarked and comes with a printer-friendly version. Oh boy. If you’re even remotely familiar with Spartan culture and mentality, you won’t have too much going for the first couple of pages. The Hoplite base-class unfortunately is unusable as written thanks to the lack of skill points per level in both pdfs and the disciplines feel unbalanced among themselves, offering very weak and very powerful choices. I won’t start with the balancing with other classes. The alternate class-features left me cold due to being either unbalanced or bland with the sole exception of the extremely iconic Mystery of Delphi, which will remain the only piece I’ll salvage from this pdf.
The traits are nice, but geared toward Sparta’s class-system and thus only useful if you plan to implement the whole nation. As a historical perspective, the pdf falls short and does not offer any facts apart from the class-system you could not glean from “accurate” sources like 300. As a pure gaming supplement, I can’t recommend it either, as both the spear-feats from KQ and 4WFG’s strategists & tacticians offer better and more fulfilling takes on the spear-wielding warrior trope, which is a pity as personally I like them. I wanted this to be good, the hoplite be a winner. Unfortunately, I pronounce a final verdict of FAIL and award 1.5 stars, the 0.5 coming from the mystery, the low price and the traits. Nevertheless, I’ll round down to one.
A Necromancer’s Grimoire – Spirit Warriors is available from: