Book Review: Martial Flavor – Chaotic Shiny Productions

When you look up the word “martial” in the dictionary, most definitions tend towards the use of a few key adjectives – warrior, warlike, or military. So I’d be lying if I said that the Martial Flavors book from Chaotic Shiny Productions focuses on mostly peaceful people. Most of these cultures could be described as mercenaries, raiders, or warriors whether they believe in the chain of command or the power of the strongest sword.

At a mere 55 pages, Martial Flavor has to be one of the most colorful supplements I’ve seen in a while. Color, art, fonts, and text boxes are used to provide a layout that’s easy on the eyes and convey details on multiple levels.

The use of color works well to denote different sections, such as green for the titles, introduction, and table of contents, and a red/green pattern for The Daikort Pack, a green/brown pattern for The Elessim, etc. And each section is laid out consistently from group to group – starting with a vignette, an overview, appearance, hierarchy, rituals, races, sample characters, powers, and feats.

The full color and black and white artwork used on the front and back covers and inside provides not only a great way to break up the text, but provide a feel for each culture’s dress and appearance as well as what’s important. For example, for The Daikort Pack, we see a full color picture of an fair-haired elven maid wearing leather and a plate breastplate, which tends to indicate she’s more ready for a fight than to go frolicking in the woods in which she’s standing. But for The Elessim, there are three horses in the picture on a broad grassy plain and one rider. Something tells me the horses are important!

The black and white art was also quite striking, as with the appearance of a female Elessim with her long hair “in dreadlocks, knotted full of meaningful patterns. Many also fill their hair with beads and braided ribbons, highlighting the knot patterns with bright colors.” If the image had provided a bit more color to some of the beads, I don’t think I would have needed the text to help me figure out what was in her hair as much. But that’s a minor nit.

The book covers five separate cultures in detail:

  • The Daikort Pack – A group of mercenaries skilled for any terrain and any mission, the Pack is not to be trifled with from within or without. As mercs, they have accomplished an amazing array of tasks over the last few years, including slaying dragons, capturing outlaws, rescuing innocents, and even negotiating treaties.
  • The Elessim – A nomadic group of horse breeders happy to find fair trades or fight to protect what is theirs.
  • The Ikanoi – Tattooed warriors from the lands of ice and snow, these are fierce people who are prepared to survive anything and keep their tribes and traditions together for the ages.
  • The Legions of Arytis – The Legions protect their people and their city with a distinct focus. Each member of the Legions must serve in the city military for five years and will defend their way of life from all threats.
  • The Sijara – These nomads can be found anywhere – cities, wilds, oceans, deserts – wherever their paths lead them. They wander freely through the world and pity outsiders or “bound people” who cannot go when and where they want.

The content in the book is tailored for Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition, but I think the cultures themselves could easily be used in other games. I especially liked the concepts of The Ikanoi, which would be at home in the icy wastes of just about any world or system.

Though I love the concepts, I did run across a few nits. For example, as I hinted at in the first paragraph the word “martial” is in the title, but never defined anywhere. I think that a glossary of terms or even working the definition into the introduction would solve that problem easily. And when Powers are described for the various cultures, I was trying to figure out why some of the boxes had a red title box and others had black or green boxes. It might be good to have a key of some sort indicating the purpose for each color in that context. (It may just be that it’s a 4e thing that I don’t get, as I haven’t played with it yet.)

If you’re looking for some interesting crunch for your world, I’d definitely recommend that you take a look at Martial Flavor from Chaotic Shiny Productions at RPGNow. It’s a great resource and I look forward to reading more in future products about the various cultures!

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