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Reviews: Lords of the Peaks
 
by Joe G. Kushner


Lords of the Peaks coverLords of the Peaks: The Essential Guide to Giants
Written by James Maliszewski and Steve Kenson
Published by Paradigm Concepts
96 b & w pages
$18.99

Lords of the Peaks provides details and role playing information for those most impressive of humanoids, Giants and their kin. The book introduces new feats, spells, prestige classes, and magic items. It also discusses the options that take up the Gamemaster's time, like adding Templates. In short, it's a giants handbook. What the book isn't, however, is a player's sourcebook on giants. There are no racial stats with equivalent player levels. There's no talk about using a giant in a standard adventuring party, nor are there numerous details about what types of steeds such creatures would ride.

So what is in the sourcebook? Let's have a look.

Guide to the Big Guys
The core giant races covered here are arranged in power level: Hill, Stone, Frost, Fire, Cloud, Storm, and Celestial. Each section provides meaty details under headings like Physical Description, Combat and Warfare, Weapons, Strategy, Society, Relations with Others, and Environment. These role-playing tools help a GM set up encounters with giants and augment his understanding of how giants think. What do they value? How do they fight? In addition, there are notes on using them in Arcanis. At first I was worried. Was this a racial sourcebook or an Arcanis sourcebook? Fortunately, it's a racial sourcebook, as the material for Arcanis takes up very little room but does give examples of how each race fits into the official Paradigm setting. Lastly, for those GMs who don't have millions of hours to build characters with each giant race, each section includes a standard member of the race and three class examples.

You may have noticed that in addition to the traditional giants, Paradigm introduces the Celestial Giant. These beings have history with the gods themselves and are masters of molding reality itself to suit their needs. Unfortunately, like the Cloud and Stone Giants, there are both evil and good members in the Celestial Family. They have the ability to Fabricate, which allows them to craft material like arms and armor from nothing. In a race renown for strength, the Celestials are masters of magic and surprisingly, psionics. Unlike the other races' entries where the example giants were generalized, the two classed giants here are given names and background information. You do not deal with a 10th level Celestial Giant Psion, but rather, with Convonol, a shaper who forges "psionic artifacts of legendary beauty and power." You don't just fear a 12th level Sorcerer/4th level Fighter Celestial, you pray that The Iron Warlord doesn't destroy you with Neatherfall, a great sword with vast power.

The section on Giant Kin doesn't go into as much detail, but does provide two things that GMs will like. The first is a stat block for the "typical" Cyclops, and the next is a Half-Giant Race. Now for me, the latter is great because I have a lot of Confrontation miniatures and this race, despite being a ECL of +4 for its massive Strength bonuses, is something I'm interested in adding.

GMs more interested in how giants survive in a day-to-day manner will look through the material on Friends and Foes and note that two of the biggest thorns in any giants side are dwarves and dragons. These two often inhabit the same lands as giants and have racial crimes that stretch long into forgotten history against one another. Naturally, the idea is that one would turn to Green Ronin's corresponding OGL Interlink title, Hammer & Helm, for more on the dwarves.

One of my favorite sections was the examples of applied Templates. I'm a very lazy GM so having someone do the work of statting out a Cloud Giant Ghost, a Half-Red Dragon/Half-Fire Giant, and a Frost Giant Werewolf is great. I hope that we see a web enhancement with more templates applied. Storm Giant Vampire, anyone?

Stick Shaking
The book does exaggerate a little when it boasts of having "So many Feats and Skills that it would take a giant to shake a stick at them." There are only two new skills, Astrogeography, a specialized skill dealing with travel via magical and psionic means, and Giant Lore, secrets of, yes, giants.

I say the exaggeration is little because while the Skill section is low, there are a ton of Feats. GMs must exercise some care though, as some of the Feats may be a little overpowering. For example, Giant Blood, not an overpowered Feat in and of itself, provides the character with the ability to use any item that a giant could use by race, as well as increasing his size by one category. Not too bad. However, when you look at Giant Hide and Giant's Resilience (both of which use Giant Blood as a prerequisite), you may pause. Giant Hide provides damage reduction 5/+1, a rather powerful Feat to be taken at first level by a human. Giant's Resilience provides the user with Resist Elements against one type of energy. Most of the Feats shouldn't be too dangerous as they can only be taken by a giant with a lot of Strength, but GMs will have to determine what to allow on a case by case basis.

In addition to general Feats meant for giants, there is a new category of Feat called Blood Gift Feats. These are like background Feats and provide the user with some very interesting benefits. Divine Vengeance, for example, turns half of all damage dealt though the use of spells into sanctified damage. Dangerous. Taste of Blood allows the user to radiate fear in addition to a +2 racial bonus to intimidate checks.

Large and In Charge
Not satisfied with making giants dangerous through the use of Feats and templates alone, Paradigm introduces five new Prestige Classes. The Blood Disciple is a giant-only spellcaster who doesn't study for spells but gains them like a Sorcerer. More dangerous perhaps is the Catapult, a missile specialist who makes crossbow men look downright puny as he gains bonus to hit with his thrown weapons in addition to gaining better range increments with his weapons. Of course the Giant Slayer isn't going to be taken by any but the most sadistic Ranger giants as it's more a player class that specializes in killing giants. The Reaver of Wyrms is a class that could be taken by giant or standard race, as long as the character has survived a fight against a dragon and fulfills other requirements. These dragon killers have numerous Feats that enable them to find the soft spots on dragons. The last of the PrCs is the Terramancer, a spellcaster specializing in earth magics that can traverse quickly using the Elemental Plane of Earth as well as communicate with it through Stone Tell or shape it with Stone Shape.

For spellcasters, there are several new clerical domains: Cloud, Cavern, Cold, Giant, and Storm, as well as new spells, and familiars for both Large and Huge giants. The new spells include a variety of elemental based attack spells like Lava Burst, Shocking Strike, Thunderbolts, and Ray of Fire, as well as a few miscellaneous spells like Mist Walk, a spell that enables you to stand on clouds, or Flesh to Ice (you'll never guess the effect of that one). New items include Bane Weapons that target player races, as well as giant Thunderstones that giants use as missiles against their prey.

The book closes up with two lairs, one for a cloud giant, and another for a frost giant. While each location does have key descriptions, they do not include any stats. GMs with the Monster Manual won't have any problem there, of course.

The layout of the book is the standard two columns, with good text to white space ratios while remaining easy on the eyes. The book has some great illustrations that should inspire the GM while terrifying the player. My personal favorite is the full page fire giant standing in front of a burning forest. Another great one is the half-red dragon/half fire giant wielding a flaming sword. Looks like a centaur with the lower half being dragon.

Lords of the Peaks is not only the first book in the Races of Legend series, but also the first book by Paradigm to employ the OGL Interlink logo. This means it directly compliments a supplement from another publisher, avoiding needless duplication and making both products better for it. The compliment to this book is Hammer & Helm, the dwarf sourcebook by Green Ronin Publishing. I say compliment because neither book goes into many details about the other. The big tie-in is the fact that these races often war with one another. The ties are light and could probably use a little more cementing by both companies to acheive a better sum when owning both books.

Conclusions
The book goes a long way toward making giants manageable for a GM, but does nothing for players who were looking to add some Giant Races into his roster of characters. About the only part that fails to help GMs is when it covers religion, at which point it takes the uninspired route and assigns Frost Giants a worship of elemental Ice, and Fire Giants, Fire. Despite that one failing, GMs looking to add a lot more detail to their giants can capture some of the feel of a Rune Lords book, and will love this book for its intelligent ideas on giant relations, background and interaction with the world. GMs looking to kick the snot out of a group of 25th level players will use Lords of the Peaks to whip up a half-celestial giant/half-red dragon with 10 levels of Psion and lots of unique Feats. That alone is worth the price of admission.


 

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