by Owen Flechyr
Ultimate Equipment Guide
Written by Matthew Sprange
Published by Mongoose Publishing
256 b&w pages
In any game setting, whether crawling a dank dungeon deep in the bowels of the earth, travelling across the forests and plains of the wilderness, or winding through the dangerous streets of a thriving urban settlement, an adventurer rarely is at home, and takes to any situation what he carries on his back. Whether a crafty rogue with her bulging pack of tricks and tools, or a stalwart warrior with a simple bag and a bedroll, the tools adventurers take to the task can often mean the difference between life and death.
There are other considerations as well. The specific style of cloak a ranger wears can not only enhance his ability to move with stealth through the deep forest floor, but can develop his character more. It can lend a story behind the culture that wove the garment and a more exotic look that will mark him a traveler across many lands. It is this part of character development, in addition to aiding in their survival, that makes Mongoose's Ultimate Equipment Guide an asset for creating a detailed inventory of every object at a character's disposal.
The right tool for the job
In this, Mongoose's third supplementary rulebook, Matthew Sprange has added hundreds of things that could possibly equip an adventurer, from the mundane to the wildly exotic. All of the equipment is well organized, some of it even by class and race, making the often tedious task of filling a backpack more like thumbing through a catalogue. Thieves and others of shady repute would find all their heart's desire inside the "Honour Amongst Rogues" chapter, and the elves of the sylvan glades will find themselves privy to the items made in their ancestral homes in "The Elven Retreat." The book also has several sections of gear for the general adventurer, such as foodstuffs that greatly expand the core equipment chapter from the Players Handbook.
An incredible amount of thought has gone into this lengthy tome, adding richness to the common world that will make any campaign world seem more real. Sprange has created items that are historically based or follow a certain race's crafting style to create items that feel very much like their makers themselves. Many adventurers have a bedroll, but only a halfling would create the "Hearthdown Bedroll," which is plush and warm, with buttons down the side allowing the sleeper to keep it open on warm nights and closed in the cold. This bedroll is the "epitome of a good night's sleep." The bedroll gives a +1 equipment bonus to Wilderness Lore checks for survival, and while I have never had to make such a roll, having that comfort of home is a very halfling thing to have, and would enhance their character.
One of the best characteristics of this equipment guide is that the items they create are for the most part very balanced. Many of the items are based on real-life counterparts, and the bonuses are either very realistic, or sometimes non-existent. Some of the weapons in the book have identical features as their basic counterparts, but merely are swords of a different culture lending its wielder a different distinct style. As Sprange points out in his introduction, this versatility in the d20 game system, though a simplification, is one of the great strengths, allowing subtle variations to not change or imbalance a game completely.
The Ultimate Equipment Guide is well written with concise descriptions and good organization. The artwork is serviceable, and though it seems basic at times, almost every entry has an illustration. Equipping a character is made much easier visually, and for those who want to find something they read earlier, or compare weights, prices, or damages, there are pages of charts in the "Rules Summary" chapter.
One of the more surprising sections in this book is the extensive and very well researched herbs section in the "Food and Drink, Drugs and Herbs" chapter. Here the armchair apothecary can find over 40 herbs and plants to realistically fill out a cleric's herbalist bag, or give a GM a result for a Wilderness Lore or Search check to find healing herbs in a given environment. I added a new food from this chapter called "wakeberries" (basically coffee beans) to a new rogue character of mine, and found it added to his morning routine of brewing up a cup as the first of his party were stirring in the morning. They have the benefit of healing one point of subdual damage each, but also carry a penalty of making a character who uses them often weary in the morning without them.
After using the book to flesh out a few characters of mine, I can see that this guide will be a constant source of equipment development for most every one I make in the future. For those who strive for realism in their games, it can flesh out a world with more specific and exotic treasures than gold pieces and potions, and can turn up useful curiosities in a travelling merchant's wares as a party crosses paths with a caravan on a distant wilderness trail. At $34.95 this book would appeal more to those who spend a lot of time fleshing out their wayward adventurer's gear, preparing them for any encounter. Matthew Sprange has added a very good tome in the expansion of the d20 world with the Ultimate Equipment Guide, and though it is not by any means required to survive the harsh world of adventuring, it will at least make it more interesting.