Posted on February 27, 2009 by Flames
Elkram is a tightly focused PDF supplement for 4E D&D. It offers a new race and all the requisite information needed as a player or DM to integrate this race into your game world. The creatures in question here are “Elk-Rams,” or bi-pedal elks with large sharp horns. The supplement offers a complete overview of this race, their place in the world, rules for players and feats as well as a paragon path.
Elkram is an interesting concept for a 4E supplement. The 4E platform is very modular, which is to say it is easy to design a single piece separate from the rest of the game and then drop that into an existing game world. There is no end to the possibilities of what could be designed in this fashion (e.g. single races, classes, paragon paths, epic destinies, small collections of magic items or rituals, etc). It is a shame that the first such supplement I have seen use this insightful creation method leaves a great deal to be desired in the area of design.
This is a short work at only 14 pages, but with such a small price tag ($2.50) it has a high production value. The supplement looks clean and professionally done. However, my first impression upon reading it was that we have a product without a market. I am not sure how much the gaming community is crying out for a humanoid elk-person to play. More over, I am not sure how much we needed an American Indian derivative to play either. I appreciate the fullness of this supplement and the format is solid. The idea of introducing a new race, planting them in the generic “world,” giving them a physiological and psychological overview and combining that with player and DM tools is a great idea and something I would like to see more of. I take issue not with the concept, but with its execution in this particular case.
I feel as though we missed a great opportunity here, but it is instructive of the many possibilities 4E has to offer. Though this race may be a miss creatively, the idea is good and I would be very interested in future products created and detailed in a similar fashion.
The PDF is in full color and is taking full advantage of this medium’s ability to do great art infused layouts. I feel the art in this work is actually much higher quality that is often seen in small press PDF supplements. The pictures have a modern comics feel to them. They are clean, with good coloration and clean shading. There is not a great deal of art in the work, but all of the necessary pictures are contained within and cleanly laid out so as to flow with the work.
The picture of Otaktay, the Cold One, stands out particularly to me, as it aligns very well with the rules as printed. You see the weapons he is wielding in the stat block and the hint of fog and shadow around his feet gives hints to the ethereal nature of his true abilities.
The writing of the supplement left a great deal to be desired. Beyond the fact that “anthropomorphic animal people” are a somewhat tired concept, the personality of the race seems very confused. They are described as capricious, suspicious and cruel. In the next paragraph they are valiant defenders of the natural world. I believe what the writer was attempting to capture was the two-sides of nature. Nature can be capricious bringing hurricanes, tornadoes and natural disasters while beautiful all at the same time. The proper note was simply missed, with repeated usage of words like cruel which have annotations I believe the writer does not intend.
Another problem I have with the writing is the frequent anachronistic nature of the words he has chosen to use. Though these are being described in the pseudo-fantasy omniscient voice that all RPGs are written with, we have words like antibody and caliber being used. These words are products of our modern vernacular and are jarring to encounter when reading a fantasy product.
Finally, the writing itself seems inconsistent with its terminology in several places, such as when male Elkram are referred to as stags and then nary a paragraph later, called simply elks.
None of these issues alone is enough to make me negatively inclined to the writing, but when taken all together, they become too distracting and serious a problem to the quality of the product.
The rules could also use some improvement. On the first page of the supplement we are introduced to the Elkram as a player race. In that listing, we are given their racial power Ethereal Jaunt. This power is using incorrect templating and has several rules issues. It is listed as a minor action and it has a trigger (An enemy hits you with a melee attack). One of two has got to go. Either it is a minor action that I take on my turn to become actively insubstantial or it is a triggered action and hence an immediate reaction or immediate interrupt. If either is chosen, there are further problems with the Effect of the power itself. It is stated that it lasts until the start of your next turn and that you can not take standard actions in this form. If this is a minor action, there is no reason I could not simply make it the final action of my turn and ignore the standard action clause (as it will end at the beginning of my next turn). If it is an immediate reaction then this clause is completely senseless as the character will not even have a turn in which to take this prohibited standard action. It should most likely read “while in this form, the character can not make any attacks.”
That is a lot of issues with one power and it is indicative of several other mis-steps in the rules design throughout. A feat allowing phasing should generally be in epic, a paragon path that grants a paragon tier feat at 11 should not also grant another ability and several of the monster’s damage seems to be higher than they should given the established formula of the Monster Manual.
• Good clean presentation
• Well done art
• Excellent format and depth of coverage
• Rules errors/Power inconsistencies
Overall: 3 (If your world is lacking a Native American inspired anthropomorphic elk-person, this is for you. Otherwise, hope they clean up the rules and give a more compelling subject matter in this format.)
Review by Vincent Venturella