As I continue to read through the Baltic Crusades, too much of it focuses on the weapons. On the knowledge side, it's interesting no doubt. I like seeing how one handed axes and pole arms come together to form big old halbreds. I like seeing that cheap and effective, such as the spear and the 'kettle' helmet continue to work their way through the ages.
But as a role playing piece of information? Unless I'm setting out to historically model a part of the campaign after it, useless. Most fantasy games have this weird pseudo era they take place in where you have all of the latest innovations in armor up to plate mail, but on the weapons side? Well, crossbows are about it. Even though in this book, it notes that guns and cannons started coming in much earlier than most people would normally think of when they think of guns and the middle ages. "It was during the 14th century that gunpowder reached Scandinavia and the Baltic, the Teutonic Knights and Danish armies being relatively earlier than Sweden and Norway in the use of this new technology."
I'm one of those weirdo's who likes guns in his fantasy. Star Wars is space opera. Light sabres and guns and all sorts of great stuff. Thundar the Barbarian isn't some post apocalyptic fantasy, it's fantasy. Sure, you can run into some weird bits when you try to model the accuracy, firing speed, and damage potential of all of the technology, but it doesn't stop fantasy game designers from throwing dozens of variants of swords, maces, and axes in there alongside of armor from cloth and leather to plate armor.
If the guns aren't made too extensive and too overwhelming in their use, their impact on the campaign should be minimal.
This is something everyone needs to determine for themselves of course but it's always been a no-brainer for me. Knights and dueling pistols are a long part of games like Warhammer Fantasy, and even Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition toyed with them.
I guess part of it for me, is that it's just part of technological evolution. I have a hard time seeing an elf using some compsoite bow after being alive for ten thousand years. Sure, there is magic and it has a huge place, but unless the setting has suffered one massive dark ages apocalypse after another, something that the elves shouldn't have lived through in the first place, their inability to move past the woods is simply annoying.
It's one of the reasons why when I see Privateer Press and the old Rackham elves using what amounts to high technology and magic methodology, that I clap. Those ancient races should be the baddest of the bad. Even if, like Warhammer 40K they're not making newer technologies, their mastery of the old world material should render them like unto gods.
In 2nd edition, outside of the Forgotten Realms and it's brief flitartion with guns, we had Spelljammer. During the various wars between elf and orc, the pace of weapon mastery should have been staggering. While a few prizes of that nature do show up, it's often indicated in the "yeah, that was once long ago." and never seen again.
Eberron takes an interesting approach in that things seem to almost be at an industrial age level but it has come about through magic instead of technology.
Anyway, I'm rambling. While I like some of the ideas in the earlier part of the book, when it starts talking about the sepcifics, they become less useful to me. That may not be true for everyone, but unless you've got a weapons hunger that needs specifics, there's a big chunk of this book you can pass over.
In terms of art, Angus knocks it out of the ballpark. His use of color doesn't overwhelm the eyes. There is one picture in particular, where a group of soldiers is leading their horses through the swamp and the look upon their faces is great. The illustration on the next page looks like it was ripped out of one of his Middle Earth books illustrating a Rider of Rohan speaking to fellows at a castle. Suffice it to say if you enjoy the cover, the interior is more of the same.
Inspiration can come from anywhere but be aware that in some instances, the specifics of a thing will render those parts useless for the specifics of what you want inspiration for.
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