Game (Mini) Review: Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide

I have no idea what’s going on, but it looks cool.

So, the new book for 5E is out as a primer to the Sword Coast region of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.  Specifically, it gives some updates on how the setting has fared against The Sundering and how it has recovered from the Spellplague era as well.  On top of that, it gives other lore tidbits, in the shape of factions and their place within the setting.  We also have detail on the ways of magic and gods within Faerun and beyond.  Besides the typical deities of the Sword Coast, we have a handful of racial ones too.  On top of that, we get some mechanical additions from the Realms itself.  These are a handful of archetypes and racial variants to provide more flavor for your FR setting games.  All in all, a lot of hype was riding on this book.  For the past year, the support we’ve had was through playtest packets as well as the occasional full release of supplementary material.  To finally have a fully published book again is a blessing in the eyes of many.  But at the same time, fans have many expectations as well as many hopes and desires.  So, let’s find out what rolls a critical hit and what rolls a natural one.

As for the first segment, we have an introductory chapter detailing what exactly the Sword Coast is and its place within the Forgotten Realms.  Needless to say, most of the text lies within discussing the divine pantheons.  That said, we give some very minor details on magic of the weave, but more importantly post-Sundering countries.  Though, what we get is some minor blurbs about how Szass Tam has reinstated Zulkir rule in Thay among other things, but that’s really it.  It’s a taken gesture rather than giving people something to work with.  The tiny tidbits almost require you to seek out of print Campaign Setting books to properly understand the setting.  In a sense, I fear that we’re returning the mistakes with 4E’s campaign books.  Granted, they fixed that when they released the Neverwinter guide.  That said, most of the new lore amounts to “use your 3E books and reflavor them to 5E, because they kinda fit canon again.”  Also, the deities section felt a tad less fleshed out than Elminster’s Realms, a fantastic book from 2 – 3 years ago.  At the very least, we have Wizards finally acknowledging Kara-Tur (without the whole “oriental” nonsense coming into play), as well as Zakhara, Mulhurand, Chult, Lantan, Halruaa and a handful of other neglected or “destroyed” regions (because they hate Non-European Medieval settings?)  Most of these are meaningless blurbs, but it shows they notice their fans.  That said, where is Maztica?  It’s no where to be found, when several other lands are witnessed by overlord WizBro, all shiny and bound!

Chapter two focuses on the Sword Coast, as well as major political regions.  Here, we have a bit more fleshing out of each area.  But in the end, not much new is added; a few names here and there, among other things.  But, that’s really it.  Most of the information is reprinted and consolidated in one place.  While the lore updates would be confusing and flavorless to old and new fans alike, this section shows more promise, giving some insight into the more densely populated regions and power houses of the setting.  For example, almost everything about current Baldur’s Gate was in the Murder in Baldur’s Gate adventure, as well as lore bits following the adventure.  However, I understand if it’s not as accessible to some fans (even though you can find it here now).  But, let’s be honest here; a trip to the FR Wiki would warrant the same results, more or less.

And of course, what did my cynical nature expect most of the book to be filled with?  Crunchy Bits!  Oh WizBro, you never fail me!  Sardonic snark aside, most of the content here is pretty good.  While we don’t exactly get a new race in the first part of the mechanical support, we’re treated to the Deurgar sub-race as well as variant options for Half-Elves and Tieflings (and Aasimar?)  For one, the Deep Gnomes got a reprint in the book, which I guess is nice.  The Deurgar sub-race is formatted similar to the Drow sub-race, so little surprises there.  The variant half-elves on the otherhand are something I was excited for.  As for Tieflings?  More Asmodeans for the most part, so I’ll stick with my Planescape conversions instead.  The class archetypes range from subpar to pretty.  The warlord-disguised-as-Purple-Dragon-Cormyr-Knight is some interesting support for warlord fans, even if it is bland.  The swashbuckler rogue allows for flavorful new builds ripe with adventure.  Also, the Sun Soul Monk allows you to Hadouken in the name of Lathander!  That sells itself!  Or if Myrkul is your thing, there’s a monk build for that too.  Also, the Bladesinger kit has returned as an inverted Eldritch Knight (for elves), complete with some new spells to help flesh it out such as “GREEN FLAME! blade.”  The Battlerager dwarf reads to be a pretty METAL option, but Dwarves are already pretty FUCKING METAL anyway.  The backgrounds add a nice touch, as the very least for expanding your character.  While they have place within the setting, they’re practical for a more core-based game outside of FR.  If anything, they serve as great alternatives to the PHB backgrounds.

I’ve been sounding a tad negative towards this book, so surely there’s positives about it?  For one, this book continues the quite pleasing production values seen in previous core rule books.  The design, layout, artwork and general framing of content looks quite nice and engages the reader to continue forth.  Some of the new bits of lore were charming and evoked a sense of returning to a setting that we have come to know and love.  Some of the new mechanics were a pleasant surprise, such as the monk sub-classes.  Also, the updated map is simply gorgeous.  Do yourself a favor and order a copy from the artist himself!  And ya know what?  Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide was a fun read, at the very least.  And that’s certainly a point within the book’s flavor.  And by all means, with tons of D&D books that are horribly dry, it’s refreshing for this one to be a more delightful read; even if the book ended way too quickly.

Overall, we have a 160 page book for 40 dollars; a vast majority are mechanical bits with some minor flavor on how they work in the setting, a 20 page tour through the setting that amounts to little, 20 pages on how gods and magic work, 60 pages of some decent lore pertaining to the Sword Coast and that’s pretty much it.  40 dollars is a steep price for what you’re getting.  And I figure the mechanical bits would have been better off in its own supplement like the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion was.  This is especially the case with cramming the crunch into other settings.  I love the settings mentioned more than the Realms itself, but that pandering took up space that would have been valuable for other content.  Even with some genuinely excellent moments within the book, it just doesn’t justify the price tag.  Plus, the rest of the book doesn’t warrant too much use.  The lore is too thin and vague to be helpful for the most part, not amounting to much overall.  The crunch will probably see more use, especially when a full fledged campaign book is released.  Or perhaps the crunch will be reprinted elsewhere, meaning this book will fade out; remembered as a hollow appetizer to keep is tided over while we wait for the main course.

As a bottom line, this book is probably more useful for the Adventure League system of organized play than it is for home games, to be honest.  For people looking for a complete Forgotten Realms experience, I urge you to check out this book while seeking out a FR Campaign Guide from a previous edition.  Maybe I’m biased, but I recommend the AD&D 1E box set (and some 2E stuff too, if you ignore the Time of Troubles metaplot.)

Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide gets a 5 out of 10.  Just by a small margin, your attack roll barely misses the target!

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