Review: Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium

I received my copy of MME last weekend at PAX. This excellent resource is scheduled to come out September 20th (premier game stores will have it early) and it’s suggested retail is $29.95. If I hadn’t already gotten it, I definitely would be dropping the bucks to buy this beauty.

The book is hardcover, standard D&D book size, with quality glossy pages inside. The spine is sturdy and the binding seems very good. My husband accidentally stepped on the spine of my copy and it did not suffer for it (but my husband did!) it is still in excellent shape. I have to say I really like the cover art more than the Adventurers Vault books, more of a visual kick. Inside is a mix of new and recycled art. There isn’t too much recycled art either, so the book doesn’t feel dated.

Inside is well organized and readable. One thing I really enjoy are the excerpts from Mordenkainens “journal”, especially the tidbits quoted throughout the item entries. They go a long way to making the book feel less like a dry index of equipment and more like an interesting catalog of fascinating creations.

There are new armor proficiency feats to take advantage of the new armor properties. Certain new armors have non-magical properties to reduce damage taken, or thwart critical hits. This is a fun element, I think it will be especially great for campaigns that focus a bit more on realism, or low-magic campaigns were even a non-magical suit of armor is valuable (Dark Sun, I’m looking at you). There’s also a handful of new weapon feats, mainly expertise and strike feats, and the book moves briskly on to the good stuff: magic equipment.

The magic items are varied and interesting. I haven’t had the time to read every single item entry but out of the dozen or so that I have read they all seemed balanced, useful, and sometimes entertaining. Most items include a snippet or two about the item – usually a bit of fluff about it’s origin. These bits are gems amid the item entries. You’ll feel like you actually want to sit down and read this book, versus flipping through it to scan for certain items and only reading relevant sections.

The items run the usual gamut from armor to wonderous items, including consumables, artifacts, and cursed items. The cursed items are well presented and include suggested mechanics for overcoming those curses that are very attainable. After these, the Emporium introduces a new item type: story items. Story items are basically MacGuffins, magic items that are more important as plot devices than they are as equipment. This sounds the same as an artifact, in fact the book even says in the artifact section that artifacts are mostly important as plot devices – so what is the difference between a story item and an artifact? That mostly depends on the DM. A story item could have virtually no mechanical benefits, or it could be completely unique item with powers and motivations similar to an artifact. I have a hard time seeing much separating them other than the story item section doesn’t suggest implementing Concordance. In my eyes, the difference is a blurred line.

Still, the story items section gives useful information for creating and implementing them in your game by providing examples, inspiration, and framework for making story items. New DMs that feel anxious or uncertain about inventing weird items that don’t follow typical item rules will find these guidelines very useful. Experienced DMs that don’t hesitate before inventing crazy magical talking spoons that know the location to the lich’s phylactery may still gain some inspiration by browsing example items provided in this section.

Next is a section on mundane equipment. Great stuff like ball bearings, jar of glowworms, or a charlatan’s kit (which includes great things like a disguise kit, a glass cutter, and gambling cheats) await you in this section. If you have one of those players that come up with a 100 uses for every mundane item in the PHB, reward them with some of the great gear in this section.

Finally, the last section in the book is a number of extremely useful appendixes. Hirelings and henchmen provides costs and services for commoners that might help your players. Magic item stories suggests that even the lowliest +1 dagger can have a unique background and provides two tables so you can generate random item backgrounds with a d20 roll. Item levels as treasure suggest that instead of constantly replacing items, DMs can allow players to increase their items power (some I already do in my home game: I call them “heirloom items”). Last of all is the Items list. This is no squinty-eye list in the tiniest font crammed onto a single page. Spread across multiple pages, with well formatted tables sort the items by level, cost, rarity, and page numbers makes this index a useful and usable quick reference for DMs and players.

Altogether I found this book very satisfactory and one of the best equipment books released by WotC. While the Adventurers Vaults bring a lot of great gear to the table, they’ve never truely impressed me like the Emporium does. If you’re a new DM, I recommend this book because it will be a great resource in multiple ways – helpful DM advice, rarity tables, and story items. If you’re a DDI subscriber and you’re thinking about passing on this book because eventually the items and feats will be in the Character Builder and Compendium, then I must point out you won’t get to enjoy the wonderful fluff text liberally included in this volume. If that doesn’t matter to you, fine, but if you love gobbling up well written fluff then don’t miss out on this book.

Fortune Cards – First Impressions Are Everything

Get A GripMy FLGS handed my husband and me one pack apiece of these new Fortune Cards on Monday when we sat down to play our weekly Dark Sun game. They also gave us some index cards and asked us to jot down a few thoughts about them before we left for the day. Well, I glanced at my cards and dashed off a quick line for the store, but I didn’t really get to sit down and take a look at them until now. So here I go…

The Good

Between two packs of cards, I have 18 cards. They are beautifully printed on your typical CCG cardstock. Half the card has a graphic indicating if the card is one of three types (so far) – Attack, Defense, and Tactic. The style of the symbols look like the work of the same hand that brought us the stylish Three Dragon Ante cards. The right half of the card contains the text of the card and below that has it’s rarity indicator. Circles are common, diamonds are uncommon, and stars are rares.
Rare Card - Grim Determination
The rules, once I found them, seem straight forward. You get to draw a card and can choose when to play it or if you want to discard it and draw another. If you play your card, next round you get to draw another. Since most of the cards have specific triggers, I doubt players will use a card every round unless they perpetually discard and draw new. The rules pdf also includes guidelines for building a custom deck with consideration towards how many of a certain type of card a deck may have. This seems wise as it would presumably keep a player from completely stacking their deck with all Attack cards, or no Tactic Cards, for example.

My favorite cards were the cards that included a penalty or a possible downside in addition to a benefit. Risky Move lets you shift your move, but you risk falling on your face at the end of the move. Reckless Violence trades you a penalty to hit in exchange for a double bonus to damage with some combat advantage tossed in for good measure. Most of the cards will be useful in combat and no where else. A few will see their way into skill challenges.
Fuzzy condition card
One card was very different from the other cards – it’s a condition tracking card! With the glossy finish of the cards, it seems like it will do well with a dry erase pen. Nice sort of bonus card, I wouldn’t mind having a few more.

The Confused

Each pack contained 1 card that had an advertisement on the backside instead of the D&D Fortune cards splash. At first I thought it was a rules card – to explain how to implement Fortune Cards into your standard D&D game. I was wrong. There are no rules in the packs, and no rules on the wrapper either. I found the rules on the D&D website earlier this evening.  The lack of rules on or in the packs is very disappointing to me. A brand new product like this should have the rules in every pack – not just online or on the cardboard sales display. Rules should be accessible to the customer off the web and out of the store.

The part about each player can build and bring their own deck makes me a bit wary. Even with the deck guidelines it would clearly be easy to build a deck with predictable results. I feel that betrays the nature of fortune cards, takes away from the randomness the cards imply. Admittedly I can see where some cards will be of less value to some characters than to others though. I recommend DMs inspect their player’s decks prior to game time.

Lastly, out of just two packs, I have a three cards of which I have two each. This makes me wince. Commons are expected to accrue duplicates, and perhaps it’s just sour luck I got this many on my first draw. According to the numbers on the cards, there are only a total of 80 different cards.

Last Impression

I like the cards; graphically they’re crisp and pleasing, mechanically they don’t seem broken. For Encounters, I could see these adding a lot of flavor. I’m intending to take my cards to my next session as a player and give them a trial run. As a DM, I think I’d prefer to implement my own rules about players using these in my home game instead of the guidelines suggested in the pdf.  $3.99 a pack seems a bit much, but I may buy a couple more packs to see what I get, but I don’t think I’ll be trying to collect all 80 cards.