Items Evolved: Rituals [Review]

Items Evolved: Rituals is a short PDF product from Rite Publishing for the Arcana Evolved system. The ten magic items it describes are nominally connected to the ritual aspects of the culture of Arcana Evolved‘s default setting, The Lands of the Diamond Throne. Because Arcana Evolved is a Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition variant, adapting most of these items to a 3.x campaign should not be overly difficult.

Items Evolved: Rituals is not a revolutionary product, but it is a good, solid one.  All of the items are given well fleshed out backgrounds – evocative without getting in the way – and serve as nice examples of how to give your own magic items an engaging history. There are also several items that offer an interesting angle on one of the less appealing aspects of the Dungeons & Dragons magic item life cycle. While Items Evolved: Rituals does not stand head and shoulders above other magic item PDFs, It’s worth a look from DMs of almost any form of Dungeons & Dragons 3.x. Naturally, Arcana Evolved DMs will find it most useful.

For the uninitiated, Arcana Evolved is an alternate Player’s Handbook for d20 fantasy games, replacing the Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition Player’s Handbook. It presents a complete suite of races, classes and spells, and some tweaks to the core system. The first edition of this product, which was named Arcana Unearthed, did not have a strong default setting, but a later supplement presented the Lands of the Diamond Throne, and that material was incorporated into the current version of the rules.

The magic items in Items Evolved: Rituals are loosely connected to the rituals that are an important part of the cultural life of the peoples in the Land of the Diamond Throne. For example, the Executioner’s Song is a scroll containing a song sung at official executions in order to prevent the condemned from being raised as undead, while the Weapon of Ceremonial Combat was forged as a gift for a great duelist, and is passed on to those that slay its wielder in single combat. With a couple of exceptions the items’ connections to ritual are pretty loose, though, and they can be re-themed for other purposes without much trouble.

Likewise, the connections to the Arcana Evolved system are mostly in color only. While the Weapon of Rites and Knight’s Bond tie directly into subsystems that are not in the core rules, the other eight items can be used as is or with minor adjustments in any Dungeons & Dragons 3.x game.

The most interesting items in this product can turn any non-magical masterwork axe into Pyncharsson the Axe of Anointing. Each of them grants a small magical boon when applied to a masterwork axe. In addition to these small effects combining with each other, making the axe more powerful as a character accumulates more of them, there are also benefits that only come into effect when several of these items are used in combination. When all five are connected to the same axe, it transforms into Pyncharsson in a flash of light.

When a DM lets a character accumulate these items over time, that character can use the same weapon throughout his career, rather than discarding his weapon for a shinier toy every so often. A simple masterwork axe can grow in power with its owner. As someone that loves fictional characters that have a signature weapon like Sting or Graywand, this appeals to me. The system used for Pyncharsson seems like an elegant way of letting a character keep up with the prescribed power curve without tossing out a beloved weapon. I will probably apply this idea myself in my own games.

The color for the magic items is more closely entangled with the Lands of The Diamond Throne setting than the mechanics are to the Arcana Evolved system. It is evocative, though, and modifying the fictional context of a magic item is not hard when you have the original color as inspiration. Part of the reason that the items have such rich backgrounds is that they have information for use with Lore checks, which are a defined part of the Arcana Evolved skill system, and for the Loresight abilities that various classes possess. Even if you are not using those systems, the included information is good fodder for making the magic items memorable, and is one of the nicer features of this product compared to similar PDFs.

The PDF runs nine pages, but that includes a front cover, credits pages with design notes, and a page containing the Open Game License that it is published under. The layout is solid, if not outstanding. Helvetica or a near relative is the main body font; a step up from Ariel, but it still requires a good eye for design to use it well in this capacity, which isn’t really the case here. It’s hardly a sin against graphic design, but a solid serif font is a better choice in situations like this. Garamond and its derivatives are workhorses for a reason. Monotype Corsiva is used for headings and descriptive text.

There is enough whitespace that you can find what you want in the text easily enough, but a graphic that runs down the outside edge of each page is a real nuisance. The text block is shaped to fit on (I think) A4 paper, with a block of blue featuring runic text to fill out the layout on American 8.5” x 11” paper. This is an enormous waste of ink when you print this PDF out. Please, publishers, give me whitespace instead of pointless, ink-wasting eyesores. In this case, a proper thumb-margin would be suitable for making notes.

Graphic issues aside, this is a nice little product. While it is probably no better than a typical Ronin Arts product, it’s no worse, either, and it has slightly different character. The rich backgrounds for the items in Items Evolved: Rituals are a real selling point for me, as is the Pyncharsson “magic item path” concept. Any 3.x DM looking for a couple new slants on magic items could do worse than spending $1.75 on this product.

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