by Joe G. Kushner
The Slayers' Guide to Duergar
Written by Sandrine Thirache and August Hahn
Published by Mongoose Publishing
32 b&w pages
When the Slayer's Guides first came out, I thought they were a great idea, but with poor execution and inferior art. Between the Slayer's Guide to Duergar, and the Guides to Medusa and Dragons, Mongoose Publishing is slowly starting to turn my opinion around.
The most interesting part on the Duergar's life outlook isn't that they are lazy and demand slaves work harder than themselves, but rather, giving themselves over to their deity, the Lord of Toil, they work to the limits of their dwarven endurance. That's one of the reasons they tend to think that all other races are weak. Of course to get these slaves, the Duergar have to win wars and raids, for which they have two tactics: ambush and assassination.
Surprisingly, for a little book, there's actually some crunch within. For those who want to customize their dark dwarves, there's new feats including bladed crossbow exotic weapon proficiency. Those looking more to get into the whole Toil bit and unending endurance will enjoy feats like Unrelenting. Those looking for a bit more of the earth blood than a standard dwarf would take Stone-Touched. This is a cool feat that showcases the user's connection with the earth through being partially made of stone, gaining a small natural armor bonus, some spells and a lot of extra weight. An interesting aspect is that the user can stack the feat upon itself, gaining higher level spells when doing so. An interesting twist and appropriate for a magical race.
I don't know if I agree with everything within the book's pages, though. It starts off by saying the lack of Duergar hair is due to the radiation, preventing body hair. Hmm... does that mean their beards are some sort of exceptional material to resist this while all other hair fades?
The book provides the GM with not one, but two new PrCs. To me, the Slayer's Guides are the perfect place for race specific material like this. First up is the Stonecaller, a Duergar born with a touch more earth affinity than a standard dark dwarf. These individuals learn the magics of the earth through the Earth Domain and summoning spells, although perhaps the d12 hit dice is a tad too high. The second one, the Black Rock Magi, are dark dwarves whose spell casting ability continues to rise in power as they attune themselves to black rock, a solid form of magical power that helps fuel their abilities. They can use this black rock to sustain their spells longer, or increase the DC of their spells using black rock as a spell focus.
Part of the book is a reference work and that includes a Duergar reference list of various types of characters that the GM can throw into the campaign. Since the book is already statting out individuals of various levels, I'd like to see Mongoose apply some templates as well. How about a Fiendish Duergar, or one with some more direct contact with the earth? While I'm no game mechanic expert, it looks like they flubbed the CR's here too. One of them, the Stonecaller, a 6th level fighter, 3rd level Stonecaller, is a CR of 9, but the Summoner, a 6th level Wizard, is only a CR of 7. Hmmm... one of them is wrong.
One of the things that the book has going for it is the art of David Griffith and Chris Quilliams interior cover. His drawing on the interior cover shows a dark dwarf in armor and his skeletal structure as well as close-ups of hand, feet, and face. David Griffith does most of the interior art, and he does a great job with the weapons, armor, and characters, giving the dark dwarves a real personality. His work here is better than that of Slayer's Guide to Medusas.
One of the few places that let me down a little is the Mines of Verhaven. While the history is set up in such a way as to incorporate it right away into the campaign, and indeed, it even sets the tone of humans against dark dwarves, the problem is maps. Previous books in the series tend to map out said locations. Still, it's a wise character who'll think twice before deciding to take up arms for the people of Verhaven.
If you haven't looked at the Slayer's Guide line in a while, you might be pleasantly surprised by some of the improvements that have been made in art and usability. The book's feats and prestige classes add some depth to the duergar without eliminating the role playing information. If you're tired of the drow and mind-flayers being the only players in the Underdark, the Slayer's Guide to Duergar is for you.