Tuesday, January 26, 2016

D20-Era Reviews Tuesday: From Stone to Steel

In the past, I had reserved Tuesdays for my "Game Design Decisions" posts, wherein I wrote about why I did things a certain way in my on-going World of Samoth Campaign (why I chose the races I did, how I handled religion and magic, etc.). Those posts pretty much ran their course with the end of the three-part (and very rambling) "Classes" series.

For the next few Tuesdays, I'll now be focusing on writing some reviews of some oft-forgotten old D20-era books that you may want to re-look at for your current campaigns. As always with my blog, I'm focusing here on ideas, not rules. So, for those of you who don't like the D20 bloat of classes and feats and all that, not to worry. I don't like that stuff, either. But, the D20 era was a time where very small publishers that might have a very niche product, which under other circumstances never would have seen the light of day, were able to publish handsome hard-cover, fully illustrated books with a D20 logo on them and find an instant audience. As such, for me, it was a time of discovering a lot of new ideas that I hadn't considered in the past.

I have written about a few D20 books before - most recently I wrote about using Northern Crown: New World Adventures as a basis of inspiration for a faux-Colonial era fantasy RPG. Today I'm going to focus on something almost akin to a history book - From Stone to Steel. This massive 351-page hard-cover tome was first published in 2003 using the original 3rd Edition Rules and that's the version I have. I was later updated to a 3.5 edition, but that's really just semantics as the majority of the rules would translate just fine.

While this book probably would fall into an "Arms & Equipment" guide category, it is so much more than that. Here's a look at the type of content included:

  • Sticks and Stones. An overview of the prehistoric era and the types of materials and tools they had available, including illustrations. It also includes sections on "The Pack Mentality," "War, Infection, and the Dead," first aid, and also covers a wide geography of Native Americans, Meso-Americans, and Islander, African, European, and "Other" developments during the time period. You of course also get some stats for Prehistoric weapons and armor. 
  • Chariots of Bronze. Covers the Bronze Age in Sumeria, Egypt, the Far East, the Incas, and Europe and the Mediterranean, including a discussion on copper versus bronze, military tactics, and a long overview of chariot combat. 
  • Iron and Empire. This part covers the Iron Age, focusing on the Assyrians, the Scythians, the Greeks, Persia, the rise of Macedonia, and sub-Saharan Africa. It also includes discussions on iron including rust and faeries. There are sections for psychological warfare, Greek fire, using elephants in combat, and history regarding the Greek-Persian wars. 
  • Rome. This covers the history of the early Roman monarchies and republic, the Punic Wars, Carthage, weapons and armor of Rome, the legionnaires, the Germans and Celts and their tactics, gladiators, animals as opponents, the Huns, and the fall of Rome. 
  • The Far East. Here you get weapons, armor, military tactics, and history for ancient China, India, and Japan, including different eras like the Han Dynasty, the Gupta Empire, the Ming Dynasty, and a whole section on the Wudan Movement. This section also includes information on Nepal, Okinawa, and Malaysia & Indonesia. 
  • A Dark Age, a Golden Age. This section covers the aftermath of the fall of Rome and the rise of the Barbarian Empires, early European Christianity, the rise of Islam, the British Isles (including notes on Arthur and the Saxon Invasion), Feudal Europe, Charlemagne, the Vikings, and the Crusades.  
  • Pageantry, Platemail, and Pistols. This is less focused on geography but instead discusses issues such as bows versus crossbows, war and military tactics, the rise of the Yeoman, firearms in the era, the beginning of the Renaissance, and the rise of "personal weaponry" (fencing swords and such). Some neat touches include things like a Janissary Prestige Class - again, even if you don't use D20/3rd Edition rules, you can still learn about the history of the Janissaries and how a class (social class, not "rules" character class) might fit into your campaign world. 
  • Myth and Magic. This section is a bit unique and covers ideas like Divine Items, Normal Magical Item Abilities, and Items by Region (including America, Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, Asia, India, Japan, Mesopotamia, Europe, Teutonic/Nordic Myth, Celtic Myth, Rome, Greece, Medieval), Historical Racial Items, and some new spells. 
  • Materials. This section covers using different types of materials to create weapons and equipment, such as Bone and Teeth, Cord, Dragon Hide and Scale, Fabric, Gemstone, Glass, Ice, Leather, Stone, Wood, and a variety of different types of Metal. There's some really creative stuff in here. It also includes ideas for maintenance and repair. 
  • Appendix. This large section includes alternate rules for armor and damage, some ideas on blunt force trauma, and a pretty long bibliography. The rest of the book is all tables and indices. 

I really like how the book covers so many different eras and cultures - most books like this tend to focus on Western European weapons, armor, and equipment, and then maybe pay some token respect with a few pages on Japan. But this book gets into much more detail on a variety of subjects - there's an illustration showing three different kinds of elephant barding used in India. There's a section on the revolt of the Red Eyebrows in the Han Dynasty.  There's also a whole section on the "Guang Hu Adventurer" which comes from a fictitious time period sometime in the early Ming Dynasty - but these are basically like who the main characters in the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were like. It's not just presenting a new Prestige Class (which is does), but rather it's all the background about the era and why these adventurers do what they do.

For a history geek like me, who likes to try to include as much real-world history in his games as possible, this book was a huge benefit to me. It's fun to read, great to look at given that it's chock-full of illustrations, and a very useful book in terms of incorporating new ideas into your campaigns.

As mentioned, I have a hard-cover copy of this book, but the PDF is available on DriveThruRPG right now for only $5.00.

Did anybody else pick up this book back in the day? What are your thoughts on it? Leave them in the comments below!

  • Format: 351-page hard-cover black-and-white book (also available as a PDF)
  • Where to Buy: As mentioned, this is currently available as a PDF on DriveThruRPG, although I'm sure you could find used copies on Amazon, Ebay, or at a local game shop. 
  • Price: Originally, $39.95
  • More Information: Monkey God Enterprises, the pubishers of this book, seem to have gone out of business, so there is no "official" site for this book. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Everything (Big Room Mix)" by Kaskade


  1. I like this idea a lot. Although I did have the 3e rules, I missed out on the d20 mania with tons of 3rd party products. I wasn't much of collector then as I was too busy working.
    But, back in the day known as the 80s, I was a ravenous reader of the GURPS source books, and reading your review made me think of those times. And after GURPS came out, it seemed TSR followed the historical source book idea by comming out with the HR supplements which were some of my favorite things to read, RPG related.
    So, I went ahead and bought the PDF from Stone to Steel, going to peruse this tome in my down time.

    1. Oh, cool - glad you'll find this helpful. I have a list of upcoming titles I'm going to do.

      I'm curious about your thoughts on the book. I feel like it was a huge amount of work to put together but it really seemed to have just slipped under the radar. I think if you're looking for a standard "arms and equipment list" then you'll be disappointed, but I rather liked that it focused more on the history and the reasons why certain cultures may have used such materials and tools. There's only so much "another sharp pointy thing that does 1d8 damage" that I can take!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...