Review: Soldiers of Fortune

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 22 February 2011

War. Mercenaries. Both are often a part of the very stories that provide the foundation of D&D yet usually not addressed by the rules. Soldiers of Fortune aims to address that, at least for 4e play. The kind folks at Open Design/Kobold Quarterly were nice enough to give me a pdf copy to review.

Soldiers of Fortune packs a lot of information, providing paragon paths, rituals, feats, powers, monsters, NPCs, magic items and seige engines, to name a few. Just as importantly, it provides an introduction to the art of war, called the "The Midgard Stratagems." Many forget how important water and supplies are to an army and a few even ignore the importance of terrain. Instead of going through the entire book, I'd like to provide some highlights.

A few quick notes. The book is set in Midgard, Open Design's campaign setting. The author, Matt James, is a decorated Army veteran and the recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Skill Challenges
Soldiers of Fortune contains a number of skill challenges. One, "Besieged", details how the characters attempt to fortify and hold a keep against an enemy's siege. Another, "Command the Legion" chronicles the PCs' attempt to earn the command of the legion. One thing I love about these skills challenges is that they are well integrated into the story. Certain skills are more useful or are only useful at the beginning of the skill challenge and other skills rise in prominence near the end. This fits in with the strategy approach of newer skill challenges as well. At the beginning you might need to show that you and your group are strong enough to lead but at the end, you have to convince the higher ups that you are just as good at politics.

Another part I like is that the consequences are often tiered, to give more than just a binary outcome. The only downside to these skill challenges is their organization. The skills are listed in alphabetical order instead of the order they might be used during the challenge. As a DM, I would just create a little chart in my notes giving the proper order.

As Detailed as You Like
The entire book left me with the feeling that you could make the game as detailed as you wanted. Some players might care about supply lines or the tactical decisions a commander might make. Others might want to concentrate on a few key scenes that showcase their war efforts but really are just encounters with a story of war surrounding them. This book aids with both of these and the many variations. Matt even suggests that if a group wants to play out the larger scale battle, why not pull in another system, such as Warhammer Fantasy, that handles that sort of play already.

I also like that the powers, feats and magic items are tied pretty closely to the themes of war. While I understand why the typical D&D sourcebooks are vague with details, since the campaigns they are meant for are so varied, a book such as Soldiers of Fortune really shines when it can tie everything together.

Skill Combat
In his section on how to run the best possible game, Matt provides a rule system called Skill Combat. Basically it's a drop in mechanics system for abstracting the defense of an entity. To be honest, I'm not sure I really get it but I'm very interested in hearing more about it.

Overall I really liked the book. The copy I received had a few see page $$$ errors, so if that's something that is likely to annoy you, that's something to keep in mind. That said, I know my husband can't wait to for his character to get his hands on some siege equipment and I'm interested in playing with the skill challenges and skill combat sections.

If this topic appeals to you, a great additional resource is the Paksenarrion series by Elizabeth Moon. It has lots of great details about the life of mercenary soldiers, particularly of the type who consider themselves professionals in every sense of the word.


The Black Company series, by Glen Cook, is another great set of books about swords and sorcery mercenaries. It's definitely darker and grittier than the Paks books, but a lot of fun.

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