Book Review: Martial Cultures: Arytis from Chaotic Shiny Productions

Every place and people has its own rhyme and reason. Almost from birth we become a part of a community and each has an internal consistency that may be similar to other places and yet remains unique to that context of space and time.

That’s what I love about the Martial Cultures series from Chaotic Shiny Productions. Every book presents more than a simple place description or groups of NPCs. Each book details a place that will have rules and laws, customs and capabilities unique to a particular people. Sure there may be similarities to other places, people, or times, but the combination of factors is unique to whatever Hannah Lipsky has synthesized from all the disparate pieces.

Martial Cultures: Arytis expands greatly on what Hannah wrote in the first book of the series – Martial Flavor (read my review here). This enables GMs and players alike to seamlessly continue building on those initial concepts. In MC: Arytis, we learn much more about the militaristic world these people inhabit.

It’s tough to read about the Arytyns without thinking a bit about the people of Israel and other countries under constant threat. Every citizen of Arytis has served their time in the service of the city. And those not talented enough to become Legionnaires fill other positions such as city guards, lawyers, judges, clerks, supply masters, and the like. These other roles are important to provide whatever skills the soldiers may need at any given time to defend their way of life. When their initial five years are up, citizens can continue to advance or make their way into the world.

With such a focus on the warrior caste, it’s inevitable that they would embrace their lesser brothers and sisters from other places… but not without a sense of superiority. These are the chosen of Arytis and as such ready at any moment to protect their city and people. Can any other people boast such a claim?

As you read through MC: Arytis, you get a good feel for its people. With practical clothes and weapons ready at hand, each is ready to fight at a moment’s notice. And as you might expect, with such a focus on the militant aspects of life, much of the Arytyn lifestyle is strictly regimented. The hierarchy is everything, with all rights and protections hinging on their military service. Note however, that such a society is not without faults… Politicians appointed to offices may have paid for those positions or used backhanded tactics to achieve them. Not above threats of violence, bribery, or blackmail, every vote counts in a crucial election by any means necessary.

Reading further, you learn a great deal about the soldiers and their distinctions. Ranks are greatly detailed – from the lowest Pigil to the Stratagos leading an entire Legion. And through their service, individual soldiers can gain ribbons and medals identifying how they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty. Between the rank designations and medals, I have images of older Legionnaires with a chestful of metal telling stories of their wartime glories.

For your 4th Edition needs, Hannah includes a list of powers and feats handy for particular classes of soldiers – from the Phalanx Athlete power for an Arytyn Fighter to Master of Coercion power for Rogues, to the “Hope for the Best” feat (which gives an ally a +3 bonus to their next Charisma-based skill check if you give your companion some encouragement) and “Plan for the Worst” (which provides a few temporary HP if you fail your “Hope for the Best” roll). With a few new abilities, your Arytyn character becomes that much more connected to the setting…

And lastly in the book is a list of ten NPCs to help pre-populate the city with a few faces. Each of these prominent members of society is dangerous in his or her own right, which could make them very useful to the right GM. From those characters motivated by ambition to those motivated by greed, there’s a little bit of everything here. The council members alone offer infinite ideas for backstabbing, power-mad schemes that involve the PCs as pawns.

If I have one gripe with the book, it’s that it leaves things far too open for my particular tastes. The Legions of Arytis could be used to aid in freeing the oppressed by a benevolent leader or used to do the oppressing by a malevolent one. The city could be multi-racial, but we won’t tell you specifically which races may be there. Though vagaries like these may leave things open for some GMs, I would have preferred more specifics instead of broad generalities.

And my other gripe is with the map of Arytis. In my experience, a map of the area should be one of the main pieces of art in a sourcebook like MC: Arytis. That said, it’s readable, but it’s missing any context. There’s no compass rose providing details on which end is North. There’s no discussion of the area surrounding the city. I think it goes back to the sourcebook being too general again. A GM *could* drop this city anywhere, but would then need to figure out how to make it consistent to their own setting. With a bit more work and description of the geography around Arytis, I would find it easier to do that. But maybe that’s just me.

If you are looking for a city to toss into your campaign that has military might and corruption in equal amounts, then Arytis should be right up your alley. All of the products from Chaotic Shiny Productions have some creative ideas to offer enterprising GMs and Martial Cultures: Arytis is no different. I hope that future books in the series include a bit more specific information and better maps, but there’s plenty here to keep you busy for a while!

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4 comments to Book Review: Martial Cultures: Arytis from Chaotic Shiny Productions

  • Thanks for the awesome review! That’s a good idea about the map – it actually hadn’t occurred to me to add terrain outside the city, and I’ll be sure to keep it in mind for future locations.

    • admin

      @Swordgleam – No worries. Always happy to review your stuff – it’s awesome. :) And context (just enough, not too much – tough to balance) makes a big difference with text, maps, and other graphics. :)

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