As someone who was lured back into tabletop gaming after a 20-year hiatus by D&D 5th Edition, I have a copy of each new D&D 5e release, devouring both core books and story books like a pack of prowling gnolls.
And although I’m very familiar with the Forgotten Realms in which D&D is primarily set, I’m rusty due to my hiatus. So I was excited for a straight-up sourcebook.
But I’m feeling undecidedly wishy-washy after having read through it.
It’s not that the book is a flop, it’s just that’s it’s so ‘meh’, so vanilla that it doesn’t really excel at anything. In fact, this whole review could have been replaced with a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, but these posts have minimum word count.
Is that 600 words yet? No? OK, let’s talk about what I think this book is good at.[divider] Review of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide [/divider]
The book provides snappy, well-written snapshots of the major areas, cities, locales, and people of the Sword Coast. D&D’s Sword Coast has been the setting of so many adventures and video games that one might wonder what more could be said.
But that said, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (SCAG) works great in terms of immersing the reader in the geography and culture of the iconic region. Locations are described occasionally in third person like an encyclopedia entry, but in most cases are presented in a first person “travelogue” style that help further engage the reader.
Reading through it I became convinced that the SCAG is a plant, a mole dropped into the D&D 5e release schedule with the purpose of providing breadcrumbs for future storylines. Reading the giant and island sections, this was particularly true for me. Every description is dripping for potential story and plot hooks, so much so that I’m betting the seeds of future D&D story releases were teased intentionally right in the pages.
Even if that’s not the case, it’s clear that the writers intended to use geography as a set up for future adventures, as the SCAG provides valuable inspiration for GMs. This book will be well dog-eared by creative DMs. (OK, it won’t be dog-eared, because what kind of Uthgardt savage treats a book that way!)
The book is beautiful. The excellent art direction and overall quality of D&D 5E books continues with the SCAG. In particular, the area map is incredible, and I was so smitten that I purchased the map directly from the artist and had it printed as a 24×36 poster.
The back half of the book is filled with tons of character customization options. Of particular note were the 12 new backgrounds.[divider] Review of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide: The Bad News [/divider]
But despite nearly 100 pages of setting content, beautiful maps, and 50 pages of character options, I can’t fully recommend the book. So what happened?
Despite working fine as a setting book, there are others on the market that work better in this regard. Why not just pick up 2001’s Forgotten Realms Campaign setting book? That is a wonderful book, it comes straight from Ed Greenwood (creator of the Realms), is available at an unbelievable price via Amazon or a used bookstore.
As a setting book, the SCAG pales in comparison and since current events like the Spellplague or The Sundering aren’t key to the book, I am left thinking that a D&D fan would be better off sticking with the superior 2001 book.
The maps in the SCAG are beautiful, but are poorly presented, and inexplicably so. For example, the main map of the Sword Coast places Neverwinter in the book fold and the area for the island regions is unreadable due to the fold. Why not a full spread? SMH.
To make things worse, there’s no list of maps in the table of contents. The book could use an index of place names and a grid for locating them on the main map. You have to page through the book to stumble across a map and the maps don’t have any distance keys. How far is it from one point to another? No idea.
Finally, region maps are bright and well labeled, yet city maps are done in an “Olde Timey” style, complete with ink marks. That gave me a little bit of stylistic whiplash.
As for the character customization options, those are always welcome. And as I mentioned previously, I liked the new backgrounds most, but the individual class options were fine as well, even if they didn’t knock my socks off. But would I buy the book simply for the last 50 pages? Maybe, maybe not.[divider] Review of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide: Final Thoughts [/divider]
Unlike Out of the Abyss or Princes of the Apocalypse, I don’t feel like the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is a must purchase. But I’m not disappointed I bought it, particularly because my FLGS sold it well discounted at $29.99 and you can get it at a price similar to that via Amazon.
I made my 600 words count, so I’ll leave you with another ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. It’s an OK setting book that also OK in terms of player options. For that reason, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is OK if you buy it, OK if you skip it.