This massive book by Little Red Goblin Games clocks in at 172 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 7 pages of SRD (with some pages duplicating text from the adventure at the end of the book), leaving us with 163 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Now if you've been following my reviews, you'll know that I usually take apart crunch for races and classes in a pretty detailed manner. The problem with a book of this size and my approach is evident -were I to do that here, the review would bloat beyond compare. Hence, I'll be somewhat less detailed than usual in this review, picking out the cherries and the less than awesome components and highlighting them. Got that? Great!
So after a short introduction to the topics and tropes of WuXia/Wushu and the implied setting of Dragon Tiger Ox, we delve into the basic supplemental pieces of information. A basic introduction to a third alignment axis in the guise of honor can be found here, as can be new uses for knowledge skills to identify styles. Unlike in a standard assumption of a setting, each character receives a favored style through which they progress, counting their class level as BAB-prerequisites for the purpose of taking these feats. A similar terminology is established for ki-level - that means it class levels in a ki pool gaining class.
Additionally, a new combat maneuver may be used to disrupt styles, canceling their benefits and allowing the maneuver's executor to increase the amount of time entering a style takes. While not particularly effective in itself, the maneuver lends itself to a versatile array of possibilities to follow up on. What rather impressed me with its simplicity and yet, genius, would be the diversified martial arts - headbutts, kicks etc. all get their own damage-columns and bonuses - kicks tend to do more damage, but inflict the new off-balance condition on a character executing them. This system not only immediately makes flurry of blows actually interesting, it turned out to work in a rather balanced and cool manner when I tried it out. These alternate rules indeed are glorious and should be deemed a nigh must to make monks and martial artists in general a more interesting playing experience.
Now if you want to go for full-blown WireFu WuXia à la "Hero" and similar movies, an array of solid rules to achieve just that would be provided as well. On the downside, the suggestion to default gestalt as monks with other classes makes sense and fits the tone, but the lack of advice regarding power-levels of characters and adversaries when implementing these rules make them feel more like an afterthought. And yes, gestalting is explained in x guides online, but I maintain that introducing a suggestion like this should also be accompanied by a thorough examination of its ramifications.
Now for the more light-hearted among us, the bad dubbing rules that have you pantomime what your character means and another player say the words might not suit my tastes for a prolonged and serious campaign, mostly due to me trying to explore questions of ethics and psychology as well in my games, but for a fun evening with sake or beer, I can guarantee that the results can be utterly hilarious.
Now race-wise, aasimars and vanaras may choose new alternate racial traits (including a draconic breath weapon). The Guaiwu, one of the new races herein, would imho be just a tiny bit too strong with both darkvision and low light vision, though not by much - still a good example why the RP-rules from the ARG don't work as smoothly as they ought to and by no means broken. That being said, one could nitpick a bit here and there. The second race, the Samebito can be rather overpowered in any aquatic campaign - gaining fast healing in saltwater, these guys are per se a cool race, but one DMs should be a bit wary of in the context of nautically-inclined campaigns. Shishi are awakened from statues of foo lions/dogs and are celestial guardians - and here, I have not even the slightest gripe. On another note - the Guaiwu remain the only race that specifies its RP-cost, in case you were wondering.
A total of 11 racial feats allow half-breeds to have two favored styles, Gaiwu to shoot elemental blasts (with a VERY high range), gain blindsense under water, wield larger weapons etc. -especially the Gaiwu gain the brunt of cool tricks here, with one-handing two-handed weapons and gaining regeneration temporarily for eating oni-flesh being two examples that skirt what is balanced and what is cool. Generally, I do like the feats on their own, but the concentration of awesome tricks for the Gaiwu and relative lack of coolness for other races bespeaks a kind of favoritism here. Seeing how the race already is powerful when compared to the base races, the damn cool and iconic toys might push them over the edge for *some* DMs, so please read this one carefully. The good news would be that the options provided by themselves are not broken.
A short primer on languages had the linguist in me excited, though the level of detail of e.g. Necropunk's supplements is not reached herein. Beyond a new wildblooded draconic bloodline for sorcerors to represent the eastern dragon's flavor and a new one for ki-centric sorcerors that helps them not suck at ki-tricks/unarmed tricks - at least not as much. The ki/metamagic synergy gained at higher levels also makes for an interesting design choice here. We also receive the ki domain, whose ki-powered channel and the potentially extreme increase of radius for it can easily break the balance when taken in combination with variant channeling or simply a powerful channeling specialist, so take that one with a grain of caution.
Next up would be the 3 new prestige classes – in all brevity, 2 are full BAB-progression classes, the third a ¾ BAB-progression. The Shifu would be a master of one style on the verge of developing his own style – hence, the PrC receives a secondary pool, so-called prowess points, to modify his strikes with. In an interesting take, some of the class abilities depend on the base-class used to class into this PrC. If you happen to know the movie tropes – these guys learn the hardcore martial arts – dealing the same damage as last round via mirror palm (explicitly working with vital strike!) and elemental blasts make for iconic techniques that are powerful, but limited by daily uses. Beyond these, the PrC also receives a disintegration-style killer strike and an insta-death attack – especially the latter is not something I’m generally a fan of in classes that are not the assassin. Yeah, it exists in the literature and movies, but still.
The second PrC herein would be the Jade Warrior, which can be summed up best as a kind of holy warrior that strives to become a balanced paragon of stoic virtues, a kind of anti-dishonor-paladin, if you will – though one powered by ki with quite a few more unique abilities than I would have expected – I particularly liked that their wounds inflicted on dishonorable targets resist magical healing and may leave jade green scars unless treated by restoration.
The third PrC herein would be the Wolong – a hardcore strategist martial artist that learns tactician and similar tricks. While I am not a fan of the general option of a mechanic that allows for counter-strikes and ties the mechanic to initiative (d20 vs. d20 minus 5 – too much variance), I do like the ability – for while I don’t enjoy this component of it, the option to pick their turn apart and e.g. take move actions at a different initiative than standard actions etc. makes for some very interesting changes in tactics. The ability to command allies pales in comparison and has been done in more interesting ways in other classes. However, with the very strong and iconic round-break-up, more would have been unbalancing. That being said – NOT a fan of adding int to damage, even with a max class level caveat – stacking up multiple attributes to base damage is too easy to game.
A couple of rage powers and rogue talents allow for the parrying of unarmed attacks via blades and even monk-style tricks for barbarians, just before we delve into the meat of the setting information with a general overview of the celestial bureaucracy under the emperor. An assortment of suggested deities and heroes is presented, alongside a massive chapter on the diverse sample of clans, orders and schools. If you have access to LRGG’s Heroes of the East-series, you’ll also notice some synergy with the styles established therein, allowing you to easier weave a tangled web of diverse martial traditions and ideologies competing for supremacy.
Of course, no such book would be complete without a new chapter on feats and Dragon Tiger Ox surely delivers in that regard with a massive chapter and MANY, many feats. Rather weirdly, the necessary index-table shows up after the first couple of feats, but that is admittedly a nitpick. The feats themselves, as befitting of the theme, make ample use of ki and allow non-ki-classes to wilder in this territory; It should also be mentioned that these feats have been built with regards to a kind of compatibility regarding the “Heroes of the East”-series, which generally is rather neat. The fact that the exceedingly cool upgrade to Ki Cannon does not feature the prereq-feat from the HotE-series may gall some people, though. Beyond a significant array of regular feats, we are also introduced to so-called Forbidden Feats – these feats come with significant benefits, usually in the guise of significant damage to the character, even attribute damage, but allow the respective character to regain ki-points. Surprisingly, I have found no easy way to cheese these feats – while it *is* possible, it would require some deep digging and uncommon race/ability combinations not usually available t PCs, so…well done. On another note – it is a bit weird that follow-up feats to Forbidden feats not necessarily are forbidden feats themselves – there seems o be some minor thematic inconsistency going on here, but once again, that’s a nitpick.
As a nice nod towards the glorious Ultimate Campaign supplement, we also receive some thematically appropriate story feats that let you prove that YOUR style is the best…or that your school should be considered supreme to your rivals. Another array of new feats would be introduced herein – qinggong-feats, which essentially represent spell-like abilities that are unlocked via taking the feats. These abilities, while powerful, are tied to ki and burn quite a lot of this resource. The dispelling strikes that allow you to counter magic via ki deserve special mentioning, though I consider the forbidden technique that allows you to convert incoming spells into ki a perpetuum mobile of a finite resource that does require careful oversight. And yes, THAT one can be cheesed, but only at high levels. So yeah, no significant issue.
A total of 5 new styles can also be found within these pages – from the elven Drambor that rewards tumbling through and over foes to the leg irons using Rattling Chain, the styles are one thing – unique. They breathe a kind of inspiration absent from quite a few published styles out there. Now personally, I consider the Sacred Lotus Style’s option to substitute caster level for BAB for the purpose of delivering touch spells to be rather nasty – while it allows for certain builds to actually work rather well, it also has the potential to go rather awry and become OP depending on the resources you allow as a DM – essentially, as soon as you have a touch attack based class like the warlock-variants (e.g. Interjection Games’ superb Ethermancer), you may wish to think VERY hard before allowing this style. It should be noted that this remains the exception in an array that is otherwise rather interesting – rope-darts, ki-draining – generally, this chapter deserves accolades!
Now the styles have been ample clue here – yes, there also is quite an array of new equipment herein, namely cool stuff like Bond-style throwing hats, flying guillotines etc. – the latter would constitute the one totally broken weapon herein – not only does it have an x5 multiplier (as if x4 wasn’t bad enough…), it also has a damage dice upgrade when used in conjunction with Throw Anything. And yes, it does require a swift action to retract, but still…I don’t see the fun in luck being rewarded this much. Other than that, Umbrella Spears etc. make for interesting options that even allow for some unique tactics.
Where there are mundane items, there are magical ones and this book does deliver in this regard as well – beyond jade and peach wood as materials, an array of ki-powered jade masks, fans with the powers of the wind, wooden oxen figurines, leadening weights, enchanted gourds – quite a diverse array, often with primary passive benefits and additional, active ones that require the expenditure of ki. New magical armor and weapon properties as well as advice on the pricing of these items can be found within this chapter as well.
Now remember those forbidden feats I mentioned? Well, there also are the immortal clans and styles – taught directly by the immortals, theses styles are very powerful, but have significant, story-based drawbacks that really have a massive oomph – from slowly turning into a tree to becoming utterly reckless, these styles work exceedingly well -why? Because they use the ROLEPLAYING aspect to codify drawbacks in rather unique ways that can enhance the game rather than only relying on sheer numbers. These are feats for mature groups, yes, but damn fine ones – powerful, narrative gold here!
Becoming immortals would also be a distinct possibility and perhaps, most appropriate when going Mythic anyways – yes, this also provides advice on mythic adventures in the cosmos of DTO – From Universal to path-specific abilities, a vast array of mythic versions of feats etc. mean that there indeed is *A LOT* of mythic content herein to use. That being said, the balance, even within the context of mythic rules, has been stretched very thin by some of these options – being treated as always having 1 ki point and adding yet another way of regaining ki can be combined with these abilities to make some truly fearsome combos – now don’t get me wrong; I don’t necessarily consider this inappropriate in the context of Mythic Adventures – but the options herein are powerful indeed and may be considered too much for some DMs not going balls to the wall-crazy with mythic adventures.
A total of 4 different mythic-exclusive styles further increase the fantasy-factor here – clad, for example, in righteous flames, delivering negative levels by the attack – the mythic styles are extremely lethal, but also risky – more so even than the regular immortal styles. Once again, the caveat that they’re intended for the higher power-levels of gaming applies, though these provide less potential for abuse than the vast assortment of path abilities due to story-based limitations of their accessibility.
The final pages of this book are devoted to different ready-made encounters, which, among others, feature the challenge of a 36-chamber pagoda – and generally, I do enjoy these encounters. Alas, the statblocks provided here are rather opaque and the one time the layout failed – no bolding, no clearly distinguished attack/defense-sections – mind you, the words are there, but presentation-wise, the statblocks feel jumbled when they’re not – a good example that layout *is* important.
Editing can be considered very good; I noticed no significant glitches that would have impeded my ability to understand the content; formatting is less impressive, though – I did notice a bunch of glitches especially in the formatting department: From feat names at the bottom of the page, with the rest of the text on the next page to flawed paragraphs and the aforementioned statblock-presentation, this component is simply not that impressive. Which is especially surprising considering the layout – DTO features a beautiful, elegant full-color 2-column standard that manages to still be printer-friendly. However, the book also sports rather broad borders, which means there’s less text per page. Additionally, many a page sports quite a bit of blank space – some optimization there would have probably spared me quite a few pages when I printed this out. The artworks deserve special mentioning – especially the character art throughout the book is drop-dead gorgeous and on par with the awesome cover. The pdf comes with massive, nested bookmarks that allow for easy navigation.
Designers Dayton Johnson, Scott Gladstein, Caleb Alysworth, Jeremiah Zerby, Ian Sisson and Mike Myler have provided a massive, interesting book here – the love for the genre breathes from the pages and the fluff inherent in quite a few of these options remains compelling and cool. Now don’t expect a campaign setting here – this is a crunch-book with some setting-hints; If you’re looking for a setting, then this might not be for you. Continue reading, though.
Why? Because this massive book is essentially, for better and for worse, a huge grab-bag. Here and there, LRGG devises an alternate rule for something already codified by mainstream Pathfinder in another way, so an awareness and weariness of overlaps and stacking is required of prospective DMs. If you’re willing to approach Dragon Tiger Ox under this premise, though, you’ll be rewarded – unlike many books that feature complaints like the ones I fielded in the above paragraphs, Dragon Tiger Ox breathes the spirit of a true labor of love. In fact, rereading this review, it may even seem less positive than I intended it to be. Yes, there are potentially problematic options in here – but there is also a veritable treasure trove of options to scavenge, allow and use in your campaigns. From the iconic styles to the uncommon items, to the nice codification of ki that opens these tricks for a plethora of builds, Dragon Tiger Ox can be considered a great achievement and most importantly, a fun book.
Is it perfect? No. Do I consider all in this book good or balanced? No. Can I see myself using the vast majority of content herein? Heck yes! While not perfect, I do encourage any fan of WuXia or those wishing to run eastern campaigns to check this book out – it makes for a nice resource to have and its price is rather fair as well. Hence, in spite of some rough edges and the formatting glitches, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars with the caveat that a system-savvy DM should carefully contemplate the content herein prior to using it – some pieces might be inappropriate for some campaigns/rule-book combinations.