I wanted to write my impressions of Ultimate Equipment, but what is there to say? It’s not like reviewing a normal book, where there’s some sort of new game-bending feature (Words of Power, Ultimate Magic) or I can rail on devoting an entire chapter to terrible, terrible decisions (Backstory Dress-Up, Heroes of the Feywild). It’s more like reviewing a dictionary or another strongly-structured reference book. There are only a few points worth considering.
- Is it organized? Ultimate Equipment improved on the 3rd Edition item book format by throwing it to the wolves and adopting the 4th Edition format instead. Items are still organized in the normal weapons / armor / rings / rods / etc. format, but there’s no longer a giant “Other” category for everything that goes on the body. Instead items are sorted by their body slot, which is perfect for the discerning powergamer who notices that they’re only wearing fifteen magic items and have neglected their head slot (distinct from the face and headband slots!). Occasionally the best way to find a new item for your character is still to open a PDF and search for it; there’s no way to determine which items in which slots add to what aspects of the character, but what can you expect? This is as compartmentalized and logical as a big sack of gear can get.
- Is it complete? In this I don’t mean “Does it have every item?” but rather “Does it have as much content and variety as it can be expected to have for its size and price?” Mordenkainen’s Magically Delicious failed here because it took up way too much space giving us every item’s origin, preferred users, and favorite brand of shampoo rather than giving us more items (you know, the reason people bought the book). Ultimate Equipment only breaks up the items to give us pictures of the items and tables to help us find them. It even dedicates a chapter to mundane items, something the simulationist in me missed drastically from 4th Edition (and Pathfinder before this book). So yes, it’s as complete as anybody could expect.
- Is it helpful? This could be the most thorough book on four legs and nobody would care if it was Ultimate Belt Slots for Bards. Any decent Ultimate Blank book should be applicable to most if not all characters and players (like the Complete Blank series, and I am glaring directly at you, Blank Power), and Ultimate Equipment fits that bill. It even has a whole set of items just for gunslingers, and there’s no more recent class than that. I started a campaign the week the book came out, and for a while in Session Zero every conscious player was more interested in what the new book had than the party dynamic, the world, or any of those petty set-building things. It really has something for everybody, except those Vow of Poverty monks.
That said, it’s not perfect. I really would have preferred pictures for every mundane weapon or at least every exotic weapon, because some of them really needed it (klar) and some really didn’t. I’m not sure what target audience is excited about the fact that they can now, finally, see what a greatclub looks like. Similarly, I don’t like how the special materials section only had pictures of things I already knew about (adamantine, dragonhide, bone, bronze, gold) and not some of the new stuff (angelskin, wyroot).
But these are pretty mundane nit-picks about a really good book. By the time I notice that I miss the art object “marble relief of wrestling dwarves” and have decided to blog about it, it’s because I’ve run out of things to lambast. I expect that everybody interested in the book has either picked it up or is only flipping through it when they come over to my house every Saturday, but I heartily recommend this book for pretty much every player or DM. It’s no fourth Core rulebook, but…actually since Paizo only has one Core rulebook, maybe it is.