I have never played the EverQuest MMORPG. Please bear that in mind as you read on.
I love reading the blurbs on the back covers of the EverQuest RPG books. There's always that comment about compatibility with "3rd edition fantasy role-playing rules". There's something about that careful OGL-approved sideways reference to D&D that I find amusing.
The EverQuest Role-Playing Game: Game Master's Guide
starts with a brief introduction, a primer for the GM. Like the classic "what is roleplaying" section found in so many games, it's filled with basic advice -- how to run a session, how to keep the players interested, different play styles, etc. Nothing new, but all of it is good information.
Chapter one gives an overview of the world of Norrath. It breaks Norrath down by continent, with major cities and wild areas each given a brief description. Each also has at least one plot hook. The format gets tiresome quickly, but it does serve to illustrate the world in broad brush strokes.
The excerpts from the journal of Arrialla Arcanum are a welcome addition to this chapter. She describes her travels in search of magic, describing the people and places she sees along the way. The excerpts are written well, adding a spark of life to the areas named.
Next comes the system chapter. It covers skill and ability checks, saving throws, combat, the environment, etc. Much of this was taken from the SRD, with additions that take into account EverQuest-specific rules, such as resistance scores. The NPC classes are also here, just as in D&D. But they've been trimmed to a bare minimum of information. There are no sample NPCs at all.
This chapter includes a complete system for researching and learning spells. Research materials include spellbooks, special inks, a laboratory, and special components specific to the type of magic. With the right items, a spellcaster can recreate any spell, subject to skill and cost limitations. It takes longer than buying a scroll from someone else, but it's cheaper. And cross-class spell sharing is prohibited entirely.
There are also rules for researching entirely new spells. There's a chart that gives the maximum damage a new spell can do, based on the caster and the type of damage desired. Unfortunately, there are no such guidelines for non-damaging spells.
Chapter three goes back to GM advice, specifically on how to design adventures. Single adventures, campaigns and quest ladders all get specific suggestions on implementation. There's "advanced" advice, using alternate narrative techniques. Encounters are broken down into types -- combat, social, traps, puzzles and other hazards. There are even sample quests, enough to kick-start any campaign. There are no hard and fast rules here, just advice for the novice or experienced GM.
In chapter four we get the experience and treasure system. Being OGL, EverQuest uses the Challenge Rating system for determining experience. But the award table gives more XP per encounter. Added to that are story awards (usually for completing quests), awards for good role playing, and a few other suggested XP sources. The net result EverQuest characters will go up in level faster than their D&D counterparts.
They won't be any richer, though. In fact, the treasure guidelines per encounter level are identical. Though they may level up faster, EverQuest characters will be poorer by level. Except for those PCs from races that take XP penalties. Their fair share of the treasure puts them ahead in terms of wealth per character level. It's a strange balance.
In addition to XP and treasure, successful quests also award faction. Think of faction as brownie points with certain groups, a bonus to certain reaction rolls. Of course, gaining faction with one group can lead to losing it with another working at cross purposes. Faction tracks social standing with the laundry list of groups that end chapter four.
No discussion of reward would be complete without magic items, which is why they have a chapter all to themselves. How many magic items a character can wear, where he can put them, how to identify them, what they do -- it's all here and more.
There are no +1 swords here, though. The rules allow for them, but there aren't any listed. Instead, we get a number of abilities a magic item may have. Some come with "process effects," abilities that only trigger on a successful Dex check. No ability must have a proc DC, but several may.
Sadly, there are no price guidelines here for any of the abilities, or for that matter any of the base pluses. Is a large steel shield of arrow deflection +1 worth more or less than a large steel shield +3? You'll have to turn to a DMG for that answer.
The specific magic items listed do have prices, though. They're divided into items that take up specific body slots, such as capes. Precious few of the items have one specific effect. Instead, magic items tend to give more than one bonus to a character, such as +1 to Wisdom and +3 to mana.
Every item is priced out and has a caster level. But none of them actually gives any instruction on how to create it. What must you do to create a spiked leather wolf collar? The rules don't give any clue.
There are several epic weapons listed, each with its creation method. But the epic weapons are legendary devices, most of which gained power through some supreme sacrifice, so they're not really suited for PC creation.
The epic weapons are things of beauty, though. Each has its own story of power and loss. Each has its own piece of artwork, illustrating a critical moment in its history. You could build an entire campaign around the quest for just one of these incredible items.
Take for example the Spear of Fate. Created to combat a great necromantic evil, it was shaped by the teeth and fingernails of a legendary barbarian shaman. He used the spear to destroy the evil, but was himself lost in doing so.
In game terms the Spear gives its wielder bonuses to several stats, as well as HP, mana, saving throws and resistances. It can curse its wielder's opponent, and gives the wielder occasional precognitive visions (plot hooks). It's a powerful weapon, but the beauty of it lies in the backstory and how it ties into the Spear's powers. If only they'd put this kind of work into some non-weapon artifacts.
The Game Master's Guide ends with a chapter on trade skills. People who craft magic items don't have to be spellcasters themselves in EverQuest. They can build from ingredients with known magical properties. Chapter six describes how this is done with skills, which ingredients to use, and what the results might be.
There are also several new enchantment spells specifically for this kind of work. The craftsmen don't need to know them, but they do need a source who does. Where else would you get enchanted electrum?
There is actually enough information included to run a campaign centered on craftsmen. Some of the ingredients are by nature dangerous to obtain, but the PCs don't have to be the ones who get them. Instead, they could be the source of quests, using the returned materiels to ply their trades. It's not for everyone, but it's entirely viable.
The Game Master's Guide
follows the same format as the first two books of the line. There's the slightly blurry grapevine border on each glossy page, with the index marks for each chapter. Keith Parkinsons' artwork is missed, but the included artwork is always at least serviceable and sometimes beautiful. The writing is always clear and easy to understand, and typos and printing errors are at a minimum.
One interesting touch is the endpapers. Instead of original artwork for the game, they're covered with icons from the EverQuest MMORPG. As far as I can tell, no icon is repeated. This definitely reinforces the idea of the EverQuest RPG as a transition game from online to pencil and paper gaming.
If you play the EverQuest RPG, buy this book. It gives solid, game-specific advice for managing an EverQuest campaign. Other "3rd edition fantasy role-playing" GMs may want to take a look at the magic items.