The Classic Setting
The Sea of Swords, Faerûn, from the Moonshea Isles to the Old Empire, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide is the best setting book that you didn’t know you were already using.
From the early days of Baulder’s Gate and Neverwinter, the Sword Coast has been the central adventuring locale for D&D for generations. Come with us and we’ll brave these lands of intrigue for a Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide review.
What’s in the Book?
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide clocks in at 159 pages, which is comparatively quite short compared to many other official supplements, but it does have a reduced price tag to reflect this. The bulk of it is devoted to the sword coast setting and its surrounding lore, but it’s also got a couple mechanical extras. It includes:
- Lore detailing the sword coast, surrounding areas, deities of Faerûn and additional lore for the core races
- 13 new class archetypes
- 12 new backgrounds
The Sword Coast Setting
The sword coast is the classical adventuring setting, and chances are that you’ve already played a game in it. Baulder’s Gate, Neverwinter, and Waterdeep are all found either in or adjacent to the sword coast, and countless adventures throughout multiple editions take place here.
The sword coast itself is a wild frontier, large coastal cities act as a bulwark against the countless dangers found further inland. Pirates scour the northern waters, giants stride across the chilly landscape and orc armies march under strange banners as many wide-reaching organizations and kingdoms vie to gain power or profit from the wilderness.
It may feel a tad insulting, but the sword coast is D&D’s sort of… generic setting. When you think of any sort of traditional adventuring, it fits here. The sword coast is a place for fighting your way through goblin infested woods, dashing between frost giant Viking fjords and surviving the cloak and dagger dangers of some of D&D’s most iconic cities. With all that said the flavor and fluff surrounding the sword coast isn’t terribly unique, and it is designed that way. If your homebrew is taking place in a simple fantasy world that fits that fantasy mold, the sword coast is a well fleshed out fantasy setting that has all those bases covered.
It’s also essentially the setting book for “The Storm King’s Thunder” which was released around the same time. The events of Storm King’s Thunder take place entirely within the sword coast and if you’re planning on running that adventure you should strongly consider reading up on the sword coast beforehand.
This book compiled (or retconned) a LOT of lore. Between all the books, video games, and adventure paths we had over 30 years’ worth of conflicting, overlapping and downright scattered information. The Sword Coast Adventurer’s guide marked a bit of a reset button which consolidated all of those disparate sources into one convenient source book.
13 New Class Archetypes
SCAG was one of the first 5e additions that really expanded upon character creation options and they filled a lot of niches that the player’s handbook had omitted. It has some notable favorites like the swashbuckler rogue and the sun soul monk (fist lasers). And it also has some critically panned options like the purple dragon knight fighter and the oath of the crown paladin. In general, though, these archetypes have become so ingrained within 5e that they’re all pretty freely available online, and are applicable to any campaign as they’re not closely tied to the setting.
12 New Backgrounds
SCAG’s dozen new backgrounds were a very welcome addition to the stiflingly small range of existing backgrounds. Backgrounds like city watch, far traveler, and urban bounty hunter round out a lot of previous gaps. A couple of the backgrounds like Uthgardt tribe member and Waterhavian noble are a bit setting exclusive for my taste but with a bit of work they can be made to fit into other settings.
What’s Good About the Book?
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide brings together 30 years’ worth of lore and solidifies Faerûn for 5th edition D&D. I particularly found the pantheon of gods section useful for my own adventures and for helping clerics get a more solid footing on their deity rather than relying on scattered info online. It added some extremely needed class archetypes and backgrounds and provides an iconic fantasy setting for your adventures.
What’s Bad About the Book?
While Waterdeep, Baulder’s Gate, and Neverwinter are all iconic Sword Coast adventuring locations, they’re hardly touched here. SCAG focuses on the lands and wilderness, leaving these memorable cities largely alone. As we have now two adventure paths detailing the city of Waterdeep, and the Descent into Avernus fully fleshing out Baulder’s Gate, it seems clear that these important and instantly recognizable cities were left out so that they could be saved for future publications. I have no doubt that sometime soon we’ll get an adventure path based in Neverwinter to round out the iconic locales. Beyond that, the book does feel a bit thin. It’s not a setting detailed with encounters or dungeons, it’s mostly filled with lore, politics, and the history of the world.
This book needed to be written. I’d hate to be running adventures in the Forgotten Realms with all the lore scattered throughout countless publications spanning 3 decades, I’m just not sure you need to buy it. Since the book’s printing, everything contained within it that you could need has been parsed out and made easily available online. All the class options and backgrounds are essentially part of the core rules now, and all the key pieces of lore have been integrated into quick indexes.
I’m glad they wrote it, but without an adventure path or at least adventuring setting, and without any depth to the iconic cities, I can’t say that you’ll need it as a player or as a DM.
I can only recommend this book for dedicated lore buffs who want to read a hundred or so pages on the history and politics of Faerûn.
Final Score as a Lore Collection: 7 out of 10
Final Score for Actual Purchase: 2 out of 10
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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