Jan 302015
 

Prestige Archetypes: Blood Mystic

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This installment of the Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, ~1/2 a page of editorial, leaving us with 5 1/2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

First question – what are prestige archetypes? Well, they are essentially a breakdown of a regular PrC into a full-blown 20-level spanning class – so no, these classes don’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a universal archetype (wouldn’t have worked in this context, I think), instead providing a retooled playing experience so you don’t have to work your way up to the PrC via classes you don’t want to play. So that’s definitely a pro-side. On the con-side, *personally*, I treat PrCs as very much tied to organizations etc., emphasizing the “prestige”-component as opposed to archetypes, which are more traditions in my game. I’m not the target audience of these books, but I will take a stab at them anyways.

 

The Blood Mystic base class receives d6 HD, 2+Int skills per level, good will-saves, proficiency with club, dagger, heavy + light crossbow and quarterstaff as well as light armor – the latter does make the Blood Mystic incur arcane spell failure when donned, though – ALL with somatic components, not jsut the arcane ones.

 

Yeah, you probably guessed it – the blood mystic is the sorceror/oracle theurge class to the mystic theurge’s wizard/cleric. Blood Mystic spellcasting is governed by cha exclusively and is spontaneous; cure/inflict spells are added to the list. Akin to the mystic theurge, the class utilizes one array of spells instead of two different lists, choosing freely from the cle/oracle and sorc/wiz list and whether to learn spells that exist as either version as divine or arcane. At 1st level, an oracle mystery is picked, with one revelation and mystery spell progression at 2nd level and every even level thereafter, and yes, also a curse.

 

However, the bloodline abilities are less pronounced than those of sorcerors – they only receive the 1st level power, class skill, bloodline spells and bloodline arcana. It should also be noted that spell synthesis is this class’ capstone – no apotheosis, no final revelation – that’s the price to pay for the full spellcasting progression.

 

The pdf comes with solid FCOs for the core-races and sample characters at 1st, 5th, 10th and 15th level.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no truly significant glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Carl Cramér’s Blood Mystic is the better balanced Mystic Theurge – without minor balancing hiccups, the class provides spellcasting flexibility at the cost of a whole array of unique abilities that define sorcerors and oracles; Now you might argue that the flexibility is worth it and you may be right, but then again, revelations and bloodline powers tend to be the “how cool is that”-moments of the classes. With spell synthesis down to capstone status, I can’t find it in me to complain about this – while I’m not a huge fan of the theurge-concept, I can’t find a fault with this one. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars -respect and reverence!

 

You can get this neat installment of the Prestige Archetypes-series here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 292015
 

Advanced Options: Slayer Talents and Lethalities

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This installment of the advanced options line, now dealing with the slayer base-class from the ACG, clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Now first of all, even if you do *not* like the slayer hybrid-class, this actually has some merit in owning – why? Well, are you aware of the rather popular talented versions of base classes RGG puts out? Well, the slayer talents and lethalities herein can be potentially used in conjunction with just that system! SO yes, even if, due to (imho partially more than valid) balance concerns or just fluff-preference you have elected not to use the ACG, this may have something for you, especially since the guidelines provided for the use of either turn out to be pretty conservative.

 

That out of the way, let us take a look at the talents first. A total of 16 talents are provided herein. The talents include a non-kitten-able heal upon defeating adversaries or converting the sneak attack bonus damage into energy damage (for the love of all that’s holy, be *very* careful when allowing that one for rogues, even as an advanced talent!) – the latter here would be something a tad bit too powerful for my admittedly conservative tastes. On the other hand – why would I ever waste a valuable talent slot on increasing my crit multiplier while coup-de-gracing? Don’t get me wrong – I *get* the style behind this feat and I *like* the executioner idea – but as a talent, it probably isn’t particularly valid. How many times do you get to coup-de-grace an opponent and have that foe actually survive? Most of the times, unless a target is extremely hardy, the save boils down to nat-20-or-dead anyways. So yeah, that one…pretty useless.

 

The total opposite would be the face-stealer tree, which allows you to disguise yourself as the enemy you’ve defeated – if you can’t see the glorious potential of that one, I don’t know. Suffice to say, the narrative potential and “Did you see what I just did there”-level of coolness is quite pronounced here – kudos! On the functional and useful, but not world-shattering-level, we would have options to better infiltrate certain groups by gaining class skills and ways to use UMD via int and become generally more adept at hunting down foes. The shank-mini-talent-tree that allows you to substitute a 1d6 (1d4 for small, 1d8 for large – + 1 dice step for the better versions) base damage plus 19-20 threat range for light melee weapons thankfully avoids the issues of shuriken/flurry of star-abuse and does allow for efficient whips and the like. While certainly a matter of taste, this talent-tree may actually allow for certain builds that otherwise would be unfeasible. On the downside, one could argue that specific exotic weapons are balanced via a decreased damage/threat range to account for their improved versatility in other areas…then again, exotic weapons do usually require the steep cost of feat investment… What I’m trying to say here is that these particular talents are not for every round, but for some, they may just be awesome.

 

Rewarding brains over brawn, a specific talent enables you to meditate on a specific poison and net yourself a massive +8 bonus after meditation against it. If you’ve been following my reviews, it will come to no surprise to you that I absolutely love this school of design, where clever roleplaying and planning can provide more than tangible benefits. Two thumbs up! Tossing aside unconscious foes is also a pretty cool idea- until you realize that this lets you toss aside slain dragons due to no restriction whatsoever regarding the weight of the creatures subjected to the ability. As cool as shoving a carcass str-score, rounded down to 5 ft. increments is, I can’t see that one. Stylish, yes, but I wished it had a weight cap (e.g. the weight allotted to lifting or dragging…) and a slightly more tangible benefit. Directly opposite that would be Zealous Drive, which lets you 1+Int-mod times per day add +1/2 class level to any single opposed skill or ability-check or to any Str, Dex or Con-based ability check – this can be pretty nasty when used for a demoralize/feinting build, but on the other hand, it is also thematically consistent.

 

A total of 12 advanced talents are part of the deal, with follow-ups to the face-stealing tricks and shanks providing a nice linear progression of concepts. Being able to declare one strike per round an aching strike is interesting as a concept -if the slayer hits, the caster treats the damage as ongoing for concentration purposes, rendering slayers with this talent pretty dangerous to casters – one sneak attack = almost guaranteed casting failure. While this level of power is probably intended and the need to declare the ability in advance acts as a limitation, I still feel the talent should sport a (scaling) save against its effects. (And/or declare that this is a [pain]-based effect – can’t see e.g. Kuthonites being hampered by pain-effects like this, but that may just be me…)

 

5-foot steps whenever a target is downed, on the other hand…well, that makes for interesting tactical options. Death-effect and even Angel of Death-like resurrection-prevention on the other hand should be considered a pretty nifty tool to have in a slayer’s arsenal – especially since it blocks a source after a failed attempt. Nice, especially since it explains why high priest xyz couldn’t resurrect noble zyx to shed some light on the dastardly plot threatening the kingdom…

 

Mathematically interesting would be the option to only deal regular damage on a crit that would not be eligible for a sneak attack and instead add sneak attack damage. Why? Well, because there are quite a few feats out there that exchange sneak damage for negative conditions and this slightly increased crit-control that trades in superior damage output for more versatility can, once again, result in interesting tactical options. Rather odd – follow through: The talent allows you to execute a combat maneuver against an adjacent opponent as a swift action after dispatching an enemy – without provoking an AoO. Why odd? Because it theoretically lets you game the wording rather easily: Throw kitten in adjacent field, kill kitten, AoO-free attack. Now don’t get me wrong, I do not suggest that this abuse is a *good* strategy, but it is one that could have been easily prevented by a tighter wording with a liberal HD-cap that at least prevents use with mook-level adversaries.

 

+ 1 crit multiplier is also something pretty nasty, while focusing on one studied target via a Vendetta makes for a pretty nice add-on of flexibility.

 

So what are lethalities? Essentially, they are edges by any other name (and btw. -the pdf *does* call them edge here and there – so don’t be confused by these minor terminology inconsistencies) – studied target and sneak attack, respectively. This pdf rewires studied target and sneak attack as edges and allows you to choose different options, rendering this basically the “talented” slayer, “light” version. The lethalities herein include divine prepared spellcasting with a restriction on necromancy, [shadow]-spells and those of the shadow subschool, governed (somewhat oddly) by Int. This can be further improved by allowing for spellcasting while holding a weapon.

 

Utterly odd – the Blood Rage lethality. First of all – why impose the arbitrary restriction of only allowing for this rage while below 1/2 max hit points? Bloodied, anyone? Secondly – why call it “Blood Rage” when there’s the Bloodrager class with the Bloodrage ability that does something completely different? Unfortunate nomenclature that could have easily been avoided… More interesting and quite frankly, the stars among the lethalities, would be the death blows and steal power lethalities. Death blows adds +1 death blow every two levels after the lethality is taken. Each of these strikes can be used 1/2 class level + int-mod per day, adding more choice to combat. Doing the Batman and letting targets take the brunt of falling damage (and remaining standing!), swift feints, rolling twice an attack as a standard action at the cost of being flat footed versus other targets – a total of 10 such strikes are provided and I quite like them. Kudos! Steal power has varying benefits depending on the creature type the slayer – the slayer kills a target creature and receives a part of the spiritual essence of what makes the type “tick” – the creature does not need to exhibit the ability gained. This one is a pretty awesome take on the “draw from vanquished foe’s power” trope. Preventing vocalization while grappling foes further helps the implied anti-caster angle of the class.

 

The pdf also provides 3 archetypes. The first would be the headsman, a specialist of all 2-handed weapons (free weapon focus for all of them!) who may receive less studied targets, but does gain temporary, more flexible studied targets based on who or what authorities condemn. Additionally, sneak attack damage dice are increased to d8 and coup de grace damage is always maximized, but he pays for this with a lack of proficiency in medium armors. The Seditionist receives trapfinding and selective spell resistance against determining his true causes or enforce truth-telling. He also receives alchemist bombs at effective class level =slayer level-2 instead of sneak attack and the trapper’s trap feature. This archetype is concise and thematically really cool – hard to pin down, explosives, traps – what could you want more? Really like this guy! The third would be. The Warhound, who gains an animal companion and instead of stalker and slayer’s advance and delays studied target’s acquisition to 2nd level, may be an okay archetype, but elicited more or less a yawn from me – sure it’s solid in concept, but I think streamlining an animal companion into the edges (pardon, lethalities) would have been a more elegant option – perhaps at class level -4 or with similar restrictions. Oh, have I mentioned this archetype’s big glitch? It doesn’t have Handle Animal as a class skill. Without traits etc., the warhound can’t train his animal companion.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I noticed a couple of minor glitches. Layout adheres to RGG’s two-column full-color standard with color stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with bookmarks to each talent AND hyperlinks.

There is a reason Owen K.C. Stephens was hired by Paizo and this pdf does offer some glimpses as to why. That being said, it is my unfortunate duty to report that he has done better work than this. On the one hand I really enjoy the futureproofing of this pdf and the synergy with the talented class options. On the other hand, I don’t really get why the pdf had to introduce the term “lethality” in the first place – it sounds cool, yeah, but apart from that…well, it needlessly complicates the talented-terminology.

 

But back to less meta concerns – It took me some time to get to this one mainly due to the ACG-classes not being among my favorites regarding their balance and execution- but that’s for another rant. I applaud their concepts and this pdf does something the slayer was in dire need off: Provide unique benefits. The issue with this pdf is that the internal balance of these options is all over the place – from what amounts to “cool, but tactically useless or highly circumstantial”-fluff abilities to ones that are *very* strong (energy sneak attack, verbal-casting-negating grab-attacks with flails etc….ouch!), the balancing is pretty much all over the place. Now the options are not necessarily broken, but they do very much feel like they’ve been written for two completely different gamer-groups. The death strikes (again, perhaps slightly unfortunately named) and abilities to draw powers from defeated foes once again are pretty awesome. The archetypes once again show well this discrepancy again – the hangman being pretty strong, the warhound somewhat like an extended, flawed edge and the seditionist being downright awesome.

 

This pdf was a roller coaster ride for me – it felt uncharacteristically rushed for something Owen K.C. Stephens made, at least to me. There are more flaws and balance-concerns in here than I’m accustomed to from his usually rather airtight designs and the inconsistency of the internal balancing is so pronounced, it is almost jarring at times. That being said, on the other hand, the superb face-stealing tricks and cool, complex and unique options do have something to add to one’s game. This pdf is a mixed bag of awesomeness and problematic and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop.
Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 292015
 

Mythic Minis: Feats of Acrobatics

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All right, you know the deal – 3 pages – 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page content, let’s go!

 

-Cartwheel Dodge: Your movement below 1/2 base movement does not provoke AoOs, any excess movement of up to your movement rate does. Use mythic power to take an ally along for the ride at the cost of 1/2 your speed. See this is the level of awesomeness I love to see in this series!

 

-Disorienting maneuver: +1/2 mythic tier to acrobatics checks to move through enemy squares. Also increase bonuses granted. Okay, I guess.

 

-Duck and Cover: Better bonuses, also depending on shield type, and use it even without adjacent allies. Nice.

 

-Sidestep: You do not have to remain in the threatened area of an adversary when sidestepping. Additionally, sidestep as an immediate action within the threatened area for a bonus to AC. More uses per round for mythic power. Cool!

 

-Improved Sidestep: Withdraw as an immediate action when an opponent misses you. + dodge bonus; for mythic power, move 2x movement rate.

 

-Landing Roll: Stand up as part of the immediate action, provoke no AoOs while doing so for mythic power. Alternatively, move half movement rate before falling prone. Power slide, anyone? Nice!

 

-Passing Tricks: Feint as a free action rather than as a swift one. Use mythic power to feint opponents against which your acrobatics check failed regarding moving through their squares.

 

-Swap Places: Allies may move as free action when swapping, enable allies that don’t have the feat to use it as an immediate action; this can be executed as a swift action. use mythic power to decrease this action economy-wise to a free action each. Complex, tactical, hard to get right, awesome!

 

-Underfoot: Numerical escalation; decrease size-bonuses against your movement and use mythic power to keep moving even after an AoO, but not through an opponent’s square. Nice!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ 2-column full color standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

Tork Shaw and Jason Nelson manage to do it this time around – the magic that the best of Mythic Minis-files exude does suffuse each and every feat herein -not one is a straight, boring numerical escalation. They are complex and utilize complex stratagems to deliver new tactical options that are glorious indeed. One of the best Mythic Minis to date and an easy 5 stars + seal of approval recommendation!

 

You can get this cool mythic mini here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 292015
 

Prestige Archetypes: Mystic Archer

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This installment of the Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, ~1/2 a page of editorial, leaving us with 7 1/2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

First question – what are prestige archetypes? Well, they are essentially a breakdown of a regular PrC into a full-blown 20-level spanning class – so no, these classes don’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a universal archetype (wouldn’t have worked in this context, I think), instead providing a retooled playing experience so you don’t have to work your way up to the PrC via classes you don’t want to play. So that’s definitely a pro-side. On the con-side, *personally*, I treat PrCs as very much tied to organizations etc., emphasizing the “prestige”-component as opposed to archetypes, which are more traditions in my game. I’m not the target audience of these books, but I will take a stab at them anyways.

 

So what is the mystic archer? Well, it is essentially the druid/ranger-based cousin of the arcane archer and receives d8 HD, 4+Int skills per level, druidic weapon proficiencies (and armor restrictions – no metal armors!), 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort- and will-saves and full-blown wis-based prepared spellcasting, drawing from the druid’s spell-list. Jep. As many spells as a druid -and spontaneous conversion into nature’s allies. Additionally, they may choose one weather-themed domain at 1st level or an animal companion – both at full class level progression.

 

At 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the class receives archery style feats and beyond woodland stride and trackless step, the mystic archer learns at 5th level to deliver touch-spells via her bow – ranged spellstrike, essentially. The ranged version of spell combat is learned at 8th level, with the same minor nitpick on my end I complained about in the arcane archer-review present. Now unlike the arcane archer, the class receives no archery pool with which to power the special arrows, thus necessitating daily uses that scale up for seeker arrows et al. Now combining summon spells with arrows is one damn awesome idea – however…it has no limit apart from the spell consumed and might I draw attention to spontaneous conversion? Yeah, this needs a whack with the nerf-bat.

 

Imbue arrow, hail of arrows etc. are all there as well, with the capstone being the arrow of death. The pdf comes with solid FCOs for the core-races as well as sample NPC-builds for 1st, 5th, 10th and 15th level.

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no truly significant glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Carl Cramér’s Mystic Archer is the direct opposite of the shadow monk – where the shadow monk could have used a significant upgrade, this one needs a downgrade – full, uninhibited druidic spellcasting (might I draw attention to the fact that the arcane archer, on which this is based, required at least 1 level arcane casting progression), animal companion…that’s already two of the most powerful druid options.

Granted, the class receives no wildshape, but just about all the other tricks AND the arcane archer array. That’s insanely strong and not appropriate for most groups. There’s a reason druids have to pay in feats for bow-access and yes, wild shape is strong, but not nearly strong enough to warrant the full array of arcane archer tricks PLUS the exceedingly strong summoning arrows IN ADDITION to full spellcasting-progression AND archery style bonus feats. This class beats up the druid (one of the strongest classes in the core-rules) and sends it home packing its things after taking its lunch money.

I get the concept of the class, but to call the execution flawed would be an understatement. Combine DPR-champion ranged fighting with full spellcasting progression and a bunch of exclusive tools and we have one utterly broken mess of a base class. How this ever went beyond any serious balancing, I can’t fathom. This is OP and needs to be beaten to pieces with the nerf-bat. The rules-language is good, if not always perfect, but what the rules-language makes here is one of the most broken classes I’ve seen in a while and the worst installment of the series I’ve reviewed so far. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars (for the solid wording and sample characters), rounded down to 1. This needs fixing.

You can get this pdf here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop.

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 282015
 

Alternate Dungeons: Infested Sewers

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This installment of Raging Swan Press’ Alternate Dungeon-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So this time around, Alexander Augunas guides us through the process of making a sewer an interesting dungeon experience – unlike the last installment , the peculiar considerations for the traits of a sewer have been made adjusted more to the matter at hand, sporting rules for filth fever, flowing water, unkempt and landless sewers etc. – this goes on to mention slickness, better sneaking (there’s a reason thieves’ guilds tend to be down there) etc.

 

Back to the file – one of my primary concerns with the installment on haunted houses would have been that the sacking aspect simply hasn’t been properly modified for the environment – the same cannot be said here: From punishment by immurement (Amontillado, anyone?), to hoards, working as sewer guards (!!) and harvesting exotic fungi, the means of receiving enough compensation for adventuring are extensive – taxidermists can e.g. potentially use what the PCs slay down there. Great section, two thumbs up!

 

We also receive a one-page spanning table of dressings and general advice for determining functionality and general dressing-theme. It should also be noted that quite a few entries in the table sport some sort of minor crunch, making the table more than cosmetically relevant.

 

One page deals with suggested denizens of the sewers – the usual suspects from lycanthropes to ratfolk and otyugh and how to handle them within the context of the dungeon should be helpful for novice DMs.

 

Now my first draft of this review had a note after the first chapter reading “hazards? bad air? parasites?” – well they’re all here – rules for rut grubs, green slime, bad air etc. are in here alongside 4 unique, new hazards that range from tainted water to the exceedingly lethal mindwarper mold spores and the vampiric mold – deadly and cool – two thumbs up! Heck, even the CR 2 Wall of immurement trap is neat.

 

The pdf closes with 3 sample hooks, each of which would be more inspired than the collective of the last pdf’s – otyughs and elections, sudden green mold floods and the legend of the rat king make for feasible, easily integrated and yet inspired little hooks.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, but not as flawless as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Layout adheres to RSP’s elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks as well as fully bookmarked. Additionally, you receive two versions, one optimized for screen-use, one optimized for the printer.

 

Alexander Augunas’ sewers are rather nice – more so than I expected them to be. I assumed a sewer level-standard and instead received the tools to make possibly the blandest of all dungeon-like environments to shine. While not groundbreaking, this pdf ought to help any DM seeking to run a sewer and make them more memorable – and that is the very task of this pdf. Add the small bits and pieces, from neat hazards to collecting a bunch of rules in one handy place, and we have a fun pdf that all DMs (and players) who are bored by non-descript sewers should get- My only gripe would be that I could have used a pdf of twice this size with flooding rules, more parasites and hazards, more dressing, perhaps different valves and modifications, etc! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and a hope for an expansion one day.

You can get this cool toolbox for sewer-dungeons here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 282015
 

10 Wizard Magic Items

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This pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

As always with Rite Publishing’s 10-items-series, the first thing you may wish to know is that you actually receive much more bang for buck than the 10 items promised on the cover – quite a few of the items herein come in a bunch of variations – e.g. a lesser, standard and greater version with increasing power. Now another peculiarity established by the series would be that this improved versions do not simply provide numerical escalations of bonuses, but instead provide additional abilities, making the better versions of the items a whole slew more unique than one would expect.

 

That out of the way, let’s take a look at the items, shall we? The first item, the boots of jaunting, will probably immediately end on the wish-list of any wizard interested in a longer lifespan – they grant motes of movement, a mini-pool of 3 points per day. The lesser ones allow the wizard to use a swift action to escape grapples or teleport into a standing position. The standard version lets the wizard blink automatically away from critical hits or any attacks that would reduce the wizard to below 0 hp – if the wizard manages a second save equal to DC 10 + 1/2 attack bonus or DC of the ability, the damage is negated. Inspired by death roll, this one does have one remnant that refers to “rogue” instead of “character” or “wizard.” The greater set also has the option for short-range teleportation. Damn cool items that would be utterly op, were it not for their limited uses. Still pretty strong for the price point (greater boots cost a mere 6300 GP – that is *very* liberal…), but that may just be me.

 

The next item, the Emerald Familiar, is pretty cool – it can be tossed to the floor (and reforms the following day) and increase the size of the wizard’s familiar into…let’s say, nasty dimensions – the greater variant increases sizes by 3 categories, including natural weapons, attribute bonuses, etc.! Yes, that is awesome. However, the item fails to tell us what its lesser and standard versions do – I assume +1 and +2 size categories with respective bonuses, but I can’t be sure. Odd how such a glaring omission could creep in.

 

The emerald of expectation comes in no less than 10 variants – one for each spell level and one that can contain up to two spell levels. What does this item-class do? It allows the wizard to swap a prepared spell with a spell of an equal level or lower (provided the spell is upgraded to the target spell level via metamagic) from her spellbook 1/day. Generally, i enjoy this type of item since it allows for an increased flexibility, without treading too hard on the toes of spontaneous casters. that being said, the item-class fails to specify how long the transfer takes – 1 minute? A swift action? I can’t say whether this is balanced or not since it lacks this crucial piece of information, rendering the whole item-class wide open to DM-interpretation and unusable as written.

 

Eyes of the Studious Failure are interesting – the more a creature saves against your single-target spells, the more insight-bonuses to your spell’s DCs against said target you accumulate. The lesser version can activate this once per day, the standard thrice per day and the greater one always triggers it.

 

Gloves of the Ray allow you to increase the range of spells with a range of touch to close as per the Reach Spell feat a limited amount of times per day, but they now require ranged touch attacks. The different item qualities denote the spell level at which these items cap – lesser can cast up to 3rd, standard up to 6th and greater up to 9th level spells this way. Additionally, the gloves can 3/day as an immediate action completely negate an incoming ray, with the max level of the incoming ray following the same formula. And here, we have an issue in my book – flat-out negation sans any caster level checks or the like feel pretty op to me, especially in addition to the already significant tricks the gloves provide anyway. On a more nitpicky side, could e.g. a 3rd level spell modified by metamagic beyond 3rd level be negated thus by the lesser gloves or not? I don’t know.

 

The Mantle of the Schoolmaster doubles the duration of the 8th level wizard school class feature, while diviners and scryers may 1/day spontaneously convert a spell into a divination (scrying) spell of equal level or lower. Cool item that enhances one of the few truly iconic wizard tricks – kudos! That being said, the class feature is called “arcane” schools, not “wizard’s” school. Yeah, I know, nitpicky.

 

The Robe of the Schooled instead allows activation of the 1st level school ability as a swift action or temporarily extend a continuous 1st level school ability to an ally within 30 ft. as an immediate action. Nitpickery as above applies again, other than that – neat.

 

The Wizard’s Battered Hat is high in concept and imagery-wise – it acts as a handy haversack for spellbooks only. Additionally, though, whenever the wizard identifies a spell from his spell-list being cast (here at DC 15 + double spell-level), the spell is automatically inscribed in the book without cost or space required in the spellbook. Wait. What? Come again? So: No cost. Makes spellbooks contains suddenly and mysteriously infinite spells. And allows you to learn spells ON SIGHT? Instantly? WUT??? This is ARTIFACT-level power, not an item for 1,800 GP! Beyond breaking the obvious restrictions on spellbooks (and time management, when playing in time-critical situations or e.g. the downtime rules), this allows wizards extremely easy access to just about all spells they can wish for. Plus: Studying? PFF, got mah hat! Easy step to wizard supremacy: Collect wizards. Craft items for 900 GP per item. Cast all spells you can find. Failed? Cast again. Done. You could disperse vast quantities of spells within days among legions of wizards. This beats in-game logic, even in a high-fantasy context, so hard it goes into the corner to cry its eyeballs out. And even if you make this a unique item, the hat does not specify whether this means that every Spellcraft check has the potential to trigger this or whether the learning-check has to be made with that specific intent. This item needs a bludgeoning with the nerf-bat, even more so than any of the other items herein.

 

Wizard’s Journeymen Rings allow for the 1/day reroll of d20-rolls, with lesser applying only to concentration, higher ones also applying to caster level checks, failed melee/ranged touch attacks and dispel-checks.

 

The pdf also provides a minor artifact/legacy item with Alymmanthar, “the Dire Wand” – to give you a brief run-down: legacy items are specific items that grow in power with your character level, increase their potency thus and require specific tasks to become better. Their chosen wielder senses an omen. This item has been crafted by some of the legends of Questhaven from a new special material and sports generally some nice abilities that involve dampening magic items, high jacking them and yes, even golems, as well as dire magic item related curses. The base ability of the staff could have used some minor streamlining in its wording – the staff allows you to eat magic items to turn it into custom wands, but the separation of the charge-gaining and assimilation somewhat make the item a bit *harder* to get.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting of this pdf are, more so than even in the installment of paladin items, its weak point – the pdf has a number of cosmetic glitches, missing text and rules rendered opaque and some typos are in here. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s 2-column full-color standard. The pdf comes with nice full-color artworks I haven’t seen before and is fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its short size.

 

Steven D. Russell can craft superb crunch and yes, once again, just about all items herein are high concept and cool. That being said, they also, more often than not, feel underpriced this time around. And yes, I know, we get a lot bang for buck and even with the glitches, you probably get cooler items than in many comparable publications. But this pdf is also deeply flawed, to the point where some items lack crucial information, while others are utterly broken. This pdf’s high concept content would be worth 5 stars + seal of approval, easily. Its execution, though, is haunted by lack of rules-editing and editing one’s own work is hard – I know that from experience. Hence, I can imagine how these glitches have crept in. Be that as it may, in spite of loving the concepts herein, I’m afraid I cannot rate this higher than a 3 stars, though the ideas deserve better.

 

You can get this inspired, but flawed pdf here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Jan 262015
 

Akashic Mysteries: The Vizier

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This first installment of the Akashic Mysteries-series clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

First of all, in case you don’t know – this is the PFRPG-version of “Magic of Incarnum”, updated, refined and refluffed. But it’s more than that. Let me elaborate – back in teh day, i liked the basic concept of Incarnum; its balancing may not always have been perfect, but it was an interesting system, one I wished had come out sooner and wish better cost/benefit ratios. I didn’t enjoy the fluff, but that could be changed easily. Still, the system didn’t seem to gel well with my group, until we went gestalt – in that playstyle, it excelled.

 

Fast-forward to this series – has it inherited the weaknesses of its parent-system? What about the flavor? We’ll see!

 

The class introduced herein would be the vizier, who receives d6, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with light armor, bucklers and simple weapons. The class has 1/2 BAB-progression and, uncommon for a full caster, but not unheard of, good fort and will-saves. The main schtick of the class, though, would be veilweaving, which is grouped into two categories, namely veils and essences. A 1st level vizier begins play with 2 veils and 1 essence and increases that to a total of 11 veils and 30 essences at 20th level.

 

Viziers receive instant access to all veils on the vizier’s list, apart from those of an alignment opposing that of the vizier. When required, a veil’s save DC is 10 + number of essence points invested + vizier’s Intelligence modifier. A vizier may invest up to his character level in essence into a given veil or given receptacle. Here, the wording is slightly non-standard – not to a point where I’d complain about this or detract from the verdict, but still, making this one slightly more linear in its wording would help. At 3rd level, 11th and 19th, the vizier increases the maximum capacity of a receptacle by +1. DCs also increase by +1 on these levels. Re-allocating essence into veils can be done as a swift action each round. Veils are prepared much like spells each day after rest etc.

 

You may have noticed that the vizier, in spite of what the base frame of the class might look like, is NOT a spellcaster – however, they do treat vizier-levels as arcane caster levels for purposes of qualifying for feats and abilities. Now I mentioned that essence can be freely re-distributed between veils – well the same does *NOT* hold true regarding the investiture of essence into magic items with charges: Wands, staves and wondrous items can be infused with essence, gaining additional charges that last for 24 hours before dissipating. These cannot be reassigned and remain essentially locked in the item. Here, there’s issue, though – (warning: nitpickery!) balance is a bit opaque, since the basic veilweaving does not specify when the essence-pool refreshes, instead stating “A vizier must have at least 8 hours rest or meditation to achieve a clear and focused state, and must meditate for one hour to shape his veils for the day.” One could argue that you could theoretically invest essence twice into an item in a given 24 hour-period. Would that be smart? In most of the cases, it wouldn’t be. I’d hence suggest to include a sentence that clearly states that essence invested in items does not regenerate before 24 hours have elapsed. Also, since the duration and essence capacity maximum (see waaaay down in the section on veilweaving) could cause confusion here, I’d strongly suggest rewiring the rest/essence-regain-wording.

 

There is another issue – an item that has essence invested in it not only gains the temporary charges, it also does never prompt UMD checks to use. While the ability can only be used to activate spells of 8th level or lower, it can still lead to problems.

 

What do I mean by this? Surprisingly, I’m not complaining about items with few charges being left as treasure to have some “smart bombs” here; What I’m not sold on is simply the flat-out “no UMD”-section AND the non-scaling nature of this ability. What if the players find a wand with precious few charges or a unique staff and can just flat-out use it? I am aware that these are fringe-cases, but it would theoretically allow the vizier to utilize charge-based items beyond his level’s capacity (if the DM foolishly drops them into the treasure…) – and there is a pretty easy solution that prevents the issue: Just make the highest spell level of the item the governing factor for whether or not you have to UMD and make it scale with class level progression, by e.g. tying it to twice essence capacity. Now, yes, the base ability isn’t broken, but I maintain that such a solution would be much more elegant and prevent fringe-case abuse.

 

Now there also are so-called chakra-binds – these are gained at 2nd level in a linear manner, +1 at every 2nd level, in a fixed progression from Hands, feet, head, wrist, shoulders, headband, neck, belt chest and finally, at 20th level, body. At 9th level, the vizier can bind veils in the ring slot and at 15th level, you can bind them into both ring slots. On a nitpicky-side, I don’t get why the ring-slots are not wrapped in the chakra-ability, but that is purely a cosmetic gripe.

 

At 3rd level, viziers may reshape a veil 1/day (+1/day for every 4 levels thereafter) as a standard action that provokes AoOs into a new veil. Additionally, each time the daily uses increase, you may also shift one additional veil per ability use. The capstone allows for at-will veilshaping – and whenever the class uses the veilshaping ability, he regains 3+Int temporary essence.

 

Viziers also receive a kind of bloodline-ish linear ability chosen at first level – a total of 3 are provided and I hope we’ll see more of those. The Path of the Crafter, Path of the Seer and Path of the Ruler.

 

The Path of the Crafter gain a bonus equal to 1/2 class level (rounded up or down?) on all skill-checks made as part of the crafting process. That is *pretty* powerful. Allies within 30 ft. that activate a magic item, treat caster level and DC of the activated item as +1. That is nasty, but will also make the vizier rather popular with his adventuring companions. Okay, where things get rather unique would be in one particular ability – transfer essence. This allows you to meditate on items and exchange their bonuses and special abilities. – Found a cool weapon, but don’t have the proficiency for it? just exchange the enchantment with those on your trusty sword. I applaud the fact that you can’t cherry-pick abilities. Now, on the other hand, wand/staff charges can also be exchanged if the items have the same highest spell level – a fitting restriction, but one I’d suggest to be supplemented with an analogue caster level (or lower) restriction to prevent spells that increase their potency with caster level having their charges cheaply upped by using charges from items that do not scale with CL. Once again, not a bad glitch, but rather one that can easily be fixed.

 

The path also grants item creation feats and a decreased craft-price at higher levels. Oh, and kudos for the intelligent item/cursed item/artifact caveat!

 

The path of the ruler is all about granting a will-save/sense motive debuff aura, with selective exclusion of allies. Enforcing a reroll at high levels is nice, but when compare to the Crafter’s benefits, the path of the ruler feels pretty meek. The poor guy could use an upgrade for his aura.

 

The path of the seer increases movement of all allies within 60 ft. by +5 ft, +5 more at 9th and 17th level – neat. Now the interesting part comes next – the seer learns teamwork feats and for each point invested, the class may share ALL teamwork feats granted by this ability (1 is gained at 1st, 5th, 9th and 13th level) with an ally; additionally, veils tied to hand or feat may be shared alongside with allies. High-level seer-viziers may freely retrain the teamwork feats. See, that one is a competent, powerful commander-style path and once again, mops the floor with the relatively uninspired ruler-path.

 

Next up would be an array of new feats, 37 if I’m not mistaken. There are some feats for non-akashic classes to wilder in the system. Feats with the new [Akashic]-descriptor increase the essence pool by +1. The feats very much do support one aspect I loved about the original incarnum – gestalting and multiclassing. Investing essence into one school to have the school’s spells at CL+1? Can see that. On the downside, these feats constitute neither veils, nor charge-bearing items, so not sure whether one can freely re-allocate essence invested via feats of this formula. Free reallocation would amount to pretty much free CL+1 for all spells of that school. While not too bad in this example, when one takes a look at the power point-reducing feat in the same line (reduce PP-cost by essence invested, thankfully with power-level based additional restrictions), it becomes apparent that free reallocation is something that needs to be addressed, otherwise, you could decrease the cost of ALL powers subsequently. This is especially puzzling since the feat that allows you to invest essence in favor of getting power points *does* specify the 24 hours-no-reassignment cap. This also becomes also apparent when taking a look at the otherwise interesting veilbound metamagic, which once again uses a 1/day formula.

 

The pdf ought to specify whether it uses the 24-hour bind-and-locked wording or whether it imposes a cap on how many times per day essence can be invested in a feat – utilizing both models quickly becomes confusing. After multiple extensive playtesting sessions, I’d suggest the former, i.e. going analogue to charge-investment, for what it’s worth.

 

Conversely, not all feats suffer from this specific issue -akashic charge allows you to 1/day invest essence in the feat, granting a bonus to atk and damage when charging equal to the essence invested. Its missing no-reassignment clause has been addressed in the errata and I’m willing to believe that this component will feature in the next update. This type of complaint, however, can be fielded against a whole feat-class herein – I assume that to be oversights in layout/editing, since some feats clearly sport this caveat. There are *a lot* of feats interacting and enhancing existing feats here and math-wizards *will* have a field day here. I just hope that all those cool feats receive the “no reassignment for 24 hours”-caveat in the next update – as provided here, the feats that lack it can be broken pretty easily.

 

Essentially, the point boils down to the following scenario:

Does the feat grant a significant bonus based on essence-investment? If yes, it should have the essence bound analogue to charge items.

Does the feat instead grant a highly situational or very restricted bonus? Then essence should remain flexible to justify the feat investment.

In any case, adding the 1/day restrictions feels a bit tacked on; with just a bit of minor streamlining, this whole section can be rid of its minor issues and made more smooth.

 

Beyond these, I also noticed that “Essence of the Immortals” has the [Akashic]-descriptor, but has neither an essence pool as a prerequisite, nor does it grant +1 essence -the same holds true for some other feats, but I have not yet determined whether that’s intentional or an oversight.

 

This may all have sounded terribly negative – it’s not my intent to do so. It’s just that this one glitch in how the whole feat-class works makes it very hard to judge whether these work as intended or not. The plus-side here is that the math underlying the feats can be considered powerful, but NOT overpowered – at least once the 24-hour lock-caveat has been implemented. To close my discussion on the feats with something positive – the massive gestalting potential of incarnum is not only maintained, it is surpassed – the feats here have something for just about everyone to utilize, which is downright awesome.

 

All right, so let’s get to veilweaving, shall we? Every veil is associated with a chakra and *can* be bound to the chakra if the akashic class is powerful enough to do so, gaining more benefits. Each chakra corresponds to an equipment slot and some veils can occupy one or two or even more different slots. It is very important to note that veils bound to chakras do *NOT* interfere with items worn in the same slot – the biggest suckage-factor of incarnum is GONE.

 

Upon manifesting the veil, you can choose which slot the veil is applied to. If you remember the above discussion of the class, you’ll realize that new chakras become unlocked at a fixed progression. Veils interact with spells and spell-like abilities as if they were spells. Veils, unless they modify/grant natural attacks or weapons, are subject to SR. Veils can be targeted and even sundered to temporarily suppress them. identifying veils works via Knowledge (arcana), which may seem a bit odd, seeing the usual adherence to Spellcraft for such a task…but I actually really like this decision. it adds a “different” flavor to the magic-class. Now before you all start screaming regarding how huge, highly circumstantial bonuses can be stacked up – there *is* a pretty conservative essence capacity limit based on character level – no more than this fixed amount can be invested in any one veil, feat, etc.

 

Now the veils…ooohhh, if you like customizable classes, you’ll have a field day here! Fascination-auras with customizable aura size may be nice…but what if a target is freed from the effect and you have bound the veil to your wrist? Well, then you can deliver what my group called the “akashic pimp slap” with a free action ranged touch attack. Eyes of fiery death? Yup. Veils that improve starting attitude (and this one ACTUALLY manages to achieve the “disarming smile/diplomancer-trope *so much* better than comparable options, it’s really cool) can be found herein alongside those helping with elemental affinities. Want a veil that allows you to spontaneously create zombies (or cairn wights in ring-slot-bound-form?) from the deceased? Channel-like effects of veils have thankfully daily limits imposed upon them to prevent abuse – that’s how it’s done.

 

On a nitpicky side that will not influence the final verdict, the veil that grants a draconic breath weapon could have used a short list of what dragon-colors net lines and which cones – while *I* know them by hard, many players will have to look that one up. As mentioned, nitpicking here and not gonna penalize the pdf for one page-skip required. Pretty awesome – by binding the aforementioned veil to the neck, you can further increase your draconic breath’s power; alternatively, you can grow wings with increasing maneuverability. Now the hand cannons combined with target of Opportunity are a pretty nasty combo -especially when combined with a sniper as deadly as the one I have in my group – but come on. Hand cannons. I actually made a hand cannon in an archetype once. I’m a berserk fanboy. I can’t hate on magical hand cannons. (Plus, while powerful, they’re not broken.)

 

Want whips of light? Yup. What about binding it to make trip attempts against every enemy in range whenever the veil is triggered? Yep, that’s crazy awesome to not be flooded by groups of moderately competent mooks. And yes, in playtest, a defense scenario against floods of foes actually saw the vizier shine pretty nicely.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, but not perfect – here and there, the wording’s flow could be improved, especially among the feats, which feel like 2 versions of rules-language collide for a section that is more confusing than it ought to be. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes bookmarked, though not extensively so. The pdf does come in two versions, with the second being more printer-friendly.

 

Okay, after reading this review, I’d really love to know what you think follows next. Admittedly, the vizier, to me, has a very much WiP-feel – the wording of essence-regaining/veil-redistribution could be clearer, feats feel a bit over the place regarding the system they utilize and one of the 3 paths is not only much more boring than the other two, it is also significantly weaker. So that would be the downsides.

 

On the plus-side – this MOPS THE FLOOR with Magic of Incarnum! The vizier is so much cooler than the incarnate, it’s not even funny anymore. Seriously, it’s so much better, it’s not even funny! The fluff is better. The execution is better. The math is more elegant and if the wording issues are ironed out and there’s no ambiguity left (especially re item interaction), this will be a total and utter blast. I honestly did not expect to like this due to several factors:

1) Fluff. Done. Not only is the new fluff cooler, the writing actually dares to be funny once in a while in an unobtrusive manner. Take this one: “Binding this wicked veil to your Shoulders chakra makes you slightly less cuddly than a rabid dire porcupine.” Win.

2) Item-slot issue. Resolved.

3) Massive combo-potential requires plenty of foresight and solid math to prevent ridiculous abuse.

 

Number 3…oh, how I dreaded you. I had never before read a book by author Michael Sayre. Know what? This man knows his math. The vizier turned out to be a strong class, yes, but it is not overpowered – it requires continuous resource-management, is highly customizable and manages to maintain the gestalting capacities of the original system. Bonus-types are applied consistently. Options are cool, unique and fun. I did not expect to like this pdf to this extent.

 

The good news here is: Michael, you are talented indeed and I’m stoked for future installments of the series, though they are a colossal pain to review. The issues this pdf has can easily and quickly be fixed and boil down to wording, flow and making mechanics more explicit by establishing a slightly more concise terminology. For example, 24-hour-essence-storage = binding essence to; otherwise: investing essence into x. Simple, easy and once established and explained, prevents a lot of confusion and allows for easy streamlining of feats etc. and may actually save space regarding word count!

 

So yes, this pdf has some WiP-level rough patches. But its potential is GLORIOUS and exceedingly fun. The flexibility provided is glorious (and on par with PFRPG’s versatility – no two viziers need to be alike!) and the veils are fitting and unique. Combo-potential galore rules. Were it not for the glitches and rough patches I complained about, this would be a no-brainer 5 star+ seal of approval file. The glitches would usually make me harp on this harder than I did here, probably for something around the 3.5 star-area. BUT: They can easily be fixed, mostly boil down to requiring slightly more precise wording and do not reflect badly on the system provided here. After using this and analyzing it, I can’t, not for the life of me, bash this as something even remotely mediocre. It’s not. This pdf is fun and I am stoked for future Akashic Mysteries and a cleaning of the glitches that still haunt this. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars, with an explicit recommendation for everyone who likes complex, customizable classes (and, of course, fans of incarnum!) to check this out.

 

You can get this cool, versatile and fun subsystem/class here on OBS!

 

Do you want to get the whole subscription? You can get it here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 262015
 

Mythic Minis: Mythic Martial Arts VI

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All right, you know the deal – 2 pages – 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 2 pages content (double the usual!), let’s go!

 

-Djinni Style: +1/2 mythic tier elemental fist uses and icnreased damage output with them. Bypass resistance, immunity and partially hardness etc. when using elemental fist or Djinni Style-feat attacks with mythic power.

 

-Djinni Spin: Increase damage output and temporarily penalize ranged attacks against you. Creatures of any size may be pushed away 5 feet (or staggered) and non-mythic creatures receive no benefits regarding this, even if they make the save. Nice.

 

-Djinni Spirit: Higher electricity resistance and enter the style reflexively. Similar movement-causing trick to Djinni Spin, plus clad yourself in a defensive electricity-damage causing sheathe that may also deafen adversaries.

 

-Efreeti Style: Like Djinni Style, but with regards to fire; Also use mythic power to temporarily increase reach by +5 feet.

 

-Efreeti Stance: More fire resistance and reflexive entering of the style; has a typo that confuses mythic tier with mythic power – you can expend mythic POWER to receive temporary immunity to fire. (Expending a tier would be a steep cost indeed!) Has a defensive sheathe like Djinni Spirit, just fire-themed and causing the target to catch on fire and potentially be dazzled.

 

-Efreeti Touch: Add mythic tier to damage and add a nausea-causing fog cloud to your Efreeti Touch. Awesome!

 

-Janni Style: No penalty to AC when charging, decrease atk-bonus of flanking creatures against you. Use mythic power to freely charge through allies and make as many turns as you want while charging. Now this is cool!

 

-Janni Rush: +mythic tier to acrobatics checks while executing Janni Rush. Expend mythic power for + 5 x tier to jump checks and when also charging, add mythic tier as a damage bonus that multiplies in crits. Pretty badass!

 

-Janni Tempest: Trips targets as a swift action, bull rushes them as a move action or executes a maneuver that works as both bull rush and trip as a standard action…which makes no sense. An attack is usually already at least a standard action, so in order to qualify here, one has to hit with an AoO in the round before one’s turn. Problem 1: You can’t expend the required actions when executing AoOs…so next turn? Problem 2: Do bonuses to one of the combat maneuvers (trip or bull rush) apply to the check? Do bonuses stack (e.g. bonus to trip + bonus to bull rush?); Using mythic power, you can execute one as a free action or the combined maneuver that doesn’t work as a swift action. Cool idea, needs clarification.

 

-Marid Style: As Djinni Style for cold energy; Extend reach by 5 foot, for unarmed attacks only, via mythic power.

 

-Mardi Spirit: Defensive sheathe that entangles, add fatiguing hypothermia to elemental fist instead of movement; other than that, a cold-themed Djinni Spirit.

 

-Marid Coldsnap: Increased damage output and add grease-effect to the coldsnap. Creatures falling prone take cold damage and those remaining in the area also take damage. Creatures damaged become entangled. powerful and nasty – nice!

 

-Shaitan Style: Acid-themed version of the Djinni Style.

 

-Shaitan Skin: Acid-themed copy of the X Spirit-feat with chance for causing the sickened condition via the reflexive sheathe.

 

-Shaitan Earthblast: Increase damage output and turn the area into difficult terrain; Creatures that fail their save are knocked prone. Cool!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good; while I noticed minor glitches and a couple of the hyperlinks on the first page have a different font size, nothing too bad. Layout adheres to Legendary Games’ 2-column full color standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

 

I’m not a fan of elemental-themed class options unless they do something different for each element, rendering them more than reskins of the same ability. I’ve read too many elemental groups of abilities that boil down to “as the one with fire, but with acid” – and this pdf does suffer from this issue, at least partially. That being said, Jason Nelson does add some unique options to each of the styles and there *are* differences, even in the cloned abilities, which is neat indeed. I am honestly somewhat torn here and have probably spent too much time contemplating the final rating for such a short pdf – while the combined maneuver bonus-glitch is somewhat annoying, it is also part of the most interesting style-tree herein. The elemental-themed benefits are pretty similar, yes, but they also tend to bring something unique to the respective styles. In the end, I’m going to settle on a final verdict of a solid 4 stars.

 

You can get this nice pdf here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 232015
 

The Lost Lands – Stoneheart Valley

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This massive collection of modules clocks in at 192 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 11 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 177 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

This pdf kicks in with a blast from the past for me – a discussion on the upcoming Lost Lands setting and how different places in the world implied by all Necromancer Games/Frog God Games modules and supplements. If you’re like me, this is damn interesting…but let me go back for a second.

 

When 3rd edition came around back in the day, I was kind of skeptical – but then again, after seeing the very real limitations rules-light systems can sport at one given point, I converted – also due to my players simply enjoying reaping the benefits of system mastery. So I went into the new system, bought books etc. – the whole deal. That is when I realized that balance was terrible and fluctuating – if you’ve been there during the “Sword and Fist”-era, you’ll know what I mean. At the same time, I got modules and while there were some fine gems, WotC just didn’t produce enough – and while I will never forget how my PCs defeated Ashardalon (upgraded to CR 38, epic etc.), most, but not all of the new school modules left me craving *something*, feeling like something had been lost in the process. It took me quite some time back in the day to grasp what the problem was – in the advent of massive statblocks, the things that provided the immersion into the world took a step back. In its place came very straight: “This is treated as spell x” descriptions that made the whole system more concise. Additionally, bestiaries went away from complex discussions on habitat, ecology, etc., instead providing almost only crunch, rendering books I used to love to read into something I read once and then used at the table – but never read for pleasure.

 

The increased size of statblocks also rendered modules simply less detailed – less space to devote to the respective areas and inhabitants, their tactics etc. While this changed over the course of 3.X and in PFRPG is less of a problem, mainly due to a vast array of superb modules, in 3.X’s days, it made me feel as if the system was superb in its math, but also soulless. Then there was the issue with player-entitlement, which also became a problem during those days – or rather, the slavish adherence to CRs and a “balanced chance” in every encounter felt to me unrealistic and soulless – it detracted immensely from my sense of immersion.

On the plus-side, the OGL provided a whole bunch of interesting 3pps, so I was browsing shelves in my FLGS. I noticed two old-school looking modules there – “Crucible of Freya” and “Tomb of Abysthor.” I bought them. I read them. I cackled with glee. Here we got modules that had line-of-sight-featuring maps of guard-fires, great cartography – and the balls to throw a CR 6 troll at a 1st level party, proudly, defiantly against the zeitgeist, stating that PCs acting dumb ought to result in death. This very philosophy of proper challenges and smart, detailed surroundings was glorious. Better yet, the modules were not afraid of not codifying everything – providing unique terrain hazards, additional encounters (heck, in ToA the PCs can avoid a whole level if they don’t want to explore everything!). A couple of years later, I had almost everything Necromancer Games had produced and ordered every book I could get my hands on.

Then, PFRPG happened and I was complaining about Slumbering Tsar, about how much I wanted to see it and had graduated from forum-lurker to reviewer. The rest is history.

 

Here, for the first time, the free introductory module Wizard’s Amulet, Crucible of Freya and Tomb of Abysthor are collected in one massive book, all updated for PFRPG. (And that’s damn well and good, for ToA, for example, was nigh impossible to get anymore!) Furthermore, while the original modules utilized various pieces of content from the Scarred Lands Creature Collection-books and the Relics & Rituals-tomes, this revamp sports completely new takes on the respective topics, without these old pieces of content. And yes, this does extend to a point where the crunch can influence the fluff and actually, rather than restrict the narrative capacities of the module in question – see for example th “sorceror’s amulet”-sidebar. Better yet, some of the more significant encounters actually come with different tactical suggestions and conditions based on the difficulty level you’re aiming for, making this book worthwhile even for less experienced players. (Though people, when you go for FGG, you might as well go hardcore – it’s what makes winning awesome.)

 

Additionally, it should be noted that this is no lazy repackaging – new encounters, mapped mini-dungeons, copious amounts of superb b/w-artworks – there’s a lot of new material and the inclusion of e.g. the APG-classes in builds does result in a very organic, defiantly pathfinder change of the basic modules. What about a misanthropic druid who has developed a wand to control stirges, for example, with a hilarious picture of the poor guy being annoyed by the bloodsucking pests. Ruined waystations and monasteries breathe a significant sense of danger and desolation.

 

And yes, the CR20+ slightly cthulhoid adversary of ToA, who belonged to a now IP-protected species has been replaced with a rather cool multi-class build…of what race? No, not going to spoil that…

On the crunch-side, the book does sport new takes on archetypes and prestige classes for the foes, numerous magic items and a variety of non-standard creatures to be encountered within these pages.

 

What is this module about? I’m not spoiling that. This is a piece of roleplaying history that one should experience for oneself. Just one hint: Beware the font and its endless skeletons…

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artworks herein are glorious, especially the new ones; some original artworks have been used as well. The cartography is neat as well, I just wished we had player-friendly versions for them.

 

I’ll make this short – Bill Webb and Clark Perterson are legends for a reason. But Erica Balsley, Greg A. Vaughan and Skeeter Green as contributing authors should be proud as well. Developers Skeeter Green and Ken Cliffe have taken this collection and made it more than the sum of its parts, rendering this book more than the sum of its parts.

 

This is a defiantly old-school mega-adventure, a mini-setting-sourcebook and enough adventure material to provide enjoyment for quite a while. Finally, if your players think they’re hard – back when I ran Ravenloft campaigns, I played these modules with the following stipulations:

-all damage-dealing magic causes madness checks

-max one starting piece of magical equipment

-+ DR 10/special material or DR 20/special material to all supernatural adversaries, with special materials to be determined by research

…and much more. Yes, a lot of PCs died. They still talk about the experience with a gleam in their eyes and when PC upon PC sacrificed himself to buy some time in my modified finale…well, let’s just say that this was simply glorious. If you’re interested in that, drop me a line.

 

Back to the review: I have not SPOILER-tagged the module for a reason – this is less about the story, more about the atmosphere. About the feeling of this massive book. About the freedom, the non-linearity, the sense of danger and a world that has turned forward, a feeling that what little civilization is there, it’s in danger. This is a document of roleplaying game history, carefully and respectfully refreshed to the PFRPG-rules and one of the books that should grace the shelves of all PFRPG-DMs -beyond being a great old-school module, this constitutes the best iteration of the material so far, both in production values and builds. That being said, Frog God Games has since back in the day raised the bar by quite a bit, so while this module is still great and awesome, it has aged a bit when compared to some of the glorious modules FGG has produced in the meanwhile. And if your group has played the original modules, this may be the better version, but for me, personally, I wouldn’t play this massive array again and instead use the new content as supplemental wilderness encounters. What I’m trying to say is – if you already have the originals, this is optional, not mandatory. If you don’t have them, though – this is literally roleplaying game history.

My final verdict will still clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval – this is a book that every group that liked old-school should have played at least once.

You can’t get this book currently on OBS or d20pfsrd.com’s shop – but here in Frog God Games’ shop.

 

Endzeitgeist out.

Jan 232015
 

Occult Options: Binder Secrets

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This expansion for Pact Magic clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

 

Okay, in case you forgot – binder secrets require you to have an occultist level and can be taken in place of regular feats or bonus feats. This pdf provides 3 special types of binder secrets: Aspects, Alterations and Rituals.

 

Alterations secrets alter the mayor granted ability of a spirit and increase the number of rounds it is expended by 10, 8 if the binder has the rapid recovery feat. Only one aspect can be applied at a given time.

 

Aspect secrets modify the constellation or monstrous aspects with the secret’s aspects. a binder can only benefit from a given aspect once, even if she makes multiple good pacts. She can, however, benefit from multiple different aspects secrets. It should be noted that high-level binders can learn new secrets herein to mitigate the restrictions imposed on these secrets.

 

Rituals take 10 minutes unless otherwise specified and require the execution of knowledge tasks as well as spirits.

 

All right, got that? Among the aspects, we receive the option to receive aligned strikes and benefit from the associated protection from… alignment’s effects, reduced armor check penalties, healing (thankfully limited to 3+cha-mod times per day to avoid abuse), reroll skills or even gain wings at higher levels! Aforementioned healing can be upgraded by charismatic high-level binder to be usable as a means of raising the dead or to affect an area of targets, btw.

 

The alteration secrets tend to be more impressive, seeing how they interact with mayor abilities – they including clinging damage for acid and fire-based abilities, the option to exclude a creature type from the effects of mayor granted abilities as well as making mayor granted abilities disruptive. Replacing a mayor granted ability’s damage type with elemental damage may be nice, but isn’t that interesting to me – more exciting would be the option to delay the onset of a given ability – this can *really* change the dynamics of combat and open up some great tactical avenues – kudos! Electricity or fire damage may be supplemented by a dazzle-effect and yes, the obvious choices à la enlarge etc. are part of the deal as well. Maximizing damage against the favored enemy of a given spirit may be a bit hardcore. Also interesting would be the ability to maintain precarious concentration on an ability before unleashing it upon foes, increasing the save DC. Forcing rerolls is also possible and if you can think of one of the regular metamagical enhancements, it probably has a representation here.

 

Rituals include some of the stars herein -what about a ritual that allows you to take a creature’s soul and put it into a receptacle, forcing it to do your bidding? Yes, this does come with great limits and yes, this is narrative gold for use by both PCs and NPCs. Not all secrets are this cool though – a ritual for a magic circle? Really? Thematically fitting, yeah, but a wasted secret-slot. Some feats granting spell-like abilities to e.g. detect pact spirits or using a constellation’s 1st level patron spell 2/day as a spell-like ability just didn’t wow me. Wildering in the samurai’s class features, granting resolve, is more interesting – especially since the follow-up secrets provide some interesting, varied combo-potential – here, the pdf shines. Scaling summon monster as a spell-like ability didn’t wow me either, but I can see the reasoning behind it. More interesting would be the option to prevent physical contact by creatures of the chosen alignment.

 

Pretty brilliant is the secret that allows you to choose one spirit and enter a trance to temporarily gain access to the ability traded for the vestigial companion of the spirit. Unbarring class features barred by tunneled lore also makes for a nice benefit. Speaking of interesting – temporarily marking foes as favored enemies of ALL of one’s spirits also makes for a pretty neat ability – though one, which, in spite of its cap, can be pretty nasty. Remember this max-damage-versus-favored-enemies secret? Have I mentioned that marking an adversary doesn’t seem to require an action, nor does it allow for a save? Yeah. Ouch. Of course, pretty regular benefits like +3/day minor granted abilities can be found herein as well.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s 2-column full-color standard and can be considered pretty printer-friendly. The pdf has nigh no artwork, but needs none at this length. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked.

 

Alexander Augunas is pretty much Mr. Pact Magic for PFRPG and, much like Dreamscarred Press’ take on psionics, he is right as the pulse of his subsystem of magic. That being said, I do consider this pdf slightly less than it could have been. The secret-types help provide distinct benefits and the complexity of the wording required for them goes beyond what one would usually have to execute with feats and similar pieces of crunch. It is my pleasure to report that the wording of these abilities flows well – a requirement for this complexity. For yes, this took a lot more time than one would assume to reviews, mainly due to the significant amount of looking up of abilities and their finer interactions I needed to do.

 

That, and occultists have quite a few abilities with a cooldown – tweaking these can have pretty massive repercussions. Balancing especially the metamagic-like secrets is pretty hardcore and yes, this pdf does have some “OMG, how great is that?”-feats that can truly change the flow of battle. That being said, the pdf also sports a couple of feats I’d consider filler and the favored enemy + max damage combination is pretty nasty and could use some nerfing – guaranteed max damage, even with a 10-round cooldown just doesn’t gel with me and enforces an unnecessary frontloadedness of the binder. One final note – this pdf takes the binder and makes the class, balance-wise, more like a caster. Which isn’t bad, but it’s a change of focus you should be aware of in case you’re playing a low power/magic campaign. So how to rate this? Well, i consider this pdf to be a good addition to the Pact Magic-rules, but not one I can unanimously recommend. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

 

You can get this neat expansion for Pact Magic here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop!
Endzeitgeist out.