This massive compilation of desert-themed spells clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a rather massive 51 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
Now, as always, we begin this pdf with a massive array of spell lists by class and level, covering the classes up to and including the ACG classes, but not the occult classes.
From there, we move right into this massive compilation of spells, beginning with Aghasura’s bluff, a 3rd level spell that allows you to beckon targets towards you. They just move closer on their next round, perceiving others entranced as allies, as they move closer. The spell, alas, does not state that this compulsion cannot make targets walk into obvious danger/offers rerolls for them, which is a rather important caveat for such compulsions. Cool, though: You get a bonus to one attack (since dropping it is a move action) versus targets thus entranced. As a limit to the spell, moving ends the spell as well, but sans this bonus. Now, this being a supplement on desert spells, we get more than the rattlesnake rattle component to represent the leitmotif – you see, casting the spell in a warm desert environment makes it harder to resist.
Why did I specify that this is relevant regarding *warm* deserts? The pdf is smart and also covers the cold wastelands. The first spell that ties into this would be Amamrok’s aspect, which is obviously a transmutation that nets +4 to all physical attributes as well as +4 natural AC, as well as low-light and darkvision and scent…and a bite attack that is not codified requiring defaulting. This bite is also what makes up the main bulk of the spell. The caster can execute a bite attack against the air, focusing on any creature he can see, provided it has a soul. The bite targets a harmless, shadowy duplicate of the creature that is intended to allow for at-range tripping/grappling and “If you hit, you can attempt to trip and grab the target…” Okay, this is problematic. Those are two different maneuvers, so do we get two CMB-checks? If one of them gets a bonus, does it apply to both rolls? If it’s only one CMB-check, do bonuses to either apply? The wording here is also needlessly opaque – it would have been simple to state that bite attacks executed against such a shadowy double benefit from the grab and trip universal monster qualities, but the verbiage stumbles over grab vs. grappling. It is also a bit puzzling whether the creation of the shadowy duplicate “wastes” an attack or whether the creation is part of it. While this spell feels uncharacteristically rushed in its benefits, I did enjoy some design decisions: In cold desert terrains, the duration is expanded and at higher levels, additional spell effects are added. The rare material component is btw. required to grant these, even if you have Eschew Materials or similar substitution options – as a box clearly indicates, the spell would otherwise be too potent.
There also would be Amphiptere’s flight, which is an interesting 2nd level flight spell that is limited in height and thus retains the covert cap of unassisted personal flight. Arctic pelt is a cantrip for shaman and druid, level 1 spell for the other classes. It grants “resist cold 2” – that should be cold resistance 2. The creature also gets +2 to saves to resist damage from exposure to cold. Casting the spell in the proper environment increases the bonus, resistance and duration. Asleep unaware also has a rough edge of sorts – as a bard 3, sorc/wiz 4 spell, it targets a living creature, which is then rendered prone and falls asleep. On a successful save, the target falls asleep, but believes to be awake, which can be an interesting scenario to describe at the table – it is a mind-game I very much enjoy. That being said, the fact that you fall prone and are asleep for at least 1 round, even on a successful save, is utterly OP – at least the sleeping component should be negated. And yes, the focus is rare, but still – not going to happen RAW in my game.
On the hilarious side, aspect of the great roadrunner boosts your Dex and nets you Run in the proper terrain. Meep-meep! Benevolent commands is also interesting, in that it is a good variant of command that nets you the ability to use it at-will; you can discharge the spell to duplicate either cure moderate wounds or lesser restoration for targets that have heeded your command. It also can’t be used to command others to harm beings. The component, a lammasu’s eyelash, is pretty cool and the desert specific effects are interesting here as well. Biting winds is damn cool – at 6th level, it produces a 30 ft.-emanation that causes severe winds, a drop in temperature and cold damage – but it also sports a frustburn-ish engine of sorts, with cumulative failed saves increasing the severity of the additional conditions incurred. While we have 7 saves that lead to death as opposed to 6 levels, I was still pleasantly reminded of 5e’s exhaustion-mechanics. While these effects can only affect warmblooded creatures with a skeletal structure, it still feels a bit weird. Why does cold immunity, RAW, not prevent these effects? The Fort-save should be contingent on actually taking cold damage from the spell, which it does not – the per se nice wind chill mechanic is RAW completely decoupled from the damaging component. (As a nitpick: Range should be “Personal”.) Calling forth shadows with the dustman template added.
On the evocative side of battle spells, burning beams let you generate lances of light, intangible ones, that are lodged in the targets hit, burning them, with fire damage increasing in bright light, decreasing in darkness. Neat visuals and cool effects. Bursts of frost and flame would be another definite winner: For one, it converts cold to fire and vice versa for you; it also allows you to voluntarily fail your save against such an effect (if any), taking half damage, and emit a burst of the other energy, the damage output of which is contingent on the damage you suffered. Now, if you think that this could result in some really weird combos, you’d be partially right, but spell and sidebar explain sequence of events and make sure that the spell is not misread and uses cleverly the fine nuances of the free action. Particularly from a design-perspective, a rather interesting offering!
Conjuring forth a cactus and various efreeti-calling tricks, transformation into camels…some solid utility options can be found here. The nonlethal century in the sun represents a neat spell to simulate prolonged exposure to the sun, and is one of the spells herein that casters with the correct domain, for example (here: Sun) can substitute, which adds to the usefulness of the pdf in that regard. Ghul claws that are correctly codified and count as cold iron and magic and come with temporary hyena-shapechanging also make for an interesting variant on the buff. Concentrate condensate is a nice low-level spell to make air dry and condense in a square, which is one of the spells that sounds less useful at first…and once you start thinking about it, you’ll see its benefits. There also is a spell that makes darkvision color. Which is cool. Alas, I think that the target should specify that it can only modify pre-existing darkvision. The spell’s text implies it, yes, and so does the spell level, but it could theoretically be misread.
Slashing foes with cones of salt or dissolving creatures into puddles of acid via corrosive mists (via corrosive liquefaction) represent nice tricks. I am also partial to create ghost town and its lesser brother – the spell allows btw. for synergy when maintaining more than one casting, providing bonus “bridging buildings” of sorts. Swarm-conjurations also can be found here, with stats provided for a CR 4 scorpion swarm. The supplement includes a variety of desert-themed spells that e.g. allow for better movement, and potential discharge to treat poisons; ones that instill panic, curses that make the target think that they have been deserted. I am somewhat concerned about drake’s surge. A third level spell, this one allows you to convert your swift action into a move action. While this is less potent than the other way round, I am extremely weary of tweaks regarding action economy, particularly when said tweaks explicitly stack with haste. Why am I not screaming OP right there? Simple: The spell explicitly prevents you from using the action to cast spells or attack, limiting you to trail-like effects and preventing the otherwise inevitable issues.
Dusty shroud would be another winner – in dusty environments, you get fast healing 2 and are blurred, but you also are sickened in non-dusty ones. Oh, and you can harden the dust and generate a burst of slashing damage, ending the spell. This feels magical and using a dust mephit’s dwelling’s dust increases the potency of the hardened dust burst discharge. Cool! Using a sand stalker’s front leg to fascinate targets also is rather cool and gets how magic is supposed to feel. Endless sands/snow is an illusion that is so classic in its visuals, it should have existed before. I also love the imagery of the high-level flames of Phlegethon, generating hellish heat that can truly wreck objects and structures. Straight out of fighting videogames would be the 4th level flying grappler, which nets you flight while you’re grappling targets. The high-level, potent freezing shatter is nice and assuming, either willingly or via a curse, a ghostly form, similarly represents a classic and cool concept. A healing-spell with a cold-theme that can be used to damage targets is smart and we get two spells, including mass variants, which allow for better desert/arctic explorations.
There also would be a 5th level Wis-damage spell that penalizes Will-saves, a lightning aura that uses a rare focus as balance…there are some neat ones here. I am also partial to the spell that fire lightning in dust/sand, making it glass, and then blasts the glass to shards with a sonic boom, combining damage and soft terrain control. (As an aside, I think the glass should behave as caltrops, but that may be me.) Poisonous lines, a spell to protect versus sandstorms, summoning a dire bat that can be ridden, making a target believe that you and your allies don’t exist, a 9th level shadow conjuration to call a black scorpion…some cool stuff. If you’re like me and gravitate towards some realism and grit in your games, stave off loneliness may be very smart, as it draws upon the subconscious to prevent mental breakdowns and the like – this spell is one that focuses on the narrative, rather than the mechanics, and it does so very well. Calling forth an impressive, fully statted CR 13 crimson worm, sunburn/screen…cool. Also rather nice: Superchromatic vision, which allows you to perceive more colors than we usually do – somewhat akin to e.g. a mantis shrimp and the like. While this allows for navigation in desolations (and it can make for a really cool storytelling tool), the spell also renders you potentially more susceptible to sight-based effects. Thermal inversion line generates a line that is cold on one end, fire on the other, and manages to get the rules regarding the damage etc. right. A low-level curse that adds vertigo to falling prone is also a winner in my book.
Editing and formatting are per se very good as a whole, in both formal and rules-components, but there also are a few uncharacteristic hiccups in some of the rules-components here. Not enough to sink the respective spells, but in this series, it did show. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and employs some nice full color artworks.
David J. Paul’s latest collection of terrain-based spells has a very, very high level of expectations to live up to. His spell collections represent my absolute favorite series of spells available for PFRPG. It is this series I’d take along to my lonely island, if I had to choose a single series of Spell-pdfs. These are my reference-books for what I expect from a good spell book. And honestly, the desert-installment holds up, as a whole – the spells herein often dare to juggle complex concepts that are hard to get right. Problematic effects are generally evaded and the spells feel MAGICAL. Foci and components act as smart balancing tools; annotations in sidebars help; the spells have relevant, terrain-based modifications and sport thoroughly fun effects. I love a lot about this pdf. That being said, it is a bit less refined than the last couple of installments. The glitches I found mostly pertained minor aspects of the rules-language, but in a series that is pretty much the bar by which I measure awesomeness in spells, this does show.
So, to make this abundantly clear: This still represents one of the best spell-collections out there. It is an inspired, interesting offering. At the same time, it features more “variant summoning”-spells than the others in the series, feels slightly less refined in the details, sometimes forgetting obviously intended components that would have catapulted spells from cool to amazing – glass acting as caltrops, connections between two effects…Now, mind you, the spells herein are still inspiring! They are interesting and the mechanics of the vast majority of them are great! However, when looked at back to back with the phenomenal installments of the series, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment at a very high level. Where are the glass shards that make lenses that can make light-spells more brutal, for example? I am a huge fan of deserts, and some of my fondest memories pertain driving through the Mojave, visiting White Sands or marveling at the Petrified Forest; of walking through Iceland’s black, sandy beaches and the desolation there. I do not object to the dual cold/warm desert focus, but I maintain that either could have yielded a bit more.
But I am rambling. As a whole, I really enjoyed this pdf, but I do have to penalize it somewhat regarding its rough patches. My final verdict clocks in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. I still very much recommend getting this, but it doesn’t reach the dazzling heights of exceptionalism of its predecessors.
You can get these cool spells here on OBS!