EZG reviews Into the Breach: Magus
This pdf by d20pfsrd.com publishing/flying pincushion is 29 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
We kick off this pdf with 11 different archetypes for the Magus, first of which would be the Agony Drinker – this is essentially a pain/negative-energy themed magus. They add properties like vicious etc. to their arsenal. The class gain negative energy affinity, which, for good groups, is a very strong detriment, whereas in evil groups, it tends to be very strong -usually, you only see that one in powerful races as a mitigating, balancing factor. However, the archetype does have its way of healing itself – by expending arcane pool points in conjunction with melee/inflict-spells, they may heal limited Hp. Which may be good and fine, but the wording here could be a tad more concise. While it’s obvious the intention is to allow for 1 point per target per healing to be upgraded via consecutive attacks, as written, action economy could be a tad more concise, emphasizing that the additional expenditure is part of the initial swift action. The ability also remains silent as to the issue of attacks/spells and their combination, making this one not broken, but less concise than it ought to be. Problematic: They may draw runes from the blood of the vanquished to grant themselves temporary DR. All right, useable 1+Int-mod times per day is a nice limit – but the ability does not put not rules-terms what “fresh, still warm blood”. Would heating it keep it fresh? What about vanquished undead like vampires, do they count? Also: Always take your trusty bag o ‘ kittens along for instant-runes! Yes, fails the bag-o’-kittens test. Now do you know what 1/2 class level + int mod (full class level at level 7+) healing and these runes replace? Knowledge pool and Spell Recall, arguably two of the most versatile, powerful class features of the magus class. Yeah. Doesn’t work.
Add to that the fact that improved spell recall goes and is replaced with a weaker scent and we have an archetype in need of help. Same goes for the capstone, which has blood spurting negative energy damage based on foe HD in range. Problem: No action type is given. I *assume* swift action since it’s powered by arcane pool points, but I’m not sure. Also, the ability fails to specify whether the damage also applies to the creature reduced below 0 HP, potentially killing it or not. All in all, interesting imagery and concept, but wonky rules and very weak abilities make this a subpar option at best, unless used in tandem with undead PCs and similarly negative energy affine creatures. Viable as an NPC, but not as a PC.
All right, next up would be the arcane artillerist, who could be summed up as a ranged magus – instead of melee, focused on crossbows and bows….Yeah, that’s not a typo and means we’re talking bows. Why? Because without class-benefits enhancing them, crossbows are just worse than bows. Better yet – they are the only choices here, with abilities referring exclusively to the ammunition types. Slingstones? Rocks thrown? Nope. And yes, I’m aware I look like a prick here, but reloading action economy could use some balancing help here…and the class glosses over all firearms, all thrown weapons…javelins? Tough luck. Also problematic from a nitpicker’s position – at 7th level, ranged weapons wielded count as melee weapons for the purpose of threatening AoOs and provoking them. Got that. But do e.g. oversized ranged weapons get reach? What reach (not range, but the area in which they threaten AoOs) do regular ranged weapons (or oversized ones)have? What about e.g. bladed bows etc.? This class feature sounds nice, but honestly, you can, kind of, already have that sans an archetype.
Worse: Aforementioned spellstrike fails to include the caveat that limits the regular spellstrike to working with only touch attacks -while it is inferred in the following sentence, as written, the ability would still allow for non-touch spells to be delivered thus. The level 14 ability is also confusing, stating: “At 14th level, the arcane artillerist may make a single ranged weapon attack to deliver a spell from the magus spell list as a ranged touch attack, this attack deals full weapon damage and spell damage.” Ähem. Ranged spellstrike already does that at level 2. Full weapon and spell damage. Nothing halved anywhere. Here rules-editing is very wonky…also with regards to melee weapons enhancements being replaced with ranged weapons enhancements. Where’s the list? What enhancements? That’s not proper rules language. At 16th level, the archetype gets the ability to execute AoOs against all spells cast in range. Yes, range. However, the AoO does not disrupt the casting. This is just incredibly clunky as it breaks how AoOs work in the first place. Also, what about concentration-dependant effects? No check? What about delivering persistent damage? No hampering? Do spell-like abilities count? They follow the same format as spells, but aren’t spells per se… As written, completely unusable.
Okay, those throwing specialists glanced over in the previous archetype also get one, the arcane hurler. This one gets diminished spellcasting, but more arcane pool (alongside more ways of using the latter) and gets the ranged spellstrike wording right. Additionally, the archetype learns to imbue thrown weapons to add +1d6 untyped magic damage to the weapon, with 1 point of arcane pool cost per d6, up to a maximum of 1/2 class level. Additionally, the imbued energy damages the thrown weapon. What’s weird here is that the “target’s spell resistance applies” – probably, this refers only to the bonus damage, but a clarification whether the regular weapon damage can be negated would be in order. Also, one of the arcane pool abilities allows you to spend a point to negate the damage arcane imbuement does to the weapon – but does that one count into the class-level-based cap or not? I *assume* the latter, but as written, I’m not sure. Also, arcane imbuement lasts 1 min per class level (as it better should, taking a full-round action), but can multiple imbuements be in effect at a given time? I assume so, but again. not sure. At 7th level, foes adjacent to the primary target get magical whiplash with a ref-save to halve – which is a very reliable way to disrupt casters. Why? Damage is untyped. Not even force, UNTYPED. No means to negate, ever. Not sure whether that’s intended, but the lack of means of countering this is problematic in my book. This becomes worse when bursts and automatic, non-negated 1/2 damage on the following round enter the fray. The latter is nasty, the former could be considered problematic with big foes. All in all, this doesn’t sound so bad and the hurler is better than the artillerist, but still is broken – mostly due to the ability to convert a vast array of energy damage into an invented new type that has no means of being negated by anything. As written, I wouldn’t allows this anywhere near my table before the wording had been cleaned up alongside the damage-type.
All right, next up would be the Arcane Tactician – and whoever of the team of authors wrote this – you have my gratitude. This is one of the few archetypes I’ve seen that takes the brains it takes to be a magus seriously – essentially, the archetype allows you to wildcard teamwork feats instead of spells and temporarily share them with allies. While at the cost of knowledge pool and spell recall, this one makes for a fine addition to the game – especially since it also learns to force five-foot steps (but not into difficult terrain) and gains a kind of omni-sentient battle-commander trance of exquisite coolness at 11th level. Seriously one awesome archetype here and one of my favorite archetypes for the class in any supplement. Yes, that cool! Oh, also: The wording in this one is really good, so kudos to the author! MY one gripe with this one would be that I would have liked to see it expanded further – and that’s a good thing indeed!
The Bare-Knuckler is an unarmed magus who gets improved unarmed strike, applies arcane pool damage-dealing enhancements to unarmed attacks and grapple, +1/2 class level (full at level 14, none as a capstone) to concentration while grappling and gets the grapple-feat tree, but neither spell combat, nor spellstrike. This archetype is terrible. Not its wording, mind you – it’s balance. This archetype is ridiculously weak. 3/4 BAB-grappler with two feats benefit, plus requirement to spend points in character creation on Int? No bonus to grappling? Make a barbarian/fighter -> Crush puny melee magus -> ???? -> Profit. Seriously, this archetype needs some signature trick as well as a significant power upgrade. As written, it just is a VERY poor choice and fails even against other NPC-builds…don’t get me started on monsters, giants et al.
The Blood Mage Magus increases HD to d10, uses con instead of int for the arcane pool, treats self-healing spells as empowered and may fast heal himself for arcane pool points. At 13th level, he gets the ability to make a melee attack a touch attack and only has to sacrifice a 5th level spell for it – oh and the archetype loses medium and heavy armor proficiency – great deal isn’t it? *sarcasm off* Sorry, couldn’t help myself there – the deal of the class is that it’s sturdier than a regular magus. This is negated by having to spend feats on armor proficiencies and the level 13 ability is ridiculously weak and can be duplicated earlier via arcana. Once again, broken archetype, no reason to play one.
Echo-blade magi get diminished sellcasting and may sacrifice spell-slots to replenish arcane pool points. They get silent spell (for no particular reason) as a bonus feat and their whole catch is that they may add new weapon enhancements (thundering and the new echoing and greater echoing, +3/+4 respectively) to their list. These deal 1/2 or full damage again at the end of the round. Which screams munchkin the hell out of me. Seriously: Charges, spells, lances, vital strikes, smites – you name it: This enchantment DEMANDS you try to find at least ONE way, if more to abuse the hell out of this one. I wouldn’t allow the enchantment in my game and the archetype doesn’t look like fun, unless you’re in for the “how many damage effects can I stack on ONE attack fire/forget”-type of gameplay that results in powerful hit or suck one-trick-ponies.
The Lodestone Blade archetype gets diminished spellcasting and a minor AC-boosting magnetic aura that helps with deflection-bonuses versus metal weapons. They also know the presence of any ferrous metals in 30 ft – permanent know direction + scent. Only…that’s not how scent works. Scent can be blocked. Scent is modified by winds. This probably (or is it?) is not – making it, against the vast majority of adversaries, very effective. If it truly does work like scent, how are magnetic fields influenced by winds? Yes, solar winds, I get that, but a downwind breeze? They also get deflect arrows and decrease ac and increase max dex for armor. This is the epitome of a filler-archetype – no interesting abilities whatsoever and a cool concept, squandered in mechanically mostly irrelevant and boring ways. No attraction? Better disarming? Dragging/pushing? Come on! Think Magneto as a knight – the concept is so cool, but the execution…urgh. Bland.
The Personifier replaces spellstrike with one of the most ambitious concepts herein – essentially, these guys can morph spells into…things. For example, into weapons. The forming of spells into weaponry, unfortunately, is rather weak, making only sense if you want a specific elemental damage type to hurt foes with weaknesses. At 3rd level, things become more interesting, with armor entering the fray (including potentially resistance) and generally, that’s nice – but since you can’t wear two armors, why bother? get one good armor and be done with it – then you don’t have to sacrifice your resources. Oo
At 4th level, they may even shape creatures up to a CR of 1/2 level. These creatures increase in prowess and list-availability in multiple steps. All in all, rather evocative and cool – I do have an issue, though: The ability specifies that the creatures essentially retain the type of the spell they’re crafted from -with fire spells resulting in fire wolves. So far, so awesome. They also get a weakness to the opposing element, if applicable. Again, cool! And if a vulnerability wouldn’t deal damage, we also get a concise formula to create damage. Nice. However, as per the examples, a sonic longsword would take damage from a silence-spell. Emm…how much? Silence doesn’t do damage per se. Damage-type less spells/force spells etc. count as damage and are “vulnerable to dispel magic” – so does that mean they take damage or that they can be dispelled? Can be more easily dismissed? Vulnerability usually means taking more damage, is this included in the general formula at the end? This ability is pretty close…but botches big time. Why? No progression for the respective spells-turned animals. Yeah. They suck. No increased HD, no better saves, nothing. This is the most expensive, ineffective way of summoning creatures I’ve seen in ages. It’s fluffy idea is GREAT, but it is just not viable AT ALL. So at 8th level, I can waste my precious spells to create ONE creature per spell from the improved familiar list with a CR of 1/2 my class level that can’t use any spell-like abilities or spells? Where do I sign? Seriously, going Fahrenheit 451 on those spells would only be slightly less inefficient. Which sucks, for the ability to create a BEAR MADE OF ACID is awesome – but as written, it doesn’t work. Translating spell -> Creature would require a balanced HD-increase/spell-level correlation and potentially a bunch of simple templates to apply.
A similar glitch unfortunately haunts the next ability as well, wherein a personification can be discharged, i.e. triggered to do the spell’s work – once again, high concept and awesome, but the wording fails to mention what happens with spells that have a range of touch or require an attack roll, rendering it unusable as written. So much potential, but damn does this need another pass.
The Primalist Magus has a modified spell-list, nature’s bond and a bite attack, which fails to specify whether it’s a primary or secondary natural weapon. Once again, filler-archetype, nothing interesting here.
Next up would be the 5-level Ki-Magus PrC, , who gets 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort and will-saves, 2+Int skills per level, d8 and full spellcasting progression. Essentially, this PrC may use arcane pool points as ki points and vice versa and ki magus levels stack for purpose of calculating ki points. They may also spellstrike flurry – which does exactly nothing as written. Spellstrike has no per-round limit. Also: Flurry of Blows and Spell Combat are both full-round actions, meaning they don’t work n concert. They may also duplicate greater invisibility for one point, which isn’t too shabby. Since players don’t often make use of sp’s like that and since one prereq-class is non-casting, I’d still suggest for clarity’s sake a caster level/duration clarification here. The capstone Strike the chakra is also a bit weird – on a crit, you may apply the extra damage to a ki/arcane pool. I *assume* that means just deal regular damage and the rest to the pool? If so, this is a one-hit empty-blast. Not a fan of the design. Speaking of which – even if it’s a capstone – gaining two swift actions for a point of a pool looks like a whole bunch of trouble/invitation to game the ability.
We also get 7 new arcana, which include limited ranged disarms (does it still provoke an AoO from adjacent foes? Interaction with improved/greater feats?), arcane sundering, a lame bonus to intimidate, coup-de-grace as a standard action – per se okay. One arcana uses per-encounter, which is flawed design in PFRPG. And no, not gonna repeat my numerous rants against it. The Magnetic Shield arcana may be nice, with its 50% miss chance etc. – but it could use a duration, analogue to spell shield and similar non-instantaneous arcana. Transfusion allows a criting magus to steal hit-points – 1d4+int-mod PER ARCANA POINT. No save, no cap – oh, and the HP are gained as temporary hit points sans duration. Can I hear “Bag o’ kittens?” Yeah! Kill till you crit, then blast those points away for mass temp Hp. -.-
The charge breaker-immediate action-spell is nice, though -force-shield hit/trip attackers rules! The primal curse of fire touch attack-spells are slightly too strong for level 3, dealing fireball-level damage and on a failed save half of that again on the following round sans save. For a level 2 spell, Primal Curse of Thorns is also very strong -up to 5d6 points of damage, fort halves, every time the creature makes a move action, attacks or attempts a ref-save? That’s INSANE. No chance to negate? Do you have any idea how fast you can rack up damage via this one? Time Shift, a lesser, fast haste and the thundershift spell, which teleports you and lets you enter with a force burst are okay in my book and actually spells I like, though I’d be careful when to hand them out.
The pdf closes with 9 feats, one offering scaling benefits for the expenditure of arcane pool points for atk/damage. Another feat allows you to add +10 to concentration for 2 spell levels. Metamagic Adaptability, which allows you to spontaneously change metamagic feats applied to spells, is interesting, though its caveat for spontaneous casters makes no sense. Want yet another example on utterly thrashing action economy? Reflexive caster. Cast a spell with a casting of standard action as an immediate action in lieu of an AoO. Yeah, it’s AoO-chain territory, can break the max amount of casts per round…or can it? Immediate actions are restricted to one per round, AoOs aren’t. Still, chain territory and as such not that elegant, if not broken per se. It is not clear whether the cast counts as an AoO or not for purposes of determining max AoOs per round, though. Now teleport tracking and stepping up through teleport effects…now those options are downright awesome in 3 kinds of ways!
Editing and formatting are in the upper echelons, but I did notice a couple of minor glitches. Layout adheres to a one-column (two-column for feats/arcana) full-color standard. Layout generally shows some unfortunate choices – for example an ability’s name on one page, with all text of the ability on the next page. Additionally, there’s A LOT of blank space at the end of archetypes, chapters etc. Combined with the broad columns and a lot of blank space between the abilities, the pdf somewhat elicited an impression of trying to expand the page-count. I’m rather positive that sans these, the pdf would lose at least 5 pages. Artwork does not adhere to a unifying style and ranges from stock-art I’ve seen before to neat artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and hyperlinked for your convenience. No complaints there.
A lot of authors worked on this one and it is my joy to report that there’s some real talent here – Frank Gori, Andrew Hoskins, Jeff Harris, Kiel Howell, Kyle O’Hara, Scott Bingham, Scott Hall and Taylor Hubler – some of you guys can be proud indeed. Why? Because I love the arcane tactician TO DEATH. I’m not kidding when I say it’s one of my favorite pieces for the magus ever made. Not too strong, but flavor-wise oh so awesome. Some spells and two feats also are downright brilliant and on 5 star + seal of approval level. Alas, these pieces are the minority. Now don’t get me wrong, I am aware that this is harsh – but the rest of the pdf…oh boy! There are so many imprecise wordings (that have NO PLACE in crunch), subpar balanced archetypes, nonsensical options etc. herein, it hurts – especially since (apart from obvious filler material) more often than not, the ideas here are high concept and fun – but the ability to perfectly execute these ambitious options more often than not seems to not have been up to par.
Now I don’t usually comment on price-points that much, unless a product is a steal or overpriced, mostly because I think the race to the bottom is a bad tendency. That being said, for the page count, with the very blank-space happy layout AND with the amount of glitches, I do consider this to be overpriced.
This pdf has quite a few cool ideas, but since the execution is so flawed in quite a few cases that many of the abilities don’t work as intended (or make no sense), I can’t unanimously recommend it – indeed, I was getting ready to thrash the hell out of this pdf, but the good pieces of content are simply so cool, I figured it does have some reason to exist. Hence, I’ll settle on a final verdict of 1.5 stars, rounded up to 2 stars for the gems that can be found herein if you’re willing to wade through all the problems.