Underworld Races: Colliatur
This installment of the Underworld Races-series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Disclaimer: The Colliatur are based on the colloid, an entity I created for Rise of the Drow. This makes me partial to the concept underlying the race. However, I had no involvement in the concept and creation of this race beyond being asked if the concepts would be true to the spirit in which the colloid was written – I provided neither editing, development, writing or the like for these guys as presented here. I entered this review exceedingly skeptical on whether this race would make sense or stand up in any way to what I expected this to deliver – experience has shown that I usually end up pretty disappointed when I tackle any book with serious expectations. I went into this with a negative bias – so could this survive my scrutiny?
We begin this supplement, as had become the tradition with this line of products, with an introduction to the numerous cataclysms that shaped the underworld of Aventyr – and among these, the colloid. The alien crystalline structure that seeks annihilation of all undead, though, did not go unopposed and thus, the colliatur were born as a race – a blending of the colloid’s body invasion and a pathogen released in the water that did result in some mishaps instead of annihilation of the crystal: Instead of halting the advance of crystallization or becoming one with the colloid, the subjects instead became something new – the shepherds of those lost in the colloid, independent and free-willed – and thus, also a threat – but only for the wicked. For, surprisingly, the colliatur are friendly and inclusive, with hair and bodies laced with crystalline strands and an origin from various races, though, of course, humans are considered the default origin. Say what you want about the colloid – the entity’s intrinsic value of life has a rather interesting effect on the race of the colliatur. In the cloak and dagger backstabbing world of the underdark, tendency towards an ennui-like, benign neutrality is very much a fresh wind.
Racial trait-wise, colliatur may freely choose one ability score to receive a +2 bonus, are native outsiders, get darkvision (not bolded in a minor formatting glitch) and a +2 bonus to AC. 1/day they may deflect a ray as if using the Deflect Arrows feat via their crystalline refractions. Also rather interesting – they receive resistance against negative energy 5, do not lose hit points when taking a negative level and receive a +2 bonus to saves versus necromancy, death, etc. effects. Contact with acid triggers fast healing 2, but thankfully, this healing caps at 2 hp per level per day – solid minor healing sans abuse potential. As sociable and nice fellows, colliatur may try again to positively influence attitudes when only failing by 5 or less. They receive +2 to concentration checks to cast spells defensively and colliatur with Int 11+ may cast comprehend languages, detect magic and read magic 1/day. They also receive +1 to attacks versus undead. This quite an impressive ability array with numerous unique signature abilities – which is great. However, balance-wise, we’d have an issue in spite of the relative scarcity of negative energy…this is offset somewhat by a weakness – the colliatur’s partially crystal bodies are susceptible to sonic damage, rendering them vulnerable. So all in all – the race works.
And yes, in theory, you can combine these guys with other races, but that is beyond the scope of this pdf (and quite a challenging expansion to design!) – now interesting would also be the favored class options, which, unlike those of quite a few “good” races, actually reflect the compassion of the race – we can see quite a few nice non-lethal damage upgrades and, also rather neat, a gunslinger archetype-specific FCO. The inquisitor’s FCO also deserves special mention, its benefit depending on the type of judgment active, resulting in either DR/nonlethal (VERY interesting) or a nonlethal damage bonus. As far as FCOs with their limited design options go, these are inspired indeed.
Now I noted a racial archetype, which would be the crystal cannonade, a gunslinger archetype for everyone – even those of you who do not like guns. The idea is as follows: You take a crossbow and your own body’s crystal fuses with it, granting you the option to reload it as swift actions – with one hand. Your body does the reloading for you, meaning that you also have no need for ammunition. Shots fired thus are touch attacks and deal nonlethal damage – unless the target is immune against it – then, they deal half damage as bludgeoning damage. Yes, this not only allows you to play a gunslinger in non-black-powder games, it also provides a means to dual wield heavy crossbows and pull off some nasty tricks with them (yes, feats and deeds work with this…) – even before you get dex to damage and further increase that amount over the levels. It is odd, though, that these weapons still can be disarmed, though they become an extension of the colliatur, oh well, not a big gripe. Personally, I would have preferred a slight upgrade to the base weapon’s potency to bring the archetype’s basic weapon framework closer to that of firearms, but again, this is me being a very spoiled reviewer. This is a deceptively cool archetype – for one, it’s not LOUD. It’s not expensive at low levels. It renders crossbows a valid weapon choice. And its synergy with the vast array of reloading options ensures that you can make some pretty nasty builds that were not possible before. On a nitpick, the reload for heavy and simple crossbows via this ability remains the same, but since the feat-based action economy remains the same as before, the combinations thereof lead to different results – so I’m going to assume this choice to be intentional. So yes, one of the subtle-good-archetypes.
Thankfully, this level of quality extend to the alchemical items -from divination-enhancing powder that taps into the colloid’s foresight to improvised weapons of crystal pried from the fallen, the colliatur get some cool tricks. The feats available mostly also fall into this category – some colliatur may emit dancing lights or light at will, whereas others can reduce the amount of negative levels taken per attack, making them predisposed to battling the tougher undead threats. This does not end here, though – what about breaking off parts of your body to make crystalline tools (and yes, later even weapons!)? Yeah, these feats are pretty awesome, though the follow-up feat could have used the line of the base feat again how to heal the speed reduction and damage this may cause. Mind you, the feats are functional and all is there, the presentation could just be slightly more detailed. Finally, what about morphing your hands into crystalline weapons, even ones with reach, provided you have additional colliatur feats? And yes, there is a positive energy-damage booster feat for casters, further emphasizing the anti-undead stance alongside the scaling feat that increases negative energy resistance.
The magic items follow this weird, but awesome trend – there are implants that grant a telepathic bond, even in an antimagic field and which can be tuned to diverse frequencies, allowing for elite-squads to act in silent unison. There is also a shard that REWARDS nonlethal spellcasting – while wielding it, you cast a spell merciful, but at CL +3 – which is powerful, but fittingly so.
The pdf also sports 5 new spells – from communion of minds that allows for Knowledge-rerolls to eidolon evolution-like tricks via alien surge and its greater brother, the spells are interesting. On a minor nitpick – regular alien surge scales while the greater one does not. And yes, there are two pretty powerful nonlethal damage-spells.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches beyond the two minor bolding issues. Layout adheres to AAW Games’ two-column full-color standard for the Underworld Races-series and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and with copious amounts of gorgeous, original full-color artwork – and I mean gorgeous. Jacob Blackmon has outdone himself and created colliatur that at once are beautiful and still evoke a sense of uncanny-valley-like alienness that still is somewhat captivating. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that the pieces he made here rank among my favorites of his work.
I get the allure of the darkness. The flair of the brooding antihero. The gritty protagonist. But know what? Beyond all those grimdark races out there, the Colliatur are a breath of fresh air. Why? Because they are, unabashedly so, a hero-race. They are kind, friendly, not dour or xenophobic. They may come off as a bit arrogant, but they’re beautiful and even the worst examples of their race can be superb allies versus the undead. The race has a very distinct style and aesthetic that sets them apart and makes them unique – and one of the races I’d never ever want to miss in my games. Beyond making superb adventurers, they are a balanced race (approximately on par with the planetouched races) and one that has a mechanic distinctiveness beyond what aasimar or tieflings offer.
The anti-negative-energy-shtick is pretty innovative, but it is the mechanic representation of their tendencies to value all life set the colliatur apart for me. Colliatur are a great reminder that adventurers, especially good adventurers, do not need to be murder hobos. They can be knock-out hobos as well. 😉 Kidding aside – thematically, one of the glorious things about them is that they provide a concise feeling for elements that had no fluffy identity – beyond the focus on nonlethal damage (and the mechanical REWARDS for using them!) they also provide a cool alternative for the crazy-prepared trope of feats…and mutable bodies. We’ve seen a lot tentacley-mutatey takes on scavenging some of the versatility of the eidolon et al – but let’s face it, you won’t be playing a paladin that grows tentacles with razor-fanged suckers anytime soon. (If you are, great for you!)
A race perpetually gleaming white teeth, star-shaped pupils in the eyes, crystalline strands in hair and body that can form their hands into beautiful instruments of destruction? A race suitable to combat some of the vilest foes out there? Yeah, more like it, ain’t it? Essentially, this race is a thoroughly fresh take on the radiant champion trope, exceedingly distinct from the aasimar and still mechanically more than valid. The pdf does have some minor rough edges here and there, but for each rough edge, I found at least 2 pieces of crunch I considered awesome or ideas that were downright inspired. The fluff of these guys is superb. Their identity is pronounced -and yet, they fit easily within the frame of just about any campaign. Better yet – they are not necessarily geared towards an alignment – and picture one of these guys as a master torturer/slaver (very good at capturing prey alive…) or as a psychopath stalking the streets, slaying undead and living alike and you have some cool adventure potential – just picture the vampire whimpering in fear of the “white teeth, the star-eyes….” Yes, I am running that module sooner or later…
In case you haven’t noticed – I adore this race. They have an awesome visual style, the story to back them up, unique rules, a unique niche and still manage to not be restrained by it. DMs can easily blend other races with the colliatur in their home-game as well… In one sentence -this delivers all of what I look for in a race – with equal capacity for being radiant heroes and slightly uncanny-valleyesque beings or even villains, Mike Myler’s colliatur are inspired in all the right ways – final verdict? 5 stars plus seal of approval. Check out this race – it is definitely worth it!
You can get this unique, awesome race here on OBS!