This massive book clock in at 133 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page Kickstarter-backer-list, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 125 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This book was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
Playing a commoner – as you can imagine, this book is not about a gameplay that is a cakewalk. Indeed, one may call it “insane” at first, as the in-character commentary spread throughout the book, from the mouth of the commoner-adventurer extraordinaire Felix Feckle, calls it. Well, turns out, and I can say that from my own experience, it’s not that crazy. I have a couple of years of extremely dark, gritty roleplaying with a d20-chassis under my belt, so does this work? Well, for one, the book, alongside aptly-written prose, introduces a crucial component from the get-go: It contrasts playstyles. Commoners need to be smart and as such, wars of attrition, ambushes and dirty fighting with all you’ve got become not optional, but required.
While not supported in detail, the book also talks about the other NPC-classes with suggestions on their use in a low-powered game. The pdf takes a look at commoners and their balance with a regular group- the first would be to allow high RP-races or templates (double RP or template CR+2). This is highly problematic, since the RP-guidelines in the ARG are anything but a stable guideline – neither among themselves, nor in contrast with other races. This is not something I’d recommend. The second option suggested is to offer 1/2 class level in mythic ranks – this is the option to take for e.g. the divinely-touched PC. Obviously, the other PCs should have a different progression. Once again, not to the fault of this book, this option does suffer somewhat from the basic mythic adventures-rules simply not being that well-rounded. That being said, if you happen to own a couple of Legendary Games’ superb Mythic rules-expansions, then this suddenly becomes very interesting -in theory. In practice, mythic rules often work as an amplifier – not exclusively so, but in many cases. Beyond the basic benefits granted by surges etc., the commoner does not have much to amplify in the first place, though. The playing experience of a mythic commoner is hence that of a battery with a pretty small charge – you get your mythic tricks…and then you’re more useless than a mute and blind wizard sans spells or spellbook. This section could have used more guidance in that regard.
The third option suggested can be summarized as escalating the Christmas tree-syndrome. The gear-hero gets doubled PC-starting wealth. Additionally, each level provides the commoner a fixed amount of bonus wealth. While this suggestion, once again, is a valid one, it can wreak havoc with WBL-assumptions – what’s to keep the other adventurers from benefiting more from the money than the commoner? In practice: Decency between players. Within a game-world’s logic: Not much.
Certainly not the 1/2 BAB-progression, no proficiency, all bad saves, no spellcasting, 2+Int-skills chassis of the commoner class. If that sounds negative, it’s not intended to be – it just points out the system-inherent issues this book faces. Much like a skin-graft, these solutions do patch up the issue faced – but at the expense of opening another wound. It is my conviction that this book could have done a better job at pointing out these potential issues for GMs contemplating commoner-PCs.
Beyond these, other applications can be found herein – contrary to the claim, 0-level commoner-like rules are nothing innovative: The very first non-starter-kit module I GM’d, “Die Schatzinsel,” should anyone care, did exactly that – it does remain a valid option, though, and the rules presented are pretty concise. If that was too obscure to make my point: There are two 0-level rules, one by Tricky Owlbear Publishing and one by Rogue Genius Games for PFRPG.
The other contemplations are sound – from synergy with E6 to the concept of a ninja-revolt (who, historically, were anything but the universal martial arts gods popular media made them…), these can be considered intriguing, inspiring even.
There is another important faction -playing commoners (or in a game in which the odds are stacked against you) makes you a better player: Case in point: My own group. Via years of my exceedingly deadly Ravenloft with wound-systems, madness, highly restricted magic and the like, I have created a monstrously effective force of players. So yes, there is merit to gained from the experience for the players as well – a VERY important factor, at least in my book.
Okay,, I’ve briefly touched upon the commoner-class – beyond the aforementioned, commoners get d6, proficiency in one simple weapon and one commoner weapon. As FCO, they can gain +1 simple or commoner weapon proficiency. Since the commoner class’s chassis is arguably the potentially most boring one possible, the pdf seeks to alleviate that with an interesting little mechanic – commoner jobs. From bouncer to failed apprentices, these variants of the base class modify basic proficiencies and skill-lists available for the class – nice idea!
Since commoners are not proficient with…well, anything that matters, careful consideration must be given regarding e.g. the choice of armors – suddenly, the unloved leather looks rather nifty – after all, 0 ACP means 0 penalty for non-proficiency…Obviously, easily wearable masterwork armor suddenly becomes rather enticing. Commoner weapons would be something to comment op -from pans to torches to cleavers, we get stats for many a weapon that would otherwise fall under the termino ombrellone “improvised weapon”. Ideal melee and ranged weapon suggestions (often defined rather by versatility than sheer damage-output) help and a score-by-score breakdown of attributes further helps designing a commoner with at least adequate chances of survival. See what I did there? 😉
Skills are also handled, with handy advice on making e.g. Profession more useful in certain situations- something especially less experienced GMS should take a look at. The next chapter deals with trait-selection – quite an array of them are discussed and analyzed regarding their viability – but there also are new traits to choose from. The traits, for one, get the trait-bonus right, so that is a nice thing to see. The traits themselves are pretty strong as far as traits are concerned, so while fitting for their intended design-purpose, I do urge GMs to lock these down for other classes, mainly because there are traits here that cover an established trait’s area. From +1 to crit confirmation to UMD as class skill including 1/day reroll, the traits are thematically consistent and supplement the task of properly playing commoners pretty well.
Regarding feats, the pdf has an assortment of nice ideas – basically, it acknowledges that regular classes get hard-coded combat styles via their design and codifies combat style-goals achievable via feats, taking some weight of your considerations – nice! These set-ups definitely help and are pretty nice, but more interesting would be the new [Commoner]-feats, which help offset some dangers and issues of running a commoner: Gaining Wis-bonus to Knowledge-checks to offset the lack of skills…adding the advanced template to your trained tiny animal – the options are pretty intriguing. Need a better draft animal to drag your equipment? Get a feat and train it – pretty cool! Adding filth fever to attacks, absolute basics of magic…while not suitable for regular classes, they sure work pretty neatly for commoners and the often used class level prereq prevents abuse – nice! There is also a modified leadership here – while I am a huge fan of the feat, I’m not sold on this one – mainly because the feat would have made for an easy way to actually make these guys balanced with base classes: Grant them leadership for commoners and allow them to form troops! While not particularly lethal, a solution similar to Legendary Games’ General-class would not only have worked – it would have echoed the most iconic scenes of the angry mobs coming for the monsters… Then again, that may just be me.
The pdf also provides new story feats – and these not only have a significant array of cool narrative options, their specifically for commoners designed benefits also provide some iconic tropes – this chapter is inspired and helpful and, particularly all-commoner groups should definitely consider taking a bunch of these. I already mentioned that equipment and strategy are crucial for commoners – the equipment section goes, piece by piece, through your new favorite tools to keep you alive – and provides a significant array of awesome new alchemical items: From breathable air-granting crystals to fungal stun vials to (somewhat underpriced) tanglefoot bags that deal fire damage. The pdf also sports a similar discussion on magical consumables and important trick arrows that help coordinate the adventuring in the absence of reliable magic.
Easy rules for an array of improvised traps help you and your commoner-comrades keeping the upper hands and the most useful wondrous items are also compiled for your convenience – including a bunch new ones. All of these, ultimately, though, can only do so much – hence, the next chapter is of tantamount importance: Tactics. This section, quite frankly, is gold and not only useful for commoner-centric games. At the same time, though, I wished the one tactical encounter-map that highlights the generation of choke-points, would be different: One side’s obstacles are coffins and, quite frankly, an undead horde can get over these, rendering the visualization of this advice subpar. This does not impede the validity of the text, though. The handy lists of combat advantages and disadvantages and basic pieces of advice for GMS are also appreciated. A sample way of taking down an adventurer party is depicted in a step-by-step-process and a similar scenario is provided for a a party of lvl 1-commoners vs. a CR 4 monster.
Obviously, the commoner-experience is not only about metagaming concerns and different approaches – it is also about getting into the mindset of the commoner and thus, roleplaying advice and the role of the community are further emphasized. 5 sample level 1 commoners, 1 sample CR 8 character and finally, the CR 18 character Mr. Feckle also gets his statblocks. That being said, he is a great example on why the CR-system isn’t perfect – one of my 8th level characters, anyone of them, could easily take him down. Again, though, this is not explicitly this book’s fault.
The pdf ends with a sample adventure: The premise being that the PCs are failed adventurers turned cooks – and the adventure is hilarious. From being afraid of the nagaji who gives them their task to getting the (dangerous!) ingredients to die, challenges include chopping onions sans irritation – better yet, there are optional modifications for the quest and pregens, all ready to go. And no, I’m not going into the details – the story is solid and amusing, challenging and structure-wise, pretty straight-forward – a surprisingly nice supplemental module.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that is pretty easy to read. The pdf sports numerous solid, comic-style full-color artworks and the pdf comes with extensive bookmarks, including nested bookmarks. Navigation is comfortable. Going a step beyond, the pdf comes with a printer-friendly b/w-version as well as with an interactive version that has a 3-column landscape layout-standard and makes use of this book with electronic media exceedingly easy.
Lead-designer J.M. Perkins, with additional writing by Mike Welham and Patrick Harris, has created a concise book – the definite lowest magic gaming pdf you can imagine: The material herein is solid, concise and well-presented. So yes, if you want to try hard mode, play PFRPG more like a puzzle game, if you want to increase the lethality factor or just go gonzo or extra-gritty, then this book is for you. If you have no experience with this type of gaming, the one wherein the odds are stacked horribly against you, then this will spare you a lot of trial and error and grief and provide a fresh experience. At the same time, this book is, at least to me, not perfect – why? Well, I know I am the absolute minority and would be surprised to hear of more groups with this much experience regarding the pitting of PCs versus ridiculously superior forces – but still: While reading this book, I pretty much felt a constant, almost never abating sense of déjà-vu. Basically, to me, this book offered not much eureka-moments or sufficiently new/unconventional material.
Whether I can recommend this book thus very much rests on the individual level of experience of your group and the GMing prowess/experience of the GM in charge. There is another factor I feel the need to mention: The new content herein is pretty awesome. At the same time, though, do not expect the whole pdf to be new material. On the plus-side, this book collects a lot of handy material for your convenience – it’s nice to have all of these disparate rules in one book and e.g. the class’s reprint is justified by the new jobs. At the same time, I found myself wishing this book had devoted less space to reprints of traits, feats and their minor modifications and also went a bit further off the trails – the crunch herein is solid, but it tends to limit its impact to more basic effects. When approaching this book from the mindset of a GM without experience in the field covered, I felt myself wishing for more of the per se well-written new content and more advice and tactical guidance, especially since the latter is perhaps the most useful chapter herein. Whether you prefer completion or also would have loved to see more new material (especially considering that what’s here is pretty cool!) instead of reprints/modifications depends on your own preference.
When all is said and done, this book is a good purchase if you’re looking for commoner-style game-play, but one that falls slightly short of what it could have been: Troops, lynch-mobs, perhaps a detailed array of terrain set-pieces with rules-relevant repercussions for GMs to further reward commoners, more advice – all of these would have suited the book better in my opinion. How to rate this, then? While this nice book fell short of being the definite resource on the topic, at least for me, it also remains the only resource on the subject matter and does its job well. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.