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.
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.