This colossal tome of a campaign setting clocks in at a HUGE 583 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 3 pages KS-backer thanks, 2 pages of introduction, 3 pages of ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page table/sidebar-index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 568 pages of content.
568 pages. Yeah, I won’t be able to dive into the details and nit and grit of every component of this colossal book, at least not without bloating this pdf beyond any form of usefulness. Got that? All right, so, first things first: This book is BEAUTIFUL. I mean it. You’ll flip open the book and see a layout, crafted by Robert Brookes, Liz Courts and Loren Sieg, and see borders that evoke at once science-fiction and art deco aesthetics, providing a rather unique visual identity for the book.
The next thing you’ll note after the introduction, is that the chapters actually sport thematically-fitting comic-strips as lead-ins – 1 -2 pages each. Now, unlike many a campaign setting, Aethera spans obviously multiple worlds, and as such, comments on variant races and can carry pretty much an infinite amount of supplemental races. That being said, the book contains a total of 4 fully-depicted racial write-ups for new races, all of which come with age, height and weight-tables. It is in these write-ups that your jaw will likely hit the floor, as the artworks throughout this book are absolute premium-level quality. Absolutely gorgeous. The first of the races depicted herein are Erahthi, who hail from ancient forests. Born from massive fruit, they are creatures that blend the aesthetics of plants and elemental powers, and before you ask, they do have a skeletal structure. Indeed, the pdf presents relatively detailed notes for the respective societies and relations of the respective races presented. Erahthi get +2 to Con and +2 to one other ability score of their choice, are native outsiders, Medium, have darkvision and camouflage in forest terrain as well as +1 natural armor. They are treated as both plants and native outsiders for purposes of bane et al., get +4 to saves vs. mind-affecting effects, paralysis, poison and stun effects and they are immune to sleep. Non-magical undergrowth does not affect the erahthi and since they breathe through their skin, they have some cool tricks: One hand above water can keep them from drowning! However, this also imposes a -2 penalty to saves versus inhaled fumes, poisons, smoke and the like. Erahthi with Cha 11+ also get 1/day speak with plants. We get balanced FCOs for the druid, monk, shaman and slayer classes. Unique, flavorful, balanced – and before you ask, the bonus types are concisely presented throughout all races.
Now, it should be noted that humans get a really nice, fully detailed write-up, obviously sans stats, but yeah – nice! The next new race would be the infused, basically an attempt to create a super-soldier Übermensch via the infusion of aether, these beings had suffered horrid losses in both numbers and previous identities, with the transition being often rather traumatic, with infertility and a shortened lifespan being most notable. The project that gave life to them has seen its day, and thus, to a degree, these are the twilight years for this race. Favored class option-wise, we get notes for brawler, fighter, cavalier, sorcerer, psychic and kineticist. The infused get +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Con, are humanoids with aether and human subtypes. While in zero gravity or affected by levitate, the infused gain a fly speed equal to ½ their land speed. Minor complaint: No maneuverability is given. I assume average as a default. Infused with a Charisma greater than 11 gain at-will mage hand and open/close as well as 1/day shield as SPs. They also begin play with Arcane Strike as a bonus feat and immunity to aetheric radiation. They can create a psychic bond with another creature with the aether subtype, which requires skin contact for 1 minute. Unwilling targets can attempt a Will-save to avoid the bond, with the DC scaling with the infused’s HD and Cha-mod. After a successful bond, both creatures get a +4 racial bonus to Sense each other’s Motives and to Bluff checks to pass secret messages. 1/day, an infused may share thoughts with one or more bonded creatures as per mindlink and an infused may maintain a psychic bond with up to 3 + Cha-mod creatures. Okay, one question: Can the infused end such a bond willingly? The lack of duration makes me think that it’s permanent and an inability to end such a bond by ways other than death would mean a rather large difference in how the race behaves.
The third new race herein would be the animal-look-alike race of the Okanta, who look basically like anthropomorphized animals with massive horns – the artworks depict a bear- and a lion-based okanta, both of which manage to look actually badass. Their favored class options cover fighter, cavalier, paladin, shaman and spiritualist, as befitting of their culture. Racial traits wise, they may freely choose to assign +2 to one of the ability scores other than Strength: The +2 bonus to Strength is ficed. They are Medium humanoids with the okanta subtype and low-light vision as well as a +2 bonus to saves versus fear effects. Their horns grant them a 1d6 gore attack (would have been convenient to have the natural attack type classified here – as provided, you need to resort to the default). 1/day, an okanta can observe a creature that has a skill the okanta doesn’t have. After the 1 hour studying period, the okanta treats the skill as a class skill with ranks equal to the okanta’s level, but does not qualify the okanta for skill unlocks. Still, cool one! They also get powerful build, but suffer from light sensitivity.
The Century War that gave rise to the creation of the infused also influenced the creation of the phalanx: Unearthed and reverse-engineered bio-mechanical constructs that actually gained sentience and soul. Suffice to say, many are war veterans today, and while gender-neutral, some phalanx have chosen to adopt gendered identities. The race comes with favored class options for monk, ranger, sorcerer, wizard and rogue. Phalanx gain +2 Con and Cha, -2 Wis, and are constructs with the phalanx subtye. They have a Con-score and don’t get bonus HP depending on size. They are Medium, with darkvision and Improved Unarmed Strike as a bonus feat. They get +4 to Diplomacy to gather information and +1 natural armor. They can also tap into the lingering memories of their souls: 1/day as a move action, they may grant themselves a feat for which they meet the prerequisites. A phalanx’ body is powered by aetherite: They must consume at least 1 au per day to avoid starvation. A phalanx remains functional for 3 + Con-mod days sans aetherite – after that, they fall unconscious and remain so indefinitely, until fed aetherite. Notice something? Yeah, robot-detectives. The artworks btw. enhance this angle and the somewhat noiresque sleuthing. Aethera predates it, but in light of Altered Carbon et al., that made me smile. As an aside: The massive construct immunities make these fellows pretty strong – but *usually* when a construct race gets its immunities, those are explicitly noted once more in the racial presentation. Their absence here means that you can kinda have your cake and eat it, too: Conservative GMs can make them behave less like constructs and ignore immunities, while those who enjoy more potent playstyles can run with them. Not ideal, mind you, but yeah. On another side, the setting assumes a level of discrimination aginst both infused and phalanx, so that should help even things out.
The racial chapter, as a whole, provides a rather interesting array of options. Much to my joy, the races feel fresh and interesting and, more importantly, refrain from the annoying “XYZ….IN SPAAAACE”-pitfall, instead opting for unique tricks. I also like the notes for classic PFRPG-races, acknowledging what’s here without just rehashing everything.
All right, the massive racial chapter done, we now move on to the discussion on classes in the campaign setting, which begins with a new base class, the cantor. Cantors get d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression as well as good Will-saves. They are proficient with light and medium armor as well as shields, excluding tower shields. The cantor is basically a divine bard and as such gets divine spellcasting of up to 6th level, with Wisdom as governing spellcasting attribute and the instrument as a spellcasting focus – which may mean that a cantor’s body can qualify as such. Contrary to paradigm, the cantor is a spontaneous caster and draws his spells from his own unique spell-list, which is provided with full hyperlinks for your convenience. The bardic performance equivalent, divine performance, follows the design paradigm of the bard’s performance, but does not qualify as such for the purposes of bardic masterpieces. 4 + Wisdom modifier rounds are provided at first level, with each subsequent level yielding another +2 rounds. Starting a divine performance is a standard action, until 7th level, where it may be started as a move action instead. Unlike bardic performance, the divine performance is more limited, with base uses covering countersong and fascinate, and the third use providing a reroll for an attack or save before results are made known, though this potent option has a 1 hour-cool-down. 7th level extends that ability to allies and 13th level to nearby foes, with the interactions with the cooldown noted precisely, though both such upgraded uses are immediate actions, something that changes at 19th level, where it becomes a free action, though one that can still only be taken 1/round.
Now, you can probably glean from this reduced flexibility that this is not where the class ends. Instead, the cantor chooses a hymn at 1st level – these behave very much like e.g. bloodlines. The respective hymns are associated with planets and planes and they bestow a class skill as well as bonus skills and spells. Each of the hymns nets a new divine performance and at 3rd level, we get a so-called hymn verse, with 8th and 14th level providing the greater and superior verse for the hymn instead.
Now, there is an interconnection between the hymn chosen and the verse class feature: At 2nd level and 6th level as well as at 8th, 12th, 14th, 18th and 20th level, the character gains an additional verse, which may be used even when maintaining a performance. Using a verse is a standard action and Wisdom governs the save DC, if any. 7 verses are provided, which, as a whole, made me wish we’d get a few more. They are per se interesting and solid. Then again, there is an important reason for the relative lack of choice here: At 3rd level, the cantor may replace the hymn verse with another verse when regaining spell slots, which also grants the selected hymn’s divine performance. At 9th level, 2 such repertoire hymns may be chosen. At 4th level, the class gains the basic verse granted by each hymn currently chosen as a repertoire hymn, with 10th and 16th level adding the greater and superior hymns of the respective repertoire hymns. Starting at 5th level, the cantor can cast a spell from a rehearsed hymn by spending a spell slot of the proper level 1/day; at 8th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class feature may be used an additional time per day.
8th level unlocks 5 general greater verses and 14th level yields 4 different superior verses, which are not assigned to a hymn. The 11th level ability allows the cantor to start a second divine performance while maintaining one, at the cost of twice the rounds for the second performance, for a total of 3 rounds cost. This cost is reduced to only one round of cost per performance at 17th level. 15th level allows the character to 1/day change a repertoire hymn with 10 minutes of meditation. The capstone provides divine performance maintenance without round expenditure, delimiting the performance. It should be noted that a total of 11 hymns are provided for your convenience. So yeah, the class provides player agenda and choices and its variable hymn-engine is interesting. All in all, one of the better hybrid-y classes out there and I’d probably be singing higher praises here, were it not for my love of Jason Linker’s Ultimate Composition class of the same name. We get favored class options for the new aethera races as well as the human race. Archetype-wise, the cantor gets 4 modifications: Divine dancers represent basically an engine tweak; orthodoxists get clouded vision, but also fate-themed abilities. The song councilor is a healer-specialist, capable of transferring damage. The song seeker, finally, is the repertoire specialist. All in all, decent archetypes and tweaks, but not exactly super exciting. Still, as a whole – the cantor presented herein ranks as one of the more compelling classes I’ve seen within the context of a campaign setting.
From there, we move on to the class option array, which contains a vast plethora of different new archetypes and tricks: Bioengineer alchemists are specialists of summoning animals with the aetherwarped template, with higher level providing detonating critters. The combat medic alchemist is a pretty cool idea, using stims to mitigate negative conditions while boosting allies. Cool one! The Wastelander is a pretty typical scavenger etc. and is pretty bland; there are also two discoveries – one for plasma bombs and one for negative energy bombs. Arcanists may elect to become rift breakers, who generate elemental rifts and further modify these, with surges and upgrades etc. – the archetype is pretty complex and unique, spanning multiple pages, but as a whole, I felt like it would have been better represented as an alternate class. Bards may elect to become aether weavers, who get to create eidolons, with the Perform skill used to create them infusing their stats. Warsingers are bard/kineticist crossovers and vox riders are the political firebrands and demagogues. Theme-wise, I loved the last of these most, as it is the most unique one. The blue-shifted bloodrager has aetherite-infused bloodlines and as such gets some telekinetic skills, including the simple blast. The colossus brawler is focused on forming an aetherite shield, while the titan archetype gets a grit-based engine.
We also have a new cavalier option based on a bonded aethership, which I very much liked, in spite of my well-documented disdain for the linearity of the base class. The aether-touched druid has aether-warped summons, shapes and a bonus spell array. The erahthi cultivator once more represents an aethership specialist. The okanta occult druid gets a unique summoning list and the symbiont master gets one of 3 different symbiont companions. The aether soldier fighter specializes on aether bonds and Arcane Strikes, while the gravitic is about using inertia and movement, disappointingly represented as pretty boring numerical boosts. The resonant guard can help boost performances. The artillerist gunslinger is good with automatic guns and aethership artillery. Jump troopers are cool – they get integrated jump thrusters, which later can be weaponized. Siege walkers are heavy infantry with stabilized weaponry and thornslingers are erahthi with symbiotic firearms, which is all kinds of cool. The tech-bonded hunter gets a construct companion. The correspondent investigator gets a few performances and the mindspy casts psychic magic and gains limited mesmerist tricks. Mystic detectives get Disruptive and a slightly modified inspiration, and the prehistorian is a kind of specialist for old lore. Stellar prospectors are space pioneers. The investigator options represent, for the most part, basic engine tweaks – the cool concepts imho deserved more detailed and unique forms of execution. The aetheric scion kineticist is, bingo, an aether specialist who can accept burn to power aether-tech, which makes for an interesting synergy of engines. I am not a fan of all components of the significant amount of unique options for the archetype, but as a whole, I consider it to be interesting.
Mediums can become deathless guides, specializing on mitigating the issues of time: etheric dreamers are in tune with the astral plane and focus on incorporeal interactions – not a fan. Modded mediums are interested, though: The phalanx medium can mod itself to act as better conduits for spirits. Okanta speakers of the ancestors share a bond with allies and shadow visionaries are, binfo shadow specialists. War memorists get two unique spirits with thematic connections to the Century War – cool. The aromachologist mesmerist is an erahthi who develops a hypnotic scent, which is really cool. Hypnotherapists can fortify allies against mental assaults. Monks may become gravitic masters, who can reposition targets and is particularly adept at zero-G acrobatics. Oracles get the new song mystery, the brief (and not exactly interesting) listener archetype and two new curses – aether-corrupted and choir-voiced. I loved both curses. Paladins that become aetheric knights with an okay attack roll-based parade. As you all know, I consider these parades to be a bad idea due to their swingyness, but yeah – if you don’t mind that, then you’ll probably like this fellow. Psychic thoughtdrinkers actually get some occultist-engine crossover, which is pretty cool in my book. Exostentialist rangers have easily one of the coolest names for an archetype, ever, with aberrant companions etc. also a nice take on the concept hinted at by the name. Salvagers are rogues with a pool-based and they can jury-rigged devices. Liked this one. We get a new aether shaman spirit. The firstnew skald archetype focuses on hampering aethertech, while space pirate skalds represent an engine tweak (raging song enhances Dex and Con), with a bit of space-themed abilities added.
The slayer bullet dancer is basically a gunslinging slayer. Sorcerers get the aetheric bloodline, while summoners can become aetehric callers, adding an aetherite dependency to the eidolon and summoning interaction, which can actually make the summoner work in a slightly more balanced manner. Kudos. Star corsair swashbuckler, finally, gain a ton of different deeds.
Okay, notice something? Yes. There is a curious absence here, right? In a daring move that should probably be made by much more settings, Aethera gets rid of both cleric and warpriest. While the book mentions ways in which they could be used, per default, they don’t exist – courtesy of there being no deities. This changes dramatically the vibe of the setting, and for the better. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Regarding the massive class option chapter, I found quite a few of the options herein interesting and flavorful, but honestly, I caught myself thinking that less had been more. There are quite a few cool concepts only represented by pretty bland basic engine-tweaks, unbefitting of the cool roles they represent. There are a couple of cool ones herein, but, as a whole, the chapter feels surprisingly conservative and “safe” in its designs – when the archetypes stand it, it’s mostly due to how they interact with the unique concepts of the setting in a rewarding manner that makes them worth contemplating. In short: Don’t expect classes and options of the complexity of e.g. Thunderscape. To get slightly ahead of myself: The chapter, to me, represents the weakest part of the book, following the inverse paradigm as the racial chapter: Where, race-wise, we emphasize quality over quantity, the archetype and class option chapter feels like the opposite: Less would have been more here, with the real estate better devoted to truly unique game-changers. The chapter is not bad, mind you – I’d probably consider it to be in the 4-star-range vicinity, but contrasted to the impressive race chapter, it feels like it falls short of what it could have been.
Lets skip ahead for a second, into the skills and feats chapter, which provided a good kind of surprise for me: While there are a ton of different feats to enhance class features, tie in with symbionts and aetherships, it was the skill chapter with its unlocks and serious array of new skill uses that made me rather excited: Heal is more relevant, for example, and the advanced medicine skill unlock further increases that tendency. This is a component I am going to use in pretty much all of my games, as the prevalence of exclusively wand-based/divine healing has always irked me, particularly in grittier games. There are options to muffle firearms with feats, occult skill unlocks noted, etc. This chapter, while not 100% perfect (there are a couple of feats I’d consider to be a bit limited), here we once ore have a return to form as far as design-prowess is concerned. I am particularly happy to note that the chapter does not contribute to lame numerical escalation bloat, instead focusing on setting peculiarities and subsystems.
Now, the third chapter deals with the cosmology of the aethera system, which consists of two suns and 4 worlds, each of which shares an intrinsic tie to one of the inner planes. The cosmology and campaign setting per se have so far been not really explained by yours truly, and indeed, there is a reason for that – you see, on a superficial glance, Aethera sports a couple of the classic narrative tropes: There is a mysterious progenitor race, there is the big war – classic tropes of scifi. It is in the details and in the rather impressive deep structure embedded in Aethera that the setting begins to really stand out. The seeds of these tendencies are sown as early as in the racial chapter: You see, to a degree, the races all pose intriguing questions to develop: How to deal with non-binary gender identities, the politics of otherness both within ones social groups and beyond that; the treatment of veterans and societal changes after wars, the book generates a unique identity by the combination of its themes. With a technology reminiscent of Dieselpunk-ish aesthetics with a science-fiction leaning, the races and concepts of the setting touch the issues of colonialism and the consequences, imperialist claims and the effects of cultural hegemony, the conflicts of nature vs. civilization and, of course, the eternal struggle of authoritarianism vs. individualism. If you enjoy space-noir à la the detective sub-story in The Expanse, you can do that with this setting, but similarly, you can go full-blown space opera.
Which brings me to a crucial component of this CAMPAIGN SETTING. I have, at this point, read quite a few scifi toolkits for d20-based games, most recently, of course, Starfinder. Aethera does not compete with them. You see, the majority of these books attempt, in varying degrees of success, to present a rules-based toolkit to represent the totality of the fantasy-gaming based rules of PFRPG in a scifi/space opera context, and while rules, due to what they allow and what they don’t, generate implicit setting assumptions, the focus, usually, lies upon exactly this component. Aethera is a proper campaign setting, in that the rules act as subservient components to the needs of the setting. It should be noted that we not only get a compelling reading experience with the detailed history, but we also get detailed write-ups for the planets and beyond, sporting a vast amount of hooks that make it nigh impossible to not be inspired by the captivating prose and world-building. Interestingly, the concise and intelligent writing actually manages to create a squaring of the circle of sorts. In spite of being widely, if not universally, permissive regarding PFRPG’s vast amount of options, Aethera excels because the setting it creates feels distinctly like a science-fiction game, in spite of the existence of magic, which usually catapults most games firmly towards the space opera genre. Now, you can play Star Wars-y games in Aethera, but the system stands out to me, as a world-building success, due to its embracing of the relevant themes of science fiction.
What do I mean by this? As a whole, science-fiction and space opera, as genres, as often used interchangeably, or are associated with different timeframes and cultures or creation aesthetics, much to my chagrin; if distinctions are made, they often are based exclusively on time frames and aesthetics, while missing the, in my opinion, central point. Whether you like hard scifi like Primer or soft scifi doesn’t matter – there always is a component of possible negotiation of very serious topics intrinsic in the genre. While it is very much possible to read, for example, “Martian Time Quake” or “The Three Stigmata of Eldritch Palmer” for the reading pleasure alone, it is very much nigh impossible to just consume them without taking something of them; same goes with e.g. the Foundation trilogy…and the list goes on. Space opera’s popularity, as exemplified most famously by Star Wars, would probably lie in the fact that it represents a form of entertainment with the trappings of scifi, but none of its thought-provoking components. Again, Star Wars, with its, to me, nonsensical, hyper-conservative, sexless good/evil ideologies and dichotomies presents an easy way to process comfortable escapist fiction routed in nostalgia, one that does not challenge our societal norms or exert our mental faculties. Think about the backlash regarding the senate scenes. They were per se not bad, but they interrupted the fiction of what was expected. Now, while my hatred for the Star Wars franchise is pretty well-documented, I am not judging the vast amount of fans the universe has – there is value and skill in the world-building, aesthetics, etc.. Similarly, we all have different tastes and, indeed, our tastes change to one degree or another, on a daily basis. I am no exception. While Star Wars never did anything for me, I am very much a huge fan of the space opera genre (just not its most prominent example) – I also like to put my brain off to one degree or another and just consume a great space-fiction. It is somewhat puzzling for me to see how ardent fans of space opera and scifi franchises, books and other forms of media can heap so much disdain upon one another, just for not adhering to the “right” form of make belief in a hypothetical future.
And this is where the tangent comes full circle and returns to the world-building of Aethera. You see, the campaign setting provides the tools to tell stories that must be construed to be deeply embedded in the canon and problems that we associate with the scifi genre; at the same time, Aethera manages to allow for space opera style playing experiences and campaign as well – the book is not prohibitive, but inclusive in how it tackles the impactful concepts it touches upon – it can gravitate to anything from “Guardians of the Galaxy”-style gameplay to experiences that are more deeply routed in aesthetics à la Traveller. This is in so far remarkable, as the setting has the burden of having to accommodate magic to the degree of the prominence in which it is featured in PFRPG, which ties in with the final aspect pertaining the player-facing rules, namely the equipment and gear section.
We get notes on restrictions of items by legal status, a brief and painless currency conversion guideline and mundane items like lifelines, instrument weapons, and a ton of different, mechanically relevant and interesting drugs. From radiation suits to trooper armors, we also get new armor. Interesting here: The ballistic quality nets DR versus physical projectiles firing firearms. Now, the firearm rules are based heavily on PFRPG’s firearms everywhere baseline, with optional rules for recoil, firing modes etc. all covered. Now, personally, I think it would have made more sense to make the firearms behave like regular ranged weapons here, mainly due to the fact that the default firearm rules don’t really play well with higher level math. On the plus-side, the chapter provides something I adored, namely a ton of customization options via e.g. different types of ammunition. The ammunition array on its own is really cool (and yes, clips etc. matter), and represents a component I’d love to see expanded.
Now, aethertech is the catch-all term for the truly advanced tech, which may sport hybrid magic properties – the interaction and rules provided here are concise. These items are powered by aetheric energy, though, which makes them behave more in line with technology items. The transparency of this super tech also means that a GM who envisions a magic-less world can easily restrict item options to aethertech-based items without compromising the vast amount of options available for PFRPG. Cybertech is, somewhat unfortunately in my book, called “Automata” in the setting, but once more is featured. Power armor and associated accessories and crafting stations complement this sections in a good way. The engines presented can easily carry a whole book and while there is a ton of customizing possible, I found myself wishing we got more here.
Now, as far as the aetherships noted are concerned: The system presumes crew roles: Pilot, Copilot, engineer, tactical and weapons. The system presented for aethership combat is concise and better than the default vehicle combat, but I found that e.g. the copilot and tactical roles provide less fun for PCs and are better suited for NPCs – RAW, they don’t have much to do but grant meaningful, but ultimately bland tactical bonuses. From lowly speedsters to full-blown dreadnoughts, we get a nice array of sample ships from CR 3 to 20. A big plus as far as customization is concerned would be the fact that the creation process of ships is pretty painless and based on modular structures. Why would you care? Can’t you just teleport? No…but I’ll leave the discovery of that complex to you. We also have special materials here, which, while solid and thematically fitting, didn’t exactly blow me away. The sub-chapter on symbionts was one I celebrated, though, and an aspect of the book I’d love to see expanded. The really high importance of music for the aesthetics of the settinga re amazing and we also get a variety of solid spells and artifacts.
The final chapter of the book is devoted to the bestiary, noting suitable, suggested creatures by bestiary, providing the aforementioned, pretty dominant aetherwarped creature template as well as colossal plant-serpents, various types of azaka, corrupted elementals and NPCs, codex style. My favorite entries, easily, were the kickass kytons introduces herein – they are absolutely amazing and add more than just a bit of Hellraiser-aesthetics to the darker recesses of the Aethera system. I also loved the symbiont write-ups here. Gorgeous and cool, alien and fun.
Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language and formal level: Considering the huge size of this tome, the fact that it is a freshman offering, as well as the huge density of the book, it is even more interesting: There are a few hiccups here and there, but they mostly are minor: A mention of plasma damage sans the explanatory half fire/half electricity here, a typo there – but these are few and far in between. Now, I already mentioned aesthetics: This book is FRICKIN’ GORGEOUS. As in: This could be a Paizo/WotC-book levels of beautiful. The layout in two-column full-color is absolutely phenomenal. The book is CHOCK-FULL with absolutely visionary artworks that breathe life into everything, from races to classes to everything else, this book is absolutely phenomenal in the visual department. Cartography is similarly amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with detailed, nested bookmarks. Unfortunately, I do not own the physical book, so I can’t comment on binding quality or lack thereof or on whether the book’s vibrant colors come out on paper.
Lead designer Robert Brookes, with additional design by Jesse Brenner, John Bennett, Duan Byrd, Jeff Dahl, Andrew Fields, Kaelyn Harding, Thurston “Goddamn” Hillman, Nicholas Hite, Sarah Hood, Andrew Marlowe, Monica Marlowe, Daniel Hunt, Andre James, Patrick N.R. Julius, Mike Kimmel, Isabelle Lee, Jessica Powell, Joshua Rivera, David N. Ross, Todd Stewart, Jeffrey Swank, Jacob Thomas, Chris Wasko, and Scott Young, has created perhaps the single most impressive freshman offering I have ever seen. This is the first book by Encounter Table Publishing. It’s almost ridiculous, once you think about it. Sure, it made its ambitious KS-goal, but I did not, not for a second, expect the setting to be this damn compelling, this cool.
As noted before, aethera really allows you to play Pathfinder in space, but that goal is fulfilled by other toolkits and settings as well; where the book excels is the ability to cater to both scifi and space opera, as well as science-fantasy aesthetics, all without compromising the setting’s aesthetics and themes.
Now, on a rules-level, the book is a bit too conservative for its own good and I wished it focused a bit more on some of its aspects, but we can potentially hope for expansions for these aspects; as a crunch-only book, I’d rate this somewhere in the vicinity of 4 or 4.5 stars.
However, this would be an utter disservice to the entirety of this ginormous book. The value of this book lies in its surprisingly holistic, concise and sensible world-building, in its phenomenal concepts – whether as a campaign setting or as a grab-bag of ideas, Aethera is a truly remarkable achievement that makes for a surprisingly captivating reading experience, that has a very strong identity in spite of its inclusive stance. In short: It achieves its goal as a campaign setting in a fantastic manner, with panache aplomb. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, as well as status as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.
You can get this glorious setting here on OBS!