#7 of my Top Ten of 2016
It has been coming for a long time – the completed Akashic Mysteries book, which clocks in at a mighty 97 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 92 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, what is this? The simple reply would be “fixed incarnum with a Silk Road flavor.” If that does not ring any bells, let me reiterate. Akasha is a type of magic that is utilized most commonly via veils that are channeled through conduits in the body called chakra. Every creature is supposed to have a finite amount of essence in their being, which is called essence pool. Essence is typically not expended, but veils and other akashic effects require it for activation and thus, essence needs to be assigned to a specific function. This is done by investing essence into the receptacle, which can be a veil, an akashic feat (more on these later) or ability. Reallocating or investing essence, unless otherwise noted, is a swift action. The process of harnessing veils is called veilweaving and thus, the classes here are known as veilweaving classes. Progressing in these unlocks new chakras, which allow for veils or function of veils or other akashic abilities to be used in ways that are based on the veil in question. Each veil is associated with a chakra and veils do not interfere with magic items worn in that slot, but no two veils can occupy the same chakra. However, some veils may be employed in different chakra, often with different effects depending on the chakra used…however, one veil may not be in use for two or more different chakras. You can only ever have one veil of a given type in effect atone time. The general chakra available are Hands, feet, Head, Wrists, Shoulders, Headband, Neck, belt, Chest, Body – though some classes can gain unique chakras. Veils interact with magic as though they were magic and SR applies against most effects, but not versus auras or AoE abilities unless otherwise noted. Veils overcome their own SR automatically. Veils manifest as physical constructs that may temporarily be sundered and suppressed, with hit points and hardness of the veils depending on the level of the veilweaver.
Concise rules are provided regarding descriptors, identifying veils, etc. Now there are a couple of more basic terms we need to cover: Some feats and veils require the binding, rather than the investment of essence – this means that the essence is “stuck” in the receptacle for 24 hours or until the user shapes veils anew after resting. If such a receptacle is sundered or disjoined, the user takes essence burn equal to the total of the invested essence. Essence burn eliminates essence and requires 1 minute of quiet contemplation per point of essence burn to recover. Temporary essence points, if granted by anything, are burned first and may not be recovered. Veils do not require active concentration to maintain, but upon the veilweaver falling unconscious, they are suppressed until he regains consciousness. Veils sundered while the veilweaver is unconscious are destroyed and cannot be redeployed until he has rested. Finally, there would be essence capacity, which denotes the number of essence points that can be invested in any given veil, feat, class feature, etc. – these would be 1 for the first 5 levels and then increase by +1 at 6th and every 6 levels thereafter.
Veils are generally described in a format, that provides their name, descriptor(s) (if any), class that may form it, slot(s), saving throws, a brief fluff text and then the benefits of the veil, followed by an essence benefit section for invested/bound essence. The Chakra Bind section denotes the chakra and the class level at which it becomes available for the class in question (very handy reference!), which minimizes page-skipping. (G20 for Guru 20, for example.) Kudos!
Okay, the first thing you’ll note is that that the terminology has been cleaned up when compared to the earlier WIPs – the respective verbiage makes sense, is self-explanatory and if this sounds complicated, rest assured that it isn’t necessarily once you have grasped it: Basically, you have points that you move around to make magic stuff. Sometimes, you need to fix the points, sometimes you temporarily lose them, but generally, you’ll be pretty flexible in moving around your points of magic stuff. The veils can be powered by the magic stuff and you learn to use them in more ways as you gain experience. Much like a cool button or temporary tattoo, the effects of veils depend where you wear them. That’s about as simple as I can explain it.
Anyways, we obviously need to re-evaluate the 3 akashic base classes released so far in order to ascertain whether/how they have improved. If you are not interested in this section, skip ahead. The text is modified, where appropriate, to reflect the changes made (quite a few!), but if you’re already familiar with the akashic classes and don’t care about the nit and grit, go ahead. It should be noted, though, that the classes have changed quite a bit since their original iterations.
Daevics gain d10, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, all armors and shields (but not tower shields), full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-saves. The veilweaving here is different from the other two classes, but there are similarities – the DCs, if appropriate, is DC 10 + number of essence invested in the veil + Cha-mod (making Charisma the governing attribute here and decreasing the DC from the WIP to more generally palpable levels), but there is a crucial difference to default veilweaving – the veils granted at 1st, 4th, 9th and 15th level must be selected from the list of the chosen passion, whereas the other veils gained operate like standard veils, meaning the progression is from 0+1 to 4+4 over the 20 levels of the class. Essence is gained at 1st level, increases at 3rd and scales up to 10 for a net of every 1/2 progression. Chakra binds begin at 2nd level and scale up to 6, with progression being Feet, Hands, Wrists, Shoulders, Belt, Neck, Chest. On the minor engine-tweaks, 5th level nets +1 to saves versus enchantments, which scales up by +1 every 3 levels thereafter.
Now I noted the existence of passions – these are chosen at first level. When a daevic invests essence into a veil of a passion (called passion veils), it counts as being invested in all passion veils, meaning that the very scarce essence pool makes investing points here more efficient. However, at the same time, power escalation is prevented by an explicit rule that forbids synergy with veil-specific feats, effects or catalysts, though you CAN also bind them as normal veils and circumvent these restrictions (but also foregoing the passion veil benefits), adding a further dimension to these veils. Three sample passions are provided, and all modify the list of available passion veils to choose from, the class skill list and all ultimately change how the class plays, so what are they?
The first passion would be desire – which allows 3rd level daevics to use Charisma for Appraise and may replace both Dex and Int as prereqs with Cha for the purpose of feat-prerequisites, offsetting some, but not all strain that would otherwise be burdened MAD-wise on a full BAB character. The in-game rationale for this, while not perfect, at least is sufficient for me – why do I mention this? Because I get pimples from the default “I’m so good-looking I hit foes”-rationale employed by some abilities out there. So kudos! Bonus-feat-wise, they gain Precise Shot and Willful Throw. An interesting option – at 6th level, a passion mutates into one of 2 choices – here, this would be love or avarice. Love provides an NPC-companion that is pretty powerful (-2 levels or -3 CR for less humanoid ones…) – but it does not stack with Leadership. Furthermore, as a balancing caveat, eidolons and similar creatures are dismissed on behalf of the paramour and the character thus chosen may not be a full spellcaster (or full-spellcasting equivalent class like the veilweaver). Daevics that follow the passion of avarice add the returning and called abilities if within the daevic’s possession for more than 24 hours – however, the abilities are lost again upon willingly giving them to another creature. On the nitpicky side, there are some minor formal glitches here. At 12th and 18th level, this ability improves regarding action economy and adds unnatural lust to the weapon thus thrown, respectively.
The second passion to choose would be dominion, which focuses on two-weapon fighting with a shield. (TWF at 3rd, Improved Shield Bash at 5th, Shield master at 8th, if you want to know the details.) The 6th level selection allows for the choice of either benevolence or tyranny, with the former providing a scaling, temporary teamwork-feat-granting ability, while the latter provides demoralize support as swift actions with scaling bonuses.
The final passion, wrath, has some nasty tricks: Whenever the daevic bull rushes or overruns a foe, he may execute an AoO against the foe before moving the foe, though this powerful effect is somewhat countered by the lack of gained bonus feat – instead CMB and CMD increase at 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Wrath may transform into justice or vengeance at 6th level, with justice providing access to the vital strike feat-chain…and the option to execute the Bull Rush/overrun-granted AoOs with Vital Strikes added. As for vengeance:1/round full-attack against a target when succeeding a Bull Rush or Overrun, but only with natural weapons and only against said target. This ultimately boils down to a meat-grinder -only shreds and gooey bits remain in the path of such a daevic. The changes to the passions made here are unanimously awesome and help keeping the daevic powerful sans being too strong. Absolutely beautiful, as far as I’m concerned.
At 9th and 15th level, the essence capacity of the passion increases by a further +1.
The Blood Bind ability’s write-up fails to mention that it’s gained at 12th level (which one glance at the table confirms, but still a minor aesthetic hiccup) – but it *is* interesting: It provides essentially an additional slot, into which the daevic can bind Neck, Head, Headband and Body slot veils, but whenever he does that with a non-Blood veil, he takes twice the essence invested damage each round and when reassigning veils, which means it can’t be abused. Nice! The capstone is a boring native outsider-apotheosis and can reassign veils via 1-hour meditation. Odd – the daevic gains the body-slot at 20th level, which means that prior to this level, he can bind body veils only to the blood slot.
All in all: Vast improvement over the original iteration. Let’s move on to the guru, shall we?
The Guru base-class gets d8, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with light armor and simple weapons, but not shields and enhance these based on class choices made – more on that later. Chassis-wise, the guru receives a 3/4 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. They begin play with 1 veil and scale that up to 8 and 1 essence, which increases to up to 20. The veilshaping of the guru has the DC equal to 10 + points invested in the veil + Wis-mod, making Wisdom the governing attribute.
I really enjoy the first level ability gentle touch – if a guru invests at least one point of essence into this ability, all damage he does with a weapon becomes nonlethal, but also receives + Wisdom-modifier bonus damage, rewarding not killing everything that crosses the PC’s path. A guru may invest into this ability as a swift action, and for each point assigned, the nonlethal damage inflicted increases by +1d4, though it can only be used in conjunction with weapons granted proficiency-wise by the philosophy of the guru…one of which contains shuriken. Because that didn’t yet have enough exploits. Then again, the ability specifically says “a weapon” – singular. Which would mean ONE shuriken…and I’ll stick with that reading…in dubio pro reo and such…
1st level Gurus also choose a philosophy,. which grants a linear progression of abilities at 1st level and every 3 levels thereafter. Philosophy abilities tend to burn essence points, which means that the essence cannot be used or reassigned until the guru has had a chance to meditate, providing a complex game of resources between flexibility and power – you can’t write player agenda in larger letters. Additionally, gurus of first level get stunning fist, but with some tweaks – the benefits can be applied to weapon attacks made with gentle touch and the guru can burn three essence to regain 1 use of stunning fist 1/day, +1/day at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. 2nd level nets chakra bind in the progression of Hands, Feet, Head, Headband, Neck, Belt, Body. 4th, 10th and 19th level increase the essence capacity of chakras by +1.
At 2nd level, gurus learn to sunder veils particularly efficiently, allowing them to expend stunning fist uses in conjunction with gentle touch to suppress veils/spells and deal damage to undead or constructs, in spite of them being usually immune to nonlethal damage.
The 3rd level guru may interrupt the chakras of foes when executing an attack – this works as a standard action pretty much akin to vital strike and has a DC of 10 + Wis mod, +2 per essence invested in gentle touch, which allows for a pretty nasty escalation of DCs – penalizing one attack mode, decreasing movement rate, decreasing shield and Dex-bonuses and high-level blinding, stunning and exhausting foes can be found amidst these effects. These last for Wisdom modifier rounds and a single target may only be affected by one such disruption at any given time.
7th level nets an autohealing ability determined by the amount of essence bound, though essence invested in this limited-use ability cannot be reinvested until rest. So yeah, no abuse! Yay! 8th level allows gentle touch to act as sunder-attacks that ignore 1/2 hardness AND allows for the damaging of constructs. As a minor nitpick, we once again have to consult the table, since the ability doesn’t say the level it’s gained. 16th level provides the option to expend Stunning Fist uses when attacking foes to double as what amounts to a single-target disjunction that leaves items intact. As a minor complaint here: The pdf sports several spells not italicized and captalizes gentle touch here as though it were a feat, not an ability…but this is aesthetics and doesn’t impede the book’s worth.
The capstone provides healing and even temporary essence to the guru when e.g. disjoining foes – cool and surprisingly powerful!
Now I mentioned philosophies – a total of 3 are provided, with each granting its own set of uncommon weapon proficiencies. The first of these would be the Akasin. When meditating in an area of bright light, they can gain a pool of temporary essence that is burned first by the respective philosophy abilities and amounts to 1/2 class level, which it may never exceed. Essence burn taken to activate an ability nets this guy 5 times the burn taken temporary hit points. In addition, the akasin can take 1 essence burn to execute veil of positive energy as an SP at full caster level. At 4th level, healing blindness is possible via 1 essence burn, as is shooting rays – which deal an untyped damage that is more potent vs. the undead. Not a fan of the untyped damage here, but the save to negate blindness and halve damage is neat. Higher level akasins further marginalize the poor shield bonus to AC, bypassing it alongside 2 points of AC with blades of light – it should be noted that expenditure of stunning fist uses can further upgrade this ability with brilliant energy. As a pretty cool note, though – the mirrored property does help against this, which eases my grumbling.
The akasin may also use an essence-burn-powered raise dead, thankfully with a daily limit at 10th level – oh, and it has a no-negation caveat. 13th level provides immunity to blind and dazzled and provides a daylight aura that can be resumed or suppressed. At 16th level, I am not complaining about taking essence burn of up to class level to add as bonus damage that ignores all resistances and DRs, though factor 5 is NASTY. I think adding a daily cap would be in order here for reasons of preventing (relatively inefficient) one-strike-builds. Now this *looks* much worse than it is in game – it is spam-proof. See, that’s why I playtest these classes – this one looks much more powerful than it is. So yes, I like the ability, though I believe it could be one that will sooner or later end in undeserved pointed fingers. Finally, 19th level nets at-will teleport between light sources
The sineater philosophy is somewhat problematic – it allows for the regain of essence burn via attacks of gentle touch when used against targets with an Int of 3+ . The ability also allows for the reflexive burn of essence to negate damage that would bring the guru down to below 0 hp – interesting, since the amount of damage negated is significant and would be overpowered, were it not for the restriction, thus making the guru a good candidate for last man standing. While the Int-caveat avoids failure of the kitten-test, I’m still not 100% sold here – though the rest of the philosophy is balanced against this – limited DR and limited fast healing/regeneration for essence burn make sense regarding the established, steep costs while allowing the guru to work as a functional tank. Burning essence to increase the damage dealt to evil outsiders, aberrations and undead on a 1:5-basis at 7th level is brutal and allows for damage outputs that dwarf paladin smites, but only on singular attacks. So yeah, the guru is brutal here. 10th level provides atonement and 13th level nets Grab that can be applied to larger sized creatures depending on essence invested, while also increases the grappling capacity. 16th level provides AoE unarmed attacks and 19th level nets a paralyzing attack for Stunning Fist expenditure that also restores essence burned one a failed save. It now has a hex-style caveat, which is neat.
The third philosophy would be the Vayist, who would be the agile trickster to the sineater’s tanky playstyle – via 1 essence burn, they can tie themselves with aether to foes, penalizing them and gaining bonuses against them…and targets thus affected that miss him result in essence regain. He can have one aether tie in effect at any given time, +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. These ties last for Wisdom modifier rounds, which, by action economy and the power of math, makes kitten-ing the ability not a smart move. At 4th level, vayists may use essence burn to increase the range-increments of ranged weapons or blur or mirror image themselves. 7th level nets essence burn for getting back up as a free action, even when it’s not his turn (nice ship around of the free action ambiguity!). 10th level nets alter winds, air walk and river of wind and is solid. 16th level features the option to make at-ranged whirlwind attacks with weapons teleporting back and 19th level provides a continuous freedom of movement. Significantly tightened concept-wise!
All in all, in every way superior to the previous iteration of the class!
Onwards to the vizier, shall we? The vizier receives d6, 2 + Int skills per level, proficiency with light armor, bucklers and simple weapons. The class has 1/2 BAB-progression and, uncommon for a full caster, but not unheard of, good fort and will-saves. The vizier’s veilweaving is governed by Intelligence and follows the 10 + essence invested + Intelligence-modifier formula for save DC calculations. The vizier’s levels count as arcane caster levels for the purposes of qualifying for feats, PrCs, etc. Viziers may invest essence in wands, staves or wondrous items that use charges, with the usual essence capacity limit modified by improved essence capacity (+1 at 3rd, 11th and 19th level – note that save DCs for veils also increase by the same amount at these levels) at later levels still applying. Essence thus assigned is considered to be bound and may not be redistributed, but the essence does act as charges for the item in question, though 9th level spells may not be activated with it. Items with essence invested in them do not require UMD-checks to utilize. Still not 100% sold here.
What do I mean by this? Warning: Nitpickery afoot. Surprisingly, I’m not complaining about items with few charges being left as treasure to have some “smart bombs” here; What I’m not sold on is simply the flat-out “no UMD”-section AND the non-scaling nature of this ability. What if the players find a wand with precious few charges or a unique staff and can just flat-out use it? I am aware that these are fringe-cases, but it would theoretically allow the vizier to utilize charge-based items beyond his level’s capacity (if the DM foolishly drops them into the treasure…) – and there is a pretty easy solution that prevents the issue: Just make the highest spell level of the item the governing factor for whether or not you have to UMD and make it scale with class level progression, by e.g. tying it to twice the character’s essence capacity. Now, yes, the base ability isn’t broken, but I maintain that such a solution would be much more elegant and prevent fringe-case abuse.
A 1st level vizier begins play with 2 veils and 1 essence and increases that to a total of 11 veils and 30 essences at 20th level. A vizier may invest up to character level essence in a given veil or receptacle.
Viziers receive instant access to all veils on the vizier’s list. Chakra binds are gained at 2nd level in the progression of Hands, Feet, head, Wrist, Shoulders, Headband, Neck, Belt, Chest and Body. The vizier does gain access to a unique veil slot: The Ring slot, which is unlocked at 9th level; at 15th level, viziers may bind and shape up to two veils in the Ring slot. At 3rd level, viziers gain veilshaping and may use a move action that provokes AoOs 1/day to unshape and instantly reshape an existing veil, though the rehsaped one can’t be bound to a chakra until the vizier has meditated for 1 hour. At every 4 levels beyond 3rd, one additional veil may be reshaped and the ability can also be used an additional time per day.
The capstone allows for at-will instant veil-reforging via aforementioned veilshaping – and whenever the class uses the veilshaping ability, he regains 3+Int temporary essence that lasts for 3 rounds and may only be used to power the veils just formed.
Viziers also receive a kind of bloodline-ish linear ability chosen at first level – a total of 3 are provided. These are called paths of mystic attunement and they very much define how the class plays.
The Path of the Crafter grants a bonus equal to 1/2 class level on all skill-checks made as part of the crafting process and may bypass crafting requirements by increasing the DC. That is *pretty* powerful. Allies within 30 ft. that activate a magic item to cast a spell, treat the caster level and DC of the activated item as +1. That is nasty, but will also make the vizier rather popular with his adventuring companions. Okay, where things get rather unique would be in one particular ability – transfer the essence. This allows you to meditate on items and exchange their bonuses and special abilities. – Found a cool weapon, but don’t have the proficiency for it? Just exchange the enchantment with those on your trusty sword. I applaud the fact that you can’t cherry-pick abilities and really like this component. Now, on the other hand, wand/staff charges can also be exchanged if the items have the same highest spell level – a fitting restriction, but one I’d suggest to be supplemented with an analogue caster level (or lower) restriction to prevent spells that increase their potency with caster level having their charges cheaply upped by using charges from items that do not scale with CL. Once again, not a bad glitch, but rather one that can easily be fixed. The ability does feature a caveat that prevents use with artifacts or cursed/intelligent weapons, though. The path also grants item creation feats and a decreased craft-price at higher levels.
The path of the ruler is all about granting a scaling 30 ft.(60 ft. at 9th)-Will-save/Sense Motive debuff aura, with selective exclusion of up to Intelligence modifier allies, who also get a bonus instead. Enforcing a reroll at high levels is nice, but when compared to the benefits granted by the other paths, the path of the ruler feels pretty bland to me.
The path of the seer increases movement of all allies within 60 ft. by +5 ft, +5 ft. more at 9th and 17th level – neat. Now the interesting part comes next – the seer learns teamwork feats and for each point invested, the class may share ALL teamwork feats granted by this ability (1 is gained at 1st, 5th, 9th and 13th level) with one ally within 60 feet. Additionally, veils tied to Hand or Feet may be shared alongside with allies, who may invest essence in them, but not benefit from veil bind in the shared veil and they neither gain the benefits of the seer’s invested essence. High-level (17th) seer-viziers may freely retrain the teamwork feats. See, that one is a competent, powerful commander-style path and once again, mops the floor with the relatively uninspired ruler-path.
Once again, some nice revisions made here.
***End Base Class Section***
One crucial difference that sets apart Akashic Mysteries from similar alternate magic systems is the sheer wide openness as a central factor of the design – this system was made to allow for dabbling, gestalting and similar processes and as such, this book does contain a lot of options for classes beyond the 3 I have covered so far, so let us dive in and take a close look, shall we?
Okay, so the first class covered would be the psionic aegis, who gains 2 1-point, 4-point and 3-point as well as a 4-point customization: Beyond the obvious chakra bind and veil shaping, there are some cool mechanic twists here that make me really grin; contemplation, for example, lets the aegis expend power points to make receptacles or veils counted as though they were invested with essence, providing a nice game of resource management I enjoy. Making essence via the ectosuit similarly is a neat concept. Speaking of cool: The Buraq animal companion (yep, you read right!) archetype basically replaces several of the usual tricks with some veilshaping, emphasizing the instinctual and universal nature of akasha: Two thumbs up!
Barbarians looking to tap into the power of akasha will like the rageshaper, who replaces 5 of his rage power with veils and temporary essence while raging, which also makes for a great representation of the trope of the hero who can only tap into supernatural powers while raging (as seen in a gazillion anime). The resonant song bard replaces the base performances with the Hands of the Bard veil and 1/4 (min 1) class level essence. Now here is where things become interesting: At higher levels, the veil separates from the bard for a kind of spectral, externalized threat. The psionic and criminally underestimated cryptic class replaces the enhanced disruptions with veilweaving at -3 levels and a fluid realignment of altered defense tied to his veils as well as a power point/essence-interaction akin to that shown by the aegis. Once again, this makes for evocative gameplay and interesting tricks. The swarm master dread gains the pretty awesome vizier’s veil-selection (at a lower progression, obviously) as well as the Pestilence Cloak veil, which, once again, he can utilize in utterly unique ways, separating from the dread and even becoming real! Oh, and swarm form at higher levels! Heck YES! The hashasheen gunslinger can cling to walls, generate akashic bullets (somewhat similar to my own etherslinger) and fire on the run – apart from the class I wrote myself, this certainly now ranks as one of my favorite gunslinger options. The akashic warrior fighter is the first archetype here I don’t really like – it basically replaces bravery with an akahsa-based variant and allows the character to invest essence in armor or weapons, but ultimately, the archetype doesn’t add much beyond at least some numerical flexibility. Better than the base fighter, but not as amazing as most archetypes herein.
The snake charmer magus is a whip specialist who blends arcane power and spellcasting, losing spellstrike, spell recall, etc. – however, for arcane pool points and essence invested in the whip, he can generate cool defenses – a neat take on the whip-wielding, quick magus. The adaptive gunner marksman gets the cool contemplation psionic power/essence-combo game and uses the amazing Hand Cannon veil, getting even a unique style to interact with that one, which lets him doe amazing psionics/veilweaving-combo-stuff, like combining both cannons into one when expending the psionic focus for increasingly devastating blasts. The mysterial monk once again features a complex and evocative game of resource-management that is based on the interaction of veilweaving and ki as well as featuring a neat array of veilweaving in lieu of e.g. slow fall. The yaksa caller summoner binds lesser daeva (the entities associated with the daevic) instead of eidolons – said beings have veilweaving and said yaksa may bin essence in the caller, enhancing spell slots and veil sharing is also part of the deal. Pretty neat veilweaving summoner variant. Fans of Path of War may enjoy the veiled lord warder, who regains essence when performing gambits as well as limited number of day veilsharing with allies – beings affected by this that crit, generate temporary essence. All in all, neat.
The book also contains 13 talents for rogues, investigators as well as slayers that provide a neat array of tricks to dabble in veilweaving for these characters. Note something? Like the lack of complaining about them? Yeah, the options here are damn cool! The pdf also sports 2 PrCs, the first of which would be the 10-level Amplifier, who gains 1/2 BAB- and Will-save progression, d6 HD, 2+Int skills per level as well as full spellcasting/veilweaving progression – the amplifier basically is a akasha/spells-theurge…and if you’ve followed my reviews, you’ll note that I’m usually not too impressed by these guys. However, for one, he works with psionics as well and when spell and veil descriptor match veils, the class gets some cool benefits to choose from that scale with the levels, providing a cool game of mechanical interaction that actually makes the PrC interesting to me.
The second PrC covers 5 levels and gets 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-progression, d8 HD and 2 + Int skills as well as full veilweaving progression. These guys gain touch attacks that deal 1d8 per class level + Con-mod, which also grants temporary hit points and temporary essence. This temporary essence can, at 2nd level, be used to create debuffs zones. Thereafter, the PrC learns to render those it defeats into zombies, poison the essence of foes (unique mechanics) and finally, create undead via his tricks. Neat!
The pdf also contains new races, the first of which would be the amazing gamla you can see on the cover – yes, camel folk. Yes, they are cool. These guys get +2 Con and Wis, -2 Dex, are Large, have a speed of 30 ft., use undersized weapons (nice balance), gain desert strider, endurance, gain +1 bonus essence and a sickening spittle usable 1/minute. A powerful race, but still within the acceptable frame and one that gets a wide array of core class/akashic class and warder FCOs. The race also supports two alternates, the Alqarn (rhinofolk), who gains +2 Str and Con, -2 Wis (making them more physically lopsided than I like them), but slow and steady does somewhat diminish what would otherwise, thanks to ferocity and gore, be too close by the barb-race. Feelkha get +2 Con and Int, -2 Dex, are similarly slow and steady and gain a trunk that can be used, much like the rhinofolk’s horn, in conjunction with essence more effectively.
The second race would be the reptilian sobek, who gain +2 Str and Cha, -2 Wis, slow and steady, water adaptation, +2 to Stealth in certain environments, a natural bite attack at 1d6 that can be enhanced via essence and a sweeping tail. Once again, we get FCos for the core classes and the akashic ones. The nameer and sohofaat are alternates here – the tigerfolk nameer are warmblooded, have regular movement and camouflage in other environments and the race does have essence-enhanceable claws. The solhofaat (turtlefolk) get +4 Con, -2 Dex and a shell that can be enhanced via essence, a bite that can’t be invested with essence, but a shell that can be. I usually tend to hate +4 as racial modifiers, but considering the slow swimming speed as well as the fact that Con does not allow for a lot of abuse/powergaming, I’m mostly good with this and leave it with my usual “Take heed!” warning for GMs of low-powered games.
The suqur get +2 Dex and Int, -2 Con, 20 ft. land movement, low-light vision, 1 point of bonus essence and may glide. They gain talons and investing essence in the gliding wings lets them fly, which represents an investment I’m willing to give a pass; obviously, this can cause problems in low-level modules, but the totality of the race’s traits is sufficiently subdued to make this work for me. Once again, we get nice FCos and the race comes with two alternatives: The Hibkha (Ibisfolk) get +4 Int, -2 Str and Con, has 30 ft. movement and ignore non-magical difficult terrain, which makes the Int-powergaming more ridiculous. Not getting anywhere near my game, this one may be the first thing in the book I actively dislike. The Nisr vulturefolk get +2 Dex and Con, -2 Cha and may fortify their iron stomachs with eseence to resist poisons and diseases and eat about anything. Age, height and weight tables are included for our convenience. Favored class options of the new classes for the core races (minus half-orc/half-elf, plus orc) can also be found.
Alright, but one of the main draws of Incarnum back in the day was the relative ease by which other characters could dabble in its tricks – a component akashic mysteries translates masterfully to PFRPG by not only aforementioned class options, but by the vast array of feats. Basically, you can learn to access chakra slots via these and, as hinted at above, feats with the Akashic-descriptor can be invested with essence for greater effect, fortifying the body, spells, enhancing charges…Building on Deadly Aim, rage, studied strike, channel energy – basically, you name the class feature and there will be some unique trick that you can enhance with these feats – the handy table covering the feats alone is 1.5 pages long. Essence-based, less boring variants of Toughness that count as Toughness for purposes of prereqs are neat. Unfortunately, there is also some problematic content here: Life Bond, for example. This lets you basically transfer hit points via touch to allies. Solid, right? Well, for each essence invested in the ability, you increase healing by +5 hit points, which means that two or more folks with this healing each other can generate infinite healing. It’ll take a while and probably won’t break the game in most rounds, but I know that I’ll put hard cap on this feat in my game…but consider this just a tentative complaint, since otherwise, the array of options presented herein are evocative and make for a LOT of tinkering options – the chapter adds a massive tweaking strategy to everything, considering that most feats grant essence!
Now, the veils…this massive book contains basically ~20 pages of these and they are, ultimately, what makes of breaks the system…and they are amazing. No, seriously. Unlike many an alternate system, Michael Sayre has provided a significant array of unique benefits that you otherwise never get to see – like vorpal-immunity. I also mentioned the friggin’ handcannons, right? What I can’t really possibly hope to convey is the nature of these: Take a veil that grants you a tail slap – so far, so boring, right? Well, for essence, it also nets swim speed and for chakra bind, we gain 5 ft. AoE-trip as a unique attack! Even relatively conservative skill-boosters get such unique tricks, with one providing very high-level viziers a means to become truly frightening rulers, commanding up to 100 HD of creatures…Dr and Ac-granting defenses, temporary hit points that slowly regenerate, gauntlets that deal “electric” (should be electricity), sonic and cold damage, miss chances, spell-interactions for chakra-bound veils, mantles of insects. A nice touch: even the veils that employ veilweaving level instead of BAB have a rationale for how viziers and daevics can end up at the same potency when using the veil -it may not be much, but it is these nice little touches that show how much the authors care about a sense of in-game coherence. Oh, have I mentioned the Spiderman-style spinnerets? Now, personally, I’ll add a cooldown to the dragon-like breath-weapon-granting veil, since I really don’t consider infinite AoE-damage, even in small cones, to be something I like, but this is, again, a rules-aesthetic decision, not one based on me considering the veil OP. Oh, want veils rather by slot than alphabetically? Guess what: Second table included. Breaking each of these down in their components would exceed the frame of this review, considering that I already talked about quite a few of them in my review of the previous books; just note that no infinite healing exploits sprang right at me, though healing options are included.
A total of 3 weapon special abilities, akasha-enhancing catalysts, blood chakra-interactions…these items generally work well…but are only half the deal. You see, the mirrored property I mentioned before? It’s included herein. As are a selection of spells and material that act as reference material to avoid annoying book switching. Kudos and thank you for that.
Where was I, oh yes, beyond the items, we get two new monster subtypes, the akashic and daeva…and new monsters, including a new akashic dragon! The monsters sport amazing artworks and, as many are daeva, provide gorgeous, original artworks that evoke unique twists on Hindu-deities and other, lesser-known mythological creatures, like the Yaksha. These monster builds can generally be called “challenging” and range from CR 5 to 22, sporting unique tricks even before the whole veilweaving thing comes into place. This brief bestiary, if anything, made me want a whole bestiary of such creatures and should be considered a worthy closer to this book.
Editing and formatting are a bit hard to talk about here; you see, this review is not based on the “this will go to print version” of the book, but rather on the pdf-version prior to that. The positives first: Considering the length and density of the material herein, I am pretty excited to note the precision of the rules-language. Formal glitches are also pretty few and far in between, with e.g. the first “Alignment”-line in the book being one of the exceptions. One of the most prevalent issues would be that, unlike all “finished” Dreamscarred Press titles, I noticed quite a few formatting hiccups, like non-italicized spells and minor internal incongruencies regarding some of the material. These are universally not game-breakers, though. Dreamscarred Press has a history of cleaning up their books before going print, so I’m willing to give the company a pass on that for now; it’s just something to bear in mind when you’re expecting to dive right i. In my usual qualification, this would be situated between good and okay in that regard. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, printer-friendly version – kudos for providing that! Artworks are a mix of stock art and original art in full-color and particularly the original art deserves being mentioned as high-quality and amazing. Srsly, making the camelfolk look cool is truly great! The pdfs come with excessive, nested bookmarks that render the use on electronic devices very easy.
Lead designer Michael Sayre, with assistance from Andreas Rönnqvist, Andrew Stoeckle and Jacob Karpel has created a monument here. Yeah, I know, sounds like hyperbole? I’m not kidding, though. When I think “alternate magic for PFRPG”, akashic mysteries is now right up there with psionics, pact magic and the numerous systems crafted by Interjection games’ Bradley Crouch. The overhaul the classes got in comparison to the previous releases shows a quickly improving grasp of mechanics of top-tier complexity and the ability to sift through feedback to garner the gems amidst the complaints and invalid bickering – the final book presented here blows its WIP-components straight out of the water. The beauty of the mechanical tweaking and math underlying the system is impressive and the reason I adore this book more than quite a few options out there: It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a low-powered 15-pt-buy or nigh-superhero 25-pt-buy; it doesn’t matter if you’re going for low/rare or high magic – the akashic system supports a vast selection of playstyles and is ingenious, smart and just rewarding.
Beyond that, it may be one massive array of exceedingly dense crunch, but it is one that doesn’t leave other classes behind. Finally, the system actually manages to evoke, in spite f the scarcity of fluff, a unique thematic identity that you may easily reskin/eliminate, yes – but you can also roll with it. The number of components I’d consider problematic herein are TINY considering the density and size of this book. Oh, one more thing: I *HATED* the fluff of Incarnum. I *hated* its execution and only used it for gestalting back in the day; this one, I love. It is refined, strong but still balanced and one gigantic beast of evocative material. This will become a staple in my games for years to come and establishes Michael Sayre as one crunch-designer to *really* watch, as one in the highest echelon.
If anything, I want the expanded and augmented sequel book now and a full-blown bestiary and NPC book to boot. Yes, I actually like this that much. The fact that the system, in spite of the vast amount of moving parts, doesn’t crumble under its own weight is impressive indeed. I’m rambling. What I’m saying is: Get this, you won’t be disappointed! It’s not (yet) perfect, but it is one of the most inspired crunch-books to land before me in the last couple of years. My final verdict will clock in at unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval and denote this, even sans improvements, as a candidate for my Top ten of 2016 and an EZG Essential. Now excuse me, I have *a lot* of tinkering to do…
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