Akashic Realms Volume 1: Emperors & Einherjar (Patreon Request)
This massive expansion for the akashic system clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 9 ¾ pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 39 ¼ pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.
Okay, so, first things first: This book is a combination of a massive akasha expansion and a planar sourcebook; this is insofar interesting, as the cosmology featured is intended for use with the PHENOMENAL City of 7 Seraphs campaign setting; and because that implies a pretty radical departure from what we usually get to see for the themes featured.
What do I mean by this? Well, as many of you know, I have devoted a significant part of my life to studying Scandinavian cultures; as such, the Norse myths hold a very special place in my heart: From music (huge Wardruna/Hugsjá/Skuggsjá-fan; plus: Viking metal!) to language to literature, to pretty much everything else, this is just my topic; the only time when I truly feel at ease, like I’ve arrived where I am supposed to be, is when I’m in Norway. If you’ve read the sǫgur (plural for saga), you’ll know about the rather unique outlook on life, so far from the constant dichotomies that our current society struggles with. You’ll also know that the usual way to depict Norse themes in RPGs focuses on the low fantasy end of the spectrum. This, obviously, does make sense. When RPGs do dive into the high-fantasy end, it often is more inspired by Marvel’s slaughtering of the themes – again, understandable, considering the vast impact they have on particularly American pop culture. Apart from Rite Publishing’s Valhalla demiplane book, I know of no attempt to do so for a contemporary RPG.
This, then, as far as RPGs are concerned, is unique, in that it champions a high fantasy approach to two myths, with the Norse being one of them. Before we start, there is one further thing to note: Even if you do not care about adding to your cosmology, the book has A LOT of crunch, so integration into pretty much all settings is rather simple.
We begin with two new planar traits here: Surging Essence. These can be found on planes with potent akashic echoes, and here, akasha users can concentrate to gather energy as a full-round action to gain 1 temporary essence for 1 minute. Constellations thus summoned vanish when the temporary essence dissipates. Surging essence can have a descriptor that limit the veils and abilities available for the essence to be invested in. Furthermore, the presence of descriptors as such can have consequences (not smart for the righteous to gather the fragmented souls of the damned, and vice versa!), and in the case of the more potent option, temporary alignment changes might result. It should be noted that the book does feature rules for planar infusions and that the 3 Conduit feats for them have been included, so no, you do not require the Planar Handbook for PFRPG to make full use of this. These infusions are presented for both myths covered here, and while I was not a fan of Planar Adventures’ decision to make the bonuses thus granted untyped, the book does mirror this decision; so no, this is not an oversight, but in line with the core engine presented.
We begin with an at-a-glance write-up of Valhalla, including infusions and prime movers – here, the plane is defined as chaotic good, and we are introduced to a variety of locations and persons, as well as the einherjar-blooded aasimar, who gets +2 Constitution and Charisma, cold, fire and electricity resistance 5, a +2 racial bonus to Bluff and Intimidate, darkvision 60 ft., and when they are reduced to below 0 HP for the first time on a given day, they are healed as per cure moderate wounds as a SP, using class level as caster level – shouldn’t that be character level?), and also gain a temporary essence. As a whole, on the strong side of races, but not to the point where I’d consider them to be unbalanced.
We also get a new nexus convergence for Valhalla, which includes the option to deal sonic damage with planar detonation, but at the cost of a decreased damage output. Higher tiers allow for increasing penalties to the hit target, calling forth the spawn of Fenrir and, at high levels, valkyries, and at tier 4, we have 3/day breath of life, which also is autocast on the nexus, if uses remain. Really cool! The planar attunement allows for simple switching between planes and the option to take essence burn to declare an attack a save-or-die for giants, which is pretty suitable. These rules components are VERY precise and show an extensive familiarity with the finest of rules conventions for PFRPG – the new nexus material, in short, is very well-designed.
Valhalla also gets a pretty massive new set of veils – Asgardian Saga. The nexus class is the one who gets full access to Asgardian Saga…and there are a couple of bits here that made me smile very widely: Each of the veils gets a brief flavor-text, and I really loved to read e.g. the one for Geri and Freki, which correctly mentioned the Úlfhéðnar. Call me elitist, but I believe that RPGs can really broaden your horizons, and the notion of RPG-players as individuals who are genuinely interested in a wide variety of things, the assumption of intelligence and a desire to learn, is something near and dear to my heart. It’s just a bit of flavor, but if only one person out there actually looked up those weird letters, this was already worth it. But I digress. And before you ask: The names of the respective veils use the anglicized spelling – so “Bifrost” instead of “Bifröst”, etc.
Which brings me to the first veil – Bifröst Boots, which has great utility and soft terrain control uses – you get to make facsimile Bifrösts, and as the chakra bind for feet, gain AC boosts against targets standing on the bridge – oh, and you do not provoke AoOs, which makes this a great skirmishing facilitator. Geri and Freki nets you wolven clothing that helps with handling animals, as well as the ability to summon a wolf animal companion at class level -4, minimum 1, as though a druid. You can’t spam the wolf, though, and essence invested enhances the wolf and animal handling – and yes, enough essence can offset the level-penalty; and yes, I did check this regarding some pretty in-depth comparisons, and it checks out beautifully. The veil’s chakra bind for the body is super versatile – it lets you call a second wolf, gain a bite + Pack Flanking or have a brooch that lets you command wolves and associated creatures. Flexible, varied, cool. Gungnir is a long spear that may be thrown, and it returns to you, provided your hand is free. Interestingly, this did not use the returning quality, instead electing for a smoother implementation in the context of this veil. The spear is also more potent, particularly when wielded while mounted, if the proper essence is invested, and with a chakra bind to the wrist, a whole smörgåsbord of customization options and scaling enhancement s become available. Oh, and in that case, it also enhances your AC via shield bonus. Huginn and Muninn (Fun, and utterly irrelevant digression: I see two ravens EVERYWHERE. There hardly goes by a single day where I see two of them. Not one, not 3, always 2…) boost Knowledge checks, allow you to be considered to be trained, and even for rerolls. The chakra bind to shoulders nets you animal companion ravens through which you can see and speak, use them for line of sight, etc. – awesome utility! And yes, this gets interaction with pre-existing companions right. Liar’s horns enhances Bluff and Diplomacy, and with the head chakra bind, it helps you infiltrate, allowing you to change appearances, etc. – if you invest enough, you can also help your allies this way.
Mjolnir is a massive thrown warhammer, which rewards essence invested with bonus electricity and sonic damage. The chakra bind to the hands enhances it, and punishes attempts to e.g. sunder it painfully. When bound to the wrists instead, we have a damage upgrade by two die-steps for the bonus damage, as well as the option to immediate action teleport (including mount!) within 10 feet of the target, which might qualify you for a nasty combo. Mjolnir is the unsubtle DPS blast to Gugnir’s versatility, mirroring in design the themes of the mythology. Very nice. Odin’s Noose is AMAZING. As in: Gamechanger. Sure, it helps you with Knowledge, etc. When you first shape the veil, you can reduce your maximum hit point total by 5 to gain a veil FROM ANOTHER VEILWEAVING LIST. And before you scream “unbalanced”, as I was almost tempted to, rest assured that it still has the caveat that you need the slot to shape the veil, so no exclusives scavenging. When bound to the neck chakra, you get (greater) scrying, depending on how much essence is invested. Sif’s Golden hair is a defense veil, enhancing your AC, and provides light, with the headband chakra bind providing AoE hair-based grapple/trip! (One of the current PCs in my campaign, a voodoo-doll style Cha-based halfling witch with dreadlocks will love this…) Sleipnir enhances your Knowledge of the planes and riding skills, with the bind allowing you to conjure forth an ersatz phantom steed with scaling benefits and plane shifting capabilities. Finally, valkyrie’s chain is an excellent, non-speed-reducing armor that scales with essence invested; the chakra bind for the chest slot fortifies you against death effects and also has the breath of life on self trick.
I love this entire set. It made me seriously contemplate a nexus Asgardian warpriest/champion of the Aesir – not in the sense of the warpriest class (which I dislike), but in the sense of the concept. Absolutely amazing.
But the book is called “Emperors and Einherjar”, so what about those emperors? Well, unless I am mistaken, these refer to the Xia dynasty’s culture heroes that followed the so-called Three Sovereigns from northern Chinese mythology. (Apologies if I’m mistaken there; it might also refer to Jinmu-Tennō – the material seems to be more inspired by this, than a direct representation!) The kingdom of 5 emperors also comes with valid infusion rules, and is a true neutral realm – and since balance is so important in the cosmology of the City of 7 Seraphs, the pdf does introduce an imho overdue [neutral] subtype, including easy to implement rules. We are introduced to the courts of 5 emperors (pearl, gold, crimson, jade, violet), which all feature a different neutral-component alignment, notes on personae and locations of interest, and here, the conveniently reprinted Amateur Astrologist feat comes into play – unless you already are playing a zodiac: We get a full array of zodiac constellations for the Chinese zodiac, which coincidentally eliminates one of my main gripes with the zodiac class, and they are awesome – tigers with electricity attacks, dual-wiled-enhancing sais, climbing and swimming-enhancing snake armor…okay, these are “cool” options, and from rooster to rat, there are cool things associated with those animals…but guess what? The book manages to make “The Sheep” cool. I kid you not. Customizable armor that can be “fluffed up” to escape grapples and enhance DR and cold resistance granted! That is genuinely USEFUL, fun to play, and utterly hilarious! You can’t touch me! I’m too fluffy!! XDDD And you can fire bolts of lightning that may fly around corners. Don’t laugh at the sheep! Seriously, I need to use this in game. ASAP. “But wait”, you say, what about those companions? Well, the book has companions ranging from auroachs over giant hares to…well, sheep. And yes, these check out.
And yes, we obviously get a proper convergence and planar attunement as well. It should also be noted that Expanded Cosmology and Noble Astrologist allow you as feats to dabble into these further. Expanded Cosmology has a bug: It grants access to all forms of a constellation in one feat – it is evident that this should be a Zodiac-only feat, and as such, the prerequisite should JUST be constellation class feature; Amateur Astrologist should not be an alternate means of qualifying for this feat.
If you’re more on the anti-hero side of things, you’ll be happy to know that the dark shogunate as an opposition to the kingdom exists, including a proper convergence. Akasha gets a 5-veil set here: The O-yoroi of the Obsidian Ronin consists of 5 veils, of which only the eclipse has them all available, while other classes miss out on some. Izanami’s koma-geta enhance your own Acrobatics and penalize Reflexes and initiative of enemies capable of seeing you, with the chakra bind to the feet allowing you to ignore difficult terrain, including magic terrain, and enough essence nets you freedom of movement. The bind to the belt also nets you air walk with scaling movement increases. Izanami’s nodachi (shouldn’t that be Izanagi?) causes bleed damage and can potentially blind targets temporarily, with the hand chakra bind adding precision damage versus foes flat-footed or denied their Dexterity bonus, and the body chakra bind making your critical hits save-or-die – and to add insult to injury, those slain may rise as shadows under your command.
Ronin’s Horo rewards you for moving with bonuses to Intimidate and AC, and the shoulder chakra bind lets you capture ranged attacks like bullets and arrows based on ammunition in the veil. Seppuku is a bleed-damage causing wakizashi, the incarnation of the infamous suicide-blade, with the hands chakra bind allow you to one-hand wield two-handed weapons, and the wrist bind is brutal: Turn the blade onto yourself for serious bleed, and choose a living creature within 60 feet: That creature also starts taking that bleed damage on a failed save! This bleed can only be halted by SERIOUS damage from an ally, or by living through the ordeal. Pretty awesome! The sōmen of shadow is an oni-mask that enhances your Will and makes you count as larger for Intimidate purposes, with the head chakra bind allowing for enlarge person and, provided you have enough essence invested, giant form I.
The final plane included would be the Cloud stairway, which is supplemented by a unique Style-chain, the Mistmask Style – this style is akashic and begins as a Disguise-enhancer that emphasizes the plane’s kinda-neutral-ground/anything could happen nature, and in its final feat, lets you gain some evolutions. I am 100% confident that this is indeed a nod to Mark Seifter’s brilliant Masquerade Reveler class. Some nitpicks: At one point, the pdf imho hilariously, and that may be an Easter egg, calls the style “Myst Maskstyle” instead of “Mistmask Style”; secondly, only the Mistmask Style feat should have the [Style] descriptor, since styles are limited regarding action economy, what can be active, etc. – the follow-up feats should only have the [Akashic] and [Combat] descriptors. Other than that, a very cool and flavorful style!
The book also contains an array of akashic feats, which, apart from the ones already mentioned, include a means to be Lattice-Born (tap into nexus convergences), more versatile planar detonations, and feats to enhance characters maintaining multiple veils froma given set: With Disciple of Charon, for example, your attacks become lawful and planar detonation gets bonus damage if you have two or more veils shaped from boatman’s ensemble. I like these, as they reward at least a degree of thematic consistency.
The pdf concludes with stats of the CR 6 azata bralani, ghaele, sovereign dragon, etc. as references. These are here for completion’s sake (and I think the nogitsune oni was originally released in a Jade regent installment), so that’s certainly appreciated. Less appreciated: The formatting of the stats is messed up. Some are entirely in italics, bolded and non-bolded text are inconsistent, etc. – were it not for the fact that these are only here as reference material, I’d knock down a star for them. I know, it’s irrational, but such obvious guffaws can rile me up. NOTE: For the purpose of this review, I will completely disregard this reference material.
Editing and formatting of all but the reference material is very good – from bonus types to complex rules-language, the top-tier designs here have been properly implemented. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard, and that artwork on the cover? Interior artwork is just as original, and just as high-quality. Seriously impressed. The pdf comes with full nested bookmarks, making navigation simple. The book comes with a second, LITE version for slower pdf-readers.
Michael Sayre and Christen N. Sowards deliver a phenomenal book here, one that acts as a basic primer for some inspiring planes as well as a grand expansion for particularly the zodiac and nexus; while other classes also get some neat materials, fans of these two classes in particular will celebrate this book. And I count myself among them. The first Akashic Realms book is a top-tier book of evocative, meticulously-balanced material, one that has but one hiccup on a mechanical level I noticed, namely Expanded Cosmology, as noted above. That being said, this book is genuinely inspiring in the best of ways. I now want to make an akashic einherjar with a magical, fluffy sheep-armor. And I mean, I REALLY, REALLY want to make one. This book is VERY crunch-centric, and yet, it evoked more inspiration than many longer flavor-centric books! In short: This is a fantastic offering, and a must-own expansion to the akashic system. If you’re curious about the zodiac, and haven’t taken the plunge, it also acts as a teaser/massive expansion for the class.
Is it always perfect? No. But it got me more excited about building characters than I’ve been for a long time. Were I to take the formatting blunder in the reference material into account, this’d lose a star, but that would be a punishment for providing a convenience service, something I’ve never done, and which would imho send the wrong signals. As such, my final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval. Oh, and since I loved this book as much as I did, this also receives a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2019. Highly recommended!!
You can get this inspired book here on OBS!
Did you know that there is an awesome low-level module set in Valhalla, perfect for use with this book’s material/to unlock it or kickstart a planar campaign? You can find it here for just 4 bucks!
The excellent zodiac class can be found here!
If you don’t want the City of 7 Seraphs, the three akashic classes from the book can also be found here!
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