Arcane Ki: The Magic of Martial Artists (Priority Review)
This freshman offering clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 8 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 27 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5).
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.
After a brief introduction, we begin with class options – the first of which would be the ascetic sorcerer bloodline, which receives Acrobatics as a class skill. As a note: references to e.g. the Psychic Anthology or Ultimate Magic are not done via the customary superscript letter-abbreviations, but instead fully written and put in brackets. I can live with that. Where the pdf gets its first strike, though, would be that the spells granted by the bloodline have not been properly italicized. They are not even consistent, with some formatted like feats, while others are all low caps. That right there really hurts. That’s basic formatting 101. On the content side of things, the bonus spells are pretty interesting in their choice – we begin with expeditious retreat, and via telekinetic strikes, fickle winds and the like, progress towards time stop. The choices for the bonus feats are comparably less interesting,, with Dodge, Catch Off-Guard, Throw Anything, etc. – Scorpion Style (which I do not like) and Gorgon’s Fist are the only two not among the obvious choices. The bloodline arcana lets you deal damage with your unarmed strikes equal to a monk half your “level” – should be “sorcerer” or “character level”, depending on what’s meant. The pdf progresses to mention: “At 1st level, you receive unarmed strike as a bonus feat…” There is no such thing. The feat is called Improved Unarmed Strike. You also get an additional attack when you execute a full attack with unarmed strikes, and as usual, at higher levels, we have attacks treated as magical, cold iron, etc. At 11th level, you can expend a swift action to make your unarmed strikes corrosive, flaming or frost – formatting is missing here. You can do so for 3 + Charisma modifier rounds per day, though every round costs a swift action. Unfortunately, the extra attack verbiage is all wrong. At what BAB is the additional attack? Does it stack with haste et al.? Why does this not allow for the use of monk weapons? 3rd level nets fast movement, 9th evasion, 15th a style strike. 20th level nets the ultimate borefest outsider-apotheosis capstone, here supplemented with “damage reduction 10” (not how that’s formatted) , which is bypassed by alignment opposing yours. Both components? One?.All in all…Yay? So, your ½-BAB sorcerer now sucks bad at martial arts, but can execute a whole single style strike? This bloodline does not work, and is a horrible choice. I am conservative when it comes to power levels, and I wouldn’t even recommend this for a rare magic 15-pt.-buy game.
The dancing brawler is a bard archetype uses Perform (dance) exclusively for their bardic performance, and its effects only apply to the character, but may not be prolonged via Lingering Performance (here properly formatted), and the benefits are only applied when the bard is wearing no armor or light armor. The dancing brawler’s dance does not need to see or hear their own performance, and dancing is started as a move action and may be maintained as a free action. Changing the effect requires stopping and restarting, and being stunned, paralyzed, etc. ends the performance. At 10th level, the dancing brawler can alternatively initiate a dance as a swift action, The dancing’s benefit? The bonuses are doubled. While dancing, the archetype gets flurry of blows and the monk’s unarmed strike class feature, replacing thus suggestion, distraction, inspire competence, countersong, dirge of doom, soothing performance, frightening tune, and mass suggestion.
At 2nd level, when using the flurry while dancing, the dancing brawler must move 5 feet before each attack. Problematic – the ability is called “dancing flurry”, but the rules refer to “flurry of blows”, which the archetype RAW does not have. Also problematic – shouldn’t that be “At least 5 feet”? RAW, this means you HAVE to move 5 feet between attacks. Here is the issue: The archetype has no ability that would allow for movement between attacks, making this nonfunctional. The capstone ability extends the effects of the dance: All allies gain dancing combat and the flurry. Okay, do they have their own daily number of rounds? Do they need the Perform skill? No idea.
The guardian of the wild replaces the usual nature’s bond benefits with Improved Unarmed Strike (properly formatted) as well as an animal-named Style-feat, with 4th level and every 2 levels thereafter providing another feat from the list, or a feat using one of the style feats as prerequisites: As a nitpick: “style feat path” is not how the like is usually phrased in rules language, but it is comprehensive, so this complaint remains purely aesthetic. 2nd level nets essentially the monk’s Wisdom to AC bonus ability instead of woodland stride, with 4th level providing the monk’s ki pool instead of wildshape, save that, at 6th level and every 2 levels thereafter, a qinggong power, vested power or unchained monk ki power is gained. Prerequisite interaction? Instead of nature’s lure, we get an untyped (boo) bonus to saving throws versus polymorph effects and similar abilities that would change the archetype’s form.
The ki alchemist loses throw anything and bombs in favor of “improved unarmed strike[sic!]” *sigh*, and 4th level nets a ½ level (should be class level…) + intelligence (should be Intelligence) modifier ki pool and a 4th level qinggong power. Instead of a discovery, the archetype can take “extra ki[sic!]” as a bonus feat or select a new qinggong power available at their current alchemist level. *SIGH*
You got the idea by now, right? The martial adept arcanist gets a kind of arcane bond with their body, and gets a black blade. It’s a solid idea, but the interaction of black blade engine and arcanist is problematic in its execution. The style caster magus is essentially an unarmed magus who focuses on Styles and Spell Styles – the problematic formatting makes grasping the archetype much harder than required.
Unpredictable fists are cleric that need to be chaotic and have access to the Chaos or Magic domains or worship a fey. The archetype does something genuinely interesting: You roll a d20, and the result determines the damage die/dice used with unarmed strikes this round, treated their cleric level as monk levels, with a cap of cleric level +4 regarding damage. This is a cool angle! However, if the result is higher than the cleric’s level, the cleric is confused until the end of their turn, and on a 20, the next unarmed strike causes a primal magic event. The confusion makes this fellow, alas, pretty much useless at low levels. Magic follows a more problematic paradigm: You don’t cast spells – instead, when you hit a target, you roll a die and randomly determine the spell you cast. Say, you have 7 4th level spells and hit, then you roll a d7. Don’t have one? Well, tough luck. This archetype, in many ways, has good ideas regarding chaos magic, as the other abilities are interesting as well; unfortunately, it is nigh unplayable and makes the character more dangerous for allies than enemies, a liability.
Unchained monks can elect to become ki casters, who only have 3/4th BAB-progression, modified skills (formatting all wrong) and a greater ki pool, as well as quinggong caster, and the means to poach limited sorc/wizard spells and use them via ki. The rules-interaction here should be a bit smoother, but one can discern what’s meant. Instead of style strikes, we get Spell Style feats, ignoring prerequisites, which generally is not the best of ideas. The second unchained monk archetype, the warded hunter, gets a defensive tweak of favored enemy, debuffing strikes, etc. Unfortunately, the execution here isn’t exactly exciting – or particularly precise.
The pdf then proceeds to a 10-level prestige class, the eldritch ascetic, who gets ¾ BAB-progression, ½ Fort-save progression, 4 + Int skills per level, d8 HD, 7/10th spellcasting progression, and must be able to cast 3rd level arcane spells and have flurry of blows or unarmed strike as class features. The class lets you use Intelligence instead of Wisdom or Charisma for monk class abilities. Okay. What if you took this via other base classes? Say, brawler? Never mind, this PrC is actually an Elemental Fist specialist who can sacrifice spell slots to add bonus damage to Elemental Fist. The bonus damage is not codified regarding damage types. The capstone is a slightly amped up Dispelling Fist. Yay?
The next section is devoted to feats – these include the means to use a swift action to deliver a chosen single target blessing effect on targets hit RAW, this delimits blessings, and is thus OP. Calm Brawler lets you use the brawler rage power and powers based on it even while not in rage. Or, you know, you could go one of the numerous more efficient ways of gaining a solid unarmed attack. Just sayin’. Extra/upgrade feats for the problematic class abilities introduced herein are included. There is a feat for an Extra Ki Power, and you can waste a feat to gain a detect-ability that lets you see creatures with ki pool only. That should be a trait, tops. There is a more or less okay attempt at close range combat maneuvers for psychic casters (save that BAB etc. remains an issue); The option to implant mesmerist tricks in targets, which potentially can make their benefits apply to enemies targeted by the victim, is awesome and gets its cool concept almost right.
I already mentioned Spell Style feats: These alter Style feats, and allow for the entering of the associated Style as part of casting a spell associated with the Spell Style feat. That is a genuinely cool idea, and the first thing herein that gets me excited. And indeed, the concept is super cool: With Cerberus Style (Spell Style), you can modify spells that require a melee or melee touch attack; you can make a single unarmed attack at full BAB against a target as part of casting the spell; if you hit, you can make another such attack against up to two targets in reach, and then split the spell’s effects and duration to the enemies. Okay, what about AoEs, such as detonations? What about permanent/instantaneous durations? This one is one dev-pass away from being really cool. With Crashing Wave Movement, you can modify maneuver-spells to instead drag or reposition. Djinni Electrocution first gets damage type right, then fails to list it. Puzzling, insofar as e.g. Jabbing Spellstrike does get that right. Dragonfly’s Aerial Casting would be super interesting if it worked properly: You jump in the air, and then “At any point
during the jump, you can choose to begin drawing the line for your spell, allowing it to go over creatures without affecting them.“ No, “the line” or whatever? Not explained. This is heartbreaking. It’s such a cool idea, but it does not work. I love the concept of Spell Style feats, but these need to be cleaned up. As written, there are so many tidbits that require more precision.
The pdf also features a new magic item, the ki sapphire (also with a lesser and greater version) – these are essentially ki batteries, with a capacity of 1, 2 or 3 points.
The pdf then provides 3 sample characters: Seska Takabe, a wizard/unchained monk/eldritch ascetic multiclass, who comes with a cool background; there also is a level 6 ki caster with a, once more, nice background. The statblocks, alas, are plagued by the same formatting glitches as the rest of the pdf. There is also a final mini-statblock – one that had me gulp. There is a stablock for Janna (aka Fluffy), a kind of monument to a cat the author lost. That was super heart-warming, and I liked seeing both the nice artwork for her, and stats. Heck, I’ve done the same. One of my pets has been immortalized as an awakened paladin. As such, rest assured that I feel like crap for pointing out that Fluffy’s statblock is incorrect. Like, seriously incorrect.
Editing is not good on either a formal or rules language level – from missing words to rules syntax collapsing, this has it all. The formatting, however, is even worse. It’s one of the worst-formatted books I’ve ever read for PFRPG; there is a reason why complex rules systems such as PFRPG have VERY stringent formatting standards; without them, the rules-language becomes opaque and hard or even impossible to correctly parse or read. Layout adheres to a no-frills one-column standard, and the two pieces of full-color art are nice. Not so nice: The pdf has no bookmarks, making navigation a colossal pain.
I derive no joy or pleasure whatsoever from bashing on this book, but this is not a good supplement…and it breaks my heart to say so. Why? Because it is not a phoned-in minimum-effort book. The Spell Style concept has so much potential, but is complex and requires precise execution. When the formatting confusion, the editing issues and less than stellar rules-language combine with complex concepts, the result, alas, is a book I’d consider to be borderline nonfunctional. Heck, this book struggles with basics and simple builds. With copious handwaving, or by revision and development, you can get some gems out of this book, but that does not hold true for all components. Even when I take the freshman offering bonus into account, I am somewhat hard-pressed to recommend this, unless you want to exercise your development muscles and see whether you can fix the material herein. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded up only due to the freshman bonus.
You can get this pdf here on OBS.
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