Arcforge: Technology Expanded (Patreon Request)
This massive supplement clocks in at 84 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction (including a ToC for tables), 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 74 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested by my patreon supporters.
So, the first thing you need to know here, is that the material within makes use of Dreamscarred Press’ subsystems, most prominently akasha and psionics; beyond that, e.g. the new class that kicks off the supplement, the helmsman, does reference Path of War’s Knowledge (martial) skill. This poses an interesting question: For which tables and power-levels is this book intended? As you all know, Pathfinder’s first edition at one point somewhat split its demographic: On one hand, we have people that just want to play the game; on the other, there are people that derive a lot of satisfaction from pushing the system; builds and system mastery are important, as are the challenges posed. The latter demographic has split further, with particularly Path of War providing a convenient reference point, as it eliminated several limiters and balancing concerns of the system, with the explicit goal of providing a power-fantasy that other adherents of system mastery considered to be contrary to their own preferences. These issues were not inherent in Path of War’s system, but something chosen deliberately, and this paradigm did influence many of Dreamscarred Press’ latter offerings, which often sport innovative, genuinely awesome designs, but also a disregard for the power-levels featured by pretty much anything Paizo etc. released; this tendency can be seen in many post-Ultimate Psionics psionics releases, but the core framework of akasha is remarkably bereft of the like, oriented pretty much mathematically in line with Paizo’s offerings. So, where does this book fall in the spectrum?
Well, let us start by examining the helmsman baseclass, which is a veilweaver with d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple weapons and one martial weapon, as well as with light and medium armor and shields. Of note: The shield proficiency does not exclude tower shields, as customary, which I assume to be intentional here. The governing ability score of the helmsman’s veilweaving is Intelligence, and the class begins with 1 veil and essence, and improves that to 9 and 20, respectively, over the course of its 20-level progression. This puts the class one veil above the guru base class in that regard. Reallocation of essence invested is a swift action, rest is required to unshape and shape veils – you get the idea. The core defining feature of the class would be the companion vehicle or mech (collectively referred to as vessel) gained at 1st level; the effective pilot level is equal to the class level, and the helmsman’s bonded vessel gains all benefits of feats, veils and chakra binds that the helmsman is USING, even if it doesn’t have the corresponding components. Important here, and perhaps something that should have been spelled out more explicitly: USING. This means that benefits that are not based on, well, use, do not necessarily apply. It may sound like a picky differentiation, but it’s an important one imho. Anyways, for example, a Panzer would gain the benefits of an effect contingent on the presence of the feet slot, even though it, well, lacks feet. If a veil generates a weapon, it manifests on the vessel, but uses the helmsman’s size to determine damage dice, and may be used in addition to the vessel’s weaponry. Weapons explicitly wielded in hands do take up a weapon slot for each such weapon created. Size-increases beyond Medium (size reference not capitalized) can take up multiple slots, and the helmsman can reassign what the bonded vessel is relatively painlessly (good) in an 8-hour period.
At this point, you probably realized that this class is basically the anime/mecha pilot in the vein of Gundam, Code Geass, etc., so in order to discuss it, we should take a look at the mecha rules so crucial for the experience of the class before further diving into it. At first level, the character chooses a body type for the mech(a) – agile, bipedal or quadruped/treaded, and the mech must be of the pilot’s size or larger. All damage caused to the pilot is evenly split between pilot and mech, with excess damage from uneven values applied to the mech. If the mech is reduced to 0 HP, it enters a state of critical failure, ejecting the pilot. Repairing a mech takes a DC 10 Craft (Mechanical) check and takes a whole day, replenishing 5 HP; climbing into a mech and activating it is a full-round action, while exiting it can be done as a move action. I like this action economy dispersal here, as it mirrors what we get to see in anime. At 3rd level, the pilot can change the mech’s body type by spending ½ the mech’s HD in hours +1/2 the number of enhancements, rounded down, rebuilding it. During this time, the mech is NOT operational, but existing enhancements may also be changed. A destroyed mech can be replaced within 24 hours, which may not be realistic, but for the purpose of the game, it’s a wise decision. Well, and the media this is based on pretty much also follows this paradigm. Mechs grants a bonus to their pilot’s physical ability scores and use the pilot’s mental ability scores; unpiloted or remotely-steered mechs have Strength and Dexterity scores of 10 + the listed bonus. Mechs use the pilot’s BAB, saves, proficiencies and skill modifiers, and do not gain skills or feats of their own. Mechs have a hardness score and take half damage from most energy-based attacks. While piloting, a character can’t wear armor or bulky clothing, and items that provide an AC-increase to the pilot, INCLUDING natural armor bonuses do NOT apply while piloting a mech. Mechs are treated as metal armor, but generally do not per default impose an arcane spell failure.
Mechs are designed for certain types of weapons in mind; this is known as Weapon Affinity; you can picture that as a kind of proficiency, as it influences the type of weapon a mech can wield. Standard weapons can be converted for mech use, though they have to be made for a size that the mech can make use of via weapon slots. There are three types of affinity: Ranged, melee and heavy. The first two are self-explanatory, while the third encompasses a list of weapons ranging from grenade launchers to rail guns and rocket launchers. Basically, if you could picture a weapon being the key-feature of a Gundam mecha that sets it apart, it’s probably heavy. The pilot of a mech with this affinity is considered to have Exotic Weapon Proficiency (heavy weaponry) as long as they are piloting the mech. Now, as for those weapon slots we’ve been talking about: A single weapon slot can accommodate a single Medium or smaller weapon, and in order to weild a weapon, a mech must have it slotted and the pilot must be able to wield it, unless otherwise noted. A crucial difference to regular weaponry: Multiple slots can be combined to fit larger weapons; two weapon slots can be sued to fit a Large weapon; three fit a Huge weapon, 4 a Gargantuan, and 5 a Colossal weapon, and such slotted weapons are thankfully not subject to the clusterf*** that are the rules for inappropriately-sized weaponry. That’s a good thing. If the linear progression instead of an exponential or similar curve struck you as odd: Attacks with a slotted weapon are made at the pilot’s full BAB, but no iterative attacks may be executed. Attacks with natural attacks or unslotted weapons executed by mechs are penalized with -5 to the attack roll.
Okay, so how does the mech companion operate? Well, they have a ¾ HD-progression, which means they start of at 1 HD and improve that 15 HD at 19th level; The mech has a ½ AC bonus progression, and a Hardness that begins play at 1 and improved up to 19; at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the aforementioned Strength and Dexterity bonuses granted by the mech increase by +2, for a total of +8 at 17th level. At 11th and 20th level, we have size increases (you can stay your usual size and instead get +2 Dexterity and 10 additional hit points), and the mech gets a BP (battery point)-contingent. When a mech uses a technological item or weapon, they may have charges drawn from this pool instead, and the battery recharges at the rate of 2 per hour. It is important to note for GMs that this should probably not allow for use of nanite hypoguns; the BP is clearly supposed to be electricity, whereas the hypogun’s charges represent nanites, as made very clear by their capacity, which, unlike most technological items, explicitly reads “1 nanite canister”, not the simple numerical value usually presented for charges sourced from batteries. This is important, because we’d otherwise have a pretty overkill healing angle here. Explicitly stating this caveat in the rules here would have been more convenient for the reader.
At 1st level, the BP-contingent is still 0, but every level thereafter, it improves by 2. At 1st level, 5th level, and every 4 levels thereafter, the mech also gets a mech enhancement. Depending on which basic shape you choose from the three available, you also get a unique 5th-level advancement; these frame-based enhancements generally improve every 5 levels after 5th.
Okay, so, what do the base frames provide? The agile frame is Small (as such only available for Small characters at low levels), and nets +20 ft. speed, +1 armor, two secondary wing attacks à 1d4, Dexterity +4 and 5 bonus hit points; Weapon Affinity is ranged, and we have 1 weapon slot. At fifth level, the frame nets a fly speed that improves regarding speed and maneuverability at higher levels. The mech can hover sans check. Bipeds are Medium, get +2 to armor, a primary slam at 1d6, +2 Dexterity and Strength, 10 bonus hit points, Weapon Affinity for melee and ranged weapons, and 2 weapon slots. Bipeds start play with the arms enhancement, and at 5th level, their arms net a +2 shield bonus to AC, which improves at higher levels. This bonus btw. explicitly increases a shield bonus of a regular shield, if present. Quadruped/treaded mechs start play as Large (size modifiers listed), get +10 ft. movement, +4 AC, a primary slam à 1d8, +4 Strength, 15 bonus hit points, the stability trait, Weapon Affinity for heavy weapons, and 2 weapon slots. The 5th-level advancement nets an additional weapon slot at no cost (ditto for higher levels).
Unless I have miscounted, there are 23 mech enhancements provided. These include gaining an additional weapon affinity, a new weapon slot, and at 7th level, you can get e.g. +2 AC; the equivalents of Weapon Focus and Weapon Specializations and their Greater versions can also be gained; 9th level allows for the taking of +5 hardness. Quicker reload for firearms and heavy weaponry, arms, slow fall hovering for quadrupeds, swim speed and air filters, +15 for Acrobatics and Ride checks made to jump (should imho be typed bonuses), size increases (may first be taken at 7th level, then again at 17th level), climb speed for quadrupeds/treaded ones. I did notice an issue: Superior Arcforged Armor provides a hardness increase of 5 and requires Advanced Armor Plating as a prerequisite, with which it notes that it stacks; said enhancement, however, does grant an AC bonus, not hardness. The enhancement should not refer to Advanced Armor Plating, but Arcforged Armor, which does indeed grant hardness 5. Thrusters are also included, and there is an option to increase the damage dice of weapons you have Weapon Affinity for. Shielded cockpit and cerebral reinforcement are perhaps the most potent enhancements, available at 13th and 15th level, respectively; both net you an assortment of the construct immunities of the mech. Since these are locked behind high level prerequisites, I can get behind them.
Interesting as far as this enhancement engine is concerned: The mech’s arms can wield weapons “appropriately sized” (should reference the mech) and make iterative attacks with them; when doing so, the mech is treated as having two fewer weapon slots (min 0); this aspect of the engine, while not necessarily hard to understand, at first seems to be weird in conjunction with the base rules, until you realize that the mech’s default slotted weapons essentially operate like natural attacks as a default.
Okay, so, before we return to the helmsman, let’s briefly talk about the mech as a whole: The system is kinda clever in that is presents mechs as a non-autonomous construct, somewhat akin to how e.g. vehicles operate; they also behave in many ways like an armor, like an extension of the character. Mechanically, the closest approximation I could come up with, is probably the synthesis; in many ways, the base mech-engine generates what you’d expect: A serious increase in durability for all piloting characters, with math-escalation built straight into the core engine. At the same time, we have a serious Achilles’ heel built into the whole thing. The cap regarding armor stacking is very much required, and the hardness means that the mechs can withstand punishment they actually take better; at the same time, much like in the respective anime series, they can’t be quickly healed back up, and damage takes longer to heal/repair, unless supplemented by copious amounts of magic. In short: You’ll be hit rather often, and the hits won’t be easily or quickly cured.
This is intended, and indeed imho works rather well, particularly considering that the characters, when ejected, won’t necessarily be properly armored and armed, though it’s not hard to get a dress-as-swift-action armor. The core engine presented operates pretty well. Where I can see serious issues that you need to be aware of, though, is within the interaction with the other components of engines, such as psionics and the like. Mechs allow you to enhance your character significantly regarding their staying power, and as such, powers and spells intended to shield fragile casters, which apply their personal benefits to both mech and pilot, can become problematic, as they’re not intended to bestow their benefits upon tanky, potent things with hardness. Depending on the type of game you run, this may be a significant problem – or not. If you prefer a system that presents less avenues for exploits, I’d strongly recommend making each mech their own target for the purpose of multi-target effects, and to disallow the application of personal-only power and spell-buffing effects to mechs. From a rules-perspective, AoE attacks can be a bit weird in play, and explaining the sequence explicitly would have made sense and made the system a bit easier to grasp: When hit by an AoE attack, you roll the saving throw first, then apply the effects; i.e., if you failed the save, your pilot character takes half damage, and the mech takes the other half; since most AoE-attacks are energy attacks, however, the mech further halves the damage incurred.
After some tinkering and testing, I do think that the engine presented works pretty well for what it tries to do; it presents an engine for mechs that duplicates many of the tropes we expect from the genre well, operating in many ways like a gestalt-lite second mode for the character. The base system operates well and is really enjoyable, but the combination with other systems leaves it wide open, which can become a rather pronounced issue.
Personally, I think that focusing more on breadth of options rather than a deepening of numerical boosts would have been a more rewarding route – more customization for the mech, less static boosts – or, you know, make the static boosts for Strength etc. cost BP. Instead of the nigh impossible to control and balance wide open transparency the system offers, a more controlled system with select exceptions would have probably been the more elegant and robust solution that also retains the uniqueness of classes and class options that do focus on mechs.
Speaking of which, the helmsman did also have an option for vehicles, right? Well, the book presents rules for technological companions, (combat transport vehicle, infiltration transport vehicle, motorcycle, sportscar, and ship); these come with their own base shapes and use the mech’s table and ability gains instead of the default companion stats, following the mech frames with their benefits and enhancements granted. These do warrant some scrutiny as well; ships, in aquatic campaigns, would e.g. be an escalation over the “horse is more deadly than cavalier” low-level issue, as the ship begins play with a Strength score of 24. My observations regarding the potential issues of the mech engine obviously also apply here as a consequence. Since these vehicles also behave as though the driver was mounted, there are some seriously devastating attacks that can be pulled off with them. That being said, if you wanted to play e.g. Knightrider? Here you go.
But let us return to the helmsman class: At 1st level, we get the supernatural hypercharge ability: At 1st level and every odd level thereafter, we get one hypercharge from a list of 13; these are activated as a swift or immediate action, and sport a cost – this is a cost in essence burn, which recovers at the rate of 1 per minute of meditation. 7th, 13th and 17th level unlock previously level-locked hypercharges. Hypercharges last Intelligence modifier rounds (ability score reference not properly capitalized) unless otherwise noted – e.g. one that nets you an additional attack with the same weapon is instantaneous. These hypercharges can be VERY strong. For one point of essence burn, we have an attack roll or saving throw reroll for the bonded vessel as soon as 1st level, and the ability does not specify whether the decision must be made before results are made known. For 2 points of essence burn, we have an instantaneous repair for the bonded vessel equal to twice the helmsman’s level. (Infinite healing exploit is only an issue if you combine it with an option that allows hit points to be shared between constructs and living things.) You can also choose an akashic armament or veil that “the bonded vessel has essence invested in” (which is an odd phrasing that should probably read “´of the bonded vessel that the helmsman has invested essence in” or something like that, increasing that by 3, even beyond the usual cap. Later we have the means to get a combat feat for which the helmsman meets the prerequisites. Which brings me to a question of hypercharges like this: Could you use this hypercharge to gain consecutive feats/mini-feat trees for a limited duration? RAW, that’d be possible. On the plus-side, the high-level options include AoE ranged and melee attacks. Really weird: This is probably the first time that I’ve seen a base class refer to the ability suite of an archetype: The helmsman can also get a hypercharge that lets them learn one of the overdrive abilities of the reactor knight psychic warrior, using Intelligence instead of Wisdom as governing ability score.
Also at 1st level, we have the akashic armaments ability, which lets the helmsman imbue essence in the bonded vessel as though it were a veil; the limit based on veilshaper level applies to each of the armaments separately, not to the overall armaments. Well, scratch that: The armaments are unlocked at 2nd level, and a glimpse at the class table confirms that the text claiming that this is gained at first level, is wrong here – the ability is gained at 2nd level. The benefits are all unlocked, with 9th and 16th level providing new sets of options. The akashic armaments are in line with the existing options: Artillery, for example, nets you a +1 insight bonus to atk and damage with all weapons, and +1 to the save DC, if any, of weapons. This is pretty much a variant of the daevic’s armbands of the irked elephant, minus base damage and bull rush, but plus the DC-angle. Bonus type prevents stacking exploits. That being said, I’m not a big fan of the high-level initiative boost. On a formal level, we have some deviations from the standards here: Threat range is e.g. noted as “15:20”, and we have instances of feats not capitalized and weapon special properties referenced not in italics.
2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter nets a chakra bind in the progression head, feet, wrist, shoulders, headband, neck, body. Balance-wise, the head-chakra is usually gained only at 6th level, at the very soonest for full-caster type akashic characters; for others, the customary level-range is 8+. This does undercut some of the balance options of the system; take djinni’s turban from City of 7 Seraphs: Akashic Trinity, for example: binding this veil to the head slot nets you unassisted personal flight with perfect maneuverability if bound to the head slot as well as a 20% concealment against ranged attacks if you move at least 20 ft. in a single round. Usually, that’s perfectly fine, as you can do it at 6th level, at the soonest, if you’re a nexus or vizier. The helmsman, though? This fellow can pull that off at first level, which violates PFRPG’s balance-assumption of no unassisted flight below 5th level – and it also kinda undercuts the coolness of having an aerial mech. Alternatively, sparkling alicorn nets you a half-celestial unicorn at first level. Via the chakra bind for head; stare of the ghaele’s head chakra bind nets you 1d6+1 rounds of staggering, which is hardcore at the usual 6th level; at first level, it’s overkill. This, more than anything else, would disqualify the class hardcore for me – but guess what? This seems to be yet another error, for the class table does instead provide the hands chakra at 2nd level, which is very much a feasible choice! This is perhaps the most egregious issue in a class’s rules I’ve seen in a while, as it means the difference between “fundamentally broken” and “works well within the confines of the system.” Not cool.
4th, 10th and 19th level net enhanced capacity; 4th level also allows the helmsman to prevent the destruction of their vessel by sacrificing their own hit points. I get and like the intent here, but with a regenerating pilot, this can be somewhat problematic; with a 1/round caveat or a Burn-like mechanic, this’d retain the spirit of the ability, without resulting in the wondrous almost trash-indestructible mech. As written, this ability rewards you for keeping your mech nearly trashed, as the pilot can be healed up quicker than the mech. At 6th level, the helmsman may 1/day (+1/day at 9th level and every 3 levels thereafter) reallocate essence as a free action. 10th level nets the exclusive interface chakra; 12th level nets turboboost. This nets the vessel the ability to gain the benefits of one additional chakra to which any kind of veil can be shaped, but the helmsman takes essence burn equal to the number of essence invested in the chakra each round this is maintained. At 18th level, this is delimited, reducing essence burn to 1 if the vessel has “1 or more points of essence invested in the hypercharge chakra.” Wait. WHAT? Hypercharge is no chakra! That’s a series of abilities that requires essence burn to use, but you don’t invest anything in it? Turboboost is also not a chakra, so is this supposed to reference interface? I genuinely have no idea how the hell this ability is supposed to work. The capstone lets the character shift their essence as an immediate action an unlimited number of times per day, and hypercharge requires one less point of essence burn, minimum 0. The first part of this ability is phrased imprecisely: The core veilweaving feature provides the means to reallocate essence an unlimited amount of time as a swift action; adaptive response improves that to a free action a limited amount of times per day. So…does the capstone mean to imply that it allows for unshaping and constructing of new veils? It seems to refer to previous limitations and is phrased as a delimited, but the ambiguous verbiage makes this very hard to grasp.
The class is supplemented by a variety of favored class options, as well as 3 archetypes. The first would be the experimental engineer is an engine-tweak that is a straight power upgrade: At 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th and 19th level, you get to choose a mech enhancement, an item creation feat, or a hypercharge. Instead of choosing one hypercharge, you get to choose from more. Pretty sure that, at one point, hypercharges were all unlocked at once, and this archetype was not updated properly. As written, it is a straight power-increase sans drawbacks or tradeoffs. The ability name is not bolded properly. The fleet commander can spread his pilot levels among bonded vessels – a 6th level commander could e.g. have 2 3rd level vessels, 6 1st level vessels…you get the idea; each level, the pilot levels must be allocated, and once chosen, these cannot be redistributed. The fleet shares a bond within 100 ft., +10 ft./level, which includes seeing and hearing through them, which can be ridiculously powerful. The fleet commander can also expend actions to command his fleet; “for example, a fleet commander can spend a move action to command the mechs to move, and a standard action to command them to make a ranged attack.” At 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the fleet commander can issue commands to an additional one of his bonded vessels as the same action, though doing so causes the vessels to take a -1 penalty to atk and skill check “per mech commanded this way.”
The vessels have to take the same action, but may target different targets. Okay, so RAW, only mechs feature in the penalty, which is clearly an error, but at least only one of the vessels gets the very strong vessel shape sharing. Second error: The class feature references the eclipse base class instead of the helmsman. The archetype loses adaptive response. Hypercharges may affect additional vessels for 1 point of essence burn. I spoke too soon, btw.: At 8th level, investing essence into a single bonded vessel for akashic armaments and veils shares that with the entire armada. This replaces enhanced capacity. WAIT. There is no enhanced capacity at 8th level! So what is this supposed to replace? Is the level incorrect? 12th level replaces turboboost with the ability to bond with any vessel as a standard action, treating it as a bonded vessel for all purposes. “The fleet commander may have any number of vessels affected by this ability at a time, but a single vessel may only be considered he bonded vessel of one helmsman at a time.” WTF. Remember: He can see through all. Instead of improved turboboost, we have the ability to command +1 vessel for a point of essence burn How does this interact with the base ability to command more at once at the cost of penalty? Freely? Full choice? Do we need to pay only in excess beyond the basics? The capstone eliminates btw. the base penalties for multi-vessel commands, and allows the vessels to take different actions from each other, which is damn cool – and something the archetype imho should have, at a HIGH cost, gained earlier.
The themistoclien helmsman replaces the hypercharges with Path of War maneuvers, starting off with 3 maneuvers known, 1 readied, and increasing that to 7 and 5, respectively. The disciplines available are the golden lion, piercing thunder, solar wind, and the atrociously overpowered rajah class’s radiant dawn. Maneuver recovery works via standard action, or he may gain temporary essence equal to half Intelligence modifier (minimum 1) that may be used for essence burn….and guess what? We have the ability to execute maneuvers through the bonded vessel, so essentially rajah lite, minus the rajah’s atrociously OP titles, but with a better chassis, and it has the same enhanced capacity glitch as above. Since it, like the fleet commander, suffers from a progression/ability exchange glitch, and since the core class already has one, I’ll stop trying to judge whether this fares on the power scale. Dual-system options are already hard enough to check when all components are in working order.
Beyond the veil list (which is another indicator that the class SHOULD in fact get the hands chakra…), we also get a couple new veils. Ablation field is for the chest slot and increases your DR or hardness, but RAW doesn’t grant you either, energy adaptation while bound; captain’s guided hand is cool, as it provides skill boosts and, when bound to hands, lets your vessel ignore mundane difficult terrain and high winds. Dogfighter’s third eye is exclusive to the helmsman’s mid-level interface chakra, and nets you dodge bonus to AC; interesting: you get to move whenever you’re missed, and while bound, you get blindsense. Also for the interface chakra: expansive uplink, which nets long-range telepathy and sensory sharing; general’s beacon which lets you track allies (and enemies, if bound); ironclad bastion is a more straightforward buff with a movement enhancer when bound; navigator’s boon does what it says on the tin, including find the path (not in italics) while bound. Steel ward’s bond lets you interface with constructs and mind probe them. For non-exclusive chakras, we have the technological items disrupting interface bangles for slots wrist, body, which can also disrupt magic when bound, and warlord’s fist, which nets AoE Intimidate.
Okay, since the helmsman class requires knowing the reactor knight archetype, let us cover that fellow next. The reactor knight gets Fly and Knowledge (engineering) and diminished manifesting, and loses warrior’s path, expanded path, secondary path (powers, trance, maneuvers) and pathweaving in favor of a bonded mech and the overdrive ability referenced by the helmsman. The ability lets the archetype expend their psionic focus in favor of Wisdom bonus + ½ class level (minimum 1) boost points, which last for class level rounds and may be used to activate any overdrive known. At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the archetype gets to choose from one overdrive of a list of 12. These include making Fly checks to negate attacks (broken; skills are super-easy to cheese beyond attack rolls), but that one is at least an immediate action, so only once per round. There is also a physical attack at a 60 ft. range that is extraordinary – which is cool. But how is the very possible scenario of preventing the return of the e.g. detached fist handled? How is this explained with weapons? This is missing the usual clarifications of extraordinary melee attacks executed at range. We also have AoE fire damage, or what about adding Wisdom mod to all attack, saving throws and Acrobatics checks for 3 rounds (no, this has no minimum level), for a lousy 2 boost points that are replenished whenever you want? Compare that with the one that lets you spend 1 boost point and a swift action to exit the mech and land on the floor safely with a DC 5 Acrobatics check. Yeah, let me take the latter over a boost that makes palas cry over their grace being sucky. We also have some formatting inconsistencies here, but this review is already very long. The archetype also provides some skill bonuses, mech enhancements and the capstone has a maximum overdrive that lets them use overdrives sans boost point cost. Don’t get me wrong: This is an archetype I per se LIKE, but it is one that desperately needed some limits, some minimum level requirements and internal balancing.
While we’re on the subject of psionic archetypes, let us cover the remainder of them: The Circuitbreaker cryptic loses the altered defense class feature in favor of Technologist and tech-related crafting feats at higher levels. Instead of evasion, they get Psicrystal Affinity and Psi-Core Upgrade; the latter is a rather cool psionics/tech crossover feat that lets your psicrystal bond with weapons, tools, etc. – which is per se neat. I do have one concern with the feat, though: It lets you convert power points into charges on a 5:1 ratio, which, while not exactly game-breaking, can be a pretty strong delimiter in games, considering how batteries, per the default rules, have a serious chance of going kaput. Lacing traps into targets? Nice. As a whole, I consider this archetype to be solid. The Eclipse archetype for the dread class is, unfortunately, not as well-considered. We have a fleet-scenario that sports much of the same issues of the fleet commander, but add to that the ability to execute ranged untyped damage causing touch attacks; that wasn’t good design for the dread, and it’s still not good design when it can be executed at range and via proxies, particularly since it can also channel terrors at range. At this point, the archetype is already disqualified for me. The mecha sentinel aegis is interesting: Instead of the astral suit, we get an astral mecha, including 3-point customizations for mech enhancements and 4-point customization for size increases, with cannibalize suit replaced with the ability to shake off some negative conditions at higher levels. The medimechanic vitalist can add objects and constructs to their collective, and get a modified powers-list instead of medic powers…oh, and they can exchange repair and healing through their collective. And here we have the HP-with-construct-exchange issue I warned of above.
The overcharger wilder gets a variant surge and three exclusive surge bonds to choose from: Armsmaster, Malfunction and Pilot. No surprise: The pilot surge, which nets you a bonded mech or companion vehicle at full CL is by far the best one. The latter should cost the archetype more. The squad leader tactician has a slightly better ratio there, losing coordinated strike and lesser strategies. As a nitpick, his collective erroneously refers to him as mech pilot, but on the plus-side, the feature is modified to lose the range upgrades, but allow for temporary teamwork feat sharing. Using the collective engine to remotely steer unpiloted mecha is also a neat angle, though I am very weary of the fact that this action tree actually is reduced at higher levels, particularly since there is RAW no limit to the number of collectives you can theoretically be a part of at the same time, which could result in some ridiculous scenes regarding the action economy of the faithful mech servants of a ton of tacticians. There are also two non-psionic archetypes: The cyborg engineer vizier may invest essence in technological items, which allows them to consume fewer charges -1 fewer per essence invested. And with the aforementioned hypoguns, that’d mean infinite healing…and the archetype’s out. (As an aside, combine that with the vitalist, and we have infinite mech healing…) The road warrior fighter is straight-forward, a vehicle companion fighter. No complaints here.
The pdf also features class templates and features, which include blade skills for the soulknife that allow for the emulation of technological melee and ranged weapons. The psionic formulist is a class template that removes the extracts mechanic in favor of psionic extracts; these do tend to be more powerful than regular extracts, but the per se solid implementation, comprehensive lists and considering the theme, I’d very much let those guys into my game. The powerful cerebremancer also gets an archetype, the metaforge is essentially a tweak that is based on the variant rule that treats psionics as advanced tech according to the old adage.
The supplement contains a 10-level PrC, the psiborg adept, who gets ¾ BAB-progfression, d8 HD, ½ Fort-and Will-save progression 8/10ths manifesting progression, and 4 + Int skills per level. Bonded mecha, astral suit, mindblade etc. are also advanced; the archetype suspends the draining of charges of technological items while psionic focus is maintained, and they have a higher implantation threshold, gaining progressively more construct-like abilities. The 8th level ability of the PrC is super strong, auto-regaining psionic focus when manifesting a power, provided you didn’t expend it while manifesting that power. The character may also use charges as power points at higher levels – you get the idea.
Rather cool: The book contains a couple of psicrystal archetypes: The Informant, the OS, and the targeting array – and I genuinely love these. The targeting array gets Int-based aid another, including follow-up feats; the OS gets holographic projections and can hijack robots – and we also get a synthetic animal companion archetype. Kudos for this entire section – apart from a few formal hiccups (ability score reference or size not capitalized, etc.), this section really knocks it out of the park! It’s evocative, balanced and creative and shows what the authors can do.
We also get racial variants, 2 for androids, 2 for forgeborn, 1 for the noral (essentially an akashic variant); Skills are not properly capitalized, bonuses are untyped when they should be racial, and they are lopsided, including ability scores on one side of the mental/physical divide, and one of them nets +4 to Intelligence. . Apart from the champion forgeborn, against whom I can field no nitpicks or gripes, I wouldn’t use them. The book also contains 7+ pages of feats, reprinting the required ones like the Craft feats and Technologist, etc. These also include Craft Companion Vehicle and Craft Mech. As a note: The rules for non-companion vehicles to which they refer point to “pieces” instead of gp. We have feats for having the mech integrated into a set of body armor, the usual class feature enhancers for extra hypercharge, enhancements, etc., replace animal companions with a mech, metapsionic means to cause irradiation with powers based on power points expended. Oh yeah, and then there is that feat that lets you always ignore temporary hit points. Always on. Prerequisite: Psionic Weapon or Fist. That’s it. WTF. Kill it with fire.
The book also has an array of over 20 new psionic powers, and the list includes the voyager class and the gambler among the lists provided. These psionic powers need to be vetted VERY CAREFULLY. Assimilate function, for example, is a costly level 8 power that targets an AI: The AI gets one save, and if failing that, it is instantly destroyed and you get all of its knowledge and special abilities. No duration, mind you. You literally get all of it permanently. Do I even need to explain that this can be an issue? Okay, what if I told you that there are powers that make targets resurrect or incarnate as AIs? Ton of narrative potential, but also a high potential for some logic bugs on why bad guys aren’t nigh-unstoppable.On the plus side, we have astral swarms with the robot subtype and cool augmentation options that include instead making gray goo. Weird, beyond the rather prevalent formatting issues: Even if a power has only one augment option, it lists its augmentation as “1.”, which makes quite a few powers look as though something was cut, when cut copy paste was a more likely culprit. We have rather powerful and flexible terraforming-themed powers, including wide-range weather control, but also changes of gravity, fauna, etc.; while I don’t agree with the cost of all of them, I found myself genuinely appreciating these powers, the formatting snafus here and there notwithstanding; for a scifi or science-fantasy campaign, these certainly are cool and appreciated. Quite a few of these are modeled after comparable spells, expanding the range of psionics while retaining a distinct flavor. I also rather appreciated the complex holographic projections, the power-based piloting, interplanetary movement via psionics, etc. – this kind of stuff. High-level tech-wrecking is cool. Not so cool: One augmentation of a power that lets you recharge tech via psionics lets you multiply the charges by recharging multiple items at once. Still, as a whole, one of the strongest chapters of the book.
The final section includes notes to reflavor both akasha and psionics as cybertech; in the case of the former, we get 4 veils: hover boots, H.U.D., micro-missile gauntlet and nanite cloud. The former being e.g. a variant of lavawalker’s boots that instead of resistances grants you an enhanced speed; H.U.D. is a reflavored sentinel’s helmet – you get the gist. The take on akasha is clever, in that it focuses on flavor; the one on psionics goes a different route, and recommends making them no longer susceptible to dispel magic etc. – essentially, it’s a re-establishing of the psionics-are-different paradigm, with the caveat that effects that affect technology now also affect psionics. Provided your campaign sports enough tech-related materials and effects/spells, this works – if not, be very careful, as psionics already are pretty potent. The section also presents three variants of psionic item creation feats for this context, and adds spells as powers to some class lists.
Editing and formatting are not even close up to the standards of Legendary Games; beyond the rather copious deviations in formatting I noticed, the supplement unfortunately also suffers from several issues on the rules-language level, which include ones that wreck the functionality of otherwise cool concepts. Beyond that, the balancing of quite a few options, internal and external, is dubious. This feels like an excellent first draft; not like a finished book. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard that LG-fans may also know from Starfinder supplements. The supplement sports quite a bunch of full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Matt Daley and Michael Sayre are both talented designers, but the long and painful genesis of this book is readily apparent. The core engine presented is an interesting one that succeeds at its intended goal of depicting rules for a game alike e.g. Gundam SEED, but it is also one that would have benefited from not trying to fuse all those sub-systems – in many ways, one of the things that undo parts of this book, is that it loses track of all the moving parts of the systems it taps into, misses balancing caveats that were clearly intended to be there, misses internal level prerequisites for some ability arrays, etc.
This is particularly evident, as the book does e.g. show a cognizance of balancing caveats regarding e.g. threat range limitations and similar fine details that often are overlooked. The intent is here, the execution falls a bit short. As a consequence, the power-levels fluctuate starkly between OP and “I’d use and allow that without missing a heartbeat!” regarding quite a few pieces of content, and the issues are never there out of necessity for a vision, they are there because of what feels like refinement missing.
Again: The core of Arcforge’s engine does its job in a solid manner, though expansion of it instead of the inclusion of the archetypes might have been the more prudent strategy. In many ways, this feels like one of the most rushed books I’ve seen by Legendary Games so far.
After I had perused the mecha-engine, I was excited to see whether the classes and class features would offset some of its potential rough spots, but instead, they went the other way, exacerbating some flaws with numerous exploits, a ton of glitches, problems in functionality, etc. In many instances, supplemental materials with the proper focus could have rendered the engine a Top Ten-level masterstroke – the potential is here. Still, this does leave me hopeful for future installments!
And yet, while this book is deeply flawed, and while I’d advise extreme caution when implementing it in your campaign, it is also a book that is genuinely inspiring, that has its moments of brilliance, and that, if you can get your players to agree to refraining from gaming the system in its plentiful available ways, can make it a compelling cornerstone for entire campaigns. I just wished this had received the control, clean-up and refinement it needed. As provided, I can only recommend this with some serious reservations, and can’t go higher than 3 stars, consisting of a median of some components in the lower rating echelons, and some in the higher ones.
You can get this inspired, but flawed offering here on OBS.
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