Artifacts & Artifice Volume I

Artifacts & Artifice Volume I

This massive hardcover clocks in at 385 pages of content, already disregarding front-end matter and the like – that’s the content.

 

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a hardcover print copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased, critical review. My review is based on the hardcopy – I do not own the pdf-iteration.

 

That beings aid, the first 11 pages are there to explain the peculiarities of Infinium Game Studios’ unique approach to game design. These include house rules like using reward stars, but extend beyond that: The book explains its color-coded boxes and icons, and, more importantly, the FlexTale concept of scaling: Statblocks are quadded in 4 categories: Low level (level 1 -4), moderate level (5-8), advanced (10-15) and elite (15+). The notion of quadding applies to statblocks, of course, but also to the respective individual items. This section also presents a random treasure table for use with the book.

 

The massive book contains a total of 47 different magic items – which does not seem like an awful lot; however, essentially, there are 4 versions for each of the items contained within; picture that like lesser, moderate, mighty and greater iterations, for example. These items sometimes adhere to linear progressions, but the respective items do not necessarily just adhere to just being a sequence of straight increases in bonuses. Each of the items also comes with a so-called “wielder” – that would be a NPC Codex-style NPC that comes with a quadded statblock as well. If the NPC sports a mount or the like, quadded statblocks for said entity are also included. As always with Infinium Game Studios, the NPCs come with cut-copy-pasted rules-texts of class features and the like to reduce page-flipping. The consequence of these inclusions is that you have a ready-made NPC to introduce the item, but on average, that’s also 3 pages, more if familiars etc. are present. The builds themselves tend to fall on the valid side of things, but do not expect to get builds that will challenge groups consisting of power-gamers or ones with a high degree of system- and optimization- mastery. Archetypes are used, but no classes from ACG (not too sad there, admittedly), Occult Adventures, Ultimate Intrigue or Wilderness are included – in short, the builds are pre-ACG.

 

The amount of detail featured by the items in the book goes beyond the inclusion of NPCs. We have descriptions, effects explained, and each item notes a line of whether it’s part of a synergy set…which not a single item in this book is. Quirks of ownership are also noted, though in the absence of intelligent items, these sections are not necessarily universally useful, and are included due to consistence.

 

On the more useful side of things, there are notes for the discovery of the respective item, a section that comments on the ubiquity of the item in question, and text that contextualizes the item in-game regarding its notoriety. The items also include oftentimes interesting notes on how the item was developed – we get brief background stories about all items. One of the most useful components of the book is the section on rumors and lore, for there are no less than 4 tables: One is the default context, the second is information gained from key NPCs, one for townsfolk with names, and one for blindly trying to obtain information. These tables further help ground and contextualize the items n the context of the game-world. The book goes beyond that: Each item also comes with VERY detailed notes on hooks for the items in relation to classes, with general hooks included as well. Furthermore, the items come with mini-quests, which are essentially quest-structure outlines. These tend to be better than most adventure sketches one can find in comparable publications.

 

As for the formatting of the items, the book does an above-average job at properly formatting e.g. the construction notes and the like, but in the run-on-text, the book tends to be less consistent with formatting item- or spell-references, particularly if these do not refer to the respective item in question. It should be evident at this point, that the selling proposition, and the focus of this book, is different from the usual magic item books you’d see in PFRPG or 5e.

 

Instead of a focus on pure rules, the majority of the content herein is devoted to the context of the item within the framework of the game world; it’s not just about the items, it’s also about how they interact with the world. The default here is Infinium’s Aquilae setting, though there are absolutely no issues integrating them into the frame of fantasy settings. In a way, the aesthetics often can apply to the context of slightly grittier settings as well, focusing on a sense of plausibility. This focus on the context and ease of integration of an item into the game changes, thus, the central focus of the book’s appeal and makes it behave differently than most comparable item-supplements regarding where the value of this supplement comes from.

 

This is important, because there is one aspect of the book that is pretty consistently, not always, but most of the time, something I consider to be highly problematic: The pricing.

The cost to construct in relation to the price is not always correct, and beyond that, the cost is often VERY low. Compared with most other item supplements, the costs to purchase and to create the items in question is atrociously low; to the point where pricing is off to a degree where construction of these should NOT be allowed.

 

To give you an example for this, let’s compare, shall we? The boots of speed, a standard PFRPG item, let the wearer, as a free action, clicks their heels together for 10 rounds of haste per day. Price? 12,000 gp, half that to create them.

In comparison: The dunnari swiftguard helm’s highest incarnation’s benefits are: +10 enhancement bonus to base speed for 12 hours a day (swift action to activate); 5/day spider climb, 5/day haste and 3/day expeditious retreat – all as SPs. The cost for this? 13,500 gp to buy, 7,000 gp to create.

You don’t have to be a genius to notice a certain discrepancy regarding power-levels here. This discrepancy is pronounced to the point where the power-level of the items for their price is so badly off, that I strongly suggest not allowing for any of the items herein to be constructed according to the rules presented within this book.

 

In another magic item book following the usual presentation standards, i.e. just the rules-relevant information, this would suffice to utterly sink the entire tome. Due to the different focus of this tome, though, this might well still retain value to you, courtesy of its holistic approach and focus on context. The book also sports item ideas and concepts that I enjoyed more than I genuinely should, but let us go into the details – what follows will be a detailed, if not exhaustive, discussion of items herein.

 

We begin with the alchemical collar, and item that lets you ingest potions quicker (swift action for the lowest level version, free action for the others) at the cost of taking damage as the potion is injected. The highest-level version automatically kicks in when dropping unconscious. I like this. There are some issues, though: The item should e.g. have a caveat that makes the taking of the damage required to gain the potion-benefits, and higher level versions can hold more doses and be activated mentally. This item does not require a free hand, and is, even in its lowest power-level, is superior to e.g. the Accelerated Drinker feat, which requires holding the potion and requiring a move action. So this one is interesting, but needs some tweaking.  This is also funny, considering that the potion gorget covers pretty much the same niche, but behaves more like a potion-strawhat. Less problematic, but also less interesting.

 

That being said, the next item is one that can be crucial for a certain character concept: The bandicoot sheath lets you draw or store increasing numbers of wands as a swift action, and the more potent versions slightly recharge wands in them. Since Quick Draw expressively prohibit using it in conjunction with the feat, this item is a wandslinger tool. Speaking of which: There is a super-cool Batman utility-belt-style item called the bandolier of options; I genuinely liked this one, and don’t have serious complaints beyond the pricing component here. The toolwebbing also is such utility belt, but it behaves as such not as a kind of bag of holding, but instead as a kind of omnitool.

 

There is the belt of dark knives, a belt that produces daggers, which can be used in melee or ranged combat, with the higher versions allowing for the adding of enhancement bonuses and granting the Distance Thrower feat. An issue here: You can RAW sell the daggers. The item should have a caveat that prevents sale of daggers drawn. The book also sports cursed items, such as the diadem of despair, which not only can grant control, it can drive those attempting to divest themselves of it insane. As you can see, while the execution per se tends to not always be perfect, the concepts tend, generally, to be interesting. The thighknife garter is an item that also lets you draw weaponry quicker (with the respective feats granted), and nets an untyped bonus to concealing the item – that should be typed. The blink greaves  have a limited activation duration per day, and net you BOTH concealment and increasing daily durations of invisibility and at higher levels, shadow walk.

 

The ferngirdle nets a “competency” [sic!] bonus (the book otherwise tends to get bonus types right, fyi) to Knowledge (nature) checks, and also enhances the “DC of spells cast by the wearer with the Plant or Animal domain” – I assume that to apply only to the domain spells. The girdle also nets Natural Spell and Shaping Focus in its highest iteration. The higher the iteration, the higher the druid spell level that may be cast sans material components. (Weird, fyi: Why not have set-bonuses with e.g. the headdress of the fern priestess obviously part of the deal.)

 

The gloomsheath poisons items put inside, with low, percentile chances of self-poisoning for re-applying poisons to it. Straightforward. The vorpal scabbard (should not be called “vorpal” – that word means something else in PFRPG) nets weapons drawn from it with increasing enhancement bonuses for a few rounds, with the higher two versions also making them keen.

 

I REALLY like the grimcollar: On self-application of the item, it nets pretty massive bonuses to Intimidate and Sense Motive (up to +8), but whenever a check is failed, the item provides progressively worse negative conditions for a few rounds. Additionally, when applied by a master, the item makes the wearer more susceptible and changes their behavior towards the individual. I have not seen such a take on the concept. I like it. On the other hand, the magekiller helm imposes a -1 penalty to the wearer, and all abilities deal 1 hp damage to the wearer per round of activation.

 

The mortal pendant is an amulet that has a percentile chance of making you recover hit points for foes slain; oddly, the first and third iteration net temporary hit points, while the 2nd and 4th version heal. That’s weird. Hand me my bag of kittens to slaughter. On the plus side, the mistskin suit has a pretty extended ability, the mistfloat, which essentially makes you a smudge at the edge of your foe’s vision, visible, but not easy to define – this not entirely incorporeal state is very potent, but also dangerous, as being trapped in rock, or being reduced to partial space will be potentially fatal.

 

The spellbinder sheath is applied to wands, and nets you the free benefits of metamagic feats applied to the wands’ effect, with the higher level versions allowing for the application of multiple metamagic effects at once. These have a daily limit, and in the case of the most potent one, that’d be 5/day Enlarge Spell, 5/day Extend Spell, 3/day Empower Spell, and 2/day Maximize Spell. It should be noted that each item comes with a really impressive full-color artwork – this is particularly relevant in the context of e.g. the bleakmoth mask, a delightfully disturbing albino-moth mask that nets darkvision and some darkness-related SPs. The item’s effects are nothing special, but the visuals, the aesthetic? They’re awesome. The dreadhawk visor is another really aesthetically-pleasing item – essentially a kind of bird-skull-y mask, which not only nets darkvision, but also up to +6 to attack and damage rolls. And up to +7 to Perception check, with bonus type switching from morale bonus to luck. Cost: 13,800 gp. Contrast with the dunnari promise choker, which nets you up to a +4 insight bonus to AC and +2 Charisma, costing 60,000 gp.

 

Speaking of genuinely good ideas – what about essentially magical ablative brittle barding that may be falling apart, but it also hurts those foolish enough to assault the mount. I like many items here in concept, but in the execution, there are issues to be found. Take a really cool one, the corset of last resort. This item causes negative things to happen to those that can’t keep their hands to them, with triggering as an immediate action; low acid damage, electricity damage, and poison. In the highest iteration, the effect that can be triggered is 100 negative energy damage, half as much on a successful save. This works 5/week. Get eaten, kill monster. (As another example for the pricing being broken: That version costs 18,500 gp, 8,450 to create…) Corsetshield armor also is something for contexts where armor wouldn’t work, and nets an armor bonus for a limited amount of minutes (30 to 240) per day.

 

Corvanni shouldergarbs net bonuses versus attacks while flat-footed. The crimson parade armor is strange: It’s a leather armor that nets, in its best version, a +8 to AC. This would be the equivalent of a +6 enhancement bonus (or bracers of armor +6, 36K gold); it also nets you a +2 natural armor bonus to AC (stacks) AND a +2 shield bonus to AC. Also +4 morale bonus to ALL saves (equivalent of 16K gold) AND +6 to Diplomacy and Intimidate. This version costs 110,000 GP. And it’s one item, which would seem okay, right? However, the item’s bonus types stack with the usual candidates, and this item at the very least freed up 3-4 item slots. And remember: This item has NO enhancement bonus.

 

On the other hand, we get items like the rampart shield: A shield +3 that should have been designated as a tower shield, which nets you a 40% chance for ranged attacks targeting you, DR 10/magic versus ranged attacks, 3/day wind wall and 1/day repel wood. It’s a conceptually cool one, but why is it not properly codified as a tower shield? That’s relevant for proficiencies! Or is that supposed to be an almost-tower-shield? It obviously should be a tower shield, when RAW, it’s a normal shield with the base stats of a tower shield!

 

At this point you probably have a pretty good overview of the glitches that haunt the mechanical aspects of this book.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are better than what you’d expect for a micro-outfit such as Infinium Game Studios, but there are quite a few issues in the details. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard we know from the other Infinium books. The artworks deserve special mention: The book sports a lot of top-tier full-color artworks for the items, often to the point where they really make me want to use them. I can’t comment on the virtues, or lack thereof, of the pdfs. The hardcover is sturdy and massive.

 

J. Evans Payne and Bernie McCormick have crafted a book that I genuinely should hate. There are a lot of issues with many of the items herein, most of them stemming from a lack of understanding regarding the functionality of enhancement bonuses of items, and the fact that there are very clear correlations between what type of item should deliver what kind of bonus. Beyond stacking and exploits, there is a reason why magic items use qualities and enhancement bonus equivalents and the like, and the value of slots, of bypassing the caps imposed on item power via non-enhancement bonus types – all of that makes this book deeply problematic on a rules level.

 

And yet, I’d genuinely have a hard time mentioning a single item herein that doesn’t have at least one component that I consider to be interesting.  The focus on the context on lore, and the concepts underlying these items, both are often interesting, and dare I say it, inspiring in quite a bunch of instances. This notwithstanding, this tome is a flawed book.

 

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this, will be very much contingent on the value you place on the lore, rumors, background and the like in direct contrast to the mechanical issues. As a reviewer, though, I need to rate this book in its entirety, and as such, I can’t just close my eyes before the rules issues. If the rules components are your primary interest here, I can’t recommend this book. If the concepts and magic items less as a commodity, and more as unique items within a world’s frame are more important, this might well be right up your alley. In the end, this is a book with some highlights, but also some real shade. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

 

You can get this book here on OBS.

 

There also is a 5e-version available, but I can’t comment on that one. You can get it here.

 

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Endzeitgeist out.

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