Bloodforge (revised edition)
This massive book clocks in at 98 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 93 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, the first race herein receives +… Wait. Wait a second. My usual in-depth analysis, piece-by-piece approach doesn’t work here. This is literally a huge book of races and if I go into that level of detail, we’ll be here come next Christmas-season. So, I’ll paint a picture in broader strokes than usual, all right? First, if you’re not 100% sure what this book is – this is essentially PFRPG’s update of 3.0’s Bastards and Bloodlines – a book much lauded for its creative race, but also somewhat notorious as one of the many, many ones in the 3.X era that had no idea whatsoever what this “Bahlenz”-thing is.
Speaking of this dreaded concept – the pdf does one thing right from the get-go: It ignores the flawed RP-guidelines established in the ARG in favor of an individual balancing, which I applaud. Each race comes with a short guideline as per name, appearance, demeanor, background and their relations to adventurers, with a handy table explaining the crossbreed-relationships. A massive age table and its corresponding height & weight-table also can be found herein, satisfying that pet-peeve of mine. The pdf begins by establishing the respective crossbreed subtypes featured within its pages, which is similarly helpful.
Another component of the racial design I generally can applaud would be the equilibrium of racial bonuses/penalties – most, though, alas, not all races herein receive a bonus to a physical and a mental attribute and one penalty, resulting in races that are not by their design geared towards specific career paths. It should also be noted that the pd thankfully avoids attribute-bonuses of more than +2 per the base racial traits. Another pet-peeve of mine (and many a DM out there), races that can fly at first level, also are thankfully absent here – instead, a two feat-chain that begins with slow-falling via vestigial wings and ends with proper flight, tied to HD when applicable and thus circumvents this issue. Excellent work there. I do have something I’d like to mention – the pdf always uses the phrase “X can see in the dark out to 60 feet.” for Darkvision. Something in me cringes when I read this sentence. It’s usually “up to” as a wording convention. Personal nitpick, though, and will not influence the final verdict.
Bastards and Bloodlines also did not have to deal with favored class options – which this massive book thankfully provides for quite a few of the classes, notably often also for Psionic classes, Akashic classes or Path of War classes. The minor hiccups in formatting previously present have been dealt with.
The races generally sport a couple of alternate racial traits for further customization (with e.g. the elf/unicorn-hybrid alicorn also coming with alternate racial traits for evil brethren…)and each race comes with full-color art – which represents one of the most poignant and immediate changes the revised edition featured: The previously at times needlessly cheese-cake artwork (and the couple of truly horror-inducing ones) have been replaced. While not all artworks adhere to the level of awesomeness featured on the cover, the majority of them actually now are amazing, high-quality pieces.
Movement rate-wise, we run the gamut from slow land speed 20 ft. to 45 ft. The respective races now all have their respective speed values for their movement rates properly codified and presented.
Before I go into the races: Please, read the whole review, don’t just abort after a few lines. Why? Because I went very nitpicky on this one, showcasing some of the issues the races sport and you might construe that as problematic – however, there are concepts herein that warrant close scrutiny beyond the races and the flaws I’m about to point out. So, please – at least read the conclusion. Thank you.
So let’s take a look at the races, shall we? These would be the elitist and proud hybrids of elves and giant eagles, the winged aellar – here, an interesting choice can be observed: Instead of providing Fly as a class skill via a racial trait, the race can opt into it via favored class options, many of which add the skill to the list alongside a bonus – though one that does feel a slight bit odd in the wording: “Gain Fly as a class skill and a +1/2 bonus.” is okay wording-wise, but could have been slightly more elegant. On the plus-side, skill-starved fighters instead receive a full +1 bonus per FCO – I applaud that!
Where I get grumpy is with the option to use the fly-skill in lieu of their Reflex save when flying. Skills can easily be buffed through the roof. On the less nitpicky side, I do love how the previously slightly opaque ability to deal additional damage when charging while airborne has been made more precise. Similarly, the cool option to decrease miss-chances due to sight-based obstacles etc. now is as crisp and precise as it should be – kudos for improving it.
Instead of vestigial wings, some aellar receive claws, which, I assume, follow the default damage values for the type and scale up to d6 later – why “assume”? Because the ability does not specify the base damage value, nor whether they are treated as primary or secondary natural weapons – yes, one can assume the default, but from a customer’s point of view the information still ought to be here, at one glance. This issue with natural weapons can be extended throughout the pdf, btw. The short fluffy write-up is inspiring and the revised edition, while still not perfect, is significantly improved.
So let’s move on to the aforementioned alicorn, the first of quite a lot of fey-themed crossbreed races herein – the signature ability here being that the alicorn can transfer damage, diseases and poisons and ability damage to herself. The ability was a horrific clusterf*** before and has been significantly improved. However, it still has no daily cap, just begging an alicorn player to come up with a way to cheese it. I do believe that this may be an oversight, though, for the similarly fixed evil variant that can instead push these upon others now does have a daily cap.
Blinklings, the blink dog/halfling hybrids, on the other hand, are awesome all-around- 3/day reactive concealment as an immediate action? Yes, please! Extending their sight to the ethereal? Utterly unique and cool – and has some neat narrative potential. Seriously, I love this race and its write-up!
The ability that nets a blurring effect while moving has been reigned in and now is balanced versus the core ability – as a nitpick, its referred spell is not italicized, but oh well.
Decataurs, Elf/Centaur-hybrids sport a base speed of 45 ft., which seemed odd to me and they ignore movement and skill-check penalties caused by difficult terrain – which seems excessive to me – why not provide a scaling mechanic here instead of downright immunity? though, to be fair, the provided caveat versus damage-causing terrain helps. On the plus-side, the rest of the race is pretty much the best centaur-like race I’ve seen in quite a while. I feel obliged to mention that as per the writing of this review, the errata has not been incorporated into this book. Yup, this unfortunately means that the revised edition of this book does not contain the errata’s information on hooves vs. feet. Oh, and as pretty much always (with ONE exception) when I review a centaur-ish race, I found myself shaking my head at the lack of notes regarding the handling of ladders and similar obstacles. On the plus-side, going for the 2-legged satyrkin alternate racial traits does alleviate this, so this kinda gets a pass.
The freedom-loving Dreigi, half-giants with an ancient grudge (against fey and chaotic outsiders) are flavor-wise one awesome piece of work, with an inspiring artwork etc. – but their massive scaling bonuses versus aforementioned creatures (+2 to saves, damage and atk, +1 more for every 4 levels), is too much in my book – though that one is easily scaled down, and it should be. Why? Because these guys get two damn awesome signature abilities: For one, their attacks count as cold iron; they may also create 1/day difficult cold-iron caltrop-y terrain. Secondly, they ignore the hardness of magical barriers and add their character level to damage versus them. Yes, this means they have a fighting chance versus walls of force and the like. I love this race and really would enjoy it more, had it not this one critical flaw that otherwise mars a superb example of race design – it’s also unnecessary, mind you, since the theme of pro-freedom/anti-enslavement also is reflected in quite a few other racial abilities.
You may have noticed something – no Tanis-syndrome race so far. And indeed, you will not find mopey, angsty half-breeds herein. Take the Grendle, combining the best of parent race and troll, these guys are hardy and charismatic – and heal as if they had rested every hour. Apart from an unnecessary and imho rather OP ability to demoralize foes at +2 as an immediate action after being hit (or first level AoE-demoralize), the grendle is stylish and works very well. Strange, considering the revisions made to the book: The alternate racial traits still feel confused: One mentions “increasing a morale bonus to Str to +4” – a morale bonus thankfully cut in this iteration of the book, thus leading me to believe that we have a remnant of a previous iteration here. The ability the trait references simply does not exist. On the plus-side, gaining swim speed, but requiring 1 hour submersion in water to benefit from their healing each day is a pretty cool alternate racial trait, as is gaining a climb speed, but also fire vulnerability.
Half-Gnolls are glorious – powerful, but lacking any issues (apart from once being called “It”, to which some gnoll-aficionados will vehemently object) – scent and claws plus pack hunting – exactly what you’d want and expect! Hunting down fleeing foes is also neat, though an ability that automatically deals bonus damage versus foes suffering from “a condition” should a) be more limited and restricted to the half-gnoll and b) once again, specify the damage type as belonging to the weapon used to execute the attack. Finally, since ranged builds already are pretty adept at the whole damage-dealing, I’d restrict the ability to melee – it’s called Born Predator, not “I shoot you from behind my allies.” 😉 Still, all in all, a great race, though the alternate traits can use some finetuning.
Speaking of finetuning – the half-goblinoids, while melee-centric, all can generally considered pretty cool – though again, the alternate racial traits and what they replace does not always match power-wise: What would you take: A +2 bonus to Perception and taking 20 for 30 ft x 30 ft as a full-round action or +8 (!!!) to Stealth and +4 (!!!) to Escape Artist plus the option to squeeze through tiny-sized areas? Yeah, the fast search is awesome – I like it. But I don’t see these two line up – the bonuses of the latter are too pronounced in my book; I’d cut them in half AT LEAST.
Half-hobgoblins still see better in the dark than their parent race (90 feet that pretty sure should be 60 instead…), but apart from that, both they and the half bugbears are pretty damn glorious! Also on the strong, but cool side, half-sahuagin may be slightly too well off on the winner’s end-side regarding bonuses, at least for my tastes, but in groups that sport powerful races, the will fit in perfectly. Thankfully, the previously rather ill-conceived 4-arjm option has been purged.
The Hexbreather, heirs to the dreaded hags, have some nice hex-related abilities in the base form and yep, the revised book does fix some minor hiccups, making me generally more than okay with the result. One alternate racial trait also refers to the cursed condition, now properly defined (reference to Path of War Expanded, fyi).
The half-nymph Houri are a gorgeous example (literally) of this book’s tricks – no issues, functional, versatile and unique signature abilities (debuff-beauty 1/day or friend to all animals…) -oh, and the new artwork rocks. The same can be said about the Kestrel – good, positive halfling/harpy-hybrids that use their powers for good- generally speaking, at least. The Kijin are the elf/oni crossbreeds and hit two rough spots for me – one, they have a per-encounter ability. You all know how much I love those. Secondly, they essentially cover the same niche as Rite Publishing’s wyrd – and the wyrd benefit from a much more detailed and for me, compelling, cultural background courtesy of the expanded room within they can operate – full pdf versus couple of pages. I don’t consider them perfect either, but in direct comparison, the wyrd are superior by a long shot. The same applies for the direct comparison of Rite’s take on the lurker versus the one herein, though again, I consider both to fall slightly short of what they could be.
Nevertheless, this pdf does manage an utterly admirable job at rendering the respective halfbreeds distinct and culturally unique – to the point where some of the brief fluff-write-ups actually captivated me enough to make me consider playing the half-breeds – and that coming from a guy who went out of 3.X with a distinct oversaturation regarding fiendish/celestial creatures and half-dragons as well as a distinct dislike for mopey halfbreeds. So yeah, this pdf can be considered inspired in that regard – from the roper/dwarf bio-weapons created by the phrenic hegemony to the love-conquers-all children of merfolk and men to the inspired and monstrous ornibus, suffused with the essences of howlers, the halfbreeds manage to avoid thematic redundancy.
And, if the above exercises in racial nitpickery were not ample clue for you – over all, they tend to be *almost* awesome – during my analysis, I regularly found myself enjoying myself and getting ready to write a recommendation for a race, only to have some ability overextend what I consider viable. It should be noted, however, that the revised version does eliminate a couple of the big issues.
Generally, about 1 ability among the racial traits, more often among the alternate racial traits, can be considered too strong and in need of nerfing – or its balancing versus its replacement feels like it is wonky, but there are similarly races that work well. To give you an example – both the ornibus and the half-satyr pipers can be considered generally well-crafted. Similarly, the ophidian halfbreeds rana now have a scaling trick that lets them expend their psionic focus for better disarming…and they increase their AC in each round where they manifested something, providing a nice, built-in flux. And yes, if that and the examples above were not clue enough for you – there is yet another thing I need to address regarding the races – and it’s a HUGE plus!
Know how the ARG-races tend to feel somewhat sameish? How many races are just a recombination of the same tools, again and again? Not so here – every race herein has at least one unique trick that sets it apart – a racial signature ability, if you wish. I *love* this general idea, if not always the execution of them. – the half-gargoyles may e.g. use their wings to take 1/2 damage of an adjacent ally – think of it as a limited, immediate action-based shield other and yes, the wording has been improved in the revised edition. It is an ability like this that really sets the race apart and makes it feel distinct – also in a mechanical way.
I have mentioned the tentacle-faced obvious heir to the half-illithids, haven’t I? Yeah. The woodborn, which are just the race for anyone who ever wanted to tackle playing Pinocchio? Yeah, awesome. Even better – an alternate racial trait that nets you an assassin vine symbiote that deals more damage on a grapple just oozes style and its wording has been similarly improved.
Winterwolf/Hellhound/Worg/humanoid half-breeds also deserve two thumbs up regarding their ability-suites.
Now this pdf does have more to offer than just a metric ton of half-breed races – namely templates – for bi/quadruped creatures, half-doppelgängers/medusas, half-elementals (!!!), half-rakshasas and also so-called titanblooded creatures – the templates are pretty solid all-around, with ample cool ideas and tools for mad scientists/transmuters to play with – nothing grievous to complain about here.
The book furthermore offers a distinct array of feats, most of which have the [heritage]-descriptor. The feats run a wide gamut: We have for example one that substitutes a mental attribute (Wis or Cha) for Con – which would make me yell – however, it is restricted to bonus hp, not all the saves – which does, surprisingly, work for me. The presence of the Feral Fighter-feat feels a bit odd – it nets you claws or a bite as appropriate for your creature type. Why don’t some of these races use this instead of the at times redundant or unnecessary-seeming amounts of natural weapons some receive? That would also put players agenda higher on the list. Bloodsong adept has thankfulyl been nerfed to now feature a cap -the feat allows you to use bardic performance only affecting your type/subtype, basically providing+1/2 your bardic performances additional performances as bloodsong performances that only affect your race. On the okay-side, there are multiple SP-granting feats and some that e.g. net grab to add to bites and tentacle attacks – not a fan of the latter, but that is personal taste.
Now on the other side, there is Mixed Blood, previously a feat, now a trait, which covers almost two pages and presents a wide variety of odd bloodlines/unlocked types. The re-evaluation here was well-made indeed, considering the ease by which it now can work in conjunction with various builds.
There also are 4 racially-themed PrCs – the brief run-down of them would be as follows:
The Bloodsong Heritor is the herald of his people – a solid, good bardic PrC with neat mechanics and not much to complain about – previously, its main issue did lie in the broken feat upon which it was built – now, it works and represents a nice PrC with unique performances that also include the expenditure of multiple rounds for interrupt-style effects while still maintaining the performance. Think of it as a less complex, much more limited and racially-themed take on what Interjection Games’ Composition magic does.
The Kith Hunter is an okay slayer-type 5-level PrC. Seen better, seen worse. The Kithlord can be considered a solid racial champion PrC with commander-style tricks/auras and even teleports at higher levels – okay, though I’d be wary of this PrC in a uni-race group – mostly great for NPC-adversaries. Also has per-encounter tricks, if that bugs you. The 5-level mongrel has the most choices among the PrCs, offering quite an ability-array to choose from and some rather unique bonuses – including ways of getting rid of ability damage by leeching off magic – nice one.
The book also sports a small selection of new spells, which can generally be considered among the more powerful examples available – they are not bad, mind you, but the option to e.g. have earthskin and stoneskin overlap may not fit well with some groups. That being said, spells that provide minor bonuses versus e.g. kobolds and goblins will not break anyone’s game. The spells are solid.
Finally, the book provides new magical items, including 4 new special abilities, one of which nets you a standard action in a surprise round for just the equivalent of +1…though you remain flat-footed. A +1 enhancement that bypasses the DRs of elementals and constructs essentially renders golems utterly useless at +1 enchantment – ridiculously OP and should be torn to smithereens. On the plus-side, conjuring forth a red blade of flame via bracers is pretty cool and the traveler’s backpack will be a favorite for most wilderness adventures. So, all in all, solid section with some winners and some that obviously require significant nerfing.
Editing and formatting in the revised iteration of this book have improved and taken care of the most glaring of issues. There are some minor deviations still here, but nothing too glaring. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf has copious full-color artworks – the revised edition’s artworks are pretty amazing for the most part and render this a beautiful book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the file comes witha second, more printer-friendly iteration.
You may have gotten a wrong impression from this review – I actually like this book.
No, really. I was honestly positively surprised by this pdf.
The signature abilities provided for the races, the unique, non-redundant fluff and the overall balancing of the races is great. No, really, I mean it. Alas, even in the revised iteration, this book is also the very definition of flawed – almost every race had either a wording hiccup or one ability that just went beyond what would be considered balanced in all but high-powered tables. Essentially, I could play “look for the bit that’s too strong” with a huge array of races I otherwise loved – races that feel more organic and viable than they have any right to, provided the limited room they each have. So let me state this again:
This is a good book; in the revised version, it is a good to very good book.
The thing is, it could have easily been an OMG-HOW-AWESOME-IS-THAT-book. Perhaps I expected too much from the revised version of this tome. Matt Medeiros, Jade Ripley and Andreas Rönnqvist have ultimately crafted a massive racial book that has been streamlined and improved SIGNIFICATLY since its previous iteration. It is, as a whole, vastly superior to the previous version of bloodforge (still available as per the writing of this review as a .zip included among the downloads).
I can see people hating and loving this book. The rules-language of the revised version has significantly improved, and similarly the big, really bad hiccups are all cleared up; the issues that remain are the small ones. I’d still only recommend it unsupervised for high-powered games, but the chance that a GM can say “yes” to this book as a whole has increased by approximately +40%, at least as far as I’m concerned. The races do feel iconic, they can be cleaned of the problematic bits and a capable DM can adjust them with relative ease to a lower power-level, if such is required. Oh, and they, and that cannot be under-emphasized, do not suffer from the sucky bloat of skill-enhancer racial traits (Get +2 to Skill A and B) that hound so many races since the ARG, instead providing something unique.
How to rate this, then? See, this is where I was frankly disappointed on a high level: When I saw the new cover, heard about the changes made, I was stoked and downright excited to see the final book, hoping I’d be able to praise it to the high heavens. I hereby do praise it – it represents a SIGNIFICANT improvement in both balance and aesthetic quality as well as rules-language precision. This does net the book +1 star, rating-wise. There still are some hiccups in the details here, though – and some aspects still need nerfing as far as I’m concerned. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars for the revised edition. Whether you round up or down is contingent on how picky you are regarding wording and, more importantly, the power-level of your game: High-powered groups will want to definitely round up, while gritty groups may want to round down. As a person, I will round down, but as a reviewer, I do have my in dubio pro reo policy, which means my official verdict will round up.
You can get this now significantly improved racial book here on OBS!
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