This massive book clocks in at 101 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 97 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. 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.” 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 – even though some of the aforementioned classes have not yet been released in their final iteration. This makes judging the effects of such FCOs impossible for me, so be aware that changes may court issues in the future there – emphasis on “may”, mind you, and no, I’m not going to fault the pdf for that, mainly because I enjoy futureproofing when handled well. As a nitpick, I did notice minor quibbles à la missing plus-signs in FCOs à la “Add 1/4 to X” – nothing grievous, though.
The races generally sport 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 is something to be applauded…dreaded at the same time in this case – while most of the artworks herein are evocative and nice, others felt jarring to me – the spring child’s facial expression was an uncanny valley experience for me and more creepy than the tentacle-faced, gorgeous thrallspawn. Movement rate-wise, we run the gamut from slow land speed 20 ft. to 40 ft. (sometimes not adhering to the proper nomenclature for the like, but never to the extent where the intent becomes opaque) – though, on a nitpicky side, the racial write-ups do not specifically note base movement rates of 30 feet. The pdf also introduces a bunch of racial subtypes in the beginning, which generally work, though here, once again, I have a nitpick – the slimeblooded subtype refers to the type of slimes, which does not exist – it’s “oozes.” Small hiccups like this can be found throughout the book, including a couple plural/singular glitches here and there – not to a bad extent, but to one that feels slightly less refined than usual for Dreamscarred Press-books.
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? 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 nitpicky side, I do love how they deal additional damage when charging while airborne, but I do think the damage type ought to be specified and linked to the weapon employed – admittedly, again, a nitpick. A second nitpick would pertain the nice ability of raptor’s gaze, which decreases the miss chance incurred by 10%. balance-wise, I have no objections here, but logically, this should only extend to sight-based miss-chances, being based on eyes and all. As written, even blinded aellar in complete darkness would receive the benefit. Again – cosmetic gripe and won’t make or break the pdf. 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. Now all of this may have sounded pretty nasty, but on the other hand, the short fluffy write-up is inspiring and the general competence is there – literally none of the aforementioned glitches are gamebreakers or can’t be easily fixed.
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. I have literally no idea how this ability works. “The alicorn may only transfer damage (including ability damage) up to its character level in this fashion and any ailments only last for the remainder of their duration.” So, does damage and ability damage count as the same resource? What if a disease or poison has caused more damage than the alicorn can absorb? Auto-failure of the ability or not or partial absorption? If the latter, does the original afflicted character still have to save? What about damage inflicted by curses and other magical means? Is the alicorn subject to the effects like secondary saves etc. of the effects of poison, diseases, etc.? Can an alicorn assume the damage of a disease when she’s immune against diseases? Does she save versus such an affliction at the unmodified save or at the one modified by the attribute damage taken, if any? Also: No daily limit. Same goes for the inverse, evil variant of the ability. Both remain essentially in dire need of some serious clarification, also since they have an ability that nets them a minor bonus to AC after using the ability, which could prompt them to prick kittens with needles (1 hp damage), absorb it and heal their poor fluffy companion. Yes, this latter example is impractical and hardly gamebreaking, but I maintain the concept could have been executed more elegantly.
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!
I’m am strictly opposed to only one thing, an alternate racial trait that nets the benefits of blur instead of the reactive concealment – whenever the blinkling moves at least half movement rate. For agile characters, this is a no-brainer and will be pretty much always active – oh, and it’s EX, which means no caster level, no means of suppression. That one ought to be axed or nerfed – hard – I’d suggest at minimum character level, for the *idea* is too cool to leave behind, but also too strong at lower levels.
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? While the provided caveat versus damage-causing terrain helps, several caltrop-y magic tricks would lead to confusion here. 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 – it does specify how decataurs use horseshoes, not shoes, but due to fairness and since I think people should not have to look for errata, said fix will not influence my final verdict. Want another thing that’s awesome about the race? Available as bipeds, for all those dungeon-campaigns with many, many ladders and ropes…
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 – though the alternate racial traits 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. 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.
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 debuffs 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 Dominance, 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 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 – just as long as you ignore the “I get 4 arms, but no penalties/repercussions”-alternate racial trait, that on its own would have been exceedingly strong – that’s not something to trade in for 2 paltry abilities, that’s a defining characteristic of a whole race. And no, the pdf does not really explain how this many arms work re feats, item activation, etc. – a sidebox providing guidance would have almost certainly be appreciated by most players. Underworld Races: Hoyrall by AAW Games handled multiple arms in a pretty balanced, cool way, btw.
The Hexbreather, heirs to the dreaded hags, have some nice hex-related abilities in the base form, yes – but Str-damage versus claws at level 1 feels a bit nasty sans limits. One alternate racial trait also refers to the cursed condition, which does not exist. 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…). The same can be said about the Kestrel – good, positive halfling/harpy-hybrids that use their powers for good- generally. 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 won for me. 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.
That being said, 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 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. 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. That being said – both the ornibus and the half-satyr pipers, for example, can be considered generally well-crafted – provided you can see past the numerous small violations of rules-semantics that make the RAI apparent, but are slightly less polished than what one would like to see. If you e.g. nerf down the +10 bonus to disarm for the Rana-race that can be received per expenditure of the psionic focus, we’ll actually have a great, interesting race. (Rana are btw. Ophidian/Lizardfolk hybrids that usually grow up with the less intelligent lizardfolk and thus develop interesting mannerisms…)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 – interesting, though the wording could be more concise. Still, 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. Alas, it should have a slightly more precise wording: “This vine assists them during grapples, dealing 1d6+Strength modifier damage to other creatures in the grapple every round the woodborn maintains a grapple.” – so does this mean that allied creatures in the creature/aiding also receive the damage? Why not go with a more standard wording for the damage? 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/quadrupedal 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 greivous 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 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. On the broken-side of thing, we can list e.g. bloodsong adept -which allows you to use bardic performance only affecting your type/subtype, but does not expend rounds of bardic performance. Urgh. Enter a party with the same race and we have unlimited bardic performance-rounds. Yeah. not gonna happen in my game and even feels cheap for NPCs – this one is hardcore broken and should imho get a serious nerfing bashing. 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 the Mixed Blood-feat, which is made of awesome and win – with a table of one whole page (!!!), it allows you to represent just about any odd bloodline/creature-type combinations – wanna go for a lawfully-infused orcish heritage? You can do that. This feat’s concept is just great – and it’s well-balanced to boot! Impressive one!
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 but exceedingly minor nitpicks to complain about – were its prerequisite not aforementioned utterly broken unlimited performance feat, I’d be even more impressed – especially since the class does net more performance rounds and nice, 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, imho. 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 – which seems too cheap, considering how pricey in terms of feat/ability-investment the like usually is. 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 are not on par with what Dreamscarred press usually delivers. If you’re picky about proper rules-semantics, you’ll find a lot to nitpick, which I tried to showcase in my excessive and nasty picking apart of sentences in the first section of the review. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf has copious full-color artworks – as mentioned above, ranging from gorgeous to horrifying. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
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, 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. The thing is, it could have easily been an OMG-HOW-AWESOME-IS-THAT-book. Literally all races and quite a bunch of the non-racial supplemental material borders on the awesome, only to swerve on the finishing line and get an unnecessary bent. The rules-language per se makes RAI clear in most cases, but also allows for copious misinterpretation due to being a tad bit less precise than it could be. Matt Medeiros, Jade Ripley and Andreas Rönnqvist have ultimately crafted a massive racial book that can be considered a nice addition to a given campaign – and one a moderately system-savvy DM can render utterly awesome by ironing out the rough patches. This book has all the potential you could ask for. At the same time, though, it has several supplemental components in dire need of nerfing, some races that obviously could have used some streamlining and is marred by craftsmanship that, while not bad in the traditional sense, does exhibit some flaws and deviations from the target goal.
What I’m trying to say is: I can see people hating and loving this book. If you tend to get hung up on peculiarities of rules-language, then this will provide some frustration for you. Same goes for groups seeking for a book to drop in as is – while that can be done, I’d only recommend it unsupervised for high-powered games. On the plus-side, 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. 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? Well, honestly, I should probably go with 3 stars for this – the flaws are numerous and pronounced and then there’s the inclusion of some broken pieces among the supplemental materials that are OP by any standard applied. However, at the same time, this book is much more inspired that I ever had hoped it would be. Both in its design and its concepts. And there are MANY awesome ideas, both in the fluff- and crunch-departments to be found. The downright brilliant mixed blood, the non-sucky blinkling…and so many more do not deserve a mediocre rating. And ultimately, I enjoyed this book too much for that, in spite of its flaws. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4, with an explicit caveat emptor for anyone picky about rules-language. DMs willing to do some tinkering will find a nice treasure-trove here – one that needs polish, yes, but one that can, eventually, be brought to shine.