Into the Breach: The Forgotten Classes
The latest installment of the Into the Breach-series clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved forward in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the behest of my patreons.
But wait – what exactly is this? Well, know those NPCs classes? Well, they actually get some modifications in this little book. “But why would I care?” Simple: Either you’re a GM and look for some enhancers and novel tricks for them…or perhaps, you’re looking for a change of pace and want to run a low-fantasy campaign, a horror campaign -whatever. There are plentiful reasons to champion the less powerful classes and the gameplay can indeed be exhilarating. However, at the same time, there’s a design-aesthetic issue with NPC classes – they frankly are not that versatile, so let’s see whether the content herein can render them more intriguing!
We begin our survey with the adept-class, whose first archetype would be the caller. These guys choose a resonant aspect from amid the classic elements, gaining a “+1 circumstance bonus on all saving throws against effects from her chosen element” – which is, alas, very flawed rules-language. You see, I *think* this is supposed to mean the associated elemental damage types…but I’m not sure. There are water effects that deal bludgeoning damage…do they count? What about boulders falling on the PCs? Does the bonus only apply to spells and effects with the descriptor of the respective elemental damage? See, I feel like a bastard when I do this since the ability *looks* like “you know what the designer meant.” Thing is, you don’t, because the language simply isn’t precise enough. *sigh*
Unfortunately, things become even more opaque at 2nd level, when a caller may breathe life into the element as a full-round action, which then behave as animated objects, with levels determining size and construction pool. The problem here is that elements are not constructs – they have different traits and the ability uses both interchangeably – so which save-progression do they have? What is the base frame upon which those crafted elements are made? I have no idea. On a nitpicky side, the ability also sports some it’s/its-errors, but that remains cosmetic. At higher levels, proper elemental damage codification with new construction pool tricks in one case, while another retains untyped damage, when that should obviously be the associated elemental damage.
Another ability allows for the hijacking of constructs, elements or animated objects to deal untyped damage (problem, considering the prevalence of DR and similar defenses among constructs) – the ability, alas, is missing the information about its range: Touch? Ranged? No idea. This is particularly galling since concept-wise, e.g. construct-possession at higher levels and granting sentience are pretty neat concepts and similarly, the capstone for a permanent element creation evokes some nice images. Additionally, the construction points rules, collated and provided for your convenience, make for a considerate, nice addition here. I really wanted to like this one and it’s pretty close to actually working, but the imperfections in the base abilities of the archetype severely hamper it. It can easily be fixed, all right – but still.
The second archetype would be the Deep Jungle Shaman of the Flesh, who may track even the trackless in jungles and may consume the dead of her own kind to gain temporary casting enhancements, including, at high levels, the option to cast spell-like abilities of creatures consumed. The ability replaces “summon samiliar” in an unnecessary typo. While the wording could be a tad bit more refined, this one does not sport any glaring issues.
Next up would be the Nun, who obviously needs to be female and receives access to a domain as well as channel energy at 2nd level. Nuns also provide Wis bonus when aiding another instead of the fixed bonus and may grant nearby allies immediate action rerolls 1+Wis-mod times per day. High-level nuns are particularly potent healers and at 15th level, may 1/day use un/holy word…with one problem: There is no unholy word – the proper name of the spell is blasphemy. Other than that a nice archetype.
The Vicar receives a modified list of class skills as well as the knowledge domain and a so-called flexible domain from among his deity’s portfolio – which is a pretty strong option. Additionally, he receives Wisdom modifier in addition to Charisma to perform (Oratory) and Diplomacy and may duplicate a limited list of bardic performances at his level -2, starting at 3rd level. Additionally, 5th level nets one of a huge list of domain-related abilities, including the perfect feigning of death, the compression ability and similar tricks – which, over all, are exceedingly fun and unique…and they make sense. Nice one!
The Aristocrat-class also receives several archetypes herein, the first of which would be the Coven Sworn, who receives a limited array of bonus feats, wild empathy at 4th level (with Greater Wild Empathy-feat-progression) and even an animal/vermin companion at -3 levels. As a capstone, this one gets a patron – all in all, a solid one! The Noble Wastrel is an archetype that pretty much represents the trope of the Dorian-esque dandy, with negated downsides of drugs, an inscrutable will as well as the means to use honeyed tongue and good looks to end emotion-based effects or instill hostilities – though the latter should probably be classified as an emotion based effect. Still, a damn cool archetype that makes the capstone (which grants immunity to mind-affecting effects while drugged) fit in perfectly. Love this one! Two things are inevitable in life…yes, we all know the immortal words of Big Ben and the tax assessor, with 6+Int skills, knows them better than most. These guys get cavalier order benefits (at 1/2 level), but do not have to adhere t the order’s tenets and the order’s members dislike the tax assessor – surprise. Gaining a Judge Dee-style bade dazzle and antagonizing adversaries as well as a peacebond hex-duplicate and a second order round up a compelling archetype.
Now, we already have a big book on commoners, but here we get archetypes for the most maligned class by design: The Forester, for example, gains sensible tracking and favored terrain as well as a suit that enhances his camouflage – and makes so much sense. I always hated how regular folks were just lost in the woods, with only super-rangers out there – this is the representation of the regular hunter, the everyday joe living from the woods. Love it! The Hostler specializes in one sort of common animal and becomes a superb trainer for this animal type and even command animals of other targets, including the bucking off of riders and some serious healing prowess – once again, a great little archetype that makes sense indeed and adds a bit of realism to a game world’s demographic.
The trope of the adept urchin, the urban survivalist, is similarly wide-spread and very limited sneak attack as well as social skill-bonuses and a sanctuary-duplicating wide-eyed pity-based effect alongside a network of informants make sense and are fun indeed.
The expert class may now elect for the boxman specialization – obviously an expert of all things lock-related and a good base for escort missions or heist-based games, an in-game reason why adventurers would even bother with these guys – nice!!! Master Craftsmen are pretty much defined by their trade secrets, basically talents the class begins with at 1st level, +1 every 3rd level, including the option to make magic items faster as well as the substitution of alchemy for energy-damage-dealing spells when crafting, while the minstrel is basically a toned down bard with limited performances as well as an ability that makes foes target him with nonlethal means, representing well the trope of the minstrel bluffing foes to leave him alive.
The Warrior-class may also choose from new archetypes, the first of which would be the Deep Jungle Flesh Hunter, a poison using warrior with facepaint that enhances AC. Nice jungle-stalker-type/poison specialist. The Farm Soldier is particularly adept at using farm implements and an urban barbarian’s rage (at -2 class levels) when nearby allies fall (and later, when he himself is damaged) – here, we btw. also get 100 sample items to be found in the possession of a peasant. Once again, not much to complain about. The pen-ultimate archetype herein would be the Siege Sapper, who codifies e.g. siege weapon barrage shots in rules-language, which is obviously contingent on sufficient siege engines. While this makes the archetype rather circumstantial, I can see e.g. PCs trying to take this guy out in sieges etc. The rules-language is not always perfect here, but it’s precise enough, in spite of the relatively complex subject matter. So yes, I like that one. The final archetype would be the Yeoman, who may use bonus feats from Tides of War: Volley Shots (which I do not have) and the archetype receives e.g. melee use of bows and better bow use – the archetype is, as far as I can tell, relatively sound.
The pdf also does sport a new base class, the way trader, who receives d8, 6+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression and good Will-Saves. The class gains bonuses to business-related skills and begin play with a free vehicle with which they can ply their trade. Additionally, wanderlust and the laws of supply and demand allow the trader to receive more gold as well as easy access to any black market at higher levels. In the end, the class becomes extremely adept at blending in and excellent selling margins as well as at-will know direction.
The pdf concludes with 3 pages of fitting weapons and items – from reinforced hoes and pitch forks to 4 different light armors, which, while solid, annoyingly lack the “+” in front of the respective Max Dex Bonus entries in the table.
Formatting is VERY good this time around, at least for the most part. However, the editing on both a formal and a rules-level is pretty flawed, sometimes extending to the information required to correctly determine how an ability is supposed to work. An additional editing pass would have very much been appreciated here. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf sports beautiful, thematically fitting full-color art.
Frank Gori, Jeffrey Harris, Richard Litzkow, Taylor Hubler – the team here has crafted a book I most definitely will use. The archetypes herein are diverse and varied and cover a significant array of concepts that imho were in dire need of a representation, with quite a few of them making sense and inspiring adventures as well as a more concise demographic for the villages, cities, etc. out there. In fact, I really want to love this book, I really do – the content herein, with the notable exception of some of the adept archetypes, makes sense and works pretty much with no or next to no streamlining required.
The book, per se, is solid…though I wished it did one thing, and that would be to balance the archetypes among themselves. While all generally are somewhere between standard NPC-class impotence and PC classes, there is quite a significant difference between the archetypes of the adept and expert in power-levels, which means the pdf is less useful as potential PC-material for truly low-powered games. In such a context, this does require some tweaking by the GM to work on the same level – granted, this is not their intent per se, but if they had managed this feat, I’d be singing praises for this book and recommend this unanimously and sans “but”s.
I still am, in a way – you see, having played my own share of low powered games with classes and options like this, I can attest that the options herein provide meaningful choices without blowing the potency of the NPC-classes up too much. Beyond the potential of it, this book does achieve what it sets out to do – and that is something not to be underestimated. How many times did you ask yourself how those NPCs survive in a world of orcs and demons? Well, the archetypes herein make this more believable. While still a long shot away from PC competence, it makes sense that the forester can hunt and not die; that the nun can heal, that you need a boxman for the heist of the archmage’s tomb…etc.
How to rate this, then? Well, in spite of the glitches, I pretty much love what this brings to the table and while I should probably penalize this more for its glitches, I can’t bring myself to do it – for better and worse, this does allow for the telling of several compelling narratives and allows a capable GM to enhance the immersion of the campaign world by providing at least semi-capable NPCs that do not belong to PC-classes. In short: I like this book and though I wish it was more refined, I still adore what it does and sincerely hope there’ll be a sequel or a streamlining down the road. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars. If the concepts even remotely interest you, then get it – while not perfect, this is well worth the asking price.
You can get this cool book for the poor, neglected NPC-classes here on OBS!