Into the Breach: The Kineticist
This installment of the „Into the Breach“-series clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue as a prioritized review by my patreons.
All right, as always, we begin with new archetypes, the first of which would be the aetheric marksman, who is locked into aether a first level and gains proficiency with longbow and shortbow. The signature ability of the archetype allows for the use of an arrow as part of a kinetic blast, to be more precise, a modified version of telekinetic blast, which has a base damage of 1d8 +1 + Constitution modifier, which increases by 1d8+1 at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, with a range increment of 60 ft., a critical range of 20 and a critical multiplier of x3. Weapon Focus (kinetic blast) and Deadly Aim may be applied to such blasts, but thankfully, multi-attack feats à la Multishot may not be. The modified blast applies the bonuses of enchanted ammunition, if applicable, as are special materials etc. While the available infusions to modify this one are restricted, I am not the biggest fan of the escalation of numbers this entails – it’s not bad, mind you, but as a base modification, I wasn’t blown away. 5th level yields imbuement: As a move action, the character may imbue class level arrows with a variety of ammunition special properties, with 8th level unlocking more. The marksman must accept burn equal to the enhancement value granted and lasts for 1 minute. Only one such property may be granted at a given time. Nice catch: The ammunition does not require a +1 enhancement bonus to qualify for modification. The properties inflict +1 damage per d6 if the property matches the expanded element. Minor complaint: flaming burst reference not properly italicized. This replaces 5th level’s infusion.
At 8th level, we get shrapnel arrow, which is problematic, rules-aesthetics wise: For +1 burn accepted, the arrow can split into lethal shrapnel upon impact, generating a 10-ft.-burst. The primary target gets a Ref-save to halve its damage, which is REALLY weird – that usually is not possible upon being hit – the character has already been hit!! Interaction with evasion et al. becomes really strange. Worse, the targets in the area of the burst take half as much damage and don’t get a save. Yeah. The guy skewered by the arrow could end up sans damage, while everything around him dies. Makes no sense. The way the ability is phrased also makes me think that this was supposed to inflict additional damage or something, but I’m not sure. The ability deviates from how such mechanics are used in PFRPG, and not in a good way. The no-save damage must die. On the plus-side, targeting 5-foot-squares and ammo interaction are noted. This replaces 8th level’s utility wild talent. At 13th level, the marksman may accept +2 burn to inflict additional bleed damage to the primary target, with bleed equal to the number of damage dice of the telekinetic blast, a Fort-save to negate. After that, a second target in the same line of effect, within 30 ft. of the first target, compares AC to the attack’s attack bonus: On a hit, the target takes the telekinetic blast’s damage -2d8, but is not subject to bleed. This replaces 13th level’s infusion.
The 16th level ability, burrowing arrow, allows for the acceptance of +2 points of burn. On a failed Ref-save (weird, why not Fort?), the arrow embeds itself in the target, inflicting minimum blast damage on a subsequent round until it is removed via a successful save or Heal check. This replaces 16th level’s utility wild talent and needs some nerfing/retooling: For a lot of characters and monsters, being hit with a single such arrow may well be a death a sentence.
On a nitpicky level regarding the rules-integrity, e.g. burrowing arrow does not, in contrast to e.g. piercing arrow, note that it can be used as part of another action. I get how this is supposed to work, but as a whole, I wasn’t too excited by the archetype.
The second archetype herein would be the hellfire kineticist, who replaces Knowledge (nature) with Knowledge (religion). The hellfire kineticist is locked into fire as primary element. “All infusions granted by the archetype deal half fire damage and half unholy damage.” *sigh* There is no such thing as unholy damage in Pathfinder.
Instead of 1st level’s infusion, we get the ability to sicken a target within 30 ft. that takes full damage from the blast, for Con mod rounds, with a Fort-save to negate.. On a critical hit, we’re looking at nausea instead. Minor complaint here: This behaves like an infusion, but isn’t formatted like one. Instead of the elemental defense and the utility wild talents at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, we get the Devil Inside ability at 2nd level. The character is treated as an evil outsider for the purpose of spells and effects and gains +2 bonus to saves versus fire and poison; at 6th level, this upgrades to +4 and fire resistance 5; 12th level upgrades this to +6 and fire resistance 10, while 18th level provides immunity to both. 4th level provides sin sense, which can wreck pretty much a ton of plots: While within 30 ft., the character becomes automatically aware of sinful thoughts targets hold at the moment or committed within 1 hour. Direct contact yields detect thoughts, as though the character had concentrated for 3 rounds. This can wreck a lot on in-game assumptions: If e.g. Cheliax had access to such a potent ability, which can’t be prevented RAW, we’d have a perfect, Orwellian survival state, thoughtcrimes etc..Even if sinful acts are up to GM-interpretation, this ability needs some nerfing/further clarification. This replaces 4th level’s utility wild talent.
8th level yields an imp familiar at full class level instead of the utility wild talent. At 11th level, instead of the infusion, we get Condemnation, which is treated as a 5th level substance infusion that costs 3 points of burn to use: If the character calls out a target’s sins, as detected via detect sins, the target takes double elemental overflow’s damage. I am not 100% positive whether the ability is supposed to require a hit of the target with a blast or not – the infusion would suggest as much, but verbiage makes it seem like there is no attack roll required. The capstone replacing omnikinesis would yield outsider apotheosis as well as 2/day plane shift, but only to Hell and back.
The third archetype would be the wind whistler, who replaces Intimidate with Perform (wind) and is locked into air as primary element. Attacking with air blasts does not add Constitution modifier to damage and instead, the character makes a Perform (wind) check that adds +1 to damage for every “5 points rolled on the skill check”, which isn’t smooth as far as wording is concerned. Okay, Adding skills to atk or damage is usually a HUGE issue: There is no component of the game that is this easy to game. That being said, the significant exchange rate keeps this slightly in check, though, on average, this does represent a damage upgrade in the hands of even a moderately capable player, so balance-conscious GMs may want to eliminate this part of the ability. As a suggestion to retain the flavor of this modification: Make the bonus thus granted to damage cap based on a formula that is based on class level.
Instead of all infusions, the character gains bardic performance, beginning play with countersong and inspire courage, using kineticist levels as bard levels.. Higher levels net dirge of doom, inspire greatness, soothing performance, frightening tune and inspire heroics, but none of the other bardic performances. Performance upgrades of bardic performances work as though the character was a bard. In addition to these, 3rd level yields tune twister, which allows the character to accept 1 burn when initiating the performance. One ally that can see and hear the wind whistler gains enveloping wind’s benefits as well as sonic resistance 1 per 5 points of the Perform check’s result. Contagious tune is gained at 6th level and allows for a multi-target buff versus mind-affecting effects, but in an interesting twist, also penalizes atk and concentration slightly. Metakinesis works differently: 5th level lets the wind whistler accept 1 point of burn to alter kinetic blasts as though affected by Disruptive Spell. Problem: The Feat’s DCs are partially contingent on spell level and the ability fails to specify how the blast is treated for these purposes. 9th level allows for the addition of Thundering Spell for the cost of 2 burn.
At 5th level, the wind whistler may accept 1 point of burn to increase the bard levels for the purpose of determining bardic performances as +4 levels higher for 3 rounds; at 8th level, 2 burn may be accepted for +6 levels for 2 rounds instead. Not a fan here; 11th level allows for the acceptance of 3 burn to add Lingering Performance; if the character has the feat, its benefits are extended to 4 rounds instead – nice. This replaces infusion specialization.
At 7th level, the character is locked into expanding air, but does not gain the usual benefits, instead gaining a Performance (wind) based bardic masterpiece sans spell/feat-prerequisites, with 12th and 17th level allowing for the replacement of the masterpiece. At 16th level, the character may accept 2 points of burn to double the skill-check governed bonus damage – as noted before, the base ability is problematic and this exacerbates the issue. The capstone allows for the expenditure of 5 rounds of bardic performance to create a 10-ft.-tall cyclone, a summoned large air elemental that acts as a shadowbard. Interesting final ability.
We also receive two new 5-level prestige classes, the first of which would be the aetheric assailant, who gets d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level (I really wished non-Int-based classes would just get more; 2+Int skills, when Int is likely to be 0 or 1, just isn’t fun for anyone), full BAB-progression and medium Fort-and Ref-save progression. Requirement-wise, we need a couple of hit-hard feats (like Cleave), BAB +5 and Elemental Focus (aether) as well as kinetic blade.
The PrC begins play with Clarity, which allows for the use of kinetic blast while under the effects of rage – which is a bit weird, considering that barbarian levels etc. are not necessarily required. Kinetic wielding lets you use kinetic blade in conjunction with weapons for which you have the Weapon Focus feat, adding weapon damage, enhancement bonuses etc. to the kinetic blade’s damage dealt, but makes any such attack otherwise targeting touch AC instead target regular AC. Here’s the issue: This may be used in conjunction with full attacks, but requires the acceptance of 1 point of burn per iterative attack, which also stacks: The third attack would hence cost 2 points. OUCH. I get the reason for this, but considering the limited usefulness of iterative attacks in the first place, rewarding a replacement of them may have constituted a more elegant trick. The PrC is intended to have its levels be treated as full kineticist levels, as well as class levels for martial classes. Here’s a nitpick: “martial classes” is not official rules-language; while often used as a catch-all term across boards, as far as rules-text is concerned, we really need that spelled out. Do inquisitors qualify? Bloodragers? Soulknives? You get the problem.
2nd level nets aether shrouded shield, which lets you use blasts to temporarily infuse resistances or miss chances into a wielded shield, which scale based on damage dice. This buff lasts 1 round; for 1 accepted burn, instead for Con-mod rounds. I like the idea, but the implementation is pretty weak. Also: “Lightning” is the damage type in 5e; it’s “electricity” in PFRPG. This level also allows for Kinetic Blade/cleave synergy, which later may be used with kinetic whip, though once more, +1 burn per target beyond first will make you hit the hard burn cap really fast.
At 3rd level, the kinetic wielding of weaponry allows for the 30-ft. at-range kinetic blast/weapon-combo attack, but once more costs 1 point of burn per round in which it’s maintained – per weapon, so while you may TWF this, it becomes pretty costly fast and, weirdly, there is not much reason to do so: You can’t deal blast damage when controlling more than one weapon thus. Additionally, reach and the like is somewhat opaque for this ability. At 4th level, the character can infuse the armor with aether blasts, self-granting DR/magic (lol) based on blast damage. At this level, a lot will have DR and, well, while there is burn-based duration-extension, I’m not blown away here. The 5th level ability increases the cap of burn acceptable per round by 1 and yields a free trip after crits with the telekinetically-wielded weaponry. Weird. The PrC,a s a whole, feels unfocused and doesn’t really have anything that makes me excited about it; the uses of burn are not particularly exciting.
The second PrC, the Cerulean Star Disciple must be non-evil, has d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ½ BAb-progression and medium Fort- and Ref-save progression. The prerequisites are easy to meet and have a story-requirement, basically requiring that the target suffered from a nasty undead-effect à la mummy rot, level drain, etc. – I really like such instances. The PrC is obviously tied in to some extent, flavor-wise, with Desna (with serial numbers filed off), gaining starknife-proficiency. The PrC gains the cerulean fire blast, which acts as blue flame blast, but inflicts +1 damage to undead per die and such targets take a -2 penalty to atk and saves for class level rounds on a failed save. Additionally, the PrC gains kinetic healer as a utility wild talent sans requiring aether or water as elemental focus. PrC levels stack with kineticist levels for the purpose of maximum burn per round and infusion + wild talent qualification. 2nd level nets cleansing flames, which allows the character to increase burn cost of the kinetic healer variant by 1 or 2 to remove an array of negative conditions. 3rd level nets ½ holy damage (which does not exist in PFRPG) with cerulean fire blasts. Additionally, targets may be set ablaze, with the continuous damage being holy (again, does not exist). At 5th level, the damage is wholly transformed to the make-belief holy type and is treated as undead bane.
3rd level allows for the line, cone or sphere shaping of cerulean fire, all at the cost of 1 burn per 10 ft. the blast shape takes up, which is pretty restrictive. Thankfully, Ref applies for half damage for such AoE-blasts. 4th level nets a cerulean fire shield variant for 1 point of burn, lasting Con-mod rounds. At 5th level, the PrC also reduces burn cost of cerulean fire-based blasts by 1 to a minimum of 0 and gains +4 to saves versus undead special abilities. (Should be codified.) The character can regain burn when destroying undead, thankfully with a daily cap that prevents abuse.
All righty, after these, we get an array of new elements. All of the elements get their own saturation (Nice!). Since this review is already pretty long, I will not go through each and every wild talent o infusion. The first would be bone, which is different than what I expected: We get dual-physical damage type blasts and the basic tricks allow for the upgrade of unarmed attacks, for example. The tricks this provides often duplicate spells, e.g. ice spears, with damage changed to negative energy. While the majority of tricks here did not blow me away, I enjoyed the corpse explosion and the means to temporarily grant vulnerability to bludgeoning damage or eliminate a target’s skeletal defenses. Not a bad element, but one that could imho have used a couple more tricks that no other element can pull off.
The second element would be chaos…and, well, it’s chaotic: Immediate action rerolls, but on a second failure, the target is staggered for one round. The blast replaces 3d6s with 1d20, 2d6s with 1d12, making the base damage more swingy. Also: Free bane versus lawful targets. This would be less of an issue, but the blast is untyped, which I d not think is a good call here. (Untyped damage must be handled very carefully…) Problematic would, for example, be a barrier that auto-disintegrates missiles and even thrown weapons. Yeah, that plus +5 thing? It’s gone. No save. WTF. Horrid mutation, a 2 burn level 2 substance infusion is also a really versatile potential save or suck and should probably by at least qualified as a polymorph effect. We also have 0 burn utility subjective gravity for free wall walking etc. Note that this element isn’t necessarily bad, but it feels weird in some of its design decisions, as it’s hard to get either the evil or whimsical chaos angle properly here.
Crystal feels a bit like a brother of bone and earth, allowing for some caltrop-ing, a bit of terrain control and otherwise feeling kinda similar to earth; personally, I probably would have made this an extension of earth, as the light/refraction-angle associated with crystals isn’t really represented here. It’s not a bad element, but it could use a couple of more unique tricks.
Dream is very versatile, allowing you to mimic elemental blasts; however, the blasts are only partially real, meaning that a successful Will-save can greatly decrease their efficiency and the blast is mind-affecting to boot. Speaking with the sleeping, tracking in the realm of dreams and a ton of spell-duplicates can be found here. I like the focus of this one, as a whole, though it does require a bit of flexibility from the GM. I wouldn’t allow it in all campaigns, but if you have a dream-theme, it’s really neat- As a secondary element in particular, this one can be neat. As a whole, in spite of the spell-duplicates, one of my favorites herein.
The final new element would be time, and I’m going to spare you the sordid details, but this one is broken as all hell. It thinks that “supernatural aging” is a damage type (it’s not!) and sports options to advance targets on the age category for 2 blasts. Lol, that is fatal very quickly. We have a per-encounter ability (ironic, considering that encounters have nothing to do with time…and yes, insert my “per-encounter abilities make no sense*-rant right here!) Restore youth allows you to cheat age. WTF. Why are there liches? And Stop Time…is a clear case of “What were they thinking???” – it’s a level 9 utility wild talent, 1 burn…that vastly outclasses frickin’ time stop. Yeah, you heard me. Also: 5th level perma-aging. WTF.
We also get notes on spark of life and draining infusion and use with the new elements. There are 3 new utility wild talents: Kinetic blade/fist charge with a trail of energy, an elemental aura and an elemental body SP duplicator. Bolster Kinetic Defense can be pretty potent in some combos: It makes elemental defense be treated as though you had spent 1 burn on it and may be taken multiple times. Elemental Ambassador is weak-sauce: It nets you a bonus on Cha-based skill checks and an elemental language. Kinetic Crafting allows for minor crafting, but oddly does not cover all elements herein. Kinetic Synergy is a spellcasting/kineticist-combo feat that allows you to accept burn for more spell-damage or DCs. Yeah, not a fan. Spells don’t need more power. Kinetic Understanding allows for the limited use of spell-trigger and spell-completion items. Signature Infusion lets you choose an infusion and reduce burn cost by 1. Again, not 100% happy. Then again, Merciful Blast is glorious and, coincidentally, I wrote an analogue ability half a year ago: It allows the kineticist to blast at a lower power-level and for nonlethal blasts.
We also get 6 new magic items: Athame Ignus is a blade for fire specialists; condensed elemental energy is a category of item that is highly problematic: It’s basically a throwaway item that can take burn for you. While it’s priced pretty highly and grouped by level, it’s still something I would not allow. Then again, if you enjoy all-day casting and have no problem with pearl of power abuse in your game, then this won’t bother you either. Focus gauntlets enhance attacks with blasts. Nexus aloe oil is a burn remover, but repeated use causes the sickened condition – should imho have a caveat that it can’t be applied when the character is sickened already. Third eyes of elemental accuracy are yet another item to enhance the chance to hit. Whistling arrows are adamantine, have a slightly wonky rules-verbiage, and are intended for use with the archetype. The pdf closes with an array of mundane items that represent different stones: The proper kineticist-specialist in possession of such an item gains a minor insight bonus. I liked these.
Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, there are a couple of issues in the details, but as a whole, this is relatively tight, which is impressive considering the difficulty of the kineticist’s rules-chassis. Layout adheres mostly to a two-column full-color standard, with a couple of pages instead using a 1 –column standard. The pdf sports really nice full-color artworks, which, while public domain, are NOT ones I’ve seen time and again. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Andrew Hoskins, David S. McCrae and Jeff Harris did not have an easy task here: The kineticist is probably one of Paizo’s most difficult classes to design for: It requires serious understanding of both rules-language and math. Considering that, the pdf, for the most part, does a decent job. While there are issues here and there, particularly regarding the value of damage types, a crucial balancing tool for the kineticist, the pdf gets a lot right. But it has a big issue. You see, almost all kineticist-supplements released by 3rd party publishers have been done by N. Jolly and the members of his team KOP. And…well, they are amazing. The Kineticists of Porphyra-series and Legendary Kineticists (can’t say anything about Part II as per the writing of this review) are amazing; in particular, KOP III’s dimensional ripper is just pure amazing. There also is a kind of aesthetic going on here: As a non-vancian class, kineticists shine most when they don’t require spell-references, when they can do unique things.
The kineticist options in this book, while not bad, did simply not blow me away and left me ambivalent; add to that the minor hiccups and the appeal drops. Another problem I see here pertains that a LOT of the small design parts here add to the min-maxing game; we get escalation of numbers in depth, when the kineticist’s main issue is that it needs more versatility. The craftsmanship of this book is, as a whole, pretty solid, but there are relatively few aspects herein that I’d consider to be really neat. The pdf also sports, here and there, aspects that are frankly broken and should be kept out of the hands of min-maxers. As a whole, I am sorry to say this, but I was pretty underwhelmed by this pdf. If you’re a GM who is confident regarding the refining and scavenging of rules, then this may well be worth checking out, but it should receive careful monitoring. My final verdict cannot exceed 2.5 stars, though I will round up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this pdf here on OBS.