Into the Breach: The Magus 2nd Wave
This installment of the Into the Breach-series clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved forward in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
It’s been quite a ride since Flying Pincushion Games, then still partnered with D20pfsrd.com Publishing, released their second book (and the first one I reviewed), namely the first Into the Breach: Magus. Well…let’s just say that it didn’t do so well. That being said, the crew has learned quite a bit since then, but does this second trip to the magus fare better than the first one?
We begin this book, as always, with an assortment of different archetypes, the first of which would be the Arcane Engineer. These guys get a modified skill-list (with all rogue-y related skills like Stealth or Disable Device), 6+Int skills per level and a similarly modified weapon and armor proficiency list. Arcane engineers do not learn to cast in medium and heavy armor at 7th and 15th level; rules-language-wise, stating that in the proficiency section is an unnecessary deviation from standard rules formatting. They also modify their spell-list, but, more importantly, may apply the bonuses granted by their arcane pool to objects and armor, but only to one object at a given time. Starting at 5th level, these guys may spontaneously add a limited list of metamagic feats’ effects to spells by using arcane pool points equal to the spell level adjustment. While this sounds feasible, the rules-language is pretty wonky and deviates in many regards from how such mechanics usually are phrased.
Starting at 2nd level, these guys may channel spells through equipment – they may, e.g. get an Acrobatics bonus equal to his class level when casting “movement enhancement spell on an item worn on his feet item slot.” *SIGH* For how long? Does non-magical equipment qualify? What constitutes a “movement enhancement spell”? Define. What if he has no item on the feet-slot? Doesn’t work as written. To make up for that, targets of their spellstrike may save, even if there is usually no save. OUCH. Wait…what’s the save? Fort? Ref? Will? No idea. The archetype also has a significantly expanded arcana section, allowing them to convert spells into arcane pool points – and no, they can’t be retrieved via spell recall or improved spell recall. This severely de-limits the arcane pool – and fails to specify whether multiple instances of the same spell prepared also mean that the respective spell can’t be recalled. Cosmetic, sure, but still. On the cool side, counting as having the quick trapsmith rogue talent while under the effect of haste can be considered to be an interesting synergy. Regarding almost humorously bad editing glitches: “When channeling the monkey fish spell through a wrist or belt slot item, the arcane engineer may ignore the armor check of light armor when climbing or swimming and add +5 ft to his Swim or Climb speed” Spot the glitches, ladies and gentlemen. Yes, beyond there being a “penalty” missing. Btw.: The maximum ACP for light armors…is -2. Another also nets the following gem: “[the shirt through which a spell is channeled] automatically gains a Heal skill check using the arcane engineer’s Heal skill modifier +10 to attempt to stop bleed damage.” So, does the item gain an action? Does this happen immediately? As an action? Things get more wonky – “+8 to the Fly skill as though the arcane engineer were a flying creature.” URGH. Does this stack with Fly speed’s bonus? The bonus granted by the required spell, overland flight? No idea. This whole archetype is a neat idea, but not functional – it takes a complex concept and tries to beat it into a class chassis not intended for its use…and its wording is sloppy.
The second archetype, the Ebonheart Magus, adds several death-related spells to his spell list, namely death knell, death knell aura and bleed. Starting at 4th level, these guys may expend 1 arcane pool point as a swift action to, for one minute have all touch-range spells dealing hit point damage deal 1/2 their damage as negative energy damage, granting the magus “temporary hit points per level of the spell cast while this ability is in effect.” These stack to a maximum of twice (thrice at 11th level) the magus’ level and last 10 minutes. The plus-side here, is that death knell and this ability’s temporary hit points are properly working in conjunction. The downside being that the magus gains these temporary hit points only once per spell cast. At 11th level, this ability extends its benefits to ranged spells – and here, things become very wonky: What about AoE-spells? Do they grant multiple temporary hitpoints? Technically, they’re one “cast,” as the ability calls it.
At 7th level, these guys may spend one point from the arcane pool to cast death knell upon reducing a foe to -1 hit points via a melee attack or touch-range spell as an immediate action. This ability gets an upgrade at 16th level. The archetype pays for these benefits with (improved) spell recall, the knowledge pool and counterstrike. The archetype gets 3 arcana for leeching blades. At 9th level, these guys can expend temporary hit points to properly heal or even regain prepared magus spells.
I like what this archetype tries to do: using temporary hit points as an alternate resource and tying it to the limited resources spells, hit points and arcane pool. Unfortunately, there is a reason for why this is usually not done – there are more ways to gain temporary hit points that can be exploited rather hard. Beyond the rules-language hiccups, this means this archetype will not get near my game.
The next archetype is the elemental champion – these guys lose (improved) spell recall and knowledge pool. To make up for this, these guy increase energy damage output and may expend arcane pool points up to Int-mod to change the energy types of spells prepared, with 11th level providing only the fly energy type change. Pretty much the epitome of boring elementalist.
The Fate’s Edge can’t spend arcane pool points to enhance his weapon, but may spend 1 point from the renamed Prescience Pool as a swift action to gain a +1 insight bonus that can either be applied to atk and damage or to AC and saves, increasing by +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The total bonus can freely be divided up between offense and defense. 5th level provides uncanny dodge, 10th level its improved sister ability. At 7th level, while already in prescient combat, the fate’s edge may, as an immediate action, spend 1 point to reroll an attack or save and at 16th level, the archetype may force a creature targeting the fate’s edge or saving versus a spell or effect generated by the fate’s edge to roll twice and take the lower result. Arcana-wise, rerolling damage dice , rolling twice for initiative and spellbooks expanded with some divinations are pretty much what I expected. Mechanically, this one is pretty sound, but it won’t win any innovation prizes – these are literally the default tricks in that category.
The Force Bulwark is, mechanically, perhaps one of the more intriguing archetypes herein – instead of spell combat, these guys gain the ability to create barriers of solid, visible magical force. This barrier, 5′ square, has hardness equal to Int mod and hit points equal to 5 + cless level x 2. Versus energy damage, hardness is instead treated as energy resistance, retaining vulnerability versus these. The barrier provides cover and may, providing circumstances are right, even grant total cover. The barrier must be anchored but doesn’t have to be vertically anchored. It can hold 100 pounds per caster level and has a range of “close” – I *think* that should be “short (25 ft + 5 ft./2 levels). At 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the character can create + 1 5′ square barrier, which must forma single continuous plane, though the barrier shares hit points.
The barrier is activated as a standard action, costs 1 arcane pool point and remains for 1 minute or until destroyed. A force bulwark may only have one such barrier in place at a given time. This replaces spell combat. At 8th level, the barrier can be formed into rough geometric forms (more precise wording would have been nice here) and the barrier may halve its hit points to extend to twice the area. At 14th level barriers need no anchor and 20th level eliminates the one-barrier at a time restriction. There are 4 exclusive types of arcana, which include AoE bull rushes versus attackers that destroy the barrier, minor retributive damage, fast healing barriers and more hardness that scales with levels. I really like the idea of this archetype, but its execution leaves a bit to be desired – the barriers generally are pretty weak and easily broken. While the complex concept generally is cool, it suffers from the limited space it has to shine – this should imho be a more detailed base class. Still my favorite so far.
The Mistblade may, as a standard action, spend 1 arcane pool point to create an illusory duplicate of himself that can move anywhere within close range of the creator. The duplicate is correctly coded as a figment and has an AC equal to your touch AC. The double is destroyed when it takes any damage. Unfortunately, the ability fails to specify the save DC to disbelief the double, which is important since non-disbelieved doubles can act as flanking partners. Duplicates can speak and changes to your appearance etc. affect the double as well. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class feature grants +1 double, all of which must be destroyed or disbelieved separately. Odd: 5th level specifies that the doubles can now be directed as a free action, when prior to that, no action is given regarding directing the doubles. This replaces the magus’ ability to enhance weapons with arcane pool. 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter provide sneak attack progression instead of spellstrike.
The higher levels allow for the disbelieved duplicates to be reset as a standard action and 10th level allows them to affect the physical world as though they had a Str-score of 10, with the mist-blade’s BAB + size modifiers as atk, with damage equal to the weapon’s base damage sans enchantments, feats, abilities, etc. at 13th level, the mistblade can swap positions with a duplicate as a swift action. The ability lacks the note that it is a conjuration [teleportation] effect for purposes of ability interactions. They do lose medium and heavy armor and fighter training for these tricks. The arcana allow the mistblade to see through duplicates and poach among rogue talents and ninja tricks. All in all a thematically awesome, complex archetype that almost gets its difficult subject matter right.
Primalists get diminished spellcasting and may only use spell combat in conjunction with natural attacks or unarmed strikes. He may not enhance his weapon via arcane pool and instead gains primal shift that costs 1 point from the modified pool and can be activated as a standard action (swift action at 4th level). The shift lasts for one minute; it is properly codified as a polymorph effect: Every level, the character gains a number of evolution points that can be used to gain a limited array of evolutions; the evolutions are fixed each level, but can be reassigned on a level-up. The abilities of the archetype focus on modifying spell combat et al. for natural attacks/unarmed strikes, limited natural armor and modifying expanded spell list-abilities to refer to the druid spell-list instead of the wizard’s. The arcana allows for reactive shifts, for example. A slight problem here lies in the utterly deadly combo of feral combat, spells and evolutions – the combo makes you a brutal shredder and the archetype, generally, is very, very strong. It still is okay in high-powered campaigns, but any halfway decent minmaxer will make a devastating beast out of these guys. GMs concerned with balance may want to be careful regarding this one.
The Pyroclastic Mystic has a cool name…and gets more fire spells, fire resistance, uses fire-forged steel, a cloak of ash, may sculpt fire damage spells…and takes until 11th level until it finally gets a means to reduce resistance…which may be a bit later. 5th level or even as soon as 3rd would have probably been a good idea. Overall one of the more visually interesting elementalists…but still, not really that cool.
The Spell-torch Savant looks, at first glance, like yet another one of these…but is interesting: These guys can spontaneously convert spells into a fixed list of divinations while wielding a torch and they attack with torches – when delivering touch spells with their torches, they add fire damage contingent on spell level and make the targets burn, scaling DC to resist and put out – which is pretty brutal. Thankfully, the fire at least can’t spread. At 4th level extend this to ranged touch attack spells. Higher levels provides options regarding wind-resilient torches and instead of bonus feats, they can pose yes/no questions to their torch, brandishing it; if the answer is yes, the flame flares. I…actually love this one. The mechanics are unique and powerful, but the archetype is balanced pretty well…and makes torch-combat actually feasible and evocative – certainly an interesting class I’ll use in my darker games.
The towering champion gets a reduced arcane pool…and is interesting as well: These guys may enter massive form, increasing their sizes and gaining attribute bonuses, natural armor and later even DR. The abilities are codified properly and size benefits are listed for your convenience. Giant-themed abilities like rock catching are provided and these guys get a choice – either be a protector or marauder. This choice determines whether the form features a buff for allies or debuff for foes (it can be changed each level) and the archetype can grapple foes with one hand. I like the visuals here; I also like the execution – a 11-grade distinction between massive forms means that they generally are level-appropriate regarding their balance. All in all, a good archetype, though a bit light on the player agenda – still, one of my favorites herein. I’ll probably use this one sooner rather than later.
The next one would be the waystrider – no arcane pool weapon enhancement, but instead close range, arcane pool-based teleportation (properly codified – YAY!), with higher levels increasing range. The archetype also gets evasion, tagging along on teleportation and a somewhat erratic last second save teleport that staggers him for one round, but may save his life (or teleport him in a solid object, but oh well…). The arcana allows for the ignoring of line of sight, an afterimage and improved evasion. Know what? I like this. It’s a solid teleporter-skirmisher archetype that does everything right. I have recently built a similar teleport-themed archetype…and have to say, I couldn’t have done this one better. Credit where credit is due – this is awesome.
The whip weird gets a modified spell list and is the unpretentious whip-expert, with arcane pool powering temporary deafening strikes (later entangle and constricted), appropriate feats and proficiencies. This does not reinvent the wheel, but certainly is one of the better takes on the whip specialist I have seen, with sufficient precision in the rules language – again, kudos.
The pdf provides PrCs as well, the first of which would be the Anthropoarion, which requires the hummunculist archetype and gets d8 HD, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort- and Will-save progression as well as 9/10th spellcasting progression, with each level choosing arcane casting or extract progression. Every level nets an arcana or an alchemist discovery. The PrC’s levels stack with hummunculist for purposes of experimentation and he may use bombs in conjunction with spellstrike “as a full-round action”. Does that mean full attack with bombs only? Or one bomb + spell? This needs a bit of clarification. AT higher levels, these guys can dimension door their homunculus, later switch locations with it. 9th level lets “the homunculus cast spells on behalf of his master as though he were his master” using the master’s slots, but not actions…okay…so does it have to be commanded to do so? I assume no, but I’m not sure. As a capstone, the homunculus replaces BAB and HP with that of an animal companion and gets a huge boost to mental attributes, spellstrike and 1/2 the master’s arcane pool. if the master dies, he “awakens the next day as the homunculus until returned to life” – which is cool…but what are the mechanics for this transition? Switched mental attributes? Total transposition? No idea.
The second PrC would be the erudite blade bravo, who gains d8, 2+Int skills per level, some exotic proficiencies, full spellcasting-progression, 1/2 BAB-progression, 1/2 Ref- and Fort-save progression. The PrC provides full synergy with magus levels for purposes of arcana prereqs and may power mage hand with arcane pool points to wield weapons, though that requires swift action concentration. The one thing unclear here is whether the mage hand then threatens squares – I assume so, but I’m not perfectly sure. The PrC provides scaling AC-bonuses when wielding daggers, dagger-themed spells added to the spell-list and use Int instead of Str for damage, but thankfully with anti-cheese caveat. Better thrown range for daggers and a non-stacking, arcane pool-powered flurry complement this one. Overall, a rather interesting, overall mostly well-crafted PrC.
At this point, layout changes from the 2-column standard to the 1-column standard and the pdf sports a new Metamagic feat, adding smoke to spells. The feat has a cosmetic italicization glitch. Finally, the pdf offers 5 new spells – blazing shiv conjures basically a lightsaber and erroneously refers to “casting statistic,” a term that does not exist in PFRPG rules language. Burrowing Blade lets you enchant light piercing or slashing weapons to embed them in foes and have them continue to burro into said foes – NICE! Cinder Fall is textbook power creep – it ignites flammable material and clearly outlines invisible creatures – sans penalty like glitterdust, making the spell better in that regard, though it is a level below that. Storm Spike is an electricity-based light saber and suffers from the same glitch as the former one. Wall of Smoke nauseates, obfuscates and can even deal nonlethal damage – overall, a cool spell.
Editing and formatting are still okay on a formal level; I noticed a couple of italicization glitches and the like. Rules-language is a different topic: It frankly oscillates between “This doesn’t work -at all!”, “this works but deviates from how it’s usually worded” and “this is remarkably precise for the complex concept used.” All in all, though, this pdf could have definitely used a tighter hand in development and the book shows the hands of 4 developers, some of which, reluctant though I am to state this, botched the job. Layout adheres, for the most book, to a 2-column standard, switching to a 1-column standard for the spells and feat. Artworks are gorgeous and full-color; while some stock pieces are there, I have never seen most of them and they tend to be very beautiful. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Frank Gori, Jacob W. Michaels and Taylor Hubler can do better. I’ve seen all of you do better and this pdf does sport some of the components I really wanted to see; there are a few gems herein, but the often problematic rules-language tarnishes some of the admittedly challenging concepts herein. That being said, while not the best work of Flying Pincushion Games or the authors, this indeed is better than the first magus-book. Still, over all, this is a frustratingly mixed bag of a book; if the rules language had received the required polish, this would have been an impressive book; as written, it is a rollercoaster ride between elation and frustration due to the grit in the gears of the finer rules. My final verdict for this one will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 due to in dubio pro reo and the fact that the gems herein do not deserve being bashed – it’s a mixed bag, but it has its gems.
You can get this supplement here on OBS!