Champions of the Spheres
This massive supplement clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page TOC (which also features a list of Spheres from Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 49 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
In case you didn’t know already: This book basically represents a crossover-supplement between Drop Dead Studios’ critically-acclaimed Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might books, and as such, I assume familiarity with both of them in this review.
This review was recently moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.
The pdf starts after a brief introduction to the matter at hand, with three new base classes, which make use of the Blended Training feature – this denotes that the character is treated as possessing Combat Training as a base class feature. The first of these would be the prodigy, who has d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref-and Will-saves and proficiency with simple weapons as well as light armor and bucklers. If this is the very first level in any class taken, the prodigy also receives a martial tradition of their choice. Prodigies are Mid-Casters and may choose which of the three mental ability score modifiers they take as casting ability modifier, and as such, they do get 2 bonus talents and a casting tradition. Prodigies have blended training, which means that they get a combat or magic talent whenever they gain a class level, and the class uses the casting ability modifier chosen as practitioner modifier as well. They begin with a caster level of 0 and increase that to 15 over the course of the 20 class levels; essentially, their CL-progression mirrors the BAB-progression.
The first-level signature ability of the class would be sequence. If you’re familiar with Dreadfox Games’ classic Swordmaster or Interjection Games’ momentum-based engines, you may start smiling now: A sequence has three components: An opener, links, and a finisher. The maximum length of a sequence would be 4 + 1 link per 3 class levels. Only one sequence may be in effect at a given time, and whenever the prodigy begins their turn without having added a link since the beginning of their last turn, the sequence loses one link – so it doesn’t immediately crumble when your attack pattern briefly interrupted, when you whip out a healing potion, etc. Becoming dazed, dead, etc. does terminate an ongoing sequence – at least until 14th level, when the ability is upgraded. Sequences may not be started prior to rolling initiative and end automatically 1 round after combat has ceased. Openers begin new sequences, and attacks, critical hits, defeating a creature with a CR equal to or greater than ½ character level or restoring hit points to an ally or removing ability damage/drain or a list of negative conditions also qualifies. As does successfully executing a combat maneuver, having a creature fail a save versus your sphere-effects or using the reflect class feature. Also, features with the (open) tag can act as openers.
Successfully performing a link action increases the prodigy’s active sequence by 1 link, but no action may ever add more than 1 link at once. Openers act as link components after a sequence has already been established. Link actions include expending martial focus as a free action, moving into a hostile creature’s threatened space and sheathing/drawing a weapon as part of that movement…or what about making a touch attack that deals no damage, but generates a link? Disengaging from the adversary, foregoing an AoO, saving against a non-harmless effect, making a concentration check – and no, these are not all options! Finally, almost a whole column is devoted to finishers, which include bonuses to skill checks, a surge of temporary hit points or a bonus to MSB. Those would be the basics. Things get really exciting when you realize that a sufficient amount of links unlocks more impressive options – like a single swift action attack, or an attack action (remember, attack =/= attack action, and attack actions are much better in Spheres of Might!) as a move action…or, well, what about quicker sphere-casts. Once more, some options with the (finish) tag can also act as finishers.
Does this sound complex? Yeah, at first – but it’s actually pretty simple and super-elegant. And it establishes a fun and exciting combo-engine AT FIRST LEVEL. This, ladies and gentlemen, would btw. be one of the rare instances of me using allcaps being a good thing. Oh, and I haven’t even told you about the coolest thing: Depending on your sphere-choice for martial tricks, you get additional sequence options!! This means that you have a super-wide differentiation not only between sphere-choices, but also that the prodigy will play differently depending on spheres chosen and different from other classes that get access to these spheres.
While a prodigy has an active sequence, they get an insight bonus to atk and damage as well as CL equal to ½ the length of the current sequence, minimum 1. At 2nd level, the class may, as a standard action, gain a martial or magic talent for 1 minute. The prodigy must know the base sphere and meet any prerequisites and may use it 3 + ½ class level times. Only one such wildcard talent may be in effect at a given time. At 5th level, this upgrades to two talents and one may act as a prerequisite for the other. 8th level improves the action economy of the ability. At 10th level, an ally may be granted such a talent. 13th level expands that further to 3 talents and a better action economy, with 17th level finally providing the apex of that ability sequence.
Also at 2nd level, the prodigy adds the second massive customization boost, with Imbue Spellcasting. As part of starting a sequence, this effect may be started, and only one such effect may be applied at a given time. The effect is contingent on one of the spheres known, and it unlocks special finishers associated with the respective sphere. Chose Alteration? What about +1 trait applied to blank form or shapeshift as the imbue benefit…and TENTACLE SWARM as a finisher!! That one would be a multi-target trip based on number of links in the sequence. Come on, that is so epic, do I even need to continue writing this review? All right, all right. What about Conjuration’s Conjure Army finisher, which generates a whole array of companions that last for exactly one attack before vanishing. Yes, it has limitations, yes, it gets flanking interaction and the prevention of abuse right. If this ability was hug-able, it’d hug it. Debris fields, arsenal creation, classic anvil-dropping, spheres of darkness, reanimation… This frickin’ engine…know how reading this felt to me? It felt like someone had taken all those cool ideas mired in some classes, all those “OMG, how cool is that”-combo-moments and baked them into an inspired, cohesive whole. This is ridiculously amazing.
3rd level nets the ability to choose a so-called steady skill when regaining spell points, which then always qualifies for taking 10. At 11th level, this skill may be changed in a more flexible manner, and at 19th level, skills can basically be juggled. At 7th level, the prodigy may expend martial focus as an immediate action to attempt to reflect sphere effects, spells or SPs back to the originator – though the prodigy is then staggered…at least until 16th level, where the ability improves. 20th level nets a start of casting ability modifier links when starting a sequence and delimits the wild-card talent gain – you can have as many at a given time as you can pay for in daily uses.
To give you insight into my frame of mind when first reading this pdf, at this point in time, my response was:
“…buy this book. Srsly, buy it now. Even if the rest of the book was utter garbage, this class alone would warrant the asking price on its own.”
Now, after having had more time to take apart this fellow…I’d probably allcaps the statement above. The prodigy is one of the most amazing, fun classes I know. This is masterclass design.
The second class, the sage, gets d6 HD, ½ BAB-progression, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and a martial tradition if this is the first level. The class gets ¼ class level AC bonus + Wisdom modifier, monk-style, and has all good saves. The class also gets 1/2 combat talent progression. Sages are proficient practitioners and use Wisdom as practitioner modifier. The sage begins play with Chi Gong, which is measured in d6s. the sage begins with 1d6 and adds another 1d6 at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. This allows the sage to execute touch attacks, treating this attack form as a light weapon. The chi gong dice determine the amount of piercing damage these attacks inflict. This may also be used to heal creatures up to half their maximum hit points. Which can’t be cheesed without even trying. Hand me a half-dead kitten, a siphoning ability – bingo. Infinite healing.
Come on. This is really sloppy – it would have been so easy to implement a limitation here that prevents such an abuse. This ruins and disqualifies the class for me and a significant amount of tables out there.
And seriously, the class deserved better. 1st level, 8th and 16th net esoteric training, which allows for debuffing via chi gong, ally enhancement or comboing their touches with combat maneuvers – or fire blasts of ki. Basically, a more magical monk debuffer/buffer, which is such a cool angle! The class also gets a ki pool (class level + Wisdom modifier) and may meditate to gain a pool of surge-style dice that may be applied to ability and skill checks as well as to saves or to bolster his CMD.
The class also treats the Spheres engine in a unique manner: At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the sage gets a bonus combat or magic talent of his choice, being treated as a High Caster and using Wisdom as key ability score, ki as a spell point substitute. 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter provide esotery, the class talents of this fellow, which once more tap into sphere-aesthetics and provide some really cool combos There are a ton of these, and 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter net a Skill Focus. The capstone is governed by the esoteric techniques known. This would be a truly amazing addition to the game, and you can fix it easily enough, but its infinite healing exploit left a super-sour taste in my mouth.
The third class would be the troubadour, who gains d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves as well as 1/2 martial talent progression. Troubadours get proficiency with simple weapons, light armor and bucklers as well as a Martial Tradition if this is the first level in any class. These fellows are Low Casters using Charisma as governing ability modifier, and they are proficiency combatants. They get class level + Charisma modifier spell pool and in addition to the 2 bonus talents, they gain a magic talent at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter.
While in the base persona, a troubadour gets +1 o all saves, (bonus type properly codified) and increases that at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter by +1. What’s a persona? Okay, think of this as basically the vigilante’s dual identity, though alignment has to be close to that of the character, and while these imitate other races, they don’t bestow racial powers. Personas may be blended with Disguise, and the maximum number of personas begins at 2 and improves to 6. And yes, this does come with vigilante interaction notes. Each persona has its own array of unique abilities and trope; a trope benefit is gained at 1st level, as well as access to a list of persona-quirks; the first of these is gained at 3rd level, with every 2 levels thereafter providing another one. These include an inspiration pool, benefits for failing checks (when embodying the Fool), bardic tricks, cleric-y options…you get the idea.
In addition to these, the class also gains actor training at 2nd level and ever y 2 levels thereafter, offering a massive blending of vigilante-ish tricks, options to fool devices or spells and similar abilities associated with the bardic and roguish side of things. Disguise and Bluff bonuses, quick change, successful lying – these guys can make for the perfect social chameleon and actually manage to be a really cool and compelling class. I really liked these fellows! (As an aside: If you’re running a 1-on-1 game – this class allows a single character, provided he has enough time to change personas, to fill the roles of all key party-members, making it an excellent choice for 1-on-1 gaming.)
Beyond these three class, we get a pretty massive archetypes-chapter: Armigers can choose to become antiquarians, using d8 HD and hedgewitch BAB with a small spell point pool – basically an armiger with a bit of spellcasting and magic-synergy with lightning assault, as well as two unique prowesses. The Bladewalker archetype for the armiger is a Warp specialist who can port to targets damaged. Armorists can choose for a Spheres of Might engine tweak; Commanders can become dreadlords, focusing on Death sphere synergy and getting a unique, rather…öhem, peculiar network of contacts. You know, the usual…grave robbers, cultists, necromancers, vampires…the friendly folks you’ll find hanging around the crypts or in Rappan Athuk’s cantina…
Eliciters get the new empathic duelist archetype, who may choose combat talents instead of magic talents. These guys establish empathic links with targets in charm-range, and can use this link to gain insight into their foes, translating to better mano-à-mano prowess. Hedgewitches and mageknights get pretty straightforward Spheres of Might-synergy archetypes, and magi may elect to become mystics – this complex archetype basically removes the entire core of the magus, making the class instead act as a sphere-casting practitioner. Impressive! (And more fun!) The Scholar is reliant on advanced Conjuration talents and is basically a summoning specialist. Sentinel dimensional defenders would be another archetype that makes good use of its Warp sphere access. The martial shifter is another practitioner engine tweak, and the mirrored soul summoner does for the summoner pretty much the same as the mystic did for the magus: It removes and tweaks the core class features of the class to instead employ the spheres-engine. The final archetype herein would be the surprisingly complex vector symbiat, which would be a telekinetic combatant that will scratch the itch for many different comic book hero build – these fellows have Telekinesis and may enter kinetic overload, which taps into synergy effects with the Brute, Wrestling and Scoundrel spheres. This one is pretty damn cool!
The next chapter provides a metric ton of synergy class talents and abilities to allow for further blending of Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might, and we do get 2 companion options. The feat-section provides further options, including extra X ones, brief boosts to CL when defeating significant foes, penalizing foes whose blood you have, synergy of summoning companions and tactics…We also get a page of favored class options for the core races as well as aasimar, tiefling, orc, goblin and hobgoblin.
The penultimate chapter, though, would probably be the one that most folks wanted to see: Unified traditions. These basically are a tradition that acts as both casting and martial tradition, and we not only get a significant amount of them, we also get concise guidelines to make them. Arcane archers, crusaders and death knights, street mages and reapers…this chapter may not be the longest, but it’s undoubtedly the one that will inspire the creative folks out there.
The final chapter presents sample NPCs, including brief background stories for all 3 new classes – one NPC at CR 5, and one at CR 8 is presented for each of the 2 new classes.
Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level – the pdf manages to juggle highest-complexity designs in a meaningful and precise manner. On a formal level, I noticed more formatting glitches than I would have liked to see, but thankfully, these do not wreck the rules-integrity of the supplement. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports quite an array of aesthetically-pleasing full-color artworks that I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Adam Meyers, Andrew Stoeckle, Michael Sayre and N. Jolly, with contributions from Siobhan Bjorknas, have penned a book I…honestly kinda dreaded reviewing. After loving Spheres of Might as much as I did, I was genuinely afraid that this might not live up to my expectations. Particularly since crossover books like this are notoriously hard to get right…and they are a crapton of work to check. They also tend to not be exactly fun: It is in the nature of the subject matter that there need to be quite a lot of “Now you can use subsystem xyz” abilities, archetypes, feats, etc, – and yes, the like is in this book. And a lesser publisher/cadre of authors would have probably called it quits right then and there.
Not so here. Imagine my surprise, when even archetypes that basically don’t do anything but “look, here’s class xyz, now it works with Spheres of Might and Spheres of Power” suddenly became kinda interesting? In fact, quite a few of the archetypes herein are really interesting!
The troubadour is the post-vigilante bard that we wanted to see and perfectly fits one of my character concepts (and makes for a great 1-on-1-gaming character); the sage, if you ignore the aggravating (and admittedly, easy to fix) infinite healing exploit at level one, is a unique and novel take on the martial scholar that does quite a few unique things. It’s really worth tweaking that one line, even if you’re like me and have the impulse to rage-quit the class right then and there.
And then, there would be the prodigy. Oh, dear dice-gods, the prodigy. Words fail me. This fellow is flexible, versatile, super-customizable and brings this excessive customization and integrates it into a combo-engine! I cannot properly express how much I frickin’ adore this class, and whoever has written this fellow – let it be known that this guy is one of my all-time favorite classes for any d20-based game. And yes, this guy can get fast healing without nominal caps, but it also limits it and prevents abuse by the very parameters on which the engine is based. This class is a thing of beauty, a culmination of desires I had that I never realized I had. The blending of martial and magic powers via this marvelously modifiable engine is seriously humbling and will rest as a benchmark of excellence by which other classes and options will be judged. How much do I love it? Well, the rest of the book is a really impressive supplement, but this guy single-handedly nets this supplement a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018. Oh, and final verdict 5 stars + seal of approval, obviously. If you use the Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might books, then get this asap!!
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