Oct 182018
 

Classes of the Lost Spheres: Zodiac

This installment of the Classes of the Lost Spheres-series clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, and 5 pages of SRD, though it should be noted that a part of one statblock can be found on the first SRD-page. This leaves us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

The zodiac class gets, chassis-wise, d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with light and medium armor and shields, except tower shields. They get ¾ BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves, and their essence improves in a linear fashion over the levels, starting with 1 essence at first level, and increasing that to 20 at 20th level.

 

The zodiac is an akashic class, using veilweaving to form unique magical benefits. At this time, I have presented how akasha works in detail not only once, but twice: Once in Dreamscarred Press’ “Akashic Mysteries” and once in Lost Spheres Publishing’s “Akashic Trinity.” Both of these present really cool classes, and akasha, as a subsystem for magic, is super-interesting to me. I assume familiarity with the system in this review. It should be noted that this is a stand-alone supplement – you do not require Akashic Mysteries or Akashic Trinity to make use of the class: The basic rules of akasha, how veilweaving, shaped veils etc. work is explained within.

 

The zodiac handles the akashic engine in a couple of unique ways, but more on that later. At 1st level, the zodiac gains the ability to tap into the so-called constellations. Constellations can be manifested as either forms of equipment (in which case they occupy the appropriate slots), or as champions, but not as both at a given time; a given constellation may only be manifested once at any given time by a zodiac. Champions called forth by the zodiac are always the same and retain feats, skills etc., and they are capable of understanding the zodiac. In case of the zodiac being unable to command them, they use their best judgment. Most champions gain levels and improve as animal companions, with zodiac levels being substituted for druid levels to determine progression. The manifestation of a constellation is a standard action that imposes essence burn, depending on the precise manifestation chosen, on the zodiac. While the manifestation is ongoing, this essence burn may not be recovered. If the zodiac loses consciousness, manifestations are automatically dismissed, but otherwise, they have no set duration. Reducing a manifestation’s hit points to 0 does dismiss it, and if it is then called upon once more, it manifests with only 1 hit point and all conditions previously in place and not yet elapsed, if any – unless 24 hours have passed, in which case, the manifestation is fully restored. Manifestations may be healed or repaired as usual. Manifestations also act as essence receptacle, with unique benefits for having essence invested in them.

 

A total of 12 such constellations are provided, though there is a cosmetic snafu among the bookmarks, which erroneously puts 7 of them under the “champions”-header. (The other 5 also have champions, so I figure that this stems from a previous version.) Each of the constellations has an element associated with it, and constellations of an element opposed to one currently in place by the constellation in effect cost more essence to manifest. Each constellation comes with a bit of flavor text in all-caps introducing it, and then proceeds to list element in question and manifestations granted in their own lines. Below these, the respective manifestations are listed, with essence costs in brackets. As a minor complaint, the formatting of the subheaders of the respective manifestations sports two cosmetic glitches on page 11: Once, champion is underlined instead of bolded, and once it’s not bolded. These are cosmetic, though. Each of the manifestations of a given constellation furthermore has an essence-invested line, which allows, as noted before, for further modification. It should also be noted that the essence cost required for a given manifestation acts as a kind of limiting factor for the options granted by the zodiac: The costs to manifest a champion, for example, span the gamut from 4 to a whopping 12, which imposes some strict limitations on the potent abilities granted. The other manifestations, i.e. armor, equipment and weaponry, are significantly less costly.

 

To give you a couple of examples: The archer constellation can, for 5 essence, manifest a hunter’s bond-using elven ranger with archery style that also has a scaling magical bow or crossbow; for essence invested, CMD versus disarm and trip as well as base movement speed increases. The champion granted by the bull constellation would be a war bull animal companion with a starting Intelligence of 6, who, unsurprisingly, receives boosts to CMB and CMD pertaining bull rush and overrun attempts. Sometimes, you get to choose: Fish, for example, lets you choose between dolphin and shark, and e.g. the sea goat’s champion would be a Capricorn that improves at zodiac level 4 and every level thereafter. Twin nets a scaling rogue – you get the idea. Now, if that sounds like a lot of work for players and/or GM, depending on who usually builds cohorts, let it be known that the pdf does note that only prepared companions should be options that can be called forth. The different essence values and use of a couple of already pretty much done companions also speed up the process. Finally, the discrepancy regarding essence cost and thus, minimum levels required, also means that this task is, thankfully, spread over the progression and makes handling this aspect comparatively quick and painless, considering what it does.

 

As far as equipment is concerned, one example would be a wooden mask that allows for wild empathy use as though class levels equaled druid levels, and also yields speak with animals as a constant effect. Essence invested in this example would yield bonuses to Handle Animal and wild empathy checks. Manifesting the ram’s equipment nets a properly (type and damage type! YEAH!) codified primary natural gore attack, courtesy of the ram helm (Small and Large zodiac damage values included as well!) that scales, with essence invested enhancing charge attacks – fitting, right? Interesting would be the item granted by the scales: It’s a rod, which allows the wielder to channel the forces of balance: When the wielder is hit, the rod gains healing power (with a cap), and when healed, the wielder can choose to forego healing and charge the rod with damage. Damage and healing, as well as the complex action economy situation here are properly codified, and, in an impressive feat of design prowess, these rules also prevent any form of cheesing I could think of regarding the stored healing etc. Once essence is invested, damage healed/dealt by using the rod is increased by +2 per point of essence invested.

 

Let’s take a brief overview of what the different armor manifestations, if any, can do, shall we? Here, we get scaling armors and weapons, with e.g. hide armor granted by Lion, and Crab providing one the wearer is proficient with. The archer can yield a ranged weapon (no firearms, and composite bow Strength ratings are taken into account), while the druid nets clubs. It should be noted that essence-investment is taken into account and used to differentiate between the constellations. For convenience’s sake, let us list the respective options by element, shall we?

 

Air: Armors 0; Champions 2 (Druid, Twin); Equipment 3 (Druid, Scales, Twin); Weapons 2 (Druid, Scales).

Earth: Armors 0; Champions 3 (Bull, Sea Goat, Scorpion); Equipment 3 (Bull, Sea Goat, Scorpion); Weapons 1 (Scorpion)

Fire: Armors 1 (Lion); Champions 3 (Archer, Lion, Ram); Equipment 1 (Ram); Weapons 2 (Archer, Lion).

Water: Armors 1 (Crab); Champions 3 (Crab, Fish, Water Bearer); Equipment 2 (Fish, Water Bearer); Weapons 0.

 

From this, you’ll note a few distinct oddities – not every element gets an armor or a weapon, and water end up one manifestation short of the others – however, it should be noted that water gets the strongest champion manifestation, so that may have been intended. It also should be noted that this tends to be no real issue, considering that the zodiac gets automatic access to ALL of these manifestations and constellations. This HUGE amount of options is hardcoded right into the class, allowing for a TON of player agenda at any given point. Speaking of which, there is one very important choice at first level: The orbit.

 

Essentially, the zodiac is two classes in one: If you choose a lunar orbit, you focus on enhancing your champion: You reduce the cost of champion manifestation by 1 to a minimum of 1 and gain an additional point of essence at 1st level, 2nd level and every even level thereafter. This makes the class, unless I am sorely mistaken, eclipse even the vizier regarding essence, which *may* be slightly overkill. At 4th and 6th level, the lunar zodiac gets Access Low Chakra (Head, Feet or Hands) as a bonus feat; 10th and 12th level provide Access Middle Chakra Slot (Wrists, Headband or Shoulders), and 14th and 16th provide Access Higher Chakra Slot (Neck, Belts). These feats, included within, basically double as a free-form way for characters to gain access to chakra binds to the respective item slot – an option that vastly enhances the flexibility of this system. For the purpose of the zodiac, the chakra bind choices add player agenda into what previously was a linear progression in the akashic context – something I definitely applaud. Something one may easily overlook here in power-comparison would be that the lunar zodiac is missing a couple of the chakra-binds that the vizier can get, for example. The highest level ones (chest, body) won’t be unlocked by the zodiac, and each category only unlocks two of the bind slots, not all three. But let us return to look at the rest of the lunar orbit’s engine, shall we? Lunar zodiacs use Charisma as their governing veilweaving key ability modifier and may shape two veils per day, plus an additional one at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. They may reallocate essence as a swift action.

 

The second orbit available would be Solar. These zodiacs gain access to proficiency with heavy armor and all martial weapons. They use class level instead of BAB when wielding the weapon manifestations of their constellations and for the purpose of feat effects based on BAB. The solar zodiac also gets a bonus feat on 2nd level and every even level thereafter, chosen from akashic, combat and teamwork feats. Shape Veil is also on this list. It should be noted that for these, the class uses zodiac level as BAB-prerequisite instead. If solar zodiacs take Shape Veil, they use Charisma as veilweaving key ability modifier. So yeah, the solar orbit is basically a veil-less akashic class! Interesting!

 

At 3rd level and every 6 levels thereafter, the zodiac’s essence capacity for all essence receptacles increases by 1. 5th level further reduces the cost of manifesting opposed element constellation manifestations, from 3 to 2. Additionally, for each constellation of a matching element manifested, the zodiac and his champion inflict +2 damage with weapon attacks and veils shaped that deal hit point damage, with the element governing the energy type as per convention – air adds electricity damage, earth acid – you get the drift. At 11th level, the essence penalty for opposing element constellation manifestations is further reduced by 1, and complimentary elements (fire and air, or earth and water) may now be treated as the same element for the purpose of determining the benefits of the bonus damage: With one earth and water manifestation in place, he’d for example deal +2 acid and +2 cold damage. 17th level gets rid of the essence penalty completely, and having a weapon or armor manifested renders the zodiac immune to the energy type of the corresponding constellation’s element. A manifested champion gains immunity versus their constellation’s energy, but manifesting a champion does NOT bestow the immunity on the zodiac.

 

7th level provides ½ class level uses of stargazing: An immediate action 1d6 surge to an attack, save or skill check. This must be rolled after rolling the check, but before results are made known. 13th and 19th level increase the die size of this surge to d8 and d10, respectively. At 20th level, we have different capstones, depending on orbit: The lunar orbit zodiac may bind to the body slot and make manifested champions take half damage incurred, and the zodiac may have half damage of a champion apply to another champion instead. The solar orbit zodiac gets immunity to death effects and ability drain, as well as twice the recovery of ability damage. Additionally, manifested armor or weapon cannot be disarmed or sundered. The class comes with a veil-list and 11 favored class options: Cool here: Each gets their own flavor-text. Less cool: The undine FCO does RAW nothing, as it only applies its benefits to water weaponry – and there is none. The animal companion stats for champions have btw. been included for your convenience, which is a huge plus, and same goes for the statblocks required – you won’t need to flip books.

 

Now, I have already noted a couple of feats, so here goes: The pdf contains 12 feats, of which 5 are, at least to my knowledge, reprints. The new feats include 2 feats that allow for dabbling in the constellation engine. Expanded Veilweaving is SUPER-important: At 11th veilweaving level, it allows you to increase the maximum veils shaped by one. This ALSO applies if you use Shape Veils and have no veilweaving class level, which is REALLY smart. Definite winner there. Stellar Strike is an akashic combat feat that allows you to enhance the damage caused by your constellation weapons via essence investiture, and there are 3 chess-themed feats: Queen’s Knight (enhance loyalty between you and champion, preventing compulsions etc.); King’s Castle (allows you to intercept attacks on allies; great for tank-y characters) and Pawn’s Sacrifice (use Sense Motive to redirect the attack to a veil companion or champion). The latter is a bit iffy, due to how easily Sense Motive can and will be boosted through the roof, but since it is no attack negation, but rather a redirect, I’m pretty good with it. I’d feel better about a hard-cap of uses or a cool-down, though. 4 neat traits are included in the deal as well.

 

There are three archetypes included: Albedo fighters gain Perihelion pauldrons and reflect rays; knights that are literally, clad n light. The celestial knight cavalier uses a quadruped champion as mount (essence cost 4 or less, until 8th level) and later gains the weapon, armor or equipment options of a constellation. The prism mage wizard archetype is based on the Aurora lenses veil, and basically represents a cool concept of the spellcaster who also happens to dabble in magical lenses.

 

The pdf follows the trend established in Akashic Trinity, in that the new veils presented within are grouped by theme, providing leitmotifs that help contextualize the veils. Three such themes are provided: Starry Elements, Priestly Raiments and Apparel of the Merchant Prince. This, at least to me, makes these more interesting, exciting. You get the idea. A couple of these are reprints, though we do get new ones here. It should also be noted that the traditional one –letter code for the veil chakra-binds for the classes has been omitted this time around. Personally, I welcome this: A concise table for each class simply makes more sense and, as this is the 7th veilweaving class, things would become cluttered, fast. These veils are of the excellent quality we’ve come to expect from the author. EDIT: I was asked to state what I think about them, so there goes: Aurora Lenses are a godsend; these lenses allow for counterspelling of spells and psionic powers for veilweavers. The Mask of Elemental Adaptation is a means to convert energy damage taken to a chosen type, with sensible caps. Perihelion pauldrons allow you to retaliate with energy when assaulted in melee. Shooting Stars let you fire those, with the bind adding them to be used as basically a weapon. Star Metal Bracers allow for energy type change. While Stellar Stompers can generate energy bursts and, provided sufficient essence is invested, even propel you forward. I really liked these veils!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Considering the depth and complexity of the subject matter at hand, it is pretty impressive to see such a tight pdf here. Layout is GORGEOUS and adheres to a 2-column full-color standard (Liz Courts did the graphic design – no surprise it looks this damn good!) that is enhanced by absolutely stunning, original full-color artworks by Bryan Syme. This pdf is beautiful indeed! Look at the cover – yep, that’s the same artwork quality as inside. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

 

Michael Sayre’s Zodiac is a super-impressive class; From a design perspective, it manages to portray a pet-class that feels and plays radically different from pretty much any other pet-class out there. This does not play like a summoner, spiritualist, tinker, etc., and the distinction is not solely based, as one would assume, on akasha access. Instead, the zodiac embraces player choice and freedom to a degree that is almost baroque in its splendor, in a good way. The immediate access to the totality of constellations, to what a lazier designer would have made a bloodline-like fire and forget choice, renders the zodiac very flexible and interesting in its overall themes and options – from level 1, you will have quite an assortment of tricks.

And then, there would be the orbit class feature.

Most designers would have made two classes instead, or made this an archetype – here, it is part of the core design paradigm and as such, it is something that should be applauded. That being said, it also represents the one component of the base class where I am a bit weary. You see, the uneven nature of manifestations among constellations, as noted above, isn’t as relevant for the lunar zodiac as for the solar one. The solar zodiac indeed has some choices among constellations that are frankly better than others. My own design experience tells me that this likely stemmed from a shifting of elements associated with constellations, but I’m not sure. Either way, I do think that a few tweaks to the constellation abilities could make this a tad bit more “even.” The solar zodiac, in case you were wondering, performs approximately on the level of the better martial classes – so better than the fighter (but who doesn’t these days…), for example, but not on a level that would present an issue in most games.

 

How to rate this? Oh boy, this is where things become difficult for me. You see, this sense of an inequality between the elements of constellations and their respective power is something I find hard to ignore; there are a few cosmetic hiccups as well…and yet. And yet, I honestly believe that the zodiac is one damn cool class. I can see myself actually choosing to play, wanting to play these fellows, and considering the vast wealth of class choices at my disposal, this is something. The class could work, courtesy of champions, wonders for a 1-on-1 game with only one player; the champions could offer a ton of roleplaying potential. And the design is daring. Whenever there is one way to do things in a safe and bland way, the pdf instead goes on and does things in a creative, harder, but also more interesting way.

 

So yeah…what to do? Well, first of all, I can’t rate this 5 stars – the aforementioned hiccups and the uneven elemental distribution regarding constellation manifestations makes that impossible. However, at the same time, I don’t feel justified rounding down, as this does not present anything broken, as the craftsmanship of what’s here is simply too precise. Hence, I will round up. I also really love the wondrous ways the akashic engine was tweaked and modified here; the constellation engine is a bountiful ground for further design choices, and the means to expand upon the options presented by Shape Veil should let a sigh of relief escape from more than one dabbler in the akashic arts. As such, and due to me really enjoying the wonderful flexibility the class offers, I will also add my seal of approval to this file.

 

You can get this inspiring class here on OBS!

 

Missed Akashic Trinity? You can find it here!

 

Don’t yet have Akashic Mysteries? You can find it here!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

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