Feb 282018
 

CLASSifieds: The Astra Base Class

This installment of the CLASSifieds-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, ½ a page blank, leaving us with 8.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

Okay, so the astra class is all about using the mind as a weapon – quite literally. Chassis-wise, we get d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor and shields, except tower shields. The class gets full BAB-progression and good Will-saves. One of the signature tools of the class would be the astral blade:A s aswift action, an astra can draw forth this weapon, which may take the shape of any slashing or piercing weapon the astra is proficient with, being obviously magical. The blade always has the ghost touch special ability. Here we have an issue: RAW, the blade can’t have it. Special abilities require that an item has at least a +1 enhancement bonus. Here is the problem: The blade does not behave as though it had the property – it *has* it, which means that the +1 equivalent of the ghost touch should actually feature in the deal…but I digress. The blade can be dismissed as a swift action and regains all hit points upon being reformed – sundering it makes thus no sense. At 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the astral blade gains an enhancement bonus of +1.

 

At second level, the astra gains the first mantra, which ties in with the blade: Mantras are purely mental actions and the second level mantra must correspond to the alignment of the astra – which would be a good place to note that the astra needs to have a neutral alignment component…so yeah, this one is preordained by alignment choice. A new mantra is learned at 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Invoking a mantra is a swift action and mantras invoked last for 1 minute; however, the astra can be ended sooner by reinforcing it to increase its effects. Until 8th level, an astra can only have one mantra active at any given time; thereafter, the astra can maintain two active mantras at once, while 16th level provides the option to have up to 3 different mantras active at once. Mantras are psychic effects and have emotion components, making the astra’s mantras subject to the restrictions of psychic spells, in spite of mantras being supernatural effects.

 

There are a total of 15 different mantras included in the pdf: We get the balance, good, evil, chaos and law to represent the different alignment-based mantras at 1st level. The balance mantra nets a +1 enhancement bonus, as well as +1 to ability and skill checks. The latter bonuses increase by a further +1 at 8th and 16th level, a progression inherent in the passive bonuses of all the mantras. The other alignment-based mantras grant the respective special weapon abilities associated with it, as well as granting the PCs a bonus to saving throws versus spells of the respective opposed “subtype” – that should be “descriptor” for spells. The reinforcement options for the respective alignment mantras allow for the use of an immediate action to add an additional effect – for the different alignments, those would be e.g. 1-round dazes, nauseating, etc. – all with saves to resist. The balance mantra is significantly stronger: It instead grants frickin’ vorpal – pretty much one of the most potent options. The rules-interaction is also a bit strange regarding reinforcing mantras; it looks like reinforcing them ends the mantra…but when? Upon reinforcing or after the round in which it was reinforced? The sequence is a bit opaque.

 

Beyond these, we get acid, flame, ice, lightning – these all are basically identical, with just damage types exchanged: Passive benefits are resistances and well as the appropriate special weapon ability; the reinforced options upgrading that to the respective burst ability, while also providing brief one-round immunity to the assigned energy type. Beyond these, we can find Defense, which nets defending and +1 to CMD (which improves up to +3); as a swift action, this one lets you add the enhancement bonus of the blade to AC sans reducing its enhancement bonus – I assume for 1 round, analogue to the others. The dispelling mantra nets the ability of the same name, with the passive bonus pertaining all saves versus spells. Crits can be reinforced with dispelling burst for 1 round. The death mantra nets the vicious special ability as well as a passive bonus versus necromancy spells and effects (note: Me not noting application to effects above in other abilities was intentional!); crits can be reinforced to add wounding. Metal nets DR 1/bludgeoning as well as keen and may be enforced to auto-confirm (!!!) crits. Mercy nets a passive bonus to saves versus enchantment spells as well as merciful; crits can be reinforced to send the target to sleep. Finally, the Speed mantra nets agile as well as +5 ft. movement rate at 2nd level, which increases to +10 ft. at 8th level, +20 ft. at 16th level.

 

Beyond the astral blade, the class begins play with astral projection: +1 to AC, Reflex saves, CMD, which increases by a further +1 at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter…but ONLY when armed with the astral blade AND wearing light armor. Odd that it does not apply when unarmored. 4th level nets uncanny dodge, 7th level evasion – but since these are granted by the same ability, I assume them to only apply in such a context as well, which is odd, particularly for uncanny dodge.

 

At 2nd level, the astra gains constant detect magic, with CL equal to class level, but only to detect presence or absence of magic auras. At 7th level, the astra may concentrate for 3 levels to detect mindscapes 1/day; 11th level nets 1/day retrocognition; 14th level provides 1/day dreamscape. If dispelled, the sight only resumes after rest. 3rd level and every 6 levels thereafter net a bonus combat feat. Astral step, erroneously called “astral slide” in the class table, is gained at 5th level: As a swift action, while having an active mantra, the astra may slip 5 ft. once per round, a distance that increases by +5 ft at 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter. The ability may be used a number of times equal to ½ class level + Wisdom modifier. The astra may act after using the ability and the interaction with teleportation-hampering means and charges is covered – kudos.

 

At 13th level, an astra may 1/day reroll a a failed Will-save,. +1/day reroll at 17th and 19th level. The capstone is ultimate mantra, usable 1/day, which activates all mantras you know. You also gain thoughtsense and arcane sight, double astral step range and add a +1 inherent (weird) bonus to atk and damage. The ultimate mantra ends after 1 minute and leaves the astra fatigued for 1 minute, which may not be magically offset, and it affects the astra even when the character would otherwise be immune to fatigue – nice!

We get favored class options for the astra, covering all the core races. They are solid, but lock races in certain alignment mantras. The elven one enhances weapon damage with the good mantra, for example. The class also gets 3 feats: Extra Mantra may only be taken if you already have 3, granting you an additional mantra. Improved Astral Step provides the option to use it in conjunction with mantra activation. Unbound Astra lets you choose to learn any of the alignment mantras, unlocking them.

 

The pdf also contains two archetypes: The first is the Hundred Arms, who must be neutral evil and replaces astral step with ghostly arm: This arm wields a duplicate of your astral blade and adds an additional attack at the highest attack bonus to your full-attack actions. (!!) Note that, RAW this arm manifests when you “reinforce any of your mantras as a swift action” – I am not sure if this replaces the regular reinforcement effect or not. The additional arm also nets +1 attack of opportunity, increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. Problematic: The additional attack RAW stacks with similar bonus-attack-granting tricks, blowing astral step out of the water, big time.

Instead of mental discipline, 13th level nets hundred-hand whirlwind, which lets your reinforce a mantra (in addition to its usual effects or instead of them?) as a full-round action, making one full BAB-attack per enemy within the threatened area. …Yeah, I also was expecting something more than a refluffed Whirlwind Attack. Okay, so, note how we replaced Mental discipline? Well, 17th level nets mental discipline 1/day, with an additional use gained at 19th level. The capstone nets you a super form as a swift action, where 5 spirit arms grow, each of which with its own mantra active. You also gain Multiweapon Fighting for the duration. Okay, how can a hand have a mantra active? Can you reinforce them? Do you gain the passive benefits? Not sure.

 

The phoenix soldier must be NG or CN and adds Fly to the class skills; this archetype is locked into the Flame mantra at 2nd level. 5th level replaces astral step with the option to shoot fire when invoking the flame mantra. This is a ranged touch attack, 60 ft. range, 4d6 fire damage; +1d6 at 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter, double damage when invoking ultimate mantra. The blast may be used ½ class level + Wis-mod times per day. Note that, RAW, you may only fire the bolt when invoking a mantra, which is interesting. Design-aesthetics-wise, full BAB is not necessary for touch attacks. Mental discipline is moved to 17th, and only gained once. At 13th level, the archetype gains phoenix wings, netting you wings of fire when invoking the flame mantra, lasting as long as the mantra does. These net you fly speed equal to land speed and good maneuverability. 19th level nets final conflagration, usable 1/day: When reduced to 0 hp, you detonate in a fire burst that heals allies and respawn with full hit points.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are generally very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the formal criteria are pretty precise; there are only a few minor deviations here and there. However, as far as sequence of abilities and actions go, this could be a bit more precise. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series and the full-color artworks are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though the bookmarks comically refer to the hussar class instead of the astra. The bookmark to the second archetype is also not functional.

 

Thiago Rosa Shinken and Nina Hobbit’s astra is not a bad class per se. I wouldn’t call it an occult class in the sense that it is a pretty simple one, though: We do not have hard-coded narrative tools baked into the class design, nor do we really use the wealth of options of Occult Adventures – instead, we have a fleeting reference to psychic magic, which does not suffice for that moniker, at least as far as I’m concerned. That being said, that is just branding aesthetics.

 

The astra, while not perfect, is not necessarily a bad class – its attempt at the martial wielding a cool psychic blade is valiant. Here’s the issue: When this class was released, we had not one, but 3 vastly more interesting, dynamic and unique classes that covered the same things…just better. In more interesting ways. Whether you play a blade-kineticist (kinetic duelist, from Kineticists of Porphyra), a soulknife (Ultimate Psionics) or an ethermagus (Strange Magic), these alternatives provide more player agenda, more options, have tighter rules and sport abilities that are simply more interesting. (Oh, and don’t get me started on such concepts via Spheres of Power…The telekinetic’s handbook has a superb Elfenlied-hekatonkheires-style archetype that works smoothly…) The astra’s tricks are all about an escalation of numbers, basically a class with a magic weapon baked into its chassis…and that’s it. You’ll attack. You’ll cycle through the relatively bland mantras…and that’s it. Compared to the versatility these offer, the astra feels, unfortunately, like a bit of a dud.

 

Now, I have seen A LOT worse classes; with few decisions, you can make this guy work at the table…but why would you? Honestly, I appreciate that the craftsmanship is solid, but this guy feels phoned in; it doesn’t sport a unique trick. Not one. The engine falls short of what it could have been with interesting mantras. The class feels like it would have been decent, perhaps even good, when Pathfinder was a young system. However, it was released 2016, after all the options I quoted above. Yeah. Sorry, but I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars for this fellow, rounded down.

 

You can get this pdf here on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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