In the Company of Angels
This massive installment of the “In the Company of…”-series clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 54 pages of content – quite a bunch, so let’s dive in!
This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
As you may know, the “In the Company of..”-series is devoted to making high concept, monstrous races viable options for PCs and this one tackles angels, out of all creatures. I very much like this concept and, following the standard of Rite Publishing books, the introduction to the race is delivered in glorious in-character prose, rendering the reading experience of this book surprisingly fun – alas, of all texts, the introductory paragraphs are riddled with punctuation errors, which did somewhat detract from my reading experience of an otherwise glorious introduction – the race presented herein would be the grigori.
Now those of you interested in mysticism and mythology in general with have a smile hushing across their faces and, at least in my case, this smile broadened when I saw the optional rule of a setting-specific curse that renders all children of grigori horrible monsters. It should also be noted that the amount of minor glitches decreases over the course of the text, as the narrating grigori explains physical appearance, alignment, relations with other races, etc. – over all, this section served as a very flavorful introduction to the race.
On a formal level, grigori gain +2 Wis and Cha, -2 Con, which renders the base race somewhat lopsided – while I won’t bash the race for this, personally, I prefer races with an equal distribution of attribute bonuses between physical and a mental stats. Grigori are humanoids with the extraplanar, angel and good subtypes – and no, they do NOT receive aura of menace and the other nifty, yet often overlooked and powerful angel abilities. Grigori are medium humanoids and may choose either acid, cold, electricity or fire resistance 5, gain +2 to saves versus poison and petrification, +2 to Sense Motive and Perception, darkvision 60 ft. and a racial curse that makes all attempts to prevent the conception of offspring with mortals moot. Okay, the base traits, while powerful and providing a net bonus of +3 to Sense Motive and Perception, are interesting and would fly as provided in my game.
Next would be the alternate racial traits: Here, we have an alternate array of attribute modifiers I personally prefer (Con and Int +2, -2 Wis) as well as a rather broad array of options to customize the grigori. Do you want to affect magical beasts with handle animal sans penalty? Check. Bonuses versus evil outsider? Check. Expanded spell lists for arcanists that transform the divine spells into arcanem f applicable? Check. Now the latter is somewhat of a corner-case for me – I absolutely adore the fact that it lets you portray a healing arcanist that makes sense; at the same time, I’m a bit reluctant due to exactly that factoid. Resistance against negative energy (akin to AAW Games’ colliatur) can also be found among the traits for grigori sworn to defeat the undead. A defensive hole is also here as well as SP corruption resistance against evil and lowlight vision. 1/day fiend-smiting is a trait that allows paladins to stack damage against the hordes of abyss and legions of hell appropriately. Sounds all awesome, right? There even is a balanced wildcard feat trait – 1/day as a free action upon the beginning of the grigori’s turn, he may beseech the heavens to grant him one feat for which he meets the prerequisites, but only for one round. While looking powerful on papre, its impact remained appropriate in my playtest – significant, yes, but not op.
Grigori also receive a smattering of favored class options for bard, cleric, inquisitor, monk, oracle, paladin, skald, sorceror, summoner and warpriest – and beyond those, even one for Rite’s cool luckbringer and divine channeler classes. On a purely aesthetic point, the warpriest’s benefits are slightly different in formatting, but that remains a cosmetic gripe and should not faze anyone. Thankfully, we do receive age, height and weight tables and, of course, also a racial paragon class (for which FCOs are provided as well, btw.) – this would be the angelic paragon.
The angelic paragon must be neutral good, gets 6+Int-mod skills, full BAB-progression, good Fort and Ref-saves, proficiency with natural attacks, greatswords, heavy maces, javelins, longbows, morning stars and warhammers (wait, no scythes?) and neither armor nor shield proficiency – while I get armor, shields did not seem too sensible to me. So, how do they raise their AC? That would be the job of Celestial armor, which consists of 1/2 armor bonus, 1/2 natural armor bonus – this begins at +2 and scales up to +18. The bonus is lost when wearing armor – I assume shields are okay, though I admittedly am, not 100% sure. Now if you’ve been following my reviews for some time, you will have noticed that I did not mention the HD of the class. That is due to one simple fact -none is given. This is a pretty glaring glitch for the class and a severe detriment, especially considering the fact that the framework of the class is already powerful on a borderline way – 6+Int skills, 2 good saves AND full BAB? That’s nasty. The framework does point towards d8 or d10 as HD, but as provided, I am not sold.
1st level paragons are treated as both humanoids and outsiders and 10th level sees native outsider apotheosis. Angelic paragons also begin play with a pool of providence equal to 3 + class level. An angelic paragon may not spend more than one point of providence from this pool in a given round and begins play with three uses, learning an additional trick every 2 levels thereafter, to be chosen freely from the selection. The base abilities allow for the enhancement of the paragon’s weapon with various, scaling special weapon qualities and bonuses, stacking up to +5 enhancement bonus, with proper wording for the application of the bonuses to be added to already magical weapons. The +10 cap remains in effect.
Secondly, as a standard action, they can cause a target within 100 ft. to burst into soulfire – 1d6 points of damage, +1d6 for every 2 levels thereafter, with a Cha-governed Reflex save for half damage. This damage is half fire and half divine, the latter being thus not reduced by resistance akin to certain cleric spells. Non-good creatures slain by this ability must succeed a Will-save or be subject to the sequester spell with a caster level equal to the paragon’s class level. This is an odd choice – I get the anti-divination prevention, but what about the invisibility-component? Furthermore, the spell does mention that the target remains in suspended animation until the spell ends, which is confusing in conjunction with the soulfire ability itself – so, the target is killed and then sequestered, got that -but does that mean the coma-effect hits before the target is killed or not? I assume that the sequester effect affects the target’s remains – alas, I am not 100% sure.
Finally, immediate action can prevent truespeech, with 10th level making the ability permanent. As someone with a background in academia and a serious interest in linguistics, as a person, I am no fan of this ability – why? Because it further marginalizes languages. That is no base for a proper criticism, though – what would be one, though, would be the fact that the spell-effects duplicated here are usually reserved for higher levels, meaning that, at lower levels, the opposition of the PCs probably won’t have a good means of countering them. Now granted, the spell-like effects won’t break the game, but still. The soulfire ability feels OP to me in the context of the already impressive framework of the class – full BAB, good saves, many skills and a ranged SP that can’t be completely negated by resistance? The totals, while not broken on their own, represent overkill in conjunction with one another.
The further abilities powered by providence include group telepathy as a supernatural ability, including ranged aid another for Int, Wis and Cha-based skills. This can be pretty nasty – one cohort in my game is an aid specialist and, were he a grigori, this would be NASTY. My advice for GMs regarding tis ability is to watch it carefully. Spell-like abilities of cle/orc-spells with scaling level selection can be found here – and works, though it took me a bit to get whether the ability grants scaling SPs or not. Access to orisons is also in here, as are angelic senses – these allow for at-will detect evil, detect magic, discern lies, know direction as SPs as well as the missing sense, whether that be darkvision or low-light vision. On a nitpicky side that will not influence the verdict – the default granted sight is darkvision, which makes less sense than lowlight vision since the race’s default is darkvision. As a standard action and for one point of providence, see invisibility is part of the deal. 9th level nets commune and 17th level provides true seeing and detect snares and pits. The latter, at 17th level, is probably way past its usefulness.
The angelic paragon also gets a powerful, fear-based save or suck (with a hex-like once per 24-hour per target clause), with shaken going directly to panicked and cowering. Why skip the frightened in the condition-progression? 11th level paragons can add +2d6 damage and save or 1d6 Str and Con-damage or object-breaking to attacks, though thankfully with the same caveat. What about devastating charges that deal additional +6d6 soulfire damage, include a free trip, the possibility to blind foes AND speed-increase? Magic jar possession of mortals is also part of teh deal
17th level paragons can journey to the astral plane. The angelic paragon can also gain an aura that modifies memories, erasing the paragon and her allies for one minute in the past – this ability only affects creatures the paragon would want to protect; adversaries get a save. This ability is at once exceedingly powerful and crippled – the shenanigans you can pull off with such a trick are extensive – even modify memories, the psionic power, can be VERY powerful when handled correctly. This is AoE and less limited, but at the same time, the non-scaling 1 minute duration of memory modified feels very conservative. All in all, this ability, to me, feels like it would be well-served by a slight reconfiguration.
Providing a brand that buffs anyone who attacks the recipient and +1/2 class level enhancement bonus to an attribute for one round are also in here, with the latter being one example for an ability that just begs to be abused like crazy. I am also not a fan of death and soul-targeting effects that otherwise do not grant saves being granted this (at +4 to the save) and immunity to negative energy effects, including channel energy – as a free action. Granted, only for one round, but still.
What about one ability, available at first convenient choice, that allows the angelic paragon to spend a providence point to intercept an attack and take hit point, ability damage, level drain or death effects – yes, this outclasses shield other, but does not stop there. The ability ALSO allows for instant, long-range exchange of positions with an ally (not denoted as conjuration [teleport] and thus impossible to negate) as a swift action, of all things. The ability also allows for the prevention of adjacent allies fallingFinally, the ability allows for the expenditure of all providence points to take the effects already determined upon herself, applying immunities and resistances as normal. That’s ONE ability. Each component would be valid and worthwhile – in combination, they’re broken for the investment they require. SP invisibility, mirror image and alter self. At the same time, e.g. a scaling single target sonic damage that may damage foes looks underpowered in comparison, as does the all providence costing divine damage burst that blinds foes, even when it’s not. Why? Because there are A LOT of frankly OP options here. 19th level unlocks solar’s slaying arrows and the array of options also allows for the immediate substitution of soulfire as an energy type. While this deviates from how metamagic usually works for spontaneous casters, I have no issue here.
2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the angelic paragon also receives a so-called heavenly gift. Channel energy at -2 levels, unassisted flight (at 6th level, thankfully), not being attacked by animals – there are quite a few cool options here, but also a tool that provides variable bonuses to attributes, which is once again an invitation to min-max.Iincreasing protective auras, eidetic memory, hard to pronounce truenames, planar adaptitions – interesting. Sacrificial healing can be broken by a ring of regneration – sacrifice hit points in increments of 2 per level to heal another creature. The lack of a caveat means that any form of regeneration translates into infinite healing for the group. Broken.
Natural attacks and the improvement of them, scaling Spell Resistance- unlike the providence-powered abilities, the majority of the options here can be considered flavorful and fitting without breaking the game. Limitide SP-summoning etc. does work 10th level expands the gifts available, providing one energy immunity and scaling up the progression of resistances chosen so far – organic and nice. A sanctuary-style aura is also part of the deal here, as is damage reduction. High level angels may stun an opponent hit twice in one round on a failed save, but only once per 24 hours. Fats healing and a celestial animal companion and even a size-increase are available here. 20th level nets you a host of celestials to command and renders you immune to being permanently slain unless bested on your home plane.
The angelic paragon class also sports an array of archetypes that provide further customization options – the archon, azata, cherub, ophanim and sereph archetypes, with the brijidine archetype further modifying the azata archetype . Archons may, for example, choose short-range, scaling teleportation, become a tiny harbinger that can blast foes with scaling force damage (!!) AND perfect flight at 50 ft.? Sounds lame? You do know the songbird of doom-build and its variations, right? The Lyrakien-form providence (once referred to as “archon” instead of azata) also falls into this mold. Archon-weaponry and exclusive gifts can be found here as well as in the other archetypes. This review is already very, very long and hence I will spare you the detailed analysis of each everyone of them. It should be noted that some providences replace the default grigori ones, with e.g. azata senses deviating from the base providence. Steal Magic also has a cut copy paste error that still refers to yamah. Cherubim get claws, grab and rake. Yeah, combine that with the other abilities – SICK. Lillends get FULL bardic performance progression. What about 1st level immunity to all mind-affecting effects that would make you do negative things? Soulfire BREATH WEAPON in a cone witha cooldown of 1d4 and only 1 providence cost?
The feat-section contains an array of interesting feats – from the obvious class resource enhancers to some monster feats (buffs when spells/spell-like abilities fail to penetrate SR) to touches that spring will-save based manacles, the feats also cover retributive curses and an ability that forces a geas-like obedience from a target. Extradimensional prisons for prisoner storage while adventuring fall on the cool side of concepts and refreshing of limited SPs via providence is part of the deal. Absolutely broken: Siphon the Divine: 2/day, refresh your providence pool by destroying a divine magic item, regaining 1 providence per spell slot used to create it. This allows for much longer bursts at a pretty low cost; negligible, in fact, at higher levels.
Editing and formatting are not particularly good – from numerous punctuation glitches to typos and minor italicization glitches and even a whole paragraph of nothing right in the middle of an ability text make this feel rushed. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful 2-column, full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artworks are of a diverse style and range from thematically fitting stock to gorgeous former Pathways cover to beautiful piece.
Let me ramble a bit – I love the concept of playing angels. Perhaps it’s Kaori Yuki’s manga Angel Sanctuary, perhaps it’s the iconic imagery. If someone asks me what my favorite 3.X setting is, I answer, without hesitation, “Engel” – the post-apocalyptic setting in which the angels are pitted against the dreamseed insectoid demons of the lord of flies is stunning and awesome and, while not mechanically perfect, just brilliant. It is a tragedy that the numerous sourcebooks have not been translated to English and if you are capable of reading German, I strongly urge you to seek them out. At the same time, Anger of Angels, the more widely known sourcebook by Malhavoc Press, extremely disappointed me with its lack of fluff, balance or mythological themes.
The good things first – Steven D. Russell’s In the Company of Angels gets the feeling right – abilities are highly complex, interesting and wilder widely in the realms of the respective imagery, both real world and in-game. There are a lot of options here that are downright fun and the superb prose is glorious. I also consider the grigori race as such a very fun choice and like its flair, its options. At this point of my first reading, I was truly excited.
Alas, then the paragon class came, and it is one of the most heartbreaking experiences for me. Why? Because Steven D. Russell manages to put extremely complex concepts into a rules-frame; he does so with panache and flair and more often than not, I found myself smiling at the respective abilities and their imagery. Alas, my impression upon reading this was confirmed in the playtest (FYI, we used d8 as HD) – the angelic paragon class is broken. This is essentially a paladin, or rather, magus on steroids. The reason WHY it doesn’t work as provided, at least not in a balanced manner, are manifold: Number 1) Glass cannon-argument: The lack of armor, shield, etc. means the angelic paragon is pretty fragile in the AC-department, but that’s not the issue. The framework of the class itself, on its own, is already too powerful. Now, one could field the “attack the angel first”-clause, yes, but unlike e.g. the tanimin, the angels herein have all the tools at their disposal – from stealth to mind-games and switcheroo-teleportation that cannot be mitigated, they have the movement-advantage and thus, better chances of avoiding and mitigating attacks. Add to that infinite heal-exploits and we have the trinity of avoidable glitches. The attempt to balance the excessive power of the providence abilities is founded on their relative costliness and short duration, but in-game, this leads to nova-issues.
Full bardic progression, channel energy, flight, copious natural attacks, great framework – this class can get all and that without necessarily excluding that many other tricks, with balance varying wildly between what was obviously based on monster abilities of different CRs and what was intended for player-use. Soulfire’s massive range and impossibility to fully mitigate the damage via resistances, magus-like weapon-enhancement at 1st level – this class poaches among the established classes, dials down the minimum required level and then adds its own options. “But it does not get spellcasting!” Yeah, so what? The flexibility in combat provided by spellcasting is there and the collective of abilities and basic class frame, all of which would be strong on their own, coalesce into a class that feels woefully rushed -and capital letter BROKEN. It is obvious that the significant array of complex options provided required a lot of time and effort – it does show. However, how they come together is a mess in everything but the most high-powered of games. This is one of most overpowered classes I’ve seen for PFRPG and needs a redesign of its bursts, several abilities need to be made into trees and there need to be mutually exclusive clauses to balance this monster.
Now if that all sounds awfully negative, then because for me, it is. This is a tragedy in that the constituent components are great – the rules-language, while sometimes haunted by punctuation errors and the like, is precise and skillful. The concepts are great. The fluff is glorious and the race is fine. But the class is extremely rushed and requires a massive retooling.
I agonized over this. I really, really want to like this book. I can’t. With this amount of glitches and, MUCH more importantly, the glaring balance issues, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for the purpose of this platform.