In the Company of Rakshasa
The latest installment of Rite Publishing’s “In the Company of..:”-series clocks in at 23 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my review queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
We begin this supplement, as always, with a letter from a member of this race to Qwilion of Questhaven, one that has a sense of decadence and the disturbing reverberating in it, setting a great precedence, theme-wise, for what’s to follow. The pdf asks the question whether you ever did *STARVE* – not just hunger, starve. Now if the implications of this very concept are lost, I’d very much recommend Knut Hamsun’s legendary “Sult” (Hunger) Now here’s the powerful imagery: The in-character narrator states “We are that hunger.” That actually did send shivers down my spine.
When the in-character narrator speaks of “hunger and desires so terrible they transcend death”, you believe it – the yaksha are CREEPY. Terribly so. And in fact, the leitmotifs of hunger and desire extend throughout the whole fluff, providing a slick and surprisingly suave justification for the predations of these beings – in case you haven’t gleaned that by now – yes, the relationships with races, adventurers etc. actually are a joy to read here.
The rakshasa base-race here is the yaksha, a medium shapechanger which gets +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Wis. The race gets +4 to Bluff when lying (NOT when feinting) and has darkvision 60 ft. and they may alter self at will, but sans modifying ability scores and retaining darkvision. This ability allows the character to become small or medium. Thanks to their shapeshifting, yaksha get +2 to CMD vs. grapples and +2 to Escape Artist checks made to escape grapples. Now here’s the deal, though: Yaksha are defined by their hunger, which can only be sated by consuming humanoid flesh – said flesh may come from a living or dead humanoid, but may not come from the undead (which interestingly puts them at odds with necromancers). Yaksha must consume their weight in humanoid flesh in a given month – failure to do so results in 1 negative level, more if the yaksha is starved further. See, this is interesting – by tying hunger to a long time frame, it becomes less of an active hindrance for adventuring and still retains its theme. Before you’re asking – yes, I’d allow this race as presented, though the shapechanging is pretty powerful. The race sports age, height and weight tables and 7 alternate racial traits with which you can modify the base race. These include natural armor, saving bonus versus divine spells; a 2 RP or less wildcard ability representing the host race, better impersonating, +atk versus outsiders, better CL or better positive/negative energy – all of these are valid and feel balanced versus the abilities they replace – kudos!
The race also has favored class options for bard, brawler, luckbringer, monk, slayer, sorceror, time thief, rakshasa paragon…and vizier! Yup, we actually get support for the great Akashic class here! There also are racial archetypes in this book, the first of which would be the Cheeno (slayer) – these guys only get simple weapon and light armor proficiency. Instead of studied target, the archetype provides a predation pool equal to class level +3. These points can be used to activate predations, supernatural abilities, as a swift action, expending 1 predation point. And these are…brutal. Blissful Ignore of the Prey makes all humanoids within 30 ft ignore the cheeno for 1 round, being treated as unaware…ooh, and the memory of events involving the cheeno are eliminated as if subject to modify memory…and yes, this is properly classified as a mind-affecting compulsion effect. As long as the cheeno has at least 1 predation point, the character is protected from cold by endure elements. Cheeno can also use these points to gain scent, which increases in effectiveness versus the starving, cannibals as well as humans upon which the cheeno has fed and a 15-ft-range to pinpoint humanoids. At 1st level, the cheeno gets a 1d6 primary natural bite and gets a morale bonus after consuming sufficient humanoid flesh as well as counting as a rakshasa – this is known as hungerborn.
4th level provides a 10-ft. aura of 1d6 cold, Fort save to mitigate fatigue, which can be activated as a swift action, but only when in the original form. It can similarly be dismissed and otherwise lasts for 1 minute. At 7th level, the archetype gets the cannibalism rarefied taste (see my breakdown of the paragon class later) and an original form with features of a starved stag. At 10th level, the chenno can shapechang into a large form, complete with a gore primary attack and thabkfully sans shapechange-stack abuse. Additionally, at higher levels, the archetype may choose predations at full level and sports two unique ones – Snow striding (which also mitigates sleet or hail) and feast of ashes as an SP – note that, as a predation, this is subject to predation point consumption and has a solid DC. Quarry is limited to creatures fed upon, cannibals or the starving and 16th level allows the chenno to add class level in cold damage to a single melee or ranged attack, with the target also being denied Dex-mod versus these strikes, while 20th level provides full shapechanger apotheosis with cold immunity, SR and powerful natural weapons.
The second archetype would be the Hokhoku for the luckbringer class, who gets a pool of predatory chance that can be used interchangeably as predation points or moments of chance. Predation-wise, the aforementioned blissful ignorance trick is part of the deal…as is perfect maneuverability fly at 60 ft. (40 if wearing medium/heavy armor), but only for one round, upgrading to 1 round/level at 8th level. While this is restrictive, it still violates the prohibition versus unassisted flight at the lowest levels and can break quite a few modules – not a fan and, depending on your campaign, OP. This replaces weal or woe and narrow escape. At 1st level, hungerborn is gained. Instead of 3rd level’s nothing is written, the hokhoku gains a rarefied taste (more on that in the paragon class) based on misfortune, which features an original form with avian features – they can feed on humanoids that fail at something of great importance (or that roll natural 1s on their saves) and may use fatespin to force rerolls of saves, using the lower of the two. Instead of 4th level’s improbably, the archetype gets an ability that I have used in my home game for YEARS for some creepy magic – consuming the eyes of the dead plays the last minute of the dead person’s life before the hokhoku’s eyes. Creepy and awesome! 8th level allows for the consumption of the brain of the deceased for a speak with dead-like ability and 10th level allows for predations to be gained instead of improbables, basically streamlining them and using them interchangeably, with two exclusives being included: Both are activated as immediate actions – one combines a visually neat vanish with a debuff for the attacker, while the second increases the crit multiplier of the bite to x4 – based on action expenditure, of course. The archetype sports a similar apotheosis that instead of cold focuses on better crits.
The taotie monk gets an expanded skill-list and begins play with hungerborn and the archetype begins with a pool or predation, as with the other archetypes – predation-wise, they can use the pool to bite off chunks off her opponents, adding Con-damage and counting as having consumed 10 lbs. The second predation allows the taotie to ignore class level hardness when sundering objects with the bite – magic items consumed can potentially be reconstructed upon killing the monk…but that is not easy. Taotie are also excellent liars, gaining a predation that provides a significant bonus and may be even proof versus magic. As long as the taotie is not starving, she gains Cha-mod to AC instead of the monk’s usual progression and 2nd level provides predatory resilience at fool level (see rakshasa paragon) instead of evasion/improved evasion. 3rd level provides rarefied taste: gluttony, which allows the taotie to feed on gluttonous humanoids and upgrades bite damage to monk unarmed damage. 5th level provides a 30 ft.-cone belch that sickens foes and may even stagger those that fail the save – nasty predation! 9th level provides addictive feeding and 11th level and every 3 levels thereafter provide a new predation, with a scent to smell out valuables or assume the form of statues, urns, etc. This one is full of potential! finally, 20th level provides an apotheosis, this time with an added focus of better DR and unarmed strikes.
All right, so the archetypes heavily intersect with the paragon-class – is it good? Well, framework-wise, it provides proficiency with simple weapons, no armors or shields, d10 HD, 6+Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, 1/2 AC-bonus progression. 1st level provides the hungerborn class feature and similarly, the class begins play with a pool of predation. The class gains the blissful ignorance trick, the option to smell out mortals affected by emotion or fear-effects or that have been fed upon and they also get the silver tongue-ability. Every two levels above 1st, the paragon gets an additional predation – some of these require more predation points and/or have minimum levels – high-level paragons can, for example call adhukait, make illusions supplemented by shadow, compress her form (great for infiltrators) or become a predatory protector of the humanoids that nourish her – dismissal bite versus outsiders.
Size-increase to large, aforementioned gluttonous bite, marking humanoids on who’s she fed as property (potentially useful not only offensively), sight that can pierce darkness and deathwatch…cool. But the most fun would probably be “playing with one’s food” – i.e. magic jar-ing corpses or undead while in spirit form. Oh yeah, spirit form. HP-based precision damage that will end most foes via killing blows, assuming forms of specific individuals, beast shapes and suggestions, forming scaling figments, mesmerizing prey – there are a LOT of thoroughly unique, awesome tricks here – tricks that make the class highly viable beyond the martial role expected by the chassis – indeed, these often allow for awesome new tricks.
Now I did mention rarefied taste – chosen at first level, this determines the animal head and features and may draw nourishment from the respective rarefied taste – anger, cannibalism, curiosity, creativity, fear, heresy, lust, etc. – and yes, these allow the rakshasa to work in the context of good groups, depending on the taste chosen. However, this is not the limit of customization options – 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the paragon may choose a hungerborn gift – these include making being fed upon addictive, an affinity for asura, claws, at-will nondetection or a second head and high-level paragons may even get extra limbs, complete with hand and ring slot-rules-clarification – kudos. Better DR and SR are also provided…wait? Yeah, second level nets scaling DR and 10th level provides an outsider apotheosis and SR of 4+class level…as well as at-will command of lesser yaksha with HD of 10 or less. Finally, 20th level provides better SR, DR and unlimited yaksha command.
The pdf closes with 2 feats – one for +1 rarefied taste and one that allows characters sans the paragon class levels gain hungerborn and rarefied taste.
Editing and formatting are top-notch – I noticed no significant glitches in either formal or rules criteria. Kudos! Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with plenty nice full-color artworks. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.
One caveat before we start: Yes, this is a powerful race/class; one definitely intended for high-powered gameplay – but you could have guessed that, right? It’s a monster class/race and they don’t necessarily mix well with gritty low fantasy. (Though, provided other PCs have similarly cool tricks, I can see this race working well in a gritty, but high-powered game.)
Wendall Roy shows how it’s done. It’s as simple as that. Wait…it totally isn’t. Apart from the one unassisted flight ability of an archetype, which may be problematic for some campaigns, I’m pretty much left sans complaints. This is PRECISE. Exceedingly so. Natural attacks specify their type and damage dice properly; mind affecting effects are properly codified; otherwise boring spells-in-a-can-abilities get modifications that make them unique; there are ROLEplaying abilities that are super-useful and completely unique. Sure, you can go natural attack shredder…but you’ll miss out some awesome tricks that make the class unique. The Full BAB-high-skill-combo is an uncommon chassis, but works. Best of all, though – beyond being a highly customizable array of options that puts player agenda high on the table, the concepts are awesome. Visually stunning. Oh, and as a further plus, guess what? This book’s prose is also excellent.
So basically, we get a powerful, but balanced array of options with a cool base-race, awesome class options with great ideas and a superb paragon class that is also a joy to read. This is how such books ought to be crafted. I tried so hard to pick this apart, but can’t find anything that sucks. Finally, one should not fail to mention the elegant sustenance mechanic utilized here – relevant and nasty, but it doesn’t cripple the character. Overall, my favorite part about this book remains the fact that the pdf doesn’t chicken out – it sports rakshasa as what they are, adds dimension to them and still allows PCs with less problematic alignments to use this book. Triumphant. My final verdict clocks in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This is how a race book’s done.