In the Company of Unicorns
This installment of Rite Publishing’s series of racial sourcebooks clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 36 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.
So, this time around, it’s unicorns – but what type? Well, obviously not the classic arcane mysticism of the middle ages that equated the unicorn with Jesus Christ – but neither is this just a rehash of the classic, noble trope, though this does feature in the equation. The unicorns, or re’em as they call themselves, as depicted herein, are a noble breed with a tendency towards good and an ancient history. The re’em, as depicted herein in vivid prose, do feature a long and storied history and they have, indeed, retreated from many interactions with fickle men. If anything, the theme and general feeling the prose evoked was one of subdued melancholy and yet, hope – the closest emotional analogue would probably be the blending of the aesthetics and mindset of the wonderful classic “The Last Unicorn” with a fantasy world – with e.g. traditions like the Great Gallop of the herds both making sense from an in-game point of view and aptly taking visual associations from the classic piece of animation, blending them in an evocative manner. And yes, should you be new to the series – this reads well, for the prose and racial information is written from the perspective of one of these unicorns and yes, there are regional differences in fluff, with unobtrusive nods to the implicit Questhaven setting of Rite Publishing shining through here and there sans compromising adaptability.
Racial stats-wise, the re’em receive +2 Con and Wis, -2 Dex, are small magical beasts (but do not gain any traits save those listed), have low-light vision and darkvision 60 ft and are quadrupeds, which modifies carrying capacity and limits slots and armors. They gain +2 to Knowledge (Nature) and Survival and increase all conjuration (healing) spell CLs cast within 10 ft. of them by +1. Re’em get +2 natural AC and a 1d4 natural horn attack that receives 1.5 times Str-mod to damage. It should be noted that the latter may not specify that it’s obviously a primary natural attack, but since they don’t gain hoof-attacks per default, I’ll let that stand as an obvious and negligible minor gripe.
The Re’em get a full-blown age, height and weight-table and may choose two alternate arrays of ability modifiers: +2 Int and Wis, -2 Con (not a fan, a bit lopsided) and +2 Str and Cha, -2 Int. Interesting: These choices do also modify the “minor” racial traits for a better rounded variant than usual in each. A powerful aura of corruption (+1 CL for negative energy-based spells and SPs), walking across water, fire resistance 5, endure elements vs. the cold and +1 to atk. vs. lions and leonine foes (like chimeras, dragonnes, etc.) can be found. Battling unnatural foes, SR equal to 6 + level, free movement over desert terrain, swim speed-transformation as a swift action…the alternate racial traits are diverse and varied…and they come with an important secondary balancing mechanism beyond the limited slots. Unicorns, obviously…have no hands, which makes certain operations not as simple as one would expect them to be.
The race also sports FCOs for the druid, fighter, hunter, magister, oracle, paladin, ranger, sorceror, taskshaper and witch hunter classes as well as for the racial paragon class introduced in this book, the Silvermane Exemplar.
However, unlike many a racial booklet, this sports an intriguing component – the Re’em Hero universal archetype, which nets the racial paragon’s natural attack progression and a very limited array of alicorn abilities and options for growth (Medium at 5th, Large at 10th level) – however, at the same time, this archetype does cost the classes: Re’em alchemists lose throw anything and bombs, for example. Similarly, the class-array, which cover the traditional classes and the ACG-array alongside some classics from Rite Publishing and Rogue Genius Games is extensive and varied in the modifications employed – sorcerors are, for example, locked into the new unicorn bloodline, though the progression of bloodline powers and feats. These, just fyi, allow you to alleviate certain conditions a limited amount of times per day, cleanse targets and later gain some immunities traditionally associated with unicorns.
Beyond this universal archetype, the pdf also sports two class-specific ones, with the Forest Guardian Druid gaining the option to attune herself to a limited selection of domains and spontaneously cast the attuned domain spells, while the Arboreal Equine ranger gains woodland stride and basically is a hunter-themed short and simple archetype.
Now I already mentioned the racial paragon class – so what does it offer? The Silvermane Exemplar gets 2+Int-mod skills per level, d10 and only proficiency with natural attacks. The class gains full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-saves. At 1st level and every odd level thereafter, the class gains a so-called alicorn ability. These abilities are powered by a pool equal to 1/2 class level (min 1) + Charisma modifier. For as long as the character has at least one of these pool points, they can manifest mage hand at will as an SP, eliminating the crippling factor of not having hands – which is btw. pretty important for the universal archetype also has this option. Additionally, a point from this pool can be expended to enhance temporarily the silvermane’s horn in a way similar to the magus’ enhancements, with net bonuses increasing by +1 every 4 levels thereafter. At 5th level, a similar weapon property-exchange can be used.
So that would be the base functionality. Beyond this, the alicorn abilities are pretty diverse: The Alicorn charm allows the silvermane to expend a point from her pool to create a talisman that cannot be regained while it exists. Said charm can then be enchanted and reabsorbed, granting potentially, at least for some time, a significantly powerful god-horn at higher levels…though only for a couple of days and the higher the power, the lesser its duration will be. Not for every campaign great…but unique and costly enough. The abilities thus run a gamut between unique utility and modifications and active/passive benefits – increased reach while the silvermane has at least one point in her pool. Short-range, scaling and upgradeable teleportation makes for a pretty powerful tool for a full BAB-class, particularly since it is available at 1st level. However, the fact that it is limited by the pool and that it has a mishap chance when teleporting beyond line of sight act as balancing mechanisms here. Shape-changing into an alternate form, increased damage output foe ONE natural attack, better armor…pretty cool. At the same time, first level unassisted flight powered by the pool can be problematic, though, once again, the pool does limit this sufficiently for most rounds. At 7th level, pounce can be chosen and evil exemplars can ooze powerful toxins. And yes, at high levels, telekinesis and trampling is possible. Limited SPs can also be found. I mentioned natural attacks, right? Well, 6th level provides hooves 11th bite and 16th a tail attack, all of which are properly codified regarding their type. (Though, as a nitpick you should ignore, damage-type, if relevant, needs to be looked up.) Now, like the universal archetype, these exemplars grow – to Medium size at 4th, to Large size at 8th level, with both allowing for investments to be used to further enhance the bonuses gained.
Investments? Yep, for the silvermane exemplar chooses at herd at first level, of which 6 are provided. Herds may be changed at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, also allowing for the reassignment of the investments chosen and reflect changing playstyles and party-dynamics. Each herd grants a herd ability that ranges from active at-will stabilize per touch to adding Cha instead of Con to Fort-saves and maximum negative hit points. A minor complaint: Some of these grant class skills – I assume the bonus is lost upon changing herds? Or isn’t it? I’m not sure whether this is considered to be retraining or more akin to a multiclass operation in terms of its rules. Still, a none-too-grievous glitch. Each herd also sports several investments to choose from – these are gained at 2nd level and every even level thereafter and determine the capstone final investment gained. Unless otherwise noted, these investments have a save of DC 10 + 1/2 class level + Cha-mod when required and generally, the abilities tend to be less directed at resource management, though tie-ins do exist – certain alicorn abilities like Trample, etc. that only work while the silvermane has points can e.g. be made available at all times with one such investment of the ferocity herd, which btw. can also gain DR, combat feats – you get the idea.
Basically, each herd is somewhat akin to a mystery with a huge bunch of revelations you can freely choose. On a formal level, I noticed e.g. a non-italicized ability header here and one instance of the investment-header missing between herd ability and investment list. Indeed, the editing here is not as tight as in the rest of the pdf – take e.g. the Magic herd’s alicorn bolt that can cause class level x d6 untyped magical damage a very limited amount of times per day in a 60 ft.-line….only to then talk about “damage of the selected type.” I *think* this ought to instead provide a proper damage type…untyped damage, in spite of daily limitations, is always clunky in its interactions with creatures, defensive capabilities etc. Overall, somewhat baffling since e.g. the rune-traps they can make get the usual energy type codification done right. Pretty cool – one ability takes the “hit chance”-idea and provides it as a quasi-hex. In case you missed that Rite Publishing-idea: It’s pretty much the opposite of a miss chance: When you’d miss, you still have a chance to hit the target! And yep, hex-24-hour-caveat keeps it in line. I also like an exclusive resistance to antimagic effects and spells, representing the uniquely magical nature of these beings.
If you’d prefer your silvermanes less magical, I’d like to point you towards the nature herd, where dominating enemies, alicorn pool-powered fascinate effects via tail whirling, favored terrain and an animal companion at -3 levels beckon. On the downside, the moonlight globe gained here once again deals untyped damage…and by now we all know how I think about that…even though I do love the visuals evoked here. One ability that may be in line with lore and restricted in daily uses, but also remains very frustrating, would be a curse available at 12th level: Save or suck, spellcasters – if you fail, that’s it – no more arcane spellcasting. Not even SPs. Curse. Have fun. I’ve seen those mechanics before and I didn’t like them back then – I still don’t like them here, though at least the limited uses mean that this won’t be used all the time…and it requires an attack. Still: GMs beware, silvermanes are very mobile and one attack can wreck your BBEG. Cool on the other hand: Size-increases to a maximum of HUGE and a cornucopia of alternate movement rates…which are somewhat underpriced at 10th level: Burrow 30, Climb 90, Fly (good ) 90 ft, Swim 90 ft, blindsense 30 ft., scent, constrict (which attacks?), ferocity, grab, jet, poison, pounce, rake, trample, trip, web, +6 Str, -4 Dex, +6 natural armor. Granted, this lasts only one minute per level and has a daily cap…but still. Look at these qualities! Seriously??? All of them? At once? WTF?? I am pretty positive that this was supposed to be a list to select some of these abilities and not the totality, for trying to get all of these via buffs etc. is exceedingly costly…plus, the silvermane already is a pretty powerful class. As written, this ability’s pretty broken, in spite of its limitations.
That being said, while there are some problematic components herein, there similarly are some awesome bits and pieces to be found here – the purity herd, for example, gains a pala-like lay on horn, use alicorn points to enhance saves of allies, send the undead to their resting places and tear down illusions with their horns and even reduce the severity of the most problematic of conditions. Silvermanes belonging to the proud herd gain a kind of resistance against being forced to roll multiple times and take the worse result and, at 10th level, they may perform combat maneuvers sans incurring AoOs – which is cool, particularly since the investment has the prerequisite of requiring 2 combat maneuver feats – but what constitutes a “combat maneuver feat” – I assume the usual Improved Trip/Disarm/etc., but cases could be made for diverging interpretations. This is particularly baffling to me since the unseen herd actually properly specifies feat-types when it comes to Blind Sense and Blindsight as abilities gained. Still – the proud and unseen herd, with focuses on not being impeded and stealth respectively probably constitute my favorites herein.
Beyond the final investment granted by the herd, the class gains aa winged apotheosis with wing attacks, Leadership and similar powerful tricks as a capstone, making the character truly formidable…and very hard to kill. The class also has archetypes – the honored companion is an interesting one: Basically, you get a Bonded Rider (as per the new feat) and play the mount…which is interesting. And yes, regular re’em will NOT be ridden! Blackmanes would be the corrupt anti-silvermanes – with auras of corruption, alternate alicorn abilities and the corruption herd, these would be the evil unicorns so dreaded. Oh, and the specialize in Betrayal feats – basically the evil brother of teamwork feats, which alongside a selection of racial feats, close this pdf – these btw. can grant you an alicorn ability, more investments, mighty kicks…the like. And yes, I really get some evil ideas while looking at these betrayal feats.
Editing and formatting are rather good – though admittedly not as tight throughout the whole pdf as in quite a few Rite Publishing releases. There are some hiccups on a formal level, though none too much. More significant would be that the rules-language sports some instances where damage-type classification or slightly more precise rules-language would have helped. Layout adheres to Rite’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports gorgeous artworks and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
BJ Hensley and Steven D. Russell have glimpsed into my twisted mind. Why? Because, believe it or not…I absolutely adore “The Last Unicorn.” I always have the track on my MP3 player and have, unlike 98% of movies, watched it more than once without being bored out of my wits. (Yes, I mean America’s version of the song, just fyi.)
Yeah, I’m a guy and I love the iconography, the subtext – everything about unicorns is simply evocative to me. And know what? I really like this pdf. I really enjoy how the hand-less/shapechange-issues have been addressed. I love how many aspects work. At the same time, though, there are some grains of sand in the machinery of this pdf – while the majority of options works exceedingly well, even while juggling complex concepts, there are a couple of hiccups. Take e.g. the aforementioned short-range teleportation that is a component of how the silvermane retains its movement superiority (powerful for full BAB-classes) – it does not note that it is a conjuration [teleportation]-effect, nor a CL, which means that its upgrade at 8th level, which duplicates dimension door, may now suddenly no longer work under certain conditions, while the teleport worked before. YES. I know, I know. I’m a stupid bastard. Any GM worth her or his salt can handle that and knows how it works. I know. Still, RAW, this is in here.
Still, the like would not and does not sink the pdf. While the silvermane is a very powerful melee combatant, the slot-restrictions and later, size-increases alongside the pool-based mechanics sans means of regaining the points actually evens out what looks much worse on paper than one would expect – while not too great for low-magic campaigns and grittier adventuring, in most campaigns the silvermane and options herein will even out as a balanced option. In grittier campaigns, less combat-focused silvermanes will probably still work if predicated by a proper agreement between players and GM…so yeah, overall, this is a nice job. At the same time, a couple of the abilities do sport some uncharacteristic oversights pertaining damage-type, some minor paste-errors…and some less minor hiccups. Similarly, not a fan of the save-or-suck tricks or the use of untyped damage in some cool abilities.
But then again, this is pretty much “The Last Unicorn – the class”…with literally everything you expect to see. And it’s a great read that actually gets me excited, that inspires me. So…how do I rate this? Well, I have to say, I do consider this somewhat less refined that the take on rakshasa and the hiccups do extend to the mechanics in some instances. However, at the same time, this does make up for a lot in evocative prose, unique abilities and the sheer fact that it does not go the easy route – the vast majority of options in this book are unique and not something other classes could do – so it’s not a “I poach class feature xyz” experience and when it does stumble, it at least does so valiantly in the pursuit of uniqueness instead of redundancy. In the end, I will hence settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform, with the caveat that GMs should take a good look at how some of the abilities interact before allowing them.