In the Company of Wights
This installment of Rite Publishing’s “In the Company of…”-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 13 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.
All right, we begin this pdf with a heart-warming dedication to the founder of Rite Publishing, Steven D. Russell, who has left us too soon. After this, though, it is similarly heart-warming to see that the traditions of master Russell live on – we begin with an in-character letter of a member of the race, sent to Qwilion of Questhaven, the scribe that is responsible for collecting these pieces of information in the context of the great meta-narratives that suffuse these books.
Thus, as has become the tradition, the flavor-text presented to us would be written from the point of view of the species “We are the hollowed” – indeed! Intelligent, sentient wights spawned from strong souls, these beings sport a glowing gaze and retain the previous race’s racial characteristics like height and they, obviously, stop aging -as such, this time around, we actually don’t need an age, height or weight table and the racial traits replace those of the base race, but more on that later. The pdf elaborates on society…or rather, about how to fit in with the living and dead…and there is the Urge – the wights herein do crave the essence of the living and there are those that have succumbed to the Urge, while others resist it – the scenario is, roleplay-wise, not unlike that of the World of Darkness.
Now, regarding racial traits, we begin by acknowledging the first issue -as quasi-undead, the wights depicted herein (who call themselves the hollowed) have no Constitution, which would render them OP via most character creation methods – hence, ways to use them in a balanced context with point-buy etc. are included. The hollowed get +2 to an ability score of their choice and retain their former humanoid’s race influences speed and size – either Small or Medium. As a minor nitpick: Size-categories are capitalized in PFRPG. As modified undead, the hollowed gain darkvision 60 ft., are immune to bleed and death effects, disease, paralysis, poison, sleep and stunning and are immune to Fort-save resisted effects, unless these can affect objects.
They may not be raised from the dead (spell references not italicized) but may be returned to become living beings. They get +1/2 their HD as a racial bonus to resist mind-affecting effects. They are healed by negative energy, harmed by positive energy (this wording is a bit non-standard, but works). Hollowed are also immune to nonlethal damage, ability drain or energy drain and they are immune to damage to physical attributes as well as to exhaustion and fatigue, but are also immediately destroyed upon being reduced to 0 hp. Sooo…this is ALMOST full undead immunities. Beyond that, they gain a +2 racial bonus to Intimidate…so what does the Urge bring to the table, balance-wise? Well, death’s stigma imposes a grant total -1 per level to Diplomacy (not properly capitalized) when dealing with the living and a similar penalty to Disguise (also not properly capitalized) when trying to pass as a living creature.
When “violence is enacted in the presence of a hollowed”, the hollowed has to succeed a Will-save versus 15 + 1/2 current HD (is 1 rounded down? I assume no…) or attack the closest creature. On a successful save, they are immune to the Urge. Succumbing to the Urge allows for rerolls of Perception checks to determine the undead nature of the hollowed. At 1st level, hollowed succumbing to the urge get +2 to hit and damage and HEAL BY THE AMOUNT OF THE DAMAGE CAUSED. Okay, let’s play, shall we? What’s the range of “violence caused” that may trigger the Urge? Does “attacking closest creature” include spells and abilities? What’s the bonus type the Urge is supposed to grant? The wording there is wonky. After the first attack, the hollowed can attempt a fixed DC 15 Will-save to stop, but otherwise, their frenzy continues for 1d3 rounds. The bonuses increase by +2 every six levels. Does that mean 1->7->13->19 or 1->6->12->18? No idea. Wanna hear a joke? If that sounds like a hassle (WHY?? FREE INFINITE HEALING WITH JUST A KITTEN!!!), you can suppress the urge at the start of a day…and boohoo, you do take devastating -2 to Wisdom-based skill checks. This is a non-entity of a balance-mechanism. It allows for infinite healing “Quick, throw kittens to our half dead undead compadre!”, fails to specify crucial ability interactions…and simply is not precise enough.
Beyond that, undead PC races tend to be problematic due to their gazillion immunities – hence why Rite Publishing’s own, chassis-wise vastly superior restless souls tweaked that for even gritty game compatibility. If you’re shooting for powerful, but balanced undead races, both Kobold Press’ amazing darakhul and AAW Games’ dødelig do a better job at making the race as a whole not break the game – this race needs a whack with the nerfbat for undead immunities and drawbacks that matter. RAW they only have the undead fragility-thing going for them and that is the least favorite part of playing undead of pretty much every player I know. Similarly, the reassigning of points for characters turned hollowed in play is okay…but imho still pales before the restless souls.
The race gets 3 alternate racial traits: Clung to Life “eliminate the effects of constant decay” – which should refer to the Death’s Stigma drawback by name – the hollowed lose the Disguise penalty, but also loses immunity to bleed, death effects, disease, paralysis, poison, sleep and stunning “but instead gains a resistance of 1 + 1/2 their Hit Dice” – WTF is that supposed to mean? A bonus to saves versus such effects? Resistance =/= save bonuses in PFRPG. That is a non-entity, rules-language-wise. Also, the language mentions one losing the Disguise drawback (but not the Diplomacy) and then mentions replacing the proper drawback by name. Instead of darkvision, these guys can get crypt sense, which works only in crypts or similar places filled with the dead and duplicates low-light vision…which is weird, considering that most such places will be…well. Dark. Oh, and they can detect bodies within 90 ft., even buried underground…and that is an issue. Do bodies need to be whole? Does lead block it? Do body-parts qualify? Animated bodyparts? The body-based immunities can be replaced with positive energy healing and being hurt by negative energy as though living.
The pdf features 5 favored class options – barbarian, bard, cavalier, rogue and true wight. They are okay, though the rogue’s bonus is pretty weak: +1/2 to Stealth checks in dim light or darkness? sign me up. Not.
The pdf also features 3 racial archetypes. The night strider rogue replaces trapfinding with something utterly OP. “When not moving…in dim light and darkness, they gain total concealment. In full light, they gain a +40 on Disguise checks to appear completely dead.” Total concealment??? WTF??? KILL IT WITH FIRE. Oh, and the option to ” choose to instead do 1d3 points of sneak attack damage and cause their target to become shaken for 1 round.” So, is one sneak attack damage die thus reduced? All of them? Is sneak attack total damage reduced to 1d3? This is NON-OPERATIONAL. As a rules-aesthetic aside, the ability should mention that it modifies sneak attack, not just that it replaces trap sense.
The pale rider cavalier gets an undead steed. And instead of banner, he gets an aura of despair, 60 ft., – 2 to saves vs. fear, -1 to attack. At 10th level and every 5 levels thereafter, these penalties increase by -1. This replaces banner. This…generates a dead level at 14th level with greater banner falling by the wayside. It’s also…BORING. The definition of a cookie-cutter archetype. I can literally point you to several better undead-rider tropes and heck, full classes. Next.
The final archetype would be the void singers. Bards, in case you haven’t figured that out. They replace inspire courage with a song that inflicts -1 to attack and Will-saves, which is not language-dependent. Instead of bardic knowledge, they treat the Knowledge skills for Religion, Planes and Dungeoneering as class skills, get +1/2 level as a bonus and a reroll in these checks. The rules-language requires you to infer that this reroll is only available 1/day, courtesy of the scaling of daily uses. Bad. Instead of 6th level’s suggestion, they can instill the Urge within a creature! PFFF…BEST ABILITY EVER? Better buffs that a barb’s rage plus infinite healing via damage? Ugh, this whole section needs to die in a fiery blaze.
Okay, after this…let’s hope that the racial paragon class holds up at least! The True Wight paragon gets 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref-saves, d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and light armor. The class abilities are not provided in sequence, but oh well. True Wights gain the option to use the urge sans external stimulus as a free action 1/day. (The ability should note its level, but you can see that in the table.) Also at first level, the true wight gains a death mastery, + an additional one at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. A total of 13 are provided, which means that there’ll be not too much variation here. We have increased speed and this gem: “The true wight gains a swim speed of 30 feet for 1 minute per level.” That’s an (Ex), fyi. This is not how things are done in PFRPG and RAW, this does not work. It has a duration, is hence active and thus needs an activation action.
Internal balance is also off here: Locate a corpse of ANYONE they knew for 24 hours or longer? Come again? Wight police state? Oh, and perfect identification of corpses, no matter the state of decay or mutilation? This wrecks so many plots, it’s not even funny. Detaching limbs is a cool concept, but the complex rules-language required to make it work is nowhere near represented here. A particular gem regarding two detached limbs is the following: “If both limbs are together, they can perform trip attacks using the true wight’s CMB -1.” What’s “together”? Do they provoke AoOs? What size are they?
Well, you get the idea. 4th level nets a claw attack that does not specify whether it’s primary or secondary, does not take true wight size into account and has the wrong dice size. 10th level nets “Damage Reduction 1”, which increases by 1 for every two levels thereafter. Spot the extremely obvious style deviation… 10th level and 15th level allow for burst-like control of undead nearby. Rules-language isn’t perfect, but functional. At 10th level, creatures they slay can be made into spawn and one such spawn may be controlled at any given time. The creature must be 2 or more levels below the wight…unless a PC, which makes no sense. Why not base this off Leadership? At 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the class gets to choose from its second talent array, the living weapon-subsection of talents.
Here, we have 8 gazes and they fail to mention that the scaling DC should be based on CLASS levels, not levels, and the gaze’s effects similarly sport that omission in the duration. These gazes are btw. pretty powerful and mention the antagonized condition sans explanation (It does exist and I love it, see Ultimate Charisma by Everyman Gaming, but considering the glitch-density, I am not sure if that’s intended). 5th level lets the wight choose daze for save-or-suck (too soon) and, stupidly, the stunned condition, worse than dazed, does not have a level prerequisite. Also: prerequisite formatting is not done like this “Prerequisite: True wight 8” – it’s “A true wight must be at least 8th level to select this living weapon.” – but that as an educational, aesthetic aside. Also: Spell-reference not italicized for the level 8 prereq-gaze that causes insanity. Compare that to the mesmerist. Yeah… Okay, one saving grace – the gazes behave as hexes -one save and you’re immune for 24 hours against that specific gaze. Oh, and action economy? No idea. Can a wight maintain multiple gazes at once? What’s the action?
Alternative abilities in this talent-suite net a bite (not properly codified, but at least the damage-die size is correct- for Medium wights… 1/day, 15th+ level wights may cause death with their natural attacks against creatures with lower HD. Save or suck, does it require a hit? Is it a touch attack? No idea. Ridiculous: “The true wight’s natural attack gains the ability to cause 1d6 cold damage. Creatures that take damage roll a Fortitude save, DC 10 + Wis modifier or become staggered for 1d3 rounds.” Do I even have to pick that apart? I’ll ignore formatting deviations for now. Is this cold damage INSTEAD of the regular damage? Oh, and it provides INFINITE STAGGERLOCKS at 3rd level. That sound? That’s my head. And a desk. The same lack of clarity pertains, just fyi, also the talent that adds Str AND Dex damage to attacks…though that at least only can be used 3/day. As a capstone, creatures hit can become spawn, he can break the HD-limit to control weak undead and gets immunity against “mind effect spells and abilities.” I’ll let that stand here.
We close the pdf with 3 feats: +1 DC for gazes. Whoopdiedoo. The second feat gets rid of the “obviously dead trait” – guess what? THAT RACIAL TRAIT DOES NOT EXIST. It’s called “Death’s Stigma, for cryin’ out loud. There also is a “Team Work Feat”[sic!], improperly formatted, which nets blindsense (sans range! Full strength!) as well as “+1 AC dodge bonus, +1 to hit and damage, +3 to hit when flanking and you cannot be flat-footed” while within 60 feet of another hallowed. Bonus types. Wording. Power. Urgh.
Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are good. On a rules-language levels, they’re BAD and even inconsistent with themselves. Formatting is all over the place, wording conventions are flaunted left and right and abilities become more opaque than they have any right to be, considering analogue precedence cases. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf sports nice full-color artworks.
Aaron Phelps’ pdf started out so well. The prose in the beginning was glorious and the dedication to Steve pulled at my heart’s strings. The flavor was great and when the race started taking character creation into account, I was pretty optimistic.
Yeah, that did not last long. This is gonna be harsh and I apologize to the author for it, but there is no way around it: The race is overpowered, has an utterly broken, defining feature and needs a complete rewrite. There are issues in the nomenclature, even in the internal one. There are copious rules-syntax and rules-semantics violations here. The archetypes are universally boring, cookie-cutter and ill-conceived and would have received a thrashing from me back in 2010; 2017? Just NO. Unfortunately, the racial paragon class is flawed as well, violating finer details of the rules, lacking crucial information for several components and promoting utterly cheesy and bad exploits. Rules-language is all over the place and nowhere near the level of precision required by PFRPG, and I’m not even going to bother explaining how neither balance with other options, nor within the options available, is anywhere near the required standards.
This is not on par with the 3pp-quality standards we have all fought so hard for and needs a complete rewrite of EVERYTHING rules-related. If I had to dev this, I’d scrap it and rewrite it from scratch.
This is in particularly BAFFLING, when gazes have been done by the mesmerist and when there are not one, but THREE vastly superior, excellent undead PC options, my favorite of which, Steven D. Russell’s Restless Souls, does btw. everything this tries to do better – and it is several years old. And released by Rite publishing as well. And if you really want the hunger aspect, get Ben McFarland’s Darakhul. And if you want to play Small undead, get AAW Games’ dødelig.
I tried very hard to find anything positive to say about this – and apart from “The lore is cool (but also kinda redundant with Steve’s restless souls around…)…” I drew a blank and came up with nothing. If you want to go for the lore, great…but as a reviewer, I can’t. Aaron Phelps contributed to the Martial Arts Guidebook back in the day, if I recall correctly, so no idea what happened here. My final verdict cannot exceed 1.5 stars…with the lore making me round up. Barely.
You can check this out here on OBS.