Cultures of Celmae: Udaeus
This installment of the Cultures of Celmae-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Long before the Shattering tore the world of Celmae asunder, it is said that the hero Saint Thero battled Leviathan at the Pool of Making, the Creator’s wellspring, with the help of the Spear of Fate and Aegis, the god-shield. Wounded, the triumphant hero partook from the pool and the dragon’s blood and flesh – advised by the goddess Amaura, he scattered the remains of the great beast, which would inexorably rise again, but from the fangs, it is said, the first humans formed.
On Cythea, the big tribes rose to dominance and a thousand years of bloodshed began, one that only ended when the canny Udaoi ultimately proved to be victorious. Mirroring the Roman empire ina esthetics and style, the following centuries would be kind on their people – until the Grim return, when degenerate humanoids would rise to sack their capital. And yes, the text does mention a unit of 300 fending off a second sacking, allowing the udaoi to drive the monstrosities back below Mt. Elo – ever since then, the udaoi have been fighting these morlocks, unsettled by the similarities of skin and other properties between their own race and the degenerate monsters from below…and then, the world was fated to shatter. While the udaoi managed to divert the worst of the cataclysm with their potent magics – and thus, many udaoi saw the catastrophe as a confirmation of their divine right to rule, as providence.
The re-emergence of dragonkind was met with warfare and in these campaigns, an alliance with griffons was woven – though Saint Thero’s clergy, in the aftermath of the cataclysm, began a holy war of annihilation against the non-humans that had allowed to taint of the world prison to roam free. As the years of endless war stretched on, so did the udaoi become more warlike, more blood-thirsty, as decadence is slowly putting its perfumed claws into the mighty empire. Only the inability of the udaoi engineers to master the navigation of Celmae’s turbulent seas has held back further expansions in the following centuries – and when the majeed arrived, the nations clashed for almost one hundred years – ending in a stalemate: Unable to best the majeed at sea, the udaoi conceded dominion over the oceans, while the majeed acknowledged udaoi superiority over the Cythea.
1621 after the shattering, Ekos the Wise, priest to Saint Theros, found a horrid artifact – wealthy and corrupted, his crimes went unpunished, though he was excommunicated. When he managed to raise dead kings to life and send them on a rampage, the udaoi were shocked – and even when he was slain, he returned to life as a lich – the defeats he wrought upon the udaoi broke the illusion of udaoi superiority, fostering hope and unrest among the Cytheans – it is here that we rejoin the mythology presented by other installments of the series, as the heroes Bryn and Gran united the tribes and bested, ultimately, the lich. Instead of ascending to udaeoi, the twins elected to remain behind, pronouncing themselves king and queen. The aftermath of this saw yet another long campaign, but once again, not one the udaoi would win.
As you may have noticed, the society herein is one divided by race – non-udaoi Cytheans are slaves to their masters. An Udeaeus character is “usually defined by their racial levels and most advance to 4 racial Hit Dice before taking class levels.” WTF is that supposed to mean? Is there a racial class that got cut from the book? What racial HD do they get? No idea. Really puzzling and confusing sentence there. Racial traits-wise, these guys get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, low-light vision, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and all armors and shields – something that doesn’t really have a place in a race, as far as I’m concerned. So juveniles already can wear all heavy armors and wield all weapons? They also gain a +1 natural armor bonus and have resistance 5 to one energy type (only the 4 base types), which may be changed via a one-day ritual. An udaeus “counts its racial Hit Dice as fighter levels for the purpose of qualifying for feats.” Urgh. I quote the official rules here: “Monster PCs should only advance through classes.” Giving everyone in a race basically full fighter tricks is not a smart decision regarding balance. Any weapon an udaeus wields and all armor and shields worn is treated as a masterwork weapon and improvised weapons are treated as normal weapons, making this better than comparable abilities as well.
We get favored class options for the core and APG-classes as well as brawler, investigator, arcanist, slayer, swashbuckler, warpriest, kineticist, but not the witch. Weird: The racial paragon class herein, the Udaeus Paragon, does not get an FCO.
This class gets d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per levels, full BAB-progressiona nd good Fort-saves…and the proficiencies the race already gains as a racial trait. See, that’s just one reason you don’t grant those to a race as a whole. The class begins with Infuse Arms and Armor – basically, this ability makes the udaeus paragon’s weapons and armor more potent; +1 weapons are treated as +2, masterwork weapons as +1 and the same holds true for armor etc.. I’m not really a fan here – 1st level magic weapons and armor is not something that’s usually done, but this does not constitute my main gripe with the ability. It reads: “As the udaeus paragon increases its Racial Hit Dice, this inherent ability becomes more potent, gaining its full strength after 4 Hit Dice are gained.” – I get what this means, for the ability increases in potency at 4th level, but that is NOT how rules-language works for the like. As an aesthetic aside: The maximum bonus is first +4, at 4th level +6, breaking the hard cap of +5 regarding enhancement bonuses in Pathfinder. I don’t consider this to be a holy cow, but 4th level is too soon to theoretically break that cap.
The class also gains basically favored enemy: dragons at first level, increasing its potency at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. The class also gets true strike as a 1/day SP, 2/day at 5th level. The ability is not properly formatted in the class table – like all SPs here. Second level increases the energy resistance to 10, with 3rd level and 4th level increasing that by a further +10. 3rd level yields barksin as an SP 1/day, +1/day at 7th level. 5th level yields haste 1/day, 2/day at 9th level. It should be noted that Cha is the default attribute for SPs, so the mention of Cha as governing attribute for these is kinda redundant – it doesn’t hurt either, but the haste SP lacks this sentence, which makes the pdf look inconsistent with itself. Same goes for stoneskin, gained 1/day at 7th level, +1/day at 11th level. 9th level yields aspect of saint thero 1/day, 2/day at 13th level. 11th level provides 1/day battlemind link (not properly italicized), with 15th level providing the second daily use and 20th level upgrading that to the mythic version of the spell. Battlemind link, last time I checked, was btw. not a new spell, like the pdf claims – it was originally released in Ultimate Magic, with the mythic upgrade featured in Mythic Adventures. That just as an aside.
Let’s talk about these spells for a second: Weird, considering the history of the race, aspect of saint thero is a [good] spell…and is horribly, horribly OP. 1/minute per level as a duration, it grants you darkvision 60[sic!] – ft. missing, resistance to acid and cold 10 and DR 5/evil. Oh, and wings for unassisted flight at 30 ft. with average maneuverability. Oh, and guess what? Weapons wielded are treated as good! I am not even going to dignify this mess with an enumeration of why it does NOT WORK AS A 2ND LEVEL SPELL. Know what’s also a 2nd level spell? Darkvision. WTF. How this could get past any even remote grasp of balance, I have no idea. It also looks familiar to me, I had a rage-déjà-vu while reading it – I’m pretty sure I’ve raged against this spell before at one point in my life.
5th level, 12th level and every 4 levels thereafter increase the natural AC of the udaeus. 8th level yields Iron Will, 9th level evasion (weird, considering their heavy armor theme!) and 16th level provides improved evasion. 17th level provides energy immunity to one energy type, which may be changed via a day-long ritual among the 4 basic energy types. I assume that this is in addition to the resistance, but placement in the class makes me think that it’s supposed to be the continuation of the energy ability-suite. Anyways, in dubio pro reo, so won’t take that against the pdf and consider this to be an intended second energy. 6th level yields the spear and shield combat style, which makes use of a couple of the “new” feats herein. New combat style bonus feats are gained every 4 levels thereafter.
What do I mean by “new”? Well, Drive Weapon, for example, is just Drive Blade, renamed and taken from 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming’s Strategists & Tacticians. It also inherits the original feat’s issue that it RAW applies to ranged weapons as well, when that’s clearly not the intent of the feat. Bashing Critical is just a variant of Bashing Finish and otherwise is worse than Bashing Finish, as it only works with one-handed or light weapons and requires a swift action. Shaft and Shield was copied from Kobold Press’ Advanced Feats: Cavalier’s Creed – and should have been at the very least updated to reflect weapon-group terminology. Shield Check is basically an upgrade of Stand Still, which adds Shield Bash damage to the target stopped – while it looks familiar, I can’t place it – credit where credit is due, though: I like that one. Shielded Maneuvers nets you +2 to CMB for bull rush, disarm, overrun and trip, but only when wearing a shield and wielding a 1-handed or light melee weapon. Boring.
3rd level yields fast healing 1 per round, +1 at 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter. 4th level yields Endurance. At 4th level, the udaeus paragon gains a mythic rank in the champion mythic path. 14th and 20th level provide further built-in increases of mythic tier. Sooo, that’s a problem. How does this interact with characters having other mythic paths? I assume that the sentence “If the character already possesses the mythic tier to be gained, he instead gains a bonus mythic feat.” is supposed to take care of that. The paragon gains mythic power and surge, hard to kill, Extra Mythic Power as a bonus feat and the champion’s fleet charge. Upon reaching the second tier, the paragon also gains an increase of 2 to an attribute of his choice. At 2nd tier, he also gains Amazing Initiative and may use mythic power to double the anti-dragon bonuses, mythic endurance and precision – which is a 3rd tier champion ability, not one available at 2nd tier. 3rd tier nets recuperation.
Editing and formatting are better on a formal and rules-language level than in many earlier Wayward Rogues Publishing books; there are some glitches in formatting, but less than in other pdfs. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some really nice full-color artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is annoying. Worse: text selection and copying is disabled for the pdf, which is ironic, considering the amount of text taken from other sources and designated as “new”.
Robert Gresham’s Udaeus-culture begins with the best flavor of the whole series: There are less hiccups here and the prose really draws you in, courtesy of drawing ample inspiration from pop culture and history, creating a unique and fantastic vista. I was really celebrating the race and totally stoked for it. What does transformation into an udaeus mean, for example? Is it a meritocracy based on magic ascendance? That sounded so cool! I was STOKED to read the rules supporting that. Insert the waap-waap-waaaaoooo sound here. You won’t find the like in this book. The most positive things I can say about the crunch would be that they don’t suck as hard as that sections of previous Cultures of Celmae-hybrid classes.
The race is a mess, gaining the whole fighter basics as just another racial traits, significantly exceeding the tricks of other races in the setting and invalidating, ironically, a central draw of the fighter class for a culture that ostensibly is supposed to cherish it. I get that this tried to basically make 300-fantasy-Spartans, but such proficiencies are not something you’re born with – they’re the result of training. See how non-human races handle that: You get a few proficiencies, sure…but not ALL of them! I like the resistance-switching – in fact, I wrote a similar engine back in the day. And then there would be the paragon class. While I’m not a big fan of all those SPs, they at least have a theme. Where I have a big issue would be that mythic tiers are hard-wired into the class, which violates the GM-control aspect that mythic rules usually sport. Similarly, the interaction becomes weird and the lack of other classes sporting similar mechanics make this wonky and clunky. Now, credit where credit is due, the mythic powers gained are not nearly as broken as you’d expect for a regular class gaining access to them. Why? Because the other class features are the incarnation of boring. Iron Will. Endurance. You get the idea.
I do not object to the notion of having mythic tiers baked into a base class per se, problematic though that is – I do have an issue when this decision does not provide a sufficient pay-off, though. Literally no class feature granted by the class could not have been realized sans mythic options. The class is also, feat-choices aside, completely bereft of choice. One of these guys will be pretty much the same as another – there is no player agenda to be found, one at all. Finally, another issue I have with the class is that it has no unique tricks. Not a single one. Apart from the ham-fistedly jammed in mythic mechanics that generate more issues than contribute, the class has no unique selling points apart from “tough martial character.” No unique attacks, class features, choices – nothing – it’s a Frankenstein entity of stitched together parts that could conceivably be represented via a bunch of other classes. The energy resistance upgrades also come too soon and should be dispersed better over the levels.
Then, there’d be the supplemental material. You see, I have no issue with books using OGL-material – in fact, I *love* that about PFRPG etc.! It’s a big strength of the game and drawing on well-made material by other authors is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Heck, I tend to actually *like* well-made compilations of material! However, as soon as you just rebrand a feat, copy a spell and then claim it’s “new” and your own, we have to call this plagiarism, even within the OGL. Yes, it has been done time and again, but that doesn’t make it right and here, I don’t really get why e.g. those asterisks denoting the material as explicitly new have been included, when e.g. a spell was drawn from as obvious a source as a Paizo core hardcover. That’s just weird to me. It also is very evident from the quality of crunch of the different materials. I would be more lenient there, if the material had been streamlined, improved, balanced. Regardless of whether or not these are original, both race and class sport serious issues.
As a whole, this ultimately puts a sour taste in my mouth. It also makes me sad, for the race deserves better. The udaeus as a concept is amazing, the prose is cool – but, to paraphrase Arrow, this crunch has failed the concept. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform by virtue of the strength of the prose and the fact that, if you’re looking for a one-stop-shop Spartan-class, this may be what you wanted…though the hiccups, hard-coded mythic aspects and rules-deviations are jarring.
You can get this pdf here on OBS!