The biggest collection of pregens ever to come my way clocks in at an impressive 407 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page studio-introduction, 2 pages SRD, 1 page blank, leaving us with 398 pages of content. Yeah. Ouch. That’s a TON of statblocks.
This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy and furthermore, it was prioritized by my patreons.
Now, included among these would be the standard pregenerated characters, available as their own separate pdf for PWYW, so consider that file to be an excellent teaser/first look of what to expect from this gigantic tome.
You will notice that there is some overlap between this review and that of its smaller brother, since the principles on which they operate are the same, only the scope is different. This is a colossal pregen book for the Dark Obelisk AP, or, more precisely, its first chapter “Berinncorte” – in my review of the Player’s Guide, I briefly talked about the optional reward star character progression mechanic, so let me be brief: You award those for quest completion, defeating key bosses etc. – it’s basically an XP-less advancement method. I’m not the biggest fan, but thankfully, easy conversion mechanics are provided.
Since the Player’s Guide was system-neutral, I did not comment on another peculiarity of Dark Obelisk that very much becomes relevant here: Quadded statblocks. Instead of one statblock, each statblock in this pdf comes in 4 iterations, color-coded for your convenience: Low-level stats (level 1 – 4, up to CR 4), moderate level stats (levels 5 – 8, CR between 4 and 10), advanced stats (levels 10 – 15, CRs ranging from 10 – 15) and elite stats for levels 15+, with CRs ranging from 12 to 20. Now thankfully, these quadded statblocks retain PFRPG’s subsections – i.e. you’ll still have CR/XP first, then sex race class, initiative, etc. – in short, they require no getting used to.
The levels for the characters herein would be 1, 6, 10 and 14, respectively and the book does feature a bit of insight into design philosophy – while these characters work, they are not necessarily minmaxed or the like and enjoy like playing against the trope, particularly the archetype’d ones. That is not to say that they are not…ehem…geared towards their pursuits – you’ll see serious dump stats, where appropriate. Special abilities are listed for your convenience, meaning you won’t have to switch books, which is a nice plus.
Now, as before in the smaller pdf, we have PFU’s Artistry skill included in the deal. Much like in the smaller book, we do not get the information which point-buy was used or scaling information for other point-buy standards. Similarly, while you do get generally solid builds, you will find that the spell save DC is universally off by 1 (this book assumes 11 + attribute modifier + spell level) and the magic item and equipment selection will probably not blow you out of the water with its creativity. Particularly at higher levels, you’ll find magical armor and weapons to be the default, with only lame plusses – the book does not use much wondrous items, special weapon or armor qualities or the like. That being said, monks etc. do get amulets and bracers…but only the minimum.
In fact, the high-level builds are pretty squishy and under-equipped. There are a few examples, where the statblock doesn’t list the precise armor type in the AC-line and only the AC-bonus it conveys, while in others, it lists the magical armor. So yes, unfortunately the weaknesses of the smaller pdf have found their way into the big book as well. The difference is the vast scope of this book: Whereas the standard PWYW-book covered only the core classes and one barbarian archetype, this one also covers the whole APG-roster + Antipaladin, Magus, Gunslinger, Samurai and Ninja – and yes, summoner and witch get quadded eidolon/familiar statblocks and the samurai comes with mount – cool here: A camel, of all things! Unfortunately, the ranged touch attack of the spitting lacks its bonus in the statblock, but on a plus-side, animal tricks are noted.
Beyond these “standard” classes from the APG, we get so much more: Barbarians get a sample build for the armored hulk, breaker, brutal pugilist, drunken brute, drunken rager, elemental kin, hurler, invulnerable rager, jungle rager, mounted fury, raging cannibal, savage barbarian, scarred rager, sea reaver and superstitious archetypes. Weird: On page 162 of my pdf, the icons of the quadded statblock seem to have a glitch…but that’s cosmetic.
Bards are also covered – namely the animal speaker, arcane duelist, arcane healer, archaeologist, archivist, buccaneer, celebrity, court bard, daredevil and demagogue. This is as good a place as any, btw., to mention that each section on a class is headed by a brief general breakdown of competences and a designer’s soapbox that talks about the classes – which is a nice segue into the respective sections. Cleric-wise, the cloistered cleric, crusader, divine strategist and evangelist are included in the deal. I am still annoyed by the statblocks for clerics not specifying the domain chosen. A weird peculiarity in that regard: Builds tend to use inquisitions, rather than domains, which is generally, considering spells and powers, not the smartest idea for clerics.
We do get 3 druids – ape shaman, aquatic druid and arctic druid. None of them use companions and, bingo, when a domain was chosen via nature’s bond, it was not specified. Also odd: The spellcasting mentions (+1 domain per)[sic!] under the spells per day. It’s clear what’s meant, but…well. You get it, right? Fighter-wise, the archer, armor master, brawler and cad are included. The archer would be a nice way to showcase what I meant with the builds not necessarily being very lethal at higher levels. At 14th level, the archer here has a base damage of 1d8 +6 with a +3 longbow. Not bad, sure…but neither is it impressive.
Monks may select the drunken master, flowing monk, hamatulatsu master, hungry ghost. ki mystic,. maneuver master, martial artist or master of many styles. Which would be yet another chance for me to nitpick: The ACs partially note “+X misc” in their specific bonus-lists. That does not exist. The proper formatting is “+X monk.” The ki mystic build is…interesting…or a joke, depending on your definition .At low levels, she is fragile, but at level 14, the poor sod has AC 24 and a whopping 28 hit points. Con as a dumpstat. No, her damage output does not make up for that and so, there is no amazing item/ability combo that makes the character nigh impossible to hit. She wouldn’t have lived through melee with a single mook in my game. Another sad victim of a build would be the Master of Many Styles presented here. Yay, he a has a ton of style feats! And none of the follow-up feats that are the reason you take crappy style feats in the first place. Sorry, there’s an exception: Monkey Moves. On the plus-side, the monk builds do take maneuver training etc. into account, so CMB etc. is correct and it’s been a while since I saw a tiger fork as a preferred weapon. Still, equipment is not nearly up to par for the levels. +3 amulet of natural armor is all the poor level 14 build gets. I consider myself to be stingy regarding magic items, but herein, the high-level builds suffer big time, coming not even close to the WBL suggested. The maneuver master also is…really wrong. A halfling monk with movement rate 15 ft. (no idea from gear etc. how that happened) and a wrong AC in all builds. Not the only character with such glitches, mind you.
We get the combat healer squire paladin and the battle scout, beast master, deep walker, dungeon rover and falconer ranger next, and yes, the beats master gets a boar companion, the deep walker a dire rat. A slight peculiarity I should mention here: The races use names like “dusk elf” or “dwarf (deep delver)” in brackets – these denote alternate racial abilities, not unique races…just in case you don’t have the same array of useless PFRPG trivia lodged in your brain that I do. ;P That being said, I do welcome the use of alternate racial traits. And yes, the falconer gets an…OWL companion.
Rogues are covered as acrobats, bandits, burglars. Cavaliers represented by the beats rider and gunslingers by buccaneer ad gunner squire. I was a bit surprised by the lumping of the cavalier in with these two chapter- and discussion-wise – typically, these guys are armored and fulfill a radically different role than slingers and rogues. Similarly, gunslingers and rogues play nothing alike and gunslingers DON’T have a lot of options, contrary to what the discussion claims. They, much like the cavalier, are not a class with a wide feat array, many meaningful choices or a pronounced player agenda. Regarding the builds: I do cringe a bit when a rogue wastes a precious feat on Acrobatic. The beast rider does not have the correct mount for its archetype. Plus: Buccaneer gets familiar stats and Cha-mod-governed grit right.
The final section covers the following: A crossblooded sorceror, a primalist transmuter, 5 alchemists (beastmorph, chirurgeon, clone master, crypt breaker, internal alchemist), 2 inquisitors (cold iron warden, exorcist), 2 magi (bladebound, greensting slayer), one oracle (black-blooded oracle), one summoner (blood summoner) and a beast-bonded witch. At this point, however, you have a good idea of what to expect here.
The book concludes with an alphabetical index.
Editing and formatting are at the same time impressively good and problematic; when there’s a glitch, it’s consistent; if not, then we get, formally a rather impressive book, with stuff bolded that should be bolded and only very few italicization hiccups. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard for text, or the quadded statblock, as applicable. The background is yellow-ish parchment-like and the pdf does not feature any artworks. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version, which is a big plus. The massive hardcover in full color is, well, massive and makes for a hefty tome at the table that is comparatively inexpensive for its massive page-count. A bookmarked version of the pdfs has been uploaded to my knowledge.
J. Evans Payne has crafted the single biggest book of pregens I have ever seen for any gaming system. And at first level, these guys and gals can be pretty solid. The higher level builds, however, are severely under-equipped, to the point where they are basically impotent and don’t even measure up to NPC WBL-guidelines. So that’s a pretty nasty downside for GMs. On the plus-side, if you’re concerned about too many PC deaths and an inflation of magic items, well, these guys most certainly won’t present you with that problem.
The sheer amount of statblocks in this book is impressive, yes, but, to put it bluntly, the sheer volume is paid for with the detail and quality of the statblocks in question, particularly when it comes to the strategies of the builds, the feat-selection and the extremely subpar magic item array. Don’t get me started on combat gear etc. Now don’t get that wrong: I *am* actually pretty surprised by the relative precision of the builds herein. This is not sloppy in the craftsmanship in the traditional way and probably powered by some piece of software. For the most part, the numbers check out with surprising frequency. Still, they don’t always check out and often feel very rough and not necessarily founded on the principle of making a character with a decent chance of survival.
At first level, the level of potency and relatively barebones item array the characters exhibit is okay, but the higher level versions show painfully the lack of the required gear and their deviation from the suggested WBL for NPCs, and don’t get me started on PCs. I tried to find a way to sugar-coat it, to see the positive about this, but failed miserably, so there it goes: I wouldn’t use the high-level versions as a PC.
That is not to say that there is no value herein; quite the contrary. By definition, the book, while certainly not perfect, does offer quite a lot of stats that can make for a ton of easily dispatched mooks for the GM to throw at players. (Never mind the hiccups – mooks are there to die anyways…) Similarly, at first level, for the most part, if you ignore minor hiccups, you get a metric TON of characters. Finally, as a base to build upon, this may have some serious value for the time-starved, but crunch-savvy GM: Replace some feats and select magic items on the fly and modify the base-chassis and there we go.
That being said, I consider this book to be worthwhile for the comparatively fair price, yes, but also very flawed – and unlike the adventure itself and its companion tome’s NPCs, the crunch for PCs MUST be on point and it has no other virtues by which I could judge it.
So, for who is this book? GMs looking for base-lines to build on; players who want 1st level pregens. (With a bit of oversight by someone rules-savvy…) It also depends on how neurotic you are regarding statblocks – if you’re like me, you may get a bad twitch. If general functionality is what you’re looking for, if you don’t have the same level of perfectionism I do, then this could be a treasure trove for you.
The fact, however, remains that this massive book falls short of what it could, and, more importantly should, be.
For me, personally, this did not deliver what I wanted. While I can see some groups deriving a lot of mileage and fun from this, and while I understand that, system-immanently, this cannot present the same precision as significantly smaller books, I still expected more from this. I did not expect inspired builds à la Faces of the Tarnished Souk, but I expected precision and functionality and that is, alas, not always there. While I don’t count myself among the folks who can ignore such shortcomings, my final verdict will respect this distinct possibility. Hence, I will settle on a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform due to in dubio pro reo and its sheer size as well as the fact that it is part of a freshman offering.
You can get this tome here on OBS!