Desert Heroes of Porphyra
This massive pdf clocks in at 65 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 61 pages of content, though it should be noted that these are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, which means that you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this out – provided your eyes are good enough, obviously.
Okay, so this pdf contains a total of no less than 5 different classes, so let’s take a look at the details, shall we?
The first of these would be the ascetic, who can be envisioned as a variant class of the unchained monk. These folks must be lawful, has d10 HD, 4 + Int mod skills per level, proficiency with club, dagger, javelin, quarterstaff, scimitar, shortspear, siangham, sling, and spear. They don’t get access to monk weapons per se and get a scaling AC bonus, but lose it when using shield or armor. Interesting: The pdf uses the great toolkit Unarmed and Dangerous’ Way of the Body ability to tie the AC-bonus to Con. And no, you don’t need that pdf, but it shows a nice, applied use here. The class gets full BAB-progression, all good saves and 3rd level yields fast movement +10 ft., which improved by +10 ft every 3 levels thereafter. The class begins play with Endurance and flurry of blows as well as stunning fist. At 4th level, stunning fist can be sued to calm emotions, 8th can be used as a targeted dispel magic; 12th level nets staggered for 1d6+1 rounds and 20th level provides euphoric tranquility for 2d6+1 rounds and durations of subsequent uses stack. The class gets monk unarmed damage progression and Improved Unarmed Strike etc., with the table for Small and Large ascetics provided as well.
At 2nd level, ascetics gain Diehard and can subsist on ¼ food and water etc. They also gain evasion. 3rd level nets a Wis-governed ki pool, with 7th, 10th and 16th level providing the DR-bypassing scaling. Being ascetics can make them feel brash – as such, 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter provide penalties to social graces, but also subsequent environmental adaptation. (Here, an endure elements has a minor formatting hiccup – the (i) for italicization has not been closed); this progresses to make them seem monstrous at 12th level, but also yields hide in plain sight at 16th level.
4th level and every 2 levels thereafter yield a ki power, with abundant step, diamond mind, empty body, etc. all codified as such and e.g. the option to use ki to treat rolled Acrobatics checks as natural 20s for 1 minute, emphasizing reliable skirmishing. Combining movement with flurries via ki and rerolls for allies, divination and longer holding breath etc. – the selection loses cobra breath, diamond body, elemental fury, elemental blast, ki guardian, ki blocker, ki mount, ki range and quivering palm, but gains empty body as an etherealness option. The decreased flexibility makes sense here, considering the upgrade in power of the base chassis.
4th level yields still mind, 5th purity of body and 5th level, style strike, with 9th level and every 4 levels thereafter yielding another style strike, with 15th level allowing for a second style strike per round. The list replaces elbow smash with rock throw. 6th level makes the attacks executed behave as though they were ghost touch and 9th level yields improved evasion. 10th levels provides immunity to poisons, lets the character function in a vacuum and eliminates the need for sleep, food, etc. – ki points are automatically regenerated at dawn. 13th level yields tongue of the sun and moon, 14th DR, 17th timeless body and 18th level a ki-powered aura that can calm targets as well as negate penalties and bonuses to mental attributes, curing damage and drain to them, with a 24-hour hex-like caveat to avoid spamming. The capstone yields an outsider apotheosis. We get an array of favored class options for various porpyhran races here – and yes, this holds true for all of the classes herein; I’m not going to repeat myself in that regard for all of them.
Okay, this class should have highlighted the design paradigm employed herein: Basically, we have variant classes that exceed in modifications what you’d usually see from a standard archetype, but which are very clearly akin to more widespread class options. As such, they can be considered to be the local color iterations of a specific trope. In order to maintain the integrity of the review and its usefulness and to avoid boring you to tears by rehashing basics, I will proceed to now highlight the differences of the remainder of classes.
The defender of the city-state is very interesting, in that the class per se is very much akin to the paladin, with smite, spells, two good saves, etc. However, in a twist that I very much welcome, it makes use of the subjectivity of morals: While all such beings consider themselves to be both Lawful and Good, that need not be the case: Both patron, to whom fealty is sworn, and individual can deviate from this, and indeed, the class abilities reflect these variables, focusing not on the destruction of a monolithic evil as a concept, but rather on the enemy of the city/state/nation…you get the idea. The code of honor is provided and the class also gets some differentiation fighting tricks and home-turf-based options, generally making for a less angelic and monolithic, but more down-to-earth type of warrior that should fit rather well into games that prefer a more nuanced approach to matters of morals.
The next class would be the sand caster, a wizard variant who can fire blasts of slashing sands and substitute sands as focus and components of inexpensive components, which is btw. properly codified. Damage substitution, limited domain tricks…this one is really evocative and something I enjoy. The high-level (level 19) option nets limited fast healing after sandcasting, but consumes sand in the vicinity, preventing abuse.
The sand scarab would be another unchained monk-based variant, but, unlike the ascetic, does not gain good Will-saves. Focusing less on mysticism, their ki strikes don’t get the same supernatural tricks, but they can exert control over the base damage type caused, their bonus feats represent their more martial bent and ki power and style strike lists are modified in different ways, including a verminous hybrid shape as a ki power. Higher levels yield further vermin-themed abilities, like deciphering patterns from the behavior of different vermin they can observe, gaining divination-y abilities thus.
Now, while all of the options herein tie in rather neatly with Porphyra, the sharif provides a basic premise of sample city states by region, for, like the defender of the city, it is basically a variant take on the cleric that focuses instead on upholding the integrity of the city state in question. This ties in once more with the patronage idea and the modifications of the class emphasize player agenda: A city with a strong martial tradition may, for example, bestow a ranger style as part of its traditions and communion with legends from the city’s past may enhance summoning as an alternate choice here. All in all, once more a flavorful alternative.
The pdf comes with a bonus pdf, the sin spider attractor by Perry Fehr, who clocks in at CR 5 – basically a flabby spider that generates a lure as a twisted ambush predator. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before, but yeah – like the critter.
Editing and formatting, on a rules-language level, are very good. On a formal level, I noticed a couple of minor snafus. The pdf provides really nice full-color pieces for all classes and otherwise adheres to Purple Duck games’ printer-friendly 1-column standard with purple highlights. In a strange decision, the pdf sports no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment at this length.
Carl Cramér’s writing, based on those of C.A. Suleiman, is rather nice here: This pdf can be seen as a good way to illustrate how the design paradigms introduced in Unarmed and Dangerous may be applied in a seamless manner; beyond that, the variant classes fit within the themes we’d expect: The topics of Arabian nights or quasi-Egyptian contexts and Porphyra’s own, diverse regions all make for fitting origins for these variant classes. Rules-wise, the respective variants all make meaningful incisions into the base classes they’re derived from, providing a distinct feeling for all the tricks we’d associate with their concepts. In short, this is, as a whole, a well-crafted, inexpensive supplement that nets you a whole cadre of classes to set apart desert-dwelling heroes and villains from those hailing from more temperate climates. This pdf does not reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t have to – at the low and fair price point, we arrive at a final verdict of 4 stars, in spite of the lack of bookmarks and minor snafus – this is worth checking out if you want to add some local color to your desert-themed adventuring.
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