Divergent Paths: Rajah (Patreon Request)
This installment of the Divergent Paths-series clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was finally finished because one of my patreon supporters asked me to do so.
Okay, so first of all, this is a class that uses both the Akashic Mysteries and Path of War rules systems, and as such, including the Animus subsystem; as such, it reprints the Tap Animus and Extra Animus feats, and features a table of weapon special abilities in the back. Unless I have miscounted, the pdf features 23 new veils, and a new discipline for the Path of War system, namely Radiant Dawn.
I assume familiarity with both sub-systems in this review, and yet, I think it is prudent to preface this review with an observation regarding the subsystems in question. First of all: There is no wrong way to game. You’re free to disagree with me, and my observations are not intended to disparage your playstyle or preferences regarding content.
In this instance, however, I do feel it to be prudent to talk a bit about playstyles and implicit assumptions and frameworks of rules-systems. For akasha as a rules system, it is potent, but its math is exceedingly tight; in many ways, it mirrors psionics up to and including Ultimate Psionics. The power-level is on par with the game’s assumptions, or rather, the higher echelons thereof. One draw of Dreamscarred Press’ classes has always been that they don’t require as much system mastery to make them potent. If you don’t believe me in that regard, compare the damage output/to-hit reliability of a vizier with that of a barbarian, and you’ll notice that this level of precision is not coincidence. Akasha, in all its time at my table, has proven that it works precisely in accord with the game’s assumptions and in a manner that is consistent with other options available.
Path of War, on the other hand, is a sub-system that really broke my heart in a way, because it could have been a revelation. I adore Path of War’s concept, as I’m a huge otaku, and similarly, I love WuXia aesthetics. I concur with the assessment that martials needed fun things to do. However, in many ways, Path of War has assumptions about the Pathfinder rules that differ drastically from the assumptions of both other magic systems and martial options, and many of them can be chalked up not to necessity to make math or concept work, but to very questionable design decisions. These include means to delimit several balancing factors of the game, from competing rolls (3.5-y) to infinite healing exploits, to a variety of make-believe damage types that nothing has resistance or immunity to and that the game really did not need, to options to cheese abilities by slaughtering helpless kittens. Worst of all, the notion of skills used to attack falls completely flat once it is combined with magic items: Skills are super easy to buff to kingdom come in Pathfinder, and as a result, Path of War can be cheesed to kingdom come. None, and I mean “NONE” of these components were required to realize the vision of Path of War. Not a single one of these aspects was needed to realize the goals of the system. They all can be boiled down to either a disregard of these balancing factors, or, perhaps worse, a shrugging disinterest in maintaining these rules components. And yet, it has an honest appeal to me. As a result, Path of War only is used in very specific circumstances at my table, when it could have been universally beloved and applicable.
And before you start frothing at the mouth: Path of War can be exceedingly fun. However, it does not adhere to the math-conventions of PFRPG’s assumed default power-level; instead, it is, in many ways, more akin to a power-fantasy, and the design-paradigm of escalating damage, of attacks that can’t be negated or resisted, of classes severely outclassing other classes, has since been featured in quite a few Dreamscarred releases. Take the highlord and voyager, for example – they both are superb examples of complex, rewarding and INNOVATIVE class designs that I genuinely enjoy, and yet, I wouldn’t use them in my mainstream fantasy games due to their exceedingly pronounced power levels.
Same goes for quite a few expansions for psionics. With damage types that can’t be resisted or negated, perfectly reliable hits etc., Path of War plays more like a power fantasy. And there is nothing wrong about that. Heck, it’s something I enjoy once in a while. But not all the time.
My contention is that Pathfinder with Path of War has different assumptions about the power-level of PCs and what they can do, than Pathfinder without it. They are two VERY different playstyles.
This is in so far important, as akasha is very much designed to assume the default checks and balances of the system to be in place, where Path of War flaunts them, and I assume it does so consciously. In a way, the two systems have different baseline assumptions of what player characters should be able to deliver in terms of power and capability– so, how does the rajah blend these two systems? The short answer is: It doesn’t. The long answer is more complex.
Chassis-wise, we have d6 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light armor and shields (except tower shields), ½ BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, and the disciplines available to the class are Golden Lion, Radiant Dawn, Scarlet Throne and Solar Wind. The class begins with 5 maneuvers known, 3 readied, and one stance; at 20th level, we have 16 maneuvers known, 10 readied and 7 stances. The governing initiation modifier is Charisma, which is also used for veilweaving. As a minor nitpick, the rules-language here refers to initiation modifier, when it should be veilweaving modifier. The rajah begins play with 2 veils and 1 essence, gaining the first bind at 4th level; at 20th level, the rajah has 7 veils, 5 binds and 20 essence.
Regarding the binding of veils, the rajah goes a pretty interesting route: You see, most of the rajah’s veils have the [Title] descriptor, and there is a reason for that: The rajah can’t RAW bind veils to herself, as the class never gets the traditional chakra bind or an analogue ability – at least not nominally. The target (referred to as “entitled” herein) is considered to be the origin of a [Title] veil, and a target may only have [Titles] from one veilweaver. Unlike other veils, a rajah may shape as many veils of a title as they wish, but they may not stack them with themselves, so no double-weaving of the same veil on a target. The effect only applies while the entitled is within close range of the rajah; beyond that range, the title is suppressed on the rajah’s next turn until the entitled returns.
Instead, at 4th level, the rajah may bind veils shaped on her allies to Belt, Chest, Feet, Hands, Head, Headband, Neck, Shoulders and Wrist slots, with no minimum class level for them. The limit of binds maintained noted in the table only applies to veils gained from this class, which other veils follow the standard veilweaving rules. Beyond the title veils, there is another veil in this context, namely The Demiurge, which, while also a rajah exclusive, duplicates a veil that you’re currently shaping on an ally, regardless of distance, and also change which of the veils on allies you gain the benefit from as a swift action, but do not gain the chakra bind effect of the emulated [Title] veil unless you chakra bind The Demiurge (the veil explicitly allows for that, even though the rajah doesn’t usually have this ability), but only one of the available chakra binds of the emulated veil; additionally, if you have this chakra bind in effect, you can accept 1 point of essence burn as a move action to unshape a [Title] veil shaped and instantly reshape a new [Title] veil on an ally within close range.
In the case of multiclassing, only such [Title] veils granted by the rajah may be thus shared. Essence invested in The Demiurge counts as being invested in the [Title] veil it emulates. This eliminates one of the most important balancing factors of veilweaving, namely the dispersal of essence and the choices inherent in the planning – including the action economy component. The Demiurge veil essentially allows you to share in the [Title] veils of your allies, but with an important difference – for your own benefits, only the essence invested in The Demiurge is actually relevant to determine benefits; this makes you choose between invested essence in allies, and invested essence in The Demiurge, for your own increased benefit. Essentially, for the rajah, the essence invested in The Demiurge counts as being invested in ALL VEILS shaped on your allies when they are emulated by the veil. Sure, you can amp up the buff on your ally, but yeah.
This veil poses a series of questions: 1) Why are titles veils in the first place? They do not have the level-related checks and balances one would usually assume to be present to retain akasha’s system integrity. 2) No, seriously, why are titles veils? They explicitly allow for the rajah to stack them atop of veils, as, while they do note slots, they do not occupy the respective slot; them being veils makes no sense whatsoever. 3) A sidebar mentions title veils being available via e.g. feats to other classes – which is where the chakra bind information primarily comes into effect. This, however, does not end the global rules of [Title] veils, which may still be stacked atop of other veils.
Essentially, the veil-list of this class does not *really* represent a list of new veils; instead, it represents a massive secondary akashic system; like if you grafted a second, more potent iteration of the system atop of akasha, one that behaves similarly to it, but not entirely. In a way, this generates a weird impression – like jamming class features into veil shapes. Essentially, titles are a second akasha-like subsystem grafted on top of two already pretty complex class systems. If anything, [Title] veils are not balanced in the same way as regular veils.
As a comparison: Horselord’s Greaves nets a +2 insight bonus to Handle Animal and Ride, and when bound to feet or belt, among other benefits, nets the mount +1 to saves and AC, and 5 temporary hit points per essence invested. Compare that to the title The Benevolent. That [Title] veil nets you +2 to AC, +2 to saves and attacks vs. evil creatures, +2 untyped bonus to saves vs. mind-affecting effects and resistance 5 to acid and cold as well as DR 0/evil; for each point of essence invested in the veil, the resistances increase both by 2, AC increases by 1, and for every 2 points invested, the saves improve by 1. If you bind The Benevolent, DR further increases by 5, and the deflection bonus to AC and bonus to saves is shared by all allies in close range. The light the veil emits is upgraded to daylight and a weapon of the entitled’s choice becomes holy. ALL of these benefits are ONE title.
This outclasses not only comparable veils, it also outclasses comparable buffing options – and it can be layered atop of other defenses and other titles.
What about adding an untyped (URGH) damage-causing breath in a 40-foot line or 20-foot cone when hitting with main and off hand or two different natural weapons and a buff that allows for the ignoring of some scaling DR when hitting thus, as well as enhanced damage +2 (per die of the breath against which there is no valid defense? Not that it’d matter here – while this veil explicitly calls the damage “untyped”, there are plenty of veils herein that just deal “damage”, with no means to negate it. This is one of several inconsistencies herein. Don’T get me started on the poison option. It is BRUTAL.
There also is a veil that provides +2 to AC and saves versus effects not originating from a marked target, +2 to atk and damage versus the target, with each point of essence invested increasing the AC and atk bonus by 1, every 2 essence invested increasing saves and damage by 1. The cavalier is sobbing in the corner. (Granted, the class deserves to be sobbing in the corner…)
Anyhow, the chakra bind generates a temporary essence that is automatically reinvested in the title once per round, for up to 1 minute after combat ended. Hand me that bag o’ kittens. With an opposed attack roll at -5, usable 1/round as a free action, the entitled can negate an attack roll. Oh joy, opposing attack rolls. *insert my usual rant* Hej, or what about a debuff that has no save, unerringly hitting the target for -1 to atk and 10% spell failure (max -5/50%), AND the damage is changed to profane damage, one of Path of War’s “fun” invented damage types against which no single regular creature has valid resistances/immunities? There also is a veil that lets you store half damage inflicted, and lets it use you to heal yourself. This officially has left any cursory pretense of adhering to even rudimentary aspects of PFRPG’s default power-level behind.
In many ways, the [Title] engine is incredibly clunky. It adds a huge complication to a class that already has two complex subsystems to bear in mind, and since titles do not work like regular veils, the interaction between the two is *really* odd, with the increased power-level of [Titles] undermining the mechanic integrity of akashic power levels by frankly providing superior options that lack any notion of checks and balances. [Titles] also seem to be inordinately fond of no-save debuffs, significant bonuses sans bonus types, and add all of that atop the vast flexibility of afforded by The Demiurge, which REALLY should not be a veil, and instead operate as a class feature; indeed, whacking all [Titles] with the nerfbat, VERY OFTEN, and VERY HARD and making them class features instead would have been a vastly superior way of handling them.
Particularly since this is not even close to the only thing the rajah can offer; even as a stand-alone, singular, defining class feature, the [Titles] would make the rajah a very potent and flexible support class, borderline OP, and frankly the best buffing option out there.
The rajah, at 1st level, also gets royal mandate, a supernatural ability with a close range that lets the rajah, as a standard action, target an ally with a command, who then can follow it as a free action: he commands allow an ally to execute a melee or ranged attack at their highest BAB (NOT an attack action, at least) ; the ally may gain a morale bonus equal to the rajah’s Charisma modifier to AC and a save of the rajah’s choice, including rerolling a save against such an effect with this bonus (since the rajah uses Charisma for pretty much everything, this’ll usually be around at least +4/+5 at level 1), or the ally may move up to their speed. Additionally, when issuing such a command, the rajah may reallocate her essence and swap any single readied maneuver with another maneuver known, which is btw. readied and unexpended, allowing the rajah to combine serious ally buffing with akashic mode change and maneuver cycling. There is no limit to this ability regarding daily uses or the like, and no cooldown.
There is more to the class base engine. When an ally is entitled by the rajah, they are subject to the vassalage ability. A rajah can initiate boosts, counters and strikes through allies that have a shaped [Title] veil on them; the rajah uses the ally’s space and reach, but her own weapons, and ranged attacks executed through allies do not provoke AoOs, and maneuvers that affect the initiator do affect the rajah, not the ally used as a medium; maneuvers that include a charge allow the rajah to instead move her speed however she wishes, allowing for the constant chaining of charge-related maneuvers without actually incurring the dangers of melee. A rajah may counter through an ally, and in such a case, may use her own or the ally to determine how the effect resolves. Additionally, the rajah gets a bonus to atk when using vassalage equal to ½ her veilweaving level, rounded up. Which is her class level in most instances, unless a veil already grants a higher bonus. Such attacks also gain a bonus equal to the number of [Title] veils shaped onto other creatures. *SIGH* You know, the low BAB of the chassis? It kinda looks like a bluff to let GMs that don’t understand the class allow it in their game. Also, re damage, bear in mind:
“Unlike other veils, a veilweaver can shape as many of a given Title as they wish, though they may not shape the same Title onto a creature multiple times, nor may they shape a veil that shares the same name onto a creature who already has that veil shaped.“
…hand me…my TRUSTY ANT COLONY! Fear the wrath of the god-slaying level 1 ant emperor! I have entitled every single ant in the colony, for a nice +1,634,000 to damage! Of course, I am being facetious, but RAW, this is possible. Moreover, the first level nets “The Crossroads”, which allows for a choice: The first option lets you use Charisma instead of Strength or Dexterity modifiers for atk via vassalage. The second is a 1/round untyped cone or line with scaling damage when hitting a target via vassalage. Third option would be the means to 1/round expend a readied maneuver of a known counter’s level or higher to execute the counter sans requiring an action. In ADDITION to all of these, the rajah uses her class level as BAB for the purpose of prerequisites.
At 2nd level, the rajah gains a swarm of unseen servants with better strength that can’t aid another – essentially a really cool flavor ability. 4th level lets the class choose two skills as “courtly skills” and gets an untyped +2 to them; at 8th level, 2/day as an immediate action, the result of these may be 11. At 12th level, another skill is added and the bonus increases to +3, and at 16th level, 1/day as an immediate action, a result of them may be treated as 15. 6th level nets essentially advantage on Will-saves. At 14th level, the rajah can lend this to allies 1/round, as a free action she may take even when it’s not her turn. 10th level increases essence capacity of all veils and class features by 1, as well as immunity to fear. The rajah may ALSO invest essence in this ability, gaining +1 to saving throws for every point of essence invested. If the rajah has no Radiant Dawn maneuvers, she gains bonus essence equal to maneuvers known, divided by 3, which is a really odd way to keep the character from investing in a unique option it has. 12th level lets the rajah spend an hour to provide an inherent +2 bonus to an ally’s ability score, which stacks with other inherent bonuses up to a maximum of +5, and the rajah may have a number of targets thus blessed equal to her initiation modifier, i.e. Charisma. A single ally may benefit only from one such blessing at a given time, and at 18th level, the bonus increases to +4. 20th level negates age-related penalties, and if slain, the rajah enters a kind of super soul state supercharging receptacles. The rajah also true resurrections if exposed to the sun, and all class features and veils are considered to have 1 more veil invested in them, even if that would exceed the maximum.
At 3rd level and every two levels thereafter, the rajah gains a heraldry, chosen from a list of 15, which include the attention of a merchant outsider, upgrades for the unseen servants, a constant sanctuary with a scaling DC, constant nondetection + magic aura (as 5th level+) – you get the idea.
The archetype included, the batal, who modifies the base chassis of the class, and essentially replaces the whole vassalage angle, instead getting the ability to bind those titles herself. In many ways, the batal works a bit better than the rajah, but here, the wonky title-regular veil-interactions become a tad bit more evident.
The class comes with favored class options, a new martial tradition, 14 new feats, and 3 magic items. The feats allow you to e.g. shape veils sans [Title] descriptors as though they had it…and here we have the point where the whole thing starts becoming really wonky, eliminating yet another balancing check of akasha. There also is a feat that lets you remove [Title] from a veil, so you can freely shape any [Titles] as veils on yourself for a grand total of 1 feat. Add veils to your list AS TITLES, extra heraldries… What about a feat that lets you invest essence into non-Radiant Dawn maneuvers, and also granting free class level temporary hit points whenever you initiate a maneuver with essence invested?
Radiant Dawn, in case you were wondering, is an akashic discipline, sporting the essence capacity cap, and allows you to substitute close range scaling force damage rays for ranged weapon strikes; the radiant dawn maneuvers before essence receptacles when readied, and essence invested in them when they are expended remains bound until the maneuver is recovered. In a nutshell, this is a discipline that treats its options, which includes DR as immediate action for allies etc. as veils – and, ironically, as a whole, it fares better than the highly problematic [Title]-system. While powerful, Radiant Dawn plays like a well-rounded discipline when divorced of the rajah’s other components. The default blasting option is problematic and will make Solar Wind initiators jealous. There is a level 1 stance that enhance all healing received by 50%, stacking up to double your maximum hit points in temporary hit points. Cool here: These cannot be kitten-prep’d, and the potent stance prevents you from healing other targets. Alas, in case you had any question whether this as a whole even attempts to avoid abuse: The answer is NO. The discipline has e.g. a maneuver that nets allies the option to heal per hit, with more essence for more healing. Yep. Not even killing. Hitting a foe suffices. Bags full of mewling kittens to slaughter for everybody! Infinite damage, infinite healing – and more than one option for the latter without even trying! Why am I even bothering?
…because the rajah is, in spite of its massive shortcomings a genuinely awesome concept. Because all single components of the class on their own, with some checks and balances, could have worked incredibly well. Because I love the concept of the mastermind fighting through their allies; because the class, in spite of its issues, showcases serious talent. Because no other class has frustrated me to this degree with its squandered potential.
It’s just that nobody seems to have cared regarding any power-level considerations whatsoever. Our Path of War fans love super high-powered stuff, as long as it’s precisely-phrased! Heck, endy has stopped complaining, and rated our previous Path of War expansions all under consideration of the sub-system’s increased power-level. The rajah is where this assumption breaks – because the rajah not only is problematic in the context of akasha, it outclasses even this high-powered Path of War material.
Editing and formatting, formally, is very good – while the sequence of ability presentation and a couple of components could have been clearer, the quality of the rules language in its integrity is of the usual, high standard. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ 2-column full-color standard, with nice full-color artworks, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Anthony Cappel’s rajah feels like two akasha/Path of War-classes mashed into one; on the one hand, the initiator with maneuver receptacles, on the other, the commander with the channel-angle and the unique [Title]-engine. Perhaps that’s what this once was. That would also explain why this class outperforms frickin’ gestalts. Know how highlord and voyager are super powerful and outclass the old psionics classes? This one does pretty much the same for every buffer out there; heck, it can make your group short-range teleport around, blast foes AND heal.
This is the single most overpowered class I’ve seen for PFRPG.
I have not called it broken, because it is too intricately-designed to be dubbed this. I am very much positive that the class works as the designer intended. I’m just puzzled for which game, because the rajah makes even the Path of War classes seem meek.
When it starts outclassing even Path of War power-level characters though? Why play e.g. the medic when you can also command allies and buff them? Why bother with a highlord, when the rajah makes the fellow cry themselves to sleep?
Frankly, I would not allow this class anywhere near my table. Not even in my Path of War games.
It blatantly disregards all checks and balances for akasha, and while Path of War plays fast, very fast, and very loose with a lot of PFRPG’s default assumptions, the rajah flaunts even that system’s sparse limitations.
From not even having to try to cheese this fellow, to the clunky [Title]-engine, this could have been a masterpiece, but it looks like breaking the game’s mathematic and rules assumptions regarding defenses, bonuses, etc. was elevated to the declared design goal here.
Checking, playtesting, gritting my teeth, and quitting – those are the words that best encapsulate what I can say about the rajah.
It is paradoxical: It is a class that oozes cool components, that it has so many conceptually great abilities – and then got rid of anything that would even halfway contextualize or balance its power. It’s like it has been written for a different, bizarro-world PFRPG where every class is much stronger. It feels like an Exalted character in a 1e game; like a level 20 PFRPG-barbarian in a B/X game. Its rules are precise. They just don’t acknowledge in any way the power-level restrictions you’d expect within the context of the game it is ostensibly designed for.
Personally, I am crestfallen that nobody beat this in shape with the nerfbat. For me it’s essentially impossible to use as anything but as a super-potent NPC-boss, or to hand it to the single guy who can’t optimize. But wait: That guy would need to learn two complex subsystems, so not gonna happen. For comparison: I tried comparing a rajah commander of minions build vs. a mythic build filling the same niche; rajah wins, hands down.
Unless…well, unless Path of War does not deliver what you want from it. If you and your group want the full power-fantasy experience, with very few truly dangerous components, if you don’t derive pleasure from beating hard obstacles, but from curb-stomping foes, then this delivers. It’s like a cheat-mode.
Similarly, if you seek a class that delivers the power-level usually only reserved for gestalts, and often outclasses even them? Then the rajah is what you’re looking for. For you, this may be a 5-star-awesome file that lest you indulge in your fantasies of squashing all puny elfgame NPCs and monsters.
For everyone else, this is a lesson that even obvious talent as a designer does not equate with solid designs; when one ignores any metric and balance of the system and even that of an already lenient and watered-down, easy to break and easy to cheese subsystem, and then proceeds dissolving the boundaries to another system while also breaking that system’s checks and balances, you have an unmitigated mess as far as I’m concerned.
I want to love the rajah and what it tries to do, I really, really do. But to me, it’s a rage-inducing mess, it’s like a callback to the bad 3.X-days of yore with their atrociously overpowered 3pp-options. Save that, back then, the reason for being overpowered was often that designers sucked; this is not the case here. This is very deliberate.
I genuinely can’t decide what’s worse.
As a PC class, this is a brand new level of overpowered, broken and problematic.
For me, this is the epitome of a 1 star book.
Worse, it endangers akasha’s balance more than even the new psionic options have broken down the checks and balances for psionics. It outclasses several classes at once at their own shtick. If you want a ruler-type, overpowered villain for your game, this class might be worth looking into, provided your players are really good at optimizing their builds. Otherwise the rajah will TPK them without breaking a sweat if you even remotely play the class to its capabilities.
Still, that is one valid use of the class, and its devastatingly brutal arsenal – which is the only reason my official final verdict will instead be 1.5 stars, rounded up.
You can get this class here on OBS.
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