Dynastic Races Compendium
This MASSIVE sourcebook clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial/ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, 1.5 pages of KS-backer-thanks, leaving us with 152.5 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.
So, what is this? Well, first of all, this would be a massive sourcebook that takes 4 races of the PFRPG-game and provides the details we always craved; two of these have been covered before – namely the Kitsune and Samsarans, in their respective compendiums – if I am not mistaken, roughly 90% of the content from these books should be available herein as well. However, this is more than a partial rehash of previous material: Instead, we gain massively expanded content. Beyond the previously noted two races, this pdf also takes a look at the nagaji and wayang, two races, which, much like the samsarans, have received basically no love whatsoever.
Now, as some of you may have noticed, I have a very firmly-held conviction that races are more than the sum of a couple of racial traits. At least, for me, they better should be. A race that is not human should have a distinct culture, a distinct outlook and, hopefully, some unique mechanics…but these alone do not make a race. Hence, I was less than enthused by the way PFRPG introduced a wide variety of races without really contextualizing them in a cultural context. This was changed for the two aforementioned races when Everyman Gaming released the respective compendiums – the attention to detail and lore provided for the races suddenly made me actually enjoy both kitsune and samsarans, two races I previously did not even consider introducing to me game.
How did those pdfs, and by extension, this book, achieve such a goal? Simple: By writing an actually believable ecology and psychology for the races into them, by elevating them from the status of just collections of stats. Now, the respective racial write-ups do replicate the stats for these races, obviously, but beyond them, we are taught about psychology (loyalty, shapechanging and a kitsune’s trickster-reputation can make for intriguing combos), their life cycle, internal and external physiology and more: Coming of age, childhood, falling in love, death, clothing habits, what one can expect from the respective race’s communities…heck, we even get to know about clothing, cuisine, familial structures, languages and the stances towards other races – the attention to detail exhibited here is a beauty to behold, the prose crisp and 5 truths and falsehoods commonly associated with the race represent fun stereotypes to play with.
Beyond that, the races also sport ethnicities, which is a big plus as far as I’m concerned: polar fox kitsune? Yep Black- or White-furred ones? Included. This whole section also features the respective alternate racial traits commonly associated with the ethnicity, adding crunchy components to the massive flavor. Speaking of flavor: What about diversified and unique origin myths and, indeed, even deities? Heck, the pdf does talk about chakras, mythic ascension and the like within the context of the respective races, generating an overall sense of holistic coverage basically never seen in gaming supplements…and yes, I am aware that I have so far not talked about the crunch supporting these extended ethnologies – there is a reason for that, namely that it has been collected in its own chapter – which, to me, is a good idea, organization-wise, but more on that later.
Now, I previously touched upon the kitsune and while this book does provide significantly more material than previously released, I’d like to spend a few lines talking about the nagaji: Their culture is noted as xenophobic and based on might makes right, but also values experience as a crucial factor – we learn that the nagaji do not worship nagas…and no, they do not hatch from eggs and they actually have a sense of humor. It is interesting to note that the revulsion often sparked by their snake-like appearance can be one of the reasons they have a reputation for being no-nonsense and xenophobic – when interacting with species likely to potentially want to kill you, you do become a bit…let’s say…cautious.
The life cycle is interesting to observe as well, as moulting and birthdays are touched upon and the reserved traditions for love and death similarly fit seamlessly into a vision of a highly structured and traditional society, basing them on fictionalized Asian cultures, but with enough twists to make them more than simply a reptilian version of real life cultures – instead, we basically have a race on our hands that can be summed up as a logical consequence of the respective cultural components interacting in a concise manner. Less verbosely: I can picture them existing, which is a feat in and of itself. Eel-like or cobra-headed nagaji and those seemingly descendant from nagas in their coloration and heritage add an interesting caste-like structure to their society that adds further adventuring potential and local color.
Beyond all of this, the tradition of scale bindi, adorning one’s chakras, makes for a flavorful and potentially very rich collection of culturally distinct signifiers.
The samsarans, if you recall my review of that race’s original compendium, aren’t a race I was particularlyl fond of: The lopsided racial traits and powers made them not interesting to me, a fact Alexander Augunas changed back then – the race, with its unique psychology and outlook on life and its focus on constant reincarnation, renders the race’s expanded lore one of the most successful examples of excellent storytelling in crunch-design I have seen in quite a while – the way in which their unique mythology and psychology shapes their cultures and the attention to detail provided therein render the samsarans as presented herein significantly more compelling than what the sum of their crunchy bits would suggest. The logic employed throughout the pdf is also extended towards the concept of ethnicities, codifying them for samsarans by whether they’re awakened, slumbering, reborn – you get the idea. And yes, reborn samsarans get their own set of racial traits, deeply aligned with Occult Adventures, as befitting of a race with these esoteric themes.
Beyond the philosophy of samsarism, the wheel of rebirth is fully elaborated upon as well in this section, making for an overall extremely compelling reading experience…but many of you may have guessed that. If you’re like me, the race that will probably have you guessing the most would be the wayang – only recently introduced and bereft of predecessors in the traditional sense, the race very much felt like tabula rasa to me – so how has its void been filled?
Well, the wayang as depicted herein are shy and reclusive and, somewhat akin to e.g. the Aztecs, they expect life to e painful and full of toil; they also place a high value on survival and their discomfort in daylight obviously has significant repercussions regarding their culture and racial psychology. Indeed, from the wayang’s perspective, they have been exiled and damned to an existence in a world that is unerringly hostile to them, instilling a significant amount of Weltschmerz, quite literally, into their culture. A general distrust of curiosity is also a trait only rarely touched upon in cultural write-ups, but one that can provide a lot of interesting food for roleplaying interaction.
The alien nature of wayang also is represented in their physiology and life cycle, as we learn that they are born blind…and while they are pretty glum, at least for me as a goth, I consider their pessimism at least partially amusing – with love vows like “I will love you to the day my soul dissolves into the eternal shadow of night…and beyond.”, which frankly could have been spouted by particularly kitschy, lovestruck fellows of my sub-culture…so yeah, while you can play them as angsty guys, there is an inherent melancholy and romanticism here, one that the right player can showcase with a wink. Dining etiquette and familial structures similarly are taken into consideration, as the book enumerates the consequences of the deeply-ingrained cultural belief of being stranded in a thoroughly hostile environment. Have you btw. known that their boogeymen, unsurprisingly, would be the lurkers in light?
Unique scarification techniques set e.g. the beber wayang ethnicity apart, while gedong wayangs limit this practice to their faces, giving them a unique, mask-like appearance. Indeed, body modifications, from split tongues to implants and brandings set the respective ethnicities apart in rather intriguing procedures. The tragic history of the race and their philosophy, the “Dissolution, road to the eternal night”, can also be found herein: Big kudos, btw. – the racial philosophy, while tied to nihilism, is for once not evil. Oh…and then there would be the dayseekers…but most wayang will be loathe to talk about those folks…for good reason, if you have read the origin myth…but a great way to play a wayang distinct from the traditional racial ideology.
Okay, so I mentioned that I consider the structure of this book smart: Well, at this point, we have pretty much covered the first 100 pages of this tome and everything that follows is rock-hard CRUNCH, which makes this a rather dense book in that regard The structure employed in this chapter is as follows: We begin with alternate racial traits for the respective races, as well as the favored class options, in sequence. The astute reader will recognize, however, that the latter does cover newer classes like vigilante and occult classes, which constitutes a big plus. Alternate attribute arrays can also be found herein, with e.g. the kitsune getting an option for a mental, lopsided +2 Wisdom and Charisma – not the biggest fan there, but oh well. on the plus side, favored class options and alternate racial traits actually make use of the respective unique options and themes represented by the race. It should also be noted that, in spite of the sheer massive density in this section. bonus types generally are very concisely defined – while there are a precious few instances where the bonus remains untyped, for the most part, this is impressively concise, as we’ve come to expect from Everyman Gaming. Other nitpicks here, purely cosmetic, would pertain e.g. the italicization of ki, which is inconsistent in single abilities…but then again, it is inconsistent throughout the whole gaming oeuvre, so consider this me just being a nitpicky prick. Nagaji can become masters of exotic arms via traits, gaining a thankfully limited charming gaze or increased potency when handling poisonous magic. Samsarans “slumbering” still can benefit from a variety of base racial traits, aligning them with more common races and further diversifying the concept for the player (and allowing for awakening storylines…), while the propensity of the wayang for scarifications and body-mods can yield a surprising diversity of pretty cool options as well.
Once we have taken all of that in (and believe me, it’s a LOT!), we move on to the significant cadre of racial archetypes. Now, as much as I’d like to go into details regarding each and everyone one of them, that would bloat the review even further and wouldn’t be too helpful, so, in all brevity, let’s take a look at the options: The (nagaji – the archetype works for everyone) paragonchemist basically gains a variety of mutagen, the paragogen, which heightens one aspect of the racial attributes at the cost of others, emphasizing the notion of becoming a heightened, more pronounced version of one’s race’s virtues. There are arcanist exploits that allow for the temporary switching of how subjects react to positive and negative energy (really cool!), distort magical illumination or hijack polymorph effects – unique and make sense, as far as I’m concerned. Rage power-wise, we get poisonous bites and raging/shapechanging combos. A total of 6 bardic masterpieces can be found herein, tying into the respective racial components – from the eternal cycle, represented in two of them, to Sun’s Requiem, these are neat.
The bloddrager kitsune bloodline features the kumiho form and spellcraft and the high-level option to snatch the beating heart from the chest of your opponents. Badass! The guru cleric represents an investigator/cleric-crossover with diminished spellcasting, while the scripture-scribed priest takes the wayang obsession with body mods and applies it religiously: Less domains, but they etch their spells into their own bodies…they may later even scribe scrolls into their body – to resume my asinine nitpicking: In one of the book’s rare glitches, a spell-reference here in not italicized, but that remains a purely aesthetic glitch. The book also features 3 subdomains: Agriculture, Kami and Manasaputra – all of these are balanced and bereft of complaints from yours truly.
The dancing blade would be a fighter with panache and deeds. Okay, I guess. The reincarnated hunter is really interesting – slightly diminished in spellcasting, they can tap into past lives, gaining abilities based on previous lives when tapping into them. Interesting, if strong option. The skulker hunter gains the slayer’s studied target and a modified spell list. Inquisitors may elect to gain the communal guardian archetype, gaining a kind of collective-like bond with tactician-like tricks. The shapeshifter hunter inquisitor should be pretty self-explanatory. Two brief investigator talents are part of the deal and the enthraller mesmerist gets a fascination-style gaze instead of 1st level’s mesmerist trick, which higher levels enforcing further the charming/fascination focus, replacing the touch treatment tree of abilities. The kyubi visionary monk, unsurprisingly, blends SPs with martial arts and the higher level option to use ki to refresh the SPs. The monk of a million lives is pretty cool and focuses on reincarnation and also features Childhood Adventures-tie-in. The serpent-fire discipline represents a kineticist/monk crossover…and frankly, I’m not the biggest fan of this one, as flurry + blast =…ouch. So yeah, I wouldn’t consider this one a good idea for grittier games.
The formless ninja kitsune archetype focuses on shapechanging and ninja tricks allow for wildcard combat feats as well as trapping the souls of the slain. The nine-tailed mystic oracle focuses on the Magical tail engine for the kitsune. Oracles can also choose the reincarnation oracle mystery. The seinaru paladin replaces the aura tree of abilities with potent banners and a wide array of rogue talents are geared towards letting them choose boons, panache, etc., with advanced talents providing limited hex access. The wandering swordsman would be a finesse, defensive samurai. The Jiuweihu shaman uses the kitsune star jewel concept and, once again, the tail-engine. The spirit seer shaman is a minor modification. 2 slayer talents are included and sorcerors can choose to become reincarnated sorcerors, with the kitsune bloodline being provided as an additional option…and if that’s not far-out enough, what about the kyubi mutated kitsune bloodline or the nogitsune bloodline based on the oni bloodline?
The caller of ancient fangs spiritualist gains a modified naga phantom and a modified spell-list, but these may only be cast (at least until 10th level) while the phantom is within the character’s consciousness and the phantom does not grant the Skill Focus of its emotional focus. The concept of the ronin is represented via a swashbuckler archetype. Vigilantes with the wildsoul archetype may choose the vulpine natural course, which combines evil eye and feinting for cool combo game-play. The new witch-hexes include the jewel-bound familiar (the basis for aforementioned star jewel) or the option to assume the form of a past life.
Beyond this massive chapter of archetypes, we also gain a ton of racial feats: For example, the Body Modification feat, which alone spans almost a page, providing subdermal implants, neck elongation and more – here I can once again nitpick something – while it is easy to default to the standard, I would have appreciated the codification of a bite attack as primary here. Speaking of nitpicks: Technically, only the base feat of a chain of Style-feats gets the style-descriptor, since these generally requires actions to initiate, so while I love the styles herein, the descriptors they use are a bit misleading. This is a bit puzzling, considering that there are Styles that get this right herein. Equipment tricks for kitsune star gems can be found and the helpful sidebar regarding the optional remedial shapechanging rules makes a return – nice!
Forced and voluntary theriocephic transformations, detecting shapechangers, magical representations of ghostlights and ancestral spirits, rebirth (a better reincarnate with more control) and the like make for some solid spells and a ton of race traits (ALL with proper bonus types!!!), some nice religion traits and drawbacks complement this section and before you ask: The appendices help as well: Age, height and weight tables for all races; background rules for the races (see Ultimate Campaign), rp-breakdowns for the races and a detailed two-page index complement the book, making navigation easy.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, considering the length of this book: While a few hiccups can be found, they generally are aesthetic and do not wreck the integrity of the crunch – as expected from master Alexander Augunas, the rules-language is very crisp and precise. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and features a metric ton of original Jacob Blackmon artwork – the aesthetic vision is pretty holistic and seamless and in particularly the representations of the racial ethnicities deserve applause. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I cannot comment on the qualities or lack thereof of the print version, since I do not own it.
Alexander Augunas’ Dynastic Races Compendium ranks as one of the best racial books I have read for any iteration of a d20-based game. While not every little component herein is pitch-perfect, the holistic vision exhibited herein has managed to take 4 races I did not like in their original iteration and made me really cherish them – never before have Kitsune, Samsarans, Wayang or Nagaji felt so alive, so organic, so worthwhile. Fans of these races will consider this a no-brainer anyway, but frankly, this is worth getting if you’re like me and hated crunch-only races, if you always wanted races to make sense. The depth of the cultures herein make them all practically demand being included in your game – their unique outlooks and worldviews, their cultures and traditions practically jump from the page. The prose is captivating and, even better, the crunch supports the complex and rich cultures presented within this book. In case you haven’t noticed: This should be considered to be a “This is how it’s done” for racial books; this attention to detail and realism, in lack of a better word, is what makes races work, what captures the imagination.
In short: Even if you consider the races herein lame, give this book a shot – as mentioned before, I very much went into these books disliking them all and ended up a convert, if you will: I can’t wait to have my PCs encounter these unique cultures. My final verdict, unsurprisingly, will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
You can get this massive, amazing tome here on OBS!