Echelon Reference Series: Barbarians (PRD + 3pp)
This massive book comes in two versions: One that focuses on PRD-options only, and one that also features 3pp-content. My review is based on the latter option, since it also encompasses the former. For completion’s sake, the PRD-only version clocks in at 180 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, for a total of 171 pages of content. The PRD + 3pp-version clocks in at a MIGHTY 352 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, 10 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 337 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This massive compilation was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
So, let us talk a bit about Pathfinder for a second: PFRPG is a damn long-running RPG at this point, proving that stories told matter more than just splatbooks. That being said, PFRPG has an intimidating, impressive array of options available for the game, including a huge wealth of 3pp material. I should know, I read the majority of it. But while the naysayers have been complaining about bloat for a while, I observe a different tendency: Instead, we have covered the basics. The type of supplements that come out for every edition. The obligatory bestiary I, the obligatory class expansions, the obligatory generic Asian-fantasy option – you get the idea. Instead, if anything, I have observed a general tendency to ramp up the quality of the books released in favor of some truly innovative systems, classes and options that transcend anything previously released.
The downside of this wealth, this staggering amount of content, would obviously be that it’s hard to keep track of. Where was this one talent again? Where did I find that feat? Unless you’re good at record-keeping, that can be rather problematic. This is exactly where this series comes in. Keith Davies, the compiler of this massive reference tome, works in big data and has used his expertise to compile a staggering wealth of class-related options. This is, thus a compilation – a reference, compiled for your perusal, a one-stop-shop file, if you will.
This was the first of these massive reference tomes and was, as per the writing of this review, last updated on February 12th, 2015, including a huge wealth of varied options. Now while I very well could reference (get it?) my vast wealth of pdfs and books to compile and paste together the takes on all those barbarian options herein, that would be really annoying for me and it similarly would not provide any value for the prospective reader. So instead of focusing on the content itself, let us talk about the organization.
We begin with a break-down of the class and then move on to the archetypes – the file does note the respective sourcebook used for the archetype below its header, and, for one’s convenience, the next chapter contains a variety of archetypes, already applied to the barbarian class, with class-tables and all. While not all have been thus represented, it is a comfortable way of getting the respective archetype already applied. From the original (pre stand-alone release) masquerade reveler to material from Rogue Genius Games’ series of class options, the book sports a variety of such options from a wide assortment of sources. Big plus for those classes with applied archetypes: A handyclass summary bubble that notes the quality of the saves, skills, HD, BAB-progression etc. at a single glance…much like I do in my reviews, basically, but more focused on “choose this or not”-aspects: Proficiencies, skills, etc. – all at one glance. That’s really useful.
The pdf then moves on to provide the respective class features – so yeah, these components and their respective contents have been organized alphabetically. The class feature-names are provided in a brown bubble with the respective type above the class feature, denoting whether an ability is “Ex”, “Su” or “Sp” and the respective level in a second bubble. This provides the necessary information at one glance. Beyond this, we have something I very much enjoy: When an ability influences others, the respective options provide something I *REALLY* loved to see – namely flow-charts for the respective abilities, with the bubbles involved also featuring the level-bubbles, allowing for an easy at-one-glance-overview each. This becomes particularly interesting for the separate chapter of rage powers, and the often complex trees there. From animal companions to the barbarian bloodline and its variants, this section is extremely tight, concise and well-presented.
From here, we move on to the feat-options available – no less than 52 pages of the pdf are devoted to the array of feats – which, yes, include their respective sources and, where applicable, bubble-flow-charts akin to those of the class features. Now, here is a cool aspect of the book: The vast majority of these flow-charts, feats and class features are internally hyperlinked: You click on one of them and, tada, you’re there. This makes use of what otherwise would require copious text searches very comfortable – or at least as comfortable as navigating such a massive book can conceivably be. Speaking of which: A massive index, including a diagram index, further complement this aspect of the pdf – it is impressive to see how much care has went into making this colossus of a tome actually easy to handle. This is all about utility – as it should be.
Beyond all of these, we also receive no less than 50 pages of sample statblocks, running the gamut from CR 1/2 to CR 20, collecting stats from both NPC Codex and some other 3pp-files. A nice addition, I guess, but yeah, wasn’t entirely stoked here.
Editing and formatting are excellent. I went through this looking for formatting glitches and the like and was pretty impressed to note that the material has been presented in an extremely detailed and concise manner. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard, which uses bubbles with brown backgrounds as headers and different bubble-types in the respective flow-charts. As a whole, it is pretty printer-friendly and bereft of interior artwork. While not necessarily gorgeous, the no-frills style layout enhances and enforces the central selling point of this pdf: Utility. It should come as no surprise that, beyond the excessive internal hyperlinking, we also receive a ridiculous amount of nested bookmarks to help making navigation and handling as comfortable as possible. A minor downside: Brown bubbles with white text are a bit mroe of a drain on the printer, but considering the electronic features of the pdf, I’m honestly not sure if I’d print out this colossus anyways.
I have the UTMOST respect for books like this and Keith Davies investing this much time in making them. I mean it. I am glad that people are different, for honestly, I couldn’t imagine a more mind-numbing task than compiling and hyperlinking a book of this size. It’s amazing to see someone making these and ostensibly enjoying the task.
This pdf is the result of SERIOUS work. It is a really useful compilation that focuses on utility above everything. While it is a system-immanent component that not all content for each option is organized by theme, the organizational tools, from the hyperlinking to the extensive indices, makes using this pdf as simple and comfortable as possible and the flow-chart-style components similarly help plotting character advancements and ability selections. In short: This is a great, well-made reference file. While it is due for a sequel at this point, the usefulness of this file cannot be disputed.
Now, I wouldn’t be me if I had no complaints, so here goes: As a system-immanent limitation, e.g. the reveler’s eidolon evolutions are not within this book – since they’re class features of another class. If I were to dream, I’d also love to see general evaluations for the respective options, but that would go far beyond the goal of this massive file and its mission statement, which is why I won’t complain there. At its given task, namely acting as a massive reference file, this pdf most assuredly succeeds. While it has aged a bit, it makes for a great stepping stone for fans of the barbarian to get a ton of material, concisely-presented, all in one place. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.
You can get the PRD-only version here on OBS!
You can get the massive PRD + 3PP-version here on OBS!