Ethermagic Expanded: The Ethershaper Base Class
The ethershaper base class clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Now, in case you were wondering, this is not just a new class, it is, in a nutshell, a stand-alone expansion to ethermagic as presented in the excellent Strange Magic tome. As such, I am not going to explain the basics ethermagic once more and assume that you’re familiar with the system. In case you don’t want to dig up my review: Think pre-5e warlock-style all-day blaster with a self-replenishing mana-bar and modular spells that consist of a core-component, namely the etherheart, and manifestations, which are used to modify the etherheart.
Chassis-wise, the ethershaper is a full caster and receives d6 HD, 2+ Int skills per level, ½ BAB-progression, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor. Ethershapers are subject to spell failure chance in armor etc. They unlock manifestations of the maximum level (level 6) over the course of the class progression and their ether point regeneration rate increases by +1 at 3rd level and at every odd level thereafter. They get good Will-saves and a bonus feat at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter. Ethershapers gain EP equal to twice class level + Charisma modifier and use Charisma as the governing spellcasting attribute.
Ethershapers get access to the Alteration, Bestow and Genesis etherhearts that we already know, but NOT to the Lesser and Greater Blast etherhearts, which is interesting from the get-go, seeing how the blasting capability is pretty much a central focus of ethermagic. Instead of that, we get a new etherheart, namely Voidshape, but before we dive into that one, let us take a look at manifestations known: The ethershaper begins play with 5 Voidshape manifestations and 2 Alteration manifestations. The first Bestow manifestation is unlocked at 4th level, the first genesis manifestation at 8th level. The ethershaper gains another Voidhsape manifestation at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter. (For a total of 14 known at 20th level.) He gets another Alteration at 2nd level and every even level thereafter, for a total of 14. Bestow manifestations are gained in 3-level-steps (total of 7 at 20th level) and the maximum number of genesis manifestations will clock in at 5 at the time the class reaches its capstone.
But wait! Didn’t I call this “stand-alone”? Yep. Clearly designated as such, 17 pages of the file are devoted to all the legacy ethermagic content that is of interest for the pdf and its contents. Big kudos for this! (Though, seriously, Strange Magic is damn well worth getting!)
Voidshape has a range of close and lacks a delivery mechanism in the traditional sense. Any sum of manifestations may be added to a Voidshape etherspell, provided they do not exceed in sum the highest manifestation level known. Shape manifestations are treated as having a manifestation level of 1 for the purpose of this, but only one shape may be added per etherspell. All manifestations that are NOT shapes have a voidshape divisor, which represents the crucial component here: For each such non-shape manifestation, you compare the subject’s initiative roll with the voidshape divisor. If the initiative can be divided by the voidshape divisor and returns a whole number, the target is affected by the manifestation. Creatures not yet added to the initiative order are treated as though they had an initiative equal to their initiative modifier. There is another limitation imposed on voidshapes: Upon casting another voidshape etherspell immediately ends ongoing voidshape manifestations with a duration greater than instantaneous. EP cost is 1 + ¼ class level, rounded down and SR applies.
Okay, this should make one thing clear: The class requires that initiative is known openly. While this may seem as a drawback (I prefer to track initiative as a GM), there is a doubtless plus here: This class rewards a player for doing the bookkeeping work of tracking initiative, taking pressure off the already strenuous amount of bookkeeping the GM has to maintain. I tried pretty hard to think of scenarios where GM tracking initiative scores would be crucial for plot, scenario, etc. and couldn’t come up with one, so yeah, worth giving a try! It’s also nice to have one less chore, particularly if you’re like me and like springing large groups of foes on PCs…
Of course, this mechanic does require at least a degree of control: Thus, the class begins play with distort reality, which lets the ethershaper treat a target as though its initiative was 1 higher or lower for the purpose of voidshape divisors. At 8th level and 16th level, the ethershaper may do this an additional time per voidshape etherspell and how he treats initiative may be chosen individually for affected target.
Starting at 2nd level, we get persistent shaping, which is represented by a persistence pool equal to the ethershaper’s class level + his Charisma modifier. The persistence points in this pool do not constantly regenerate and instead replenish after 8 hours of rest. When an ethershaper casts a voidshape etherspell with a manifestation that has a duration greater than instantaneous, he may expend persistence points equal to that manifestation’s manifestation level. If he does, the manifestation’s effects do not end upon casting another voidshape etherspell, instead remaining in effect for the full duration. Only one manifestation per etherspell may be affected by this ability, as a means to offset the nova-issue. As a standard action that provokes AoOs, an ethershaper may reduce his maximum EP by 1 to gain 1 persistence point and the reduction remains in effect until the persistence pool is replenished the next time.
Beginning at 3rd level, the ethershaper gains the pseudoshape etherheart: A single 1st level manifestation with a duration greater than instantaneous must be added to it, and its main difference beyond that from the voidshape etherheart can be found in EP Cost (which is 0) and action economy: If the ethershaper currently has no pseudoshapes in play, he may cast a pseudoshape etherspell as a swift action; otherwise, it’s a standard action. Pseudoshape manifestations with a duration greater than instantaneous do not immediately end upon the casting of a voidshape etherspell and they do not end ongoing voidshape manifestations. (Since they are another etherheart – that’s thankfully pointed out, so no ambiguity there.) At 10th level, a single shape manifestation may also be added to pseudoshape…and if the name wasn’t ample indicator for you, only voidshape manifestations may be added to a pseudoshape etherspell.
At 14th level, the ethershaper gains aberrant physiology: Choose fear, disease or poison: The ethershaper becomes immune to the chosen threat, but takes a -2 penalty to saves against the other two. As a capstone, the ethershaper’s pseudoshape etherspells may be modified with either 2 1st-level manifestations or one 2nd-level manifestation with a duration of greater than instantaneous, and, as per the base pseudoshape etherheart, a shape may be added as well.
We get pretty extensive favored class options for Interjection games’ traditional, featured array: Beyond the core races, we cover aasimar and tiefling, hobgoblin, kitsune, kobold, orc, puddling and drow. These deserve special mention, for they are actually interesting: Sure, we have e.g. aasimars gaining 1/6th of a 2nd level bestow manifestation, but the there are also effects that are really creative: Drow may, for example, 1/day for every 4 times this bonus was taken, expend 1 EP when casting voidshape etherspell to inflict 1 Con damage to all creatures affected. Dwarves gain a scaling temporary hit points buffer; elves may declare 1/day for every 3 times selected, a chosen 1st-level’s voidshape manifestation’s divisor to be 1…You get the idea. These are meaningful tweaks that actually change the playing experience. Big plus.
We get a total of three new feats: Active Distortion lets the ethershaper expend up to 2 EP when using distort reality; for each point spent, the initiative may be increased or decreased by a further 1. Dual Fakery lets you cast a second pseudoshape as a swift action, even though you already have one in play – note: Only if you have exactly one in play. Extra Persistence nets +4 persistence points and may be taken multiple times.
The class also features a new archetype, the Herald of the Self: Instead of the bonus feat gained at 12th level, these fellows begin play with forced shaping, allowing the herald of the self to add a single 1st-level voidshape manifestation to a voidshape etherspell as though it had a manifestation level of 0th. The manifestation requires a voidshape divisor that may not be “see text”; After the changes to initiative via distort reality, you roll 1d4. For this one casting, the voidshape manifestation added with this ability has the rolled number as voidshape divisor. The ability may be used ½ Cha-mod times per day (rounded down, min 1), +1/day for every 4 class levels. Instead of 6th level’s bonus feat, the herald gains remote shaping: This allows the herald to extend the range of a voidshape etherspell to Medium (100 ft., +10 ft./level), but the herald also targets himself in addition to the etherspell’s normal targets. After changing initiative with distort reality, the herald adds +1d4 to his initiative for the purpose of determining the etherspell’s voidshape divisor requirements. Only manifestations that deal hit point damage may thus affect the caster. At 12th level, the herald gets the option to expend 3 EP to increase the range of a voidshape etherspell to Long rather than Medium.
All right, postponed long enough, didn’t I? Well, next up would be the list of manifestations, grouped first by level, then alphabetically within the level. Handy: List notes shape, if any, as well as voidshape divisors! Sooo…what do we get? Well, there are some that you’d kinda expect: Alien Fortitude, for example, nets DR 3/- (voidshape divisor 2); we have a scaling grapple enhancer (or anti-grapple move) that deals acid damage…but things become more interesting when e.g. caltrops suddenly manifest around targets; we have temporary hit points that transform into damage if not maintained until it has elapsed…at this point, you realize something, at least if you test this class: It plays completely and utterly different than anything you have played in a d20-based system so far…and some of you may well be concerned when thinking about the fact that this is a situation of absolutes: Either you are affected by a voidshape or not. Well, there are “near miss” voidshapes – basically, they grant an effect when the target’s initiative is not divisible by the divisor, it instead gains the Near Miss-effect when noted…and these allow for some interesting tactics: There is, for example, one manifestation that nets the equivalent of being hit by alchemical acid. On a near miss, the target instead gains a globule of fleeting, unstable ether that may be thrown as such! This means, ultimately, that this particular manifestation can act as either an offense or defense tool. Making a subject take more damage of a chosen type is nice…but know what I *really* liked?
Buffer against (all) cataclysm. There are two of these. This fellow is the bane of all overkill damage bursts, ridiculously OP one-attack novas, etc. At level 5, EP 8, it has a serious EP-cost, but oh boy: At a voidshape divisor of 3, it lets you choose one energy, including exotics like sonic or force for the better version. That one lets you also choose 10, 20, 30 or 50. The next time the target takes MORE damage of the chosen damage type than the chosen threshold, it is instead considered to be immune against the attack. This manifestation is not only really interesting, it is balanced by the unique casting engine and its limitations and provides a really fresh and evocative way to consider regarding design. This is inspiring.
As an aside: The class notes in e.g. the shape manifestation cage full of stars that it only becomes relevant with 2nd-level manifestations, which, while evident when you experiment with the class, is really helpful for players with less system mastery – kudos for including such notes! Also pretty amazing: Make targets (divisor 3) trail fire that can collapse to cause damage to those crossing the trail! The damage wouldn’t be too impressive, were it not for the system employed here, which lets you potentially generate some rather cool scenarios. Straight damage (save for half) with added conditions (negated by save) are expected…but what about at-range bestow etherspells? Here, we’re getting into serious combo-territory and the scenes where you get to cackle with glee. Sharing base saving throws (sans modifiers) is neat…but what about evenly-divided untyped damage, near miss temporary hit points? It should also be noted that some manifestations have different effect when they are not the only manifestation applied to a voidshape etherspell. And yes, there are self-buffs…and there is ether madness. Which has no less than 5 (!!!) different effects with different energy damages and different voidshape divisors…and yes, it will burn the ethershaper and his allies…but the unleashed cacophony, if set-up correctly, will hurt foes even more… (And no, this is NOT the only such multi-Division manifestation herein! There also is a chaotic condition-disperser on this basis…)
While we’re at the subject of manifestations with multiple divisors: There are also manifestations, where additional effects (and divisors) are unlocked at higher levels! Not all are offense-oriented, mind you: Reverse causality, for example flips negative conditions on its head, suppressing them. (As an aside, here, a spell-reference is not italicized.) Among the shapes, we have two targets (one with a 5-ft-radius), cubes, including caster as well as more targets…you get the idea.
And yes, there is a death knell-alike coup de grace to finish off foes below 0 hp; there is a means of short-range alteration-sharing. Oh, and what about involuntary hyperspace, which allows for divisor 2-shuffling of targets? And yes, sizes etc. are taken into account. There are more really creative tricks here: For example, there are manifestations that make the target behave as though staggered…but if the target doesn’t, he actually becomes staggered next round! Expend an action or suffer damage next round…there are, even in otherwise vanilla “deal damage”-tricks, some truly imaginative tweaks that make them behave differently. Another manifestation makes the targets treat all spaces as through they were caltrop’d. If there actually *is* a caltrop there, it detonates! Movement debuffs…and there are set-ups: By lacing a target with ether, the next physical attack against the target can be enhanced.
Oh, and want this epic final-boss throwdown, where you unleash your full might, survival be damned? Unleash the cosmos. Level 6, divisor 1. Subject takes your EP damage, no save, no type. The caster expends all remaining EP. For the next minute, all manifestations targeting the subject treat their voidshape divisor as 1. (Excluding “see text” voidshape manifestations.) If you can recover from the EP-expenditure, or to begin phase two of the fight (“I…AM…NOT..:YET…DONE!!!”), this makes for a really cool effect. Oh, and what about visions of infinity? It lets you treat impassable terrain as difficult terrain, but at the cost of damage per square.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; the rules-language is crisp and easy to grasp, in spite of the complexity of the subject matter. Layout adheres to the elegant 2-column b/w-standard of IG, with interior art being stock art and swirlies, cover art being an original by Vera Crouch. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, for full convenience.
Bradley Crouch’s ethershaper, commissioned by Richard Perez via the Interjection games patreon, is a class that first had me scratch my head. Usually, I have a pretty good idea if something works or not right after I’ve read it. Here, I honestly had no clue. Only when I started tearing into the math, building ethershapers and devising strategies did the whole, mad genius of the class really click into place. And I was still somewhat concerned…though, with every in-depth look, that concern evaporated more and more.
Yes, the system is unusual and complex and may not be suitable for inexperienced players. Yes, the fact that the GM has to leave initiative tracking to the ethershaper may rub some the wrong way.
Give this a shot.
A lesser designer probably would have devised the divisor system and called it quits then and there, devised some appropriate effects and moved on. Here, we get something radically and creatively different that is mind-bogglingly creative, even for Bradley Crouch’s oeuvre of classes. You see, the class is not just unique because of its divisor-system.
The actual effects of the voidshape manifestations make incredibly clever use of both the ethermagic base-engine and the voidshapes. Instead of just providing standard effects, we get a whole array of unique twists and turns for damage-delivery, buffing and debuffing, terrain-control, etc. In short: The book’s manifestations ooze with tricks that literally NO OTHER CLASS OUT THERE can do. There is not one of these fellows in the book, there are a TON of ideas and tricks that do radically different and creative things. Don’t get me wrong: This is not about being different for the sake of being different. Quite the contrary.
Instead, the class uses the limitations and unique delivery of voidshapes to full effect, creating effects that would not work with another engine, or at least would be exceedingly hard to balance. The innovation in the details blends with the unique system and creates something that manages to exceed the sum of its impressive parts.
Oh, and guess what? In the hands of the right player, the ethershaper is pure gold. What do I mean by this?
Well, are you a mastermind, a strategist?
Do you enjoy picturing yourself as a chessmaster, as you and your buddies vanquish hordes of monsters?
This is the class for you.
The ethershaper thrives and prospers in the hands of smart tacticians that know how to coordinate not only their own contributions, but that also help their friends. Similarly, if your group enjoys these moments when the tactics of the PCs click together like a well-oiled machine, the “gotcha!-moments”…well, this guy is your class. If you’re looking for a simple blaster, in case you haven’t noticed, well this guy is not that. It’s also not a class that you learn once and then rinse and repeat your same old tricks, forcing, by its very system, that you remain engaged and engrossed…and at the same time, it makes that fun. It rewards you for actually thinking, round after round after round. But if you like strategy, combos, tactics and unique playing experiences? Get it!
Or, well, perhaps you’re a bit like me and have read a metric ton of classes. While I am primarily a GM and thus play a ton of different things, I know that some players crave difference; crave the experience of playing something thoroughly fresh, something that not only differentiates itself from the vancian spellcasting, but also features effects that make their allies go: “That is possible???” Preferably while not going stale after 3 combats. I have read a HUGE amount of classes for various d20-based systems. A ton of PrCs and archetypes. More feats and spells than I care to ever try to count. Guess what: I have never seen anything like this.
The ethershaper’s engine is unique and innovative. Its options are unique and innovative. It plays in a unique and innovative manner. No matter how blasé you may usually be about a new class, I guarantee that you have never read anything like it. This class is suffused, drips, with pure imagination, with creative energy and, dare I say, brilliance. It is strange, different and fresh…and living proof that, even after so many years with d20-based mechanics, the system’s options are not nearly exhausted. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, + seal of approval. Oh, and unsurprisingly, this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.
You can get this unique, amazing class here on OBS!
Missed Strange Magic or just want more ethermagic goodness? You can Strange Magic here on OBS!