This sequel to the first collection of 30 manuals is 21 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
As has become the tradition with Rite Publishing’s supplements, we get the crunch herein framed by an aptly-written frame-narrative before diving into new manuals for permanent character improvement. Before I go into some examples, here are some worthwhile facts about them: Each of the books comes in at least two iterations, most of the time actually three – elementary, advanced and expert levels, all with the necessary GP-values, upping the ante of how much bang you get for your buck – there are much more than 30 manuals in here! Furthermore, each type of manual comes with its own fluff-text to introduce you to the matter at hand, making for a better reading experience than most crunch-heavy books without bloating it.
Whether it’s metamgic feats, blind-folded combat, superb contortion – there are quite a few of interesting options hidden in the pages of these tomes – if you can meet the e.g. spellcasting or skill-rank prerequisites to properly digest the contents offered. Now I’m aware that the bonuses are supposed to be significant for 20K Gold books, but honestly, some of the skill-enhancing books herein are simply too strong for my tastes – By studying a manual on body language for 72 hours over a minimum of 9 days, a character may gain a +10 (!!!) competence bonus to sense motive that stacks with previous iterations of the book.
And yes, 10 ranks in sense motive are required for that particular example, but still – that’s a doubling of the capability in that field and even before the additional benefits (vastly improved understanding of secret messages), that’s a tough one to swallow – at least for me. Especially since both craft and perform are among the skills also covered via these manuals. And yes, an advanced rogue talent, a style feat or improved dragging capabilities strike me as better balanced than these massive skill bonuses, which unfortunately are mirrored in various manuals.
In fact, the respective manuals to net combat maneuver-themed benefits (either via feats or further enhancements of the respective maneuvers) strike me as less significant, even though Pathfinder is a bit stingy with these resources.
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RiP’s full color two-column standard and the pdf comes with nice stock-art that fits thematically well the content of the pdf. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
I usually tend to really, really like offerings by Mike Welham, though this one leaves me with doubts – the manuals herein have interesting effects, yes, and I like that they promote PC growth via research instead of contributing to the Christmas Tree-syndrome. That being said, I’m not wholly comfortable with the massive bonuses some of these books tend to net: Yes, magic items may also net such massive bonuses, but they also occupy a slot – and for the respective price of these items, they confer permanent enhancements. And yes, while bonus types tend to limit the amount of stacking possible, still, I’m left feeling slightly uncomfortable with the bonuses these manuals deliver – not because they’re broken per se, but because they are so…significant. An item doubling what otherwise is a rather scarce resource just has this knee-jerk reaction of me going “OMG” -even when it is not wholly justified. Taking some careful deliberation (and time – there’s a reason my reviews tend to take some time), there are several magic items that actually do more and could be considered just as powerful. Still, the fact that the benefits are no longer tied to physical objects that can be broken or taken away means that the manuals, per se, can be considered more powerful than their item-counterparts – which again, leaves me feeling slightly uncomfortable with these manuals, in spite of the control a DM has on item-flow. Especially for rather low-powered play, these can present some potential issues when inserted into the complex equation that is a character.
Still, on the other hand, the manuals herein will quite probably, thanks to prerequisites, rarity and at times, rather ingenious additional benefits find some thankful groups where their impact is most cherished, bringing down the total amount of necessary magic items – for these groups and especially rare magic settings/play-styles, these manuals are a godsend and absolutely gorgeous – and should definitely be considered 5 stars…for said rounds. Hence, I will stick my verdict in a middle-ground and arrive at a solid 4 stars – a good supplement, if not one that will fit the play-style of every group. DMs implementing it should definitely take heed regarding bonus types, since they are a limiting factor on what can be stacked.