EZG reviews Into the Breach: The Oracle
This installment of the “Into the Breach”-series is 25 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 black page with a quote – nice to look at on-screen, very bad for the printer!), 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We kick off this pdf with a new archetype, the Karuna Sattva (which translates essentially to compassionate being) is a VERY interesting archetype – in lieu of a regular oracle’s curse, these beings take the curse-eater trope and can actually use their class feature “Take Thy Burden” – with it, they may, with a touch, take a given affliction from a target and lift the target’s affliction, instead temporarily getting one additional oracle curse depending on the affliction as well as increasing spell failure chances – problem is: Oracles usually don’t incur spell failure unless they multiclass – so if that one was supposed to be a balancing factor, it doesn’t work as written as soon as any arcane class-combo comes into play, since there are ways to cancel and mitigate arcane spell failure chances – how do they interact? Do they stack? Do reductions of arcane spell failure also work for this dissonance? Why is the table and phenomenon not called simply “spell casting dissonance” and presented à la: “This works like ASF, but extends to all spells the oracle casts, regardless of whether being divine, arcane or psionic […]This does/does not stack with arcane spell failure chance and cannot be mitigated in the same way..”
Another issue would be that the ability does not explicitly specify the action it takes – yes, it mentions “touch”, but does it require concentration? Can it be interrupted? Why I’m harping on this? As written, the archetype allows no save/has a “willing target/harmless-clause” – i.e., the oracle could take a beggar’s handicap against said beggar’s will, hampering his/her livelihood. Another issue – while RAW not explicitly stated, it is heavily implied (and handled like that in all games I know!) that an oracle’s curse is the price they pay for their powers – in games with such a lore established/implied, taking away an oracle’s curse would cripple them. But that is just fluff, nothing to fault the archetype for and hence will not influence the final verdict.
What I CAN fault the archetype for is that the afflictions cured contain insanities, addictions, haunts and even possessions – no scaling. Oh, only evil possessions, btw. – no angels merged with humans, lawful or chaotic creatures. The lower planes get the short end of the stick here, in spite of no good-alignment-restriction. King’s possessed by a demon lord? One touch and gone he is! Plus, your oracle gets a free curse (which translates to more power!). Insanities, lycanthropy, addictions etc. often make plotdevices and just canceling them sans any check or the like is broken. “So you saw Great Cthulhu? WHO CARES! We have a Karuna Sattva!” Jekyll/Hide-scenario? Pff, solved with a touch. This ability NEEDS a scaling mechanism! And it needs balancing – curses tend to evolve into bonuses and even having two (been there, done that in my game!) translates to quite a power-gain. Having up to 5 (!!!), even with the spell failure, is problematic. And yes, while curse no 5. amps the latter up to 60%, 4 still means only 30% spell failure. A more strongly escalating spell failure chance would help balance here. Another issue here is that this WILL be exploited like all hell by players. “Hey, we need curse xyz’s ability! Let’s do nasty, nasty things to our bags of kittens and have our Karuna Sattva take care of it!” Massive fail of the bag of kittens test. (Picture it: PCs summoning demons into cute kittens to have them exorcized…*shudder*) Also: The extension of spell failure gained at 7th level fails to specify the type of action it takes to initiate. I assume standard action, but I’m not sure. I *love* the idea behind this archetype, but the execution is sloppy, prone to abuse and needs a much tighter wording to prevent excessive and potentially game-world-logic breaking ramifications. Also: Why can’t the archetype mitigate diseases, poisons etc.? Why not tie the ability to DCs? Why not actually balance this? 2 abilities, much potential, none works as intended – not gonna happen anywhere near my table.
The second archetype would be the Diplomatique, available for exclusively good oracles. Their code of conduct specifies they lose all supernatural abilities upon reducing a living being’s hp or affecting them with a harmful condition, subject to DM’s approval. So this opens a huge can of worms – is e.g. paralysis, daze etc. harmful? Pathfinder has quite an array of conditions and a concise list (à la “non-permanent blinding of people, daze, stunned, paralyzed etc.) would have been easy to compile. Also, being allowed to only deal non-lethal damage is harsh, even though the archetype gets a feat to at least offset the -4 penalty to atk. Now the supernatural ability the archetype may lose would be pacification, which essentially is a permanent sanctuary, at-will suggestions and further increases of the defensive sanctuary. At 3rd level, the archetype learns to lay on hands as a paladin level -1, opening quite an array of possibilities there as well. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I LOVE the idea of heroes not killing everything. In my campaign, being “good” means NOT killing the bastards and instead incarcerating them etc. Mercenaries, neutral guys – those are the killers, the soldiers. So in theory, I do like this archetype. It essentially takes a basic concept from the book of exalted deeds and seeks to properly balance it – neat. BUT: Conditions need to be defined; Grappled is a condition, for example. Usually, violating a code of conduct results in all class abilities stripped, not just those of two class abilities. While understandable, this design decision there feels a bit inorganic to me. Additionally, the very strong restrictions imposed to balance the powerful abilities feel too rigid for my tastes – you can essentially make ONE type of diplomatique, there’s no choice. Actually getting to choose from pacifications, i.e. a list of various abilities, would have been much more compelling. Not as problematic as the former archetype, but also no stroke of genius here.
The Enigma Warden would be next – the archetype gets silent spell as a bonus feat at first level and stops increasing the level when using this feat at 5th level. If the archetype speaks, s/he loses access to the supernatural abilities – the only one of which would be this silent spell and another one gained at 3rd level. Thing is – it’s not clear whether the silent spell bonus feat is also lost? Generally, this restriction gets rid of the curse at low levels and breaking the vow doesn’t even need an atonement, which means low level characters will be breaking it nonstop – after all, silent spell is next to useless until the 5th level upgrade comes – unless you’re playing a very infiltration-heavy campaign. Now at 3rd level, things stop working – the oracle may choose from ANY revelation, as long as s/he has an equal amount of revelations from the secrets mystery, which is btw. obligatory for the archetype. Oh, and +2 revelations, for a total of 7. That means 3 freely chosen revelations, no penalty. If an oracle breaks the vow of silence, are these additional revelations lost? Do the other revelations still work? Do only revelations from the secrets mystery still work? I have no clue at all! This archetype needs some clarification and streamlining – cherry-picking revelations PLUS paltry drawbacks don’t feel balanced.
The ordained scion replaces the mystery and revelations with a sorceror bloodline and its powers, skills and spells. Okay way to wilder in another spell-list and ability-set – nothing to complain here.
Next up would be an alternate base-class, the warlock. The Warlock gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, good will-saves, 3/4 BAB-progression, proficiency with simple weapons, light armor, shields (not tower shields) and no spells. At 2nd level, warlocks add their cha-mod to one save of their choice, +1 at 6th and 10th level. The ability is called luck, but doesn’t specify the bonus-type – I assume, it’s a luck bonus, but still. The main theme of the warlock, though, remains blasting foes – blasts start at 1d6 and scale up to 10d6, increasing by +1d6 at third level and every 2 levels after that.
So how does blasting work? Essentially, it is a ranged attack that provokes AoOs, is hampered by spell resistance and has a range of 60 ft. Two noteworthy things about blasts – the damage they deal is negative energy damage, rendering the warlock absolutely useless against undead and allowing next to no resistances, unlike other damage types. The text also specifies that these rays can be cast defensively via concentration, but no equivalent spell level is given, rendering a key tactic of blasting foes unusable as provided. Worse, the text fails to specify whether one concentration-check per blast or per round is in order – I assume the former, but I can’t be sure from the text. Additionally, within 30 ft., the warlock may resolve these blasts as ranged touch attacks – which is very powerful. I’m not particularly sure the blast should remain a supernatural ability – while not duplicating a spell’s effect, it shares more traits with spell-like abilities than with supernatural abilities. Furthermore, the blasts cannot be countered as written – a glaring oversight that ought to be rectified to at least offer SOME protection against the neverending array of blasts, especially since they offer no saves.
Why is this relevant? Because at every even-numbered level, the warlock gets access to a so-called blast evolution. These are grouped into essences and forms and start with least, unlocking lesser modifications at 8th level and greater modifications at 14th level. Now what do these do? Well, one, for example, deals positive energy damage and dazzles foes – while lacking the word “damage” at one point, it should be noted that I *assume* it’s like with channel energy here – i.e. no healing, just damage. The other least blast essences reduce damage die from d6 to d4 and add the entangled condition, deal non-lethal fire damage and add the fatigued condition, increase damage to d8 or trail a fog-cloud-like effect. Duration tends to be one round per damage die of the blast – and none of the conditions have a save. While each blast can only be modified by one essence and one form, this looks just as strong on paper as it proved to be in playtesting – while not utterly crippling, the sheer unlimited amount of blasts is problematic at best, with touch attacks and no-save debuffs added for even worse overall balancing. “But the range is so limited!” Least Form: Dart increases the range to 180 ft (later even 360 ft; 60 ft. touch attack range).-Yeah. Suck on that, archer. The forms tend to be problematic – a cone allows for a ref-save (Good!), but doesn’t specify whether additional effects are negated upon a successful save. The warlock may also make his/her blasts melee attacks that don’t provoke AoOs or create a blast-glaive: These have reach, deal blast damage + cha-mod AND are resolved against touch attacks. COME AGAIN??? Remember, the blast counts as a weapon and as such may be modified with all the feats – you can essentially make those killer pole-arm builds should you so choose AND choose spontaneously between that and regular melee/ranged combat with blasts that allow no saves…oh and your melee attacks are resolved versus TOUCH. This is incredibly, terribly, horribly BROKEN.
Lesser essences allowing for ranged combat maneuvers (not a fan!), apply permanent sickened/nauseated or deafened conditions (no duration!) or deal the SAME damage minus one dice again next round – hello, vital strike and consorts. Urgh. Blast Chain is also problematic, allowing blasts to spring from target to target within 30 feet – at a cumulative minus 4 to atk and half damage (this one, strangely, not being cumulative!), yes, but this will devolve into a dice-rolling orgy that puts the game to a grinding halt akin to 3.X’s handling of cleave. Furthermore, the ability has a line that has me utterly stumped: “Each target that is hit with an essence which has an effect that allows a saving throw is entitled to a separate save with a +4 bonus.” In addition to any save? What constitutes a secondary effect? Negative conditions? Only those that allow for saves? Also those that usually don’t allow saves? Now remember, this is a form, so all essences may be applied AND since it is an attack, theoretically, it can be combined with all the feats you’d like. Broken. The fireball-style blast grenade modification works wording-wise, so kudos – especially since this and some other forms make the blast a standard action instead. Now adding the blast to unarmed attacks is also a cool idea, but how does it interact with improved unarmed strike? I *assume* that unarmed damage and blast damage stack – which is broken even before adding in ki-tricks.
There are also blast essences that have wording issues – hurricane blast specifies: “The eldritch blast damage is changed from 1d6 damage at every odd-numbered level to 1d4 force damage and 1d6 cold damage at every odd numbered level.” So does that mean +1d4 force damage or +level/d4 force damage? In the former case: Too weak, in the latter: Broken. Remember, that can be applied to e.g. the glaive form: At 14th level, a warlock could deal 7d6+14d4+cha-mod (this latter FORCE, one of the best damage types!) damage PER HIT – without even trying to game this and additional feat/equipment tricks to boost damage further – resolved as a TOUCH ATTACK ad infinitum. Insane.
Warlocks may also sheathe themselves as a standard action in an elemental shroud, granting them elemental resistance of 5, scaling up to 20, first for 1 round per warlock level, later up to 3 rounds per warlock level. Per se nice, but as written, it can be stacked, which should probably be noted as something to be fixed – warlocks with access to all elements via essences could sheathe themselves in the elemental + negative energy resistances. Also: The ability should specify the eligible damage types – as written, the class can net itself force resistance (since the blasts can deal force damage), depending on your reading.
Now while the central feature of the class is horribly broken in more than one instance, the warlock does have a nice treat -class-level + cha-mod antimagic points to counterspell spells, potentially even without identifying them (at least, that’s how the ability’s written, but I’m not sure that’s intended…) by just wagering spell-level points; You need to spend more points than the spell’s level. At higher level, weak micro blasts can accompany these counterspells and some spells can even be reflected on the caster.
Now that is NOT all – the warlock also gets one revelation PER LEVEL – of ANY mystery. In addition to the blasts. Yeah. take a GOOD look at what’s out there. Yeah, ouch. This would be very strong even without the blasts being broken.
There’s no way around it – the warlock, as written, needs to go back to the drawing board – it allows you to cherry-pick revelations at every level, has an insane damage output and doesn’t even require any ingenious combination to break. Just a cursory GLANCE at revelations is enough to make this simply not work as intended. The blasting is too strong and requires at least some balancing. “But Endzeitgeist, a sorceror can blast better!” Yeah, but a sorceror has limited spells, which can be counterspelled, is fragile as all hell, can’t wear armor etc. (yes, eldritch blasts don’t have arcane spell failure – go figure!), doesn’t have a weapon that dwarfs even the soulknife’s flexibility in comparison (choose your blasts freely, every blast!), doesn’t get 3/4 BAB-progression and sure as hell doesn’t add the ONE attribute that counts for the class, cha to just about all saves.
And don’t start the whole “But casters dominate all encounters”-bullshit with me. If you as a DM can’t bleed casters dry and let the group rest after every encounter, then you’re doing it wrong. I’ve been DMing for more than half my life and forcing casters to think when to unleash arcane destruction is a basic tactic that seems to be lost on quite a few number-crunching whiners that point to the paper and complain that casters are oh so much better.
What I’m getting at with this rant – the warlock has no resources for his/her primary attacks and as such needs to be compared to all other limited-resource-less classes – and instead of falling somewhere in line at the upper power echelon, it essentially boots even the casters out of the water.
Another gripe of a completely unrelated topic- during playtest, it turned out to be fun for one of my players, mainly because said player enjoyed wasting any CR-equivalent threat…but he badgered me to include in this review that he “got bored, fast, because there is no strategy here.” You have your tools, you use them – that’s it. Interjection Games’ Ethermancer, with its unique buffs, spell pool mechanic and various modifications does everything this class tries to do infinitely more compelling and IS BALANCED and requires some forethought on how long your battle will wage, of when to buff and when not. It’s not a perfect class, but it’s not as OP as the warlock, it rewards tactical planning of the expenditure of etherpoints and still manages to portray the blast-all-day-long class without utterly breaking the game by offering sufficient drawbacks. It also tackles counterspelling and offers options beyond blasting everything to smithereens. The Ethermancer works, this does NOT. This class is BROKEN and needs a revision. I can’t recommend this class even to utter n00bs entering a game of pro-number-crunchers, since the wording ambiguities make many an ability harder to understand than it ought to be. I’ve rarely seen a base class that can break a game this easily. Steer clear.
Next up would be a 10-level-PrC, the Covernborn. Coverborn get 1/” BAB-progression, 1/2 will-save progression, 2+Int skills per level and require class features from sorc, oracle and witches, namely accursed bloodline, coven hex and oracle’s curse, requiring essentially one level sorc, witch and oracle – and the consumption of a hag’s heart. Now essentially, this class is a theurge-like class, offering +1 level of spell-progression for both arcane and divine casting at all levels except 1st, 4th and 7th, where the class instead gets fixed divine or arcane progression or, in the case of level 7, has to choose which one to take. It should also be noted that the covenborn needs to choose which arcane class to progress – sorc or witch. The PrC also gets an array of hag/fey-themed spell-like abilities to choose from and may “choose between Fortitude and Will based saves for her spell-like abilities.” That’s not how spell-like abilities work. Also: Does that mean it’s ONE choice or can the Covenborn choose for each individual ability? How can charm monster be based on FORT? Makes no sense to me. The capstone allows the covenborn to transform into a hag, complete with all spell-like abilities etc. – do they choose which save to use here as well? While I get the requirement to offset the dual casting progression, the kind of dead level of one of the arcane base-classes is a bit weird design-wise. An okay theurgish PrC, I guess, though not particularly compelling to take. It also has minor formatting issues like “3 a day” instead of 3/day, but that’s just minor nitpicking.
Next up are 5 new mysteries – Intoxicant, Sand, Secrets, Volcano and Wrath, all coming with nice icons, though I don’t get why some get a sample fluff-line, whereas other don’t. The intoxicant mystery is actually rather cool – shrouding yourself in euphoria-inducing smoke, hallucinating items into existence – cool ideas here, though the wording of the latter is problematic – -“When under the effects of an intoxicant the oracle may make a DC 15 Will save to believe an item is real. If failed the item functions as normal but has no effect on other creatures.”[sic!] I don’t get it. Could the oracle hallucinate a key to a door and open it? A weapon? Could a weapon be made to attack an object, but not a person? Can the oracle opt to fail the save? Is the item generated upon a success or failure or either way? Why are there so many punctuation glitches here, rendering an already confused and imprecise ability even more confusing? Using blood to poison others with consumed intoxicants on the other hand is rather cool. I really, really like this mystery, but many of its revelations require some cleaning in at least formal criteria, partially also in wording. The Sand mystery lets you e.g. look through solid surfaces and over all can be considered solid, if not particularly strong – still: Kudos!
The Secrets mystery generally is about knowledge and secrets, with frightening, maddening effects and the like. It also has a very weird ability that replaces dex-mod with cha-mod to AC and ref and “Your armor’s maximum Dexterity bonus applies to your Charisma instead of your Dexterity (see FAQ.”[sic!] So, does that mean an armor can hamper bonus spells, DCs and the like? Where is the FAQ? Why isn’t it included in this pdf? I’m NOT going to google the web for information required to run a particular pdf. One note to ALL designers: If your wording requires a FAQ, that’s bad enough, but can’t be avoided in some cases. Not including said information in your product and forcing your customers to search it and potentially bump site-hits is NOT a way to generate a faithful fanbase. If it’s required to run your product, INCLUDE IT IN THE PDF or go back to the drawing board and make a better ability. Now apart from that gripe, the mystery per se is nice – somewhere between knowledge and dark tapestry in style. The volcano mystery allows you to conjure forth a 20 ft. x 20 ft. micro volcano that deals 2d6 non-scaling fire-damage, half on a failed save and +1d6 points of damage for 1d3 rounds after that. Solid per se, but a) why doesn’t the damage scale? b) Do those who succeeded the save still take the damage on subsequent rounds? Is the conjured lava an instantaneous effect or does it remain as long as the +1d3 rounds take? Lava Fists also don’t work as intended – the ability allows you to 3+cha-mod times per day make sunder attempts with your bare fists “at no penalty.” But unarmed strikes AND sunder-attempts provoke AoOs sans respective feats. And unarmed attacks do a whopping 1d3 points of base damage! Usable 3+cha-mod times per day? Where can I sign on? /*sarcasm off* Seriously, needs power-upgrade…badly. The wrath mystery offers a nice adaptive aura, damage-dealing mist etc. It should be noted that an imprisonment effect sends targets off to Gehenna to be held and driven mad – slightly awkward if your game still features that plane from the 3.X days of old, but nothing to fault the author for. Overall, this one works somewhat better than most crunch herein, though wording also offers problems here – see Pillar of Salt: “You may call down a pillar of corrosive power as a full-round action. This pillar may target a group of enemies, no two of which are more than 30 feet apart.” So… does the pillar hit all in a 30 ft. radius? can it zigzag from foe to foe if they’re no more than 30 feet apart? Are these individual strikes? Define the amount of eligible targets? Utterly obtuse and incomprehensible. Also, it deals 4d8 acid damage +2 per oracle level – I assume the level-based bonus damage ought to be acid damage as well. Utterly insane: “Everyone with line of sight to the targets (note the plural here!) must make a ref-save or take 2d8 acid damage and be stricken blind for one round per class level. Required class level: 3. Now compare ANY damage spell from ANY list with that. It can be used cha-mod times per day; Too strong. Don’t believe me? Open plains, flying, warfare – this revelation can blind whole armies! Broken!
The pdf also offer 4 new curses – The Addled curse is a nice take on the addiction curse. The distracted curse allows you to impart the shaken/later dazzled and at +1 save, confused) condition on ALL targets that fail a will-save against your spells. No duration given for the additional effect. Doesn’t work/too strong. Madness allows you to somewhat mitigate confusion et al and can drive creatures psychotic, as per the new CR+1 template. The Ominous curse is all about intimidation, penalizing almost all other cha-based skills with -5, but netting +5 untyped bonus to intimidation – too big a penalty and too big a bonus for my tastes – you can already make demoralization monsters sans such a massive boost. Not broken per se, though.
Editing and formatting could have required another pass – next to no spell names are italicized, punctuation glitches abound and bolding and similar minor issues are partially inconsistent as well. Layout adheres to an easy to read 2-column full-color standard and sports much less blank space than the magus-installment of Into the Breach -good and kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, with two dead bookmarks relics labeled “Bookmark 53 &54” respectively, but these don’t impede usability.
Designers Frank Gori, John Belliston, Jeff Harris and Matt Medeiros have good ideas – the concepts behind the archetypes and e.g. the intoxicant mystery are solid and show a speck of brilliance here and there. A speck. I won’t mince words here – this took me forever to get done and not due to page-count or the like, but due to the amount of issues. Balancing is completely all over the place – from ridiculously weak options to utterly overpowered ones, which constitute btw. the majority of this release, this feels like an alpha. How most of the content herein could get past any playtesting is beyond me. Several options will even be overpowered in the most high fantasy of games. The Warlock class needs to be scrapped and rebuild from scratch – it is the most broken class I’ve seen so far for PFRPG in any publication. The archetypes offer issues. The PrC is weird. Even mysteries and curses aren’t flawless and sport the other crux of this pdf: Ambiguities. A LOT of them. If the balance-concerns you might have, that aren’t even consistent within one mystery or archetype, don’t break this pdf for you, the latter will. There are so many imprecise wordings and glitches in here, it’s painful, partially taking cool concepts and rendering them unusable or unnecessarily obfuscating what exactly an ability is supposed to do. Scaling either exists and is OP or doesn’t and makes for utterly ridiculously weak options. Crunch-writing is all about getting math, syntax and semantics right and this one doesn’t for any even remotely consistent stretch of text.
And no, I did not complain about all glitches in this review. I hate dishing out verdicts like that, especially if good ideas are this present, but this pdf has nothing that would warrant any mercy, no mitigating, flawless gem at the bottom of this crackerjack box – 1 star.
You can get this pdf here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com’s shop if you want to practice balancing abilities and ideas.