EZG reviews The Ethermancer
This class-supplement is 33 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC/introduction, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
But before we do – take a short look at the introduction – it helps get into the vibe: The ethermancer as a class gets d6, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, light armors and the starknife and the ethermancer’s etherspells are subject to arcane spell failure in armor. The class gets 1/2 BAB-progression, good will-saves…and that’s where anything resembling basic spellcasting, whether psionic or vancian or skill-based stops. *takes a deep breath*
So basically, there are infinite universes and planes, separated from another and their conflicting reality by a substance called ether, which ethermancers may manipulate via essentially a tiny metaphysical pinhole into the membrane that separates universes -extracting the material in-between is used to fuel ethermagic: An ethermancer may have a maximum of twice his class level +cha-mod ether points (EP) at a given point. At the beginning of the ethermancer’s turn, he gains half class-level in EP.
Now ethermagic has essentially two components – the etherheart and the ethermanifestation. Etherhearts are essentially the basic ways of manipulating the ether, with manifestations adding modifications to them – essentially, they are a basic core component to which the manifestations are added. Unlike schools of spells, etherhearts have effects of their own – at least some do. Now the manifestations span 6 levels – the maximum manifestation level is upgraded by +1 on 4th level and further +1 every 3 levels after that, capping at the maximum manifestation level of 6 at character level 16. Unlike magic schools, not all etherhearts are available from the beginning – ethermancers start the game with access to the alteration and lesser blast etherheart and at 4th level, the ethermancer learns the bestow etherheart, at 7th level the greater blast etherheart and at 8th level the genesis etherheart.
In order to use a manifestation, an ethermancer needs to have a cha-score of at least 10+manifestation level. The ethermancer starts the game with 5 lesser blast manifestations and 2 alteration manifestations. Each level, he learns at least one additional manifestation – up to a total of a maximum 14 lesser/greater blast manifestations, 12 alteration manifestations, 7 Bestow manifestations and 5 genesis manifestations. New manifestations learned have to adhere to the maximum level as determined by the ethermancer’s character level and he may never know more higher level manifestations for a given etherheart than he has lower level manifestations. I.e. one could never have two level 2 alteration manifestations and only 2 first level alteration manifestations – before taking the third level 2 manifestation, one would need to first learn a third level 1 manifestation. However, every level, an ethermancer may switch out one of the manifestations he has learned for another eligible one of the same level. The save versus a given manifestation is 10+ the highest manifestation’s level used in the etherspell + cha-mod. To cast an etherspell, one simply adds the EP-cost of the etherheart in question and the manifestations used together. It should be noted, though, that the EP-costs of the etherhearts can vary depending on the used level of the manifestation – alteration etherhearts cost e.g. 1 base EP + 1/4 EP per level, rounded down. Casting an ether spell is a standard action unless otherwise noted and when modified to take longer, the longest casting duration takes precedence. It should be noted, that only genesis-manifestations can be dispelled – the other etherspells need to run their course. It should be noted that entering regular casting PrCs, identifying ethermagic and counterspelling is covered as well – though regular casters should never try to bleed dry an ethermancer: As mentioned, he always gets half his class level EP each round – which means he never, ever runs out of juice!
Now additionally, the respective etherhearts have limitations to their mutability: Alteration manifestations MUST be modified by ONE manifestation and only ONE alteration-based etherspell can be in effect at a given time. Lesser and greater blast etherhearts require no minimum amount of manifestations, but a maximum of 3 can be added to them – this means they can be cast without manifestations. Bestow etherheart-based etherspells have a range of touch and need to be delivered thus. They cannot be used by the ethermancer to touch himself (that came out weird…) and are not discharged upon a failed touch attack. However, the maximum EP of the ethermancer is reduced for the duration of the held charge AND the etherspell. They also require exactly one manifestation. Finally, Genesis etherheart based etherspells are permanent until dismissed/dispelled, but for as long as they persist + 1 minute cooldown, their caster’s EP are reduced by the amount the etherspell consumed. Once again, precisely one manifestation must be added to the etherheart.
Brain already overloading? It’s not THAT complex on paper, believe me! Plus, the class also has a more regular component with the Multiuniversal Philosophy. At 2nd level and every 4 levels beyond, the ethermancer chooses one of 5 paths, from multiuniversal hedonist to tinker or megalomaniac. These benefits increase/ can be used additional times upon being selected multiple times and in one case, requires access to the bestow etherheart to select. These philosophies will also determine the capstone – the philosophy most often selected will provide the 20th level benefit – nice way to show the character’s growth and tie it to mechanics.
Beyond that, Ethermancers build up a certain resilience against precision-based damage due to their continuous exposure to alien energies: Strange rashes and lumps, discolorations…that translate to a 10% chance to ignore precision damage at 5th level and increases by +10% every 4 levels after that, capping at 40% at 17th level. And no, thankfully crits are not negated thus. At 12th level, an ethermancer has an interesting choice to make: Immunity to either poison, disease or fear – and -2 to saves versus the other two. OUCH, but damn cool.
Favored Class Option-wise, beyond the core-races Aasimar, Drow, Fetchlings, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobold, Puddling, Slyph and Tiefling are covered and we also get a total of 13 feats: One that makes identifying ethermagic via spellcraft more precise, a focus for etherhearts (+1 DC, with the greater focus follow-up, yet another +1 DC), a feat that reduce the EP-cost for one manifestation by -1 to a minimum of 0, two to increase etherspell duration as if you had +2 caster levels, a feat that allows you to extend bestow etherheart-based etherspells to affect an adjacent creature of the target, one that increases the limit of alteration etherheart-based etherspells you can maintain at one time by +1, one that allows you to deals either slashing, piercing or bludgeoning damage with your blasts, one that allows you to hand genesis etherheart-made weapons to nearby allies (or losing it via disarm and having it not evaporate) and finally one that immediately restores your etherspells upon dismissing a genesis etherheart-based etherspell, essentially eliminating the 1 minute-cooldown period these usually have. Oh, and there is a feat that nets one the benefits of one philosophy, but excludes you from ever taking it again. The astute reader will notice that these feats, beyond simple ability upgrade, allow the player to modify the playing-experience and rules of the class quite profoundly. It should also be noted that manifestations modify only etherhearts, not other manifestations. Also, continuous manifestations modified by instantaneous effects only add this effect the first time the etherspell is cast, not every round an effect can potentially be maintained: Lesser and greater blasts thus can be made into round-spanning effects, but potential manifestations added are only applied to the first round.
But I’ve been talking forever about the basics, let’s take a look at what these manifestations may do, shall we? As you could glean from aforementioned explanation, each entry of a manifestation comes with a spell level, an etherheart-restriction (essentially denoting to which etherheart the manifestation can be added) and an EP-cost. Where applicable, they also have a range and a target. EP-cost wise, the EP-cost span a range from 0 to 15. We get lists of all ether manifestations by etherheart and level for our convenience’s sake, which is nice for convenience’s sake. Now let’s take a look at how those ether manifestations work, shall we?
Let’s take for example the first one, A Thousand Eyes: An alteration manifestation, it costs the etherheart’s cost (1 + 1/4 level, here +2/4, thus=1) plus the manifestation’s cost, which in this case is 3. Eyeballs around the ethermancer appear, increasing initiative by +2, +1 for every 3 caster levels up to +5. The second effect essentially conjures forth a barrier versus one element of the caster’s choosing – either fire, cold, electricity or sonic – but surprisingly not acid. Interesting choice to include sonic instead here. In an improved version, said screen can transform absorbed energy into a limited amount of ether points. What’s weird here is that the screen delivers a flat 2 EP regeneration per completely or partially absorbed energy. Now this ether manifestation can be abused in a VERY minor way -have any other (like an adept/follower/cohort) caster spam energy-damage dealing cantrips on the shield for a +2 EP increased regeneration. In any other class, I’d start complaining right now, but since the ethermancer’s resources replenish every round and the required action requires rather close proximity to the ethermancer as well as an action-tax, it does work. Still, personally, I would have made the regeneration no flat amount, and instead based on the amount of damage prevented by the granted resistance – 1 EP for every 5 points of damage prevented, for example. That’s a personal preference, though, and will thus not influence my rating. Another variant of this particular manifestation allows the ethermancer to modify the energy every round. Finally, there is a variation that not only provides resistance, but instead immunity. Two of these shields, the basic one and the flexible one, can also be bestowed upon allies via the bestow etherheart and two respective manifestations.
Also interesting (and now concise thanks to author Bradley Crouch IMMEDIATELY rewording the manifestation – that is great customer-service!) would be Alteration Cascade – this alteration manifestation allows the ethermancer two 1st level alteration-etherspells at once by paying the cost in addition to the one incurred by the manifestation. Nowwhen interacting with the Alterer-feat, which allows the ethermancer to have two alterations simultaneously in effect, things become interesting: The Alteration Cascade manifestation counts both effects as one etherspell, hence with the feat, the ethermancer could theoretically stack up to 4 1st level alterations with Alteration Cascade. The Greater variation of this ether manifestation can also be used to combine 2nd level ether manifestations, but due to the feat’s level cap, can’t be used to stack 4 – which oddly makes the regular version more flexible than its big brother. Also, would it be possible to stack the same manifestations with e.g. other elements chosen this way? EDIT: I contacted the designer and yes, the stacking of alteration cascades with the Alterer-feat is indeed intended.
Flavor-wise awesome, the Asphyxiate-manifestation, based on the Bestow-etherheart, can be used to force air from the mouth of the target, dealing 1d3 points of str-damage and staggering the target on a failed save for 1 round. Working much like a poison, the effect requires 3 consecutive saves to end. I like that incorporeal creatures and golems are immune and that creatures with an exoskeleton get a bonus to save and the pdf by now makes it rather clear how the power works – nice!
Not all effects are offensive or straight defensive, though – ethermancers can e.g. create one or more floating eyeballs that they can see through. The particular effect comes with a cool caveat that stuns the ethermancer if an eyeball gets destroyed and also a penalty to his/her defenses while not in sight of the eyeball. Now the Greater version, which provides multiple eyeballs, can thus see more than one eyeball destroyed, with AC-penalties stacking, whereas stunning duration does not.
Shields from nowhere can be conjured and of course, there is a wide variety of options to enhance the diverse blasts: Physical (or mental) attribute damage (which can be negated with fort-saves), elemental damage (which even can be blended!), making blasts count as cold iron or silver, adamantine or crystal, adding to the caster level, making the etherspell a 10 ft.-burst (or a 15ft. im/exploding burst that moves adversaries closer/away on a failed ref-save), 30 ft/60 ft.-lines or a 15/30 ft.-cone with a ref-save instead of a touch attack or have SR-repelled rays rebound to other targets you choose. Among the more unique benefits, we can have blasts trail 5-feet high walls of energy (which dissipates after the first target has been injured by it) for the round the ethermancer casts the etherspell. Cool idea! Making blasts that continue to deal damage on the follow-up round (unless you drop prone and spend a move action rolling around, essentially eating 1 full round including standing up) on the other hand feels off – at least some sort of save would be required here to negate catching fire/acid/whatever.
More complex would be celestial spheres, which essentially adds bonus-damage to a blast and has a sphere of energy streak along. This bonus damage can be negated, but can hit multiple targets in the path from the ethermancer to the intended target. Now these spheres have a duration longer than instantaneous – which allows the ethermancer to target adversaries with blasts and have the sphere move towards the targets of the blasts – cool! It should also be noted, that these modifications, like the burst/cone-shape, cannot be stacked, as denoted by the (Shape)-descriptor attached: Only one such effect can be used to modify a given blast.
You can also make invisible targets temporarily visible via cosmic rays, making bones etc. glow – nice imagery. Here was once a 150-word rant about how imbalanced Deep Impact was – alas, Interjection Games has fixed the manifestation and it now can be considered a nice option.
Straight damage-upgrades to blasts are also possible, as is the option to get temporary hit points instead of EP while under the effects of a certain alteration – this may sound powerful, but funnily, the lack of options to dispel this effect as well as the caveat that the etherspell immediately ends as soon as EP reach 0 mean that this particular buffer must be well-considered in its application. Via Doppler Effects, the ethermancer may also grant him/herself 10%/25% miss chance. It should be noted that said manifestation applies the same distortion to the attacks of the ethermancer, making it a double-edged sword (and interesting).
Ethermancers may also create a type of vortex – whenever he is dealt damage from a chosen type of energy, the ethermancer gains a charge, which, upon the third charge, he may as an immediate action manifest a blast sans manifestations as the etherspell disperses. Boosting and penalizing saves, granting allies DR and transforming the damage-type they deal to e.g. bludgeoning, dealing damage only to a specific creature race/type, increased range, the duplication of a haste-like effect by touching hyperspace, sending foes to a catatonic state in which they need to defeat a shadowy figment to return to reality (and not die to the shadow’s tender assaults), increased mental stats or object hardness, improved movement, handholds ex nihilo, making etherspells illuminate the darkness (and even glow to dazzle foes) and even standing in midair -all possible. Ethermancers may also conjure blasts and have them wait for the next spell/spell-like ability/item activation – whomever the unlucky being, whether friend or foe, is attacked by the blast.
Quantum Indeterminacy deserves special mention, as it allows you and the touched willing creature to exchange places as long as you’re not too far apart – these switcheroo-effects tend to be a lot of fun and useful for creative players. Turning into antimatter, essentially teleporting and damaging all in a line and reconstituting you via Quantum Leap also is rather cool – it does a decent amount of damage, has a cool effect for the strain on your body (temporarily lowering your EP-cap). We also get penetrating SR (optionally, also automatically, but at only half damage), inflicting a variety of temporary negative conditions, having a blast emit essentially a trail of magical tripping marbles (and their spiked cousins)- the effects are rather versatile.
Emitting a Scream from Beyond is fluff-wise right up my alley – imbuing the target with the option to scream and cause confusion (including the screamer!) feels just awesome and cool – and perfectly in line with the theme. This one is also now short of a minor ramble – it now can be countered by bards.
Oh, by the way, ethermancers can also look through solid matter, should they learn the appropriate manifestation or create sentries charged with blasts that hurl these at any non-friendly target the ethermancer specified at the time of the casting. Unfortunately, the etherspell does not specify the respective saves for these very fleeting guardians, though I assume e.g. auto-failure for ref-saves due to being immobile.
Have I mentioned the option to emit vampiric blasts and similar effects or the one to turn invisible by Ultraviolet Shift?
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice significant glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ 2-column b/w-standard and comes with thematically fitting stock-art. The pdf comes bookmarked, but only in a very rudimentary sense – one bookmark for feats, one for all manifestations. Looking for a particular manifestation is not really comfortable/possible with them – problematic.
So…the Ethermancer. The big heir to the blasting classes of the 3.X days of old. Let me go on a short tangent here – unlimited spellcasting was one of the reasons I turned my back on 4th edition. I’m a difficult audience when it comes to the very concept. That being said: I love the fluff of this complex class. I love its modularity and how it actually makes a regenerating spellcasting pool work. What leaves with a bit of a belly-ache is the relative potency of the blasts – 1d3 for lesser blasts at level 1 may not be that impressive, but add cha-mod to the equation and things get nasty with high-cha races/builds: 1d3+5 ranged touch attacks are a tad bit too strong for first level for my tastes. Why am I not bashing on this, then?
Simple: A combination of requiring a touch attack and having a sucky BAB. At 1/2 BAB, the ethermancer is simply not that accurate, which meant that in playtesting, it did not outshine ranged fighters etc. unless used against heavily armored targets. In contrast to older takes on the blaster-caster, the ethermancer is not doomed to fiddle his/her thumbs when not in battle and also has an array (though admittedly not that many) things s/he may do when not pulverizing adversaries. So yes, per se, I do consider the class well-crafted and once you get behind how it works, actually rather intuitive – just bear in mind the limits of manifestations and you’re good to go.
Now that being said, while I’d love to praise this class unanimously, it does come with its flaws – the stacking of alteration-effects via manifestations and feat could have used some explicit clarification.
Another issue would lie in the etherspells universally counting as evocation – since they clearly include effects one would consider conjurations (and ones that would be closer to other schools), regular spellcasting defenses, conjuration-prohibiting effects simply don’t work against them – which becomes relevant as soon as a teleportation-hampering effect is on an area – one that the Ethermancer could, RAW, simply ignore since it does not have the teleportation-descriptor. And yes, while just designating teleportation redirects etc. to work for Quantum Leap etc. would well be in the providence and capability of just about any DM, RAW that would be cheating the player. This lack of distinction re spell-schools and exclusive focus on evocation is perhaps the one halfway significant flaw of the class and it is one that could be easily handled by the DM.
So, how to rate the Ethermancer, then? Generally, I do love its complexity, its fluff, variety and its chutzpa in attempting to create a blaster-class that is balanced, but doesn’t run out of juice. It may not be a class for every power-level out there, but it does work.
Then again, I don’t feel justified in consigning this class to the netherworlds of mediocrity, since it clearly doesn’t belong there – especially since it has been rid of the most grievous glitches I complained about in my first drafts of this review. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars for the purpose of this platform, just shy of my seal of approval, with the caveat that DMs should take a good look and understand the class before allowing it – the implications of ethermancers in a setting can change the dynamics of warfare (and “forbidden” magic) in rather interesting ways.