EZG reviews Heroes of the Siwathi Desert
The second of Purple Duck Games’ Player’s Guides for their upcoming, highly anticipated Porphyra-setting clocks in at 53 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD and 1 page blank back cover, leaving us with a massive 48 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Introduced to the setting’s harsh realities by an aptly-written in-character narrative, we are introduced to the new races herein, first of which would be ancestor-worshipping Sibeccai-like humanoids, Fnolls and the godless, elemental-worshipping Zendiqi, the latter of which you may already know in more detail from one of the best Fehr’s Ethnology-installments. These 3 races have in common that they are balanced, do what they set out to do and include 2- 4 racial traits (even properly listing bonus-types) – all three races have in common, that they properly portray the races, don’t feature broken bits and can easily be dropped in just about every setting power-level-wise. Kudos! We also get takes on the 4 genasi-like races (and yes, I know Paizo has renamed them, but every time I write “Ifrit”, “Oread”, “Sylph” or “Undine” as a moniker for those guys, a part of me dies, so for the purpose of this review, I’ll call the collective genasi…nothing to fault Purple Duck Games for, but still something that has me nerd-rage a bit at Paizo…) – these clock in at about the power-level of aasimar and tieflings, so they’re appropriate for most campaigns that don’t skirt the lower power-level echelons/point-buys. In their write-ups, some minor glitches have crept in – or rather, been taken over from the (imho less than stellar) ARG. Treacherous Earth, for example, still has no action type specified for it its use (why not make it su or even sp) thus making the action required to activate slightly more opaque than it ought to be – a flaw more on the side of the source-material, but still a flaw. Formatting-wise, speak with animals-like abilities could have used the (Sp) or (Su) in brackets, but that’s me once again being anal-retentive. In the fluff-department, the roles of the genasi-like races is great and steeped in the cultural lore – which is awesome and something more settings should imho do – on the downside, the nomenclature might become somewhat jumbled. Air-genasi are for example called “sylph” and “habu” in alternating instances – why not establish the terminology in the text and then use the proper “habu”? Generally, that’s a nit-pick, though – the expert writing and fluff actually make these races feel much more organic than I’m used to them being…so kudos!
After that, we not only get a full-page, gorgeous map of the area depicted in this book, we also are introduced into the politics , governments and social structures of the desert, including additional supplemental settlement qualities taken (and properly credited to!) Skortched Urf’ Studios supplement on that topic – great to see such awareness! A total of 7 such qualities are here. A total of 4 wholly diverse settlements, complete with statblocks (and including a tent-city and a tomb city!) are up next and help getting much easier into the meat of the area. Have I mentioned the in-character narratives for the respective settlements? Yeah, cool!
The Five Spirits Master-PrC, a 5-level PrC has 1/2 BAB-progression, up to +3 save progression for all saves, d10, 4+Int skills per level and are all about the elemental monk styles, elemental fits etc. The PrC also gets a terrain-ignoring stride related to the elements, thus allowing the character to pass lava, water etc. – but requiring a full-round action as well as an end of the movement on solid ground. Limited, yet cool take on the stride and not one that can be broken easily. Now next would be an ability that may seem problematic – the blending of aforementioned djinn-related styles, activating more than one at once and getting each level an additional style active. I’d complain about multiple styles, but seeing how limited their selection is, it works. Furthermore, the PrC gets a cool mechanic that allows you to counter AoOs with elemental fist attacks, makingthe former make much more sense. And if all of that weren’t enough coolness, the capstone allows you to use the style-endgame abilities as counters. And as the icing on the cake, the CR 13 sample character uses Rogue Genius Games superb talented monk-class instead of the regular one, netting you a superb sample character AND acting as a cool teaser, since all rules required to run the character are in here. Kudos for the best elemental monk-take I’ve seen in quite a while – I actually want to try this one out!
The Djinn, Marid and Efreet Binder summoners are all archetypes made in the vein of the shaitan-binder archetype – completing the classical elemental cycle of options – but once again going above and beyond what was required by sample statblocks and using material from the must-have Advanced Options: Extra Evolutions-book by Rogue Genius Games – again, using material, with an own spin and sans requiring other books. All the previously challenged summoners will rejoice at their new genie-eidolons. While still related in form, balancing and abilities to one another, they feel distinct enough to set them apart, though, again, as a nitpick, I would have preferred slightly more unique tricks for the respective archetypes to set them apart, but that’s me complaining at a high level.
Fans of psionics can rejoice with the inclusion of the new Guardian Psychic Warrior Path – though this one has a weird wording ambiguity – on the one hand, the path renders immune to fear, one the other hand it nets a scaling bonus against fear effects. I *assume* a formatting glitch here, with the first instance of the word supposedly referring to the spell – see, and that’s why I complain when spells aren’t properly italicized. Expending the psionic focus to execute AoOs of foes moving through threatened squares fits with the concept, though – so generally, a nice path. Mahdi clerics wear veils, muffs and gags and can be considered as somewhat neutral-themed ascetic clerics that pay for the ability to daily choose the alignment domains with slightly less spells. Again, nice concept and rather visually cool. The sample character also uses a feat of domain channeling (again, from Rogue Genius Games) and also features two nice spells. The Muhartik Slayer rogue is all about slaying those pesky divine casters and similar infidels and makes for a rather effective foe of casters – neat and imho more flavorful in execution than similar mage-breaker archetypes I’ve seen! Cavaliers may now pledge allegiance to the Order of the Sundered Spear – no mercy, no retreat – dangerous stipulations – somewhat offset by the target of a challenge getting one counterattack per AoO performed against the cavalier. OUCH! That ability is powerful, yes, but on the other hand, the no-nonsense edict is also harsh, so I’ll let that one stand.
Oracles of the Flames, Wind, Waves and Stone mysteries get additional revelations – and mostly, they’re rather cool. One is a bit problematic, though – parting any size of water body (including oceans!) to provide passage feels problematic – while the caveat for x passing characters is fine, the overall wording is slightly problematic – as written, it can be inferred that the parting of waves is maintained for the whole body of water. But consequence-wise, that could entail grounded ships (no caveat but no. of crew!), flooded fields etc. – a slightly modified fluff-text that does not infer parting the waves for the whole body, instead implying more of a bubble would be more in line with how the ability is supposed to work – and while feeling less like Moses, it would probably result in less DM headache. Once again, a rather nitpicky complaint on my part, though. Pact Lords make for cool fighters that get the cavalier’s tactician, is better at helping others and grant bonuses to allies via commands. Solid! 12 new feats allow for godless healing, better attacks versus vehicles (yeah!) or the option to add hieroglyphs to scrolls, granting metamagic effects to already created scrolls – cool! Add prophetic dreams and further feat-extensions to fighting styles (already mentioned briefly in the PrC) and we get a nice array here with quite a bunch of roleplaying potential. Want to know more about these style extensions? What about dealing +1 fire damage, +2 CMD when moving 10 ft or more? Force foes out of their styles/stances when active upon a successful strike? Or what about a feat that nets you DR 2/-, but sees you dissolve into sand at -1 hp? Yeah, damn risky, but also so cool!
On the spell-side, the antidivine field will become a staple for just about all undead in my games! What about a curse that turns all food to ash in the eater’s mouth? Banquet of Ash indeed! Or the cantrip that deals no damage, but lowers initiative of the target? Seriously these spells are on the high-concept end of the scale, in both execution and ideas – and that’s by someone by now VERY jaded regarding spells – I’ve reviewed more than 2000 spells for PFRPG so far and some of the ones herein still stood out to me.
Speaking about standing out -what about a book of Scheherazade-style tales, cool animal-totem-style masks, a more controllable rod of wonders, an artifact throne and even a sand-traveling folding boat-style item are in here as well. A massive 4-table list of mundane equipment available, including sources like the legendary Luven Lightfingers-book is also part of the deal- as is the cool, somewhat Go-like mini-game Arbakampsi, first pioneered in the Purple Duck Storeroom series – and yes, the game is actually fun – I had the opportunity to play it a couple of times.
Editing and formatting are good, if not perfect – especially spell italicization isn’t 100% consistent throughout the pdf. Still, nothing too bad. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and with cool full color artworks and great cartography and the pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The pdf is also studded with unobtrusive hyperlinks for your convenience.
Authors Perry Fehr and Josh McCrowell have delivered a damn fine player’s guide here – while I did not look forward to reading it at first, the generally balanced take on the races and content herein quickly dispersed my initial reluctance. The duo has managed to craft cool, iconic settlements and quite a few high-concept crunch nuggets I did not expect. Better yet – what I at first expected to be a bunch of yawn-worthy variants of established races interspersed with some original ones turned out to be valid, balanced recombinations of racial traits into a fitting, holistic whole – beyond the crunch, mainly thanks to actually getting solid and proper identities that root the races in the lore of the setting. Add to that the exceedingly cool PrC (just when I thought I was too bored to ever enjoy an elemental monk/martial artist archetype/PrC again…), massive use and awareness of pre-existing and beloved rules and we get a player’s guide that actually fulfilled my expectations. Beyond simply offering crunch upon crunch, this book makes sense, draws you in and makes you excited about the setting and the stretches of land depicted herein; yes, even excited about the interpretation of gnolls and sibeccai-like humanoids. And then, there’s Arbakampsi as a cool bonus alongside the new pieces of equipment. All in all, this pdf has over the course of this review been exposed to some of my nastier nitpicking habits and while it had to leave some small feather, it stands surprisingly well and intact, with the Zendiqi and the godless healing options making for cool rules to scavenge for low magic campaigns beyond the scope of this pdf. While not perfect or flawless, this player’s guide is still one great achievement and imho a step up from the first one – my final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform – whether on Porphyra or elsewhere – desert-dwelling heroes (and DMs) should take a look…