EZG reviews Libram of the First Language: Truename Magic Reborn
This massive pdf is 68 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 65 pages of content.
Yes, 65 pages of Interjection Games-level complexity content for me to analyze. Ouch. But I won’t complain – instead, let’s take a look at the base-class, the Truenamer: At d6, 2+Int skills per level, d6, good will-saves, 1/2 BAB-progression, we have no doubt a full caster on our hands. The first interesting component can be found in the proficiency section – truenamers do not take the classic arcane spell failure chance, instead increasing the DC of their recitations by at least +1 (for armor/shields etc. sans armor check penalty) or otherwise by their armor check penalty. It should be noted, that, while they do get proficiency with simple weapons, no shield or armor proficiencies are part of the deal, thus imposing a feat tax. Still, an interesting design decision here.
Okay, much like the malaligned original 3.X Truenamer, Bradley Crouch’s class gets access to a diverse set of codices: First would be the codex of mind body, which is essentially a starter’s codex. Truenamers start game with 3 recitations from this codex and get +1 at every level. At 4th level, the truenamer gets access to the codex of artifice, with another recitation gained at 5th level and every two class levels beyond that. The third codex, the codex of far-flung spheres, is gained at 7th level, with an additional recitation every 3 class levels after that. Finally, the codex of the realized vision nets the truenamer the first recitation at 10th level, with 14th, 18th and 20th netting additional recitations. All recitations gained are subject to their respective limitations/prerequisites.
Got that? Okay, so how do recitations work? First of all: Thank all philosophies you may or may not believe in – it’s not a skill-check. How that system didn’t work, anyone who tried truenaming in 3.X already knows. But it does maintain the spirit – there is a so-called truenaming check: DC 7 + 3xrecitation’s level. The check is essentially a d20+class level+int-mod, saves against them 10+recitation level+int-mod analogous to spells. Relearning recitations, interaction with established spell schools (via similar schools), Spell Resistance – all the interactions with regular magic/spellcasting are taken into account. And yes, defensively reciting at the usual 5-DC-penalty is also included. Now it should be noted that truenaming magic always is verbal (d’uh), but rather interesting, penalties which would apply to a similar concentration-DC are halved.
Now failure has its price – 4 laws govern truenaming magic: Upon failing a truenaming check, the truenamer incurs a penalty to subsequent truenaming checks equal to the failed recitation’s level for 5 rounds. Whenever a truenamer recites a recitation one level lower than the maximum of what s/he can recite, s/he may take 10 on the check, resulting in less chaos and some degree of reliability. VERY interesting would also be the law of flowing rhetoric – a truenamer cannot have the same effect twice in play, i.e. no two same recitations. Even if counterspelled or otherwise failed, a truenamer needs to wait for the recitation’s duration to have elapsed to again try to utter it – this makes durations of buffs etc. a double-edged sword…interesting. Finally, the multiverse gets annoyed by truenamers asking the same thing over and over again -each subsequent use of a given recitation per day increases the truenaming DC by +2 until the truenamer has sufficiently apologized to the multiverse (i.e. rested).
If you’re like me and think: “But what about the poor linguistics-skill!” – well, at first level, if you share a language with a creature (and truly share it, i.e. not via magic shenanigans), your recitations targeting that creature get a bonus of +2 to their truenaming check. At 2nd level and every two levels after that, you also learn an additional language – which may be nice, though personally, I would have preferred a tie with the linguistics-skill, but oh well.
Now if that wasn’t enough complexity for you so far, at 3rd level the truenamer gets an inflection, and another one every 3 levels after that. A total of 15 different inflections are provided. These increase casting time of an recitation to a full-round action and also increase both the DC of the truenaming check to properly cast them and the law of malleability-DC by a fixed amount. The latter would be the law that makes casting consecutive iterations of the same recitation that day harder. Essentially, these are kind-of metamagic modifications that allow you additional effects, but at the cost of not being able to pull off the same trick that often. And yes, inflected recitations count as the base recitation for purposes of the law of limited malleability. These inflections allow you to e.g. substitute a chosen energy form with another, empower recitations, increase their range, maximize them or even penalize target creature’s saves by -2 as well as forcing them to reroll the save and take the worse result. As you can glean, the respective inflection vary in strength, but thankfully are concisely balanced via level-requirements.
The class also gets a bonus to saves against language-dependant spells and at 12th level, may add two inflections to a given recitation (but at a further +2 to limited malleability) and finally, as a capstone, a truenamer may 1/day per codex take 20 on a truenaming-check.
We also get truenamer archetypes – The Orator gets a modified spell-list and increases the bonus gained for speaking a creature’s language at higher levels at the cost of one inflection. Instead of the 12th level inflection, he becomes harder to demoralize (and more adept in this game of chicken!) He also becomes rather adept at prepared speeches, adding int-mod to them if he had time to prepare (does not extend to truenaming!). Instead of the double-inflection-trick, an orator gets a special inflection that extends a recitation to all creatures close to the primary target of the recitation.
The Truescribe can create one scroll per available codex, containing one recitation that does not influence the law of finite malleability, essentially netting the archetype a small pool of reserve recitations (which can’t be used by others btw. – no UMDing these…) These special scrolls adhere to their own set of unique limitations and, while expanded via another ability, they remain thus limited. They also become particularly adept at resisting writing-leitmotif spells and effects and later even gain a save against the dreaded explosive rune-spell. At 12th level, they even have a shorthand, which allows for a difficult UMD-check to properly use their scrolls – rather cool.
The final archetype would be the verminspeaker, who gets the shared-language-bonus versus mindless creatures (thus making him/her also an ooze-talker or golemwhisperer) as well as a vermin-animal-companion sans share spells and very limited tricks. At 6th level, they learn an inflection that allows you to use mind-influencing effects on mindless beings…which can be VERY strong in my experience. DMs should take care when throwing golems and the like at a vermin speaker… Now each of these archetypes comes with a full table, and we also get an animal companion table, which is nice. On the very minor nitpick-side, the archetypes and base-class do have varying degrees of somewhat dead levels, but at full casters and in this case, that’s okay in my book.
One final thing – recitations are grouped from levels 1 – 6. We also get FCOs for all base races, drow, orcs, puddlings, tieflings, aasimar, kobolds and hobgoblins and 12 special truenamer feats. These allow you to gain additional inflections, counterspelling recitations (two feats), recitation specialization (where a follow-up feat allows you recite that one defensively, sans the +5 DC penalty) and of course there also are feats for additional recitations. It should be noted that a feat makes secret languages accessible – which depending on your campaign, might be rather cool. Check with your DM regarding that one, though!
All right, got that? Great, let’s take a look at some select recitations (though I’m NOT going through all in detail – you want this review to be shorter than 10+ pages, don’t you?).
The first thing you’ll note in the codex of the heart and mind would be that we not only get a list of all the recitations – beyond sharing a range of 60 ft and targeting one creature and applying SR, they actually have two effects! Take the attraction-recitation: You can pull creatures 10 feet in a straight line towards you, the movement netting a +4 dodge bonus to AC vs. AoOs. The reverse instead sends the target away. So far, so obvious, right? What about slightly increasing/decreasing DR? Things become more interesting with e.g. ice-themed attack recitations that can deal damage to targets or provide a defensive, cold-damage dealing sheen? Here, we have different durations for the regular and reverse effects and both have their own conditions to reduce the damaged target’s movement speeds temporarily halved. And yes, temporarily raising zombies (or destroying mindless undead) is possible.
Rather awesome would be a recitation, which makes a target a living bomb – but also makes the target realize this, allowing it to being able to minimize collateral damage. The reverse is rather special as well – this one makes it possible to negate self-destruct abilities. Beyond the tinker’s kamikaze directives, think certain staves and their planes-shattering final strikes. Yes, useful and unique. Many of these recitations actually work with rather cool durations/effects that only happen on the end of a recitation’s duration, necessitating actual planning on behalf of the truenamer.
Now the codex of artifice is more about item-modification, allowing you to net temporary charges to wands (or make them consume twice that amount when used), buff weapons/armor etc. A minor nitpick here – the recitations dealing with charges should probably in their reverse function double the amount of charges consumed. As written, the recitations only consume “2 charges” when activated, which becomes problematic as soon as some item has abilities that cost multiple charges – is it double the charges or +1 charge consumed?
What about instilling alchemical items with paranoia, inciting them to go off? What about making items orbiting bodyguards or imbuing items as deadly splash weapons? Ranged stealing (via proper use of CMB etc.) or protecting belongings is possible! Very cool for those ambushes in the night – make temporarily hastily donned armor properly donned and vice versa.
The codex of the far-flung spheres has a range of 100 ft and an AoE of 20 ft. and, unless the first two codices, this one has only one effect per recitation. Barring creatures from teleporting, making creatures more adept at grappling etc. – all nice. But what about yodeling and making the target area difficult terrain? Yes, funny and oh so cool! What about insta-growing plants/fungi etc. for rations? Also VERY interesting – an area that deals damage to the target in it that has the MOST hp. This one has a LOT of tactical potential!
The final codex, the codex of the realized vision, is the one closest to regular spells, with just about every recitation featuring its own formal properties like individual ranges (e.g. 60 ft., personal, touch…) etc. Animating up to gargantuan animated objects, afflict targets with crushing ennui (save or do nothing -for 5 rounds! Ouch!), creating non-weaponized spheres that can dig tunnels for you. Also interesting: Cover the floor with material that deals +3d6 damage upon falling, including being tripped! Cool for its tactical options! Asking questions to the multiverse, fabricating objects ex nihilo – quite a few options here. Oh, and there is also a recitation that erases creatures from the multiverse – but instead of save-or-suck, it requires consecutive saves over the duration. Once the target has failed 3, s/he/it’s gone – cool take on the mechanic – Think about players scrambling to take down the truenamer to prevent their comrade being erased! When mechanics in themselves make for more fun/excitement, then that’s a good indicator for good design! (Preventing falls with huge spongy discs can also be achieved, should you be so inclined!)
Got all that? Well, there also are three (yes, 3) new prestige classes for the truenamer. Since this review already is rather long, I’ll just give you the cliffnotes-version of them, all right? First would be the 5-level Speaker of the Word, essentially a combo-divine caster/truenamer, gaining cool synergy of truenaming/channel energy and limitedadditional recitations that work similar to divine spells. Iconic! The 10-level Willshackler is very interesting – the PrC studies a certain creature type and gains so-called command words, a total of 10 are available for selection. These have a diverging DC from the standard truenaming formula and allow you to narrow possible futures to force targets to do your bidding – non-mind-influencing! These words are rather powerful, iconic and well-worth the choice! (Oh and expelling targets from the universe, utterly destroying them via the utterance of a single name makes for a neat capstone!)
The final PrC, the wordsworn defender may need to be able to recite from the codex of far-flung spheres and have significant proficiencies (martial weapons + tower shields), but essentially, it takes the concept of truename magic working better bith armor and allows you to create a truenaming knight – bonus feats, d10 and especially…tower shield specialization. Yes. the poor, often neglected tower shield actually gets some unique tricks in this PrC – I so want to make these guys a guild/order in my campaign.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not as superb as usual in Interjection Games’ releases – I noticed a couple of punctuation glitches that make sentences that are finished look unfinished and similar minor glitches, nothing that impedes usability, though. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ 2-column b/w-standard with thematically-fitting stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though don’t expect bookmarks for individual recitations. You should print this beats for your game.
When author Bradley Crouch made this one, I cackled like a mad man for a second. Why? Because Interjection Games-classes tend to be HARD to review. They’re complex, there’s a lot of math and complex concepts in them. I once spent a total of 4 hours on a small Prestige Class-pdf. Yeah, they’re work. Experience in my campaign has shown that they’re also fun. I’ve tried all of them so far in my game (re all I’ve reviewed) and they tend to bring some rather unique tricks to the table. At this length, though…ouch. A lot of work. Then, there’s truename magic. From the 3 cool, but universally failed concepts from 3.X’s Tome of Magic, this one was probably the worst. (though Shadow Magic wasn’t much better…) Pact Magic has since, to much acclaim and praise, been taken up by Radiance House with their superb Pact Magic Unbound-series.
So here’s master Crouch taking on the terribly broken truenaming…and by divorcing it from skill-mechanics while maintaining (and honestly, greatly expanding) the customizability, this type of magic suddenly doesn’t suck anymore – highly variable, the duration-based necessitating of planning of recitations makes playing this class a) effective and b) terribly rewarding. Not only are the effects unique, the book suffused by a neat trademark humor, they actually allow you to do things thoroughly different from what other casters can do, while maintaining compatibility and making playing these guys actually reward proper planning.
One can see the hand that wrote the superb ethermancer (btw. – the best warlock class I’ve seen in any d20-iteration…) here – which, with the in-game experience I have for that class by now, works much better (and more balanced!) than even the playtest I did for it predicted. Let me say this loud and clear – this system for truenaming is great. It’s modular, versatile, comes with various class-options and unique PrCs and the overall casting and recitations are so compelling, so distinct from standard options, that I can all but recommend this one – while the price-tag may seem high, I can assure you this monster is worth each cent, offering a vast array of cool options and salvaging the truenaming concept, making it actually work while maintaining its distinct identity.
Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval and a spot on my list of candidates for my top ten of 2014.