The final book for the first “Path of War”-book is 25 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD (leaving 22 pages of content) and is all about supplemental content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
After a short introduction of the topic at hand, we delve into new archetypes for the Path of War-classes, so let’s check out the Judge first, an archetype for the Stalker. If the name wasn’t ample clue for you – the stalker can be considered a blend of inquisitor and stalker and thus gains additional options to use via their ki pool over the levels of their class-progression: +4 to bluff/sense motive, detect alignment and similar shenanigans, +4 to a save as an immediate action and at 9th level, they may spend ki to change a readied maneuver for another one they know and have it immediately readied – thankfully with a limit beyond ki here, the trick that only takes a swift action can only be pulled off wis-mod times per day.
Judges also get judgments (1/day, +1/day at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter) – here, some problems have crept in: Take the “Bloody” judgment – The judge inflicts horrible, bleeding wounds that gush with the deity’s rage. The target suffers 1d6 points of bleed damage for 1+wis-mod rounds. Unlike the regular inquisitor judgments, this one is ACTIVE and, as written, can be read as the wound materializing upon pronouncing the judgment as opposed to hitting the foe with an attack. A clearly unintended RAW vs. RAI -glitch and nothing serious, but still. The “Deadly” judgment’s text is completely absent from the pdf. A formatting glitch, probably. The other enhancements are okay, though personally, I’d consider level 10 a bit early to make attacks count as adamantine, but then again, this s Path of War, so yeah – within the context of this series, it works – especially, since the archetype pays for the bonuses with deadly strike and the related stalker arts. At 3rd level, instead of a stalker art, judges may choose a domain or inquisition sans spells/bonus spells according to their deity’s portfolio. At 7th level and every 4 levels after that, the judge gets a stalker art or may choose the new final judgment-art. This one requires one round of studying the target as a standard action. On the following round, attacking the foe with a maneuver denies said foe the dex-bonus against the attack AND requires a save versus 10 + 1/2 class level + wis-mod to avoid dying. Yeah. Ouch. I know Path of War is all about amping up fighter potential etc., but insta-death attack available as soon as level 11 is…uncommon. While the assassin’s death attack has a higher DC, it also requires 3 (!!!) rounds PLUS a sneak attack. No way. sorry. There’s no limit on the insta-kill strikes for the judge apart from immunity if you make the save – for one day. This is arguably more lethal than MANY similar spells, declasses the assassin and needs another caveat – HD, something like that, even in the context of Path of War.
Blending and greater blending are replaced with discern lies and the ability to spend 1(!!!) ki with a martial strike to act as greater dispel magic for wis-mod effects that ALSO deal +1d8 damage per spell/effect dispelled. Come again? Yeah, the ability requires judgment to be active, but still – this ability would be strong even sans the bonus damage(or do I have to explain how to hoard ki?), but the bonus damage…urks.
The second archetype for the Stalker would be the Soul Hunter – these guys recover maneuvers via standard actions or via their soul claim ability: Up to wis-mod creatures at a given kind can be claimed – these guys provoke AoOs when withdrawing from the soul hunter. Upon reducing a claimed creature a claimed creature, the soul hunter immediately regains wis-mod expended maneuvers. See this issue? Yeah – epic fail of the kitten-test. Put bag of kittens next to soul hunter, claim kitten plus foes, kill kitten if maneuvers run out, rinse and repeat for instant unlimited maneuvers. Broken and needs a HD-cap based on the level at least.
Claimed foes also suffer from soulburning for +1d6 bonus damage, +1d6 for every 4 levels per attack/maneuver. Soulburning replaces deadly strikes and works like it with respect to stalker arts – which may be fine and all, but at 5th level, all claimed within 30 ft. can receive the damage of soulburning for 1 ki. No save, no option to negate the damage. Combined with soulclaiming’s flawed mechanics, that makes the kitten-test even more failed, though the other ki-based options granted are admittedly nice, as are the option hunting-based options to scry on targets and scent plus better tracking versus claimed targets…though at 12th level, the class recovers an expended maneuver when reducing a claimed target – I assume this stacks with all the other ways to regain maneuvers, though the ability fails to explicitly state it and could be misread. The archetype needs some work to properly work.
We also get 4 new warder archetypes, the first of which would be the Dervish Defender may grant allies their shield bonuses and is less heavily armored, granting int-mod (also vs. flat-footed) to AC when not heavily armored. This ability per se isn’t bad, though calling it “Two-Weapon Defense” when no weapon in the off-hand is required feels a bit weird. While the archetype gets a damage-boost ability for two-weapon fighting and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the archetype felt a bit weird to me due to the hidden feat-tax that is heavily implied by some abilities – the archetype gets no bonus-feats for dual-wielding characters – which feels a bit weird here. Warders and the action-economy intense dual-wielding seem like a good match (especially with light armor thrown in the mix) and the general idea of extending the narrow focus of the class is great, but the archetype, as written, feels disorganized to me – the dual-weapon benefit at 15th level feels disjointed from the rest of the archetype’s tricks, seeing they don’t provide any benefits for dual-wielding and indeed more feel like one-hand/buckler-style. Not sold on this one.
The Hawkguard may use ranged weapons and bucklers together and replace access to iron tortoise with solar wind (including corresponding class skills) – beyond that, a threat- range of 15ft. around the character, excluding adjacent squares is interesting, though it doesn’t make sense with context to ranged weapons/tricks to attack with them in melee, though that gets remedied at 3rd level, so yeah. 1/day extending the use of defensive counters to one round is interesting – one minor gripe being here that “defensive counters” isn’t a defined term – why not just call them “counters”? Also, I’m not 100% sure what “Extending the instantaneous duration to 1 round” entails – Potentially twice the damage? Doubled duration of detrimental effects? Using one counter sans expending it on all eligible targets for one round? Some clarification would help here. Overall, solid ranged warder, though in need of some slight rephrasing.
The Sworn Defender may choose specific wards to protect and may, a limited amount of times per day, intercept attacks on the wards and increase their AC and extend readied counters with a range of personal to adjacent allies. Cool bodyguard archetype! The final archetype for warders would be the Zweihänder (Just can’t write the umlaut-less version sans cringing…) Sentinel, who gets aegis-AC bonus when wielding two-handed weapons. They also gain access to Scarlet Throne in exchange for Broken Blade, may treat their two-handed wielded weapon as a shield for purposes of shield bash et al. The archetype also either extends reach by +5 ft. or make reach weapons work in adjacent squares and instead of aegis, gets bonus damage when using AoOs/counters. Nice one – no complaints.
Warlords get 3 new archetypes as well, the first being the bannerman, who gets AC-bonuses when using medium/light/no armor and wielding light weapon plus buckler/ranged weapons as well as three additional tactical presences:, one netting a massive +4 bonus to all social skills, one providing a fear-aura and one, at 17th level, allows the warlord to lend readied maneuvers to allies within 30 foot – which is cool, but does the ally retain the lent maneuver when moving further than 30 foot away from the bannerman? Immediate action boosts and bonuses for allies when in Golden Lion fit well with the topic of the archetype.
The second archetype for the warder is the Steelfist Commando replaces Scarlet Throne and Solar Wind with Broken Blade and Steel Serpent and if that wasn’t ample clue – unarmed strikes plus dodge bonuses make this one somewhat monkish, including some stealth-capabilities. Per se cool archetype, though personally, I think limited access to rogue talents/ninja-tricks in lieu of some more conservative warlord tricks would have made it even more distinct – still that’s just a personal preference here and won’t be held versus this archetype. The final one would be the vanguard commander, who loses solar wind in favor of iron tortoise, starts game with improved shield bash (and modified proficiencies) and gets a new gambit – when shield bash charging, allies within 30 foot can gain a 5-foot-step – nice. They also add cha-mod to ref-saves, mitigate somewhat ACP when in iron tortoise or golden lion. Heightened Defenses deserves special mention here – when using a boost, the character gets +1 immediate action to initiate a counter, but only 1+Cha-mod times per day. This can b a rather powerful option when played right and breaking the exclusivity of the immediate action as one of the most valuable action-types feels problematic. Also potentially rather powerful – free shield bashes with EVERY melee strike and EVERY counter versus adjacent foes. NOT a fan of these.
Next up would be 14 new feats – one making bucklers shield bash-eligible (also for the purpose of disciplines), one that adds shield bonus to ref-saves and touch-AC (the latter, I can see – the former is OP as all hell, especially seeing how the feat offers both in one package and ONE component of it surpasses similar feats…). There is also a teamwork feat that increases threat-range for you and flanking allies by +1, a further +1 if both have steel serpent stances activated. While these do not multiply with usual abilities and thus are applied afterwards, an EVEN FURTHER increase of threat ranges by up to +2 is something that won’t be used in my games – high-crit-builds already are rather ludicrously easy and this makes it even worse. Speaking of broken as all hell – Defensive Web. When refreshing maneuvers as a full-round action (lacks caveat for refreshments faster…), adjacent enemies CANNOT LEAVE YOUR THREATENED AREA BY ANY MEANS. Yes, allcaps. Acrobatics? Screw that! teleports? Pf. Withdraw? Please! A passive, unlimited refreshing can infinitely keep ANYONE in the area. This is better than ALL options to prevent escapes COMBINED. Broken as HELL and needs to die a fiery death, even within the context of Path of War.
Not all feats have issues, though – focus on disciplines, ending charges with strikes, temporary hit points for penalties to atk (with a one-round caveat, somewhat analogue to expertise/power attack) – nice ones. Ricochet Weapon, when used with a strike, nets the weapon gets the returning quality for 2 rounds. Serene Stride is also rather broken, allowing you to ignore movement and acrobatic penalties when moving through difficult terrain and even water as long as you have 1 point of ki. Victorious Recovery also requires some clarification -1/encounter you can regain a maneuver when reducing an opponent to 0 hp. What about non-lethal damage? Also: Fails the kitten-test. Does the feat stack with similar abilities, regenerating even more maneuvers or is the feat mutually exclusive? It can be taken multiple times – does this increase the number of uses per encounter or the maneuvers regained? Both? Tactical Rush allows you to 1/encounter move up your movement as a move action. Utterly broken, even in Path of War’s context and suffers from the same multiple-taking ambiguity of the former feat.
Next would be the Prestige Classes: At d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 fort-save progression and +8 levels of spellcasting progression over 10 levels as well as 1 golden lion/ two of disciplines s/he had access to prior entering the PrC, the Battle Templar. Now this obviously is a divine/martial combi-PrC and generally, the idea is cool. Reach of the Divine, granted at level 2, is already insane, though – martial strike = casting spell on self or ally within 25 ft +5 ft. per 2 initiator levels, even if the spell’s range is touch. Worse, the cast is PART of the attack. Now remember -that probably still leaves the move action, swift and immediate action after that dual assault. Furthermore, the ability, insanely powerful and utterly breaking action-economy also fails to specify whether the spell-cast provokes an AoO, though the wording “As part of the [attack] action” makes me think that no, the cast does not provoke an AoO – after all, regular strikes don’t. Even in Path of War, this is a serious power escalation. Other classes get tricks like that as a CAPSTONE. Even before adding further AC-bonuses to the ability at later levels. They also later get + spell level cast as morale bonus to atk for a minute and can expend spells to regain maneuvers – or make allies regain them. At least that’s probably the intent. The wording: ” and may expend his divine spell energy to recover a maneuver of this ally” could have been more elegant and sounds like the templar can recover expended maneuvers of the ally, poaching in ally’s maneuvers. Oh, at 9th level all nearby allies will have unlimited healing via fast healing 5. Whenever the templar recovers maneuvers (which can be done infinitely) all allies in close range (25 ft + 5 ft.per 2 initiator levels) gain fast healing for initiator modifier rounds. Wohoo – unlimited healing – never again prepare heal spells, channel energy next to obsolete, no more healing potions/scrolls. This ability, even as a capstone, would be broken and needs to DIE. It’s literally INFINTE HEALING. Compared directly, the capstone which allows you to sacrifice high-level spells to net allies healing and morale bonuses is ridiculously weak. This is officially the worst PrC I’ve seen in ages.
The Bladecaster gets d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB progression, 1/2 fort-save progression, 8 levels spellcasting progression, limited martial maneuver progression- notice a similarity? Yeah, this one is the arcane equivalent. At 1st level, the PrC can ” The bladecaster may select one arcane spellcasting that he possesses;” and cast that sans arcane spell failure in light armor. What is “one arcane spellcasting”? A spell? ALL spells granted by e.g. levels in wizard? One arcane spell-list? Don’t know, though I assume the second option… The PrC also gets a special stance that allows the PrC to sacrifice spells for bonuses – and this one is insanely powerful – damage-potential of the spells outclasses the benefits by far. Or so it seems – you get e.g. +1d6 bonus damage per spell level – of the sacrificed spell’s energy type if applicable OR, if not UNTYPED. Not even force, UNTYPED. You know, the damage-type you can prepare against? Now even slashing, piercing – UNTYPED: Urgh. What about spell level to ALL saving throws? 5 x spell level resistance to ALL ENERGY TYPES? Yeah, duration only scales up to 3 rounds, but still. (Don’t get me started with cantrips, btw. – the class ignores them completely.) Then again, the class gets a martial strike/cast spellcombat-like ability – as a swift action, usable 1+ initiator-mod times per day. Which renders me baffled – does this override the casting duration of the spell in question? Is it in addition to the swift action/action required by the strike? Does the spell still elicit a SR/save etc.? This ability needs severe cleaning up and gets utterly OP at later levels, when it actually gets a REACH. Countering spells via initiator-checks may also be powerful, but at least the ability works as intended and sans wonky mechanics. As a capstone, spells requiring an attack can be used to deliver martial strikes – even as a capstone in Path of War, broken – no more range limits. All melee strikes on range. Against touch AC. Urgh. At least the casting still potentially provokes AoOs here…
The third PrC, Dragon Fury, gets d12, 4+Int skills per level, +1 maneuver at every odd level, +1 readed per day at 3rd, 6th and 9th and +1 stance at 3rd level, full BAB-progression, 1/2 fort+ ref-save progression and is all about two weapon fighting – less penalties, power attack as if main-hand for both (or even as if two-handed), repeated counters – all mostly cool. At 8th level, the class gets a kitten-bag-fail ability that recovers an expended maneuver for every foe brought to 0 hp.(Insert Kitten-Bag rant again, plus nonlethal damage still not taken into account…). The capstone is cool, though – move 2x movement rate and attack like crazy. Neat capstone. The first PrC herein that I don’t want to throw into the deepest fiery pits of hell – this one’s actually cool. Nice!
The Mage Hunter, at d8, 4+Int, 3/4-BAB-progression, 1/2 ref-save progression and get access to spontaneous spells up to 4th level. Which they can cast governed by their initiator attribute. EDIT: Here, I had a minor error that has been pointed out to me. The mage hunter may expend spells as part of martial strikes to dimensionally anchor foes (which is nice, though aforementioned feat is better…), add damage-dealing dispel magic effects to strikes etc. The criticism of the former iteration of the similar ability still applies here. There is also a class ability/stance that allows the mage hunter to cast spells as a swift action as part of a martial strike (see criticism above) AND not take any damage when making a save vs. an effect that has partial effects. That is a combined mettle and evasion. Mettle was broken in 3.X and has, for good riddance, not reared its ugly head in PFRPG. This is worse, even in the context of Path of War. Nuff said. The capstone, which eliminates the option to cast defensively, is the other nail in the coffin for this class – Knowledge (Martial) DC 21 to realize it before hand? Nice, only casters don’t get the skill as class skill…Also: Hit point regeneration via SR and even granting temporary hit points. Doesn’t sound so bad? AT this level, your PCs will have At-will abilities, which translate, once again, to INFINITE healing, though this time “only” for the character, not everybody. Still, broken as hell, even for a capstone.
The final PrC, the Umbral Blade, gets d10, 4+Int skills. full BAB-progression. limited maneuvers and 1/2 ref-save progression and is all about a connection to the plane of shadow, increasing power of veiled moon etc. Which is kind of cool, though I’d suggest a minor re-fluffing here, if only to avoid confusion in planar environments that lock out cross-planar effects. Using wis INSTEAD of str-mod to damage is in this context fine with me -kudos here! What leaves me utterly baffled would be “Blade of Night:” As the umbral blade’s shadow blade becomes a conduit for darkness and shadow, he is capable of opening a dread gateway within his soul to cause this darkness to surge through him and through the open conduit that is his weapon. The umbral blade may charge his shadow blade with this power as a move action, and later when needed, he may release this power as a free action as part of an attack or martial strike. This hungry and chilling darkness inflicts cold damage, and Blade of Night is added to each attack that the character makes during the round it is activated on.” What the friggin’ hell does this mean? Does it change regular damage to cold damage? If so, is there a more convoluted way to say it? I don’t get, at all, what this ability does. Which is a pity, for the signature stance of the class rocks and is really evocative in its imagery, increasing its power over the levels into essentially an area, where it nets at-will blink (no italicization in the text), bonus HP and even turning incorporeal. One potential issue – the pyramidal way martial maneuvers are organized means that the changing effective stance level can lead to some confusion here. Better stealth, hide in plain sight and shadowy apotheosis also work. Over all, another solid, if not perfect PrC.
Editing and formatting are worse than in previous Path of War-installments, with more glitches and rules-ambiguities. Layout adheres to DSP’s 2-column full-color standard and the pdf utilizes stock art that is thematically-fitting. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, with one being more printer-friendly.
I feel like I’ve jinxed it. Author Chris Bennett’s last two Path of War-supplements on the Warder and Warlord were vast improvements and had cool rules, neat ideas, streamlined design. They were not perfect, yes, but still – they worked. And honestly, the archetypes herein do mostly a good job and left me generally smiling. Then came the feats and PrCs.
All right, to make that clear – I judge this pdf not by regular PFRPG-power-levels, I don’t compare it with fighter or, whatever divine being you worship or ignore, rogues and monks, but rather by the one implied by all previous Path of War-installments. The characters therein can compete with spellcasters on a damage-output level, while not suffering from depleting resources – which changes the dynamics of the game, yes, but it remains manageable. Most abilities are single target and somewhat restricted by atk, by a balance that may not be standard PFRPG, but it exists – good, that leaves SOMETHING for the casters to do beyond utility spells. The martial PoW-classes are a bit on the short-end regarding in-class variation, so adding archetypes = exceedingly good idea. In fact, I was utterly stoked about this release. Then I read it. So many failed kitten-tests. Infinite maneuvers. And then, the feats came. Want to know how broken some are? I can name HORRIFICALLY OVERPOWERED feats by Rogue Genius Games I’d rather allow into a 15-point-buy-low-magic-game than letting “Defensive Web” get anywhere near even a mythic game. This is not an increase, it is an escalation. Not starting with the caster/martial combo-classes that make the magus run to the next corner and cry his eyeballs out. Even if you just shrug at the power-level and think “Endzeitgeist is an idiot who’s just nitpicking and complaining” – riddle me this: Do you consider PrCs that can net a whole group infinite healing good design? Nope? Thought so. This pdf is far from unsalvageable and indeed, some of the content works for me and fared exceedingly well under scrutiny/playtesting. That being said, this is still the most flawed of the Path of War installments to date and has ample issues that require fixing. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded up to 2 for the purpose of this platform.