This pdf is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content – quite a bit of ground to cover, so let’s dive in!
After a short intro-narrative, we get the first new base-class, the combat medic, who gets full BAB, good fort and will-saves, d8, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all shields (and even tower shields) – and no spells. Yes. This is actually a healer-class that doesn’t use divine spells – so let’s look at whether this works out: Essentially, they get a special ability called “Field Medicine” that allows you to expend a use of your healer’s kit as a standard action to grant a target temporary hit points that cannot exceed the character’s maximum hp. These temporary hp only last for wis-mod hours and a total of 1d6 + wis-mod hp per use of the healer kit are netted by the ability. At 3rd level and every two level after that, the ability is upgraded by +1d6. A combat medic can use this ability unlimited amounts of time per day, the only limit being the amount of healer’s kit charges available. Each use of the ability refreshes the duration of field medicine, allowing you to keep your allies patched together until they can collapse into a bed. Also, 3+wis times per day, a combat medic can heal the same amount of damage to an unconscious creature below 0 Hp.
Beyond that, the class may expend 10 gp worth of herbs to make supplements for allies that net them bonuses: Remember Starcraft stimpacks? Yeah. Essentially, combat medics can buff allies to deal +2 damage (scaling up to +8), but also take damage every time they attack (up to 4 hp damage), make targets faster (or boost defenses) at the cost of accuracy or reduce the amount of required sleep at the cost of the target’s willpower. Healing is also increased at later levels, counting 1s and 2s at higher levels as higher results. They also learn at higher levels to expend healer’s hit uses to cure ability damage and starting at 10th level, they may convert some of their temporary hp-healing into properly healed hp and finally even return the dead to life.
The combat medic is linear – and painfully so – why painfully? Because it’s a great concept with an awesome execution: A non-magical, non-divine healer, essentially the one class gritty, divine magic-less dark settings always required. Mundane healing as the default versus the miraculous powers of the rare agents of the divine. Yes, we get one archetype, the doctor, which is slower and takes more resources to heal, but also “properly2 heals targets, but the class per se is PAINFULLY linear. Choosing from some bonus feats does not a compelling class make – essentially, the per se awesome class lacks any meaningful choices on the side of the player, which is a huge pity, for the base mechanics work well and are really cool – but as written, the linearity of the class does detract from its appeal and especially replay-value.
The second new class would be the shadow knight, who gets d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, proficiency with shields (not tower shields), simple and martial weapons and light as well as medium armors and good fort- and ref-saves. Their first ability would be shadow assault – 1/day (+1/day at 4th level and every 3 levels afterwards) as a swift action, they can get class-level as bonus to damage (2 times that much if the target is flatfooted) versus a foe in dim light or darker conditions. Furthermore, the shadow knight gets cha-mod as deflection to AC versus this foe and AUTOMATICALLY bypasses any DR. Not a fan of the latter, though the limit of uses per day keeps the ability viable. The class also gets darkvision/ increased darkvision range and one rather cool ability – shadows conceal the face of shadow knights, making identifying shadow operatives harder and protecting their privacy. Furthermore, the cloak gets multiple layers and several abilities of the class are based on expending the shadow cloak. At 3rd level and every 3 levels after that, the shadow knight also gets a so-called shade, essentially their version of talents. Shades only work when in dim or darker light conditions or to targets of their shadow assault ability. These shades include blur-effects, the ability to expend the shadow cloak for an instant AoO as a riposte for a missed attack or using stealth while observed. The shades also are organized by levels, with new ones becoming available to extend the basic roster of 4 at 6th level, 9th level, 12th level and 15th level. Some of these actually are rather ingenious – targets of shadow assaults for example can be forced to treat terrain in dim light/darkness as difficult terrain or silence foes hit by their shadow assault. At 15th level and above, assassination also becomes possible – while usually, I’d complain about save or die, at levels this high it’s probably appropriate. They also can create darkened areas and bond shadowy spirits with their weapons, enhancing them or alternatively gain a variant shadow companion. All in all, a solid shadow-themed shadow operative/vigilante class that comes with three archetypes:
The Shadow of the Beast is essentially the one archetype for fans of the “The Darkness”-comic books and games and, instead of a regular shadow bond, gains touch attacks with reach and deadly effects, actually also reducing the damage received from the target’s first attack the round it is damaged by the amount of damage the beast inflicted before, essentially allowing you to nova power-wise by invoking the beast. The second archetype, the Night Warrior, may use his/her abilities to get minor fast healing, DR equal to cha-mod for her/his turn etc. The third archetype does not have the sub-header denoting it as an archetype for the shadow knight and also has a blank line between two abilities missing. All in all, it essentially the option for those wanting to play shadow knights with unarmed strikes and increase shadow cloak layers via attacks – a lost chance, though, as combining ki and/or flurry of blows with the shadow knight’s signature powers would have made for a truly interesting concept. Oh well. All in all a solid shadow-themed base-class with some uncommon mechanical decisions that I expected to be utterly bored by, but which turned out surprisingly fun.
Next up are two new 10-level-spanning PRCs – the first being the Brother of the Vulture, who gets 7 levels of spellcasting progression, full BAB, good fort and will-saves. I’d also tell you how many skill points the PrC gets – but that information is missing from the pdf including even the list of class skills available! That’s just sloppy. Fluff-wise, the brothers are servants of the forgotten old deity known as the vulture king and they get celestial vulture companions which may harry foes and impede them and at higher levels even channel your spells. They also get anti-undead/life-related abilities. Personally, I’m not too big a fan that the vulture’s harrying is counteracted by a will-saves instead of a CMB/CMD-solution. Also: While I get WHY the vulture does not incur AoOs from entering opponent’s squares, there’s an in-game issue of logic here – so other incredibly agile creatures provoke AoOs but those birds don’t? Don’t get me wrong, I get the MECHANICAL decision, but in-game, at least to me, it opens up a logical conundrum.
The second PrC, the Legendary Wielder, gets d10, full BAB, good fort-saves and a list of class skills (Yeah!) but again, no information on how many skills per level the class is supposed to get. *sigh* Even basic editing should notice the lack of such crucial pieces of information. Concept-wise, the class gets a ki-pool and invests ki into his/her signature weapon, which may be studded with special qualities -at 1st level the maximum equivalent of +1, at 2nd the equivalent of +2 etc. I GUESS the enhancement is additional to already existing enchantments, but the ability never specifies. When adding a +1 to a +2 base weapon, does that count as +1 or +3? I assume the former, but a tighter wording here would have been appreciated. Also: What happens if the item is destroyed? The PrC never specifies the penalty, if any, to choose a new legendary item or whether a new item would require to be the same weapon category/type. And yes, starting 2nd level only artifacts can sunder the weapon and it can be reforged, but at 1st level, it still can be destroyed so that’s a massive hole in the rules. The PrC also gets a selection of different talents to choose from at 3rd level and every 3 levels after that. There is a shockwave with DR-ignoring falling damage (weird) and the PrC may use their weapons to make combat maneuvers the weapon can’t usually perform for a limited amount of time per day – per se a good idea, but one that imho would have been better suited for an ITEM-ENHANCEMENT/QUALITY than a temporarily available power – it would make the PrC work more logical in the context of a world. That being said, overall, these ki-powered legacy powers per se are an ok representation of kensai-style characters.
After that, we get a new type of feat, so-called strategy feats, which take up most of the 21 new feats included herein. Strategy-feats use a mechanic called strategic arc, which covers 20 ft. + 5 ft. per point of int- or cha-mod. Also, each such feat nets you one brilliance point, which can be expended as a free action for increased benefits. And generally, I really love the idea – the feats per se are an awesome concept and one deserving of further support and/or even a full-blown class. Unfortunately, though, there’s a “however” lurking in the wings here – and much to my dismay, it’s a big one. The rules language in these feats SUFFERS. Significantly. First of all, it suffers from sloppy editing that forgets to print “Brilliance” in bold or properly uses game-terms: “Non actions” for example are not a fixed term – usually we’d speak of “not an action”. That’s nitpicky, though, as would be complaining about the numerous punctuation errors that at least to me, partially obfuscated the intent of some feats. What’s not nitpicky, but grievous are sentences like:
By spending a brilliance point as a swift action
allies may utilize the benefits of feats that directly improve
a combat maneuver if the feats are possessed by you, or an
ally adjacent to them until the start of your next turn.
What if said feat has a prerequisite allies don’t have? Do they get access to said prerequisite-feat’s benefits as well? With the amount of feat-trees out there, that’s significant. Or take Improved Combo Style:
Benefits: Adjacent allies gain the benefits of all feats associated
with one of your styles. Your allies do not gain any ki
points or other feats that the style may be related to.
Brilliance: Spend 2 brilliance points to grant the benefit to
all allies within your strategic arc for 1 round.
I don’t have to tell you how broken that feat is, do I? Even cursory scrutiny should make your head spin with the plentitude of options with which this can be abused to all hell. Or take the text from the Learned Deed-feat:
Allies in your strategic arc may spend 1 of your
grit points to use one of your deeds. They must then pay
that cost as normal.
So do they spend your grit and then again grit? Do they have to have their own pool? What if they don’t have a grit pool? What do they spend? Unfortunately just about every feat herein has some sort of wording/rules-ambiguity in the waiting that lays waste to what could have easily been one of the most celebrated classes of feats. Hence the strategist cavalier archetype also doesn’t work.
Editing and formatting are this pdf’s downfall. While in no way catastrophic, the rules-language is severely flawed and impeded by the above-average amount of punctuation glitches and similar lesser issues that accumulate to the point where they partially obfuscate the rules. Layout adheres to a parchment-background two-column standard with neat pieces of original full color artwork and the pdf comes bookmarked (with one dead bookmark), but not extensively so – don’t expect e.g. bookmarks to single archetypes or feats.
Oh boy do I want to love this pdf. The combat medic class has potential galore, but is impeded by its linearity. The Shadow Knight is ok, I guess, but didn’t completely blow me away, mainly because I felt like some of its abilities could have used a slight rephrasing to come off as clearer. And then the PrCs hit – and can’t be used, lacking class skills and skills per level and honestly, being both not that captivating. The Brother of the Vulture e.g. being problematic in in-game logic, the Legend Wielder lacking imho necessary information. And then there are the strategy feats – a glorious idea – sloppily executed. In fact, that’s more or less the tragedy of this pdf – it has this certain spark of brilliance, of great ideas, its instances where it works just as it should and delivers something awesome – and then it buries that brilliance under a sludge of avoidable glitches, unnecessary omissions and ambiguities. Editing a rules-supplement isn’t exclusively about typos and punctuation, it’s about getting the rules-language as easily understandable as possible to the reader – and here the pdf falls flat on its face – while showing at the same time that it could have done so much better. It’s a bit like a potential straight A intelligent, gifted student who can’t be bothered doing basic chores and thus ends up scoring mediocre results due to a lack of polish.
Glitch-wise, I’d usually rate this down to one star, but I do like its potential and I do want to love this pdf and in fact, partially do -hence my final verdict will clock in at 2 stars. That being said: Aspiring designers out there, take heed, especially if you don’t like divine healing: Slap some talents or some other options to actually make meaningful choices on the combat medic and you have a glorious class worth the asking price..