Fall of Man
This campaign setting clocks in at 145 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of ToC, 1/2 a page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 139.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This would be a campaign-setting, and a peculiar one – after the failed KS, I did not expect to see this, but Rogue Genius Games seems to have salvaged it – NICE! So what is this about? Well, the basics, as the astute reader can glean from the introduction in in-character prose (the last half column of which oddly isn’t italicized), would be that this is a post-apocalyptic setting in our world…one with “gothic horror” spliced in.
The basic premise is that our world fused with another, Gothos (insert me groaning here at the nomenclature – loudly… And yes, I am aware that this refers to an established 3.X-setting, though admittedly one of the few I have never read.) – which happens to be a world of magic: You know, elves, goblins – the whole shebang. 2031 (or 2013 – the header of all things gets the date wrong…), the event of the merger, now colloquially known as “Satan’s Maul,” ended our civilization – striking Earth and Gothos simultaneously, it was only due to the merger that both survived – thus, what we get is pretty smart as a set-up: We get a setting that can draw upon earth’s vast canon of mythologies, while also getting full access to fantasy and post-apocalyptic tropes.
There are a couple of unique components introduced here, the first of which would be focus: Arcane Magic, Mutation, Technology, Faith (one God vs. Many Gods). At 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the character gains 1 point of focus to invest, with 10 being the cap. Some races get focus bonus points and suffer from capped foci at certain stages: Elves can, for example, not exceed 6 in technology. The idea here is great – but the execution is, quite frankly, needlessly complicated:
“When in an area with a rating equal to or less than your Focus (minimum 1), you can automatically succeed at some tasks on a natural 20, even if you couldn’t usually do so. For each point you have above the area’s rating, increase this range of success by 1.” WTF. What is “some tasks”? Can this be combined with taking 20? What does “increase this range of success” mean? Can we have this in proper rules-language?
“When in an area with an opposing rating equal to or greater than your Focus (minimum 1), you can automatically fail some tasks on a natural 1, even if you couldn’t usually do so. For each point beyond the first, increase this range of failure by 1. In this regard, arcane magic opposes technology and faith in the One God opposes faith in the Many Gods. Mutation opposes all other areas of Focus, so there is always a chance of automatic failure when in an irradiated area with a mutation rating of at least 1.” URGH. There is no such thing as “range of failure” and the wording here is VERY sloppy -define “some tasks.” Plus, this requires an annoying amount of tracking of diffuse stats. I don’t mind tracking new stats, but only when they bring something to the table. That was the BASE component – it gets better! The respective foci have different rules!
In order to cast arcane spells via your arcane class, you need arcane focus – spells above your focus require a concentration check of 10 + 2x spell level. I *ASSUME* this particular impediment stacks with other impediments, but I’m not sure. Neither am I sure whether being in an area aligned with the focus actually helps here or not – the rules don’t say anything on that matter. But it does say: ” If the spellcaster was already forced to make a caster level check due to other circumstances (such as damage taken), increase the DC of that check by twice the difference in the spellcaster’s Focus.” Twice the difference of WHAT, for crying out loud? I have no friggin’ clue what this is supposed to mean!
We were at the topic of needlessly complicated options that add nothing or next to nothing to the game, right? “If she [the character with arcane focus] has utilized her Technology Focus within the last 24 hours, the spellcaster must spend 1 standard action to refocus or make the above check when casting any spell, adding her points in the Technology Focus to the DC. Some class abilities and racial traits can remove this penalty.” So can creatures be forced to use their focus? Charmed into doing so? No idea. It gets better.
Faith Focus offers something per se pretty awesome – a focus-point-based system that allows you to pray to cast miracles – mostly SU or Ex abilities with unique properties, that should, for all intents and purposes, be SP since they often duplicate the effects of spells and the ability-interaction wrecks the whole rules-framework of interactions between creatures, spells, etc. Still, a fine concept – but one that is hopelessly weird – removing fatigue, for example, can be rather powerful for certain class-combos. Oh, and divine classes can pray as often as they like, storing up to 5x level favor…or 10x level if the character has 10+ levels in a divine casting class. Removing fatigue costs 1 point. Do the math. For 40 points, you can btw. cast Life 3 as an EX ability – if you die, you return 3 days later. Penalty? 1 temporary negative level for 1 day. “Subsequent uses of the ability cost 60 points.” – all after the first use? Do the costs stack? I didn’t get it. Still – this is an EX immortality-trick. Oh…and infinite spells as SP. Spell-level times 10. YEAH! Infinite healing at 2nd level!!! Can you feel the post-apocalyptic grit and gothic doom of infinite healing? */sarcasm*
I could go through the other foci. I won’t. I think my point is abundantly clear. The mechanic is needlessly complex, opaque and a huge mess. And that is from the guy who LIKES managing such numbers, pools and the like – I don’t object to the concept of additional stats to track, but they have to be precise and actually ADD something more than complexity for complexity’s sake. Coupled with the sloppy execution, this is a horrible mess.
More solid than aforementioned train-wreck would be the racial section – the respective races, from the canites (dog-humanoid race) to Brian Berg’s energivore race (psychic vampires) to the multi-handed hanites to the undead-ish reborn, the races per se are pretty interesting and come with favored class options and age-tables…the latter of which often simply seem to have a bunch of formatting glitches. Most races, excluding the halfling, half-orc and half-elf, gain a 5-level racial paragon-class and per se, their balance is pretty solid. Sure, the many-handed hanites with their bonus to Str make for horrible whirlwinds of death that surpass the other races, but at this point, I’ll take what I can get. A detriment in my book would be that some races are obviously geared toward specific pursuits, featuring bonuses exclusively for class-relevant ability-scores or physical attributes, making them a bit lopsided. That being said, in this case, design-aesthetic concerns fall behind the other issues of this book. Obviously, the ability-issues can be found herein as well – instead of darkvision and low-light vision with proper wording, we get both mashed up in one entry. There are a lot of cases where established rules presentation is flaunted.
The book also features new classes, the first of which would be the Asphalt Samurai – full BAB, d10, 4+Int skills, proficiency with simple and martial weapons plus katana and light/medium armor, good Fort- and Ref-saves and Technology-focus-progression + 1 per 2 levels as well as arcane focus progression of up to +7. If you expect this class to be salvageable for another setting, the first level will put an end to that: You no longer provoke AoOs with your firearm in melee and get a free katana and firearm. The class also gets a ki-pool and yes, issues even here. Annoying: The word “Samurai” always links to the respective d20pfsrd.com’s entry for the Ultimate Combat-samurai class – pretty good example of annoying, automated hyperlinking. The class per se can be considered okay – but the poor character belonging to it are all the same. No choice. No player-agenda. It’s 3.X’s long overhauled design-paradigm that results in all such classes to be the same: Even cavaliers may choose an order – this class has no choice at all. This is a pity, for there are some awesome visuals here: The class can start a ritual that costs an expensive item and puts a negative level on the samurai: Upon dying, the samurai bursts, phoenix-style, in flames, only to resurrect. The damage-output is pitiful at 14th level, though. Can this be stacked with the life 3-ish effect of the faith focus? *sigh*
The Gifted would be a full caster with access to the sorc/wiz spell-list, limited bloodlines and a per se interesting blend of magic and mutation, offering, to some extent, choice between mutation and magic. While powerful and not perfect, this is perhaps the best class of the bunch. There are some archetypes herein and a mechanist base-class, which would perhaps be relevant with its sniping and mechanical companion…if I couldn’t spontaneously name more than 5 classes that occupy this niche and do a better job/are more versatile. In an unfortunate turn of events, we have btw. overlaps regarding the names of an archetype and an ACG-class. Said archetype can btw. create items via the expenditure of spell slots – the ability is solid and prevents the old sell-stuff-abuse…in one way. The arcanist can still create keys for any lock the PCs happen to find.
A basic issue with this pdf is that the authors obviously do not grasp the finer components of several rules in PFRPG. Take the per se flavorful Dreamwalker monk archetype. The first level ability has the following text:
“At 1st level, the dreamwalker can cast Sleep[not properly italicized] at will as a spell-like ability. His caster level is equal to his level of dreamwalker, and he uses his Wisdom to determine the saving throw. Once per day, the dreamwalker can choose to affect creatures with the most hit dice first. He can do this one additional time per day for each level of dreamwalker he possesses plus one time per day for every four levels he has in any other class. This ability replaces Stunning Fist.” Sleep has a 4-HD-cap, which renders it useless even at 1st level versus certain foes; beyond those, it’s save-or-suck. Why not use a limited version of the slumber-hex-instead? And seriously, I can 1/day affect the 4HD-creature first? Wow…let’s gear up! Kidding aside, the fluff is cool, but making an efficient monk already isn’t that easy. With abilities like this, it’s much, much harder…
There also is a teamwork/bonus-feat granting bard – and yes, the archetype can grant allies Vital Strike, for example. And the ability lacks information on what it replaces. For the sake of your patience and my sanity, I’ll fast-forward through the rest of the archetypes – they’re okay, but nothing you probably haven’t seen before in some way or another and all share a certain predilection towards glitchy rules-language and issues in the finer components of the material.
The skill-section introduced the new “Drive”-skill and new skill-uses and we also get a bunch of feats – both new and updated. The feats themselves are pretty odd – why should I, for example, as an asphalt samurai take a weaker, feat-based version of a class ability I gain later? Once you get the ability, the feat’s a dead, wasted slot unless you’re playing with rules for retraining.
If all of this sounds nasty, well, there also are some interesting components here – since economy collapsed with the maul, we get concise and complex bartering rules – the rules per se are pretty concise, though ultimately, they’re not too easy to use – whether you’ll use them or not depends on your own preference, though I considered the rules-language, once again, more opaque than it should have been, rendering some components harder to grasp than they imho should have been. The system is also pretty complex, with me quite honestly not being sold of the added complexity being worth the pay-off.
On the plus-side, I do not have (much) to complain about in the equipment-section. Mutation and the Mutant 10-level PrC are pretty nice concepts – though I quite honestly do not get why the book does not simply utilize evolutions as a more detailed and diverse way of expanding the mutations: As written, there is not that much choice between mutations. The granted claw/claw/bite-mutation deviate from the wording standards and, worse, the default damage by size in PFRPG…same song and dance.
Fall of Man also assumes the following systems: Armor as Damage Reduction. Called Shots. Vehicles. Vigor and Wounds. All of these systems have 2 things in common: They are good ideas and look fine on paper. They also do not survive contact with gaming reality particularly well. I’ve tried all of them and the result of all of them ultimately boils down to the basic system’s math simply not being intended for them. I actually managed to run a few modules with exactly this combination with a lot of fixes to account for them – they CAN work. Unfortunately, that is predicated on damage-scaling, lethality-changes, etc. – i.e. a detailed, rock-solid rules-foundation. Fall of Man lacks this foundation.
Okay, but there are some good points to be drawn from this book: The gamemastering-section is pretty decent and sports some nice infos – the setting itself, the settlement tables…all that has potential…though the latter deviates from the settlement rules of PFRPG. The pdf has some solid monster and NPCs, though scavenging them is less feasible due to the amount of variant rules employed. The pdf concludes with a boring, lackluster sketch of an introductory module that ranks among the blandest of the kind I’ve seen so far.
Editing and formatting are nowhere near to the standard I expect from Rogue Genius Games – or any 3pp, for that matter. Formally, the text is okay, but a serious lack of grasp of rules-language essentially destroys this whole book for me. There are simply too many deviations, hiccups and issues. Layout adheres to a solid 2-column standard with pretty broad borders that sport a pale version of an artwork, needlessly draining your ink/toner if you print it out. The pdf sports numerous nice full-color artworks – that’s a plus! It’s also excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The hyperlinks are the sloppy kind, with each mention of e.g. iron will, whether it refers to the feat or not, referring to the feat.
I HATE writing reviews like this. Apologies to Ken Shannon, Doug Herring, Andrew Troman and Hal Greenberg. I’m honestly sorry. I tried liking this book. Fall of Man could have been good and the remnants of what Gothos was can still be seen here and there. I hear the setting was pretty nice. Alas, there’s not much left. The variant rules used would have required fixes and a solid foundation – the pdf does not offer them. Name the glitch, it’s in here. Name the issue, it’ll crop up. Rules-wise, this is pretty broken.
Worse, it’s also thematically broken – or at least, advertised falsely. If I had to sum this up in one sentence, it would be: “Amethyst Renaissance, but not as smart, concise, well-presented, compelling or diverse.” And yes, I am aware that Amethyst’s PFRPG-conversion very much is influenced by its 4th edition version – I still consider it to be vastly superior. Fall of Man tries to be post-apocalyptic, but alas, in that component, Sneak Attack Press’ Broken Earth mops the floor so hard with it, it’s not even funny anymore. It is billed as “Gothic Horror” and I have NO IDEA WHY. This has NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING AT ALL to do with gothic horror. Psychology? Monsters representing repressed desires? Labyrinthine buildings as metaphors for the psyche? Nope. The only analogue I could find was Castle of Otranto plus Satan’s Maul – and that one is VERY thin and stretched.
The grand issue of this book lies in the fatal flaws in the rules-language, coupled with a highly schizoid thematic identity-crisis that makes the theme of the book feel like it’s all over the place: As a rule-book, this fails. As a campaign setting, it fails even worse, since this book left me with next to nothing regarding the world after the fall – unlike Amethyst Renaissance, where a vast array of details and complex issues were negotiated, this, at the best of times, glances over them. Where Thunderscape provides great magitech rules, Broken Earth provides all those cool post-apocalyptic rules and this one…just fails in all components. Add to that remnants of 3.X design-philosophy and we get a wreck of a campaign setting, a book, which, much like the setting it champions, feels like it was birthed from two books, smashed together, with neither of the original books intact – both lack crucial information and refinement. I read this book 3 times, combing through it, looking for nice things to say – this review is the result. After finishing it, I let it simmer for 2 more weeks. I reread it. No change.
I cannot recommend this book to anyone – not even for scavenging purposes. There’s not even enough fluff to make this a good purchase for those only interested in reading fluff/about the world. In the *VERY BEGINNING* of the system’s iteration, this may have been 2 stars – by now there are so many infinitely better takes on ALL concepts herein, it’s just sad. This book has the dubious honor of being the very worst campaign setting I’ve reviewed so far…and the dubious honor of being the worst post-apocalyptic crunch-book I’ve reviewed so far.
My final verdict will clock in at 1 star. Get Broken Earth, Anachronistic Adventurers, Thunderscape, Pure Steam and combine rules there with e.g. Vathak, Obsidian Apocalypse, anything, really – the result will, even in the hands of a novice GM without any decent grasp of finer rules-interactions, be probably more refined than this book’s contents – and has the benefits of utilizing an actually concise setting.