This massive book clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page of advertisement, leaving us with 52 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, what is this? Well, a travel guide – after a one-page frame narrative that acts as a fluffy red thread suffusing the pdf, we begin with the conception of hell…and it is not like what you’d expect. Instead of envisioning hell as a traditional plane that is separate from the world it is tied to, this pdf envisions a concept of hell closer akin to AAW Games’ HEL in their Aventyr-setting. Hell, as presented in this guide, lies within the respective planet, rotating against the rotation of the planet, hovering within the core of the planet. Inside of hell, there (probably?) is its own gravity or somesuch…but alas, if you are looking for planar traits for the layers of hell (7 of which can be found, just fyi), you won’t find them. However, the write-ups (each about 1/2 a page) generally are pretty evocative, so the book has that going for it…and there actually are some unique features for hell: Blood for water, mysterious floating eyes, flesh pits – the concepts are very evocative, but they could use some actual mechanical effects.
The number 7 should make the reader hearken – and yes, the conception of hell is modeled after the feudal sins and the pdf does provide full information on the respective archdukes of hell – and, once again, the prose for these is well-crafted – in fact, I found myself enjoying these quite a bit. However, at the same time, the mechanical components of the archduke write-ups do not feature subdomains, unique boons or similar options – only title, domain, favored weapon and unholy symbol are depicted. Whether you care about that or not ultimately depends on your own expectations from such a book. Less detailed, but also with this level of crunch-coverage, 3 lesser nobles are included, before we dive into the crunchy section of the book, which begins with a take on the heavier, devilish black iron as a material with increased damage output (increased weight, counts as increased size). This alone would be strong; however, the material becomes utterly ridiculous when applied to a piercing or slashing weapon – on a critical hit versus a foe with armor (NOT on a sunder attempt), it renders the armor broken; a second crit destroys the armor. Disregard hit points, sunder rules, anything. Granted, it only works on a natural 20 crit, but that’s still better than many sundering options. Oh, and it counts as adamantine. Sure, it is even more expensive than adamantine, but still…ouch…that could have been done slightly more elegantly.
The Omen of Vengeance item lets you send forth a slightly more powerful fiendish raven (with slightly wonky, but functional wording) to harry your foes. The eye of sin is pretty OP: Occupying a headband slot, this third eye not only can be opened for the see in darkness ability, it can also, as a standard action, fire hellfire beams (5d6, 60 ft. range, touch attack) that deal half fire, half hellish damage that cannot be negated (not a big fan of that in any context). The eye can be opened for 5 minutes a day, which need to be spend in 1-minute increments and…and has no other factor to reign in the power of the eye beam. No cool-down, nothing. Fire away. No, this is not getting near my game. The mirror of the black gate is basically a simulacrum in a can, though one that will try to kill those it mimics. The pdf also features two artifact-class items – the forbidden fruit of belecor and the angelbone aegis, both of which feature an interesting array of visuals and make for nice objects – particularly the fruit, whose pit may replace a heart, further enhancing [blood]-magic…but more on that later.
The pdf does feature a selection of feats for your perusal and they are rather interesting – Runic Scars allows you to inflict piercing or slashing damage (I assume, you need to have a free hand or an appropriate weapon) to yourself to gain 11 + HD SR for Con-mod rounds and the feat allows for the lowering of the SR and lasts only for Con-mod rounds and has a hard, daily cap balancing it. In spite of the minor clarification this can use, I actually really like it. Red Nectar allows you to drink blood to gain temporary hit points based on creature HD – not kittenable…can live with it. Gaining a Fiendish Legacy is nice, but there is also skill-boost filler material or a variant of nonlethal damage dealing joined with temporary hit points. Firebrand has an issue – it nets you fire resistance that scales up to immunity at level 15 (nice) and features an explosion when you’re reduced to 0 hp…the DC is “con-based”, but does not specify the DC. I assume 10 + 1/2 HD + Con-mod, but considering that there are alternatives, spelling it out would have been nice. Somewhat OP: Diabolist’s Bond nets you +2 Cha and Con, +1 natural AC when you have a Devil summoned via the spell(s) – on its own not too bad, but I know a couple of tricks to keep this up all day. Still, not too bad. Utterly OP: Touc of Profanity: At-will touch to regain hit points and cause the sickened condition. Get one bag of celestial kittens or similar disposable do-gooders. Not a fan.
The pdf also covers an array of spells, which include the aforementioned [Blood] descriptor – such spells require the caster to deal 1 (or more, as noted in the respective spell) point of slashing or piercing damage to himself as part of the somatic component. This, unlike the aforementioned scarification feat, btw. covers the “needs utensil to inflict damage”-caveat. Similarly, the descriptor’s rules manage to account for vampires, undead sans blood and similar critters. Here’s the deal, though: spells with this descriptor ALSO render the target shaken on a failed save for the spell’s duration and save-less spells still have a duration for the effect. The pdf also codifies previously released Paizo-spells as blood magic, which is a nice touch. I do have one nitpick, though: Does the self-inflicted damage require a concentration check to complete the spell or not? This is a potentially pretty important balancing component…so yeah, I’m in a bit of a cinch here and have a hard time properly judging whether the blood spells are appropriate for their respective levels.
The pdf offers spells that feature auras of pain, lidless laser-eyes and a pretty powerful spell that conjures forth a black twin that duplicates non-spell attacks at – 3 that mirror the damage caused at 1/2 potency and increases the DC of any ability that requires a save from the original attack by 2 if the attack is successful. This presents a bit of an issue – usually, attacks are resolved one after the other, with this happening at the same time, which can mess badly with the finer components of action economy. There are some visuals here that I’ve come to enjoy from the lesser known Blood Magic and BoVD-books I used in 3.X, though they are not just cut copy pasted and instead rebuilt within the context of the blood magic championed herein. The pdf does have some aesthetic hiccups here, though: There would be blood spells that deal basically fire and acid damage, while others feature the untyped damage/fire damage duality. The latter particularly, imho overshoot their intended powerlevel. An example: Sanguine cannon requires a full-round action to cast and requires a ranged touch attack…but deals 1d6 untyped damage /2 levels (NOT caster levels) and half as much fire damage…oh, and on a failed Fort-save, the target is sickened AND knocked prone. No CMD interaction, no maximum damage cap as usual for a 2nd level sorc/wiz/summoner spell (or 1st level bloodrager/antipala). The spells aren’t *bad* per se, but they do feature minor hiccups like this throughout and GMs should be aware of their increased power.
Beyond these spells, we are introduced to new class options, the first of which would be the contractor, who receives temporary hit points equal to the total Hit Dice of devils he has summoned. Öhm, wut?? Oh, and 1/day standard action summon monster (which one?, not properly formatted…) as a standard action…which opens the old “How many actions/can the called critters act”-conundrum. The other options allow for an Imp familiar who ALSO gains the fiendish template and at higher levels, binding mortals with hellish contracts makes sense…but still…nope. The wizard most certainly did not require the extremely exploitable power-upgrade this archetype represents. Next.
The Dark Chanter cleric pays with diminished spellcasting with black benediction, usable 4 + Cha-mod rounds per day, +2 rounds per level – basically, a kind of bardic ability that allows for scaling bonuses…though the archetype fails to codify the bonus types thus gained. I like the visuals, but the execution falls behind the interesting concept. The halo hunter ranger would be, surprise, an anti-angel specialist is pretty much what you’d expect: Locked into favored enemy, any weapons treated as good outsider bane and later features the unholy property as well – which is not properly italicized herein. At high-levels, we get temporary hit points when confirming a crit versus good outsiders. An infernal companion replaces hunter’s bond (OUCH!) and similarly, the class replaces the summon nature’s ally spells with the superior summon monster spells, ultimately making the archetype stronger than the base ranger, even when pitted against foes that are not the chosen killing field – read that as: Slightly too strong. The black rider cavalier gets both Mounted Combat and Archery at 1st level and a steed that increasingly becomes more fiendish. The archetype also receives bonus feats instead of the tactician chain and a debuffing banner. He is locked into one of two new orders, one more focused on offense, one more focused on defense. A supernatural command is a nice idea, but needs a CL for suppression-interaction. The archetype may be a bit much for players, but still works; the orders similarly aren’t perfect, but they work and do offer some nice ideas.
The fiendlash magus can manifest a fire lash that may, via arcane pool points, ignore armor and shield bonuses (O.O) – partial unholy power can bypass fire resistance and higher levels allow for scaling blasts and deafening critical hits. While the rules-language has some deviations from the standard, they aren’t too bad. I can see this guy work, though, again, the omni-bypass of untyped damage and ignoring bonuses is nasty. The tongue of sin archetype would be the charm-specialist bard and the infernal chemist alchemist receives an alternate, fiend-themed mutagen. Not a fan of the fast healing gained at 5th level for obvious reason. Pit Warden druids would be, well infernal druids with diminished spellcasting and giant-summoning…actually, petty interesting one and the reduced spellcasting pays well for the increased power for the companions. Nemesis inquisitors must be female and may place marks on foes that increase the damage the target takes…and honestly, I kinda like it – it’s got an unique idea and theme and runs well with it. Odd, though – why use “he” when the archetype is female-only? Looks like a cut-copy-paste hiccup…
The next archetype would be the armiger summoner (unfortunately non-unchained, but hey…), who calls forth a ghostly standard that can be moved by the character and confer bonuses and a variety of effects to those within its range, making it basically a cool, variable buff-aura, replacing eidolon thus. At higher levels, this standard may surge with power quicker, armigers may have more standards and these spectral banners will heal and at higher levels, allies may take damage for the banner. I really like this one! The focus is radically different and taking the eidolon away kills several balance-issues of the non-unchained summoner and makes for an overall neat play experience. This one, I will actually use sooner rather than later! Kudos to the author! The sanguine soceror bloodline can damage herself to increase CLs and at higher levels, they heal when damaging foes with blood spells or utter oaths of vengeance. I can’t really judge this one’s balance due to the issue with blood-spells.
The final piece of content herein would be the Blood Knight PrC, who gains full BAB-progression, 7/10th spellcasting progression, 1/2 Fort-save progression, d12 HD and 2 + Int skills per level. The PrC needs to be able to cast 1st level divine spells and have +5 BAB. At first level, the class receives Blood Strike, which can be activated as a swift action, remaining active for 1 minute. This can be activated 1/day at 1st level, +1/day at 4th level, 7th level and 10th level. The ability nets +2 Str-bonus (Strength not capitalized) and deals + 1d6 damage (damage type not specified); at 5th level, this increases to +4/+2d6, at 10th to +6/+3d6…but whenever the blood knight makes an attack while this is in effect, he loses 10 hit points…oh, and he can’t benefit from healing while the ability is in effect, with one exception: 5th level blood knights regain creature’s HD + 1/2 it’s Constitution score, rounded down when a creature is defeated while in blood strike modus.
2nd level nets DR equal to class level and the levels provide bonuses to atk and damage with 2-handed weapons, bonus feats from a unique list and 4th and 9th level provide more hit points. 6th level provides a rend-like effect to blood strikes. At 7th level, these guys receive fast healing when below 50% or 25% maximum hit points – I assume, that this ends upon reaching 50% or 25%, respectively – some minor clarification would be neat and I’m not the biggest fan of such thresholds, but can live with them. As a capstone, the PrC receives truly devastating super strikes. I do like this PrC, but the blood strike, honestly, is too weak – the anti-healing caveat is mega-nasty and the very strictly limited daily uses mean that the PrC can’t really use its unique tricks too often. More uses and a bit of dev and rewiring can make this a neat gem; as written, it needs a bit of polish to shine, but much like the armiger archetype, it has serious potential.
We end this book as we began it – with a nice piece of prose that wraps the content up.
Editing and formatting are okay – there are numerous instances where things aren’t properly formatted and while the rules-language is generally in a shape that makes it work, it sports several nonstandard wordings and minor hiccups in the details – sometimes to the point where the integrity of the rules is influenced. Layout adheres to a pretty gorgeous, unique and hell-themed two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports thematically-fitting stock artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks.
Justice Mora’s travel guide shows a lot of potential: I really like the flavor and ideas contained herein, the alternate take on hell’s cosmology and structure makes sense and the ideas contained within in that regard are nice…but the pdf fails to follow-up he structural innovations with the rules: Planar traits, etc. – NOPE. How does hell being on earth influence planar borders? Outsiders? Can hell’s borders be expanded? The plane suddenly is finite due to existing in the material plane, so there’s a lot of cool storytelling potential – with the proper GM-tools, that section could have been amazing.
The character options feels somewhat disparate: There is an oscillation between slightly too strong and slightly too weak and similarly, editing and rules-precision are not 100% consistent. More than that, the one central gripe I have with this pdf is that it was a sequence of déjà-vus for me. While the content has been modified to fit within the paradigm of the book’s contents, most options in this book felt…like I had seen them before. This is particularly unpleasant as far as I’m concerned since the first chapters with the new take on hell provided a refreshing read. Ultimately, I only considered one of the archetypes, the buff-standard summoner (and the cavalier orders) to be sufficiently distinct apart from “let’s make class xyz infernal-themed.” The [blood]-spells are problematic, but the PrC has potential…though it does need a capable editor/dev to make it a more universally rewarding experience.
Which leaves me in a conundrum – there are quite a few things I like in this book, but the majority of the crunch feels either problematic or less inspired than the concepts deserve. You may not run into the same problem, but if you’ve read as many blood-magic takes or infernal books as I have, you will feel a distinct “been there, done that”-vibe quite a lot. This still has some value, but it falls quite short of the sourcebook it wants to be. One more thing: If the title made you expect a full-blown gazetteer or something like that, you will not be satisfied by this book. How to rate this, then? Honestly, I want to go 3 stars for this, since there are some things I really like in the book. But at the same time, the somewhat lukewarm archetype-array and half-realized chances can’t be rescued by glimpses of brilliance. I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for this one for me as a person. As a reviewer, though, I have to take into account that if you’re less experienced with hell-themed d20-books and willing to invest some time in dev-work, you’ll get some serious mileage out of this one. Due to this fact and in dubio pro reo, I will round up with my official verdict for this one. It should also be noted that, as per the writing of this review, you can get that book for a measly buck – not sure if that reduction is permanent, but it certainly is worth this very low asking price.
You can get this travel guide here on OBS!