Fehr’s Ethnology Collected
This massive compilation of Purple Duck Games’ “Fehr’s Ethnology”-series clocks in at an impressive 130 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 126 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We begin with a brief introduction of the subject matter and how to use this book before delving into the races themselves. Each of the write ups not only comes with the basic information on the race’s stats, but also extends to new race traits, alternate racial traits and favored class options. Beyond that, we get mundane and magical equipment for the respective races as well as unique racial archetypes, spells and feats – all of these help particularly in making the unique races fit within Purple Duck Games’ unique patchwork planet Porphyra. The inclusion of age, height and weight-tables for the races featured is also rather appreciated.
The first race covered would be the Avoodim. Essentially, they are a melancholic race cast down from heaven – having failed at becoming archons, they in their shame didn’t try again and hence have been sent down to earth, looking for a way, a purpose, a chance for redemption. Avoodim get +4 Con, +2 Str,-2 Dex and Cha, are native outsiders, get darkvision, celestial resistances, +2 to craft or profession-checks related to stone/metal, and +1 to atk against all outsiders, the option to use doom on foes as well as a racial susceptibility to bouts of melancholia and despair. The increased potency over the previous iteration of the race is justified via a 1/day forced reroll on a natural 20, as creation itself seeks to keep them low. (And yes, there is a feat, which, while lacking the “Benefits”-header, lets you mitigate this – and yes, the feat is more solid than in the previous pdf.
While an uncommon mechanic and while I’m not a fan of the martial bent of the race (preferring races to have both bonuses for physical and mental attributes), this balancing mechanism can be nasty…and pretty unique. It also should show you something rather significant: Unlike many compilations out there, this is not simply the sum of its parts – it has been tinkered with, retooled and changed. While not all components like traits are 100% precise in their wording à la “You may cast virtue as a spell-like ability 1/day, only on yourself.”, one can glean the intent of the range being modified to personal from this still -not perfect, but it’s functional. Similar hiccups à la “sightline” for “line of sight” and the like continue to crop up throughout the book and while they are neither glaring, nor crippling, if you’re a stickler for rules-language, you may feel a certain twitch when reading such components. At the same time, e.g. getting temporary assistance of avoodim NPCs at level-2 once per month can be pretty cool. It should be noted at the same time, that the aforementioned hiccups in rules-language are not a constant throughout this book, mind you: Some of the new archetypes/class options provided, like the anti-mook fighter “One-Man-Army” get highly uncommon, yet interesting abilities, the signature of which lends you +1 attack at your lowest BAB when attacked by more than one creature. While this looks like it can be kitten’d, that’s not the case – the requirement for even attack dispersals between valid targets prevents any cheesing of the ability – NICE.
The quadribrachial dhosari are an interesting race – flavor-wise, bred as slaves for the Erkunae, these uncommon beings not only have 4 arms they can bring to bear – their additional archetypes and material are also interesting; alas, at the same time, the race has still inherited some of the issues from the individual installment first detailing them. The pdf still does not specify, for example, whether they can wear two sets of bracers, 4 rings, etc. and I still consider their abuse-potential quite frankly too high.
The same can thankfully not be said about two of my favorite races from the original series, namely the dragonblooded and the erkunae – both races are pretty well-balanced and yes, inspired even. To the point where I allow both in my own games, though, again, the rules-language is not always perfect in either cases. The yeti-like Ith’n Ya’roo have btw. also been cleaned up: The broken feat-granting trait is gone and instead, bleed damage via bone weapons becomes feasible and the prior first level immunity to cold has been properly nerfed to a significant, but feasible immunity. Granted, the racial trait “Resistance to Cold Adaptation” should probably just read “Cold Adaptation,” but at least the ability works. This level of fixing and expansion btw. also extends to the formerly pretty ridiculously-named Hhundi (which sounded like the German equivalent of “doggie”) being renamed Kripar: Gone is the broken “roll twice” trait that constituted the race’s most grievous glitch: Instead, we get a nice race of solitary lurkers and ambush predators – and yes, now we get a proper age, height and weight table.
The psionic, mute cat-people Qit’ar still can be considered nice and e.g. a solid psychic warrior path among the new features makes sure that I am not going to revise my rather positive stance on the race – I like them. My favorite plant-race out there by now, the wonderfully weird Xesa (and perhaps the one race where I swallowed my disdain for +4 attribute-races) also are further expanded…including a psion-archetype that allows for the limited and controlled burning of Con to gain power points, which is pretty nice. The fact that they also gain +1 power per level as long as psion is their favored class, though, is too much. I’d cut that down to at least +1/2. Still, a compelling write-up. The most problematic race among the original series was the Urisk-race and while, balance-wise, I am still weary of it and consider the thematically-awesome fey-hillbillies too strong for my tastes, I should note that e.g. the highly problematic Dance of the Fey-feat has since been cleaned up and now has a precise, functional wording – so yes, such changes overall make the race better than it was before.
The book also sports new material regarding whole races, btw.: Take the Eventual:+2 to Con and Int, -2 Cha native outsiders with darkvision, electricity resistance 5, 1/day shocking grasp, at-will tongues and law affinity for sorc-spells and abilities render this law-centric variant of the outsider-blooded theme pretty solid regarding the foundation, something that thankfully generally extends to the traits and alternate racial traits. The racial feats allow you to further build on the inevitable-flavored heritage of the race. Indeed, e.g. a counterspell specialist-feat can be taken as example for what I love and hate about this book: The feat per se is solid in its intent, but we have a wording like this right in the middle: “Your Spellcraft check you must succeed at to identify an opponent’s spell is equal to 20 plus your opponent’s spell level, but you are able to cast as your counterspell any spell from the same school as the foes.” That’s the middle of the three sentences and yes, I pasted it straight from the book…and yes, it hurts me to have to complain about hiccups like this, particularly among concepts I enjoy. One spell that allows for a limited time-reversal is somewhat problematic and should be controlled rigidly by GMs, but it may also be truly outstanding for some groups. The saberhagen lawful barbarians with their rigid rage codes may be locked into a progression according to the code chosen among the 3 available, but they are interesting enough. All in all, a solid racial addition.
The second newcomer herein would be the Polkan, who is a somewhat centaur-like race that gets +2 Str and Wis, counts as monstrous humanoids, is large (but wields medium-sized armor + weapons), can see twice as far in starlight/dim light (low-light vision by any other name – why not use the proper name?), a base speed of 40 ft, +4 quadruped bonus vs. trip and limited retries on failed Diplomacy-checks. Generally, I like the race and its racial options – the feats, hoof-spikes and similar supplemental contents provided are nice; alas, much like all centaur-like race takes I’ve seen so far, the race fails to provide the proper information regarding the magic item slots it should have and neither does the race fix the old ladder-conundrum.
Now, I like to end reviews on a high note and the xenophobic, elemental-worshiping Zendiqi definitely are just that. Being one of the few races that have managed to secure a permanent place among those in my campaign – something precious few races managed to achieve, mind you, the Zendiqi are simply inspired and work well in just about any campaign – from Sword and Sorcery to high fantasy. The introduction of e.g. an archetype of the hero-point-based infinyte-class is more than welcome here: The archetype takes the narratively intriguing fluff of the base-class and expands it by a flavorful concept, introducing a kind of antibalance, a champion of change by virtue of order or chaos. Speaking of high notes: The extensive rules-index in the back of the book helps keeping tabs on all the options contained herein.
Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are pretty good. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ slightly streamlined, printer-friendly two-column standard, with quite a few nice full-color artworks and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for our convenience.
First things first: This is the type of compilation pdf for which I do not mind re-reading the whole material – this is due to two facts: 1) Perry Fehr’s fluff is excellent. While the main author of this book imho is much better with fluff than with crunch, one can see both his and Mark Gedak’s talent in the expertly-written, high-concept fluff provided herein. 2) The compilation here actually took the vast majority of the more grievous issues and balance-concerns and cleaned them up, something also by far not all compilations do. And then, there would be the SIGNIFICANT array of new material provided in this book, which I btw. only cursorily touched upon in this review.
Indeed, if this compilation did one thing right, it would be that it further expanded upon the strengths of the material herein and were I to rate concepts alone, this would be my favorite racial pdf in a long time. At the same time, however, and there is no denying that, the rules-language, while functional for the most part, is simply imprecise. I’d indeed harp on it much more, were it not for the fact that, time and again, the book gets it right..and then restarts the glitchy parts. It’s odd and somewhat frustrating, at least from a reviewer’s perspective. There is a lot of non-standard wording in these pages and if you’re like me, that may make you cringe a bit. The book, alas, also suffers from a few questions not answered regarding e.g. minor balance-concerns with some of the races herein.
The question thus is valid – to get this or not to get this? I am quite frankly hesitant to pronounce an all-out recommendation for this book, considering the hiccups contained herein – they are somewhat glaring and, at least to me, tarnish the otherwise inspired content herein. Undoubtedly, though, few books on the topic of races have managed to inspire me to the extent that this book has and fewer still had their featured races enter my game to the extent this book has. GMs confident in their abilities to iron out the rough spots and capable in determining whether a given race is for their game should definitely take a look – for the low price, this indeed is a good haul of not always perfect, but always inspiring, content that is bound to inspire with its prose, content and cool races. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 since this book does not deserve being relegated to the middle grounds.