The Flavour Handbook
This massive book clocks in at 96 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial,2 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 89 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved forward in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
This pdf does not waste any time, beginning almost immediately by depicting a new base class for your perusal, which, what else could it be, would be the chef. The chef base class, chassis-wise, gets d8 HD, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves as well as proficiency with simple weapons and light armor and shields. They may also use all kitchen-utensils as improvised weapons sans penalties, with some samples given – tenderizers work like light maces, woks make for shields, etc. As a nitpick, since this probably was not intended, considering the proficiencies: The class RAW gets proficiency with tower shields since it lacks the exclusion caveat for this item class.
Chefs add their class level to Profession (Cook) and may always take 10 on their check. Additionally, they may earn check result gold instead of half that amount, with higher levels increasing that further – including freebies in proper restaurants and later even potentially titles, with 20th level allowing them to cook for a god’s discerning palate – potentially resulting in granted wishes or miracles. The spells are not italicized correctly in the text.
At 1st level, chefs may prepare special meals – these meals grant all characters participating in their consumption one of several benefits of the chef’s choice, +1 such benefit at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Here, we do have some issues in the mechanical details of the class. For one, the ability is supernatural – which is nice. But the benefits are extraordinary, which, to me, makes more sense. Why can’t a chef prepare such a meal in a magic-dead environment? More significant: there are 6 such benefits…which means all of them are covered at 13th level…but here’s the issue: The rules-language of the benefits is flawed. to say the least. While e.g. “+5 temp hp” makes me cringe, it’s functional. More problematic: With the exception of one bonus-granting ability, the bonuses conferred are morale bonuses. You know, the bonuses that are the most common ones? The ones where only the highest one applies? Here is where the clusterf*** begins: “All bonuses stack and are extraordinary in nature.” Okay, so these stack with themselves…but they also stack with other morale bonuses? This is needlessly confusing, potentially a source of a lot of GM-confusion and frankly unnecessary. The ability should also note that one benefit can be chosen multiple times, which it doesn’t – meaning that RAW, you run out of things to choose at 13th level. That being said, on a lighter side, the class does have a nice caveat that prevents multiple chefs from stacking benefits via multiple meals.
Also starting at 1st level, chefs may prepare snacks – these act like potions brewed with Brew Potion, but utilize Profession (Cook) as governing skill. Here is where things get problematic fast: Chefs have a recipe book for them, begin with “3+Wis bonus” (that should be 3 + Wisdom modifier) recipes…drawn from ANY spellcasting list. Yes, this means these guys can, very quickly, prepare all those nifty paladin, ranger, etc. spells. A restriction of spell-lists imho would have helped here. Another issue: The Brew Potion FEAT requires 3rd level CL as a prerequisite; the pdf ought to refer to the alchemist’s Brew Potion extraordinary ability instead – RAW, the chef can’t create a single snack or at least has an issue as far as CL is concerned. The ability does specify that new snacks are learned as per the rules of formulae, but unfortunately, the brewing component is not included in that one. Now I know, I know – I’m a nitpicky prick. One can sort of understand how this is *supposed* to work…but fact is, RAW, it doesn’t. Which is painful to me, since the class has a pretty cool idea with “fresh snacks” – 1/10th the cost, but an expiration date of 24 hours and a significantly decreased time to prepare – only 1 hour. This ability may be good scavenging material! Also at 1st level, chefs get fire and cold resistance 4, +2 every level, until 20th level turns that into immunity – and the benefits of these resistances stack with other resistances.
Starting at 3rd level, the chef can make a melee touch attack against metallic objects to alter temperature, potentially dealing +2d4 fire or cold damage as well ashaving a utility use to keep armor warm (or cool) as a swift action- sounds cool, right? It is! But the rules-language once again lacks precision “This ability can be applied to up to a number of objects equal to 1 + 1 “per point of Wisdom bonus” *cringes at rules-language*. Okay, I’ll play – does that mean the ability can be used 1+Wisdom modifier times per day? I assume no and that it instead can be applied an indefinite amount of times, with the cap denoting parallel uses, since duration is indefinite. The utility use can protect from “inclement heat or cold” – specify! There are different degrees of cold and heat weather hazards! The ability further specifies that it can cause “armor to deal the listed damage to any foe striking the wearer with a natural attack or unarmed strike.”…Does that mean that the wearer of the armor thus heated/cooled down also takes the damage? The damage increases by +1d4 at 5th level and every 2 levels thereafter…and reads “the chef may choose to deal an additional 1d4 fire or cold damage with this ability.” Does that mean you have to choose either fire or cold to get the damage-boost on a given level? Or does the “or” here mean that both damage types are increased. No idea. Worse: The ability is OP: It can be maintained at will, so touch an armored foe, teleport away…the guy will die. Armor takes a LONG time to take off. It’s the cadre of knight-assassinating chefs, I guess…*sigh*
Starting at 2nd level and every other level thereafter, the chef gains access to culinary arts, the talents of the class – and they generally are interesting: Meals that grant bonuses to Intelligence or Wisdom and being able to instead have a result of class level instead of what you rolled on a Knowledge check. Also cool: Caliente lets you fling blinding/scent-negating spices as a ranged touch attack – that provides no immediate save, but allows a creature to take a move action to rub the spices away (Fortitude-save versus DC 10+ 1/2 chef level + chef’s Wisdom modifier) and the pdf also extends the benefit-options of meals to fire and cold resistances. Other such options grant skill bonuses (and yes, skills are not properly capitalized) or…”+1 fast healing when below 1/2 of full hp.” Okay, does “full hp” include temporary hit points? Why is there no cap for the fast healing provided? How does it interact with natural healing? If you e.g. eat a meal and rest, is natural healing added after reaching the 1/2 maximum HP? No idea. Also, in case you have not noted – this is infinite healing. Limited infinite healing, but infinite healing nonetheless, which disqualifies this class for grittier rounds for which the class seems to be otherwise geared. Also interesting – you need a feat to have the meal of the chef count as something to postpone the effects of starvation…which is extremely counterintuitive and not noted in the base ability. Btw.: If a talent has prerequisites, that also does not conform to how such prerequisites are usually presented for class talents, instead sporting a feat-like prerequisite note in the beginning.
Balance also is a bit wonky with some: Evil chefs may add HD of a dragon, humanoid, fey or monstrous humanoids or class levels to make better meals that provide +1 benefit per 5 HD/class levels of the creature eaten – which is per se cool, but how long do such creatures last? Could a chef pickle meat of a powerful dragon? If so, how much? Another issue: The base talent specifies that only creatures with an Int below 2 can be cooked, a restriction that should be RAW alleviated by the follow-up talent. Delayed poisons, immunity to fear or poison and diseases…there are quite a few such immunities granted to the chef. Granting Extra +X feats via meals and making class specific meals for allies is smart – here, for once, let me express being pretty impressed by the craftsmanship of the rules. I also enjoyed the talent that lets you make leshy. 20th level provides an array of different capstones -a total of 5 of them.
All in all, the chef has potential, but a lot of rough edges to file off…and it doesn’t play that interesting. You prepare your snacks and they are basically all flexibility you get. You make meals…and that’s pretty much it. Playing a chef is a very passive experience.
The class does feature a lot of favored class options, which generally are nice. Cooler, though: The pdf sports 6 sample recipes – and yes, I tried the dwarven pickled carrots and the tiefling scones. Nice and tasty! The pdf does sport several archetypes: Olfactory arcanist wizards are interesting: They require more expensive aromatherapy to learn spells instead of spellbooks, but may “cast the same spell again without using a spell slot” one round after casting a spell. And YES, this cannot be abused and has a caveat that prevents you from getting infinite casting loops…though the archetype does end up being VERY strong.
Hungry barbarians get less rounds of rage per day, but can prolong their rage by eating food via a standard action…or by inflicting 10+ points of damage with a bite attack. …I have a barbarian with a bite attack in my game. He can’t, EVER, NOT deal eat least 10 points of damage with a bite in range. If my barbarian had this ability, he’d run around with a bag of kittens, tear foes asunder with his claws and bite off the head of a kitten once per round for infinite rage…or until the kittens run out *sigh* Oh, and they can eat slain foes to regain rage, which is where the kitten-abuse just becomes ridiculous. Not gonna get near my table – in either the normal or Pathfinder Unchained-compatible version.
The food fighter is basically a chef/fighter crossover, while the Ale-chemist gets less bomb damage (die-size reduced by 1) and lasting splash damage and it’s cool that this one has a splash-weapon abuse caveat…but at the same time, the rules-language, while pretty solid, is less precise than it should be. The archetype also can’t decide whether it’s alechemist or ale-chemist. Mutagens make the ale-chemist drunk and can cause nonlethal damage to creatures by pouring alcohol on weapons…cool! I really love this one, though I wished it had a tighter rules-language. Still, one that is fun and one I can see using myself.
Fruit ninjas can grow poisonous fruit…and regain ki by eating meals. *Sigh* Insert rant on eliminating the limit on a class resource. Also: At 8th level, they gain +2 damage per weapon damage roll they already made that round. Okay, does that include AoOs? I assume it does. But seriously – are shurikens and flurry of stars not nasty enough already? *sigh*
The bad apple antipaladin is interesting – they can smite regardless of alignment and teach this ability to paladins! Oh, and they can clothe foes in auras of evil, get an aura of rot, etc. – the bad apple spoils the bunch…and yes, while observing spellcasters preparing spells, they may potentially steal them. Absolutely awesome archetype, in spite of some minor hiccups in formatting. The vegetarian druid gets plant shapes and loses all animal-specific spells. The bunslinger thrown weapon specialist is pretty cool as well. The butcher chef would be the full BAB-version of the class, with hungry monks replacing flurry of blows with ever increasing, precise Vital Strikes…and yes, once again with an unchained version.
Fighting food summoners create animated creatures of food instead of an eidolon, which as such count as animated objects with increasing evolution points. And yes, once again, including an unchained version.
The pdf also introduces new feats: Calorie feats include burning of consumed meals, with uses beyond the number of meals consumed, tallying up to days of starvation. Constitution checks can be made to mitigate those days of starvation and increase DCs. While negative conditions incurred by starvation are brutal, the chances to die are rather minimal. The food-feats herein are nice, but aforementioned claorie-feats that allow for the burning of meals…are pretty damn OP. Why? BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO LIMITS. The one limit they have is “not dying due to damage” – we get CL-enhancers, attribute boosts and even more actions. 30 meals equal, for example, two full-round actions. The math is nowhere near functional regarding these feats, which is a pity, since idea-wise, I can get behind them. They’d just need stricter limits per round – as written, a creature can hold 3+Constitution modifier meals, with Large creatures holding 4 times as much and every additional size category allowing for 8 times this capacity. A single Large PC or one grown via magic by size completely breaks down any semblance of balance.
The spells in this book, on the other side, do not suffer from these issues: Linking stomachs, meal-eliminating hunger (including mythic upgrades) – no complaints here. The magic item section is also very creative – with weapons that take samples from foes for further use in spells to armor that makes you look appetizing or whisky ioun stones (erroneously called “Ion” stone in the beautiful full-color artwork), the items are creative and fun – though the formatting of aura, price and construction requirements, while complete, still violate just about EVERY formatting standard established for them. The pdf does also offer quite a lot of material for GMS – from 100 adventure hooks themed around cuisine to considerations of exotic ingredients, the importance of trade and food and the like, these chapters did indeed provide… wait for it…food for thought! HA! …Sorry, I’ll hit myself later for that. What I’m trying to say is: This chapter does offer several cool ideas for GMs. Kudos!
Editing and formatting are a two-edged sword: On a formal level, both are pretty great, particularly for a new publisher. Rules-language and particularly its formatting is one of the worst components of the pdf. If there is any component of rules-formatting, chances are the pdf will break it – spells are not italicized, Attributes not capitalized, etc. This would be fine and dandy and cosmetic…but such standards exist for a reason – they prevent glitches and issues. Layout adheres to a beautiful full-color standard that champions a 1-column standard. While I’m not a big fan of 1-column-standards, it works here. Btw.: This book sports a lot of gorgeous full-color artworks and comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Gregory Ducker’s freshman offering is generally a perfect example for a freshman offering that sports all the makings of a talented and artful designer…but also all the pitfalls. The pdf, in many cases, manages to get complex rules-operations right…kind of. At the same time, its rules-language often downright fails to adhere to the established standards, making quite a few components needlessly opaque or harder to grasp than they should be. From information of base abilities hidden in optional talents to rules being spread out, the pdf is not didactically well-constructed. Similarly, there are quite a bunch of balance-concerns and violations of the finer, implicit conventions that make up crucial balancing mechanisms of Pathfinder. And frankly, these accumulate.
I’m a HUGE fan of the concept of fantasy cooking and the recipes included are pretty cool; similarly, this pdf does show care, passion and that it certainly was created by someone who deeply cared about the subject matter – this book has soul. I just wished it had a proper balancing editor, a more active base class and an editor familiar with the peculiarities of PFRPG’s rules-language. Why? Because this book gets almost everything almost right. Almost. De facto, all class features of the chef have at least one issue in the rules-language, even when ignoring formatting deviations. And then there is simply the problem that size-increases blow the whole meal/consumption mechanics completely to smithereens.
So…mechanically, this requires A LOT of careful work by a capable GM to work properly. And honestly, even taking the significant array of cool ideas and fluff into account, I’d usually round down for this one…but since this is a freshman offering, it gets the benefit of the doubt: I will round up from my final verdict of 2.5 stars to 3 for the purpose of this platform.
To close with something positive: This book shows a lot of promise and I certainly hope that the author will continue to hone his craftsmanship. There is potential here.