The Guide to the Cult of Shub-Niggurath
This pdf clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, first of all, we begin with a history of the deity and origins – which brings me to a crucial point: The Shub-Niggurath presented herein does differ a bit from the depictions in traditional Lovecraftiana; in case you’re not that familiar with Shattered Skies campaign setting, the brief description would be that it represents a fantasy setting that employs the mythos as one of its governing leitmotifs. However, unlike the horror-themed settings and games, the focus, while taking the horrific into account, very much appropriates the tropes and puts them in a fantasy setting. As such, we have ostensible connections between the deities of Celmae and the great old one. Beyond the contextualization of the deity within Celmae’s fantastic cosmology, we also are introduced to the plurality of cults that can be found, here distinguished from another by the “horn” of the dark mother they represent; the first horn would be the dark forest denizens, emphasizing the collective over the individual; the second horn represents the highly individualistic scholars and sages and madmen beings. No matter the direct representation of the ideology, maddening visions and narcotics, strange rites and odd ritual combats are noted, as are non-human worshipers.
The pdf does not stop there and notes three evocative and strange unholy sites of the dread cult. The duties of the clergy of the dread Shub-Niggurath is also explained, though here, the cult in Celmae receives two favored weapons, which can cause some minor confusion in the context of favored weapon bonuses. That being said, the pdf does note that daggers make for an alternative featured in settings like Golarion. The pdf also features notes of the priestly vestments used by the cult and the role of adventurers among the faithful of the dread entity. The pdf also takes a cue from Inner Sea Gods in that it contains several unique unholy texts and festivals, with several nice proverbs adding further detail and substance for this belief…and yes, relations with other beings are pretty much as strained and problematic as you’d expect them to be, though some of the deities of Celmae actually could be considered to be allies of the dread cult. The pdf also sports two fluff-only write-ups of demonic servants that can act as planar allies and features a brief write-up of the demiplane known as “The Garden”, which sprang from a rather dark origin, created by the Dark Prince of Auspice, a semi-mythical bard. (Kudos if you got the reference.)
Let me briefly talk a bit about this first section of the pdf: Contrary to my experience, I ended up enjoying this section. While it is my fervent belief that over-explanation has subverted the horror-aspect of the Great Old Ones, this pdf does offer a nice alternative. You see, Shub-Niggurath’s aspect as a primordial being of rampant fertility obviously does not translate that well to PFRPG if you wish to retain a PG-rating. Similarly, the existence of deities, planes etc. undermines the cosmic nihilism that makes up the true horror of what Lovecraft envisioned – thus, these entities don’t work in their original intentions UNLESS you have a setting like Fat Goblin Games’ excellent “Shadows over Vathak” that is intentionally structured around this notion, a section where the existence of a benevolent deity-level entity is highly dubious. (Srsly, Vathak is great for horror!)
This pdf thus does something different – it embraces Shub-Niggurath as not simply the Great Old One incarnation, but instead firmly places it within the context of fantasy. This does take away the concept of existential horror associated with Shubbi, but at the same time, it works better than in comparative fantasy settings. The prose that presents the cult works well, and while some typo-level glitches like doubled “and”s and the like do exist, as a whole, the prose is pretty nice. So yeah, kudos – not what I expected and better off for it.
The pdf also sports a collection of 8 feats. Abominable Rites is interesting – it lets you change the fatigued condition to shaken or vice versa a limited amount of times per day. Confused Rage is also intriguing – you may voluntarily enter a confused rage upon raging, voluntarily giving you the confused condition, but letting you roll twice…and get a +3 untyped bonus to melee damage, but also versus yourself – this would be one of several feats that requires a Wisdom score of 11 or lower, which is a design-paradigm I very much enjoy. Another such feat nets you +2 to saving throws and melee damage rolls versus the fear’s source while shaken; thirdly, there’d be a feat that nets +3 damage on melee attack rolls the first time you attempt to deal damage per round when confused, raging or insane, so if you’re going for the raging lunatic, you actually can dish out seriously deadly damage. Another feat nets +4 to saves versus mind-influencing and sleep effects. Another feat lets you, as an immediate action, gain a +4 bonus to saves for 1 round. This is probably a feat based on a class ability – the feat specifies that it’ll net more daily uses, though the base ability does not have a 1/day use specified. A high-level feat lets you inflict 2 Cha damage and the sickened condition on those critically hit. Weird: There is a feat that has the Evil-descriptor, which is not a descriptor I have encountered in vanilla design. Also a bit weird: The feat-prerequisites are inconsistent in their formatting – some use abbreviations for attributes, others use the full name.
The pdf also contains 5 different spells: Black Goat’s Blessing is nasty, transforming the head of the target into a goat, complete with gore attack…but also nets an Intelligence of 2, making the target potentially lethal. Black Goat’s Influence is very strong for its spells level (1st) – +2 to damage with melee weapons and ranged weapons within 30 ft. Also odd: The spell is, not kidding you, on the PALADIN spell list. WTF? Cool: There is a spell that allows you to ward an area, targeting plants, the ensorcelled vegetation will yell loudly when the warded area is entered. Dark Young’s Appendages allows you to transform limbs to generate hooves and tentacles. Finally, there would be cylindrical acidic gasses.
All right, next up with be the chapter on character options, starting with a new alchemist archetype, the larval progenitor – which is pretty disgusting in a good way: These guys can press their hands together to grow a cyst that they use as bombs. Yes, the cysts scream upon bursting. EW!! The archetype does have a couple of pretty unique discoveries to choose from – these include throwing a cyst bomb that turns into a lemure and that bursts upon being slain, inflicting bomb damage. While 6th level provides some balance as a prerequisite, I’d restrict this option to NPCs. On a nitpicky side, the reference to a spell is not properly italicized. Other options include gaining suckers for better grappling. Very cool (and disgusting) would be the lard bomb – direct hit targets risk swallowing it and then be sickened. The options also include a chaotic mutation-option for bombs and one that leaves caltrops in the bomb’s wake. All in all, a flavorful, delightfully icky archetype defined by its cool flavor.
The pdf also features a new bloodrager bloodline, the Thousand Young bloodline; I do not have issues regarding the selection of bonus feats or bonus spells, though the latter are not properly italicized. The bloodline can grow magical, scaling horns that allow for natural attacks – I do think that clarifying whether this would be primary or secondary would have been nice, though that is mostly a cosmetic nitpick, for the ability remains precise enough and thankfully, unambiguous. 4th level increases base speed in light or no armor when hustling or running; 8th level yields a particularly disgusting flesh, which could help avoiding being swallowed. That being said, much like in the prose chapter, we have some hiccups in the prose here – “Any creature that grapples the you with a bite attack…”[sic!] – that aside, I like the ability. 16th level yields immunity to mind-influencing effects and as a capstone, attempts to use divinations versus you can enrage the caster and the character also no longer is an eligible target for challenges and smites, which is pretty novel. All in all, like it! Weird – the sorceror bloodline has the incorrect (Archetype)-descriptor in the header, but does make up for that with properly italicized bonus spells. The Bloodline Arcana increases the duration of polymorph spells by 50%, minimum 1. While it does not stack with Extend Spell, I do think that adding a “non-instantaneous” here would have been more precise. The bloodline also yields the dark horns, the increased movement…yeah, it basically is just a reproduction of the bloodrager bloodline, which is somewhat disappointing, considering that the classes have very different focuses.
Speaking of cavaliers – we do get the order of the whispers, whose challenge penalizes the saves versus the cavalier’s spells – and at 2nd level, 8th and 15th level, the order yields spells that may be cast 3/day SPs chosen from witch, cleric and psychic spells…and as a nice flavor piece, there seems to be a rivalry with the order of the tome. Nice and pretty cool – we actually get evangelist, sentinel and exalted boons for the cleric (oh, and here, the italicizations are precise) and the section does contain the information for the obedience as well.
The mesmerist can elect to become body reaver, adding magic jar as a 6th level spell replaces touch treatment with a bonus to Perception checks and saves versus blindness and deafness; problem, though: The ability does not specify how many allies are affected. Later, the ability yields immunity to deafness and blindness. The capstone allows for major mind swap (not properly italicized). Not a good archetype – it replaces an active ability with an imprecise passive one and the idea of the capstone is cool, but hits too late. Fiendish midwife summoners gain Heal as a class skill and modify the Summon Monster ability: The modified version can be used Charisma bonus times per day, can only provide evil critters…but here is the nasty one: The summoner casts the spells through creatures within close range and the creature takes damage as the creature claws its way from the creature’s flesh, with a save to negate. The eidolon is treated as a member of teh summoner’s race, btw. Disturbing and potent. Interesting.
The pdf also features a 5-level PrC, the devotee of evil, who must be evil and belong to a class with a 9-level spell-casting progression; 6 ranks in 2 Knowledge spells and 2+ Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB-progression, full spellcasting progression and good Will-saves. This PrC is basically a scholar of evil and may add the evil descriptor to various things and enhance them. Downside: Skill-formatting issues. Oh, and the PrC is lacking its HD-information, rendering it RAW nonoperational. This could have been decent; RAW, it’s not.
The pdf also features two monsters: Shubian mountain goats are particularly vicious and come with proper animal companion stats. There is also a CR 4 byakhee; while I noticed a cosmetic plus missing here, the statblocks don’t seem to have immediately apparent glitches and. The pdf also features several new mundane pieces of equipment- ram staves, iron-shod boots, a particularly cruel net called “reaver’s hood”, an unconsciousness-causing poison and armor for those that have given birth to the unnatural can be found – pretty neat.
Editing and formatting are very inconsistent; they’re better than what I’ve seen in most Wayward Rogues’ offerings – there are some components that are precise and well-formatted. Others lack spell-italicizations and violate several formatting conventions, from attributes to skills. They, in short, range from pretty good to “needs work.” Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several niece pieces of original full-color artwork. The pdf has basic bookmarks for chapters, but not for e.g. specific archetypes. Annoying: The pdf has cut/copy/paste disabled, which represents an annoying comfort detriment if you want to use the material sans printing it or modify it.
This pdf was penned by Robert Gresham, Aaron Hollingsworth and Ewan Cummins and the different authors, alas, do show in the quality of the crunch. As a whole, I can recommend this pdf if you’re looking for an interesting twist on Shub-Niggurath as a deity in a fantasy setting, for example as a Lamashtu-substitute. Dressing and prose are pretty solid and concise in how they integrate the lore and concepts within a fantastic context, resulting in a nice dark fantasy cult. At the same time, the rules-component is just inconsistent; there are components here that, while not mind-blowing, are actually pretty cool and worth integrating, but the non-working PrC and the lame copying of bloodline-abilities are pretty big downsides as far as I’m concerned.
Whether you will derive enjoyment from this pdf directly hinges upon 2 decisions: 1) Do you expect flawless formatting/(rules-) editing? Then this is not for you. 2) Are you looking for a flavorful supplement or for hard crunch? In the flavor-department, this can actually provide some mileage. In the rules-area, this can, at best, be considered to be a mixed bag in those departments – slightly on the positive side, but yeah. As just a crunch-book, I could not go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down, but considering the attention to detail and generally decent prose, I will rate this as a setting supplement, weighing crunch and fluff equally. It is hence I arrive at a justification for rounding up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.
You can get this interesting supplement here on OBS!