Heroes of Azag-Ithiel
The latest installment of Purple Duck Games rather evocative Player Guides/setting books for the regions of the Porphyra campaign setting clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 52.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
As has become the tradition with this series, we begin with a rather nice piece of introductory fluff before delving into the racial variants that inhabit the lands depicted – and here, Azag-Ithiel, also known as the Newlands. The first of these variants would be the Forgeborn elves, who get +2 Con and Int, -2 Cha, low-light vision, elven immunities, +2 to CL-checks to overcome SR and Spellcraft to identify items, +2 to all Craft and Profession-checks, +2 to Appraise, +1 to Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering) and familiarity with long- and shortbows, warhammers and all “elven” weapons and forgeborn elves with Int 11+ get comprehend languages, detect magic, detect poison, read magic as 1/day SPs. And yes, these elves are pretty much the tinkering, highly industrious gruff elves that value tradition…wait. Yes, these guys are essentially closer to dwarves than to elves, providing an uncommon take on the trope. All in all, I think the race is a bit high on the skill-bonuses, but that is me nitpicking – these guys will break no game. They also get a nice trait.
After the Porphyran variant of Half-elves (a solid variant, btw.), Half-Ogres are next. these brutes get +4 Str, -2 Dex and Int, low-light vision, darkvision 60 ft., +1 natural armor AC, +2 Climb and Intimidate, count as ogres and may 1/day get +2 Con and Str, -2 to AC in a frenzy that can be activated as a free action and lasts for 1 minute. I am NOT a fan of lopsided races that provide an attribute bonus of +4 to any attribute….buuuuut, as far as the concept of the half-ogre is concerned, you know, I’d actually allow these guys in my game, depending on the character concept. Just be aware of the slightly increased Str-maxing capability.
The variant of the half-orcs was a huge surprise -+2 Str, +2 Dex, -2 Wis, darkvision 60 ft., elven immunities (no, that is NOT a typo), +2 to Str-checks to break object and sunder, +1 Bluff/Disguise and Knowledge (local), 1/day fight on after being reduced below 0 hp and both elf and orc familiarity and counting as both orc and elf – yes, these guys are well-adjusted, socially apt elf/orc-hybrids and I absolutely love the twist on this tired old trope. At the same time, I wished the race got a bonus for a physical and mental attribute to gear the race less towards the more physical pursuits. The trait that nets minor bonuses to allies is also nice.
Kobolds in the Newlands get +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str,a re reptilian, small humanoids, get darkvision 60 ft, +4 CMB to trip foes, +1 natural AC, treat perception and Stealth as class skills, detract 5 from the penalty when moving stealthily, -10 from the sniping penalty and have a unique ability: When two kobolds occupying the same square assault the same target, they are treated as if they are flanking the target. There is an issue here, though: RAW, this is an illegal move.
The PRD specifies:
Ending your movement: You can’t end your movement in the same square as another creature unless it is helpless.
Accidentally Ending your Movement in an Illegal Square: Sometimes a character ends its movement while moving through a space where it’s not allowed. When that happens, you put the character in the last legal square it occupied, or the closest legal position.
Now granted, this is a cornercase and you can simply make both characters use the rules for squeezing and hence, I won’t bash the ability, but those of you keen on rules-integrity, I figured I’d mention this problem.
The next race here would be the two-headed taddol, depicted as nomads with a possible dwarven ancestry. They get +2 Con adn Wis, -2 Int, are medium and count as both elves and giants, have low-light vision, darkvision 60 ft., +2 to Will-saves, +4 to fort-saves vs. disease and poison, do not lose their Dex-modifier when climbing or using Acrobatics to cross narrow/slippery surfaces and get two favored classes at first level and gain either +1 HP or +1 skill point when taking these. They also get +4 to Perception and a trait allows them to track well in mountainous terrain. This race feels, slightly, on the strong side of things – with quite a few pretty high skill bonuses and the relatively powerful dual favored classes, they feel like they get a tiny bit too much, but then again, I’m pretty conservative regarding races.
The final race would be the tengu, who get obviously the tengu subtype, +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Con, +4 Linguistics (+1 language learned per skill point invested), primary natural bites (1d3) and 2 claws (1d3 as well) and qualify as having the Improved Unarmed Strikes for the purpose of prereqs. The tengu also get poison use and +2 to Bluff and Diplomacy, with the option to shift attitudes up to 3 steps. A trait allows for easier squeezing here – interesting!
Now, it should be noted that none of the races come with favored class options or age, height and weight-tables, though due to consisting of variants, I’m not going to strictly hold that against the pdf. Still, I think for Half-Ogres and Taddols especially, including the age, height and weight-material at least would have been nice.
Azag-Ithiel receives a beautiful full-color map featuring the iconic porphyrite borders between lands -and it is pretty much an interesting place – breathing a certain American frontier’s spirit, the lands of Azag-Ithiel are defined against more conventional regions by the unifying ideal of freedom – governed by the All Races Senate, every creature of the realm has a voice and regions send senators and provide elections – the region is, in one word, incredibly progressive for any kind-of medieval fantasy, a decision I personally like. The lands of Azag-Ithiel are further fleshed out by means of various settlements, all of which are provided with proper settlement statblocks – from the Metropolis of Paradigm to Khambir and Low’Enath, the settlements covered run the gamut from enlightened to being an utterly dangerous place – nice!
We do not end the pdf here, though – an assortment of class options is provided for character customization. And surprisingly, I did end up enjoying quite a few of them: Alchemists can slightly upgrade their bombs with piercing damage and high-level alchemists using explosive missiles and fast bombs may now combined the benefits of the two for iterative bomb-missile attacks. Barbarians dealing more damage with their fists while in rage is nice and I also like the option to ignoring scaling increments of difficult terrain – though the rage power refers to itself by an incorrect name in the special-line. Increasing the animal fury’s bite attack’s damage may sound nice – it’s even cooler when you realize that this talent nets multi-headed characters a second bite! It also allows, via a follow-up ability, to execute a two-head-rend -nice. A valid bardic masterpiece that makes all allies less likely to die from damage and provides healing – the wording here, wrestling with an admittedly complex concept, is concise – kudos! Rangers can choose the relatively nice new polearm and thrown weapon styles, magi get synergy with primordial mystics and rogues can choose to expend ki to temporarily gain combat maneuver-feats and may increase poison DCs via sneak or hamper concentration DCs. Solid.
The pdf also provides a new base class, the pimordial mystic, who gets d8, 4+Int skills, proficiency with club, dagger, dart, quarterstaff, scimitar, scythe, sickle, shortspear, sling and spear and light and medium armor, but may not wear metal armor. They also constitute an alternate class for oracle and sorceror and receive 3/4 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves as well as Cha-governed spontaneous spellcasting of up to 6th level. At 1st level, the primordial mystic chooses an elemental attunement – he gets +1 CL when casting spells with the associated elemental descriptor (see handy table provided) and at 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the primordial mystic receives an additional spell from his attunement. 3rd, 9th and 15th level provide access to a revelation from an associated mystery, using his primordial mystic level as oracle level. While the progression of the gained revelations is locked, this makes it possible to qualify for the revelation-based feats, obviously – it should be noted that energy resistance is explicitly forbidden from being gained thus. The classic elements or elemental attunement are pretty well balanced among themselves.
Beyond that, the class gets a primal pool of raw elemental energy at first level equal to 1/2 class level (min 1) + Cha-mod. Such a primal charge can be used to increase the CL of a primordial mystic spell cast by 1. The ability also ties in with the new spells presented herein, which sport essentially new abilities that can be added to the spell’s effects at the cost of primal charge expenditure. Not only are some elemental attunement revelations powered by this resource, the charges can also be expended, starting 4th level, to assume elemental shape, with obviously scaling efficiency. 5th level and every 5 thereafter provide resistance 5 to the attuned energy type. 7th level nets Elemental Spell without increasing the casting time, while 13th level makes the application no longer increase the level. The capstone nets several powerful defensive capabilities -solid. The spell-list of the primordial mystic may be limited, but it is powerful -which is a good thing here. All in all, I like the framework of the class, but I wished it did slightly more unique things with its elemental tricks.
The 10-level Hulking Marauder PrC gets d10, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light armor, medium armor and shields as well as full BAB-progression and good fort-saves. Gaining Rage at first level and rage powers at 2nd, 5th and 8th level and may execute longer charges. 2nd level nets uncanny dodge. 3rd and 7th level provide armor training, with the latter adding in heavy armor proficiency. 3rd level provides immunity to fear, 6th improved uncanny dodge and 9th greater rage. The 5th level ability is interesting – When hitting with a melee attack at the end of the charge, the marauder can spend a swift action to automatically threaten a crit. The crit still has to be confirmed and the marauder can, thankfully, only use this 1/2 hulking marauder level times per day. The capstone allows for the combination of a full attack or vital strike with the end of the charge – ouch.
The Lithic Guardian PrC gets d8, 4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, 6/10th spellcasting progression. The PrC stacks its class levels with classes gaining animal companions and can turn said companions into special lithic creatures, netting them the lithic guardian template for 1 hours per class level, to be spend in 1-hour increments. 2nd and every 2 levels thereafter also provide a “Favor of Stone” – these are only gained by the companion while in lithic creature form, with some obviously requiring actions to initiate. These include earth glide, better combat maneuvers, the Freeze-special ability, etc. While there are some minor oversights here (like spiked hide damaging only creatures attacking with natural weapons, when it should specify natural MELEE weapons as opposed to spines shot etc. and that it applies to unarmed attacks), this list is pretty nice. 3rd, 7th and 9th level providing scaling DR and 3rd level allows the lithic guardian to 1/day spend a standard action to grant herself +2 natural armor, -2 Dex for 1 minute per class level, +1/day at 5th level and every two levels thereafter. This would suck on its own, but is also allows for the use of a single favor of stone granted by the animal companion. 10th level provides 2 favors and infinite stone form.
The pdf also provides archetypes – the forgeborn Crystalline Chemist is a bomb specialist who adds better AC to mutagens, but at the cost of sonic vulnerability. Fist of the World Rangers bond with companions and generally can be considered more fighter-y rangers that can switch around weapon-specific feats and get racial weapon training. Shieldsworn Sentinel bards may quell emotions and receive scaling shield bash damage (NICE!) and quite an array of bonus feats, including a sworn community and improving it with arcane bond and better arcane armor. Student of the Forge fighters would be expert craftsmen. It should be noted that base-class, PrCs and archetypes feature sample NPCs for your convenience.
The pdf also provides an array of feats, allowing for increased primal pools, extension of racial qualities and e.g. the synergy of Elven Battle Training with Orc Weapon Expertise. Better two-weapon defense is also neat. I’m not perfectly sold on free application of the lithic creature template to all summoned nature’s allies. An interesting feat would be one that awards you taking all those crappy +2/+2 skill bonus feats, further increasing their numerical bonuses -nice to see the few concepts where they make sense get some love. Indeed, a theme here seems to actually validate the selection of Alertness et. al. by providing thematically fitting, powerful follow-up feats – like Unearthly Perception: 1/round, when INTENTIONALLY examining an area, roll Perception twice and take the higher result. This is infinite double-rolls/better results, available at 6th level for anyone with Alertness of Skill Focus (Perception) – and don’t get me wrong, I *LIKE* this notion, I really do – but I’m uncomfortable via the unlimited application. A daily cap, scaling, a cool down, something like that imho would be nice here…but then again, this may just be the feat you’ve always been hoping for. Executing AoOs with primary and secondary hand is also interesting, though the feat’s second half seems to be confused whether it is two attacks, as mentioned once, or one attack, as implied half a sentence later. The wording of the second half is kind of jumbled here, with quite a few exception-clauses that may or may not be intended – this looks like it’s been revised at one point, rendering the feat somewhat confusing.
The pdf also provides quite an array of elemental-themed spells that generally can be considered interesting, at least as far as elemental spells are concerned at this point – however, while most can be considered to be rather nice, there are some hiccups to be found here, with e.g. tidal thrust, referring to the cleric class instead of the druid-class in the text and failing to specify which attribute substitutes the CMB-calculation for the primordial mystic (obviously Cha, but all other classes are listed…) – while both are evident glitches and do not impede the use of the spell, I consider them distracting. On the plus-side, I really, really like that MANY of the spells utilize primal charges for more intriguing secondary effects.
The book also provides a significant array of magical ostraca and some items that interact with primal charges. Beyond that, I am thoroughly IN LOVE with the incredibly handy lists of gear available, sorted by category – the tables add effortless local color in game by virtue of availability and may even spark quests. Yeah, happened in my own game, when my players were annoyed that a magical liquor wasn’t available locally, they started opening trade-routes… The mundane equipment provided allows for the application of barding via a complex stitching procedure to creature otherwise not eligible for barding, an essence to provide Will-save rerolls, tripping arrows and different war paints, ending the book on a high note.
Editing and formatting are good – while I noticed some hiccups, the majority of the book is indeed a clean and comprehensible work. On a rules-language level, the book is actually more precise than I anticipated, with quite a few complex concepts juggled and relatively few issues. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games’ 2-column b/w-standard with nice, original full-color artworks and cartography. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Unless I’m completely mistaken, this was the first book by Treyson Sanders I’ve reviewed and he has done a surprisingly good job – the book has identified several niches that are not well-covered in the rules and proceeded to provide options for them – while my personal tastes consider quite a few of them too powerful, this depends ultimately on the campaign you’re playing and what you want to do with the characters – if, e.g. Alertness would NEVER be taken by any character ever in your game due to not offering enough incentives…well, here you go. The flavorful information on Azag-Ithiel was well-written and I found myself wishing, we got more information on the lands – this installment in the series has obviously been more crunch-heavy than previous ones. Personally, I wished the fluff was more extensive, but that may hearken to an issue I have as a reviewer here: Both me and my table are pretty much bored out of our minds by yet another elemental-themed class.
That being said, I actually like the idea of supplementing spellcasting with expenditure of a limited resource like primal charges – while I’m not sold on the balancing of all individual spells, with some primal charge bonus effects going clearly beyond what can usually be done with a spell at a given level, the system itself is intriguing and rewards player-agenda – which is nice indeed. At the same time, I found myself wishing the pdf had spread access to primal charges slightly further to diverse classes, granted more to the mystic and instead had nerfed the potency of the diverse bonus effects for a cleaner balancing. The system and spells won’t break your game, but I’d still encourage GMs to carefully contemplate them.
It is evident that this is the “big” concept herein, with the two PrCs being pretty generic in my book; I’ve seen their like done before. The archetypes and feats once again provide some definite stars, though. And I love the lists and quite a few of the items. The racial variants generally are solid and while I like some ideas used, I also disliked some design-decisions there.
So, how to rate this? See, that’s the difficult part – while personally, I’m simply not that blown away by yet more elemental spells, I try to award ingenuity (water being e.g. associated with nonlethal damage) and the primal charge tricks are pretty cool. At the same time, I did stumble over a few problematic wordings and some options that are definitely on the strong, depending on your campaign, potentially even on the OP end of things. In the end, I do consider this to be a mixed bag and slightly less intriguing than the previous installment, mainly due to Azag-Ithiel feeling more opaque, less defined than previous regions provided in Porphyra, some of which still rank among my favorite region-books/PGs out there. (Get Middle Kingdoms & the Siwathi Desert!)
Still, especially for a first offering, this is damn impressive and shows talent in diverse fields. My final verdict for this massive pdf will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform – I most definitely look forward to reading more from Treyson Sanders.