Heroes of the Haunted Sea
This massive installment of the big Porphyra-regional sourcebooks/player guides clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 4 pages of SRD, leaving us with a massive 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
All right, we begin with a well-written piece of introductory prose that establishes the tone of the region (hint: not the most harmless region of Porphyra…) before we dive into the respective racial write-ups. We begin with the bilgerat, a ratfolk variant that gets +2 Dex and Int, -2 Wis; they are small ratfolk with a slow speed, carrion sense, darkvision 60 ft., Agile Maneuvers as a bonus feat, a 1d2 bite attack (minor complaint – you need to default to standard and look up the type), +2 to saves versus ingested poisons, disease or the nauseated and sickened conditions, +2 to Appraise and Perception to find hidden doors, constant speak with animals (rats and other rodents only), swarming and +1 to Stealth and do not lose Dex-mod when climbing or using Acrobatics to cross slippery surfaces. The race comes with a cool trait that provides whip-proficiency and lets bilgerat characters employ ropes as chains or whips. Cool.
Deep-spawn are envision as aboleth-blooded tieflings in the context of this region, which, rules-wise, translates to +2 Str and Cha, -2 Con. They are outsiders with Aboleth Heritage as a bonus feat, darkvision 60 ft., fiendish resistance, +2 to saves vs. illusions, a prehensile tail and they may envenom weapons etc. with toxic saliva/blood. Cool: The ability has a proper daily cap. Even cooler: We get a massive 50-entry strong table that lists cosmetic abnormalities that represent the deep-spawn’s tainted nature.
The 3rd player race would be the forlarren, who gain +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Str. They are fey with low-light vision, get +2 to Craft and Profession, DR/cold iron equal to half their character level, min 1, max 5, 2 claws worth 1d4 each (properly codified). Forlarren treat Stealth as class skill and, rather cool, the signature remorse upon killing a being has been translated properly.
Next up would be the half-medusa, who gets +2 Con and Cha, -2 Wis. They have darkvision 60 ft., +2 to Intimidate and Perception as well as +2 to AC versus flanking foes. They add +1 to the DC of all effects that cause the fascinated condition and 1/day, the half-medusa may force a target of such an effect to reroll and use the second result. They are treated as humans, medusa and monstrous humanoids…that is a bit weird, since human and monstrous humanoid usually are mutually exclusive. Just as an aside – the aforementioned races and those to follow all sport their own traits, most of which actually do something worthwhile, balanced and interesting…but we’re not yet done with races.
The halinae (half-nereids) gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str, are native outsiders with a swim speed of 30 ft and the same speed on land. They are amphibious and may assume the shape of a single human. They get 120 ft. deepsight, treat their Cha for the purpose of the water-bloodline and sorcerer class abilities as +2, may cast nereid’s grace 1/day as a SP and 1/day activate a 30-foot fascination aura.
Humans of the region get improved racial traits to account for Porphyra’s slightly increased power-level, with Skill Focus at 1st,8th and 16th level, two favored classes and +1 skill rank as well as +2 to Diplomacy and Sense Motive in social situations. Maenads gain +2 Con and Wis, -2 Int, have Wild Talent, get +2 to Profession (sailor) and Swim as well as Survival at sea. They get +4 to CMD to resist bull rushes and trip attempts on ships as well as weapon familiarity with flails, heavy flails and pilums. They add +1 to the DC os saves vs. sonic effects. Maenads with Charisma of 13+ can cast energy ray 1/day, sonic only. Minor complaint: The power is not properly italicized.
Alluria’s Obitu race has been modified: They gain +2 Str and Dex (slightly lopsided), -2 Cha and are native outsiders with darkvision, resistance 5 vs. negative energy and no hp loss from negative levels. They get +2 to saves vs. death effects, energy drain, etc. They get +4 to saves vs. disease and poison and are immune to sleep effects. They don’t sleep, but incur -2 to Perception while resiting. Escape Artist and Acrobatics are class skills for them. The obitu are tied to a magical disease, the waters of vivification, which is a pretty cool angle here.
The orcam orca-folk can also be found – they get +2 Con and Cha, 30 ft. base speed and swim speed (minor redundancy/cut-copy-paste glitch here), low-light vision, cold resistance 2, hold breath, proficiency with spears, tridents and nets, +2 to Ride dolphins and whales and as a move action, they can emit an echolocation pulse, which may be negated by silence (not italicized), but only underwater. Satyrine gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Int, are fey with low-light vision and gain a primary headbutt attack for 1d6 that may daze targets on a failed save if inflicting 6+ damage; not a big fan of this mechanic; it become pretty much automatic almost immediately. They have stability, gain +1 to Bluff and Profession (sailor) and gain a 1/day standard action heightened charm person based on a spell level equal to ½ character level and with Charisma as governing attribute for the save DC.
Okay, so the races chapter, in spite of my absurdly high expectations regarding races, is, as a whole, very well presented; the power-level is pretty concise and with a few minor hiccups as exceptions, I enjoyed all write-ups presented. Down-side: None of the races presented here come with their age, height and weight tables.
So, here is the coolest component of the Haunted Seas. The Deity Nise has ensorcelled the islands and they thus move: 10 months a year (which are not clear!), the landlocked parts of the haunted seas move throughout Porphyra, allowing the region to collect a vast array of diverse resources! Oh, and having suddenly a massive region on your hands can make for a really cool change of local dynamics! The region comes with a great. Player-friendly full-color regional map and even a rhyming poem/shanty about these so-called Rides, which are a glorious way to render the whole region volatile. Unlike Vernathea’s Veil-region, the Haunted Sea is not encased in a massive storm as it moves, providing a completely different experience for the moving region. On the islands of the haunted sea, Kormus would be a den of vice; Port Calist’s splendor is governed by the potent guilds; Sthenno is the place for subterfuge, with broodmothers of the half-medusa and forlarren races reigning supreme. Finally, Xebic has been raised on the shell of a giant dragon turtle, with an air of somber melancholy over the loss of the critter’s loss. The settlements in the haunted sea come with a wide variety of cool settlement qualities and all of these aforementioned, unique settlements not only come with proper settlement statblocks, they also sport great vignettes that do a really nice job at capturing the flavor of the respective locales.
This is not where we stop, though: We also are introduced to a variety of other places of interest, some of which practically demand to be used: From the bloodstained cay to the flooded ghetto, there is some interesting adventuring potential to be found here. Yes, there are cannibal isles, just fyi.
Now, this would not be a Porphyran player’s guide without a massive array of player-centric options. Proper underwater bombing for alchemists (with optional increased splash radius for a reduced potency) can be found. The Blackpowder disciple base class gets an archetype with the blackpowder rover – basically a pirate-y flurrying monk/gun-user. Not too excited here. The Deck warden mariner archetype is a sea-specialist – favored vessel, storm sight, sure-footed; you get the idea. The fiendish stalker is a forlarren slayer that focuses on natural attack sneaks (using d8s for them, d4s for sneak attacks with weapons) and, a limited amount of times per day, they may substitute fire damage for sneak attack, courtesy of their connection to hell. Yeah, these fellows are evil. At higher levels, we get minor defensive auras, clinging hellfire sneaks, etc. per se flavorful, evil killer. Knight sister warpriests are devoted to the Stormmaiden and gain tactician and slight bonuses when healing…but pay for that with lost sacred weapon features at 4th level and higher. The Nereid sorcerer bloodline nets a poisonous touch, the ability to become transparent at higher levels and sea-based abilities – no complaints here.
The rime chemist alchemist is Wisdom-based and gains desiccation bombs, which are particularly potent versus oozes, plants etc., increasing the damage output there, but at the cost of lower damage versus other targets. The bombs can also sicken and their damage-type is concisely defined. The mutagen nets you the aquatic subtype including ½ base speed swim speed at the cost of poison use. The archetype may choose from a limited array of revelations from the waves mystery and higher levels provide SPs, upgrades, etc. – all with the water-theme. The archetype, as a whole, provides a viable exchange – no complaints. River Guide undine shamans are underwater trackers/striders and can provide water breathing via kisses and, at the highest levels, even grant freedom of movement (italicization missing). The savage bulwark skald has diminished spellcasting and qualifies easier for shield-based combat feats. The archetype is a defense specialist that gains some solid boosts to shield use. The serpent disciple half-medusa monk replaces stunning fist with bardic performance and gains both climb and swim speed – cool: They get to choose which movement rates to improve at higher levels. Instead of maneuver training, we get stern gaze. Quivering palm is replaced with a potentially petrifying strike that is particularly hard to resist if your speed’s been reduced to 0 ft.
The pdf does sport the Aboleth Exemplar 10-level PrC. Anyhow, the PrC gets ½ BAB-progression, ½ Fort – and Will-save progression, 7/10th spellcasting progression and 2 + Int-mod skills per level. The PrC nets no new proficiencies. If the character has the aboleth bloodline, levels in the PRC stack with sorcerer levels; if not, the PrC unlocks bloodline powers of said bloodline. Over the course of the PrC, characters gain a total of +4 Str, +2 Int and +4 Cha, with 1st, 4th and 7th level providing natural armor bonus +2 each. 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter yield a bloodline feat and 2nd level sports the ability to excrete slime that turns acidic at 6th level and further improves at 10th level. 3rd level yields a 30-ft.-cone acid-breath weapon, usable 1/day, with 7th and 10th level providing additional uses. 5th level yields tremorsense, 7th 1/day the ability to assume medium aboleth form, including mucus cloud, but only in this form. This form may be assumed a second time at 10th level, and the form is improved, becomes Large, etc. 9th level yields the tentacles bloodline power.
The Exalted Captain PrC would be a variant of the Battle Herald prestige class, customized for a seafaring focus – it is a solid variant, though you will need to consult the original battle herald – think of the presentation as basically an archetype for a prestige class. Beyond these, we get a bunch of new feats. Among these, you’ll find the aforementioned Aboleth Heritage feat, which includes 1/day poison spray, secondary tail attacks etc. – cool choices! There are also three Chosen of…-feats – these feats denote champions of specific deities and provide potent boons, which may only be invoked a fixed number of times per day to offset their power. Nice array. We can find Deep-Sea Adaptation for higher level characters, extended echolocation range, a Barroom Brawler follow-up feat that helps qualify for combat feats as well, an improvement for racial faerie fire SPs, further upgrades for tails, better throwing underwater, share your racial remorse for killing (and upgrade that component further…) and a Whirlwind Feint that gets interaction with the established feats right. All in all, a solid feat-chapter with some cool rules-hole-filling feats for specific flavors of characters.
Unless I have miscounted, we also get 25 new spells – these range from the self-explanatory anchor over the force-based boarding plank to calm waters and some interesting tricks: Like a spell to deflect ramming attacks of incoming ships! There is also a spell that temporarily discorporates a single sail, a spell to desalinate water, a mage’s lavish keelboat – you get the idea. The focus here is utility, but quite a few of the spells look deceptively simple, but can have really fun repercussions in naval combat and environments – though, as you could glean from a couple of the utility spells mentioned, there are a few of them that definitely fit to Porphyra’s high-magic aesthetics, but which I’d not introduce to grittier settings to maintain the difficulty of wilderness survival. Minor complaint: I get the balancing rationale of the spell, but I don’t think that, flavor-wise, scalding sea should inflict untyped damage. The untyped nature is balanced by spell level etc., but still. Feels wrong from an internal logic for me. Then again, that may just be me.
Now, for quite some time, the equipment chapters of these books have been favorites of mine, and this is no different: We get rules for air bladders and weight kits, belaying pins, life vests, lobster traps, swimfins…and materials: From crocodile to shark leather, you’ll have the rules for stylish leather…and kraken bane thorn weapons, armor from Kraken beak, whale bone or obsidian weaponry…there is a lot of cool materials here. Among the alchemical items, we find oil that can help to slightly calm the seas; we can find slippery eel slime, Cha-enhancing manatee tears, venoms…some really cool stuff.
Among the magic items, bone compasses point away from danger, while bone flags help being a sailor and enhance saves vs. fear, while also allowing for the use of fear 1/day as a standard action. Deckhand rings and the improved captain’s variant help skill challenged characters contribute; there is a cursed map that points towards danger (and diminished rewards) and 4 enchanted figureheads are included. The helm of a fabled triton kraken-slayer, a cloak that keeps the water-dwellers moist…some neat tricks here. Now, one of my favorite aspects of these books is definitely that they include MASSIVE, extremely convenient equipment lists: This not only is nice in the context of the book; the availability thus provided lends its own sense of identity to the region. Grouped by type in the respective sub-tables, this section is a great candidate for printing out and tucking into your GM-screen.
The pdf also provides a massive cadre of sample NPCs: We get a CR 7 knight sister, a CR 4 blackpowder rover, a CR 8 fiendish stalker, a mighty CR 16 sorcerer/aboleth exemplar,a CR 6 savage bulwark and a rime chemist at the same range; there is a deck warden at CR 5, a river guide at CR 2, a CR 13 tactician/sea singer/battle herald (Neat!) and a master of many styles/serpent disciple dual archetype at CR 11. Nice NPC codex section.
Finally, we get a nice bonus-pdf: This time around, we get a new monster, the CR 3 Botach, an incorporeal spirit somewhere between the lines of fey and undead, the entity comes with an aura of ill luck and its mere presence causes potentially horrific, dire catastrophes – dispose of it…fast! Neat one!
Editing and formatting, on a rules-language level, are very good – I noticed no glaring issues in the presentation or functionality of the rules. On a formal level, I did notice e.g. a couple of missed italicizations, a superfluous “G”, an instance of a component that was bolded and should have been italicized…while not perfect, the book as a whole is presented in a solid manner. Layout adheres to a two-column standard that is pretty printer-friendly: b/w with Purple highlights. The book sports several nice, full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with nested bookmarks and all.
Treyson Sanders, with additional writing by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr, delivers a massive tome here: Bang-for-buck-ratio-wise, this player’s guide delivers. The overall quality of the crunch is pretty high as well; while you won’t necessarily find mind-blowing modifications among the class options, they are better than most naval specialists, in that they sport some interesting flavor components. The rather well-balanced racial chapter was an impressive read; while not all are suitable for gritty gameplay, the races should not unbalance most regular fantasy games. The regional areas of interest noted ooze flavor, and so do several of the items, materials, etc.
In short, all in all, this is a well-rounded player’s guide. The region is wondrous, weird and has some massive conflict potential: And suddenly, the haunted sea if right at your door! Go! Yes, that can change the dynamics of a region in rather interesting ways; heck, you could potentially play a siege against one of the isles: Your paltry hovel of a homebase only has to withstand the assaults until the Haunted Sea goes elsewhere…
So yeah, there is a lot here I like. At the same time, I honestly found myself wishing we’d get less naval class options and more information on the respective islands and their unique cultures; a couple of the class options tie in well with the flavor presented there (and that’s a huge plus!), but a few of them imho are a bit less exciting. This notwithstanding, the pdf manages to keep the high standards set by these player’s guides – the series has consistently scored at the higher ranks of my rating scale and this is no different. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. Very much worth checking out!
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