Heroes of the Hinterlands of Kesh
This installment of the massive Porphyran player’s guides for the diverse regions of the patchwork planet clocks in at 62 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank, leaving us with a massive 58 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
After the obligatory and well-written, evocative introductory prose that establishes leitmotifs for the region, we begin with taking stock of the races one can find within this illustrious region of the patchwork planet, beginning with a favorite of mine, namely the psionic elan – though they have been changed in a way that should make the race more palpable for low-powered games: While still aberrations, elan here are considered to be charismatic and pretty adept at negotiation. Furthermore, their powerful resilience and resistance abilities, usually counteracted by being feared and/or loathed in-game, have been removed, but so has their aberrant nature drawback, making the resulting take on the elan feel more conservative and less disturbing. Certainly an incarnation I am going to use in games where the flavor and strong internal powers of their original iteration do not fit the bill.
Next up would be the half-cyclops, who receives +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, low-light vision, 1/day augury, counts as humanoid and giant, receives +2 to Perception and gain familiarity with cyclops weapons. They also always gain Intimidate as a class skill and ignore Charisma penalties to it. Considering the 12 – 13 pt-standard of Porphyran races, this fits perfectly and the well-rounded array of abilities should prove to result in no issues in even low-powered games – no complaints! Hobgoblins gain +2 Con and Wis, are goblinoids with darkvision 60 ft., defense training versus humans, +1 to Stealth and Survival (+3 in hills), + to overrun or bull rush, but only while standing. Additionally, they gain +4 Stealth in hills and may move through natural difficult terrain – unimpeded, I assume. They obviously gain hobgoblin weapon familiarity as well. Again, no complaints.
Humans raised in the area begin with firearm proficiency as well as +2 to Handle Animals and Ride, +2 to saves versus fear (and a 1/day reroll of a natural 1 save versus such an effect) as well as the skilled trait. Again, no complaints. The Polkan got a nasty thrashing from yours truly in its previous iteration – here, it has been refined to be a monstrous humanoid with +2 Wis, low-light vision, the ability to retry failed Diplomacy checks and a properly codified quadruped trait. All races feature alternate racial traits, which correspond in power-level to what they replace. Somewhat annoying: No age, height and weight tables are provided, which is the one tarnishing aspect of the otherwise best racial section in a Porphyran player’s guide to date.
Now if the rules above haven’t tipped you off and neither has the font on the cover, guess what: The Hinterlands of Kesh are pretty much the Wild West fantasy county of Porphyra and as such, firearms are less expensive here, with Ulian flint as a material explaining the decrease in cost of blackpowder etc. – and yep, that actually makes playing a blackpowder-using first level party viable sans draining them of all resources. Kudos. “But what about setting-consistency?”, you’re asking, “Isn’t Endy totally anal-retentive when it comes to internal logic bugs and the like?” Well, yes, I am, but the pdf actually provides valid reasons why the Ulian-infused weaponry has not radically changed warfare in other regions. Kudos for maintaining campaign world consistency!! Speaking of which: Yes, the region comes, as always, with a nice full-color map.
From the general to the detail, we are next introduced to the 5 major settlements of the Hinterlands of Kesh, all of which not only come with their own flavorful introduction text of local color, but also feature proper statblocks – from racially diverse Bailyton to melancholy Dupressix, where gunslinger converge to make names for themselves or perish in the hills to the fiendish and reviled half-cyclops bastion of the eye, the settlements evoke a grand and glorious sense of unique flavor – and yes, dear readers – if you’re looking for a place to jam SagaRPG’s criminally underrated Darkwood adventures, this region would probably do quite nicely with a geographic expansion – thanks to Porphyra’s patchwork nature, I see no reason why this would not be feasible.
Within these regions, healing, yet despoiled remnants can be found and a place called “Tombstone Tower” contains the source of the elan’s unnaturally long life. And frankly, if you can’t cook some cool blend of the Dark Tower-myth and this up, I don’t know what to say: The regions breathe evocative, colorful and amazing adventure potential. A ton of settlement qualities, employed in generating them, from being phantasmal to being a city of the dead, further enrich a GM’s arsenal and speaking of which: Do you need a generous smattering of fluff-only NPC-descriptions with typical locations and signature possessions? You’ll be in luck, for the pdf provides just that.
The pdf also provides a hybrid class for your perusal, the blackpowder disciple, which mixes gunslinger and monk and gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and firearms as well as light armor. They lose the monk-y abilities in heavier armor and get 3/4 BAB-progression (smart choice, as it makes the gun-math work better at mid-to-high levels than the gunslinger’s full BAB-progression) as well as good Fort- and Ref-saves. They add Wisdom-bonus to AC and CMD, up to class level, somewhat akin to the monk, and gain gunsmith at 1st level. They may use firearms as 1d6 bludgeoning weapons (1d8 for two-handed ones) and may Weapon Finesse with these and yes, enhancement bonuses to damage and attack still apply when used thus (EXCELLENT catch! Seriously, I was pretty impressed there!) and full Strength-bonus is added. The base damage increases at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, up to 2d8/2d10, respectively.
Now here’s the make-or-break aspect: The class can flurry with firearms and combine ranged and melee attacks…and the rules-language actually manages to pull off the blending, including notes on Rapid Shot interaction/prerequisite-status. As a minor complaint, the table does call this way of the gun, when the actual text calls it flurry of blows – way of the gun denotes bonus feats gained at 1st, 2nd and ever 4 levels thereafter as well as a order-like ability array. Basically, each of the ways available has its own feat-list and maneuver array – one such maneuver is gained at 1st level, one at 3rd and from there on out, every 4 levels net another maneuver.
1st level also nets a Wisdom modifier-strong ki pool and a specific set of ki-based deeds, though these remain more limited that of the gunslinger, focusing on retaining the functionality of the gun and tricks like utility shot, which is gained at 3rd level. 2nd level nets evasion, 3rd Point Blank Master . 4th level upgrades the ki pool to 1/2 class level + Wisdom modifier and while the character has one ki left, he does not provoke AoOs while reloading firearms. Expenditure of 1 ki point adds an additional attack at full BAB to a full attack or increase the range increment of a gun…or gain a dodge bonus to AC, all available as a swift action. The level also nets maneuver training and 5th level nets + Dex-mod damage to a gun trained with as well as a decreased misfire escalation upon misfiring the gun. 8th level and every 4 levels thereafter net faster movement and 12th level improved evasion. As a capstone, we get auto-confirmed firearm crits (OUCH!!) with an increased multiplier (double OUCH) – but then again, that is the capstone.
Now I already mentioned the way of the gun before and how it works, but considering the pretty linear progression of the base class, how many choices do we get? Well, in total we get 8 such ways and they all take up the majority of a page or slightly more than that, so yes, their options are pretty important – basically, they have the task of diversifying individual iterations of the class. Well, they do an imho better job at this task then comparable cavalier orders. The way of the fitful breeze, for example, emphasizes movement and skirmishing tactics, increasing the damage output of moving characters via precision damage and allowing for fast tumbling, higher jumps and similar shenanigans.
The way of the crushing landslide allows you to combine charges with firearm attacks – and yes, this means that you do not have to end your movement adjacent to a foe. Similarly, that way has a stone/earth theme and as such sports fortification and at highest levels, stunning overruns. The way of the grasping morass focuses on grappling and has a ki-powered grab and high-level choking grips, making that one predisposed to handling enemy casters. The way of the infinite sky is themed around dirty tricks and being more monk-y/employing improvised weaponry, while the way of the misty strand would be the Stealth-enhancing sniper’s option. The way of the raging current would be the teamwork-centric/bodyguard-ish type of option, while the way of the undying ember gains fire-themed bonus damage as well as parrying capacity and a ki-powered mettle that is thankfully strongly restricted. While I’m not a big fan of the competing attack-roll parrying mechanic, it is ultimately solidly executed.
Finally, the way of the volatile flame would represent the bravo/face-type of character, whose social skills at higher levels can enhance his critical hit. In short and as a conclusion to this hybrid class: It’s page-count is actually well-spent. Unlike many a hybrid class, it is more than the sum of its parts and sports several unique angles to explore. While personally, I prefer higher player-agenda classes, the respective ways and their unique playstyles seem to be pretty balanced among themselves and make it possible to generate a sufficiently broad array of character choices. Well-made and certainly one of the good hybrid classes! We btw. get a sample level 16 NPC.
Next up would be the hobgoblin black glass witch archetype, who suffers from diminished spellcasting, but receives a pool of soul points; when creatures nearby expire, these witches may draw part of their lifeforce into their soul reservoir, which can then be used to increase the potency of hexes – and yes, the archetype cannot be kitten’d! Kudos!!! As a minor complaint, I noticed a reference to “shaman” in one of the two hexes of the witch, a cut-copy-paste remnant and cosmetic, but yeah. This time, we get a sample level 11 character. The hobgoblin fervent vanguard would be a mounted inquisitor who loses the inquisitor domain and monster lore and gains mounted tactics instead of solo tactics. They also are adept at finding their prey and at 5th level, may share their bane with their mount, increasing that modification correspondingly at 12th level. The sample character (this time level 8) does come with horse companion stats as well, just fyi.
The guarded augur half-cyclops oracle gets diminished spellcasting and its own list of bonus spells as well as revelations and abilities themed around doom-speaking and foresight, including trap sense, evasion, etc. The sample character clocks in at level 9. The nomadic gun would be an elan-exclusive blackpowder disciple archetype, who gets a modified bonus feat list and replaces maneuver training with Up the Walls, blending at higher levels the maintenance of psionic focus with more damage, short-burst teleportation and high-level deceleration flurries. Very cool psionic modification, whose sample character clocks in at level 6. Finally, the polkan plainsrunner (with a level 11 sample character) can be pictured as a wide-plains ranger, galloping unimpeded through their chosen plains. The least interesting of the archetypes herein from a mechanical point of view, but flavorwise and interesting option nonetheless.
The pdf also provides an array of feats for us, which includes a psionic Mobility-upgrade that lets you expend power points to further enhance your skirmishing AC as well as a variety of Chosen-feats, which can be activated 1/day, with higher levels unlocking more uses as well as SPs. I actually liked these more than I figured I would. Nice: Reposition-synergy with allies that basically lets you push enemies into a flat-footed position for respective allies. 1/day greatly increased chances to critically hit for half-cyclops characters, quicker two-handed firearm reload, sharing an elan’s repletion, first range-increment coup-de-graces…there are a lot nice feats to fill specific, seldom trod paths that make sense to me. More importantly, the prerequisite-array and respective power-level, unanimously, managed to withstand my scrutiny. The feats are viable, sans being game-breakers. Kudos – it’s frankly been a while since a feat chapter managed this feat. Haha. Sorry, I’ll punch myself for this later.
The pdf then goes on to provide an assortment of diverse magical weapons: The coat of gathering storms is charged by negating sneak attacks and critical hits, which may then be used to bull rush adjacent creatures. Unused charges dissipate, mind you, so no – cheesing the item is not a very good strategy. Arrows that declare war upon a target, cursed crowns, a quick-draw-enhancing holster, an anti-authoritarian blunderbuss, a magic wanted sign, nice staves…the chapter provides an interesting and well-crafted array of options.
The gieve, also known as the cyclops throwing blade, mustangs, spurs and rules for aforementioned uliun (including rules for uliun intoxication) and basically sheriff stars complement this section before we feature the amazing final part of the book – tables upon tables that denote which type of equipment is available where and for what price. These little tables are incredibly helpful when playing in a given region and prevent the GM from having to flip books – I seriously think the like should be standard for regional sourcebooks.
Editing and formatting are pretty much top-notch on both a rules-language and a formal level; I noticed no undue accumulation of missed italicizations or similar guffaws and the rules-language is precise. Layout adheres to Purple Duck games’ two-column standard and the pdf features several nice full-color artworks. It should be noted that the book remains pretty printer-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Treyson Sanders, with additional writing by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr, delivers by far the best Porphyran regional guide to date, seamlessly blending the virtues of all writers and honing them: We have Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr providing ample Porphyran lore and Treyson Sanders delivering his trademark precision feats to fill gaps in the interactions of rules. beyond that, though, we have one of the rare examples of a really cool hybrid class that gets pretty much everything right, nice archetypes and, more importantly, a region that just feels amazing: The Wild West/fantasy-crossover portrayed here is evocative, takes a bow before greats of the genre without just copying them and resonates with flair and panache. The fact that the pdf addresses the price-concerns with black powder weapons sans compromising the integrity and internal logic of Porphyra is just the frosting on an amazing book that delivers literally a ton of bang for your buck. This is well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. Whether for inspiration, as a regional sourcebook, for scavenging purposes or all of the above – this is worth getting, even beyond the confines of Porphyra.
You can get this damn cool sourcebook here on OBS!