Legendary Villains: Evil Clerics
The third installment of Legendary Games’ supplements containing powerful options for GMs crafting dastardly villains clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
From Randall Flagg to Thulsa Doom, once you start thinking about it, popular fiction is rife with great cleric-y villain antagonists and the introduction of this book does quote several of these beloved antagonists as inspirations to draw upon before moving towards a rather crucial aspect of evil clerics: As servants of the divine, they INSPIRE. No matter whether they are fanatics, the traumatized or simply bigots, the term of demagogue often conjures up the clergy, spittle-faced, whipping their believers into a frenzy…just as much as thinking of evil clerics immediately conjures up scenes of black-robed cultists of the demonic or the elder gods congregating in abandoned places, with pure, evil power and a divine plan most maleficent at their finger tips. Much to my positive surprise, we thus begin this supplement with disruptive actions evil clerics can engage in – from notes on evil cleric buildings utilizing the kingdom-building mechanics to special, evil cleric related downtime events, the pdf is off to a great start: Subverting recruits or greasing the rumor mill – the power and insidious strategies employed are well-crafted and add a so far neglected componnet of the threat that evil clerics represent.
Now we begin with a 10-level Prestige Class, the Sinweaver, who gets 2+Int skills, d8 HD, full channel energy progression, 9/10th spellcasting progression, 3/4 BAB-progression and 1/2 Will-save progression. As the name implies, these clerics are themed around sin – as such, they can, as a SP, detect sin – as a nitpick, though, this one does not specify how often it can be used – I assume at-will, but clarification would have helped here anyways. t 1st level, the PrC gets a sin pool that can hold up to 3 + class level points and it refreshes to 3+1/2 class level upon resting. These points power the sin powers of the class and can also be expended as a free action when casting a spell to increase CL or DC by 1. Also at first level, the PrC gains the ability to “eat” confessions – basically, after interacting with a creature verbally for 10 minutes, the sineater may use a standard action, adding sin points to her pool depending on the sin consumed, though this can be resisted with a Will-save. Sin points gained can range from 1 – 5 and the pdf provides guidance regarding on what constitutes sinful thoughts etc. Also at 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the PrC gains access to one of the aforementioned sin powers. These provide a pretty extensive array of options – from supernatural disguise self to a melee touch that deals damage and grants said damage as temporary hit points, temporary switching of energy type channeled or enhanced senses that scale with PrC-level attained, the selection of powers is interesting.
As a nitpick, sineaters could kitten the whole system – since sentient creatures have sinful surface thoughts, eating the sins of animals via speak with animals is possible – a minimum Int/type-caveat could have helped here. Similarly, the temporary hit points granted by aforementioned touch could easily be drawn from slaying kittens, since the hit points gained are dependent on the damage caused, not the actual hit points lost by the target. While this is obviously no problem for GM NPCs and similarly should not be an issue in most games, it does provide an imho unnecessary loophole. Weapon enhancement can also be found, though, oddly, the weapon properties available have not been italicized here. At 3rd level, the PrC gains an aura that can be maintained for 1 round per sinweaver level, granting the sinweaver a +4 bonus to Charisma while in effect and forces those nearby to save or “become distracted by sinful thoughts.” Okay, two things: One, what is the action to activate the aura? Swift? Immediate, free? No idea. Secondly: What does that “distracted” mean? It’s not a default condition in PFRPG. Does it work akin to the distracting weapon quality? Does it render flat-footed as per Distracted Shot? No idea. At 10th level, the PrC allows for the class to “force a final confession from a dying creature” and raise it as a variant shade made of sin, beholden to the sinweaver…which is okay…but once again, kittenable, lacks the information for the action required to use the ability…and feels disjointed. Pet as a capstone? Okay, I guess…but…why? Overall, I wanted to like this PrC, but it feels disjointed to me, with the actual sins not really featuring prominently. Similarly, the issues with ability activation and abuse potential disqualify this one at my table, even though I really wanted to like it and do like the idea behind it.
The pdf goes on to provide archetypes for evil clerics, with the first being the Deceiver, who loses medium armor and shield proficiency and gets a modified skill-list. They may choose one domain available to another god – at 4th level, the archetype can expend uses of channel energy to change the energy of the channel, domain powers or even prepare spells with the [good]-descriptor. Cool! The archetype can also conceal the nature of the unholy symbol, masking it as the holy symbol of another deity and may add class dependant bonuses to social skills made to deceive believers. They can also imitate auras. At 8th level, the archetype can shift the blame to others and spontaneous casting is modified in a unique manner, gaining spontaneous conversion into trickery-related spells. Cool archetype!
The second archetype herein is basically the Calistria warrior-cleric you may wanted in theme- the Sacred Stinger gets a modified proficiency and skill-list (exchanging shields with several martial weapons). The archetype receives diminished spellcasting, but also bonus feats at 1st level, 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter…or rogue talents; and yep, 10th and 20th level expand the available list. 8th level nets poison use. All in all, a balanced, neat archetype somewhat lacking in the fact that it could have used some unique tricks.
After these archetypes, we are introduced to a new domain, the disease domain, which lets you burst pustules and fire bolts of viscera at nearby foes (30 ft.), nauseating and sickening foes, usable 3 + Wis-mod times per day. Clerics with this domain can’t ever drop to below 1 in ability scores via diseases, with 4th level eliminating detrimental effects and 8th allowing you to contagion via a touch 1/2 cleric level times per day. Solid, if not a domain that blew me away.
The pdf also features 4 regular feats: One lets you Craft Cursed Items (or add curses to existing ones), while the other 3 feature modifications of channel energy, allowing for the addition of the sickening condition, contagion or darkness, with the latter scaling at +4d6 to instead use deeper darkness. These would be basically the “normal” feats herein; feats I’d generally consider feasible for evil PCs. But, at least for me, the series has excelled in the super-powerful story-driven feats as pioneered by Clinton J. Boomer. This book similarly has an array of very complex feats, that nevertheless are a tad bit less extreme than in previous books – here, they’re called “Avatar of Evil”-feats. This time around, they are based on the Unholy Scar feat, which means the symbol of your deity is etched into your skin as a birthmark, scarification of the like, acting as an unholy symbol. When using this to channel negative energy to damage the living, its DC is increased by 2 and also acts as a phylactery of faithfulness. Any action versus your deity, though, strikes you progressively more crippling afflictions: Bestow Curse, blindness and then, all loss of power.
Now, in all but name (since those are closed IP), the feats themselves align with the core Pathfinder deities, with e.g. Bestial Avatar, obviously, being the feat for followers of Rovagug. As a swift action, such clerics can enter a barbarian rage for rounds equal to 1/2 cleric levels, but sans rage powers. Multiclass cleric/barbarians instead count as 2 levels higher for rage power granted ability purposes. The respective feats also add an array of spells to the spell-list known of the respective cleric – one at 3rd level and one for each subsequent spell level. However, beyond the restrictions of the Unholy Scar feat, each feat does come with a drawback and a specific obedience to follow: The aforementioned feat penalizes all Int-based checks by -2 and requires that you 1/week destroy an object of significant importance to another person, with your end-goal being the unleashing of the dread god from its confinement. Those that follow Norgorber can memory lapse via a touch Cha-mod times per day, but also become susceptible to influence, as dread secrets corrode their resolve and may afflict them with amnesia if their mental attributes ever fall to 0. Servants of the Old Ones are afflicted by madness and must conjure forth beings from beyond, while diabolical avatars must broker lopsided contracts. The Lamashtan avatar feat has a couple of formatting relic (strike-through boxes) instead of hyphens in its formatting, but otherwise is disturbing enough, with divinely-prescribed pregnancy every 3 years. All in all, these feats are rather well-balanced, considering their serious powers and story-implications and I can generally see them work for player characters.
The pdf also provides new cleric spells – 8 to be precise. They allow the target to conjure forth uncontrolled cockroach swarms from the fallen, assume three variants of diabolical aspect, induce amnesia and a spell-version of the good ole’ infernal contract trope. A sound-based, somewhat blasphemy-ish unearthly chorus, dependent in efficiency on HD of the affected, makes for a solid 4th-lvel spell-option, while the award for the most disturbing evil spell, perhaps ever, goes to monstrous birth, creating a horrific duplicate in the target, an abomination that proceeds to hamper the target and then burst forth to slay its parent. Shudder-worthy indeed, even as a male.
The pdf also sports an assortment of magic items, half of which, though, are cursed! Cloaks of weakness, phylacteries of heresy…the ideas here are cool. There also would be an unholy symbol that allows the target to replace a domain power with another domain power that’s part of the patron deity’s portfolio, an altar that facilitates the binding of planar allies, a Cha-enhancing perfume (and one that attracts the undead!), a cannibalistic hunger inducing blade (lacking “blade” once in a cosmetic glitch), enchanted funeral shrouds…pretty cool. A glove containing deadly syringes would be among the more unique items here.
However, it is here that the pdf once again amps up the awesome factor: I’ve you’ve followed my reviews for a while, you may noticed that I am a ridiculous fan of the grimoire concept Legendary Games used in the plug-ins for both Carrion Crown and Jade Regent – you know, legendary tomes containing forbidden knowledge and unique benefits. This book does feature two new grimoires, with the first being the Book of Assignations, which contains the scriptures of an evil cult of the Lady of Wasps herself, potentially providing access to a Wasp faux familiar. The book also teaches to channel Con-damaging poison with your channel and contains a variant of faithful hound, a wasp that can deliver wicked stings. Oh, and have I mentioned the spell that generates a whip of wasps, which can transform into a swarm? Yeah, pretty cool!
The second grimoire in this book would be Nythria’s Memory Shards, penned by an erstwhile faithful devotee of Norgorber, ultimately as an act of defiance in the face of her betrayal by the deity. The feats contained in this book allows for the addition of bleed to channel and a very powerful option for 10th level characters to stagger those hit by Weapon Specialization weapons. The grimoire also contains 4 new spells, one of which is a memory flooding based slightly superior confusion. At 7th level, save-or-die-touch is not really a favorite, but stealing faces of living or deceased foes and obscure identity both will find their fans – as the pdf notes, Nythria’s main achievement was the theft of hundreds of faces – basically, this grimoire is just what fans of A Song of Ice and Fire’s faceless men wanted.
Editing and formatting are good, though not as precise as usual for Legendary Games – I noticed a couple of minor hiccups here and there. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard usually employed in the Wrath of the Righteous plug-ins. The pdf sports a blending of new and old artwork – while all is high-quality, I still wished the grimoires had their own unique pieces instead of reused ones from previous grimoire-installments. With art being expensive, though, I understand this decision. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks that aren’t in sequence and provide no nested bookmarks.
Jenny Jarzabski’s evil clerics took me on a roller-coaster ride. I like the Ultimate Campaign-support and I cherished the grimoires. I was similarly positively surprised by the deceiver archetype and the fact that the complex avatar-feats actually work well with PCs as well. At the same time, the pdf, as a whole, felt somewhat less creative than the previous installments – I found myself a tad bit less enthused in the concepts evoked. And then there would be the PrC, which should be a great take on the Thassilonian cleric…but falls pretty short in multiple ways of what it sets out to do. As a totality, this pdf has some gems and some less refined pieces, with the gems elevating it above the fray. Hence, the book can be considered to be a solid, if not perfect purchase, with a rating of 3.5 stars, rounded up 4 for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this toolkit/option-book here on OBS!