Lords of the Wild
This supplement clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, ¾ of a page empty, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with slightly more than 23 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
All right, first of all, this is indeed what you think it is – we have a play-a-werewolf supplement here on our hands. As such, we begin with a werewolf template that is specifically designed for player-use in mind. This template unapologetically increases CR by +1, which obviously makes sense. The target character gets the shapechanger subtype and +2 natural AC in animal or hybrid form. In wolf form, speed is adjusted to 50 ft., and the character gains +2 Wisdom and +2 to their choice of Strength, Dexterity or Constitution. The template obviously provides change shape, and one of 4 different natural attack choices made upon acquiring the template. These are tightly codified regarding type, but not damage type, where they require defaulting. Anyways, the interesting component here would be that the respective natural attacks increase in potency at higher character levels, adding for example bleed damage to bites, grappling feats to claws, rend and pounce – you get the idea. It is testament to the experience of the designers that thankfully, the pounce like ability is locked behind a sufficiently high minimum required level, showing a deep understanding of subtle nuances of PFRPG’s design paradigms.
Beyond these, the werewolf gets DR 3/-, low-light vision and lycanthropic empathy as well as scent. The origins of the werewolf curse are notably diverse, and as such, being bitten and the associated cursed bite ability, being born with the curse, wearing a pelt, etc. are included. Should you and your players not aim for permanently going for playing as a werewolf, the pdf notes a couple of means to potentially get rid of the condition – from poisonous wolfsbane to silver bullets, the classics are covered.
The pdf then proceeds to note how, ultimately, being a werewolf in a regular fantasy society would affect the psyche of the concerned character; after that, the book dives into one of its more interesting and rewarding aspects, namely the focus on packs: 4 pack rituals are covered, all of which provide a bonus beyond membership for completion, and all of which are tied to a unique and potent teamwork feat: If you belong to the Pack of the Night Wind, you for example get Hide in Plain Sight while within 60 feet of another pack member. That is super-strong and utterly horrifying! More potent Power Attacks with natural attacks, reduced power point costs – some potent tricks here. Very important to note: The alpha, as befitting of pack structures, gains additional benefits from these feats, providing a good mechanical reason to strive to gain the top-dog (pardon the pun) position.
The pdf then proceeds to present no less than 4 high-complexity archetypes, with the first being the moonlight meditant soulknife, which is a means to lose the werewolf curse: The character does gain the shapechanger subtype and a shifting feat (more on that later) at 1st level, replacing the usual bonus feat gained. The mindblade is basically the ability to shield the body of the meditant from moonlight, passively cutting the light into a sheathe of protective light that allows for the generation of ephemeral class and fangs – basically a spectral werewolf sheathe, a disassociated form of the curse worn, with 6th level adding a bite to the base array. This replaces alter form and otherwise works as the soul knife’s form mind blade. Super creative ad cool! This is further enhanced by providing a potent ability that drives home the savagery of werewolf: 5 foot movement as a free action, no AoOs, before each attack made with the aforementioned mind blade. This extends to up to 10 ft. at 4th level and further increases to 15 and 20 ft., respectively, at 8th and 16th level. This is not a 5-foot step, but may be used in conjunction with it. This replaces throw mind blade.
Since the base mind blade has been tweaked, the archetype then also proceeds to modify enhanced mind blade appropriately and excludes potentially problematic blade skills. 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter net scaling DR 1/silver. 4th level allows the projection to provide a shield of temporary hit points, courtesy of the sheathe. The ability also nets a bonus to speed and a deflection bonus to AC…and hitting targets allows you to replenish the pool. *sigh* No, there is nothing preventing infinite healing exploits here. Hand me this bag of kittens, I need to replenish my shield…But wait! You don’t need to beat up kittens. Resting for a minute also replenishes the shield. Which is problematic, as leeching abilities can thus prevent infinite healing from the quickly rejuvenating temporary hit points. A caveat that explicitly disallows such transference may have been in order here. Particularly since, theme-wise, I really enjoyed the visuals here. 5th level allows for quick drawing of these abilities, and 12th level allows for a Str or Dex boost and fly speed, swim speed and climb speed equal to base land speed, the aquatic subtype under water and the benefits of being able to squeeze through areas of half the usual size sans penalties – which replaces but one blade skill and may be a bit overkill. The archetype comes with guidance to increase its power even further, should you prefer extremely high-powered games.
The second archetype would be the silverblade hunter, a fighter archetype that gains +2 skills per level that must be spent on Wis-based skills, which btw. also all are class skills for the fellow. They lose heavy armor and tower shield proficiency for that. They get a special weapon that is treated as mithral at first level, acting as broken for other characters, analogue to the gunslinger. Armor training only applies while wearing mithral armor, but said armor is treated as one category lighter. Weapon training instead applies to all mithral weapons. Thematically interesting tweak!
The unshackled rager bloodrager archetype does not gain a bloodline; at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, they choose a feat from a brief list, with 7th and every 3 levels up to 16th level adding a bonus spell to the spells known. This collective is treated as bloodline for the purpose of meeting prerequisites and requirements. Instead of the bloodline power, we begin with a powerful bite attack, or an upgrade thereof; the bloodrage component of the class engine is replaced with lupine frenzy, which may be maintained for 4 + Con-mod rounds per day, +2 for every class level attained thereafter. While in this frenzy, the lupine rager gets +2 to atk and Will-saves and is treated as 2(!!) size categories larger for the purpose of natural weapon damage for the bite attack; considering that the base bite enhancement can already enhance a Medium target’s bite attack to the base damage value of Large, we’d thus arrive at a potential 2d8 bite base damage at level 1. Nasty, particularly if enlarged… The rage also nets -2 to AC and 2 temporary hit points per HD and basically behaves as bloodrage. The archetype really becomes interesting at 4th level, when the archetype learns to delay the onset of up to 1/4th maximum hit points damage, which is really interesting and tightly codified. This obviously replaces the 4th level bloodline power, with the 8th level power replaced by gaining the trip special quality. The 12th level power is replaced with freedom of movement while in lupine frenzy. At 16th level, the archetype may reduce delayed damage via inflicted bite attack damage, which is appropriate at this level. The usual rage upgrades at 11th, 17th and 20th level have been adjusted appropriately to account for the changed engine, and the capstone allows the bloodrager to truly become unstoppable, allowing them to use rounds of lupine frenzy to take actions they’d otherwise be denied from conditions et al. You know, apart from system mastery allowing first level characters to be a bit too good for my tastes, this is a really cool and fun archetype!
However, the most complex archetype herein may well be the wild huntsmaster dread, who gains Survival as a class skill and the collective ability, with scaling range and the 15th and 19th level upgrades for plane-spanning and planar-boundaries transcending range. The important tweak, though, would be the hunting pack: Replacing devastating touch, the archetype basically can fill empty slots in the collective with the hunting pack, up to 1 slot, plus 1 per 4 class levels. This takes a full-round action, and the pack members act on the initiative count of the dread. The size of the pack, Charisma modifier of the wild huntsmaster and class level determine the stats of the pack. The pack behaves, in a way, like a spectral haze of 5 ft.-spaces through which they can act, requiring direction by the wild huntsmaster. Combat feats are shared, a statblock is provided – you’ve understood it at this point probably: The pack behaves somewhat akin to the troop subtype with direction and the like reminiscent of the mechanics of much-beloved classes like tinker or general. The theme of the spectral pack is enhanced with an ability to sense fear, tracking, spirit of many…and the latter adds an augment to all network descriptor powers. Terrors may be channeled through the pack, telepathy, bites suppressing fear immunity (and later, mind-affecting effects)…and at 11th level, the archetype can infuse collective members with the pack’s spirits, making them temporarily werewolves! The capstone, finally, can force targets hit to be forced to join the hunt! This archetype is an A+ example of masterclass, complex design and warrants getting the pdf all on its own. Seriously. Plays smoothly, is powerful, yet not overburdening…just one amazing archetype oozing flavor and style.
The pdf provides 3 prestige classes, with the first two spanning 5 levels: The formless master needs BAB +4, 3 shifting feats, and gets 4 + Int skills, d8 HD, ¾ BAB-progression, ½ Fort- and Ref-save progression and 3 levels provide further class feature progressions. Every uneven level nets a bonus shifting feat. The first level ability allows for minor shapechanges to disguise themselves, 2nd level nets +5 ft. reach; 4th level adds a physical attribute bonus while affected by a shift, and 5th level allows for the extension of shifting feat durations.
What do shifting feats do? They are added to the bonus feat lists of shpaechangers, as granted by class levels. I.e. as bloodline feats etc. Shifting is a swift action and you get ½ character level + Con-mod (min 1) shifts per day. The interesting thing about these would be that there are multiple effects per shifting feat, allowing for control over the duration: You could have the benefits for 10 minutes, for example, or for just 2 rounds, with the latter increasing in power, obviously. There is another cool aspect here: The shifting feats increase in power the more of them you get, with 3 and 5 shifting feats being thresholds. Chameleon Shift, for example, gets rid of the -.5 penalty when attempting to move more than half speed while hiding, with 5 shifting feats allowing for hiding while observed. The latter can be potentially gained a bit soon for my tastes, so beware there. A total of 13 such feats are provided and make for a compelling and interesting way to enhance shapeshifters. The pdf also sports a new race trait, which is pretty damn cool – beyond a skill boost, you can smell badly hurt creatures and under the full moon’s light, you can even deathwatch them. Pretty damn cool!
But let’s return to the PrCs for now: The second one would be the Greater Werewolf, who gets full BAB-progression, ½ Fort-save progression, 2 class feature progression steps, d10 HD, 4 + Int skills and some really easy to meet prerequisites. The PRc adds class level to the DR gained by the template, nets +2 to Wisdom and Iron Will at 1st level, and at 2nd level, nets at-will charm animal as an extraordinary ability regarding to creatures affected by lycanthropic empathy. 3rd level allows for free action form change, even a 1/round change when it#s not the greater werewolf’s turn. 4th level allows the PrC to get another natural weapon upgrade from the template, and 5th level nets regeneration 5/silver.
The final PrC, the varsärk, covers 10 levels and gets d10 HD,, requiring BAB+6 and Multiattack, and gaining 4 + Int skills per levels, full BAB-progression and ½ Fort- and Ref-save progression, with 8 of the levels providing class feature progressions. The PRC requires totem rage powers, bloodrage, raging songs etc. and basically embodies the rage of the wolf, with cold damage upgrade to natural attacks, scaling beast shapes, endure elements – you guessed it: This is the winter wolf champion! Cool (haha) one!
The pdf closes with 4 spells: Curse of the beast and its greater version do pretty much what you’d expect them to, and the same goes for detect shapechanger. As an aside: I’m no big fan of such low-level detect-spells, with this one in particular somewhat trivializing shapechanger presence and their intrinsic horror. Finally, lunar healing nets you fast healing 1 for a minute.
Editing and formatting re top-notch on a formal and rules-language level, with the one exploit noted above as the one instance where I do object to a design decision, big time. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the interior artwork ranges from solid stock pieces to phenomenal original ones. All in all, this is an aesthetically-pleasing pdf. The pdf comes with a printer-friendly, second version and the pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Anthony S. Altovilla and Patrick C. Miller provide one impressive “Play a Lycanthrope” booklet here. The one true complaint you can field against the pdf would be its scope – due to the length, there are e.g. no hunting rules included, and a discussion of the hunger-aspect would have been nice to see as well. As written, the werewolves herein are somewhat bereft of the drawbacks we usually associate with the condition, hearkening a bit closer to the Wolrd of Darkness’ relatively controlled lycanthropes, as opposed to the original theme of the cursed. Not complaining, mind you – just observing!
The pdf is pretty much unrepentant in its use of lycanthropy as a straight power-upgrade, which means that, as a whole, there is no real reason apart from in-game social stigma to get rid of the condition. So yeah, if you’re looking for a gothic horror toolkit, then this may perhaps be not 100% what you’d been wanting. HOWEVER, if you already subscribed to e.g. “Lords of the Night”’s increased power-level or are looking for a means to allow for PC lycanthropes without burdening the player unduly with drawbacks or loss of control, then this delivers. As an aside: For me as a person, these pretty much constitute the very essence of lycanthropy, so yeah…to me, the lack of drawbacks and hunger makes these guys feel more like a savage form of wolf-anthro than a werewolf. Suffice to say, for settings like Ravenloft, grittier games or those that like delving into the darker shades of gaming over the course of a whole campaign, who want to roleplay the torment and anxieties that monsters like werewolves exemplify, this may not necessarily be what you’re looking for.
That being said, if you accept this interpretation of a drawback-less werewolf for the sake of playability, then this pdf delivers a more than solid offering in its execution. In fact, the archetypes alone and the shifting feat engine may well warrant checking out the pdf, even if you’re not interested in this particular vision of the werewolf. Frankly, to me the wild huntsmaster archetype warrants the fair asking price all on its lonesome; the moonlight meditant, with just a minor tweak of the exploitable ability, can similarly make for an OMG-how-cool-is-that archetype. The first two PrCs feel slightly weaker, though the varsärk, in spite of being conceptually pretty simple, works really well for its niche as well.
So, when would I recommend this pdf? If you’re playing in a high-fantasy campaign, and a PC has been infected/you have a major lycanthropy angle coming, and don’t like the whole angst/psychological angle of werewolf-related issues (waking up in peasant blood, going berserk on allies, etc.pp.), then this is your go-to-pdf. It allows you to introduce temporary afflictions of lycanthropy in the game without interrupting the tone and plotline. Similarly, if you don’t want to go the template route and just want werewolf-themed character options, then this does offer some really cool tricks. The pack rituals can make PC-groups and NPCs alike truly formidable foes…
For a painless werewolf one-shot, or a Halloween-themed sojourn into the realms of the lycanthropes, this works really well.
In short, there is a lot to love herein.
While for me, as a person, this interpretation fails to account for pretty much what, to me, constitutes the very core of what lycanthropy means, there are a ton of cool rules and concepts to scavenge, and even if I’d take this into account and treat the base werewolf engine and the content building on it as a total loss (which it isn’t!), there is still enough content within to build upon and enjoy to warrant this a worthwhile pdf.
How to rate this, then? Well, the craftsmanship is very tight and well-executed, and the pdf includes one of the coolest archetypes I have seen-period. The wild huntsmaster is frickin’ A+-plus gold, and as such, as a whole, I found that I enjoyed this much more than I, by any rights, should have. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo. The huntsmaster single-handedly nets this my seal of approval, though I’d like to note that, if you share my preferences for lycanthropes as beings defined by their curse, that you may want to subtract a star from this final verdict.
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