Apr 212017
 

Lunar Knights

This massive sourcebook clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page used resources (nice for further research!), 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 40 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, this is a lycanthrope sourcebook and as such, we begin with a discussion of both animal and hybrid alternate shapes – and something I personally enjoyed: A lengthy discussion of what happens with the excessive mass that changing shape entails. Potential explanations from classic skin ripping to flesh sloughing off are covered. This may sound weird, but it is something that seriously made me smile – one of Hemlock Grove’s few saving graces past season 1’s beautiful visuals (that were lost in season 2 and 3) would be the phenomenal, visceral werewolf transformations. A more mystical approach is also mentioned, but as a whole, it is something GMs all too often miss clarifying, when it (like Hemlock Grove’s first season) could conceivably help structure adventures featuring lycanthropes. The other characteristics of being a lycanthrope, from enhanced ability scores to empathy etc. are similarly discussed in depth, with the default template included for easy reference.

 

From there on, we discuss the different types of lycanthrope – afflicted and natural, receive information on the nature of the curse and go further – both belladonna and wolfsbane receive poison stats and similarly, the “kill the original were-lord to end the curse” narrative contrivance also is included for your consideration. The basics established, we move on to myths and folklore from our own world, particularly those concerning the methods of affliction and the respective reasons for the curse. This is surprisingly well-researched. How well-researched? There actually were tidbits in this section that I did not know. This may sound like I’m full of myself, but I’ve written a metric TON of high-powered lycanthropic strains for my Ravenloft games with a similarly excessive array of mythological references and abilities. (Yes, to get that out of the way, I HATE that PFRPG treats all lycanthropes as one template.)

 

But I digress. Why should you care? Well, in Armenian folklore, werewolves are women who have committed deadly sins, thus being forced to spend 7 years in wolf form. They are visited by a spirit with a wolf skin and commanded to don it. Oh, and they devour their own children and those of folks nearby. Here’s the cool thing: Each such entry actually comes with proper, mechanical representations of the myth. To take this example, such unfortunates can cast knock at will as an SP. In Ethiopia, the buda (or bouda) are blacksmiths that can transform into corpse-eating hyenas that may be kept in check with holy symbols. In Finland, werewolves may have a paralytic gaze, while in Greece, they may rise again as vampires after being killed! The Haitian jé-rouge can possess others and yes, we get skinwalkers, the classic, Slavic undead…and Thailand’s werecrocodiles have diamond teeth and can cast spells! Amazing chapter, as far as I’m concerned!

 

Chapter 3 contains new class options for your perusal, beginning with a barbarian rage power that makes attacks count as silver while raging and goes on to present the lunar domain, which features the options to fire untyped damage causing moonfire and, at 8th level, generate a moon-equivalent of daylight that can force lycanthropes to transform. Yeah, not impressed by this one. Seen its tropes done before. If I had a Benjamin for every anti-lycanthrope moon-domain with silvery fire blasts… Similarly, the sorceror bloodline included is just not that interesting. Scaling bite, DR, natural AC…seen it done often. Not a fan. That being said, the core classes and how they work with lycanthropy are all discussed…though honestly, I would have been interested in all non-core classes; the basics have been done to death, while e.g. lycanthropic summoners etc….well. Haven’t.

 

The next chapter focuses on new PrCs, starting with the Dire Lord, who receives d10 HD, 4+ Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort-save progression and covers 5 levels. To qualify, you need to be non-lawful, a lycanthrope and have both the Rage class feature and Improved Control Shape. Skill-wise, the ranks lock this via 5 ranks prerequisite to being available pretty early. The PrC’s levels stack with barbarian levels for the purpose of rage and qualifying for rage powers. 2nd level yields Improved Natural Attack as a bonus feat for one natural attack of the beast form and 3rd level yields +2 to Str, Dex and Con while raging in hybrid form. Unfortunately, this is non-operational due to the bonus type used. Only the highest morale bonus applies and rage also provides a morale bonus, one that exceeds this ability’s benefits. It is pretty clear that this should INCREASE the morale bonus granted by rage etc., but RAW it doesn’t. 4th level provides Improved Natural Armor (only gaining the benefits in hybrid and animal form, unless the humanoid form has natural armor as well) and 5th level makes you grow by one size when assuming hybrid or animal form. There is no control here, alas, which may make the otherwise cool capstone a liability in narrow confines.

 

The eponymous lunar knights are lycanthropes who have taken up the mantle of fighting evil. You all know at this point how I see lycanthropy, so suffice to say, concept-wise, I’m not that thrilled. But what about the mechanics? Well, the PrC covers 10 levels and requires lycanthropes with a good alignment. The knight needs 5 ranks in Diplomacy and a BAB of +3 as well as formal initiation. The PrC yields d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. Chassis-wise, we get 1/2 Fort-save progression and full BAB-progression.

 

1st level provides the lunar oath class feature, which grants +1 hit point per class level. Once per night, they may also meditate and pray for 10 minutes, regaining 1 hit point per class level. Also at 1st level, the knight may use a standard action to enhance his weapons for 1 minute per class level, granting a +1 enhancement bonus, +1 for every 3 class levels beyond that. These stack with existing bonuses and can be used to also add a variety of special weapon ability. As a nitpick: These are not properly italicized and lack their equivalent bonuses behind them, meaning you’ll have to look that up. It’s not bad, since they are pretty common, but it’s still a slight inconvenience. Kudos: The ability covers double weapons and nonmagical weapons and if the weapon housing the enchanting moon spirit is destroyed, the ability requires a period of grace to work again. The ability may be used additional times per day for every 3 levels beyond the first. Big kudos: The ability even manages to not break the hard cap of enhancement bonuses on weapons. Not bad!

 

4th level yields +4 to demoralize checks while in animal or hybrid form; 3rd level +2 to saves, which scales up to +4 at 8th level. 5th level yields the ability to ignore up to 5 points of DR, which scales up to ignoring 10 points at 10th level, but only applies to weapons, not natural attacks. 6th level yields SR of 10 + class level, but only at night when the moon is visible. 9th level yields darkvision 60 ft. or increases an existing darkvision by 30 ft. As a whole, I wasn’t blown away by any of the PrC’s abilities – they are well crafted, granted, but not too spectacular or unique. On a plus-side, I really liked how conditional some are – this provides a bit of GM control and some serious flavor and establishes a concise leitmotif, which is a big plus as far as I’m concerned.

 

The third PrC herein would be the Moon Priest, who needs access to the lunar domain, must be a non-evil lycanthrope and be capable of casting remove curse. The PrC gets 2 + Int skills per level, d8 HD, 1/2 Fort- and Will-save progression, 3/4 BAB-progression and 9/10th spellcasting progression – only the capstone level has no spellcasting progression. The PrC gets +2 to CL-checks to break curses, which increases to +4 at 5th level. At 2nd level, all healing spells are cast at +2 CL and 3rd level yields DR 2/-, increasing by 2 at 6th and 9th level. 4th level allows for control of whether or not to inflict lycanthropy via bites and 6th level empowers all healing spells cast while the moon is visible. No, this does not extend to causing damage to undead. 7th level provides a cool ability: Those bitten become natural lycanthropes, rather than afflicted ones! 8th level also has a cool idea: As a full-round action, the moon priest may remove the taint of lycanthropy from a creature, removing the template, no matter how it was gained. It can only be used at night, under the light of the moon. Big issue: The ability has no reach. 10th level yields a bonus domain.

 

Fourth among the PrCs would be the Pack Alpha, who needs to have Leadership, 7 ranks in Diplomacy or Intimidate and must be, obviously, a lycanthrope. The PrC yields d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with all simple and martial weapons and all types of armor and shields, excluding tower shields. The PrC covers 10 levels and features 1/2 Will-save progression and 3/4 BAB-progression. Additionally, it stacks its levels with fighter levels for the purpose of qualifying for feats; nonfighters treat the pack alpha levels as fighter levels for the purpose of feat prerequisites. 1st level yields Skill Focus with either Diplomacy or Intimidate and the PrC begins play with the Alpha’s influence ability, which can be activated as a swift action and affects all allies within 60 feet that can hear the alpha and have an Int of 3 or more. It is suppressed when the alpha is dazed, unconscious, etc.; the ability grants +1 to attack rolls, weapon damage rolls, saves and skill checks, increasing its potency by +1 at 5th and 10th level. 2nd level yields a bonus feat, with 4th, 6th and 8th level providing additional ones.

 

Beginning at 3rd level, the alpha may 1/day as a standard action grant an extra move action to any or all followers within 30 feet. This does not change the initiative count and excludes the alpha from the benefits, with 7th level providing an additional daily use. Big kudos: The ability comes with a caveat that prevents multiple pack alphas from stacking it – only one such extra move may be taken per round. Well done! 9th level provides immunity to fear within 30 feet of the alpha. Easily the most interesting of the PrCs herein.

 

Chapter 4 provides, how could it be any different, new feats – a total of 9, to be precise. Bestial Heritage yields an animal form’s racial modifiers to skills, Fur Shift, which yields a degree of control over fur and allows the lycanthrope to Disguise himself better and the important Improved/Greater Control Shape: Improved yields +4 to Constitution checks to change shape, while the Greater version allows for rolling twice and take the better result 1/day. Quick Change lets you change shape as a move action (erroneously called “move-equivalent”), while Moon Magic represents a variant of Natural Spell. Lunar Power yields +2 to Str, Dex and Con while in animal r hybrid form during the full moon. The channeling feat Command Lycanthrope does exactly what it says on the tin. Horrible Transformation can cause those that witness your transformation to become shaken and has a minor rules-language hiccup, referring to “Willpower save” instead of “Will save” – more problematic would be that the feat gets the shaken condition wrong. Last time I checked, the condition does NOT penalize weapon damage rolls!

 

The chapter also features a list of suggested feats for lycanthropes, before we move into the second part of the book – what I’d call the NPC-gallery. We get a massive array of statblocks here, all with both human and hybrid form. The lycanthropes covered would be wereape, werebat, werecheetah, werecrocodile, weredog (whose hybrid form is, oddly, called werejackal), weredolphin, wereeagle, werehyena, wereleopard, werelion, wereshark, weresnake (in two versions – constrictor and viper!) and finally, the werewolverine. These statblocks range in CR from 1 to 4, covering the basics. So yeah, if you want a massive cadre of low-level lycanthrope statblocks, this may be worth checking out for that alone. Granted, the builds use primarily core material and don’t employ complex archetypes or anything like that, but they constitute a nice selection of rank-and-file lycanthropes. There are a scant few hiccups, but nothing glaring that would impede the usefulness of the material much.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level; I noticed a few inconsistencies in both, but not many. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ 2-column full-color standard in the form of an ancient grimoire. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sports a wide variety of nice full-color artworks…by the author!

 

Yep, you read right – this is the first book by the extremely prolific Jacob Blackmon that I have reviewed that not only features his artworks, but is also actually penned by him! So yes, this is a freshman offering and thus gets a bit of leeway. First things first: This book reads like a passion project. It is evident that some serious love, research and care has gone into it; it is not a phoned in book. The craftsmanship is also surprisingly precise for such an offering – the big stumbling stones of various abilities and required caveats all are present, which is another big plus. Balance-wise, this should work fine in even the most conservative of gaming groups, though very high-powered games may be a bit underwhelmed here.

 

So, should you get this or not? Well, this question is surprisingly complicated for me. As you all know from my reviews of the Bite Me!-series, I have pretty strong convictions regarding lycanthropy and how it should be portrayed in the game; I like to emphasize the curse, the psychological trauma and seductive lure of the beast, whereas the goal of this pdf is to present options for good lycanthropes…pretty much the anathema for my personal aesthetics. As a person, I did not gain that much from those aspects. As a reviewer, however, I do know many groups out there are harboring a different take on the concepts and it is for such groups that I’ll try to rate this.

 

If you are a GM, you may very well want to get this book for the MASSIVE amount of low-level lycanthrope statblocks inside. That component is very useful to have. As a player, I wouldn’t be as excited, though. The feats, class options and PrCs conspicuously omit advancements made in PFRPG – no non-core-material, for one. Not even for the APG-classes. The PrCs and class options unfortunately similarly feel a bit underwhelming; don’t get me wrong – for the most part, their craftsmanship is solid – surprisingly solid, in fact. But, and this is only my impression, mind you, they felt very much like they were playing it safe, to the point where I…I’m sorry, but there’s no tiptoeing around it, considered them…kinda boring. They don’t really have a cool, unique ability and feel like 3.X PrCs, also regarding the power of their abilities.

 

What do I mean by that? Let’s take a look at the pack alpha. No teamwork feats. No troop-commanding of werewolves. Moon Priest? No cool variant channeling. Dire Lord? No bloodrager synergy. There is no moonlight kineticist. No werecobra mesmerist. The moon knight has no order or magus-like tricks. A PrC capstone is “get any extra domain” – seriously? These PrCs don’t feel like “prestigious” professions – they feel like they should be archetypes in PFRPG. Oh wait. We have those concepts covered already. More than once.

In short: This feels, regarding player options, like a book that would have been decent prior to the release of the APG. 2016, though? Sorry. No. The player options are not badly executed; the craftsmanship is nice…but in balancing and design-aesthetics on the level of 3.5. Which is simply not enough.

 

At the same time, this book does offer some nice value for GMs. The NPC-chapter is extensive and fun; but by far the best part of the book, the one that had me smile from ear to ear, would be the unique tweaks of lycanthropes in various real-world mythologies. That section is gold and I seriously wished it was longer. Dear Jacob – I hope you are not discouraged by this review, you have potential. However, I have no option but to rate this as a complete package and as such, the pdf simply doesn’t reach the high standards I expect. Be courageous, be up to date regarding all those wonderful options that PFRPG offers. In the end, I cannot rate this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded up due to the freshman offering bonus. GMs may want to take a look; players are better served elsewhere.

 

You can get this book here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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