This new base class clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Chassis-wise, the master of forms receives full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, unarmed damage scaling of the monk, unarmored AC-progression of up to Cha-mod+5, d10 HD, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency with brass knuckles, cesti, club, crossbows (light and heavy), dagger, handaxe, javelin, kama. nunchaku, quarterstaff, siangham, sai, shortspear, short sword, shuriken, sling, spear and temple sword, but not any armor or shields. It should be noted that we do get the unarmed damage tables for small and large PCs – kudos there!
The class is defined by the forms. Forms can be considered to be martial arts that either are extraordinary or supernatural abilities. They sport three defining components: Focus required denotes the minimum number of focus required to perform the form. Focus Change specifies how the performing of the form changes the focus points. Costs are paid up front, gained focus is awarded after performing the form. The Element, finally, denotes the subtype of the form. Masters of forms begin play with 3 forms and gain +1 form every level thereafter. DCs usually are 10 + 1/2 class level + Charisma modifier and unless otherwise noted, the master of forms can only perform one form per round.
I mentioned the focus pool in the above explanation: The maximum number of focus points in the pool is equal to 4. The pool begins empty and does not refresh simply by resting. Instead, executing certain forms increases or decreases the focus pool. Focus points can only be regained in combat and last only for Charisma modifier minutes outside of combat. While this can be inefficiently be kitten’d, the short duration means that it’s not a good strategy. The master of forms automatically learns certain basic, universal forms: These are gained at 1st level, +1 every 3 levels thereafter. Basically, you can picture these as the “minimum-functionality”-framework that prevents inexperienced players from locking themselves into a situation, where they can’t gain focus – the most basic of these forms, for example, allows you to substitute a regular attack in a full-attack-sequence or use a standard action for an attack that deals regular damage + 1/2 Cha-mod (full Cha-mod starting 6th level) and nets you +1 focus.
At 4th level, for -1 focus, as a swift action, the master of forms can self-buff with minor luck bonuses, while 7th level provides a means for ending an elemental stance and immediately starting a new one as a move action. (As a swift action at 19th level, they can also end it, but gain focus and still be allowed to enter a second stance.). Level 10 provides temporary flight (YES – non-combat utility!) and higher levels sport save-bonuses. I already mentioned elemental stances, so let me elaborate a bit there: Universal forms have no element and thus do not disrupt active stances, though they do break the sequence required to activate an elemental stance.
All right, so what’s the deal with stances? Well, whenever a master of forms performs three consecutive forms belonging to the same element, they enter the element’s stance…and they are UNIQUE. Earth, for example, allows you to expend one focus when attacked by a weapon – if he does, he may roll dice equal to the weapon’s base damage die, gaining the result as DR X/- against the attack. Oh, and guess what? No focus-cost if the master of forms is below 1/2 maximum HP.
Fire allows for roaring attacks, since here, the focus is gained prior o executing the attack. Ice allows for forms with focus change of +1 instead of an AoO, though that does change the focus change value of the form used to -1. Lightning increases movement rate by +5 ft. per focus point currently held, while wind provides +1 temporary focus when his focus is 0. This does not count towards required focus and are expended first, but otherwise, the temporary focus behaves as though it were a regular focus point.
At 2nd level, masters of forms may 1/day grant himself the ability to perform a second form per round 1/day, +1/day every 5 levels thereafter. Additionally, this level nets evasion, while 3rd provides slow fall, 8th purity of body, 14th diamond soul. As a capstone, the master of forms tallies up the forms known – the one for which he knows most forms (choose in case of a tie) is then known of predominant. The master is ALWAYS in the stance of this element while conscious and is considered even to be in the stance, while being in another active stance.
The class also gains access to so-called secret arts, the finishers/fatalities of the class, if you will – secret arts cannot be performed on the same round another form has been activated and if a duration is non-instantaneous, no other form may be performed while it persists. They do not require a focus, but require the master of forms to be in the corresponding elemental stance. Secret arts can be performed 1/day each, but choosing the same secret art multiple times adds +1 daily use of the secret art. Masters of forms choose a secret art at 5th level, +1 every 4 levels thereafter.
So what do they do? Well, let’s take a look at Ice’s Aquatic Triad: As a standard action, the master of forms expends all focus, choosing a 10 ft. burst area within 60 ft. range. This mist can be changed into steam, left as aerosolized water or deposit the burst as snow. Steam deals cold damage (drawing heat), maximizing damage versus foes in metal armor. Water makes all armor behave as having a Max Dex bonus of +0 for 1 minute and further enhance bonuses granted by flanking such targets; finally, snow deals scaling fire damage and maximizes damage versus targets wearing combustible armor. While the damage-types seem counter-intuitive, they are based on mighty science and energy transfer. Finally, it should be noted that the master of forms may choose two effects when performing this with 2+ focus, all when using it with 4 focus.
Bones of the Mountain allows you to draw forth a massive earthen, devastating club, while master of air can move as swift action and fire blasts of ranged touch attack trips that also deal damage. Another secret art allows the master of forms to treat himself as staggered, emulating the stasis of a frozen world – while in this ice-cold fugue, the master of forms may retaliate against any attack that hits him with attacks of opportunity, ignoring the usual limitations of AoOs per round. Blasting foes with cannon-like winds and auto-haste plus partial armor ignoring. Unleashing potentially blinding blasts of fiery pyroclasms or hurling lightning, Zeus-style also rock. The respective secret arts increase in potency and have scaling mechanisms both based on level and focus for the particular executions – love that component.
As always, you get a significant array of favored class options and they deserve special mention: Gnomes may, once choosing the FCO 5 times, add +1 form; when performing said form, they may spend 3 focus to execute a second form! Unique! Beyond the base-races, aasimar, drow, hobgoblins, kobolds, puddlings, orcs and tieflings are covered. The class gets +4 supplemental feats – one for +1/day deep focus use, +1 DC for the forms of an element, one for +2 forms and one that provides bonus elemental damage while in a stance.
All right, so, I’ve danced around this long enough – let’s take a look at those forms. They are listed by element and requirements – most forms have no requirement, while level 4, 6 and 8 each can be considered to be thresholds that unlock new forms. It should be noted, though, that most forms are available from the get-go, meaning there’s a lot of options to choose from the very beginning. The truly interesting component of the respective elements, though, would be that each and every one of the elemental types generally have at least one component that sets them apart and makes them feel distinct: While you’d expect e.g. earths forms to be movement-reducing (via grappling vines), they actually also sport temporary hit points…and the unique component of gaining additional benefits while below half maximum hit points. Their visuals are also pretty awesome: Gaining claws from crystallized hemoglobin? Heck yeah! Lassos from vines? Growing poisonous berries? Toppling shockwaves? Jup!
Fire allows you to suspend fast healing/regeneration and turn it upon foes, perform blazes of deadly fire…and quite a few of the forms here allow the respective master of forms to perform additional forms this round, emulating the sudden blaze of ignited flames. Oh, and 0 focus change bleed damage ending or causing weeping, seared wounds…quite interesting! Ice, however, is imho more awesome/unique: Beyond movement impediment, ice-chunks launched at foes, devastating waves of cold that may stagger foes, gradual freezing of adversaries or performing special strikes that make it very hard to concentrate…the forms of ice are wonderfully, delightfully dickish. There would be a strike that provides a warning to the creature attacked: If it subsequently performs a full-round action or move and standard action in the same round, with a failure staggering the creature. Particularly exciting would also be frozen surge, which is predicated on a former form missing, a save being made by a victim or you failing to hit a CMD, allowing you to unleash a burst of cold/bludgeoning damage. Ice, basically, is about building up focus…and then unleashing it suddenly, powerfully…and painfully. It’s also about slowing/debuffing – absolutely fun.
Lightning, on the other hand, is about speed and volatile bursts – including, as a sidebox acknowledges, a means of performing potentially more than 2 forms per round. The forms also allow for changing directions in charges, penalize foes with blinding sparks…and at level 8, there is a form that allows you to take +1 standard action, but at the cost of being staggered in the round thereafter. Fast strikes that bypass certain amounts of hardness and DR or unleashing a storm cloud that can fire bolts of lightning at adversaries – once again, lightning has its own distinct playstyle.
Finally, wind may sound, concept-wise, as though it were similar to lightning – but it’s not really. Where lightning is pretty much about agility in the way that pertains the covering of an area in straight lines, wind represents a more ephemeral component: Granting yourself concealment, defensive stances that make attackers provoke AoOs against which they are flatfooted – the wind element is interesting – also thanks to two interesting components: The build-up: There is e.g. a form that allows for a swift action trip as well as the execution of a second form, representing the rising of the storm. This theme is further enhanced by some forms having additional effects when the master of forms has at least a certain amount of focus, representing on a mechanic base the change from clear skies to storms. What about a touch attack-based whirlwind against all adjacent enemies, allowing you to perform AoO-less combat maneuvers against all of them? (And yes, this gets the moving-caveat right.) Wind is about fluidity, about maneuvers and foe control and it plays just as ephemeral as you’d expect it to.
Now here’s the thing, though: While entering a stance is pretty much desirable…it’s not necessarily the only strength of the class: Note that, unlike many such classes, this has no prohibited element – these diverse fighting styles are MEANT to be combined – perhaps to set-up a secret art and enter the respective stance, perhaps just to switch between them as you unleash new combos upon your adversaries.
Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed some minor instances of flawed punctuation, I noticed nothing to complain about. The rules-language, as we’ve come to expect from Bradley Crouch, is precise to the point. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ printer-friendly two-column full-color standard and the pdf has some nice stock art. The pdf comes sans bookmarks, which is a comfort-detriment.
My first thought when I heard about this class was: “Oh no, not ANOTHER elemental martial arts/bender-style class. Urgh. We had enough elemental burst-blasting borefests…” My second thought was “What a waste of Bradley’s talent.” Oh boy have I been seldom wrong to this extent. This class was commissioned by Alex Ross via Interjection Games’ patreon and I am truly grateful for it.
First of all, a solid skill array and high Cha-score mean that this class makes for a solid option in non-combat environments – not the best, but you’ll have things you can do. But more importantly, this class, to me, is genius. Know why I don’t like elemental classes? They’re BORING most of the time. You’ll probably have seen this before: Earth specialists that throw globs of rock that are variants of fireball, with parameters like added conditions, other saves and damage types changes. We’ve seen that again and again…and it never played right to me. What made Avatar so popular beyond the story and the writing, what made elementalists in good anime stand out, what made Scorpion and Sub Zero different was that their powers may have looked similar, that there were overlaps…but they played completely differently nonetheless. Now granted, some classes and options out there managed that, but still stuck to their niche; air specialists got air walk and were opposed to earth…you get the idea.
This is the furious rebuttal to the claim that elementalists can’t play radically differently depending on the element used and it also emphasizes fluidity between the elements, a constant change and flux, with stability having its reward as well via secret arts and stances. This is basically the class-design equivalent of Bruce Lee saying “Be like water, my friend.” – instead of limiting yourself to one particular element, which remains a valid strategy, the most awesome way of playing these guys is by mixing and matching the different elements and their forms, generating set-ups to then either directly escalate or to generate a stabile stance to then conclude with a secret art – so, not only do the respective forms feel unique in the respective elements, the option to mix them makes the system even more awesome.
The master of forms play flexible, fun and has truly unique effects: Beyond being a solid front-line fighter, the class can also double as terrain control, targeted debuffer, skirmisher – there are a lot of ways to play this class, and all work. The one thing this pdf left me with, ultimately, is a huge desire to see even more: More forms, more types of forms/schools…more. This is a thinking man’s martial class, a fun, balanced elementalist that actually makes the respective elements feel distinctly unique while maintaining flexibility. Oh, and yes, the unique components of the elemental forms do retain a distinct mechanical identity that fits together with the fluff. I so want more material for this class – my players love it, I enjoy it and it, overall, is a glorious martial arts-class, well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.
You can get this superb class here on OBS!
And if you want to support Bradley directly (or have your own class idea you want realized), you can do just that here on Interjection Games’ patreon!