Midgard: Player's Guide to the Dragon Empire
By Thilo Graf
The second of Midgard Player’s Guides from Open Design is 31 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
The Mharoti-empire is one of the most interesting nations in the Midgard setting: An empire in service to the elemental dragon lords, this vast nation is governed by a sultan(a) elected by the conglomerate of dragons in order to avoid the power-struggles between draconic masters. Hungry to satiate the draconic lust for treasure and power, the young empire is on the constant verge of expansion and looking to use its vast, draconic military to fuel its conquests. That being said, another interesting fact is that humans are actually second-class citizens that rank below the dragonkin and kobolds – after are, the scaled races are closer to their scaled overlords. But in fact, the social structure of the empire is more complex, as the entry on the castes show:
The Jambuka (or jackals) occupy the bottom ladder of the empire and consists of the non-scaled folks – with one notable exception: The sultana of the empire is actually a dragon-blooded human. Also, the legendary Harem Assassins of the empire are recruited from this caste as a kind of elite cadre of enforcers. Above the jackals rank the kobaldi, who make up the bulk of engineers, sappers etc. and beyond the kobaldi, there are the Sekban, the lowest caste of dragonkin, which also include a few humans with draconic blood. The shocktroops of the empire, the Edjet are a warrior-caste raised from birth to serve as the backbone and elite of the empire’s vast military forces. Minor lords and light cavalry, the Akinji-caste is the home of dragonkin and drakes, whereas the highest strata are the Timarli (dragon dukes), Urmanli (scaled lords, a caste for dragons) and finally, there are the Morza, the grand dragons that truly rule the empire.
After all this great fluff, we’re off to the crunchy bits of the guide, with a total of 43 (unless I have miscounted) traits being offered to show that your PC hails from glorious Mharoti. Among the regular traits, the vast majority can be considered balanced an well-conceived, with one exception: “Dragon Fighter” doubles your threat range versus draconic foes, which is, in my humble opinion, broken even if you don’t take into account that dragonkin and kobolds may or may not count as draconic creatures. This trait needs a revision. Among the racial traits, we also get a solid selection of traits, with many exclusive to dragonkin and drakes, though rules to play the latter are not included in the book. Among these, we unfortunately also have some that NEED a revision due to being overpowered: Deep Seer for drakes doubles your darkvision-range or even grants you scent – for a TRAIT! Wtf? There’s also one for dragonkin that increases threat range for ALL two-handed weapons by +1. Think about that. Improved critical doubles the threat range of ONE type of weapon. ONE. Gathered, it doubles the threat range instead of adding +1, but this bonus works with two-handed warhammers as well as with large swords, spears etc. This is beyond what I’d consider a low-level feat, let alone a trait. Broken and needs some further restriction.
We also get 24 new feats, unfortunately also several ones with problems. While I like the options for kobolds and dragonkin to gain gliding wings and flying via feats, there are multiple issues: Climbing Claws nets you a +4 feat bonus to climb as well as climb speed at full movement with a -5 penalty AND retain your dex-bonus. The thing is, there is no such bonus as a feat-bonus in PFRPG and the benefits feel rather a tad bit too much for me. And then there is Breath Weapon. Oh boy is there Breath Weapon. It grants a dragonkin or kobold an elemental breath weapon of 1d6 per 2 spellcaster levels in a 30-ft cone. However: The feat fails to specify a) whether there’s a save versus the breath weapon and how it would be calculated – I assume the default 10 +1/2 HD + con modifier, but I’m not sure and don’t know whether it’s ref, will or fort and b) how many times per day you can use it. Or does it have a cool-down? We don’t know and as written, the feat unfortunately is utterly and completely BROKEN. And then there’s dragon slayer: If you sneak a draconic creature (again, do kobolds and dragonkin qualify?) and deal at least 25 points of damage, the creature needs to make a DC 25 fort-save or die.
First: PFRPG got rid of save or die and good riddance. Secondly, this means that a GREAT WYRM has a 1-in20-chance of being killed by such a puny attack. COME AGAIN? First, this feat violates PFRPG-design-standards, secondly: 1 in 20? Seriously? That’s a great way to make dragon combats a gamble on part of the PCs and potentially VERY ridiculous. Yes, DMs could fake the rules, but that’s not what I’d consider good design. This feat needs to die. “Roar of the Dragon Lords” is also weird: It allows you to emit a 30 ft.-roar 3/day. Foes with less than 1/2 HD of you get shaken if on a DC 20-save and you also get +4 to intimidate for a one minute afterwards. Per se a good idea of a feat, BUT: It can be taken at 1st level and it’s DC does not scale. Wouldn’t a 10+1/2 level + con/cha-mod formula that scales be more prudent and keep the feat usable? All in all a very disappointing section unbefitting of the usually high quality of Kobold Press releases.
After that, we get new archetypes: Cavaliers may now become members of the Order of the Firedrake, who may choose draconic/reptilian mounts at the DM’s approval and gain some inspiration-based abilities. AND OUCH are they strong: 1/combat (!!!) grant cha-mod morale bonus to atk and damage to all allies within 30 ft for wis-mod-rounds. At 15th level, the cavalier gets insane, allowing all allies within 30 ft. to make a full move AND a melee attack as an immediate action to accompany the full move plus melee attack (as a standard action!) of the cavalier. I’m gonna go on a tangent here: 1/combat abilities SUCK. They don’t work as intended and break believability in my opinion. 5 short combats? 5 times the ability. One long one? Only once. What about a large-scale battle with multiple skirmishes? These abilities enter a sense of metagaming to play that breaks my suspension of disbelief and are not part of standard PFRPG-rules and design. AGAIN, this needs a revision. The abilities are strong enough, give them a limited amount of uses per day and be done with it.
Also: Dragon and drake mounts are HARD to balance and the lack of guidance is a major bummer for any DM. Super Genius Games have their Dragon Rider class and it’s balancing is HARD as it shows how much to consider. The lack of such balancing guidelines means that the one striking feature of the class remains unsupported.
Druids may now become Elemental Exarchs may get an elemental companion with which they can fuse and gain some elemental-based abilities. The fusing is a neat idea, though I wished they had wildered a bit regarding the summoner-eidolon rules, as the rest of the archetype is mostly what you’d expect from elemental druids. Sorry, but in spite of the cool temporary fusion with the elemental, I can’t really get behind it, though that’s a matter of taste and not something I’ll hold against the player’s guide.
Edjet Warriors are exclusively dragonkin fighters are specialists with polearms that may cleave-trip multiple foes. At high levels, though, the archetype’s balance crumbles to dust. At 15th level, the edjet warriors get essentially evasion for fort and will-saves versus spell-like abilities and spells. That’s “Mettle” with another name, an ability that was broken in 3.X and still is. This ability needs replacement. Furthermore, worse, at 16th level, the Edjet also gains evasion when using a shield AND may grant that to ALL adjacent allies. At 20th level that becomes improved evasion. Ok at the highest level, though somehow, my DM-senses tingle at that ability as well.
Dragon Magi may deliver elemental damage vi their spellstrikes a limited amount of times per day and later gain elemental rays and blasts as well as 11 different arcanas. Unfortunately, the first one, available at 16th level, already violates PFRPG-design. By expending half remaining arcana points (what if the magus only has one left?), the magus may force the subject of his critical hits to save versus 10+ 1/2 level+ int mod or die. Why save or suck, why not instead use a massive damage bonus and deal half additional damage on a successful save? There is also a breath weapon option (this one calling for ref-saves, at least), but which lacks again the information on how to calculate the DC. Also: The ability lacks a cap. As written, the Magus can spend 1 arcane pool point for 1d8 of elemental damage. That’s up to 10+Int-mod x d8. With the right items, this can be abused for CRAZY ambushes and one-hit-blasts. When saving over 5 points of a spell’s DC, they may store up to their level as additional arcana points.
Monks of the Fiery Fist are essentially a fire-themed monk archetype – ok, but not too exciting. What’s a problem is, though, would be the monks of the wind palm: Their unarmed attacks get a reach of 15 ft. in exchange for stunning fist! At first level! No restriction! WHAT? No way I’m ever going to allow this in my campaign. Worse, at 3rd level, the monks ignore ALL types of difficult terrain, rendering them as well as several feats in this book moot. Completely broken and ruins one of the most fun things about combats. Oracles may opt to take the mystery of the void. The mystery per se is ok, though I don’t like the fact that there’s one that lets you replace cha or wis for int regarding knowledge-skills. The mystery also lacks its final revelation.
The Greyscale-archetype for the rogue is specialized on infiltrating draconic strongholds and come with 6 new rogue talents and 3 advanced rogue talents and actually constitute one I don’t have anything to complain about. Wizards may now opt to choose the Void Elemental school, which has an insanely broken arcane discovery, available as soon as 13th level, that allows you to throw someone 1/week on a failed will save versus DC 35 (!!!) into the void, trapping the being there forever (unless wish’d or miracle’d out) and having a good chance of driving the subject insane even if he/she/it is rescued. That’s a capstone, not an arcane discovery.
We also get the new Dragon Emir PrC, which gets d12, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, 1/2 fort and will-progression and can be considered a commander-style PrC that allows for some powerful, warmaster-like commands as well as some nice synergy with cavaliers. A cool mounted commander option, nothing to complain here.
The penultimate chapter deals with new magic and generally, the ideas of the spells are great. I do have one issue, though: Earth Shield “(…]renders the caster immune to unarmed/nonlethal and normal ranged attacks (siege weapons affect the caster normally, but have to penetrate a hardness of 15 first).” Does this mean that magical projectiles can no longer harm the recipient? If so, broken. Does this mean that the caster is immune to a monk’s unarmed attacks as well? If so, broken. What about natural weapons of the slam attack type? This spell is in desperate need of clarification and a rotten egg in an otherwise nice chapter.
The final chapter is fluffy goodness again, providing us with a cool plethora of animals and beasts to buy in Mharoti bazaars as well as exotic types of food like aboleth brain and the like as well as gear from draconic beings, magic items and magic carpets, complete with price-lists.
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to the drop-dead-gorgeous 2-column full-colour standard – Marc Radle did an awesome job there. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience and the line-drawings in b/w are neat indeed.
This player’s guide has been an exercise in abject disappointment for me. Kicking off with aptly-written, interesting fluff, which, while in some places necessarily overlapping with the Campaign Setting, is rather player-friendly and also provides enough details to make this worthwhile. And then the crunch begins and keeps heaping disappointment upon disappointment. While several of the offerings herein are valid choices, there’s so much broken stuff in here it’s not even funny. From traits to feats to archetypes, there’s so much stuff here that simply violates either PFRPG-design standards, lacks information or could be considered downright broken – it’s depressing. This ranks among the worst books Kobold Press/Open Design has ever released, with all the flaws accumulating to bring down what could easily have been a stellar offering. In fact, up to the point where I sincerely contemplated rating this one star. What saves this player’s guide from this fate is only the top-notch quality of the fluff and the nice ideas herein. That being said, I wouldn’t allow this pdf as written in my game – there are too many examples of wonky or flat-out broken design in here that are in desperate need of an update. For now, I can’t justify rating this higher than 2 stars, though the concepts, were they properly realized/balanced, would make this clock in at the upper scale of my rating-range. I hope this does not set a trend for the upcoming player’s guides and that they get a more detailed scrutiny to maintain game balance.
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