Jan 302013
 

107585-thumb140[1]By Thilo Graf

This pdf from Zombie Sky Press is 19 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1/3 page editorial, 1 page SRD/blank space apart from a couple of lines, leaving ~ 17 2/3 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

The second installment of the “Mysteries”-series was funded via a mini-kickstarter some time ago and introduces us to the Sacred Necromancer, who gets d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, 4+ Int skills per level, good fort-saves (uncommon for a primary caster) and spellcasting access of up to 9th level, with a maximum of 6 slots per level. Spellcasting is interesting in that it works via Charisma and spontaneous, but is limited similar to the spellcasting of the Yamabushi: The class gets access to all spells of the necromancy-school, be they divine or arcane, but must choose each day which spells they “know” this day. Additionally, the Sacred Necromancers get proficiency with light armours and don’t incur a spell-failure when casting in light armour. Sacred Necromancers don’t need a divine focus to cast divine spells, his spells are considered both arcane and divine and they cast as if using the eschew materials feat and gain up to +9d6 channel energy, with its use for damage or healing being prescribed by the respective calling of the class.

“Calling”? Yes. Essentially a sub-class that is chosen at first level and grants access to a certain variety of abilities specific to the calling – if you’re familiar with them, the callings essentially work like the archetypes in Super Genius Games’ anachronistic adventurers-line. (Not to be confused with common archetypes). Each calling thus has a connection to the forces of life and death and may chose whispers (essentially talents) based on the callings. Additionally, there are fields to further customize the character.

So what are the callings? The first would be the Chirurgeon, who can channel negative energy and use it only to heal his undead creations. They can choose from 6 whispers, which allow him to create neutral mindless undead (VIA SCIENCE!) and enhance them via construction points when performing a ritual on them. They may also buff allies (or foes) with a risky field experimentation (roll 3d4, 1 on a 1d4 is a penalty, the other 3 being bonuses, each die-roll influencing a physical attribute), treat “cure”-spells as necromancy-spells (i.e. add them to their spell-list), temporarily return creatures to life (who act as if confused, but may be guided via Cha-checks), spread sickness and contagion and gain a monster companion, which you can evolve à la Frankenstein. You also get a whisper that deals electricity damage via touch, but heals your monstrous companion. The Chirurgeon’s capstone is granting full-blown sentience to their creature and created undead.

The second calling is the exorcist, who can only channel positive energy and use it for damage. Suited for combat versus outsiders and undead, they get improving protection and opt to halve their channel energy to harm undead and heal allies at higher levels. Furthermore, they may choose from 9 whispers dealing with matters of possession and breaking free of mental control, damaging outsiders via channeling and the effect to temporarily make areas and rooms safe from outsiders and undead and their magical prowess by erecting a sacred barrier via channel energy. The capstone allows you to use imprisonment and up to 20 rounds of freedom of movement per day.

The Journeyman of the Pale Path can channel negative energy and either heal or harm with it and even combine healing undead with damaging the living. They may choose from 7 specific whispers dealing with some rather cool options: The dampening of healing spells, for example, is a really deadly affair, as is adding bleed to channel damage, erect walls of negative energy, cause your minions to explode, cadaverous explosion-style and instill frenzy or tactics into your undead. The capstone makes you a lich. The calling also comes with its reverse version, the Journeyman of the Vibrant Path and a formatting peculiarity: The bracketed text that comments on the reversed powers of the Vibrant Path is of a different font and font-size, leading to a strangely disjointed look and being an obvious formatting glitch that definitely should have been caught.

Next up is the Psychopomp, who channels positive energy exclusively for healing and deals with the spiritual side of the topics, choosing from a total of 7 whispers. It should be noted that Psychopomps gain additional powers over the levels that increases your spellcasting prowess via the powers of the ancients. From gaining access to an oracle mystery, 1/month breath of life yourself as an immediate action and gaining bonuses due to your communion with spirits. At 20th level, you become indestructible by all but a god – reforming in a place of your choice after 1d4+1 days in a location at least 10 miles away from the site of death. Epic!

The Revenant channels negative energy for purposes of dealing damage, can choose from 9 whispers and…well. Are Undead. And gain all the undead immunities apart from the one to mind-influencing effects. Not gonna happen in my game. ever. While PFRPG has made undead less op, they still are stronger than regular characters – by quite a stretch. And the slightly weaker whispers in no way are enough to balance out the insane power-gain the undead subtype grants the character. Broken in my book and desperately needs a balancing factor like the classic revenants single-minded focus on revenge, undead weaknesses etc..

We also get 4 different fields to customize your sacred necromancers. The first being the Animist with 7 more whispers that rock: When some creature with a soul dies, you can delay its ascension and harness the soul to heal allies by reflecting on its joy in life or increase your spellcasting prowess or buff allies. Nice. Eaters of the Dead gain 6 whispers and can craft bone talismans from vanquished foes (possibly scavenging-potential here with SGG’s Death Knight and Death Mage) as well as the power to devour essences to gain fast healing . Really disturbing and iconic: Eat the flesh of a foe to take said foe’s appearance! Yes! And by eating foes, you can even detect their thoughts! Grisly, creepy, awesome! For the adherents of the old 3.5 Pale Master-class, we also get a self-experimenting field with 4 new whispers that allow you to augment your eyes and gain access to alchemist discoveries via your body-grafting. The final field deals with Thaumaturgy and ROCKS. The ability to damage yourself and deal twice the amount to foes via touch attacks by Blood Oath is incredibly cool (think of the cool, desperate gambits you could do), gain bonuses to social skills, the option to geas foes and the option to dismiss outsiders whose names you know – great way of implementing the good ol’ arcane feeling of mysticism into a useful ability.

Now, beyond the class, we also are introduced to Mokuren “Ren” Kamura (whom you may recall from the “Red Jack”-pdf) in all her foxblooded rogue 3/Sacred Necromancer 10-splendor, fully statted with a beautiful artwork. Beyond this neat bonus-character, we also get 3 new feats:

  • Extra Fox Tail: Choose a fox magic feat and an additional fox tail to enhance your foxblooded powers.
  • Extra Whisper: Self-explanatory.
  • Turn Living: Turns living like Turn Undead turns undead.

The pdf closes with the fox-blooded simple template and it should be noted that there is also a spell-list precompiled for the Sacred Necromancer, which is nice to start, but depending on the number of books you use, might need massive additions.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the weak-points of this pdf: I noticed some obvious glitches in formatting, which, while not detracting from my understanding of the product, detracted from its otherwise very professional look. Layout adheres to ZSP’s 3-column landscape format and the full-color artworks herein are awesome and deserve praise. The pdf is backgroundless and printer-friendly and comes with a massive array of bookmarks to help you navigate the file. Super Genius Games, take heed – class-pdfs with bookmarks are just easier to use.

Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to either reading or reviewing this. Why? Because I don’t like necromancers to be kindhearted. I want them garish, gritty, dirty and creepy – and “sacred” didn’t really point me in that direction. Furthermore, there already is Marc Radle’s rather well-designed White Necromancer from KQ (and possibly soon, Open Design’s New Paths-line). So yeah, I was looking forward to at best seeing a repetitive design. And instead, we actually get a very clever class: The combination of fields, callings and whispers with scaling bonuses and versatile abilities mixed in allows for supreme customization and makes the design-choices feel exciting, balanced and iconic.

HOWEVER. And, unfortunately, it’s a big however, the pdf also suffers from a problem that already plagued the Yamabushi: The total access to all spells of the necromancy-school means that, depending on the amount of spell-publications you use, the class experiences massive power gains. Presume e.g. Rite Publishing’s “1001 Spells”, Necromancer of the Northwest’s “Advanced Arcana”-pdfs, Dreadfox Games’ Grimoire Mortalitas and BAM – instant power-up! Wizards have to find and learn the spells, sorcerers have a limited selection. Sacred Necromancers? Nothing. No advice is given for the DM on how to properly handle this versatility and deal with the new options, which is a problem inherent in the design-choice and the one thing that can potentially utterly break the class-balance. Secondly, there is the Revenant. What a cool concept. What an utterly amateurish execution. Undead PCs are mostly bad ideas balance-wise- (And yes, speaking from experience – I had a character that once was pure and good fall to becoming a fanatic that willingly turned into a vampire to prolong her life and establish a vampiric theocracy based on her twisted vision of her once RG-faith after inciting a holy war…and succeed.). Undead, even in Pathfinder, are MUCH STRONGER THAN LIVING CHARACTERS. They need balancing factors. And the Revenant HAS NONE. Diddly-squat. How can such a blunder happen? Need I recite the list of immunities? And don’t come with the “fluff-penalty”-non-argument of ostracism. That can be solved via disguise, magic etc. This NEEDS balancing factors. Desperately.

Now, how to rate this? Until I got to the Revenant, I was looking forward to all-out recommending this pdf. However, the flaws conspire to drag down a pdf that could easily have been 5 star+ seal of approval material. With just a bit more editing to get rid of the obvious glitches. With just a few paragraphs (there’s enough blank space on the last page!) on handling expanded spell-selections via other 3pp-publications and future Paizo-books. And this needs a solid redesign of the revenant-calling (The drawbacks are what defines the undead that gives this the name!!!!) – as written, the calling is broken as all hell.

Damn, this one is so hard to rate: The good parts are 5 star + seal material, but damn, damn, damn – the minor glitches, the spell-list issue and most of all, the revenant that needs massive redesign are factors I cannot ignore when issuing my final verdict. As much as it pains me and wrenches my heart, I can in no good conscience rate this otherwise stellar pdf as high as I want to – it just feels like it was rushed out in the end and would have needed another week. My final verdict will be a 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 with an encouragement to check this out nevertheless. If the revenant is fixed/you don’t take that calling into account, this would score a whole star more. I hope I may update my verdict of the pdf soon to the rating the class deserves.

Endzeitgeist out.

Mysteries of the Dead Side: Sacred Necromancer Items is available from:

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