This sourcebook detailing the second of the two mayor factions/societies in Necropunk clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 37.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
We kick off with a more than aptly-written introductory fluff that makes me once again crave a necropunk AP and a novel before diving straight into the new crunch, namely, Welshen-specific archetypes, first of which would be the H’devvel – a kind of living philosopher/artist who receives points with which to inspire allies – for 24 hours. Other than that, the ability utilizes interesting bonus-type juggling and can be considered an interesting variant on the bardic concept (supplemented by the social combat system), thus replacing the base wild-card class’s genius ability. Unlike most welshen, h’devvel are not geared towards efficiency sans compromise, instead receiving BAB and social atk-progression of the diplomat base class. Additionally, charisma and intelligence govern their wild card abilities. Interesting archetype!
Welshen Masques are a subset of diplomats that receive a wild-card’s social bonus and BAB-progression -pretty interesting: They are trained towards hyper-rationality, allowing them to overcome their own bias (using int instead of cha for social maneuvers) and may utilize this auto-conditioning to make them hard to target with psi or fear. Rek’el engineers (not diplomats, as the pdf states) are masters of scavenging and may constantly modify their magnum opus – not only daily, but even multiple times per day at higher levels.
The School of the Crying Birds (also known as Le’Sara Qu’em) use Dex instead of Str to calculate damage and can execute flurries with bone knives – and if you recall how well these can be enhanced, you’ll realize how lethal this makes them. Additionally, they utilize Perform (dance) in lieu of Acrobatics to govern path abilities. Executing attacks with both hands at the end of a charge, increased PPI-allocation capacities and receiving scaling AC bonuses versus targets they hit render this Qu’em school distinct and interesting. The Qu’em school of the Golden Lion may utilize Qu’em while wearing light or medium armor (later even in heavy armor!) and have to select to which type of weapon they devoted their powers. Increased offense capacity otherwise cancels out most defensive tricks a regular Qu’em has – and yes, the charges of these guys HURT…a LOT. The School of the Sil’Van receives a diplomat’s social bonus progression and is ODD – why? Because the archetype receives increased defense-capacity, but is actually conditioned to be a pacific and only fight in self-defense. A sidebar explains the linguistic meaning of the name and another tackles the concept of non-violence – a conceptually glorious archetype, though I wished it ahd some increased capacity to deal non-lethal damage.
The H’teach diplomats are more skilled than regular diplomats, receiving +2 skill points per level and gaining slightly increased tech levels or a craft bonus feat for more advanced welshen. Beyond tehse, we receive an alternate class, the H’vuul.
H’vuul have full BAB-progression, good fort and ref-saves, 1/2 social bonus progressions, 5 PPI. EDIT: This archetype/alternate class does not mention HD or skills gained per level – which I assumed was a glitch. The author insisted and made the valid point that this was intentional since this is an archetype and thus uses the base class’s HD – a valid point for sure. If, however, an archetype has a whole class table, a new skill-list etc., I think one can understand the potential for confusion. I humbly suggest to include these two pieces of information in similar presentations, if only to avoid confusion and book-flipping.
Now on the cool side, these guys can act in phase 2 while unobserved and later even extend this to phase 3 or phase 2 while being observed – this renders them pretty awesome in my book and yes, I can picture them doing their iconic, fast stealth takedowns. The class also is a specialist of guerrilla warfare, receives a cool bound weapon and the equivalent of hide in plain sight. They are also int- rather than wis-based. Apart from the skill/HD-guffaw, a flavorful alternate class.
Next up would be the new PrCs, first of which is the 10-level Hn’Ist Nomad – these guys get 1/2 BAB-progression, d8, 1/2 will-save progression and 6+Int skills per level. These guys may utilize special breathing techniques and throat chanting to render himself immune to the magpie’s rube goldberg machine ability and all effects that require the expenditure of t’jek points – but thankfully, this defense, while quickly activated, also can only be maintained a limited time per day. This chanting can further penalize other classes, wrecking concentration, qu’em styles and even reducing the phase order of adversaries. The philosophy of Hn’ist also provides benefits towards aid another, as befitting a philosophy that treats the whole universe as one organism. No, I have not covered all tricks this unique PrC has. In a rather nice idea, weapons classified as eleven may btw. be used by welshen.
H’Te’shen, aka Master Qu’em are a 5-level PrC that represents essnetially the wise martial arts masters of the Qu’em and, once again, the nomenclature of this cool reace is neatly explained.
Of course, we also receive new welshen ethnicities, i.e. races – a total of 5 clans are depicted: Clan X’el receives +2 Wis and Con, -2 Int, counts as prime bloodline and gets +2 to saves versus poison. Clan Mac’bel receives +2 Con adn Wis, -2 Cha, Knowledge (history) & /faction: welshen) as class skills and +2 racial bonuses to these checks. They also 1/day may reroll one roll. Clan fe’shex receive +2 Str and Con, -2 Cha (this focus on melee being explained via being slightly degenerate and less important in Necropunk than other settings, so, for once, no complaints about a focus on physicality), a further -2 position category penalty, ignores welshen weapon taboos and receives Knowledge (warfare) as a class skill. Clan Dem’rel is shunned due to a strange fever (fully presented) that has haunted the clan – they receive +2 Dex and int, -2 Con. They may be immune against the fever, but their bodies constantly wage war against the dormant affliction, imposing a penalty of -4 on saves versus diseases and poisons. They receive +2 to Heal and begin play with a containment suit – for everyone within 30 feet of a Dem’rel runs risk of infection and even a save can only temporarily render immune to the highly volatile disease. I love this idea – the duality of healing and contagion, the thematic of (incurable) diseases and the accompanying stagmatization- you don’t have to be a philosopher to realize the vast potential for great storytelling. And yes, while there +are* cures, they are expensive and rare… Clan Sil’Van is slightly too focused on mental attributes, with +2 Wis and Cha, -2 Str, but seeing they are the pacifist clan hinted at before among the qu’em schools, receive Survival and Knowledge (religion) as class skills and improved social maneuver teaching (plus optionally using wis instead of int for such teaching purposes) – so once, again – due to Necropunk’s more diverse take and different class make-up, no complaints regarding this dual fixation on mental attributes.
So what comes next? the personal highlight of this book, at least for me – a concise and captivating insight into welshen culture and philosophy – from the take on cultural topics like gender construction to captivating, flavorful explanations of common wordings to songs, the unique concepts of honor, the paradox of moral correctness vs. the extreme emphasis on efficiency, honor duels, taboos – this whole section is so captivating, so full of imaginative potential, it’s downright brilliant. I honestly and sincerely wished more racial write-ups or ecologies would attain this level and depth of inspiring concepts. While I was reading this section, I was, for a couple of pages, more immersed in Necropunk than I’ve been in many comparable settings ever.
Unless I’ve miss-counted, a total of 19 feats are provided (though formatting botched on the first page, changing the presentation of the feats slightly from bolded to non-bolded – but that’s cosmetic) – on the plus-side, the feats come with cool flavor text – on the downside, “home is where the kife is” renders an otherwise cool sentence somewhat less immersive. Exclusive feats to supplement qu’em style, a degree of control over the Dem’rel’s dread disease and yes, new tricks for the core book’s qu’em tricks – all in here.
We also receive a new style, the Fau Quan – this style focuses on hampering foes with crits, breaking bones or intimidate foes upon defeating adversaries. Personally, I think the bone-breaking should have a scaling save-DC instead of a fixed one. Also pretty interesting -Knife-bending – a kind of style for weapons, it makes light weapons a better option that utilizes the off-hand for defense and retaliation.
A total of 3 campaign traits, from clan lord to youngblood, these are interesting. Further adding to the unique components of the culture, there are several sojourns – pilgrimages, if you will, with fixed durations and requirements that not only provide vast narrative potential – they could also easily be used as story-feats, with completion requirements and bonuses – a total of 6 such sojourns are provided and they left me excited for more. A total of 5 new welshen weapons, 4 new necrotechs and two welshen war tokens as well as rules for the creation of said tokens and new uses for the Appraise skill round out this pdf.
Editing and formatting are okay – I noticed a number of glitches – from omissions of rules-relevant information to typos here and there, alas, this would constitute the pdf’s weak point. Layout adheres to Little Red Goblin Games’ 2-column standard in color that is pretty printer-friendly. the original b/w-artworks are glorious and capture well the flair of Necropunk. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Scott Gladstein, Jeremiah Zerby and Dayton Johnson deliver one glorious supplement here – I *adore* Necropunk and the options herein have so much SOUL. The feel like lovingly crafted vistas of a true labor of love – the writing is diverse and intelligent, the new tricks added can be considered smart, the modifications interesting. The welshen culture is utterly fascinating and mops the floor with about 98% of racial supplements I’ve read – they feel concise, alive, believable. This pdf’s writing, in the best instances, is absolutely superb. On the other hand, it does also feels like it was rushed at one point – the glitches in editing and formatting, minor, slight hiccups here and there ripped me out of the experience once in a while. Let’s not mince words: I wished this book had received a bit more polishing. Non-scaling DCs, glitches etc. – there is a lot that simply isn’t that awesome regarding the sheer mechanical execution. That being said, anyone owning the Necropunk setting or even remotely interested in how to craft a unique culture (which could be reappropriated for other races and settings) should definitely get this sourcebook – there are not that many books that make me wish I had a massive 200+ pages book on a culture, not that many that make me crave novels and more material to this extent.
This book left me torn – on the one hand, I usually tend to be pretty strict regarding nasty glitches that influence rules…on the other hand, every fiber of my being demands that I praise this book in the highest of tones for its superb culture and intelligent fluff. I *want* rate this 5 stars + seal of approval…and for me, as a private person, that is what this book is to me. However, as a reviewer, I can’t do that – I have to acknowledge the issues this pdf has. If you require another analogy – writing rpg-supplements is both a craft and an art. The craftsmanship can be learned, but true artistry…not so much. Craftsmanship, in its apex, can be art of its own and the same holds true for masterful art. This pdf represents superb artistry in worldcrafting, but is somewhat hampered by the flawed craftsmanship.
Hence, my final verdict will be one of the rare cases where I rate a product at 4 stars, but still award my seal of approval. We need more books with this level of detail, more books that actually manage to bring a culture to life.