This installment of the Spheres of Power-expansions clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, as always, we begin with a nice piece of prose before we get a summary of how to use this expansion for the Dark sphere – perhaps one of the “less sexy” spheres and one of the more difficult to write and expand upon, so how this fares is rather interesting to me.
The first chapter starts off with the new archetypes, the first of which would be the darkshaper, who gets a modified skill list, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency in both simple weapons and light armor. The archetype uses Charisma as governing casting ability modifier. The archetype is primarily defined by the shadow limb ability, which replaces bound equipment, summon armor and bind staff. What does it do? As a move action, the darkshaper may animate his shadow as an extra limb. This limb has a 5 ft.-reach and a primary natural attack that inflicts 1d4 piercing and slashing damage (1d3 for Small darkshapers – minor complaints: “Small” not capitalized; dual damage types can be a bit wonky in interaction – that aspect would have been more elegant with options to switch. The darkshaper employs Charisma instead of Strength for atk and damage with the limb as well as on CMB checks. At 15th level, activation can be alternatively done as a swift action, and at 20th level, the darkshaper may do so as a free action.
The limb may be used for delicate manipulations and can wield weaponry, activate spell completion/trigger items etc., but not wear armor. At 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, the shadow’s reach increases by +5 ft. Dismissing the shadow limb is a free action and it gains a +1 enhancement bonus at every odd armorist level beyond 1st. Kudos: +5 limit remains intact and the wording covers special weapon ability gains properly, noting which ones wouldn’t work. The darkshaper may manifest an additional shadow limb at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter and multiple shadow limbs may be manifested with the same action. The limbs all share their enhancement bonuses and qualities, thankfully, for the qualities may be changed each time the limbs are manifested. Additionally, this counts as Animated Shadow for the purposes of prerequisites and simultaneous use is not possible. Additionally, a darkshaper that hits a target with a shadow limb attack may use a swift action to cast a (shadow) talent at the usual spell point cost on the target.
All in all, an interesting archetype with cool visuals – enjoyed it! Next up would be the invidian symbiat, who gains both the Mind and Dark sphere as bonus talents at first level, replacing mental powers. The archetype also begins play with Step Through Darkness as a bonus talent, being constantly under its effects sans requiring spell points to activate it. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter increase the range of the talent by +10 ft..
Unlike regular symbiats, these folks draw from their inner demons to generate effects, replacing the symbiat’s psionics, but counting as such. This ability would be the blackened psyche, and its save DCs are governed by Intelligence. The abilities include 60 ft.-range concealment for one round as an immediate action, with the miss chance scaling. 6th level nets the ability to render targets within 60 ft. flat-footed, as they jump at shadows, with 9th level and every 3 levels thereafter yielding an additional target; instead of an additional target, this effect may instead be applied to additional attacks versus the target…your rogue buddy will love you for it. This one replaces telekinetic edge. At 11th level, targets within 60 ft. become shaken on a failed save, replacing psionic fortress. 16th level provides a brutal debuff, allowing the invidian to render targets briefly staggered as well as getting -6 to Str and Dex.
The shifter class is next, with the Nocturnal Predator, who begins play with both the Alteration and Dark spheres as bonus talents, but at the cost of the Photophobic Casting and Lycanthropic drawbacks. As usual, if you have a sphere already, you do not gain the drawbacks. The drawbacks are each linked to one of the spheres. Within an area of dim light or less, the archetype may employ the Alteration sphere’s shapeshift to herself as a move action, and maintaining it only requires a move action to maintain concentration while in areas of dim light or less. This replaces and counts as quick transformation. The archetype also receives +1/2 class level to Stealth as well as Nightvision and a bonus Bestial trait. 10th level unlocks using Stealth while observed. Also at this level, while near/within an area of dim light or less, the archetype may hide sans cover or concealment. Kudos: Own shadow does not qualify. Nice catch! This replaces wild empathy, steal language, boundless communication and endless communication. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter provide sneak attack, but only with natural attacks, replacing enhance and enhanced physicality.
Next up would be an archetype for the unchained monk, namely the shadow boxer, who gains a slightly modified class skill list and uses Charisma as governing attribute for monk abilities instead of Wisdom. The shadow boxer’s shadow has a reach of 5 ft. an may be assumed and dismissed as a free action, functioning as a means to deliver attacks and touch attacks and modify, analogue to the darkshaper, complex tasks. They do lose stunning fist and fast movement for this. It should be mentioned that the shadow’s attacks count as unarmed strikes for the purpose of monk damage scaling and use in conjunction with flurry. The shadow does not grant extra attacks or additional magic item slots. Instead of the 1st and 2nd level bonus feats, the archetype gains Basic Magical Training, but is locked into the Dark sphere. Extra Magical Talent is treated as an eligible monk bonus feat for the archetype. Instead of using spell points, the modified dark ki points are used to pay for point costs and talents from the Dark sphere may be used instead of ki powers. The pool is btw. also governed by Charisma. Nice one.
The skulk fey adept replaces fey magic with the Dark sphere as a bonus magic talent. A Dark sphere talent not maintained through concentration (or one that no longer is maintained) retains in effect for ½ class level rounds before disappearing. This replaces master illusionist. Instead of create reality, 6th level yields siphon shadow. The skulk may use the fey adept’s shadow point reserve to attempt to siphon away a creature’s shadow as a melee touch attach. On a success, the target must succeed a Will-save to avoid having the shadow stolen. The skulk gains 1 temporary spell point for every 2 dice (should be plural in the book) of shadowmark damage when successfully stealing a shadow. These do not stack with others or other points gained by this ability and only last for 1 round per caster level. Oh, and the skulk may NOT gain more spell points than the target has HD! Elegant caveat that prevents exploits by tormenting bags full of kittens. Kudos! A target whose shadow is stolen is immune against effects that manipulate the shadow. Items hidden in e.g. shadow stash remain inaccessible while a shadow is stolen. A single target can only be subjected to the ability once in 24 hours. But wait, you can still abuse this via summons etc., right? WRONG! Thankfully, the ability has another caveat that prevents abuse versus 0-Int or summoned creatures. Impressive!!
When a skulk has stolen shadow, she gains insight into the target’s available spells, SPs and talents and may spend a shadow point to temporarily duplicate a sphere and a number of talents possessed by the target. The number is governed by level: 1 talent at 6th, +1 every 4 levels thereafter. These arcane forgeries remain for caster level rounds and must be paid for with the skulk’s spell points. Alternatively, instead of a talent, a single-use SP or spell may be chosen; once more, the complex rules-language holds fast. Kudos: No material component or focus cheesing. 20th level lets the skulk ignore advanced talent prerequisites of arcane forgery’d talents and copy a second sphere. This archetype is AMAZING. It entwines the base class options in a complex, well-constructed manner with the archetype AND manages to get a truly complex, massive rules-operation done right. Well done!!
The talent thief would be an archetype for the unchained rogue. The archetype nets a modified skill-list. Instead of rogues’ edge, talent thieves are Low Casters using Intelligence as casting modifiers, with a spell pool equal to class level + casting ability modifier, min 1. They may select magic talents from the Dark sphere instead of a rogue talent. Minor complaint: While evident from the context, the archetype should probably be locked into the Dark sphere. At 4th level, debilitating injury is replaced with shadow theft. Critical hit confirmations with melee attacks that qualify for sneak attack damage get the option to forego all sneak attack damage to gain temporary spell points for each sneak attack die foregone. The limitations of shadow theft noted above apply here as well, though willing targets may have their shadow stolen sans damage. Weird: The ability mentions that such targets don’t get an AoO…but RAW, the ability does not trigger an AoO…looks like some sort of hiccup. 10th level provides basically another variant of the aforementioned temporary talent stealing, though this time around, number is tied to sneak attack damage dice forgone. Beyond that modification, the archetype may also steal feats, though prerequisites still have to be met.
The void gazer thaumaturge begins play with Dark sphere and the clouded vision oracle curse, with class levels as oracle levels for the purpose of determining effects, with other classes counting as 172 level. Maximum vision increase beyond the curse is expressly prohibited. As part of the action of activating a spell or sphere, the CL can be increased by 2, +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter; however, there is a chance of 15% to suffer occult backlash. When this occurs, vision, including e.g. blindsense/sight is reduced to 5 ft until the character rests to regain spell points. Occulted vision in conjunction with the Dark sphere and its talents only has a 5% chance of backlash. Honestly…I consider the CL-increase, in spite of the potentially brutal penalty, to be overkill. That’s up to +6 at 17th level! Halving these would still make for a powerful option, The void gazer only gains ½ casting ability modifier uses of invocations per day, but may choose to suffer occulted vision’s backlash for an additional use of eldritch invocations. The new invocations available to the class allow for the addition of confusion for a round, adding the Stygian Immersion meld to one target (3rd level), all targets in range at 11th level; at 7th level, when suffering backlash, he can blind a nearby target temporarily; 15th level adds confusion to those within a blot or darkness as a result of Stygian Immersion. It should be noted that these invocations and their mechanics are interesting in that they are tied to the activation of occulted vision and Dark sphere.
There also are 3 new arsenal tricks: Add shadow-themed qualities to summoned weapons/armor, or gaining Shadow Stash, even if you don’t have the Dark sphere – interesting, though the shadow-themed tricks are not uniform in their formatting. While we’re at that subject: 3 special weapon qualities and 2 for armors can be found; shade-hexed weapons get better in shadow, worse in light; tenebrous weapons may be stashed in your shadow. Umbral edge weapons can be used to trigger shadow theft on critical threats, as opposed to confirming them. The shaded armor quality nets Shadowed Mien, sans temporary hit points. Shadow warded armor grants full AC to touch AC versus attacks by a shadow.
Okay, you probably had some question marks when I referenced blot talents, right? These are darkness-effects on two-dimensional surfaces, basically splotches of dark that do not influence the level of lighting. Dark talents with the (blot) tag can be added to an area of darkness to cause additional effects, but only one such effect may be added, though different instances modified may overlap. They do not stack with themselves or other blot or darkness effects. In order to be affected by a blot, a creature must be in contact with it. They are treated as darkness for meld-purposes as well as interaction with the Light sphere.
These are interesting, allowing the nyctomancer to conceal terrain, stagger targets in a darkness or blot (thankfully with follow-up saves and immunity against that specific casting upon making the save to balance the AoE), causing Wisdom or Dexterity damage…and there is basically a blot-based portable hole! Really cool! Speaking of which: A status/direction-knowing trick based on darkness, blot or shadow is really cool for investigations. What about manipulating darkness or blots for thievery or creating a slick darkness? Some really neat options here.
(Shadow) talents manipulate the target’s shadow sans requiring a manifestation of darkness, unless otherwise noted, at Medium range with a standard action to activate. Once again, one per target, with Will-save to negate. They are not suppressed by glows and Light caster need to surpass the MSD of the shadow-effect’s caster to apply the Light effect; otherwise, the Light effect is suppressed. These include rendering a target blind via their shadow, splitting a shadow off as a shadow lurk that acts as a kind of modified unseen servant and aforementioned Shadowed Mien, which grants a social skills-enhancing shadowy aura, optionally with added temporary hit points. Shadow Stash, which I mentioned before, is a pretty self-explanatory option to stash stuff in your shadow – gold for infiltrations.
New basic talents sans these tags include the sickening Black Lungs, particularly nasty for Verbal Casting folks (and you can take it twice to add poison as insult to injury). Centering darkness or blots on targets and items rather than areas is a HUGE gain of flexibility that the sphere really needed; making darkness only block light from one vantage point is glorious regarding the tactical applications. Extinguishing nonmagical light rather than suppress is will probably be a boon to dark/ice-themed characters and you may use the darkness to dispel magical flame sources. Making darkness flow like liquid is also really cool. A counter versus divine, gaze into the abyss, also had me smile – I know what the criminals and less savory sphere users will consider to be mandatory… There is btw. also nice interaction of Obfuscation with the potent tricks introduced in the Diviner’s Handbook. Applying melds to more targets via additional spell point expenditure is another trick the sphere needed. Applying more shadow talents based on CL, making darkness or blot traps…really cool. The Stygian Immersion I mentioned before would btw. be a meld that makes a blot behave as a pool of water. Really cool! Clearsight, Disorienting Darkness and Step Through Darkness also gain augmented options for investing an additional talent in them, with the new tricks interacting well with the engine-extensions herein.
In the category of advanced talents, we can find the self-explanatory Animated Shadow, darkness, shadows or blots that render alignments NULL (cool!), upgrading Shadowed Mien to protect from daylight etc. – neat! As a formatting complaint that should definitely have been caught; Melt into Shadows’ title has not properly been depicted as a sub-header. The talent is damn cool, though: It makes you a blot , with climb speed and modifications and all. One with the Void does the same for darkness. Shadow Double, finally, is just what you’d think it is – basically the spherecasting version of the shadow clone trope. Really neat: We also get a new incantation assigned to Death and Dark spheres, the Rite of the Revenant Shade, which calls forth just that: A creature that was slain has its shadow seek out the killer to exact horrid vengeance.
The feat-chapter spans a total of 15 feats, which interact well with the material herein: Aura of Mystery makes your Obfuscation a constant effect; we have several shadow lurk upgrades; follow-ups for Step Through Darkness…and there are sphere-spanning feats for e.g. Dark/Warp-synergy, making targets more susceptible to Mind effects, etc. The new types of talents are also gainfully used, with Imbue Shadow allowing you to choose (darkness) or (blot) talents to make them behave as (shadow) talents. 3 solid traits are included (e.g. darkvision for your own darkness – cool!) and a new general drawback represents performance anxiety when observed. 4 Dark and one Light-sphere-specific drawbacks complement this section. Fetchlings, Tieflings and Wayang also receive alternate racial traits and there is even a familiar archetype here. Wanted a shadow familiar? Well, now you can have one.
In the equipment section, we have contrast spectacles that help identify Dark sphere effects by clearly outlining boundaries – now I really want a truly DARK dungeon (think Dark Souls’ 4 Kings-boss area, just with traps and corridors…) – this one is interesting! The soot-stained bell known as obdurate douter can snuff fire and light; obsidian keys allow those donning them to benefit from Clearsight and Darkvision with regards to the attuned Dark user. Shadow-dipping gloves allow enterprising thieves to pick items from Shadow Stashes. There even is a minor artifact, the Spike of Affixion that represents the classic trope of nailing a creature’s shadow to the floor, thus restricting it. Nice!
The bestiary section sports the CR +2 (less than 9 HD)/+3 (9 or more HD) darkened creature template for full-blown stealth action; The CR 8 devouring hole (nice picture included!) is basically a sentient , really dark portable hole construct…cool idea! And yes, construction notes included.
Editing and formatting are, for the most part, very good; rules-language, with very few exceptions, is precise and concise, and becomes problematic in none of the cases where it’s slightly glitchy. Most boil down to aesthetics or formatting-consistency. Layout adheres to Drop Dead Studios’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a blend of stock art I’ve seen before and some new interior art; particular the new pieces are interesting. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Steven Loftus did not have an easy task here – the Dark sphere is, arguably, one of the less sexy and more specialized spheres. Unless I am sorely mistaken, I have never encountered a book penned by him before, so this does get the freshman bonus – and it is one promising start!!
That being said, what he has done with the material herein must be commended. The added flexibility the new talents provide is a boon indeed; the new options are balanced, interesting, employ cool visuals and, as a whole, make this an amazing addition to the series. Some folks may complain that eh complex engines in the archetypes have some overlap, but that only proves true on a cursory glance: The individual modifications are well-made and math-wise sound.
In spite of my expectations for this book, or rather, lack thereof, this managed to put, time and again, a smile on my face, courtesy of the highly complex and rewarding operations performed herein…and due to the fact that it makes the Dark sphere as cool as it should be – all without just copying and palette-swapping the Light sphere…and all that, while maintaining compatibility with the other books in the series.
Well done, sir!
There are precious few complaints I can field against this; as mentioned before, I consider the thaumaturge CL-escalation a bit too much; the editing could have been tighter. But those drawbacks are mitigated by the cool concepts herein. It is only due to these minor gripes that this misses my seal of approval; my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.
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