Feb 112019
 

Occult Skill Guide: Rituals of Transfiguration (SFRPG)

Yep, age-changing rituals included…

The first installment of the Occult Skill Guide series clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.

All right, we begin this pdf with a  brief and concise sense of what we nowadays, in a nonacademic context, associate with the term “occult”, in particular in conjunction with roleplaying games, wherein the paranormal, the magical may even be mundane. This brief paragraph already establishes a goal regarding the tone of the designs within, is easy to grasp. An important note: While this supplement does contain sample rituals, its focus lies on presenting the ritual engine and allowing you to make your own rituals. If you just want plug and play, this will have a few rituals for you, sure – but the main draw is that this provides you the ability to make your own rituals.

After this, we take a look at the rituals known in the Nova Age, beginning, as is prudent, with the establishing of terminology. A “Ceremony” denotes the physical acts that must be performed in order to make use of a ritual. The “Lore” section details the history and key information of a given ritual. Thirdly, there would be the “Seal” – this would be a complex physical marking, a pattern, a circle – you get the idea. These three are collectively known as “ritual components” and must be known to learn a ritual.

A “Failure Consequence” denotes pretty much what it says on the tin. Of course, where there’s failure, there also is success, and “Success Consequences” are similarly codified. Rituals also have a “Focus Component” – specific items used to cast a ritual. These are NOT destroyed by performing the ritual.  In contrast to that “Material Components” are required as well, but these ARE consumed by performing the ritual. Rituals have a Primary Ritualist, who determines the ritual’s caster level, attempts all skill checks and makes decisions for the ritual’s effects. Secondary ritualists can attempt a skill check to assist the primary ritualist (here, there’s a little typo – should be ritualist, not ritual) with an enhancement bonus to ONE skill check attempted during the ritual. A ritual may have a number of secondary ritualists equal to the primary ritualist’s highest mental ability score modifier.

So that’s the terminology – simple, precise, and pretty much analogue to spellcasting.

I already mentioned that rituals need to be learned – in order to do so, you have to have 3 times the ritual’s level skill ranks in the ritual’s key skill. Researching one of the three ritual components takes a number of days equal to the ritual’s level, so researching all 3 components of a level 7 ritual would take a total of at least 21 days ( 3 components times 7, 7 days per component). However, in order to make a day count towards reducing research, you need to make a Mysticism skill check against DC 15 + 1.5 times the ritual’s level. Beating a DC by 10 or more earns you two successes towards the research. Once you have thus mastered all components of the ritual, you add it to your rituals known. There is no maximum number of rituals you can learn.

If this sounds elegant, you’d be right – we have basically a pretty smooth research framework here. The pdf goes further and walks the reader, step by step, through the research process as well as the respective limitations – for example, a ritual that affects an area must have a seal large enough to encompass said area. The respective aspects are concisely presented – secondary ritualists can, for example aid or act in place of a primary ritualist. Interesting here – while the entirety of secondary assistance is treated as an enhancement bonus, these may explicitly stack up to twice the level of the ritual, which renders the wording (the bonus here is untyped in the verbiage) makes sense upon close reading. The ritual’s save DC would be 10 + ½ the primary ritualist’s caster level + highest mental ability score, +1 for each successful skill check attempted by a secondary ritualist, up to a bonus equal to the half the ritual’s level. (Nitpick: Should state round down, but that’s a convention by now, so chalk this up to being an aesthetic gripe.) Rituals may be paused, but doing so makes things harder – and can disrupt the ritual. There is a hard cap to how long you can suspend it. Still, this codifies one of the most iconic scenes in proper rules – you know, the “disrupt the ritual” angle featured in a gazillion of books?

The pdf, however, goes beyond simply describing rituals and how they’re formatted; the book also spends a sidebar explaining the archaic ritual practices and why they work in a meta-reality context. I was surprised to see this, and while not necessarily required to subscribe to the explanation offered, it does provide GMs that don’t want to dream up their own explanations a way to properly explain their function when in a pinch. I really appreciate this.

Rituals are presented in a format that obviously makes use of the former, and as such, is pretty close to how spells work, though casting times can be significantly longer. Similarly, the rituals may have characteristics as prerequisites, like being of a certain age, race, etc. An alternate way to call components would be reagents, and this is indeed how the terminology is used in the rituals themselves. The ardent reader will notice a difference between material component and reagent – I assume this to be due to didactic reasons: The beginning introduces the notion that rituals have material components, the detailed side of things clarifies that they are called reagents. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that a sentence à la “Material components for rituals are commonly known as Reagents.” Would have further enhanced clarity here. A living creature is required sometimes to power a ritual – while known as “Sacrifice”, said creatures need not necessarily be slain, but they’re always negatively impacted by the ritual. Some rituals also require specific sites to perform them. It should be noted that, obviously, the sacrifice and site components do not universally apply. In cases where SR applies, the primary ritualist is used to determine a ritual’s means to bypass SR.

And that’s the theoretical framework, the rules-chassis, if you will. You may have noticed that this does work completely in line with the best ritual engines as well as the Advanced Skill Guide, though the latter book obviously is not required to make use of this pdf.

Before we get to the meat of the rituals, it should be noted that quite a bunch of supplemental material is provided. Assume appearance, a level 3-6 spell, is based on Alien Archive 2#s polymorph, save that it allows you to assume the appearance of a target of whom you have a piece of their body (blood, hair, etc.) or a photo. The pdf also features a new race, SROs – short for “sentient robotic organism.” These may be Small (+2 Dexterity) or Medium (+2 Strength),a re constructs with the technological subtype (but do have a Constitution score), and get 2 Hit Points. SROs count as living creatures for the purpose of healing, but spells that are not targeted at repairing constructs are halved in their potency – but RAW for Hit Points. Engineering is used instead of Medicine. SROs have an integrated standard datajack and comm. Unit, that may be removed from a helpless SRO. They also have a built-in cybernetic component with an item level no greater than ½ character level, minimum 1. These systems do not count towards the cybernetics systems limitations. SROs are immune to bleed, disease, death effects, poison, nonlethal damage and sleep effects, unless these also affect constructs. They are affected by spells or effects that usually only target humanoids, but get a +4 racial bonus to saves versus the like. They need to recharge (sleep equivalent) and are unimpeded by vacuum. While I do like this race in concept and, for the most part, in execution, it is a very potent one – the immunity to poisons and diseases in Starfinder is a potentially very potent draw. Depending on the power-level of the campaign, I probably would ban them.

The pdf tightly codifies the new aging descriptor, which manipulates the target’s age and is something I enjoyed to see. (Fyi: Aging rules for SFRPG can be found here!)We also get a doppelgänger graft template, and an organic variant of steel that heals itself – cool! One of the main draws, however,, would be the concise and easy to grasp step-by-step procedure that provides the tools for the GM to design her own rituals: You basically tally up component points, and can use backlash and similar things to make the ritual less costly. Skills associated with ritual types, sample DCs,s kill checks per step, tables that list prices by component points…this section is pretty much inspired and ensures that you’ll get a ton more out of this pdf than the sample rituals presented. Other designers probably would have sat on these, but here, we get the raw ingredients for unbridled creativity.

The pdf also contains 5 sample rituals that are interesting indeed; beyond aforementioned supplemental components, the rituals also feature encounter-suggestions for their use and legends that contextualize the rituals. Incantation of Homogenization allows a homogeneous group of ritualists to change race, class, age, feats, features …and can be utterly inspiring (a ceremony of magical adoption) or frightening (Resistance is futile!). Roboticizing Rites allow you to change augmentations, transform into droids or make a target into a SRO. Seal of Stolen Time can be sued to get rid of diseases, regrow limbs, adjust ability scores, restore ability scores or, you guessed it, modify age! Skinsuit Transmogrification would be the Starfinder iteration of the skinsuit ritual in general theme; however, the execution is completely different, making e.g. use of the cool Pop Culture Catalogue: Clothing pdf. Aforementioned encounter hooks/adventure seeds? Pretty damn exciting, mind you! One for this ritual is “The Ultimate Cosplay.” Twisted. Speaking of which: Twisting of Flesh and Soul is basically the ultimate ritual of transfiguration: Race change,ody repair, turning into mindless objects, and so on, this is level 6 for a reason. Notice something? The rituals all have the leitmotif noted in the title, but become progressively better and thus, higher level, teaching by showing here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level isn’t as tight as usual for Everyman Gaming – I noticed 2 “See page $”-references and “reagents” is misspelled “regents”, for example. On a rules language level, this may require a bit of close-reading from the reader, but generally is a precise example of the technical and efficient writing we’re accustomed to see from the other, though the “rounded down” note did go missing a few times. These generally don’t impact the integrity of the file in a negative manner, though. Layout deserves special mention: The sci-fi-occult border with its blending of tech- and esoteric aesthetics is AWESOME. It’s a small thing, but I love it. The pdf comes with plenty of cool, original full-color artworks by Jacob Blackmon, and it comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I’ll come out and say: Formally, when it comes to typos and the like, this is not exactly Alexander Augunas’ most refined book. While fully functional, it does sport some minor snafus. THAT BEING SAID, I rate books on more aspects than my ability to nitpick details in the rules-language: Components like complexity of attempted design, originality, usefulness for the GM/player, impact on the game, potential etc. all feature in the equation…and more. And while I try, very hard, to be neutral in my ratings, I can’t always help myself. This is one such case.

You see, if there is something about Starfinder that I thought it was lacking regarding magic, it’s rituals. I’m a huge fan of the concept, and seeing an engine this robust this early in the life-cycle of the system, particularly from an author and publisher with a history of providing further support to released books made me smile from ear to ear. Furthermore, this book does go the extra mile in plenty of instances: From the legends to the encounters, this oozes the feeling that the author really cares, that he’s passionate about the subject matter. This is particularly evident in e.g. the skinsuit ritual’s Starfinder version. It may be the same concept as in PFRPG, but the execution is rather different. It’s small touches like this that elevate the pdf for me. This genuinely made me more excited about the game. It’s a pdf I will use again and again. And it makes Starfinder’s magic feel more magical, more distinct from technology – which is a huge boon as far as I’m concerned. I can’t wait to see more of them. I genuinely loved this little supplement.

As noted in the beginning:

While this supplement does contain sample rituals, its focus lies on presenting the ritual engine and allowing you to make your own rituals. If you just want plug and play, this will have a few rituals for you, sure – but you may end up slightly disappointed. The main draw is that this provides you the ability to make your own rituals. It empowers you to let your creative juices flow, and add some genuinely cool cyber-esoterica to your game – and I know that I’ll certainly be using these rules in conjunction with the GrimmerSpace setting that’ll hit kickstarter soon.

How to rate this? Difficult. I could see this being a 3-star-file for folks that want plug and play rituals and that are nitpicky about typo-level glitches. For me, as a person, this is probably one of my favorite SFRPG-supplements to date; as a person, this is easily 5 stars +seal of approval to me, and if you’re like me and enjoy making magic feel mysterious and potentially dark, then consider this to be an all but required EZG Essential as well. I know I do. As far as my official verdict is concerned, I will designate this in between the two, at 4.5 stars, rounded up. This does get my seal of approval, seeing how much I loved it, but whether you like this one or not, is more contingent on your personal tastes and what you want of SFRPG than most files.

You can get this cool and inspiring book here on OBS!

Missed the Pop Culture Catalog that makes clothes matter? You can find it here!

Do you think that age should matter in SFRPG? You can find a handy pdf to make that happen here!

4.5, rounded up – not perfect, but inspired and capable of providing years of cool moments!

Endzeitgeist out.

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