This massive book clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 5 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 61 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, after a brief introduction to the matter at hand (and an artwork that obviously details Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural as medieval iterations of themselves, setting a kind-of theme for the book), we dive into the first class, which would be the shapeshifter. The shapeshifter base class receives d10, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with club, dagger, darts, quarterstaff, shortspear, sling and spear as well as all natural attacks and light armor. They gain a full BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-saves.
So that’s it chassis-wise. At 1st level, they gain the ability to…wait for it: Change shape. Blew your mind there, didn’t I? ;P Kidding aside, the shapechanger gets the subtype of the same name, and in a perfect example of Alexander Augunas’ holistic design philosophy, he also gain a bonus animal provided he does gain the ability to change into a respective animal via racial traits and applies the Disguise bonus to both the racial animal form and the other abilities of the assumed form. At 1st level, the shapeshifter gains the ability to assume a number of animal shapes drawn from the list of animal kingdoms (more on that later) and may, as a supernatural polymorph effect as a standard action assume the form of the animal shape. However, the animal form assumed does not grant Disguise-bonuses (as opposed to the humanoid shapechange, for example) and items do NOT meld into the new form.
When assuming a larger form, the shapechanger breaks his equipment and may be entangled unless he makes a Reflex-save based on size-bonuses to CMB granted by the larger form. If the form is significantly larger, he may even destroy his equipment! And yes, item-types and magic is taken into account. A shapechanger begins play knowing two animal shapes, +1 if his race already has the shapechanger subtype, with each level providing +1 shape. When such a form is chosen, the shapechanger needs to specify the animal kingdom, the specific creature and size of the animal shape. Initially, only sizes tiny, small and medium are available for animal shapes, with 5th level unlocking Diminutive and Large creatures, 9th level providing access to Fine and Huge ones, 13th providing access to Gargantuan and 17th to Colossal animal shapes. Animal shapes can be maintained indefinitely and when applicable any save-DCs granted by an animal are equal to 10 + 1/2 class level + Con modifier.
While in animal form, the shapechanger gains a bonus to damage depending on how far away from the largest size category available he is – e.g. if the shapechanger has access to Large shapes, he gains a +2 bonus to damage when assuming a Small shape, +1 when assuming a Medium shape, +3 when assuming a Tiny shape, etc. And yes, a handy table explains this in detail. Additionally, starting at 1st level, 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the shapechanger receives one adaptation – basically the talent array of the class – and OH BOY are there many! From gaining one ability score from the chosen animal when in its shape to skill-bonuses, scaling fast healing (that is balanced by being negated by silver weapons and a daily limit, retaining compatibility with ALL, even the most gritty of campaigns!), faster movement, limited item melding, hybrid shapes, altering size categories (for e.g. diminutive wolves…), proper blending as a creature – there is a TON of material here. Particularly impressive: Several templates are available (you must choose, alas) that can be applied a limited amount of minutes to shapechanged forms for a boost and yes, swarm shapes. Need I say more?
This is, however, not where the customization ends: Starting at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the shapechanger gets one instinct – these would be the second type of talents of the class – and yes, once again we have an impressive array available: Burrowing Charges (at 8th level prereq balanced), distracting harassment in small shapes, empathy with one’s kingdom, natural weapon flurry, high-level hide in plain sight, better charges with stingers, bites and gores, evasion and uncanny dodge and their improved brothers, animal shape combat maneuvers, hardness reduction, attack-prevention from one’s kingdom’s members, moving through thorns etc. sans taking damage at 4th level…pretty impressive. While I’ve gone on the record with my loathing of the stalwart ability, at 6th level and considering the issues of the class with equipment and the restrictions imposed on it, my playtest actually determined, somewhat to my admitted chagrin, that the ability works nicely here. *grumbles* Oh yes, Toss and Throat-Rip are part of the deal…and if you’re like me and an utter fanboy of Alex’s superb Ultimate Charisma – well, there’s an option to make better use of psychological combat as well. (Mind you, even if you don’t have that book, there are about a gazillion of options to choose from…)
At 3rd level, the class gains Savage Spirit a scaling bonus to atk, damage and AC, with bonus type being modified by animal shape (clever!) and said bonus is also added to additional parameters depending on which attribute-association the chosen animal shape has: Strength-based animals add it to CMB, Wisdom-based ones to Will-saves and Perception (and gain an increase of special senses, if applicable) – one again, a tactical, fun and complex rules-operation that manages to seemingly effortlessly provide strategic depth and get an ability right that would be a trainwreck in a lesser authors hands. Starting at 5th level, natural weapons are counted as magic, with further DR-mitigating properties being unlocked at appropriate levels. As a capstone, the shapeshifter may treat every animal form as though it were associated with every ability score, gaining a brutal omni-buff as well as free shapeshifting – even while in the process of executing a full-attack: Basically, become a morphing shredder of death 1/day. Awesome.
Now I noted animal kingdoms, which play a significant roles in the codification of the respective forms. Each kingdom has a base shape that determines forms, modifications to speed, sight, presence of hands, types of natural attacks, etc. Each is associated with two different attributes and provides increases in potency at 2nd, 8th and 15th level, including bonus feats, improved movement rates, etc. – 15 are provided and they include dinosaurs and humanoids! And yes, they span multiple pages. As a minor nitpick – the bear’s 15th level ability obviously should not refer to the Diehard feats and instead apply the ferocity quality, as it references a feat not necessarily there – the special quality would circumvent this issue and is what the 2nd level ability grants. Apart from this one, I noticed no glitches in this massive chapter.
The second class could be summed up as “Castiel-or-any-demons/angels from Supernatural”-the class. Vessels get d8 HD, 4+Int skills per level, a cleric’s alignment aura corresponding to the passenger, proficiency with simple weapons, light armor and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression and full Will-save progression. Vessels cast psychic spells drawn from the cleric-list, governed by Charisma as key attribute, which affects spells per day and DCs, but NOT spells known. They are spontaneous casters and learn to cast spells of up to 6th level. Their 0-level spells are known as knacks. A vessel can’t cast spells of an opposed alignment.
Vessels choose a passenger at 1st level – an outsider that must be within one alignment step of the vessel. This influences a couple of the class’s abilities. It should be noted that mental control and possession immunity, unless practiced by a +4 levels more powerful individual are side-effects, which makes these guys pretty much the nightmare of all enchanters – not the biggest fan there. At 1st level, the class also gets the grace ability: A vessel accepts grace into his body using invocations – each such invocation allows the vessel to accept 1 point of grace into his body as a move action. An invocation remains in effect for 1 minute per class level or until a given combat ends. No, this cannot be cheesed A vessel can hold up to 3+Con-mod grace at a given time and may not use an invocation when his grace is full. Invocations provide bonuses depending on the type of invocations used and the bonuses stack over the levels – the closest analogue here would probably be judgments. Okay, so back to the grace ability: For each point of grace he accepts, the vessel either takes character level nonlethal damage or loses 1/2 vessel level spell slots, minimum 1. Now here’s the interesting thing: The nonlethal damage incurred by this ability does NOT regenerate and can ONLY be healed via a full night’s sleep – so no spamming and the precise wording prevents ANY attempts to cheese these mechanics I could come up with – watertight indeed.
Starting at 2nd level and every three levels thereafter, the vessel may choose an omen – these special powers are powered by grace expended and their DCs, if applicable are based on the 10+1/2 class level + Charisma modifier-based formula. The breadth and depth of these options is exceedingly impressive – whether we’re talking about planar adaptation instead of receiving the benefits of the invocation, altering detect spells, selecting cruelties or mercies or synergy with the destructive invocation…or domains…or touch with effects governed by alignment of the touched creature in relation to that of the vessel’s passenger, telekinesis…the amount of options and their internal class synergy and how they work is surprisingly unique. At 2nd level, he gains 1/2 class level to all caster level checks , skill checks and Int-checks pertaining occult rituals. 3rd level provides the grace overfloweth ability – whenever he accepts grace, he manifests a sign of his passenger’s presence and gains grace boons based upon subtype of the passenger and vessel level. The first boon is gained at 3rd level, with an additional one unlocked every 3 levels thereafter. Grace manifestation may be suppressed as a full-round action, but this also suppresses all grace boons.
Starting at 4th level, a vessel begins the day with 1 grace that does not deal damage, +1 at 10th and 16th level, with maximum grace also increasing by this amount, though it should be noted that these do not activate aforementioned grace overfloweth abilities. At 6th level, a vessel can benefit from two invocations at once as separate actions or use one action to accept 2 points of grace, but these must be paid for in nonlethal damage and can’t be negated via burning spells. A similar ability gained at 15th level does pretty much the same for 3 invocations instead. 7th level provides teleportation-related tricks powered by grace, which extend in potency and options at 10th level and every 3 levels thereafter, unlocking progressively better abilities at higher grace-costs Starting at 20th level, 1/day, they can accept 10 points of perfect grace – these can be used to activate any ability as though they were points of grace, count as minimum grace required and do not count against the limit of total number of points of grace. These points last for 1 minute and do not cause nonlethal damage.
Okay, so what about those passengers? Each belongs to a class of outsiders and has an alignment, associated domains, DR, different grace manifestations and a linear boon progression from 3rd level to 15th – somewhat akin to a more complex order or bloodline. Covered are Aeons, Agathions, Angels, Archons, Azata, Daemons (alas, lacking the 12th level ability), Demons, Devils, Div, Inevitables, Kami, Proteans and Psychoomps – so yes, there is a LOT to choose from and a lot of potential for expansion. The ability-dispersion along the levels when taken in combination with the respective domains and DRs generally result in an impressive internal balancing – overall, I considered none of the passenger ability-suites stronger than the others. Want an example for the abilities? All right! Psychopomp-passenger geta scaling body-upgrade at 3rd level and sights; 5th level allows for grace-expenditure for ghost-sight; Psychopomp’s 9th level ability allows for the expenditure of grace to avoid auto-detection via e.g. blindsight etc., with 12th level granting spirit sense, 15th permanent tongues and 18th level apotheosis-style tricks…including rays powered by grace that may permanently slay/destroy the living and undead alike – which brings me to an interesting component: The kinda-apotheosis-like abilities of the vessel are surprisingly not boring – after having seen so many of these types of abilities, it’s pretty hard to do something interesting for me in that regard and these passengers manage just that – kudos!
All right, so that would be the new classes, now let’s take a look at the archetypes and class options contained herein! We begin with a firearm ranger combat style and then get the Monster Hunter Ranger archetype – yep, that would be the Winchester-archetype. These guys get an extended class skill list that includes the Knowledge-skills and they add 1/2 ranger level and Wisdom modifier to them when trying to identify creature abilities and weaknesses instead of wild empathy. I’m generally not a big fan of adding two attribute modifiers to a given skill check, though MAD at least partially mitigates this concern here. Instead of favored enemy, monster hunters receives bonuses when correctly identifying creature abilities and weaknesses. This ability has a sensible, level-based scaling mechanism. Starting at 4th level, monster slayers can apply aforementioned bonus always, for up to class level monster types or subtypes and higher levels provide means to reallocate these slaying specializations.
The shapeshifter has significantly more to offer than its already impressive basic class – namely an array of animal subkingdoms -a total of 10 of them, to be precise – whether we’re talking about ant, tyrannosaur, triceratop, cheetah or gecko – each of them provides a rather complex modification of the base kingdom: Porcupine shapechangers have e.g. retributive quills that can also be implanted with tail slaps, with high level shapeshifter even combining quills with dirty trick maneuvers -so yes, the rules-operations are unique and complex and each subkingdom has at least one replacement abilities, while most have 3…and yes, venomous snakes and wasps can be found here as well. Personally, I consider the wasp subkingdom’s 1st level flight at 30 ft, average maneuverability potentially problematic, since unassisted unlimited flight is usually relegated to higher levels, so that can be problematic, depending on your campaign. Beyond these subkingdoms, two different archetypes are provided. The mimicker needs direct contact to properly change in a specific creature, but does gain the ability to properly mimic the creature to not look like an odd version of the animal shaped mimicked, with higher levels providing more animal shapes and basically a “stored” shape after contact – a small archetype, but one with a truly distinct playstyle.
The second archetype provided would be the selfshaper, who is always treated as though it assumed the animal form associated with the shapeshifter kingdom that matches her true form, but sans gaining the shapeshifter kingdom’s abilities and may not select adaptations or instincts requiring one or more animal shapes. This replaces shapechanger, while 1st level also allows the option to alter size or reach (at 7th level: both; with later levels further increasing the options) as a standard action, with a level-based progression of available options somewhat similar to that of the base class, obviously modified to account for the options of the archetype. Stretching body and grasp exclusive instincts, among others, make this one interesting.
Vessels can replace the 2nd level omen with an expanded spell-list and replace a limited amount of omens with oracle revelations from limited mystery-lists when choosing to take the fatespinner archetype. The Messiah archetype receives the psychic spells of the psychic class modified by the sorc/wiz necromancy (aging) and transmutation spells (the subschool can be found in the highly anticipated Grimoire of Lost Souls) and the archetype also gains the native outsider type in addition to his original type. 2nd level provides a phrenic amplification and 1/2 level phrenic points, while 6th level provides the option to use grace to cast spells not known from his spell-list, replacing the 8th level omen. I get the balancing here, but I do think gaining an ability at 8th level would have been nice – as written, 8th level becomes pretty much dead for the archetype – +1 spell at 3rd level, that’s it.
The planar scribe replaces the omens gained at 2nd, 8th and 20th level with bardic performance and associated omens – these allow the scribe to e.g. learn masterpieces and unlock progressively better bardic music abilities, including options to use grace to enhance the DC of abilities gained – an interesting hybrid archetype. The witch class also sports two archetypes – the bookbonded replaces a witch’s familiar and the 1st level hex with a spellbook as the wizards uses, which, at 3rd level, will double as an implement, with additional schools being unlocked at 8th level and every 6 levels thereafter. The chosen school of the implement can be reassigned daily; this ability also nets the base focus power and 1/2 class level mental focus., replacing 2nd level’s hex. 4th level allows for the learning of focus powers instead of hexes and 10th level provides the means to make the book count as acting for two implement schools at once. The song-hexer receives a fixed list of bonus spells in lieu of patron spells and basically can be considered to be a witch/bard-crossover archetype that pay for the bardic tricks with hexes – all in all, a nice one.
The two new classes also sport a ridiculously detailed list of favored class options – beyond core races and the usual “sexy” races à la aasimar, drow, tiefling, etc., from vanara to undine to gathlain, we extend the options to dragons(!!) and even ghorans, kasatha, lashunta or traxians and even androids are covered – kudos for going the truly extra mile here! Better yet, the favored class options ALSO provide the highly intriguing and modular everyman class options-selections for vessel and shapeshifter – kudos!
The feat-section provides the usual extra x/class- and archetype-enhancer feats, though better synergy with family-members via a teamwork feat and means to stay conscious when nonlethal damage exceeds your current hit points, the section does sport some rather cool tricks – two well-crafted traits can be found here as well.
Monster-wise, there are two templates that allow creatures to gain shapeshifter and vessel tricks (Cr +1 or +2, depending on HD) and there are new creatures herein – to be more precise, a new subtype, and it is absolutely GLORIOUS: Born from the rotten blood of the elder deity Leviathan, the Levialogoi are unique in various ways – namely that the subtype makes them actually capable of standing before even mythic adversaries sans immediately evaporating in sprays of foul blood: Beyond massive resistances, DR and Regeneration, they can assume shapes, have an affinity for templates, SR and lethal natural attacks – basically, these beings made my jaded players scream “WHY WON’T IT DIE??”…and yes, they actually died for once! Don’t get me wrong, these monsters are balanced and unique…but the impressive component is frankly that they have defenses that make them viable, lethal foes against even high-level parties – the wonderfully disturbing artworks for them (3, btw.) emphasize this…oh, and the sample creatures provided clock in at CR 20 and CR 25. I absolutely ADORE them and hope we’ll see more of these delightfully brutal foes!
Now if you’re a fan of Supernatural, the occult rituals will make you smile: Drawing a glyph to banaish specific outsiders? Check. Message by blood? Check. Crossroads-devil summoning? Check. Outsider blood as psychic power? Check. Finding objects/persons via a ritual on a map? Check. Also awesome: Shrinking foes down (Microsized Adventures-synergy), swapping minds, absorbing memory in quicksilver solutions, permanent creature transformation and a twisted ritual to extend one’s life or cheat death by consuming souls are awesome and allow for recreation of the often inspiring imagery used in the series – and even if you dislike it, rest assured that these work in every campaign.
The book closes with a small 2-page chapter, primarily useful for less experienced GMs, detailing how to set up a basic paranormal investigation adventure. The advice provided is sound.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, if not perfect – there are a few of minor cut copy paste hiccups, as mentioned above. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork-wise, Jacob Blackmon delivers some of the best pieces I’ve seen him draw, with particularly the Levialogoi being downright…creepy. The constant presence of the quasi-Winchesters as drawn characters herein is nice as well if you’re familiar with the series; if not, they’ll still be neat pieces, with big chapter-introduction artworks standing out particularly.
Alexander Augunas’ Paranormal Adventures is a thoroughly impressive book – if you need a good reason why there are precious few crunch-authors out there that show up often on my top-ten-lists, here’s a very apt example: Quite frankly, few sport the same level of mastery regarding the construction of highly complex systems with a rules-language this PRECISE. better yet, he has a firm grasp on balance and tends towards more complex and novel mechanisms – much like Bradley Crouch, Alexander Augunas pushes the boundaries – from a mechanical stand-point, the shapeshifter presented herein is a thoroughly impressive feat regarding the operation of rules-syntax and semantics…and in unique balancing mechanisms, for the item-based balancing of the class, while problematic-looking on paper, is frankly brilliant. This is perhaps the most versatile, unique shapeshifter of the “morph into full-blown animals”-type I know. (Bradley Crouch’s Animist works alongside this one, since its focus is Wolpertinger-style-morphing.)
Similarly, the Vessel sports a unique playstyle, with the HP-powered abilities actually working – exceedingly well, if I may add! I tend to be extremely wary of these types of mechanics, but here, they work perfectly – the vessel class also is now allowed in my games and both classes should work sans modifications in a very wide array of games, from gritty rare magic to high fantasy. While the feats provide pretty much what you’d expect, the archetypes once again run a relatively broad array of options and sport not a single boring or filler-type – each radically changes the options available. And then there would be the massive, unprecedented favored class options, the supremely awesome Levialogoi and the cool rituals…which simply rock, no matter how you look at them – even if you hate Supernatural, these will work rather perfect in your games and deliver a truly unique flair to the proceedings.
Yes, there are a precious few minor hiccups in this book (I commented on all that truly galled me…so yeah…emphasis on “few”), though if Alexander’s track record is any indicator, these should be purged sooner than later…but know what? They pale beyond the sheer awesomeness contained herein. Beyond the complexity and challenge to design this material, the book oozes practically the passion and heart’s blood that went into it. If you’re a Supernatural fan, you absolutely NEED this book…and even if you dislike the series (or consider it by now more of a guilty pleasure), this book’s rules, aptly-written prose and overall package is simply exceedingly impressive. Considering the top-layer difficulty of crafting these rules and balancing them, the sheer number of flawless components and the comparably almost non-existent glitches, this book still receives my highest accolades – as mentioned time and again: I’d rather read a complex, daring, novel book with one or two hiccups than reward retreading conservative and bland designs. Paranormal Adventures contains some of the most impressive crunch-designs I’ve seen all year and is well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and the status as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.