Path of Iron
The second of Ascension Games’ massive crunch-books clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 158 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review is based on the electronic 2nd printing-version of the book.
After a brief introduction on the subject matter at hand, we dive pretty much straight into the first base-class, which would be the archivist. Archvists get d6 HD, 2+Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves and receive simple weapon proficiency, but no armor proficiency. As should be evident from the framework, the archivist is a full caster, but not one who utilizes spells – instead, he uses rune magic, a new type of magic introduced herein. An archivist begins play with 3 fundamentals (scaling up to 8 at 12th level) and begins play with 2 scripts – a new script is gained every level, with 5th and every 4 levels thereafter granting an additional bonus script – handily summed up in the class table, just fyi. To learn a given script, an archivist must have an Intelligence score of 10 + the script level and DCs, if applicable, are 10 + script’s level + Intelligence modifier. Much like other casters, archivists receive bonus scripts based on high attribute modifiers. As usual, there is a maximum level of the given rune you can learn, determined by class level – this time around, we obviously are looking at full access, i.e. runes of up to 9th level are unlocked.
Okay, before we go into any more details, let’s make a not-so-quick-detour, wherein I explain rune magic – makes no sense talking about a full caster sans explaining the casting system used, right? *Takes a deep breath*
So, how does rune magic work? Well, unlike prepared or spontaneous casting usually work, the rune magic user only gets access to the scripts he actually has learned. It should also be noted that the rune magic has a linear-rule – that is, users of this system must know e.g. at least 1 3rd level script to learn a 4th level script. Casting a script requires you to be able to speak, but curiously, neither shields nor armor impedes the casting of a rune’s script – basically, the magic has verbal, but no somatic components and is not subject to arcane spell failure. Now here’s the interesting thing – much like a spontaneous caster, the rune magic user can cast each script he knows a select number of times per day – but the casts are tied to the respective scripts, not the script-levels. the extra castings granted from high attributes in the governing attribute act as wildcard slots that can be applied to any script on the fly, allowing for some degree of flexibility – basically, while the core scripts are limited, the bonus scripts can be applied as flexible daily uses on the fly. The negation script is used for counterspelling purposes, while generally, the system assumes that scripts cannot be counterspelled by spells and vice versa, with dispel magic being an obvious exemption from the rule – so limited transparency between runes and regular spellcasting is the default assumption.
Scripts have so-called designs, which can be likened to the basic schools of regular magic: Alteration, Creation, Destruction, Invocation, Manipulation, Revelation. Some sport subtypes, descriptors and the like. In case you haven’t figured that out, fundamentals are the cantrip-equivalent and can be cast an unlimited amount of times per day – but they do not generate runic charge. What’s that, you ask? Well, much like prepared spellcasting, runic magic assumes that the scribe has prepared the bulk of the rune in advance, to only finish it when casting the script. The runes prepared in advance then proceed to become charged with the energy of the script – this is referred to as runic charge. Up until 5th level, the maximum runic charge the scribe can have is 1; starting at 5th level till 10th, the number is 2; 11th level upgrades this to 3 and finally, 17th level to 4. The level of a given script does not affect the number of runic charges gained – 1st level and 9th level scripts all deliver the same +1 runic charge. A given item can hold exactly one runic charge and the charge dissipates after 1 hour out of the scribe’s possession as well as when the scribe rests. Runic charges can be identified via Spellcraft and the pdf manages to even cover auras of such charges.
So far, so good – but do we do with these runic charges? Well, here things get interesting: You see, each script has a special paragraph to overload it. When overloading a given script, a scribe expends all accumulated runic charges as part of the casting of the respective script. BAsically, you could liken these to how psionic augments work, but in a more limited fashion – the overloading allows a given script to exceed its usual limit, providing e.g. additional targets, more arcane death to rain upon foes etc. So far, so cool, right? Well, the catch here is one I hinted at before – know how I mentioned the aura of a given charge? Well, turns out that quite a lot of overloading options provided for scripts have additional effects depending on the design (school) of the runic charge. Since the respective scripts are more limited than spells, they tend to provide more flexibility, but let’s provide an example, shall we?
Alter Form, a level 6 alteration, lasts for 1 min/level and nets you your choice of +4 to eitehr Str, Dex or Con or two enhancements from Lesser Alter Form: These include +2 to Str and Dex and size increase or decrease by one step. The 6th level alter form furthermore grants one of the following: Fly speed 30 ft. with good maneuverability, 60 ft. climb or swim speed, burrow speed 30 ft, +4 natural armor or two of lesser alter form‘s two additional benefits, which include claws or bite (both not specifying whether they act as primary or secondary), a climb or swim speed, scent or +2 natural AC. Now with overload, thing become even more modular: Alteration runic charge can provide DR 5/adamantine; Creation provides fast healing 5, Destruction adds Improved Critical to natural attacks; Invocation provides energy resistance 20 versus your choice of the classic 4 energy types; Manipulation increases base speed by 30 ft. and revelation provides blindsense 30 ft.; You may also choose the overload effects from lesser alter form and for every 2 runic charges, you may choose +1 ability. And yes, there is an 8th level greater version.
Now here is the interesting part beyond the extended complexity the scripts provide – the book actually manages to properly codify the way how scripts and magic items/spells etc. interact – so yes, while direct counterspelling and the like does not treat the system as transparent with regular magic, magic item and school-based immunity correlations are perfectly codified – yes, including potions, scrolls, wands etc. – rules-wise, this is very tight.
By the way – if the above example was frightening for you: Fret not. There are plenty simpler runes herein – barrier duplicates a modified wall of force, for example, with overload increasing caster level. Banish sends outsiders to their homeplanes, with overloading allowing the scribe to affect more HD. So yes, beyond the delightfully modular ones, there are ample less complex runes for your perusal.
Rune magic has one final peculiarity, which would be engraving: Engraving a script takes 10 minutes as opposed to the usual casting time (or +10 minutes, if casting time is already 10 minutes or longer) – upon completion, the script is treated as maximum runic charge’d for the scribe’s level, but does not generate a runic charge of its own, neither does it expend a runic charge you have. And yes, it does expend the use of the script – essentially, you cast longer, but get better results and don’t have to waste your runic charges on a script where you don’t want to waste them on -since runic charges are a limited resource based on previously cast scripts, this option makes sense, in particular for long-term buffs and the like.
*Exhales* Okay, got that? Great, so let’s return to the archivist-class, all right? Starting at first level, the archivist chooses a bloodline-like specialization for a given script design, somewhat akin to school specialization – this unlocks new abilities at 1st level, 2nd and every 6 levels thereafter. The choice also determines the design of archivist bonus scripts granted over the class’s progression. Finally, this choice also provides a new function regarding the overloading of scripts, called study synergy.
4th level provides a 1/day swift action runic charge gain and may exchange all runic charge’s design for that of another design. The ability can be used +1/day at 4th level, +1/day for every 6 levels thereafter; at 16th level, the archivist gains two runic charges from the use of this ability instead.
Now, regarding study-synergy, one example would be a +1d4/-1d4 surge-like bonus/penalty that is applied to a physical-attribute related action of the recipient of a rune, a radius-based AC-granting barrier or energy resistance. The study abilities include combined benefits of endure elements and a ring of sustenance or granted/forced rerolls – the more powerful abilities obviously being often limited to daily uses. The respective design specializations also determine the capstones granted by the class and yes, there is interaction with Metascript-feats. Applying a metascript feat increases casting time to 1 full-round action, with the exception of Quicken Script, and only one such feat may be added to a given script. Metascript feats have built-in daily limits – you can use them only a limited amount of time per day, though additional uses are unlocked as you progress through the levels – interestingly, not tying the benefits to e.g. archivist levels, but instead to character levels.
The second class contained herein is the saboteur, who gets d8 HD, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, hand crossbow, net, rapier, sap, shortbow, short sword, all firearms and light armors. The class gets 3/4 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves and begins play with trapfinding. The defining trait of the saboteur, though, would be the impromptu creation of magical traps with minimal materials – these saboteur traps behave in many ways like spells in trap form; if applicable saboteur level acts as caster level and Intelligence would be the governing attribute for them. Preparing a trap takes 1 minute and, once set, it remains active for 1 day. Traps can be disabled via Disable Device. Saboteurs may thus keep their trap-slots open and unprepared when going out to adventure in the next dungeon – after all preparation is rather quick. The saboteur has an assembly-list that governs spell-trigger items he can use. Traps are “cast” by being set, which is a standard action that provokes AoOs. Traps affect a 5ft- square and may not be stacked upon another or similar magical traps like glyphs. Type-wise, they are codified as Type: Magical, Trigger: Location, Reset: None.
Once set, traps remain functional for 10 minutes per CL; hereafter it falls apart. (15th level upgrades that to 1 hour per level.) A saboteur can’t just make one death-ambush after the other, though: A saboteur can have a maximum of Intelligence modifier traps placed at a given time; setting a new trap beyond this limit deactivates the oldest trap. When a trap is triggered, the trap affects first the triggering creature and then the closest creatures nearby, as per the respective parameters. Effects with concentration require line of sight from saboteur to trap to maintain it. Additionally, once per round as a move action, a saboteur can trigger a trap within 30 ft. planted and a placed trap can be disarmed sans check with only a standard action, no check required. Costly material components are expended upon placing the trap. In order to prepare a given trap, the saboteur needs his assembly book – the saboteur begins play with 2 1st level assemblies +Int-mod assemblies, gaining +1 every level and saboteurs may add assemblies as a wizard may add spells to his spellbook. In order to locate a placed trap, the searching target has to beat the DC +10.
Additionally, at first level, the saboteur class receives the marked target ability, which allows the saboteur to mark within line of sight a target as a move action, adding scaling bonuses to atk/dmg, AC or the like – 4 such benefits can be chosen. Once marked, a creature can thereafter not be marked again by the saboteur for 24 hours and the saboteur may dismiss the mark as a swift action. Only one mark can be in effect at a given time, with 9th level providing the option to maintain two marks at once – all of which can be then changed as a swift action. 17th level increases this to three marks, including the option to place two marks on a single target, but at the cost ob not being able to mark another creature while the dual amrk is in place.
2nd level nets evasion (13th improved evasion) and the first saboteur trick – basically the talent-array of the class. An additional talent is gained every two levels after the second. When applicable, save DCs are 10 +1/2 class level + int-mod. These saboteur tricks are pretty much brutal: There is, for example, one that makes opponents ALWAYS flat-footed against you in a surprise round and, when hit by the saboteur, they remain so for the first combat round. I *think* this should only apply when the saboteur has the surprise, not when he’s surprised – and yes, there are options that allow you to act in a surprise round or even get the regular action contigent. There also would be a crazy prepared trick that almost works perfectly – sporting a sensible recharge mechanic that prevents abuse, it’s great, though it lacks the “can’t produce unique items”-caveat – you could draw the key to that door/manacles from your backpack, which is something I consider problematic. Now all tricks have issues, though – there is a higher level assassination that requires only one round of study, but does require the enemy to be unaware of the saboteur’s intent as a foe. Limited SPs, conversation-based charm/suggestion tricks etc., numerical boosts that interact with marks and temporary regeneration-elimination provide unique options. I particularly enjoyed the means to temporarily split into two at the highest levels, codifying the classic shadow twin-stunt in a concise manner. Using AoOs to parry enemy strikes when said foe is properly marked may not be too elegant, but it does work sans hassle – so if you don’t have rules-aesthetic objections to the ability, you won’t have an issue with it. Nondetection, becoming trackless, item-destruction or arcana theft can be found – also cool: properly scaling DR-bypassing.
At 3rd level, passive detection of hidden doors and traps is possible. 5th level provides quicker trap disarms and at 19th level, the saboteur may almost instantly disable traps as barely a standard action, with full-round action Open Locks being possible as a swift action! 7th level also nets the saboteur combined arms – this is where the class becomes interesting, as the saboteur can now combined multiple assemblies as one trap. 11th level allows a saboteur to throw a trap up to 20 ft. as part of the standard action of placing it. Alternatively, the saboteur can add the trap to a ranged weapon like a bow, crossbow, etc. – shooting the trap thus takes a full-round action, though at teh cost of decreasing the DC against the trap’s effects.
The class provides a massive array of 5 lengthy capstones that allow the class to excel in one of its components – whether it’s the mark, easy dismantling of magic, bypassing all kinds of traps or making exceedingly powerful traps, the capstone abilities are worthy. The assembly list is btw. relatively limited, which is ultimately what keeps the saboteur balance-wise in line.
The third class in this book would be the vanguard, who receives d8 HD, 4+Int skills, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and firearms as well as light armor, medium armor and shields and may cast spells in light and medium armor sans incurring spell failure. Vanguards are prepared spellcasters that gain access to spells up to 6th level, drawing exclusively from his own spell-list. Vanguards’ spellcasting-governing attribute is Charisma and the class gets 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Fort- And Will-save progression.
The class begins play with a construct companion pet that gains 3/4 HD- and BAB-progression, 1/4 saving throw progression, up to 30 skill points, up to 8 feats and up to a +8 primary ability bonus, +4 secondary ability bonus – these are determined by the respective base forms chosen, of which 3 are available – combat, eldritch and scouting form. Construct companions are not immune to mind-affecting effects and they have an Int-score. Pieces of equipment cna be integrated into the construct companion, which is, rules-wise, a pretty impressive display of rules-language craftsmanship – and no, no quick switching available. The construct gets a link and share spells. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter provide a bonus feat and 2nd level provides 1/2 class level to Craft, Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering) as well as to Spellcraft checks made to identify magic items.
1st level also provides the first 2 augmentations – one of which is mending touch, which allows the construct companion not to be a really bad drain on resources. The second can be freely chosen; 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter provide an additional augmentation. However, these augments connect with another mechanic: Resonance. Causing a resonance is a standard action that does not provoke an AoO and the effect of a given resonance depends on the augmentation. Only one resonance may be in effect at a given time. a vanguard can create a resonance 1/2 class level + Cha-mod times per day. The action required for activation improves to move action at 7th levelm swift action at 13th level. If the companion is destroyed, a vanguard can still use a resonance at twice the cost, unless it requires tandem activation by both vanguard and construct companion.
2nd level also allows the vanguard to imbue a contingency-type of effect in his weapon or that of his construct or in himself or his construct. These effects are limited in what can be imbued, but still are pretty powerful. This ability is further upgraded at 11th level and 17th level. 3rd level provides teamwork feats to the companion. 5th level and every 6 levels thereafter add +1 spell poached from the sorc/wiz spell list and 8th level allows the vanguard to chance an augmentation chosen via 8 hours of work, though the prerequisites must align; i.e. not replacements of inferior with superior augmentations. 14th level provides exceedingly fast item construction. As a capstone, he gets an all-day augmentation – whenever he uses resonance with it, he also gets battlemind link with his companion for Cha-mod rounds.
Augmentations pretty much look like feats – they have prerequisites (usually levels, attributes and previously gained augmentations and can range in type from Ex to Sp. They include attribute bonuses, integrated bags of holding, more spells, added weapon properties and the like, with solid daily limits balancing the more powerful tricks. Resonance-entries for the augmentations are pretty diverse – AoE abundant ammunition, swapping of places, granting an ally a form of movement…there is diversity and tactics here. Suffice to say, all three classes do receive favored class options that extend partially to the more popular planetouched races aasimar and tiefling, with the saboteur also getting FCOs for drow and kobolds.
The book also covers an array of archetypes: Metallurgist alchemists apply salves, a specialized extract, to objects. Bloodragers may select the forgeborn bloodline to become construct-y/particularly adept at destroying items, while the sorceror-version is themed around crafting/object manipulation and defensive tricks. Blade Shifter fighters can supernaturally alter weapons (cool idea!) and benefit from the fluidity of their weapon. Technique masters utilize the new technique feats and may have multiple ones active. Inquisitor runebinders are interesting – a complex archetype utilizing Wis-governed runes, with special judgments tied to runic charge, offering a unique playing experience. The Arcane Defender and Marauder magus-archetypes are pretty much BLAND – diminished spellcasting defense/offense specialists – boring and pretty much filler the book didn’t need. The Eldritch Eye is more interesting – basically, a ranged magus with the option to learn to use arcana as grit, quicker reloads, etc. The Mystic dervish is basically the two-handed magus and, once again, okay, if not really exciting The Rune Knight is more interesting, being, bingo, the rune-using magus, with unique rune strike and arcane pool-powered runic charges. The Zen marksman is a power-gamer’s wet dream regarding dipping – combining monk with gunslinger, you get all the great saves and may flurry with firearms, even though they’re ranged…and yes, this includes free action reload while flurrying…though at the cost of continuously increasing misfire rates for each shot. Let me state this load and clearly – craftsmanship-wise, there is nothing to complain about here – but the fact that you get firearm-flurry including free action reloads at first level is ridiculous. For a 1-level dip, a gunslinger gets a LOT out of this archetype – too much. Spreading this ability over the levels would have made much more sense. Not getting near my game.
Rangers get 5 new, very well-crafted combat styles with firearms, polearm, quarterstaff, spear and unarmed as well as the entrapper archetype, which would be the saboteur/ranger crossover. Shamans may elect to go metal shaman in a well-crafted, rather cool option and skalds may become ancestral warriors, gaining an ancestral weapon that increases in potency over the levels…yeah, you’ve seen that trope before.
Obviously, the new classes are not forgotten either: Vanguards electing to become arcane menders can heal via their construct’s mending touch and may only imbue protective and healing spells, while getting limited spells from the cleric’s list – cool! The Steelbound Warden gets weapon, armor or shield as bonded object and basically replaces his companion with this object – the pet-less vanguard, if you will. Nice! The transmuter replaces his imbuing with the means of changing the basic composition of objects. Archivists perhaps are the most versatile regarding additional options here: They may choose from 12 focused studies, which can be considered to be minor modifications of their chosen study – whether it’s animal companions, magic disruption or controlling gravity – there are a bunch of useful and well-presented options here.
The Saboteur may elect to become an ambush specialist or a demolitionist – these guys can convert their regular traps in bomb-like charges that scale as 1d6 per 2 class levels +1d6 per trap slot level converted. This damage thus eclipses that of the comparable alchemist bomb class feature by trap level and additionally, the charges damage is not halved versus objects AND bypasses hardness depending on the level. It should be noted that this explosion cannot be avoided by guys with evasion and the like since the save is Fortitude-based. While the alchemist has superiority regarding customization of bombs, the sheer damage output, combo potential and options to create truly devastating death traps means that this guy will only see action in my most high-powered of games, even though I like its concept. The ruin raider gets an on-the fly versatile intuition bonus, can learn movement rates/sight-types and learn symbol spells.
Okay, I already dabbled in feats, so let’s make the remainder of this review quick, shall we? Beyond the aforementioned metascript feats, we receive an array of metaconstruction feats, which basically constitute metamagic for traps. These work pretty much as you’d expect, increasing level, needing to be built-in upon preparing the traps, etc. – but seeing how quickly you can prepare traps, they are significantly more useful than their much maligned regular brethren. The next new feat-class provided are technique feats, which usually are named after outsiders. These feats are activated as a swift action, whereupon you enter the associated stance; tricks and benefits of a specific feat only apply while in this stance and follow-up effects similarly only work while in the associated technique: When in Angel Technique’s stance, you get the benefits from that stance but can’t use the abilities granted from Protean Technique’s stance and its follow-up feats. Sounds familiar? Yeah, this is basically a huge array of [Style]-feats by another name, with one crucial difference – they are specifically intended for use with WEAPONS and do not work when unarmed.
Changing techniques is a swift action. The feats per se are powerful, if situational: Asura Motion, for example, provides bonus damage when striking multiple targets in one round – per additional foe hit in a given round, +2d6, up to +4d6. Annoyingly, the feat fails to specify damage type, which means that the bonus damage is the almighty unmitigated untyped damage. In this chapter, you can find a couple of these hiccups in the author’s otherwise mostly flawless rules-language – while mostly negligible à la “Creatures do not get an attack roll benefit…”, it’s still something I noticed. that being said, there also are pretty awesome tricks like whip-grapple synergy with instant draw to an adjacent square, harder to heal bleed damage and there also is a take on the standard action-TWF-attack. Over all, the feats are interesting, though not as polished as the majority of this book. And yes, the pdf specifies the interaction of Technique and Style feats: In short – no dice. Overall, this chapter’s technique feats generally impressed me and represent certainly a rather cool variant of style feats that can (and should) be expanded further – kudos!
The chapter on spells, finally, introduces the meta-descriptor alongside a metric ton of new spells, some of which interact, obviously, with class features of the new classes herein, whereas others extend the options of more vanilla classes. Temporarily liquefying objects (sans harming them), ranger level 3 spells to perform a full-BAB attack versus each foe in reach…interesting. Armor-manipulation, scattering objects, symbols of locking – there are a lot cool ideas here! Finally, there are special abilities for weapons and armor as well as an arsenal of magic items for your perusal, several of which, once again, interact with class features introduced herein, with rune magic items and lavishly-depicted unique weaponry, metascript rods and talismans of power (pearls of power for scripts) complementing the book’s content.
It should be noted that the artists get proper recognition with all pieces individually credited and that the feat-section for example, sports a full-blown table for handy reference. Finally, the book has an excessive, well-crafted index that makes handling it rather comfortable.
Editing and formatting, in spite of my nitpickery, can be considered excellent on both formal and rules-language levels – there are almost no glitches herein, which is a significant feat for a crunch book of this size. Layout adheres to Ascension games clean, elegant 2-column full-color standard and the book sports copious amount of beautiful full-color artwork that manages to mostly retain a unified style, which is pretty awesome to see. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the print version, since I do not own it.
Christopher Moore’s Path of Iron is a truly impressive, massive book of balls to the wall CRUNCH. The most significant and defining characteristic when describing his unique design-style is probably that this book feels like a Paizo-book. It’s design-aesthetics, rules-language, presentation – the whole shebang not only looks like a Paizo-crunch book, it feels like one. The class design paradigms are very close to what you’d see in Paizo material and the precision, even in complex rules-interactions, can simply not be denied. This is, craftsmanship-wise, rather excellent, in spite of the few minor hiccups. (And yes, there are plenty of those in Paizo books as well – depending on the book, more than herein.)
So, what about the artistry? Well, I did write in my review of Path of Shadows that Christopher Moore’s design was pretty conservative and it still is – however, when he lets loose, he goes full out: The Rune Magic’s modularity with the escalation bar-type runic charge reads nice on paper, but it plays friggin’ amazing. It adds a completely new tactical dimension to playing a caster and frankly, is just capital letters fun and by far my favorite component of the pdf, in spite of e.g. the wording of the alter form scripts I quoted being a bit confusing upon first reading: Establishing primary and secondary abilities as nomenclature would have made them clearer, but that’s just me being a rules-language snob – they work, and that is what counts.
The saboteur, on the other side, imho suffers a bit from having his traps basically being relegated to a limited selection of delayed spells – the framework is great, the rules-language is precise and no, this will not influence my review, but personally, I was a bit disappointed to see the traps of the class being just another version of spells. That might be me and the class is a cool playing experience, particularly with the new spells herein that add a whole roster of tactical tricks, but still – I found myself wishing the class had actually unique traps. Perhaps I was just too excited about the concept, but for now, that niche will be continued to be filled by Drop Dead Studios’ Vauntguard in my games.
Of all the classes, I was least excited about the vanguard – having reviewed too many pet-robot/summoner-ish classes already, I was not expecting to really like this one: By axing the whole evolutions-bit and replacing them with augmentations, by introducing the rather rewarding concept of resonance, I couldn’t really help myself…in spite of my prejudices, I ended up enjoying the class.
As for the supplemental material – in the vast majority of cases, it is interesting, excellent even. At the same time, however, there do exist components within the pages of this book that are OP or could have used a whack with the nerf-bat – and this is not me speaking about design-aesthetic preferences. That being said, these hiccups are few and far in-between…so how to rate this? See, this is where my job gets hard, so let me way lyrical for a second:
If path of iron was personified as a golem of iron standing in front of you, it would be polished to a dazzling shine that stuns you at first glance – only at close inspection you’ll notice a few unpleasant pieces of rust and make a mental note to yourself that this and that component would require a bit of sanding off. The golem works and does its job smart and admirably and the creator has added some cool protocols and functionality you never saw before and you love them, but once in a while, it emits a grating creak. That’s pretty much this book to me – a great offering, mostly refined to perfection, with some minor flaws that stand out more due to the book’s otherwise impeccable presentation. So how do I rate this? I’ve thought long and hard and compared this with similar big crunch books I picked apart and ultimately decided on a final verdict based on the sheer amount of great material versus the slightly tarnished bits. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.