Ponyfinder Campaign Setting
The campaign setting and freshman offering for Ponyfinder clocks in at 122 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 115 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Wait. before we do, I have to go on a brief tangent: I’m not the best guy to review Ponyfinder-material. I’m only doing this due to requests continuously piling up. The first couple of those, I pretty much asked my groups and both refused. (Yep, my kiddies want to play Red Sonja, not ponies…go figure…) I told David Silver of Silver Games the whole story and now I’m telling you. I’m not a brony or particularly enamored with ponies. I tried watching MLP and it neither elicited joy, nor a negative response. I get what people like it in, but it’s not made for me. I learned some important facts from the author in that regard: While this does feature ponies, it is decisively NOT MLP.
Okay, I got that. Secondly, he was okay with me not going the usual in-depth playtesting route due to my parties’ refusal. So here I am. The dark fantasy/horror-aficionado reviewing ponyfinder. It’s what you, my patreons, wanted – and I’m not one to refuse you, at least not for long. Hence, I’ll put on my reviewer’s hat, put my own predilections aside and take you on a journey to the lands of Everglow and analyze the mechanics of Ponyfinder. Cue insert Robot Unicorn Attack, Blind Guardian’s Battlefield Metal-edition in the background. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! ;P
Okay, the first thing we notice after a brief piece of introductory prose, would be the general ponykind racial traits. Ponykind are fey, medium-sized and gain +2 Con and Wis. They have a quadruped speed of 40 ft., 20 ft. when walking on two legs. They get low-light vision, +2 to saves vs. poison, spells and SPs and Endurance as a bonus feat. Being quadrupeds, they get +4 to CMD versus trips and +50% carrying capacity and they get a Unique Destiny bonus feat at first level. All in all, the total race is strong. So, how does the setting handle being fingerless – pretty smoothly. Components of spells, unarmed attacks, touch attacks, wielding items – all covered. Basically, as envisioned here, ponies don’t really suffer from any penalties of require complex modifications – no barding restrictions, they still have hand and ring slots, etc. So if you’re a fan of simulationalist approaches, that may potentially dissatisfy you, though it makes integration of ponies in a given context very easy. Pegasi and Unicorns are covered as pretty common alternate racial trait-packages, with pegasi gaining fly speed 30 ft at clumsy maneuverability – which can potentially cause issues in grim, low-magic settings that…wait. Sorry. Force of habit. We’re talking about a magical setting where talking ponies that wield wands and weapons in their mouths garner a shrug at best. Ignore that. Kidding aside – you should be aware of many a module not taking flight into account until 5th-6th level. Still, generally no issue there and the formatting of the race is according to the specifications established in Pathfinder books – kudos!
Beyond these more common of alternate pony-breeds, we are introduced to chaos hunters, clockwork ponies (a template you can basically apply to other pony-subtypes), doppelgänger ponies, gem ponies that can deflect rays 1/day as via Deflect Arrow, leather wings, sea horses and zebras – If I’m skimming over these, then mainly since they represent relative smooth modifications of teh base chassis – and fluff-wise, the Tribes of Everglow-book (review coming very soon) covers them in more detail. After covering thus the base ponykind racial framework, we address the question of class options and ponykind’s relation with classes next – beginning with two sorceror bloodlines: The unification bloodline is all about gaining some traits from ponykind subtypes -from canines to wings and horns, this one basically codifies an über-pony as a progression of the bloodline and features some player-agenda, which is always nice to see in the otherwise linear bloodlines – and yes, including multiple capstones.
The second one would be the vampiric bloodline that gain vampire-themed abilities – generally solid with the usual suspect like children of the night, gaseous form and similar options providing what you’d expect, theme-wise. Solid. The take of ponies on the respective classes and favored class options for the classic paizo-classes (Core + APG) are covered before we get racial archetypes: Aerial Warriors (barbarian) are about aerial mobility, artifact tender rogues can UMD items with charges to use two charges in activation instead, increasing the CL of the effect by +2. Slightly problematic at 10th level with this one – an option to use UMD to prevent the loss of charges when activating items. While the action required is a massive full-round, this can still be abused pretty badly and should be carefully contemplated – a more complex formula for the DC would have helped here…perhaps increasing the DC on consecutive uses per day? Elemental Savant druids get an elemental-themed domain and can call forth elementals. Okay, so far, so common. Know what has a rather awesome visual? The mobile cannon gunslinger. These quadrupeds can utilize guns on their back and may, at later levels, use Large two-handed firearms; at higher levels even two! Pretty damn cool…I can see ponies with friggin’ huge guns strapped to their backs and sides wrecking havoc…Wait. Damn. Did I just write this?
Mystic Prancer bards basically are faces that can modify their fascinate effect to also include a pied piper of Hamelin-style effect. Natural Magi gain no armor proficiency, but may expend SPs with 3/day uses to refill their arcane pool and they get the options to perform melee attacks at range, though these cost arcane pool points. However, they pay for this flexibility by gaining a stunted armor proficiency progression. And this archetype would be well a place as any to remark upon one particular facet of this book: While, for the most part, the editing is more than solid on a rules-language level, there are quite a few instances where e.g. attributes are not capitalized and a couple of instances where the rules-language deviates from the established standard. Now, in favor of this book: The rules-language generally does work, even if it is not always particularly elegant – which is more than one could say about quite a few freshman offerings.
The Pony Scholar is an interesting wizard archetype at higher levels, when he can elect to become fatigued/exhausted/etc. instead of losing a prepared spell – the daily cap prevents bad abuse, though a caveat to prevent the ability use for characters immune to fatigue would have been appreciated. The scholar of the tribes wizard, finally, is all about the tribes and emulating them. Tribal thieves are alchemists that have mutagens that can feature tribal peculiarities (the mage hand spell isn’t properly italicized here). Wardens of the Night paladins can make for an interesting exercise in illustrating what I mean by wonky wording: “When they channel to harm, it manifests in a bright glow of silvery moonlight as per daylight with a duration of 1 round per paladin level. It is effective against shapeshifters and aberrations, but only half damage to undead. Wardens may not channel to heal.” It is pretty apparent how this ability works, but it does offer a couple of deviations from standardized wording. It can’t be abused and isn’t problematic, but the rules language aesthetes among you may cringe a bit. That being said, other than that, the archetype, as well as the witch doctor witch, are solid, though the latter does sport an instance of missing italicization.
The pdf also provides an array of eidolon evolutions, some of which are tribe-exclusive – they generally are solid, though having eidolons healed by heat can be pretty easily abused. Then again, 7th level prereq and tribe-exclusivity render that one still feasible. The pdf also sports a ton of racial feats that range from better Disguise for Doppelgänger-ponies to the Gunnery Squad teamwork feat that allows adjacent allies to reload your gun. Similarly, action-economy powered blindsense that can be upgraded via follow-up feats and the like is interesting. Gaining a gore attack is evocative, but specification on how it behaves regarding primary/secondary attacks and damage type would have been appreciated here. Half-constructs can net themselves light fortification (non-stackable caveat included!) and a couple of SPs that thematically fit are also included.
*Takes a deep breath* This, however, is NOT where the book stops – the goat-like cloven, quadruped fey, gain +2 to one ability score of their choice, 40 feet movement rate (20 feet on two legs), low-light vision, immunity to altitude sickness and retain Dex-mod while Climbing/Acrobatics-using on narrow/slippery surfaces. They get a 1d4 gore attack (see above – no primary/secondary/damage type included, though that can be looked up) and “Cloven get a bonus against poison equal to their hit dice.” We know what’s meant, but this still makes me cringe. Bonus-type? I assume racial. It’s also “bonus to saves against…” *sigh* Anyways, they also get +2 to Perception and Appraise for certain checks and are, obviously, fingerless. Their racial feats allow them to eat basically anything, jump better, get better horns and FCOs are provided.
Flutterponies gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str, are medium, have a base speed of 30 ft. (bipedal: 20 ft.), a fly speed of 30 ft (average maneuverability) and may reduce person themselves 1/day. They are treated as ponykind and can, at will, emit light from their antennae. They are, obviously, fingerless and quadruped. These strange ponies began as basically pony-shaped swarms of aggressive, vermin-like nuisances, but evolved to increase in size and intelligence and become more agreeable – but they still are considered to be somewhat alien. Conversely, their racial feats reflect the somewhat fey-ish theme. Their agility allows them, with the right feat, to 1/round use Fly via an immediate action as their AC, which, while it may be cheesed, is limited enough to not become problematic. Pretty impressive – there is a “share the same space”-teamwork-feat that actually works. I’ve seen a lot designers fail at these.
Griffons get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, have a fly speed of 400 ft. (poor maneuverability), base speed 30 ft. (20 ft. bipedal), a 1d6 bite attack (again, yaddayadda primary/secondary…), low-light vision and…they may treat clouds, mist or fog as solid. This last ability, flavor-wise, is gold – though I wished it specified how exactly that interacts with e.g. stinking cloud, cloudkill, etc. – can these guys walk on these clouds? If so, are the affected by the negative effects of the spells or unharmed? Now before you start asking these questions yourself – there is a racial feat, Cloud Surfing, that addresses these questions and makes you capable of being pushed away by them, which is awesome…but the info should not be hidden in a feat, but part of the damn cool, evocative base ability. And yes, FCOs, once again, are provided for a couple of classes.
Phoenix Wolves get +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Int, have a base speed of 40 ft, 20 ft bipedal, geta 1d6 bite attack, fire resistance 5, increase CL of fire-descriptor spells, fire domain, fire bloodline, flame mystery…you get the idea. Phoenix wolves with Cha of 11+ also get some nice SPs and they get +2 to feints and against being feinted as well as low-light vision. Bred from hellhounds purged of evil, these creatures feast on ash, cinders and coal and make for interesting creatures. They can use racial feats to gain wings, increase their fire resistance, etc. and even get a 1/day breath weapon. Once again, favored class options included.
Purrsians would be the winged cats of Everglow and gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Wis, base speed 40 ft. (half bipedal), fly speed at 3o ft with clumsy maneuverability, a weak 1d3 bite, can retry not too horribly botched attempts to change a creature’s attitude and +10 ft. when charging, running or withdrawing. They gain low-light vision as well. Nomadic and driven to amass wealth, they represent an interesting blending of tropes and can gain claw attacks, which can be upgraded to allow them to steal objects when hitting with both. The FCOs provided are solid. Nice for simulationalists – the option to replace costly components for spells sans level-increase, but via money –
Steelhearts would be half-construct fey that have a base speed of 30 ft, bipedal speed 20 ft, get +2 to saves vs. disease, mind-affecting effects, poison, fatigue and exhaustion, can’t be resurrected and do not need to eat, breathe, sleep. They get electricity resistance 5 and low-light vision. These pony-shaped horses are pretty much an enigma – they guard their origins with zeal and hence, once a war with ponykind resulted…now, relations are a bit strained and part of the deal was that ponykind would refrain from trying to unearth their origins. Unique: A racial feat that lets you ground electricity, lessening the effect for all affected.
After the steelheart’s favored class options, the sun cats are next: They gain +2 Str and Wis, -2 Int, base speed 40 ft., bipedal speed 20 ft, always treat Perception and Stealth as class skills, +10 ft when charging, withdrawing or running, a 1d3 bite, 2 1d4 claws (both lacking primary/secondary classification and damage types), scent and low-light vision. Proud, nomadic predators, sun cats can use racial feats to AoE-demoralizes that can also deal channel damage. Pretty OP: When you make a save, you can grant all allies within 30 ft a reroll….that one overshoots the target a bit for a relatively easy to get feat. Still, overall, an interesting race. To nitpick, one of the feats is based on a 75% of maximum hp threshold to work, which can be a bit clunky.
Beyond all of these races, which generally are well-balanced internally, a full-blown pantheon of gods is provided and the pdf sports extensive age, height and weight tables. As for balancing with other races, the relative easy means of acquiring flight does change the dynamics of low-level gameplay in particular, so that’s something to look out for. Still, as a whole and within its own context, the races are generally well-balanced among themselves – slightly above PFRPG-core races, with an increased emphasis on mobility. The number of problematic options here is very small and overall, the chapter can be considered to be pretty impressive.
But perhaps you are not that interested in going full-blown Everglow? Fret not -the pdf provides stats for earth-bound ponykind animal companions and familiars. The pdf also suggests optional rules for more realistic deficiencies or more relaxed takes on fingerless characters – in case you’re not like me and don’t get an aneurysm trying to picture ponies using hooves for fine manipulation – mind you, I don’t judge – it’s certainly cool that the options are here! But this is a campaign setting and thus, after a brief history of Everglow, we get an in-depth background story of these lands…including notes of diverse factions with associated faction traits. And yes, they get trait type and bonuses right AND matter for the most part! While this iteration of the base setting of Ponyfinder assumes an age wherein the grand empire has fallen, there are some notes on alternate era ponies, including a Large alternative race, the anteans and ghost ponies. And yes, these do receive their own array of racial feats, though they do not gain any unique FCOs.
Wait, wait, wait – what? Iteration? Era? Well, yeah – and this is pretty intriguing: The campaign setting proceeds to grant us glimpses into the respective eras of the empire and Everglow, with faction advantages and liabilities, traits and alternate ponykind-versions and associated racial feats for the associated era. One result is that the GM has some control over tones and themes, can still blend the topics at hand…and the pdf, ultimately, thus already has a bare-bones set-up for an era-spanning type of campaign ingrained in its DNA.
But settings are more than just timelines and factions – they require locales and the book does not disappoint: This book sports basically a gazillion of well-crafted settlement entries with ample of intriguing hooks and cool ideas included. The one thing I was missing here would be the settlement statblocks – none are provided with only basic breakdown of the bare minimum of demographics provided. Apart from that, prose-wise, this chapter was a surprisingly well-crafted and easy to read section. Beyond these notes, the movers and shakers, famous and infamous among ponykind, from the cool rebel to the legendary scholar, are provided with detailed fluff-only write-ups – so no, the statblocks for these guys will have to wait for a later book. Still, once again, a significantly more nuanced array of characters than I expected, since some of the names and artworks do point a bit towards “this is the cliché-XYZ-guy”; instead, most have some component that sets them somewhat apart. The chapter also includes an array of adventure hooks and groupings to provide more subject matter for the GM to develop.
Beyond this massive chapter, the pdf also sports an assortment of items, mundane and magical for your perusal – crystalline slippers fit for a queen, enchanted spectacles and a small assortment of spells, including a stunning lightning wall, is nice, though e.g. non-italicized saves and the like can prove to be a bit galling for the rules-language sticklers like yours truly. Oh, and a spell to temporarily grant you hands? Covered. So if you really want ponies with hands – here is the tool for just that.
Beyond even more nice, properly codified traits, we arrive at the brief Everglow bestiary in the back of the book, where creatures illustrated in full color, from the CR 1/3 flutters to the CR 12 inevitable vanguard and a ghost variant await. These monsters are okay and generally pretty neat, though there are some minor hiccups here and there in the math and formatting.
Editing and formatting are the weak spots of this pdf – while pretty impressive on a formal level, the rules-language does show that this book is the work of a then inexperienced company and sports some deviations from the default. On the plus-side, the pdf, most intriguingly, in spite of this, manages to work mostly sans ambiguities or issues. While there are some issues that extend into the rules, they are few and far in between – as a whole, this is an impressive freshman offering. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with a solid background and generally nice artworks, though at the end of some racial entries and chapters, there are a couple of pages that are mostly blank and feature only a bit of text – not a big fan of those. I don’t have the print-version of this one, but if the other Silver Games print copies are any indicator, print would be the way to go here. Why? Simple. Unfortunately, the pdf has no bookmarks, which is pretty annoying for a book of this density and size. Artworks range from superb to okay and are generally original pieces, which is nice. The cartography of the continent of Everglow is colorful and nice.
Stephen Ritterbush, David Silver and Anthony McKaskle’s Ponyfinder…is much better than I expected it to be. In fact, while suffused with a spirit of cheerfulness, you won’t find the level of saccharine “Friendship solves everything”-approach in this book: And that’s a good thing, even if you are an MLP-fan. Why? Because, let’s be honest – that simply does not make for that interesting fantasy gaming. That being said, this still is the antithesis of the grimdark setting – this is cheerful, positive high-fantasy. Surprisingly, the tight racial balancing is consistent throughout in its valuing of racial abilities. The basic premise of assumed flight as relatively widely available means that other narratives can be crafted and are supported. The presentation is surprisingly professional, in particular for a freshman offering…and. Wait.
Okay, imagine jaded, cynical grimdark-loving me sitting in front of the screen with a black metal corpse paint for maximum comedic effect, gnashing his teeth and blurting out…I actually kind of liked the setting. No, seriously. I am so not the target audience of this campaign setting and I still managed to take some cool ideas out of this pdf. At the same time, I should emphasize that this is not a hyper-detailed campaign setting – this should instead be considered to be basically the Ponyfinder core-rules, with a bunch of setting information…but if you’re looking for in-depth information, that will have to wait for future books. Still, this setting is significantly better and more evocative than quite a few I have read. It’s not for everyone and if you hate the very idea of ponies, you probably won’t be convinced anyways. But if you’re like me and indifferent to the concept, you’ll probably find quite a few cool tricks in this book and be just as surprised by a well-crafted, unique setting with ample potential.
Rules-language purists may shudder sometimes while reading this, get annoyed by e.g. how natural weapons are treated, etc., but as a whole, significantly less often than one would expect from the baseline – the majority of content herein is solid.
How to rate this, then? Well, while there are a couple of rules/balance-hiccups and issues, they are pretty few and far in-between. While the rules-language is wobbly, it generally maintains an unambiguous functionality and, more importantly, establishes a solid balance baseline for the setting regarding the options it provides. This may not be perfect, but it is an impressive first book and well worth a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the freshman offering bonus. See you around next time, when I’ll pick apart the Tribes of Everglow hardcover…
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