Ponyfinder: Griffons of Everglow
This beautiful hardcover clocks in at 64 pages of net content (excluding ToC, covers and SRD) and depicts the griffons of storied everglow, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy.
Ah, the griffons of everglow – old and proud, with memories both accurate and long, predating the advent of ponykind’s empire. We begin this book, as befitting of the proud race, with their history – from stopping the rampage of Apep to the altercations with the purrsians to witnessing the rise and fall of the pony empire and the arrival of bipedal races, the griffons have a long history and a unique perspective on everglow, somewhere between stoic conservatism and surprisingly progressive notions -so flavor-wise, we begin with one of the most evocative sections I’ve read so far in a ponyfinder book.
A discussion of the traits of griffons accompanies the presentation of racial stats – and people like yours truly will enjoy them: The first thing you’ll notice is, that the section on griffons actually follows the standards of PFRPG regarding the depiction of racial stats – you know, proper attributes, not abbreviations and the like. Nice! Griffons gte +2 Str and Wis, have a base speed of 30 ft. and a bipdeal speed of 20 ft, a fly speed of 40 ft. with poor maneuverability, low-light vision, a 1d6 bite and they may treat clouds and mists as solid. The hippogriff gets +2 to one ability score, low-light vision, base speed 40 ft., bipedal speed 30 ft, 30 ft. fly speed, unique destiny and are treated as both griffons and ponykind via subtypes and effects. Both are quadruped – in an unfortunate typo, the trait is called “quadraped”, though. Griffons can be modified via an aspect that takes into account different heritages – and here as well, the presentation is closer in line with PFRPG’s standards, which is a big plus.
Default griffons have the predator aspect, while cheetahs increase their land speed, their charge, run and withdraw options and they decrease their flight speed by 10 feet and one maneuverability. Cursed griffons get -2 Strength, +2 Constitution and Wild Talent as a bonus feat (being naturally psionic), while prey aspect griffons lose their bite and get -2 Strength, +2 Charisma and increase their CL by 1 as well as their domain/mystery/blessing effects as though they had one level more, up to the cap of their HD – and yes, has the “no early access” caveat. Pride griffons imho are lopsided: +4 Charisma, -4 Wisdom makes them very minmaxy…and flavor-wise, it’s a bit odd to have griffon diplomats suck at Sense Motive, but yeah. Scavenger griffons get +2 Intelligence and Dexterity, -2 to Wisdom and Strength. Sea aspect griffons decrease fly speed by 10 ft and one maneuverability, but gain a swim speed of 30 ft. and may speak and cast spells under water – this is considered to be strenuous activity for purposes of suffocation, since they still have to breathe. Finally, snow aspect griffons decrease their fly speed by 10 ft. and reduce their maneuverability by one step. They also gain +4 to Stealth in snow and treat it as a class skill, are Large-sized (not capitalized) and get Endurance, +1 to saves vs. cold (not typed, unlike other bonuses here), -2 to saves versus fire and heat and lose cloud walker, but gain the Endurance feat. VERY odd, though I do understand it balance-wise: Reach does not increase, making the Large size actually a liability…and the bonus to Stealth is completely negated by the size penalty…not sure whether that’s intended…but I think it’s not.
The pdf also sports 5 alternate racial traits – a claw attack (properly codified natural weapon type, unlike the bite in the standard trait – kudos!), +2 Perception and Sense Motive instead of low-light vision, small-sized griffons, +2/+4 Stealth in dim light/darkness or replacing bite with 1/day SPs light, prestidigitation, unseen servant can be found herein. The pdf does provide favored class options for barbarian, brawler, cavalier, cleric, druid (not bolded), fighter, ranger, rogue, skald, summoner (not bolded) and sorceror. The pdf has a nice heritage table to randomly determine avian and feline aspects as well as dominant coloration and unusual heritages. – the table is nice, though for age, height and weight, you have to consult the base CS.
The next chapter is extremely detailed and goes into the respective takes griffons have on the classes and then, we get 16 racial feats that range from bonuses to two skills that increase at 10 ranks (boring) to using Acrobatics while running sans speed decrease (cool!), 1/day free choice of mental attribute used in a skill check, gaining cloud walker, properly codified, minor DR-ignoring charges, longer breath, sun cat teamwork feat access, more stable flying…well, guessw what? This time around, they actually are functional! Seriously! While I still seethe when looking at lower-case skills, the material here…is nice! The griffons also get traits – which are similarly well-crafted. The book also contains 6 archetypes: Divine psions use Wis as governing manifester attribute and gain Empower Power at 5th level. Midmountii master monks can flurry with natural attacks and replaces stunning with blinding foes; at 7th level, instead of slow fall, they may earth glide via ki. Sky rider cavaliers may select big avians (unlocking them only later) and 5th level provides growth for the mount – with an odd caveat “Its stats are not otherwise affected.” This is patently wrong, since size increases do affect stats – should we ignore these??
Talon Warrior fighters replace bravery with scaling bonuses to Perception and Fly and 2nd level eliminates penalties incurred by AoOs when performing combat maneuvers. 11th level unlocks pounce and 15th level potentially adds an extra claw attack when pouncing, but fails to specify at what BAB – though one can assume full BAB. Weapon mastery and training apply to both bite and claw. Storm Dancer fighters emit fog when attacked in melee, gaining 20% concealment miss chance, 50% for attacks after the first, but only while wearing light or no armor. Oddly, “this has no effect on ranged weapons.” Do ranged weapons not trigger it or do they shoot through? Concealment may also block line of sight, which is relevant for spells and I’m not sure this was intended, since imho, the ability botches nomenclature pertaining concealment and miss chance granted by concealment. 2nd level adds secondary targets to bull rushes (at 15th level: also trip, disarm and dirty trick), 8th level no longer treats fog and smoke as vision detriments and as a capstone, the character becomes “immune to wind” and can only be moved by it if they wish.
Finally, the skycrown pledged samurai penalizes attacks of the challenged against other targets, gets a modified skill list, may, after failing an action, retry in the subsequent round 1/day at a +4 insight bonus (+1/day every 4 levels beyond 2nd) and at 8th level, they gain Great Cleave and a +1 dodge bonus to AC for one round for each enemy struck. Can someone hand me the bag of kittens? As a level 15 ability, these guys may spend resolve as an immediate action to intercept attackers.
The pdf also provides claw and beak tips, rules for (somewhat wonky) griffon-feathered arrows and three special weapon/armor properties – which aren’t bad, in fact, though the lack of formatting for the creation requirements is annoying…and yes, spells are not italicized.
Okay, after this, we begin with an extensive introduction to the faiths of the griffons – from the Sun King to the huntress to white talon, the three deities come with extensive information, though it remains, apart from favored weapons and domains, fluff-centric. The book contains 5 spells that have all issues and represent the worst portion, mechanics-wise, of the book. Internal reference to spells is not italicized in some cases. There is a spell that allows for bonus damage to natural attacks which allows the caster to change elements – okay. However, with a Knowledge (arcana) check as part of attacking, rarer energies like sonic, negative energy or force can be chosen – which makes no sense, considering that force is superior to all other damage types at the cost of damage die reduction to d4. Changing elements is a move action, though – so no idea whether that supersedes the rare energy caveat or not or whether the rare energies only apply to one attack or all. The spell can be discharged, dealing 3d6 or 3d4 damage, thus implying that the energy change is maintained for more than one attack. Lionheart nets haste‘s extra attack when using a full attack and +4 Str AND Con – textbook power-creep. Eagle Soul seemingly contradicts itself – “until your next action” vs. duration of 1 round/level; however, at closer observation, one can assume the speed burst the spell offers to be the initial effect, the attribute boost to last longer – slightly cleaner wording would have helped here. Griffon’s Majesty employs the non-existent “divine” bonus type. That being said, the mask of obedience cursed item is interesting.
Now, much like Forgotten past, the somewhat misnamed “Griffon Society” chapter (1/3 of the book!) contains information of famous griffons and ponykind, with numerous interesting NPC write-ups. These generally are well-written, feature advice for the GM and copious amounts of neat artworks….but, like the previous books, if you’re looking for stats, I’ll have to disappoint you. Similarly, the 6th chapter, which details settlements of the griffons and runs a wide gamut in themes and diversity, does not feature a single settlement statblock for the villages. The villages, cities, etc., however, are truly diverse -from deep waters sheltered in the forest of dreams to razorback ridge, the places are unique. One truly impressive facet here would be that the cartography of the griffon heartland and the metropolis of cuachan, which comes in even more details, similarly gets a truly GORGEOUS full-page map. These sections brim and bristle with the imagination and unique flavor of everglow – and it covers about 2/3rds of the whole book, making this section significantly stronger than in the other Ponyfinder books I’ve read.
The final section of the book provides a new “living trap” at CR 6 with cliffside eels as well as three new creatures – the CR 9 gem golem and with unique spell reflections and dazzling brightness is pretty great. The CR 13 mountain worm, in comparison, is a more conservative critter with no truly unique ability. Finally, the CR 6 sky mask can call down lightning – think of them as Super Mario’s grumpy clouds. All in all, the critters aren’t bad…but formatting and editing is less precise than in Forgotten past’s bestiary, with bolding missing from the majority of the statblocks and some typos creeping in.
Editing and formatting are SIGNIFICANTLY better than in the last two Ponyfinder books I read – while it still is flawed, the flaws mainly pertain rules-language formatting for the most part. While there are crunch components that are problematic, the respective issues are significantly less pronounced, though lower case skills, missing italicizations and the like still are here. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the book has a killer array of full-color artworks. The cartography featured in the book is similarly stunning. The hardcover I have is a beautiful book and certainly one worthy of owning. I can’t comment on the features of the electronic version since I do not have it.
David Silver’s griffons of everglow represent a return to form to approximately the level of the campaign setting; while there are some unfortunate glitches in the crunch and its presentation, it is functional! The content may not perfect, but it actually works and the book does not flaunt the established rules-language as much as the previous books, adhering to formatting standards and providing, as a whole, a significant improvement over the previous books in sheer, objective quality of the crunch. Now the fluff was never an issue for Ponyfinder and indeed, this book with its massive amount of flavor is evocative and not only fans of everglow will most certainly adore the well-written fluff herein. All in all, this book represents a great development for the ponyfinder-line – while still short of perfection, this is a nice purchase indeed and while the flaws of the crunch prevent a higher rating, I feel justified in settling on a final verdict of 3.5 stars; round down if you’re in it for the crunch, round up if you want all the evocative flavor and prose. As for my official verdict, I will round up for this book, since its focus lies obviously on the flavor and campaign setting information.
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