Ponyfinder: Tribes of Everglow
This massive hardcover for Ponyfinder clocks in at 112 pages, not counting covers and inside of cover. Sans ToC, editorial, etc., we get a massive 103 pages of content on the Pony tribes of Everglow, so let’s take a look, shall we?
This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for an unbiased, critical review.
All right, so the first thing you’ll notice and should be aware of, is the nature of this book – this is basically the big racial book for the ponies, but it does require the use of the campaign setting. While the respective stat-modifications of the ponies are included in their respective tribal entries, the ponykind base stats can be found in the core book. This is not something I hold against the pdf, but it is something you should be aware of.
The general presentation of the respective pony-tribes is relatively detailed: After a box containing the racial modifications, we get information on the nomenclature of the respective tribe, we get a generally well-written history of the respective tribe and the life as a member of the respective version of ponykind. The entries also feature very detailed “stereotypes” exhibited by the respective tribe: These are written form the character’s perspective and provide a nice sense of immersion, with basic race-relations covering the vast assortment of unique races/tribes found within Everglow. After that, we get the assortment of supplemental crunch, which usually contains an item or two, an assortment of racial feats, spells and, in some cases, new class options, PrCs, archetypes et al. – you get the idea. So that is the structure of the book.
What tribes are contained in this book? Well, the first tribe would be the earth-bound – which are basically the down-to-earth, most common type of pony; well-grounded and voices of reason, or, as others may call them, provincial…think of these ponies basically as enlightened small-town-folks, and I don’t want to imply that this is a bad thing, mind you. These guys get -2 Dex, +2 Con and Wis, low-light vision, are, like every pony, quadrupeds and get a bonus feat at 1stlevel and +2 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs. Okay, let’s get this out of the way: Know how I use the above shorthand as a means of making my reviews less bloaty, quicker to read? Well, the respective tribal racial traits basically use the same short-hand, which, from a rules-aesthetic perspective, hurts my reviewer’s soul. While not a crucial issue, I die a little inside when I read: “Base Stats: -2 Dex, +2 Con, +2 Wis” in a published book. The formatting of racial stats isn’t that hard to get right, why this needless deviation from the established standard? Anyways, that out of the way, earth bound ponies can have a pet rock and, via racial feats, add temporary hit points to healing. Oh, and you can have infinite healing at 5th level. Stand on earth, soil or rock = fast healing equal to 1 + 1 per 10 levels. Sure, it only kicks in when you have less than half hit points, but considering the options to swap hit points available…this immediately gets banned. Another issue is the half hit points-trigger…does the fast healing only run up to this or not? No idea.
Solid Magic is…urgh. “Spells you cast that have an effective CMB or CMD check gain a +1 bonus per 4 character levels.” Okay…what is a CMD-check? Want to see something broken? If you have Str and Wis 13, you can become immune to being tripped or forced prone…at first level. IMMUNE. Urgh. Another feat lets you have an extended family, which, based on your Diplomacy/Knowledge (local) check can decrease random encounters and bad things happening, provide free lodging…you get the idea. One issue here, though, is the “halving/quartering of random negative event”, which is clunky in the interaction with danger-ratings of settlement statblocks. The balance of spells is also problematic – there is e.g. a variant of shocking grasp that deals piercing damage, requires a ranged attack roll to hit and has a secondary target if you stand on stone, dealing 1/2 damage on that one. With a range of medium, this, in spite of not requiring a touch attack, is superior and shouldn’t be level – the spell is in an odd place, where it is better than comparable level 1 spells and worse than level 2 spells, at which level druids get it.
The unicorns get a variety of traits, one of which nets you ” a permanent +1 bonus to intimidate and diplomacy and one of them becomes a class skill.” Okay, a) permanent bonus? Shouldn’t that be trait bonus? And b) skills are capitalized. Similarly odd: The unicorns can take a 5-level racial PrC that aligns them with the magics of the moon. “Whether you have come to combat or control the night, you have earned the attention of one of the night gods. Your choice is permanent, so consider carefully.” – that’s the text of moon’s blessing, the 5th level capstone ability, according to the table. Benefits? Rules-effects? No idea. Speaking of which: The combat and control the night-benefits, which should probably be the sub-sections, are found at the other end of the PrC. On a rules-level, at-will darkness effects and AoE-concealment mention “slots”, which is usually only used to refer to spells. Equipment to enhance or hamper unicorn magic.
Similarly sloppy rules language can be observed among the feats: “You can fire a weapon without any ammo, turning it effectively into a ghost touch weapon, but otherwise functioning normally.”[sic!] *sigh* It’s clear what this wants to do, but it gets formatting wrong, rules-language wrong and provides unlimited ammunition and free ghost-touch added to all ranged attacks. There is also a feat with the made-up [Teleportation]-descriptor, but otherwise is interesting, allowing you to, constitution-modifier times per day, use an immediate action to move 15 ft. , potentially granting you 50% miss chance. I like the feat’s idea – I really do, but the rules-language ruins it for me. The constant lower case attributes being another glitch that may be cosmetic…but adds an aggravating factor to the needlessly obtuse rules-language. To give you a bit of a perspective on what we’re dealing here – I am only giving you a taste of what’s here to complain about. I could basically write between 3 and 4 pages on issues in the details per tribe, but that would help no one and just feel redundant or mean-spirited. Suffice to say, the crunch has serious issues. What about gems like “Any time spell discharges…[sic!].” So yeah…the rules-language has issues…but so does the regular language.
At the same time, the pdf does offer several options that you end up enjoying, for example the pegasus hoof crossbow or the cloud bow, which can be planted upon clouds and fired thus. This is the level of creativity I enjoy in ponyfinder: Whimsical, yet fun and yes, it does come with actions to plant and is functional. When I read objects like this, I smile. When I see a capitalized, non-italicized obscuring mist as the effect of a cloud in a bottle alongside a deviation from notation, I cringe. A solid, if rules-language wise not perfect ranger-archetype complements the arsenal of the pegasi. Similarly, spells based on cleverly using terrain (per se cool!) confuse reach and area of effect. *sigh*
That being said, at the same time, I don’t want this review to be all about complaints – take the zebras and their nomadic culture, their unique (and changing!) unique destinies represented by the stripes…the flavor is great. Then again, the flavor is great until the crunch collapses upon itselöf – take the zebra discovery that lets you expend a potion or extract to gain a temporary slot of the same type, severely underpricing pearls of power and allowing for infinite extracts. “You can combinetwo effects that normally can’t be in the same bomb. Reduce your effective alchemist level for damage and DC by 1 per 4 levels. If two different damage types are implied, half the damage becomes either type.” I *get* what this is supposed to do. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. A discovery that supposedly modifies extracts and bombs by +1d4-2 regarding level refers to caster level, which does not influence bombs…you get the idea.
I really enjoyed the independent, somewhat creepy doppelganger ponies with their emphasis on their own families and bloodlines makes for an evocative, cool race and hampering Fly with sneak attack makes sense. Similarly, mimicking racial traits of other ponies and I like the idea to mimick alignments – however, it does not work as written: You may use disguise to oppose any attempt to see through your alignment deception. Okay. How? What’s the DC? Detect evil and similar effects ae codified via your Bluff, which is okay…see, that’s what frustrates me here – the idea is cool and makes sense and it *almost* gets it right. Let’s take a spell that, for some days, changes the type of ponykind affected into another tribe…which is cool. I may cringe when I read “passed test” instead of the usual nomenclature, but other than that, I can live with that temporary, forced race-change.
The leatherwings, brethren of the pegasi, moved into the underdark, can get bleed-inducing bites and heal themselves when biting bleeding foes: Can I get a bag of kittens, please? Balance is, once again, all over the place: Adding damage (based on spell level) to spells against which targets have saved and inflict save-less dazzled, sickened or shaken. Save-less damage + condition…oh, and if the spell has no energy type, the damage is considered to be “light elemental damage.” SR versus effects that attempt to discern you alignment or thoughts, on the other hand, would be a neat example where things work as intended. Similarly, options to make sharp turns and better flight, sticking to walls sans requiring actions…there are some truly creative, unique feats to be found here. The discoveries…once again come apart at the seams and shows blatnat disregard to how rules work: A 7th level discovery allows you to, as an immediate action, gain “full concealment” against an attack, causing it to automatically fail. The prerequisite-statement is wrong. It’s total concealment…and that’s *not* how it works.
The tribe of bones, mystical, somewhat creepy and culturally in line as a weird blend of Native American/African-tropes and necromancy/spiritualism are so cool in concept – but much like its predecessor tribes, it falls apart in the details in many cases, though e.g. sanctifying corpses of the slain and similar options feature evocative imagery and cool ideas. A means of unreliable necromancy to create non-evil undead, for example, is pretty damn sweet, though I cringe when the summoner archetype gets an undead eidolon…since that one needed all the benefits of being undead…oh, and all creatures summoned get +2 natural armor, DR 5/bludgeoning, +1 and +5 for creatures of 10+ HD. *Sigh*
The ghost ponies, mysterious and semi-ethereal, are similarly a unique and unique tribe, though e.g. deflecting attacks and single target spells as an immediate action to adjacent creatures is exceedingly strong. What about spells that do not require an attack roll? Can they thus be deflected? Can attacks of an assailant be deflected back upon the attacker? If so, could he deflect it back if he also is a ghost pony? Two new oracle curses have been included…and they are pretty cool, allowing 10th level oracles to be summoned by allies….but does that mean that, upon being slain when summoned, the spell ends and you return unharmed to your original place? Or are you dead? No idea. An option refers to hard cover, which is not a rules term.
The chaos hunter tribe, blessed by order, destined for struggle and defined by duty, has feats for free templates to add to summon nature’s ally spells and, pretty OP, there is an option that lets you stockpile excess healing as temporary hit points. That’s up to +150 Hp for heal. Completely confused: A feat that nets you blindsight that works only against chaotic creatures, but does not immediately reveal them as such AND is called scent, which is a totally different type of option. These guys also get a lawful wizard school…and, as you may have guessed, the formal rules-formatting is problematic, but at least this one’s pretty functional.
The anteans, aka the big ones, protectors mainly found in their island-home, provide an uncommon option and some interesting roleplaying potential, yes…but frankly, at this point I’m hard-pressed to not complain about rules language like “When reduced to -your constitution modifier…” It’s so close to working… *sigh* Beyond traits and feats, they also have subdomains and taking damage for allies, while awkwardly worded, is generally functional. Touches that can be used an infinite number of times per day, which prevent any form of attack or spellcasting for a round, though? Urgh.
Gem ponies similarly are intriguing from a base set-up point of view: Reflecting gaze attacks back on the assailant? Cool! Rather odd: A pretty complex feat that nets you bonuses when allies are incapacitated via a selection of horrid conditions/death…actually gets all the anti-abuse caveats right, is precise in its rules-language and shows that the author can do it, even in complex rules-operations. Immunity to sneak attack, critical hits and pecision damage while under the effects of a mutagen…once again overshoots the target. Similarly, adding entangle to bombs on failed saves…nice.
The artisan clockwork ponies, that once a year get a day of flesh and blood, are defined by their odd shape, by their curse or blessing. Item-wise a 3-round haste-potion (sans CL, sans means of ending the effect) feels odd…in particular since it is called “oil”…which usually isn’t drunk, but applied. And I *think* its intention may have been to only work on clockwork ponies…but that may be me. It also lacks a DC to create. Level 10 magic immunity is similarly nasty and usually, in the rare cases it is available, certainly is relegated to a higher level. That being said, overall rogue talents and alchemist discoveries here are better than on average in the book.
Sea horses, the aquatic ponies can get a staggering gaze attack at 12th level (with 24 hour immunity that only applies on a successful save) and the gaze fails to understand condition-severity hierarchy: If the target is already staggered, the creature becomes confused, thereafter dominated…and all effects but the confusion-effect lack durations. The tribe comes with a moderately competent bloodrager bloodline. Utterly ridiculous: A 2nd level spell that forces a target to move into the water and STAGGERS it on a successful save. Next.
The sun ponies, with panache and flavor, can leave burning trails, allowing for cool skirmishing in one of the book’s more glorious instances. Utterly ridiculous: Gain haste for 1d4 rounds whenever you take fire damage. The feat does not specify whether that’s magic, just the benefits…etc….and I can see sun ponies burning themselves for this. *sigh* The sun totem allows you to fireball in rage 1/rage – I assume as an SP with the respective action, but I’m not sure. The tribe also comes with a desert-themed mystery. One revelation “increases threat range” of a weapon group…but does not say by how much.
Finally, there would be the short-legs, the chosen of Lashtada, may heal ability damage a limited amount of times per day, gain DRs and you may take 2 permanent negative levels to return allies to life…which, once again, is pretty cool and enhances the narrative. The cleric archetype replaces a domain with lay on hands at -2 levels, but can’t harm foes with it and your channel is better, but does not affect yourself. All in all, a fun, if not 100% rules-language-wise perfect archetype. A more type-wise more flexible charm person is also included. On the downside, liberated heart exhibits a blatant disregard for spell-interaction, flat-out eliminating charms, dominations and even geas, regardless of potency or usual means required to eliminate the effects…much less codifying them by unified type or the like.
Editing and formatting are worse than in the campaign setting. MUCH worse. While formal language isn’t precise and features glitches enough, it’s rules-language that sinks this book. Layout adheres to Ponyfinder’s two-column full-color standard and the book features a significant array of absolutely gorgeous full-color artworks. This is a beautiful book. I can’t comment on the pdf, since I do not have it. The hardcover is well-made, solid and while the pages have a white border to the right end of the page, as a whole, the book looks fine.
It looks fine until you start reading. Beyond the constant disregard of any notion of formalized rules-language and formatting criteria, the crunch not only suffers from this component, it also is a total mess regarding its balance, ranging from utterly OP to basically useless…provided you find out what a given ability is supposed to do. Which is particularly jarring after reading the Ponyfinder Campaign Setting, which was vastly superior in every regard in that matter.
Now mind you, that is, ultimately, the bitter thing for me about this book: David Silver’s prose is great; his whimsical ideas are creative and ultimately, I found myself considering each and every tribe herein somewhat interesting and more than just a rehash of a stereotype. The cultural component is pronounced and offers a fascinating glimpse at Everglow. Similarly, when the crunch works and is not off on the balance-scale, it tends to be creative, evocative even.
But seriously, you have to dig through a lot, a ton of issues herein. As mentioned in the campaign setting’s review, ponies as such are neither a detriment, nor a plus for me. The fluff here ranks among the better racial options…but honestly, the crunch and its presentation are horrible. I wanted to use another word to describe it, I really did – but ultimately, there is no sugar-coating it. Unless you play a game where handwaving crucial crunch-decisions and guessing what an ability is supposed to do are fine (And hey, I don’t judge – that can be fun!), I can’t recommend this. Most groups do not operate on that level and have grown accustomed to sufficient precision in rules-language, mainly because an ambiguity clusterbomb like this book can blow the lid of the precarious construct of numbers that is pathfinder.
I honestly am baffled by the level of glitches I have seen in this book; particularly after the campaign setting’s relative, if not always perfect, level of precision. This book, in a nutshell, fails in all but the fluff-department – which breaks my heart, for the culture, flavor and information on Everglow contained herein are evocative and fun. Still, considering my usual rating standards, I can not go higher than 1.5 stars for this book, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo and for those among you who are interested mainly in the fluff.
If there ever was a one-book demonstration on the importance of a proper editor or rules-developer for less experienced designers, this is it. Damn, I hope the other Ponyfinder books represent a return to form after this fiasco.
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