This expansion for the highlord-class clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1/2page of SRD, 1 page of advertisement, leaving us with 10.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
I assume familiarity with the highlord in my discussion here.
This pdf offers two new archetypes for the highlord, the first of which would be the Cherished, who only gets proficiency with simple weapons and light as well as medium armors and shields excluding tower shields. The cherished’s intentions are perpetually shrouded by a psionically-charged veneer of innocence. As long as she is psionically focused, the cherished is immune to magical, supernatural or psionic attempts to read her mind or detect her intentions. This replaces guarded rulership. Instead of a tenet to follow, the cherished adds bonus powers to her power list – 2 per power level. A cherished’s power pool point is halved (rounded down; 0 means that she needs another source of power points to manifest), but she does get a second pool equal to that of the highlord. These are referred to as the favor pool. This pool can only be used to manifest psionic powers and use abilities that affect allied members of her collective. She may target herself as one being among a buff of allies, but not use favor pool to target herself only. Bonus power points are added to both pools; these are added after halving. This also eliminates tribute. Instead of conscription and gift of power, the cherished treats all her highlord powers as having the network descriptor, but only for the purpose of manifesting them on allied collective members. Powers thus manifested may have the mind-affecting descriptors removed to avoid immunities.
Instead of lifeblood resonance, the cherished gets “Treasured by All”: When a creature tries to damage or inflict a negative condition on the cherished with an attack or ability, the cherished may attempt to demoralize the creature as a free action, but instead of making a skill-roll, you roll 1d20 + manifester level + Charisma modifier Bonuses on Diplomacy, interestingly, do apply. This attempt preempts the assault. The cherished may only demoralize a creature with this once per action. Regardless of success or failure, an allied collective member can get a call for aid as an immediate action: This grants the allied collective member then a standard action they can use immediately, as long as it gets the ally closer to the cherished. Members taking this action do become staggered for 1 round, overriding even immunities.
The cherished gets appointed champion as an exclusive tenet power. This one may be manifested as either a standard or move action: This blends psionic power with a psionic charge, and may add both or either, depending on the activation action, Enhancement Menu A or Ability Menu A of the minor metamorphosis power. The cherished’s seeming fragility and being treasured by all may also extend to the appointed champion. You also get to use a chosen decree on the target of the power, and may use it sans expending the psionic focus. The power also, like similar exclusive powers from tenets, with a whopping 5 augment options for better Menu choices etc.!
The cherished gains highlord’s command as a decree. Additionally, the cherished may give a specialized command to an ally in the collective, for +1 attack at the highest BAB as an alternative to the usual effect. This does not stagger the target. The 1st level talent’s empathy, and 2nd level yields +1/2 class level to Diplomacy and starting attitudes are improved by one step. I quickly mentioned that before, but 6th level replaces lifeblood siphon with “Air of Fragility”, providing a kind of super-sanctuary that prevents attacks, with a handy cap, and the cherished may focus the effect on a specific creature. All in all, the cherished is a complex, fun and meaningful tweak. While the power-point modification is tough at first glance, the archetype has been expertly calibrated to make the massive chassis-modifications work. Kudos!
The second archetype presented within would be the virtuoso. The virtuoso gets proficiency with simple weapons, light and medium armors and shields (excluding tower shields) and the virtuoso can choose powers from the psion list. The archetype loses conscription and tenet, with 2 bonus powers per power level, as well as two general augments for psychokinesis: For +2 power points, you can activate the inspire decree as part of manifesting the power, sans needing to expend the psionic focus. Alternatively, for 2 power points, the falter decree may be used as part of manifesting the power – and you may target non-collective targets that are marked by energy resonance. This ability replaces lifeblood resonance. This ability allows the archetype to freely choose energy somewhat akin to a kineticist psion. An enemy marked by a virtuoso’s energy-based powers ends up as marked for one round, and detonates the first time the target is damaged by a member of the virtuosos’s collective. The detonation causes 1d8 of the energy type in damage, which scales analogue to lifeblood resonance regarding dice. After detonation, the mark becomes dormant, but remains active for a minute. Dormant marks no longer detonate, but make the target susceptible to the combo-y tricks the virtuoso has. As the cherished, the virtuoso gets a unique, exclusive power – showtime. You note down how many power points you spend manifesting this power. When you manifest an energy damage highlord power, you can charge yourself with an encore; this lasts until the end of your next turn. If you manifest the same power as the one that charged the encore, you may expend it as part of manifesting. If you do, you gain power points equal to the lower of either the ones used to manifest showtime or the ones you sued to charge the encore. You may not gain more power points than you spend on the second manifestation, including all added power point expenses. The interactions of encores with one another, the duration of showtime and charge maintenance are concisely codified. A total of 4 augments are provided for the power. This one is really interesting – it makes characters that need, due to circumstances, spam a power, more rewarding.
The archetype is locked into the first and second command: Either falter or inspire must be chosen at 1st level for decree; after this, the 4th level grants the other one. The class gets ½ class level to Performance and gets synergy with psionic powers/performances and vice versa. 3rd level nets audience participation – this lets the virtuoso manifest powers from the psychokinesis discipline through the collective members when determining range and line of effect. This potent ability replaces, obviously, gift of power. 6th level provides the “Art Made Manifest” ability that replaces lifeblood siphon: As a full-round action, the virtuoso can both make a Perform check and manifest a psychokinesis power with a manifestation time of standard action or less. A creature marked that can witness the display may be chosen to be affected: The Performance save is governed by half class level and Intelligence modifier + 10, as always, and save DC increases depending on the Performance check result. The effect depends on the energy: Cold, electricity, fire and sonic have different effects, and oddly, acid is not included. Still, this is really interesting! The virtuoso is a unique blaster type archetype that does interesting things with the chassis. Nice one!
The rest of the pdf is devoted to no less than 4 new tenets! The first of these, adherence to the tenet of guile, designates the highlord as a ghost. The talent power granted by this tenet is parasitic mind, which makes you designate a collective member with HD equal to or less than you. You possess the target and don’t need to eat, sleep or breathe and you hear see, etc. – everything the target experiences, you do. When the host takes damage, you take half of it, without reducing the damage the host takes, and this damage cannot be decreased. Hosts suffering from non-damaging effects not originating from you, due to failed saves also extend this to you. While possessing a target, you may only use highlord class features and psionic feats, highlord powers, decrees, recover psionic focus or use aid another. Your location becomes that of the target and the host seems to be manifesting your powers. However, personal range powers may be granted to the possessed target instead. Creatures possessed by this power automatically fail Will-saves versus your decrees, which is BRUTAL. Creatures get a Perception check to notice your possession, and may, if cognizant of your presence, force you out with a Will-save. Rematerialization is also properly codified. There are three complex augments, for temporary hit points, secondary targets (unique addition) or add control body (not properly italicized). This one is really brutal. The auto Will-fail is imho overkill for some builds. Lifeblood resonance’s effects add the damage dice to the first attack of every member of the collective each round versus other collective members, provided they’re denied Dex-mod – basically sneak-attack-y. Conscription can force flat-footed creatures into the collective (or those denied Dex-mod). The decree if blind eye, and the talent distract. The skill boost applies to Bluff, and targets forced into the collective are not necessarily aware of it and may not communicate telepathically. The siphon may affect targets within close range and render the siphoned flat-footed as well as staggered. This one is potent, but may need a bit of oversight regarding the Will-save auto-fail. I’d eliminate that line.
Highlords following the tenet of unity are called Shepherd. The exclusive power is champion of the flock. At the end of each turn, you choose an allied collective member, who becomes capable of using your location as if it were their own – this basically makes you the nexus channel point for the party, which is VERY potent, but also allows you to pull off amazing teamwork stratagems. The 4 augments allow for longer range maintenance of this effect, while another one nets temporary hit points when an ally works through you. The lifeblood resonance lets the shepherd add the damage dice to the damaged member when hit by another member of the collective. Additionally, members of the collective may invest move actions to amplify the bond’s damage, further emphasizing the teamwork aspect. Conscription allows the shepherd to attempt to force targets into the collective as an immediate action when a member damages a creature. The decree prescribed at first level is command, and the talent gained is empathy. The skill bonus applies to Sense Motive, and the shepherd can detect hostile intent (italicization missing), with emanation emitting from a member. Lifeblood siphon on a willing ally allows for foregoing of staggering to grant physical acceleration again, italicization missing) as well as twice the damage taken as temporary hit points.
Adhering to the tenets of adaptation, the highlord is known as strategist, with the signature unique power being fractal schism. Instead of schism, you get a kind of perceptive split, allo9wing you line of sight (but not effect) from the spaces of collective members in addition as to their own. This includes additional senses of the creatures. The assistance also allows allies in the collective to get +2 to atk versus a flanked creature set up by collective members, even if they themselves aren’t flanking the target, and also increase save DCs of abilities versus such targets by 2. The power comes with 5 different augments that include linear numerical improvements as well as sharing the highlord’s Will-save and, for a massive augment, schism. Lifeblood resonance allows the strategist to charge a target with psionic power, bestowing the dice as extra damage with the next successful attack versus a hostile member of the collective. As a swift action, the member may discharge this power to move 10 ft. per expended die; this movement does not provoke AoOs. Cool one! The conscription option allows for Unwilling Participant quicker – usually as a move action, but also as a swift action, but the latter requires psionic focus expenditure. The tenet’s first decree is command, and the talent is psionic talent. The skill boost applies to a skill of the character’s choice He is considered a trainer and halves time for retraining himself and allies. Cool! The lifeblood siphon modification allows for 5 ft. movement per 3 power points spent, as a free action. This movement doesn’t provoke AoOs. The speed of that member of the collective is reduced by that amount.
The final tenet would be that of the tyrant – the tenet of slaughter. The signature power of this tenet would be the lifeblood brand, which targets a creature in close range, marking it for slaughter by your collective. You choose one of three effects: Mounting Weakness makes the target take +3 damage from members of the collective, but only once per round. Further attacks further increases this damage by 3, up to a maximum of thrice the power points spent on the power. Nitpick: This should specify that the damage is equal to the primary damage inflicted by the triggering attack. Crumbling Resistance imposes a penalty on further saves when the branded creature succeeds a save against an incoming attack, once more with a 1/round cap. Brand Detonation, finally, lets you as a full-round action that provokes AoOs, you can detonate any number of these brands, causing twice ML damage or Mounting Weaknesses’ amount, whichever is higher. This also imposes a permanent -2 penalty to skill checks until removed by remove curse. (Italicization missing.) Once more, we get a massive 5 augments for increased range, increased power, targeting more beings or reduce physical ability scores on failed saves versus the detonation. Lifeblood resonance adds the damage dice to the first attack a collective member inflicts on another member. In the case of multiple targets, one is chosen. When a member dies or is destroyed, the tyrant can force another being into the collective, The tyrant’s first decree is grasp, while talent-wise, we have telekinetic punch. The skill boost applies to Intimidate, and the bonus is doubled for Charisma modifier rounds after a member in the collective dies. The lifeblood siphon ability lets the tyrant create an imprint in the place of a fallen as a free action, even if it’s not the target’s turn. This imprint may act as a lifeblood siphon target, granting temporary power points based on half the fallen creature’s HD. These thankfully do not stack with themselves. And last Cha-mod rounds. The duration of powers thus manifested is the briefer of remaining power points or power duration.
Editing and formatting are generally very good, though the pdf does miss quite a few italicizations. On a rules-language level, the pdf, is as a whole, juggling complex and intriguing concepts, but is a bit rawer than usual for Dreamscarred Press. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Michael Shih’s expansion for the highlord is a fun pdf – particularly the two archetypes excited me with their extensive and meaningful tweaks of the engine; the tenets provided are meaningful and different, and provide diverse tweaks. Compared to the tenets from the first file, they felt slightly less refined to me. I know I could abuse the hell out of the ghost if I tried, even though the idea and execution are really cool – some slight modifications here and there would have made this one more fun. There are quite a few such minor cases herein – they are not going to break most mature games, they are unique and distinct, but feel a bit less inspired and refined. All in all, I consider this to be definitely a worthwhile expansion for the highlord. I wouldn’t necessarily consider it to be a100% must-have, but if you do enjoy the class and want expanded options, then this is certainly worth checking out. Ultimately, I consider this to be worth a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.
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