Psionics Augmented: Kineticists
The third of the so far thoroughly mega-impressive psionics/occult-crossover-pdfs clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
After the by now obligatory introduction that explains the interaction and thematic foci of both psionics and psychic magic, we begin this pdf with the Avant Guard archetype for the kineticist. The Avant Guard gains Autohypnosis and Knowledge (psionics) as class skills. Instead of the usual level 1 utility wild talent, the archetype receives magnum opus as a bonus wild talent. While the archetype still chooses a primary element, he does not receive the simple blast or basic utility wild talent, nor the defense talent at 2nd level – though in that one’s case, the matter is slightly more complex. The archetype receives the psionic feat Wild Talent as a bonus feat and while it alters elemental focus, it is explicitly exempt from the rule of thus not qualifying for other elemental focus-modifying archetypes, provided the combo has still the above list of options to give up.
Instead of accepting burn as a regular kineticist would, these fellows may, in a ritual, sculpt their elemental, metacreativity-laden powers inwards, sculpting them into shape. While doing so, the archetype may accept a number of points of burn determined by class level, with higher levels also providing a burn reduction on a 3 to 1-basis for wild talents and other abilities. Now I do have an issue with the fact that the ability can even reduce the burn of wild talents that are usually exempt from having burn reduced, mainly since this is used as a balancing caveat in quite a few instances, though I do understand the reason, considering the massively-changed construct this archetype represents as well as the hard cap – only one wild talent may be kept in effect at a given time and the avant guard may otherwise not accept burn, which significantly hampers the flexibility of the archetype’s options. So yes, while the option can potentially generate problems in future-proofing etc., I understand the design rationale. Additionally, the archetype may employ Con instead of Int as governing attribute for the purpose of Craft (sculpture).
Okay, at this point, it is necessary to talk about the utility wild talents of the archetype, namely magnum opus: The magnum opus is an astral construct of a level equal to the burn accepted during the aforementioned sculpting process, at which time menu choices etc. are similarly made. As a standard action that does not provoke AoOs, you can deploy said magnum opus, with a daily cap of burn accepted during the sculpting + Con-mod, min 1, with each copy coming at full hit points. Great catch: Yep, construct-enhancing feats etc. do apply. Now where things get interesting is with the stand together simple blast: Instead of being resolved as a blast, it offers two options: Assault and Battery: Assault required a ranged touch attack and basically is treated as though the magnum opus had hit the target, with additional effects added depending on elemental overflow etc.; in the aftermath of the blast, the magnum opus is created in an unoccupied space adjacent to the target. Battery can prompt the attack on an already deployed magnum opus, with burn accepted equaling the bonus it receives and substance infusions applying.
The astute reader may have noticed that this array would potentially offer the option to cheese action economy, but the pdf thankfully does prevent such exploits – and before you’re asking: Only one magnum opus may be deployed at a given time – until 16th level, when a second one may be deployed. Thirdly, there would be the get back utility wild talent, which provides a scaling percentile chance of the magnum opus taking damage instead of the avant guard. The effect may btw. be dismissed and restored, takes into account choice, additional effects, etc. – very complex and very cool. Get back, in case you were wondering, replaces the elemental defense, while stand together replaces the standard simple blast of the archetype’s chosen element. Similarly, the burn accepted does not convey the usual benefits and instead enhances the respective magnum opus. Starting at 6th level, the avant guard may bestow additional menu choices on the magnum opus, with 11th level providing a partial infusion of the chosen element – these range from aether’s ability to add natural AC bonus to touch AC, full fly speed, earth glide, etc – the options are pretty cool, and they better be, they are replacing internal buffer, after all. As a capstone, the avant guard may replace his own bodily form with a magnum opus for brief periods of time, inhabiting basically the connection between his shunted away body and the magnum opus created.
This archetype is very, very smart – it is complex, powerful and flavorful and there is a reason the cover was chosen – with only the tiniest of flavor-disjoint (regarding personality maintenance – and that can be solved via roleplaying), the archetype allows you to make Full Metal Alchemist a viable playing option. And yes, I really like that series, its problematic subtext none withstanding – how could I not? So yeah – color me impressed.
The second archetype herein would be the gambler, who receives Autohypnosis, Bluff and Sense Motive as class skills. Instead of elemental focus, this archetype receives gambler’s blast as a simple talent, which uses the active energy type as a means to govern its damage type – though earth and sonic as associated never made much sense to me. Oh well. The gambler receives access to psionic powers of up to 6th level, drawn from their own list of powers. Power points scale from 1 to 70 and powers known begin with 2 and increase to 21 at 20th level. The governing attribute for the gambler’s powers would be, surprise, Constitution. True to the name, the archetype has a unique way in which burn affects the archetype: Not at all…at least at first: On a natural 1 on a saving throw or attack roll, the gambler loses power points equal to her current amount of burn times her character level, with excess points lost being applied as the usual, non-healing damage. However, each such backlash incurred resets burn to 0. A gambler can accept 1 burn per round, +1 at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, with a maximum cap of 3 + Con-mod, though external forces can catapult her above this limit.
Instead of supercharge and gather power, the gambler may, as a move action convert burn into short-lived temporary power points that vanish after class level round. Good call: The ability explicitly forbids cheesing via power point granting power manifestation. and the ability, dubbed “cash out”, btw., cannot be used in the same turn as wager and vice versa. Cashing out is loud and visible and the number of power points gained in conversion increases to 3 per point of burn converted, 4 at 20th level. Yeah, you know what this means, right? It means infinite power points. Picture me pinching the ridge of my nose hard right there. Though, one should mention that there are several safeguards in place: For one, the archetype explicitly forbids the use of said power points for powers granted by other classes, preventing the worst cheese there. Secondly, the set-up and short duration and action economy restrictions ultimately mean that, in practice, you can’t maintain a steady flow of infinite casting. It does mean, however, that you’ll never truly run out of power – you’ll sputter at one point, though. When the gambler cashes out, the benefits of elemental overflow persist for 1 round before vanishing. From a design perspective, I am pretty impressed by the engine here. In order to fully discuss this archetype, we need to look at the wagers first, though:
Now, instead of infusions, the gambler receives wagers – a total of 6 of these are provided: Ante Up can only be performed when burn is 0 and results in accepting maximum allowed burn – on a failed Will-save, which is weak for the gambler, she takes a 1-round serious penalty: High stakes are the theme of the class and this is also represented in Blistering Bluff, which is basically a gathering power-feint that can result in a blast versus an opponent that is treated as flat-footed. Minor complaint: There is no RAW way to determine the nature of this bluff; out game, you know that gathering power’s not part and parcel of the gambler’s tricks, but in-game…not. Anyways, on a hit, burn of subsequent wagers is reduced, while misses (unlikely though these may be) result in the gaining of 1 point of burn. Double or Nothing is an ability you love or hate – Physical blast. If you hit, you threaten a critical hit. If you lose, you suffer backlash. Elemental Roulette allows for the lacing of powers into blasts and the random change to an active energy type. Raise the stakes is pretty strong and allows the gambler to lace a psionic power manifested subsequently into her blasts, managing to get the complex rules-language done. Finally, Spell Tell is damn cool: It allows for blast AoOs and makes nearby spellcasters provoke AoOs from the gambler.
5th level and every 5 levels thereafter increase the blast range by 30 ft. At 2nd level, the archetype receives a powerful defensive trick: 1+ Con-mod times per day, the gambler may expend her psionic focus as an immediate action to short-range teleport, replacing elemental defense
Starting at 5th level, the gambler can increase or reduce the burn cost of wagers by 1 (even exceeding the per-round cap), with 8th and every 4 levels thereafter increasing the allowed increase/reduction by a further plus/minus 1, replacing infusion specialization, internal buffer and composite specialization. 5th level and every 4 thereafter net a bonus metapsionic feat instead of metakinesis, while 19th level reduces a metapsionic feat’s power point cost by 2. 7th level provides live dangerously: When saving successfully versus the active energy, the gambler takes no damage and increases her burn by the maximum number allowed. I am puzzled by “At 15th level, the gambler chooses cold, electricity, fire or sonic.” Whenever the ability is activated? I assume this choice is supposed to replace the active element? Or is that an always active choice in addition to the active element? I am honestly not sure. Instead of omnikinesis, the archetype receives a powerful ability that allows the gambler to ignore any maximum burn limit, blazing in raw psionic power.
The gambler is a complex game of resource management I absolutely love regarding its interaction of burn and psionic powers – the idea to make burn a resource may take a bit away from the very concept, but the execution is really interesting, engaging in a smart and deliberate play of resources and actions that takes a bit to wrap one’s head around, but once one does, it is a rewarding experience.
That being said, it is still infinite casting. Yes, it is limited by action economy and once you’re down to 0 power points, you’re no dynamo of awesome, but a sputtering battery…but this does not change the fact that grittier campaigns should disallow this archetype by virtue of this fact alone. From a personal perspective, I will never allow this RAW anywhere near my game unless I’m playing a high-powered game with prominent infinite resources à la Path of War. It’s not broken per se, but it can be, depending on the type of game you’re running. If you’re like me and really enjoy the framework and the game of resource management this offers, but prefer a grittier gameplay, there are basically two easy modifications you could employ: 1) Tie the maximum burn the gambler may accept to the current power points; this’ll require some math-skills, obviously. The easier (though less elegant) move would be to simply put a hard cap of daily uses on cash out, 1/2 level plus Con-mod, for example. Yeah, you can tell I like this archetype’s framework and design, even if the particular execution needlessly restricts the archetype’s appeal to more high fantasy environments.
The pdf also provides a variety of diverse feats that include a simple blast and wild talent via a feat, though at added burn cost, it is interesting. Composite energy admixture, a skald/bard-crossover-feat can be found and there would be a dual-wielding kinetic blade talent for a single off-hand attack is pretty powerful – personally, I would have made that the focus of an archetype or PrC, but yeah. A monk/kineticist multi-class feat can also be found here. There are also some reprints here: I am no fan of Altered Life, which replaces Con with Wis or Cha as HP-governing attribute and the flicker gauntlet has been reproduced here as well. For the avant guard’s convenience, the pdf also contains the relevant rules-information for the astral constructs the archetype employs.
The new simple blasts both are problematic: Sound blast and, worse, athanatic blast are basically non-resisted energy types, with the latter’s energy having been introduced in “The Seventh Path” – pure positive energy. These will not go anywhere near my games. Creatures and NPCs have no means of protection there. Sound blast counting as air for infusions is also…well, not the biggest fan there. (Also is internally inconsistent – sonic energy is associated with earth in quite a few abilities herein.) The pdf also has 3 composite blasts, with the psionic exclusive half elemental/half physical physical blast of crystalline needles being okay. Overwhelming life can be gained at 5th level, which is very low for the relatively reliable Con-damage it and its associated disease offer. A substance infusion that generate hampering barriers is intriguing. Finally, there are 3 new utility talents, with telepathy being nice. Primordial Flame is insane: As a full-round action, 0 burn and psionic focus expenditure, you can force a target within 30 ft. to save or DIE. No SR and it may even affect creatures immune to fire. And it leaves precious treasure intact and still deals damage on a successful save. WTF?? No, not at required level 8. Not gonna happen. The final talent allows for close range terrain control – which is pretty cool and, at level 6, it makes for a cool choice.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues in either the formal or rules-language criteria. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard for the series and the pdf comes with great full color artworks. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version and both versions come fully bookmarked.
Oh boy. Forrest Heck is a brilliant designer. I adore her two archetypes, even though the gambler will be modified in my games to adhere to a more conservative power-level. Still, they represent not only superb craftsmanship, they also exhibit a level of artistry that I absolutely adore. That being said, the supplemental material featured herein feels less refined, is less universally appealing: If you’re playing in a high-powered game with Path of War options or the like, you may see no issue with the save or suck and the particular balancing of the options; you may not care about athanatic energy being basically on par with force damage, lacking valid counter-strategies for pretty much all vanilla creatures and classes. I do. I very much do care and it was the central reason Seventh Path did not receive higher accolades from yours truly. In short: The pdf builds, thankfully only in part, on a flawed fundament.
At the same time, the avant guard and gambler are profoundly unique and amazing takes on the engine that I really, really enjoy. I can’t universally recommend this installment of the series, but I very much can state that the avant guard alone may be worth the asking price. This pdf has sports serious inspiration and while I do not consider it to be perfect, it is still a good purchase – hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.
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