Psionics Augmented: Soulknives II
The second expansion for the soulknife-class clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
After a brief page of intro that also contains scaling advice for high-powered campaigns (such as those using Path of War), we begin with a chapter of feats and traits – before we take a look at the particulars here, it should be noted that manifesting call weaponry is defined as doubling as an alternate prerequisite for forming a mindblade, which means that the feats herein are useful for contexts beyond that of the soulknife class in many a case. A total of 13 feats are presented, with a corresponding table for our convenience, and span a rather interesting array of concepts: There are, for example, feats herein that make multiclassing a soulknife significantly more viable – whether its synergy with the dread’s devastating touch or the cryptic’s pattern, these options very much are appreciated, as far as I’m concerned – have I mentioned rage blade synergy, delivering ranged touch powers via mindblades?
That being said, I am not a big fan of all of the feat options: Gaining a free psychic strike recharge on a successful critical hit, for example, is a pretty significant incision into the action-economy-balance of the soulknife class, even if it is restricted to 1/round. While I can see plenty a game where this represents no issue, I similarly can picture enough where this represents a balance-concern. (For later compilation and the publisher’s convenience – there also is a typo here: “psychci”.) There is also one that lets you recharge the psychic strike whenever you eliminate an adversary; while it has an Int 3-caveat, it exacerbates the issue observed with crits and extends it. Speaking of balance-concerns – there is one feat that represents this more than pretty much any other feat I have seen in a long time: After BAB 6+, you can expend psionic focus to add psychic strike to ALL attacks until the start of your next turn. Yeah…that thing is not getting anywhere near my game. Similarly, the feat that increases psychic strike’s charging to a swift action pretty much is the epitome of power creep.
At the same time, though, I should definitely mention the Dancing Shadow Style, which builds on Cloak Dance to allow for psychic blade recharges as part of the Cloak Dance – which is AMAZING design; it rewards a relevant choice of the character with an added benefit and emphasizes changes in tactics; it and its follow-up feats are true gems.
Beyond these feats, we also get 6 traits -and all feature meaningful, cool bonuses – like the trick shot talent as well as a bonus to ranged mindblade attacks. These traits, while relatively potent, universally are fun options and as such, can be considered to be neat additions to the class. The next section is something I have not expected, namely a take on the PrCs featured in Ultimate Psionics, making them more suitable for interaction with the base class! The adaptive warrior, elocator, mystic archer, pyrokineticist and warmind are included in the deal and the modifications make distinctions between manifesting and non-manifesting soulknives. Kudos!
The pdf also features the Ashen Blade PrC, which receives d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, as well as 3/4 BAB-progression and 1/2 Ref-save progression. The PrC also receives access to manifesting powers, beginning with one power and learning up to 7, with manifester level scaling up to 4th and power points totaling 71 in the end. Manifestation is governed by Wisdom. At 1st level, the PrC may augment strikes by spending power points to apply augments, up to class level ones. The ability may be used 5 + Wis-mod times per day and the ability begins with one augment and allows for the addition of a second at 4th, a third at 7th level, respectively. Thus, the augments are grouped by class – 4 of them are basic (1st level), 3 are adept augments (4th level) and 2 are master augments, which are unlocked at 7th level. As a minor complaint, these unlock steps must be deduced from context – the ability itself does not designate the augments as such and when they’re gained, so that aspect could be slightly more player-friendly.
The respective augments feature a slightly vampiric theme – hits that destroy psionic focus on a failed save, increased damage, attribute damage, hitting ghosts, short-term power point drain – the effects here are pretty cool. Now purists of psionics will notice that the save DC here deviates from the standard established by Ultimate Psionics – instead of using the 10 + 1/2 class level + attribute, the abilities featured here are based on a fixed value (like 17) + attribute modifier, as used by Path of War. The ashen blade helps feinting and the PrC may manifest and dismiss a mind dagger as part of a standard action attack, further enhancing Stealth and feinting options – which I generally like. 2nd level and every 3 thereafter provide psychic strike progression and at the same level, the PrC provides bonuses to Stealth and Bluff while maintaining psionic focus, which scale fyi at 5th and 9th level…unless the character already has it, in which case PrC levels are treated as class levels for scaling purposes. 3rd and 9th level provide blade skills and 10th level eliminates the daily cap of augments and regains psychic strike or psionic focus when the PrC eliminates a foe with at least 1 HD and Int 3 or higher…so non-kittenable. As a capstone, that still is strong…or weak, depending on your take. If you see no problems with aforementioned feats, this capstone only nets you an end to the 1/round regain of the OP feats. Still, as a whole, I don’t have much to complain here: Strong, flavorful soulknife-assassin PrC.
The pdf continues to provide a total of 5 gifted blade powers, which makes sense, considering that it pretty much is the default go-to for the option of high-power/high-psionics games and so far bereft of unique options. These powers are pretty amazing: You can hand copies of your mind blade to allies via bestow blade; there also is a power that grants you, as a move action, a quasi-psychic strike to unleash with your attacks, allowing for blade skill combos…which can be both strong and amazing. Gaining an astral suit via a power is pretty cool…though e.g. mindscramble, to me, feels like it does not belong: You manifest it as a standard action, attack a foe and deal +2d6 nonlethal damage, stunning the foe on a failed Will-save. I’m not opposed to it, mind you…it just…kinda feels more like…well, a maneuver than a power to me. That may just be me. It will not influence the verdict. Tactile Telekinesis is amazing and brings some strength-feat utility as well as a buff to the field. Kudos for this one!
The pdf also features 5 new items: Crystal iouns enhance the exceedingly cool, if somewhat strong panoply of blade ability. Crystalline setting features a similar ability for the augmented blade. The Blade Bangles occupy the wrist slot and contain blade skills, unlocking them for soulknives capable of fulfilling the prerequisites. The greaves of Mehsim are also amazing, allowing for the expenditure of psychic strike to gain physical acceleration for psychic strike damage dice. Finally, skin of the blade is a psychoactive skin containing Psychokinetic Armor, which can be enhanced as though the soulknife had Enhanced Mind Armaments.
The pdf ends with 2 pages that render this pdf pretty much a must-have purchase for soulknife-users: The augmented enhancement list, which contains a massive, new and updated table of weapon special abilities as well as shield special abilities, all hyperlinked for your convenience.
Editing and formatting, on both a formal and rules-level, are very good – apart from typo-level minor hiccups, I noticed nothing peculiar apart from aforementioned deviation from Ultimate Psionics-standard in ability save DCs. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ 2-column full-color standard and features two amazing full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version.
Chris Bennett is a talented designer; I never doubted that and I actually like what he has crafted here. Purists may scoff at the Path of War-y save DCs, but that is an issue you can remedy relatively easily if it really does irk you. Where things get more problematic for me as a reviewer and as a GM is with the feats and the tendency I observed with the psionics augmented-series as a whole, excluding the universally appealing, amazing Living Legend. If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll notice that I am a HUGE fanboy of psionics. I have always been one of the guys who stepped on the barricades when someone complained about psionics being overpowered, often due to them frankly not understanding the rules. In Psionics Augmented: Soulknives I, I got swept away by the brilliance of the design, sure…but the matter of the fact remains that the series has been increasing its power-level, slowly but steadily, towards the power-level employed by Path of War. From damn cool, but too strong wilder powers to unlimited AoO-blasts that outblast full casters or alchemists in staying power, the series does have its pitfalls and makes it, slowly but surely, harder to *unanimously* defend psionics as a whole.
During the playtest of this one, which otherwise represents a well-crafted book, I found myself handsifting through the feats of which to allow in my main campaign and which not to. At one point, I just universally allowed anything psionics-related; while e.g. the psychic strike/focus regain mechanics work perfectly in a game that assumes Path of War’s increased power level and while they bring the class on par with that, they can be pictured as pretty much…well, OP in other, grittier games like the ones I favor in my main campaign. Some options here are potent to the point where not taking them would frankly be stupid – they’re that strong.
In spite of the helpful (Upwards! I’m not kidding you!) scaling advice sidebar this may have, ultimately, one always has a hard time having the cake and eating it, too: You can either make a system that caters to the standard power-level assumed by PFRPG-classes, or you can intentionally go beyond that. As soon as you do not clearly make clear which it is you’re gunning for, you have a problem on your hands. GMs without the necessary experience that unanimously allow this pdf in their conservative games after having only good experiences with Ultimate Psionics, will potentially have a nasty surprise on their hands, and one that is harder to pinpoint due to potentially stemming from feats rather than rules-clusters archetypes of PrCs represent. This, as a whole, is a troubling development as far as I’m concerned and one I know that may alienate at least a part of the customer base. I’d like to propose the introduction of some sort of designator for these powerful components, some sort of identification for newer GMs to make their lives easier…or, perhaps, a clean mission statement that, from now on out, the series is gunning for the high-power games only…which imho would be a pity.
I demonstrated in PA: Soulknives I’s review how easily an optional nerf could be made to Chris Bennett’s amazing panoply-engine to unlock his designs for the conservative part of the customer base. It’s not a hard thing to do and something that could easily exist alongside the increased power-level featured herein. I can’t rate this as a file only for truly high-powered games. Such games may consider this well-worth and 5 stars. Grittier games, though, will run into trouble when employing this pdf, and understanding the power of several feats herein, their combo-potential AND requiring the GM to hand-select them, imposes a strain on that makes this a 3 star-file, in spite of its quality, for such groups. As a person, this is, unfortunately, where this pdf falls for me; I love its precision and craftsmanship, artistry even, but it also is one that needs control. As a reviewer, however, I need to take into account that there similarly are players and groups out there that crave exactly this increasing power-level, that want this exactly as written. Hence, my final verdict will fall on 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this expansion for the soulknife-class here on OBS!
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