Psionics Augmented: Soulknives
This installment of the Psionics Augmented-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1/2 page blank, leaving us with 13 1/2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We begin this pdf with a selection of new blade skills for the soulknife to use: 34, to be precise – several of which, just fyi, are archetype-exclusives. In these cases, they sport the archetype’s name in brackets, acting as an additional prerequisite to the ones pertaining other blade skills. To give you an example: Animal Senses nets you low-light vision and scent as well as +2 to Perception, but is only available for the Feral heart and requires the form claws class feature to take, basically adding the sensory aspect to the claw-theme. Blade Rush is pretty brutal – it allows for the swift action expenditure of the psionic focus to move up to the soulknife’s speed as a swift action…which is strong. Where the blade skill does overshoot the target a bit is with the caveat that the soulknife provokes no attacks of opportunity with this movement. No “from adjacent targets” caveat – just flat-out no AoOs. At the same time, minimum 6th level does alleviate this a bit…but still, for less high-powered games, this is a very potent option and should probably be nerfed. Its follow-up allows the soulknife to move up to her movement speed as a full-round action (no AoOs!) and make a single melee attack at highest BAB -2 against each target she is adjacent to. The “adjacent” caveat is the only thing that keeps me from engaging in a full-blown diatribe here. Still, this is arguably MUCH better than any form of full-round attack you can usually perform, unless you’re only fighting against one adversary (when action economy outclasses the foe against the average adventuring party anyways). The one balancing feature would be the psionic focus expenditure, which prevents you from spamming this move. The minimum level? 8th. Not any high-level trickery. 8th. This one completely outclasses similar one-use abilities granted at high levels, has only a resource determined by action economy and is rather overpowered for its minimum level.
That being said, as much as I consider this one problematic, the pdf also has some absolute gems that work for pretty much every game – Caltrop Spray, for example, where you break your own mind blade to create more potent psychic caltrops that can tell friend from foe for cool soft terrain control. Starting at 10th level, these guys can also expend their psionic focus to fold space as a standard action (move action at 16th level+), allowing for a level-wise great take on the phasing soulknife. And yes, there is actually a *BALANCED* low-level phasing trick for the soulknife as well – at 4th level, via Ghost Step, which has strict action economy/focus requirements and played rather neat in my games. Knife to the Soul enhancers, psionic focus-based dispels etc. can be found and combining the soulbolt’s empowered strikes with unarmed attack/natural attacks is cool as well. As a minor nitpick “Deadly Fis” is missing its “t” in the end – but that’s a typo. Similarly, empowering natural weapons. Manyshot mindbolts, better deadly shields and mind armaments. I am somewhat weary of improved psychokientic discharge, which lets the soulknife perform empowered strike full-attacks at range.
On the plus-side, a whip-shaped mindblade that can cause 1-round dazes on failed saves is cool, though the daze should probably specify that it’s a pain-effect, at least judging from the fluff of the ability that justifies it via “intense levels of pain.” Very cool for multi-limbed creatures: There is now a blade skill for more than 2 soulknives at once! Kudos for stitching that hole! Increasing power points, psychic grappling hooks (!!!)…pretty cool. Have I mentioned the platform they can now make? It can be slick, elastic…whatever the soulknife desires and has the concise rules to support it. Yeah – this is UTILITY beyond combat, ladies and gentlemen! Gaining psychic strike if it had been traded away, firing psychic strikes as blasts (or 10-foot splash bombs), gain mind armaments (see below) and there is a unique one: Speed of Thought + Mental Leap, with psychic strike’s charge as an alternate means of paying for the expenditure required by the secondary abilities. Cool! Soulbolts can now also learn to form melee mind blades. I am not a fan of foregoing psychic strike charge to ignore all hardness or DR at 4th level – the lack of scaling regarding both render the blade skills problematic for some tables – I know I’ll ban that one in my games or at least introduces a scaling mechanism that allows for the continuous progression of the ability instead of full-blown DR ignoring. Oh, and we have an infinite healing crap-ability. Deal only 1/2 psychic strike damage to heal this amount. Can someone hand me the bag of kittens and a HP-to-ally-transferring ability, please? Then we’ll have infinite healing not only for the soulknife, but for the whole group. Blergh. A simple minimum-HD-caveat that scales with soulknife-levels would eliminate the issue, as almost all similar designs do by now. You may not consider it an issue, but I do – to me, such an exploit represents sloppy design and the low point of this supplement.
Okay, next up are the archetypes and one word of warning – they are COMPLEX. As in: They modify A LOT and certainly are not cookie cutters – we get really big ones here, with the Augmented Blade being the first. This archetype is basically *THE* option for all those rounds and games where the idea of a ghostly/energy-style soulknife didn’t work with the feeling of the campaign: Instead of a mindblade, the augmented blade archetype gains a psicrystal, which is then attached to weapons to e.g. coat them in crystal or sport similar means of visual customization. Beyond that, the psicrystal can be attached to a variety of items, augmenting them in unique ways – and this works on a rather fluid basis, allowing for quick slotting and a lot of variables you can change on the fly – and yes, this renders the archetype rather fun to play, particularly considering the fact that the archetype learns to split the psicrystal AND has Metaforge/Aegis multiclass information. Absolutely GLORIOUS archetype that basically “unlocks” the soulknife for settings where it would not work, replacing basically the core class mechanics with new ones…and it thus plays differently, too! A prime example for a great archetype!
The second one would be the brutality blade, who uses Charisma as governing attribute for the soulknife class features and may manifest rage blades, which may not be thrown, must be single blades and they increase the enhancement bonus of the mind blade by +1, allowing the brutality blade (always hear Mortal Kombat’s theme music when I write this, but that just as an aside), with 7th and 13th level increasing the bonus by a further +1. The rage blade can be maintained for 4 + Constitution modifier rounds per day, +2 per class level beyond 1st. Upon dismissing the blade, though, the brutality blade loses psionic focus and is fatigued for 1d4 +1 round, during which he may not regain psionic focus. Additionally, the brutality blade has a 10% chance to suffer psychic enervation when manifesting this godblade style mindblade on steroids, risking 2 times class level damage. So, as you see, the archetype basically functions as a barbarian-y soulknife on steroids with a sprinkling of wilder as for its base functionality. This becomes more apparent with 4th level, when the brutality blade gains the raging surge that adds +4 to Str while the blade’s out, +2 to Con at 8th level, further +2 to both at 12th, Strength increases to +6 at 16th and both to +6 at 20th level. 5th level unlocks free action rage blade manifestation…but the archetype also gains unique wrath augments, basically specialized blade skills. For example, when using a rage blade, the brutality blade may, as a full-round action, expend psionic focus to jam the blade into the ground to duplicate Whirlwind Attack as soon as 4th level, balanced by the rage blade requirement. Growing in size as per expansion with claws of crude knives, expending psionic focus to reroll Fort- or Will-saves as immediate actions (again: Better balanced than mettle!), causing bleeding wounds and gaining a raging euphoria that can be shared with allies or a focus-based rend…the options are powerful, but well-placed regarding minimum-levels and feature glorious visuals. As a capstone, the archetype can maintain his blade even in null psionics fields sans issues and no longer suffers from a chance of psychic enervation. This archetype is superb – and its mechanical possibilities are not even close to being covered here – the enervation, rage blade and unique mechanics practically beg to be further expanded. The archetype plays like a completely different class and does so gloriously – it is one of the coolest godblade-style archetype/classes I’ve seen in quite a while and generally can be considered to be a cool, well-balanced addition to the game.
Thirdly, the psychic armory can be seen on the cover – with a panoply of blades circling her, she begins play with 1 + Wisdom modifier light and one-handed such blades, 2nd level unlocking an additional 1 + Wisdom modifier two-handed blades. These blades may not be used to attack in melee and are only quasi-real, until hurled psychokinetically at foes – and yes, they can be used to perform AoOs in melee range with proper rules-language covering all the bases. Expended blades replenish upon the armory’s next turn. This panoply of weapons may not be used in conjunction with wielded weapons or off-hand/natural attacks, but the base damage-types employed may be changed for each weapon group used in the panoply of blades. Special abilities still require extensive meditation and may not be fluidly switched. I already mentioned psychokinetic throws, which basically translates to using Wisdom instead of Dexterity to determine ranged atk with the panoply and also adds Wisdom to damage, with regular light weapons duplicated having a range increment of 20 ft. and 1-handed ones a range-increment of 15 ft. 2nd level also unlocks throwing 2-handed weapons from her array with a range increment of 10 ft. Here’s the unique thing, though: The armory may, as a standard action, direct the panoply to a place within medium range and have it explode in a 20-ft.-burst, using all her blades for the round in favor of 1d6 damage per class level + enhancement bonus, Ref-save halves, with the rules actually covering the blending of damage types and their substitution. 3rd level allows for the panoply to apply soulknife mind blade enhancements by weapon group and 5th level lets the armory call forth her panoply as a swift action. As a capstone, the archetype can maintain his blade even in null psionics fields sans issues.
Oh, and the archetype comes with more than one page of unique blade skills that allow for the panoply to gather into a temporary mind blade of a more traditional bent, increase the reach of the threatened area by +5 ft., increase the range, flurry with the panoply a limited amount of times per day at range (here, the pricing with minimum level 14th is appropriate) or use an opposed attack roll to counter another as an immediate action. While personally, I dislike the mechanic due to d20 vs. d20 being rather swingy, your mileage may vary here. Making the panoply lines, expand to becoming difficult terrain (and threatened area!) or form a barrier – the options are truly evocative. Oh, psychic armory…how torn am I regarding you. You see, this one is obviously in flair and style something more suitable for high-psionics/magic campaigns and for these it works OH SO WELL. My personal disdain for the d20 vs. d20 blade skill notwithstanding, the archetype is just so beautiful. Its three assortments of preconfigured mindblades are very powerful and, honestly, may be a tad bit too powerful. Similarly, unlimited 20 ft–burst long-range attacks that deal class level x 1d6 + enhancement bonus physical damage outclass A LOT of builds and classes out there. Alchemists can take their bombs and go home, sobbing, for example – at least until iterative attacks allow for outclassing of these blasts….but then again, the panoply’s blast of blades is ALWAYS a standard action. You fire this burst…and then you’re standing around with not even a weapon in your hands. You threaten nobody. If you get outmaneuvered using this ability, you’re basically screwed very hard until your next turn, bereft of all the cool tricks you have. This makes the archetype play in a very unique manner – you need a bit of tactics here. The panoply also has another…potentially pretty nasty component – it can have multiple weapons in the panoply bearing psychic charges, which is a pretty big deal. Then again, can you see the class charging its blades and firing them? This is basically one of my favorite video game bosses of all times, the archetype (extra brownie points if you can guess which one I’m referring to!). The psychic armory can deal a lot of damage, is flexible, consolidates Dex and Str into Wis for her attacks…and honestly, I should be screaming OP by now. It…kinda is. For low-powered, conservative campaigns, this one should probably be reserved to powerful puzzle-bosses. In high-powered high fantasy/psionics-campaigns, though? OMG. While personally, I’ll nerf this gal a bit, I absolutely ADORE this archetype. Sure, I wished it was a bit more conservative…but she plays just so beautifully!
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level and impressively good on a rules-level – this book may have a some minor typo-level hiccups, but it engages in very complex rules-operations and manages to do so very well. Layout-wise, the pdf adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The pdfs come fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdfs also sport nice, full-color artworks.
Chris Bennett has delivered a solid, massive piece of capital letters CRUNCH here. The pdf contains A LOT of material on its pages, with a very satisfying crunch-per-page ratio. Furthermore, the quality of the crunch, generally, is top-notch. You will not find any bland cookie-cutter designs herein and, while sufficiently mathfindery and combo-heavy to make the optimizers happy, this pdf excels in its concepts.
Yes, I consider the skirmishing blade skill to be underpriced. Yes, I consider the failed kitten-test to be simply unnecessarily sloppy in an otherwise extremely precise and evocative book. Yes, the psychic armory is not for every campaign. So, this is my warning: Conservative groups using psionics for less high-powered games should carefully run each component by the GM.
And this is as far as the grouchy, complaining part of my personality gets with this one. As you probably have gleaned from the above, my complaints rang this loud within the review because I absolutely adore more than 95% of this book. As in squee-level adoration. As a person, I couldn’t care less that the psychic armory is too powerful for the default, non-high-powered campaign; I adore it. The brutality blade and the augmented blade are absolutely awesome for less high-powered tables and all three archetypes have in common that they damn well rock my world. They are basically what archetypes *should* be like. In fact, lesser designers would have probably sold them as full-blown friggin’ base classes. Not only do they sport completely different visuals, they actually play radically differently, with the new array of blade skills filling holes in the rules that needed filling and providing cool, new options.
Yes, I may have complained about a few pieces herein…but the significant majority of content herein is just BEAUTIFUL. As in crunch-masterclass-level awesomeness. This is basically a book that put the middle-finger to all bland +1/+X abilities and modifications and cookie cutter archetypes. Its totality may not be for everyone; but I can guarantee that every single table out there that uses a soulknife *will* find *something* in this pdf they fall in love with. High-psionics campaigns NEED the armory in them. Low-powered games or those that dislike the laser-y flair need the augmented blade. Seriously. No exceptions for either. I’d also like to emphasize the sheer density of this volume – no broad borders, no filler – this pdf may *look* brief, but it really isn’t, with very tightly formatted rules-text, you get a lot of bang for your buck here.
What I try to express with my inane rambling here is simple: I love this book. In spite of its flaws and hitting some serious pet-peeves of mine. I took about 5 minutes to modify (as in: Change min-level, add cool-down, the like.) a couple of pieces of crunch for my table and that’s it – I have pretty much a truly superb book in my hands, one that is allowed in my main campaign, mind you. Even before these minor modifications, the book must be considered a must own addition for psionics-using tables; not one that should just be flat-out allowed for all, but definitely one that enriches all games it touches. And that, dear readers, is more important that nitpicking, my own pet-peeves or disagreements pertaining power-levels and pricing of a scant few abilities. While I don’t consider this to be mechanically perfect, I thus will still rate this 5 stars + seal of approval – considering the complexity of the material, the amount of greatness and the unique playing experiences this offers, penalizing it for its minor flaws would be a disservice to the file. Yes, it’s *that* evocative. Were it not for the minor hiccups, this would be a top ten candidate.
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