Psionics Augmented: Wilders
This pdf clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This pdf begins with a short introduction of the wilder class and a contemplation of its themes before diving right into the two new archetypes herein, the first of which would be the surging muse.
The surging muse is all about the Surging Aura-feat, granting such an aura even if the archetype does not have the feat or otherwise expands the range of it. More importantly, though, would be the fact that allies within the aura receive an insight bonus to damage equal to the surge’s intensity. Surge blast is replaced with a very powerful ability – at the cost of expending psionic focus, the surging muse can add + her Cha-mod as force damage to all melee and ranged attacks of her allies within her aura and at 2nd level, the allies within the aura also receive a +1 dodge bonus to AC, which increases by +1 every 4 levels thereafter. I really enjoy the concept and generally, execution of this support archetype – the buffing capabilities are cool and the archetype is solidly written. That being said, the stacking of massive bonus damage to attack for all allies can very quickly escalate – badly. A wilder of 1st level can expend her psionic focus for AoE + 4 force damage, +1 for wild surge; that’s AoE +5 to atk and damage at first level – presuming “only” a Cha-mod of 18. I’ve playtested this ability and it makes a meatgrinder out of any halfway decent adventuring group – +5 to damage at first level for all allies with 15 ft. may not seem like much, but try it in-game and you’ll know what I mean. Additionally, I’m not that big a fan of force damage at first level, though here at least, the ability allows other PCs excel in the otherwise frustrating cliché shadow-boss fight that is sported in so many 1st level modules. One more thing – this ability makes dipping in the archetype much too good and resource-balancing wise, force damage is usually a limited resource for casters, not a semi-unlimited one, much less one available in this quantity. All in all, an archetype I really enjoy and one only a different, better balanced scaling mechanism (for said force damage) and some finetuning away from being really neat!
The second archetype herein would be a complex one, namely the voidheart. Not drawing upon emotion per se, but rather a sense of nihilistic emptiness, her surges actually decrease the manifester level of the surged power, but also decrease the level of means of dispelling powers and spells by such an amount. Effectively, this makes the surged powers less boomy, but also impedes means of actually eliminating them. And yes, this does get the complex wording required right. Voidhearts do not suffer from psychic enervation and receive immunity to energy drain in lieu of surge bond. More interesting would be the replacement of surge blast – by emitting a roar, a voidheart can affect a creature within medium range -on a failed save, this ability prevents any form of healing for Cha-mod rounds. I really, really, really love this ability – I’ve been experimenting with the like in my home-game and it adds an interesting dimension to combat. Now personally, I would have very much preferred an explicit statement regarding fast healing and regeneration, but since that is kind of subsumed under “healing of any variety”, I won’t hold that against the archetype. Further immunities centered on negative emotions and the theme of death and a surging euphoria complement this archetype further with a theme of an emotional vampire. The capstone allows for a 1/day-limited super surge at -10 ML that causes negative levels and power point loss. I adore this archetype. It completely changes playing experience, does not shirk from complex concepts and has style galore. Kudos!
Next up would be the first 5-level PrC, the cross-discipline master, who gets 3/4 BAB-progression, medium will-saves, d8, 5/6 manifesting progression, d8 and 4+Int skills per level. Yes, this PrC covers 6 levels, not the usual 5 or 10. As befitting of the name, at 1st level and every level thereafter, this PrC nets the character 1 power from a discipline chosen – even if it is not on the character’s list. This gets multiple list-caveats right, btw. Additionally, the manifester level of the PrC for that discipline increases by a further +1. Conversely, it is this last component of which I am not a fan – Apart from 1 level, all levels net manifester level progression. This ability is supposed to broaden the options of the wilder, but, if you choose to, you can focus on one discipline, stacking up +6 ML for this discipline in addition to those granted by regular PrC-progression. Taking a look at the chassis of the PrC, I am pretty sure this is intended to offset the one progression-less level for the chosen discipline – so yeah, a slightly more precise wording to prevent a reading that allows for single discipline ML-stacking would be in order here.
3rd level nets 3/day swift action wild surges to temporarily learn a new power from a selected discipline for minutes equal to the wild surge’s intensity, i.e. the plus-bonus. This is interesting since the PrC does not explicitly grant surging progression, making this a limited wildcard trick that broadens the very limited focus of the wilder without being broken. 5th level nets a decrease of all power point costs by 1, to a minimum of 1. 6th level nets an ability which hits one of my pet-peeves – you choose a metapsionic feat and can use it to manifest a power sans expending your psionic focus – 1/encounter. I do like the action economy and flexibility this grants, I really do…but why use a per-encounter-mechanic? Why not simply go with a cool-down based on actual in-game time?
The surge-adept gets d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, good will-saves, 4/5th ML-progression and, surprise, is all about the surge. The surge adept decreases her psychic enervation chance by 5% (to a minimum of 1%) and stacks class levels for the purpose of surge progression. At 3rd level, the adept may invoke her wild surge as an immediate action whenever an ally within 30 ft. manifests a power, lending the surge’s effects to said ally, while the surge adept still is the one risking enervation. As a capstone, the PrC can 1/day declare a surge a master surge, ignoring power resistance and energy resistance equal to the surge adept’s ML and does not cause enervation. The nitpicky sucker in me assumes that the ML in question is the one modified by wild surge, not the non-surged ML, as per default, but I won’t hold this minor ambiguity against the PrC.
The 3rd one would be the Volcanic Mind, which uses the same basic class-chassis as the surge adept. They also stack wild surge-progression…but increase their psychic enervation chance by 5% every round not suffering from it, up to a maximum of 80%. Instead of suffering from a condition gained through psychic enervation, this PrC may opt to take 1d6 Wis-damage instead. Whenever a volcanic mind suffers psychic enervation, hostile creatures within 30 ft. suffer manifester level damage and become sickened for manifester level rounds due to the psychic eruption. Here, I am honestly not sure whether the ML of the surge that prompted the enervation or whether the unmodified ML is the one you go with. 2nd level nets cleaving power, a new feat, sans increasing power point cost – this works like cleave for targeted powers, btw., at the cost of +4 power points. Higher levels also add the deafened condition. More importantly would be that suffering from such a power eruption essentially negate the distance-requirements between wilder and target – the victims are treated as in range for as long as the effect persists. This is kind of problematic – while it works well for non-targeted powers with ranges à la close, medium, long, etc., the ability does fall apart to some extent when faced with powers of a different range, mainly because they cease making sense: Cover and concealment apply still, but what if the target teleports away? The ability explicitly states that it only requires the targets to remain on the same plane – no line of sight or line of effect. Is attacking foes that teleported away handled as attacking a target while blind? What about powers with a range of personal or touch? Can touch-based powers be enhanced like this? If yes, that is very powerful and pretty much an invitation for some very nasty, broken combos. What about otherwise personal powers? I firmly believe that this ability requires some clarification – I *think* the intent is to mitigate the range-restrictions. If that is the case, I’d suggest allowing for ranged touch attacks to work with it (providing rules for creatures out of sight/how the ability interacts with line of sight/effect) and explicitly excluding regular touch and personal powers. The Vent Agony feat, which extends overchannel or psychic enervation to the 30-ft.-radius and may one hostile creatures with its effects, also gets an AoE-upgrade and as a capstone, the staggered condition is added to the collective debuffs these guys can heap on opponents.
If the above was not ample clue, yes, this pdf does sport an array of new feats specifically for the wilder. In this chapter, the new [Surge] feat descriptor is introduced, which requires wild surge as an activation and prompt psychic enervation-checks. Enduring Mind and its follow-ups can be seen as providing a cushion for mental ability damage/drain, reducing that by 2, but thankfully not allowing for abuse regarding abilities of the character powered by burning mental ability, with the follow-up feat allowing for the expenditure of the psionic focus for full-blown negation while also scaling the base cushion up by a further +2. Gaining temporary hit points via psionic focus with a daily limit and follow-ups that grant fast healing (with a cool-down – hallelujah!) can be found alongside those that net you an AC-bonus while focused.
Not all of these feats are this well-crafted, though – I am, for example NOT sold on using wild surge as a resource to heal damage to physical attributes equal to the surge’s intensity – while not bad at mid to high levels, the low prereqs of this feat allow for pretty easy healing of attribute damage at lower levels, where it is supposed to be a powerful resource that cannot be easily negated. Mental Equilibrium is a feat that must die. It renders immune to the effects of psychic enervation, your own or others, apart from hit point or power point loss. This essentially takes away one crucial component of balancing the already pretty uncommon and somewhat wonky wild surge mechanics – and its effects are opaque – “You still suffer any other effects of psychic enervation.” – so is one immune or not? Does this render the debuffing of the voidheart moot? If one assumes immunity, one cuts off a significant amount of the cool tricks of volcanic mind and voidheart in addition to the benefits for the wilder. Oh, and what about the extended target/range-abilities of the volcanic mind? Do they still work or not? This feat can btw. be taken at 1st level. It opens a can of worms of issues and imho is jeopardizing the intricately-linked abilities presented in this pdf. Well, there would be an option to make wilders superb counterspellers/manifesters, reducing the ML/CL of spells by wild surge’s intensity, but increasing your chance of psychic enervation. Feats like this add much-needed breadth to the wilder’s arsenal, but become infinite toolboxes once this loathsome Mental Equilibrium is introduced, it invalidates their drawbacks.
This is especially jarring since I do actually enjoy the design-style. Another feat would allow you to form a psionic collective that allows you to disperse the negative effects of psychic enervation to willing targets, providing concise rules for dividing damage incurred via Overchannel etc. and making for a much more compelling experience of teamplay – while also begging to have its cool idea expanded. Piercing energy and power resistance via a feat may be powerful, but seeing the wilder’s limited power selection, it renders some otherwise bad choices more viable. So that one’s fine with me as well. Another feat that needs to DIE is Psychic Celerity. Expend your psionic focus to move up to your movement rate as a swift action. No limits. Know what one of the most powerful low-level items is? Quickrunner’s Shirt. It has a 1/day cap, sure, but ALL of my players try to get it as soon as possible. Any breaking of the action economy is a VERY strong benefit and this allows for the nigh constant breaking of it. Usually, the very few limited means of doing the like on a more flexible basis are relegated to beyond 10th level, usually capped in daily uses – and they are powerful then. With only 2 feats as a prereq, this one is terribly broken and needs some severe smacking with the nerf-bat. On the other hand, using wild surges to enhance mind blades is pretty cool, as is a reflexive damage to attempts at unwanted telepathic contact.
The new powers introduced here also sport a unique new rules-innovation – surge augmentations. These augmentations are only applied to a power when it is manifested as part of a wild surge. Getting a buffer versus physical attribute damage can for example be used via surges on other characters or to grant you DR/- equal to the surge’s intensity. Yes, these augments provide the one thing the wilder severely lacked – breadth and versatility and in one case, once can choose from 4 regular and 1 surge augment – pretty cool, especially considering that the increasing costs of the regular augment provide an interesting scaling mechanism to keep the power relevant over the levels. Not all powers are perfect, though – there are some ambiguities. Take Fracture Pattern – it essentially forces a foe to take +50% damage from a damage type -you create a vulnerability and one that makes sense for the levels. However, the augment can also add UNTYPED damage. You know, the kind that has NO means of being negated. Worse, it is not clear whether this added damage effect is also negated as the primary effect of the power on a successful save – I assume so, yes, but clarification would be in order. EDIT: Since this has been questioned – yes, I am very much aware of “Save negates” usually also referring to the effects of augments, but when an augment provides a unique secondary effect, I consider a wording akin to how it’s handled in pretty much every spell-write up that distinctly notes whether the effect is prtially or wholly mitigated in order. An aura of crystalline shards that can either provide some defenses or nasty damage to nearby targets, plus bleed damage on a failed save. While this aura only covers 10 ft., I do think it could require a nerf – why? Because 5d6 slashing damage sans save to halve or negate is pretty much a meatgrinder. I love this power’s imagery and flexibility, but its balance imho is off – take a look at comparable effects of 4th level powers and you’ll get what I mean – 5d6 + 2d6 bleed for 1/round per level, no save to mitigate 5d6 damage….that’s capital letter level nasty. I do not object to the surge augment using offensive and defensive at once, but the offense does need a nerf.
AoE sonic damage emanations are cool, though the wording here has a minor hiccup – “For each additional power point you spend, this power’s damage increases by one die (d4)” – This may not be ambiguous, but usually, one would go for a wording à la “increases by +1d4”. The words “increase” and “die/dice” in combination usually denote an increase in die-size from d4 -> d6 -> d8, etc. – now this will not influence the final verdict, but I still considered it worthwhile to mention. And yes, I am aware that psionics have used this type of wording before. As mentioned, a nitpick. Spreading fear-based affects between targets is also a cool idea – I btw. also like that this one has different power point costs for dreads and psions/wilders, though here, the massive debuff the surge augment grants is pretty nasty. Sacrificing up to 1/2 of your hit points to also deal this amount of damage to a target, with only a will to negate the added sickened condition would be another power that needs a heavy whack with the nerf-bat. It’s terribly broken – a) The damage incurred by the target is untyped. b) The target has no save to negate. c) The damage is extremely reliable. d) The damage can easily be healed. If you can’t see how this is broken as hell, make a high Con-character and combine that with reliable healing. If that’s not enough to drive home the point I’m making, instead use a monster with high HP and add this power – this outclasses all 3rd and 4th level powers in damage potential as the numbers go up. “But Endy, surely that’s not so bad?” – My group’s 7th level witch has more than 50 Hp. Were the character a psion, that would amount to 25 points of guaranteed damage per round, with healing the damage being within the paradigm of what his friggin’ cohort is capable of delivering. Need a better example? Give that power to a dragon. This archmage enshrouded in immunities and x protective sorceries? Pff, drop 100 hit points and booyah, guaranteed kill, no means to mitigate and through the PR you can cleave. If the dragon has wilder levels and surges, you could use the surge augment to instead deal 200 points of damage! Yeah, not gonna happen anywhere near my game – this 2nd level power outclasses harm and must DIE.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level – I noticed no significant glitches, though here and there some minor deviations from rules semantics have crept in. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ beautiful two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. It also sports some nice original full-color artworks and comes with a second, more printer-friendly version.
The wilder is the one psionic class I considered not too compelling -all about power, at the cost of limited flexibility. While nice for min-maxers who are okay with a limited array of options, I never considered the class too compelling due to its lack of breadth. Jade Ripley does a stellar job at expanding the options at the wilder’s fingertips and I adore many of the choices herein: I love the voidheart. The PrCs are quite cool and while not perfect, they actually do some damn cool things with the wild surge – they feel UNIQUE and offer different playing experiences. The Surge-feats and Surge-augments are AWESOME choices and I sincerely hope we’ll see many, many more powers with surge augments in the future -adding player agenda to alleviate the one-trick-pony playing experience of the wilder is EXACTLY what this class needs! I love this pdf for all of this and the total absence of anything that even remotely resembles cookie-cutter design -this is complex, worthwhile, high-concept material.
At the same time, I can’t fathom how some of the feats and powers EVER got past playtesting. The numbers don’t add up for the respective levels and some feats are more powerful than 10th-level-plus class abilities – essentially, there are quite a bunch examples herein that are textbook-broken. I’d honestly bash this further, but at the same time, this pdf provides several choices I absolutely adore – to the point where I was contemplating a 4.5 star + seal rating before properly analyzing the feats and powers chapters. Alas, these issues are here – and they are significant. I sincerely urge DMs to carefully consider allowing some of the options herein at the table, but at the same time, I find myself incapable of not recommending this pdf – it makes the wilder infinitely more compelling and offers some design-innovations I really hope to see expanded in the future – Jade Ripley has, in a nutshell, made a class infinitely more compelling, but also broke balancing HARD in quite a few cases, making this, in spite of the inspired components, a mixed bag that oscillates between “OMG, how awesome is this?” and *Plinkett-voice*”What were they thinking?” /Plinkett voice.
Still, as much as I love much of the content herein, with glaring balance-issues like this, I cannot go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform – I can still recommend this to any GM seeking to add actual identity to the wilder, though – just be sure you check this carefully and ban the living hell out of some components – what works herein in stellar material, after all.
You can get this absolutely inspired, yet troubled pdf here on OBS!