[Review] Racial Ecologies: Guide to Hauntlings
By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Fat Goblin Games is 12 pages long, 1/2 page front cover/editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 1/2 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
First of all: What are hauntlings – well, the theories for their origin differ from speculations on ghosts replacing an unborn’s soul to residual resurrection-magic-radiation gone awry, but the result is a peculiar breed of beings with a close tie to ghosts. As such, they can be born from any parent-race and the hauntlings can expect to be ostracized by most cultures. On the mechanical side, hauntlings get +2 to an ability-score of their choice, count as humanoids with the half-undead subtype, get darkvision 60 ft., +2 to saves versus mind-affecting effects (also to spells? The pdf does not specify…) and diseases, react to negative energy as if they were undead (i.e. are harmed by positive energy), don’t incur penalties from energy drain (but can be killed), get +2 to two Knowledge-skills of their choice and treat them as class-skills and can create a silent image that only exists for a single living being.
The race also comes with 5 alternate racial traits that allow them to conjure up mists 1/day, become incorporeal (though the text contradicts itself – is it 1 minute per day or HD rounds per day?), get +1 to DC of their phantasm-subschool illusion and cast 1/day dancing lights, deathwatch, ghost sounds and prestigidation, 1 /day make one opponent shaken on a failed save or emit a howl 1/day that shakens all non-(Half)-undead .
The hauntlings also get 4 racial traits that represent their close connection to undead – nothing to complain here. Neither is there anything to complain about the favored class options available that span all the different Paizo-classes minus ninja and samurai. A total of 9 feats for the hauntlings are also included in the pdf, offering interesting options: From tapping 1/day into the knowledge of the dead to make an int-based skill-check as if you were trained in it and gain HD-ranks as well as the option to take 10 to making an invisible sensor to spy on others 3/day. However, the feat, on a formal level, does not provide the necessary information whether the sensor is magical, can e detected etc. and also features a minor formatting glitch with the “Special”-line being not bold. Other feats allow you to extend your phantasms to multiple creatures and even include sound, smell and thermal components and even modify memories.
The memory-implanting includes a weird line that has me puzzled, though: “You can only change the details of an event the subject actually experienced, or implant a memory of an event the subject never experienced.” Come again? I don’t get this restriction, even after reading through multiple times. Does it mean that not both can be done in one application of the ability? Also, regarding thermal components: Can these potentially damage those inflicted by phantasms? I wager no, but again, I’m not sure. On the cool side, you can also use your phantasm to make yourself invisible to a living creature and have your phantasm spread via touch of those inflicted with it. How this viral phantasms interact with mass hallucinations and modify memories: If I modify the memory of a creature and add the viral component, does the modification spread to others?
Aura Sight as a feat hits a pet-peeve of mine, it allowing you determine attitude, creature type, subtype class and level/HD of a creature by studying it for 5 rounds. While there’s a save against the ability, I still don’t like metagamey information like that and even with the study-caveat, the amount of information gleaned is too much for my tastes. Finally, you can take a feat to gain an animal companion-like bond that looks like a globe of light that get perfect fly-speed 60 ft. and uses TOUCH-ATTACK rays. Two of them. WHAT? Animal companions are already powerful boons, but adding a touch attack to their arsenal is downright broken – don’t think so? Build a summoner or hauntling druid and get this as A FEAT and see balance take a nose-dive.
We also get 4 nice mundane items, with ghost salt coating making damaging incorporeal adversaries possible, a cloak that is harder to steal from, bone-enforced leather armor and a book on funeral practices of a particular region. Unfortunately, the ghost salt lacks a DC to create it as an alchemical item.
We also get a total of 7 different magical items that range from gloves that confer the ghost-touch property to an oil that makes regular armor to work against incorporeal attacks, a ghostbuster-style bronze coffin that can suck undead in, an undead-detecting torch, a vial that contains positive energy to damage haunts to 3 types of essentially ouji-boards. What slightly upset me here is that of the magic items are straight reprints from Super Genius Games’ “4 Ghostbusting Items” – that wouldn’t be that bad, were it not for the fact that they imho are the most iconic ones. Oh well. In a formatting peculiarity, the last two items (which share a page) deviate from the layout of the book, suddenly switching to a 2-column standard.
Two pages are devoted to variant hauntlings that can replace the traditional hauntling abilities/racial traits, allowing you to play descendants of banshees, ghouls, reapers and huldrefolk.
Finally, the pdf offers us a table with unsettling hauntling characteristics, providing 48 (not counting roll twice/thrice) entries that include heterochromia, drawing flies and gnats, strange birthmarks etc. Nice to add further flair to the hauntlings.
Editing and formatting, as much as I loathe to say it, are subpar – there are numerous instances of text that should be bold, but isn’t, spells not italicized and even rules contradicting one another. Since the issues in my opinion impede the usability of the race, this will reflect heavily in the rating.
Layout adheres with one exception to a 3-column portrait-format, which feels slightly crammed – especially since the one page that adheres to a 2-column standard is much easier to read. Why this decision to mix two layouts has been made, I don’t know, but I do know that imho, the latter is superior for everything but entries like the final table. Now it is no secret that artist Rick Hershey is a core member of Fat Goblin Games and it shows – especially for such a small pdf, the artworks are staggeringly beautiful and add A LOT to this pdf’s appeal in their full-color glory. Especially at this price-point impressive indeed. On the downside, though, the pdf is not bookmarked, which would have enhanced its user-friendliness.
This is one of the pdf where I HATE being reviewer. Why? Because the Hauntlings are a GREAT race. Their phantasm-hallucinations that only certain people can see and the idea of expanding upon them is GREAT, glorious even. The race hits a nerve with me and I really, really like the race’s concept. That being said, unfortunately, the pdf also suffers from various glitches that make me cringe, prime of which would be the contradictory durations of turning incorporeal in an alternate racial trait. Unfortunately, these glitches that influence directly the usefulness of the whole race, are a theme for this pdf – there are numerous abilities that would require some additional clarification, from the nature of their spying sensors to how multiple of the phantasm-feats interact. Which is a DAMN PITY, for idea-wise, these are GLORIOUS. No, really – things only one person can see? And then suddenly multiple ones? Infectious hallucinations? AND the modification of memories? This is narrative GOLD, especially for horror-themed scenarios or DMs wanting to run an unsettling gas-lighting plot, making PCs doubt PCs, eroding belief into one’s sanity. The potential is VAST. Concept-wise, I wouldn’t hesitate rating this pdf 5 stars + seal of approval.
BUT: There are so many minor glitches that accumulate to the point where I have to rate it down. And then, there are the major ones – add missing craft DCs for an alchemical item, a completely broken feat (companion with 2 (!!!) ranged touch attacks? WHAT???) and we have the mess. Don’t get me wrong – this pdf can easily salvaged by a competent DM and be the 5 star + seal of approval file of its potential. But I can’t rate it that high. In fact, for the glitches and issues that hamper actually using the hauntlings, I’d usually bash this pdf down to 1 star. But I can’t. Why? For even though this pdf requires work on the DM’s side to balance and use, its concepts remain top-notch, awesome and cool, even if you already own the ghostbusting BP.
How to rate this, then? I fought long and hard with myself since I’ve rarely encountered such a vast, yet easily fixable discrepancy between a product’s ideas and their execution. Author Rick Hershey has created a race I actually WANT to play, want to use in my campaign – and will. If you’re picky and want a balanced go-play-race, ready to drop in, then steer clear of this pdf, at least until it has been fixed. If you don’t mind the glitches and are willing to work to make the wonky bits work, then GET THIS. As a reviewer, though, it would be unfair towards other pdfs I reviewed to look over the obvious problems this pdf has and thus have to settle on a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for the purpose of this platform.
I sincerely hope this will get a revision that makes the abilities work sans ambiguity, for it is easily a high-concept, 5-star-potential racial ecology.
Racial Ecologies: Guide to Hauntlings is available from:
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