The Secrets of the Divine: Adventure, Earth, Magic & Water
The second book detailing the diverse faiths and churches of Questhaven, the much-anticipated city of adventurers that doubles as Rite Publishing’s default setting, clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The first of the deities (and associated churches) presented herein would be Our Grandfather of Water and Wave -within this write-up, we are introduced not only to this deity and the reason Questhaven does not field a standing navy, but also receive new feats – for example, significant bonus damage against foes significantly larger than you. Now I’ve been pretty much a proponent of unique tricks for faiths depending on domains, stand-alone bonuses and tricks that help distinguish faiths. A particular feat herein comes to mind here – expend 3 uses of destruction and water domain level 1-abilities (or subdomain) and watch as water forces its way down the throat of a target of your spells, attempting to drown the target. Now I’ve been pretty vocal in my disdain for the drowning mechanics, but a) the significant resource investiture and the second save as well as the significant, high-level prereqs make me consider this mechanically okay, in spite of its lethal power. The deity’s church’s rogues obviously also have some pirate-themed options, one of which deserves special mention: Gain an exotic animal which doubles as a familiar that shares rogue talents with you. Why is this cool? In my home campaign, most pirates ended up as ranger multiclass characters or straight rangers to have an animal companion they never really used. Love it! Trick fighting rogues should also enjoy the means to 3/day use improvised items as weapons. Wait, what? You can have that on a permanent basis, right? Well, yeah, but you can’t usually use it to perform an AoO-less maneuver as a swift action. While there is some overlap with the feat here, I still consider this mechanically interesting, though the daily limit, while sound on a design perspective, feels in-game a bit clunky.
Beyond a depth-curse, we also get new archetypes – the Acetic of the Sea paladin, who loses all spell casting and also access to spell-trigger etc. items; instead, the archetype becomes immune to the conditions his mercies may alleviate and later become better swimmers. Higher level ascetics can supplement their bull rushes and drags with conjured waves, while the capstone is a beauty – it allows you to unleash a true maelstrom, causing massive damage and potentially even destroying vessels. The crunch here is complex and covers just about all of the bases – how it works within the logic of a planar cosmology, how swimming or vessels with sailors on it interact with it – I really enjoyed this ability, in spite of there being a superfluous “is” in one of the sentences. The 8th level ability to suppress morale benefits as well as detrimental fear effects makes for an interesting alternate buff/debuff aura as well.
The second deity would be Our Grandmother Earth – a deity much in the tradition of Gaia and similar fertility deities, yes, but with a surprising mercantile bent that provides, again, a subtle twist of a deity which could have ended up as generic, but surprisingly didn’t. Among the supplemental material, we once again receive a massive domain-ability-investing feat akin to the drowning-trick mentioned above, this time lacing magic with serious acid damage – ouch! I am a HUGE fan of Rite Publishing’s Legendary Curses, so to see the inclusion of a new one to punish those who violate the rules of hospitality brought a smile to my face. Archetype-wise, we get the Gleaners of the Hare monks – humble mendicants that receive scaling damage reduction, may select immunities to certain conditions and generally make for solid, defensive monks. One should mention that they receive a mettle-like ability. What’s “mettle”, you ask? Evasion for fort-and will-saves. No effects on successful saves. Combined with evasion, this makes them superb mage-slayers and yes, I have ranted time and again against how badly broken mettle is in the first place. But we’re talking monk-class here. And honestly, whether regular or unchained, the poor class can damn well use this ability to suck less. On a nitpicky side, I noticed a cut-copy-paste error, referring to “inquisitor” as base class instead of monk.
Wardens of the Earth are lawful neutral paladins that focus on dealing with out…LANDERS. No, not a typo – it includes aberrations, non-native outsiders, undead and non-elemental creatures with the extraplanar subtype). Detect and smite works for those – which is okay. Where things get interesting is the option to choose each level whether to have lay on hands or touch of cruelty – this duality also extends to channel energy and mercies/cruelties, allowing you to portray changes in focus of your character pretty fluently without constant atonements. It should be noted that the resulting, more flexible class features lock out the archetype of a couple of optimization options by virtue of not being able to replace class feature x with z (since it has e.g. technically no mercy – class feature, only “Mercy or Cruelty”) and on a nitpicky side, the pdf ought to specify that mercies/cruelties once chosen can’t be simply switched around every time the change is made. On the awesome side, however, we do receive not only a fully detailed code of conduct, we also get 10 precepts, including days of fasting etc. – these are roleplaying gold in my book and really help the archetype feel unique beyond its duality; oh, and yes, “suffer not a outlander to live” is among them…ouch! In direct comparison, I really wished the ascetic of the sea had received this awesome level of detail.
Our Heavenly Archmage of Secrets represents a take on the magic-deity that should also be considered slightly unconventional – taking Vecna’s propensity for secrets and separating it from the evil component, we add in a slice of Odin (The Rook Storm reports all the birds see to the Archmage…) and get a compelling mythological melting pot. Among the feats, we have the “Slap yourself”-feat, as it has been nicknamed in my group – a lore warden’s reflexive option to make a target attack itself – and while the idea of “force takes weapon, attacks enemy” seems simple in theory, in practice there are a lot of things to take into account – like whether you’re considered armed still, etc. – and the feat manages to cover those. Pretty impressive! Pretty cool – suppressing magic items of targets subject to your save-requiring spells – which is cool and ultimately, functional. On a nitpicky side, the pdf could have more organically specified that the suppression is not automatic, but rather requires you making a CL-check – as written, it looks like the effect is automatic, only to add the CL-caveat after that.
Archetype-wise, Magi may join the League of the Ruby Mongoose – these guys, much like prestige classes, require a certain array of prerequisites to classify as members – interesting choice! Instead of receiving a knowledge pool, the archetype may spend 1 arcane point to make a single attack as a standard action that “ignores all a foe’s magic-based protections.” The definition here would be “Armor Class bonuses, stoneskin, and so on.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that this is exceedingly problematic – so, do enhancement bonuses of items qualify? Rings of protection? Magic-grown scales received by bloodlines etc.? While the ability gets interaction with reflexive spells like fire shield right, this ability and its ill-defined parameters stick out like a sore thumb among the otherwise well-defined class abilities provided in this book. Depending on how you read it (all magic vs. spells/spell-like abilities only), this could be one of the most broken abilities I’ve seen in a while. I sincerely hope this one will be properly re-defined. At high levels, one can essentially crit even uncritable foes 1/day with even higher power – over all, apart from the one issue, this is a nice idea. Next up would be the wizard archetype of the gemcaster trope. these wizards may scribe spells into gems and then subsequently use them as gem foci, learning to use them in lieu of material components and later, even instead of foci, with concise cost-breakdowns. Each school is assigned to one type of gem and the gems can be worn in a given magic item slot. The interesting piece herein would imho be the means of charging gem foci via the expenditure of spells to turn them into power gems, which provide power component-like benefits to the spells cast. To offset the power-gain this offers, beyond the increased flexibility, there also is a chance to burn out gems when using them thus. Mechanically, this turned out to be a surprisingly concise take on the trope of kind-of-metamagic-y-specialists, though honestly, while I appreciated the relative simplicity and elegance of the system, I just am not that blown away by this one; perhaps I’ve seen too many takes on this concept.
The final deity herein would be Our Laughing Traveler of Passages and Messages, who could be envisioned as a benevolent trickster deity somewhat akin to Cayden, but with a more distinct focus on traveling and exploration, suffused with a healthy dose of far eastern mythology – including a Son-Goku-like champion…oh, and a focus on moneylending, for a sprinkling of civilization and one of the most interesting concepts of e.g. the Abadarian chutch thrown in the mix. Rules-wise, rogues may join the Jaunters of Our Sovereign of Paths, which nets haunter’s hop at first level as well as a pool to enhance her stealth. At higher levels, disposing of evidence and using said pool to supplement more skills also become possible. More relevant, though, would be the options to utilize said points at higher levels to supplement the potency of combat maneuvers or not provoke an AOO when performing such. On a nitpicky side, the ability does not specifically specify that bonuses to CMB are gained on a point-by-point basis. The interesting component here, which sets this apart from e.g. the Glory Rogue and similar variants, would be that taking feats that nets bonuses to checks eligible for the Stealth pool bonuses also increases the pool size by an amount equal to the bonus granted, allowing you to stack such through the roof. This makes rogues actually VERY competent at their chosen field and while it would probably be OP for other classes, with the rather weak rogue chassis, it imho works. The archetype also sports a significant array of complex rogue talents that are themed around utilizing a second pool, one that grants essentially motes of teleportation movement – from reflexive blinks versus crits and lethal attacks to imprisonment of willing targets for easy extraplanar prisoner transportations up to reflexive dimensional anchors, the array of unique abilities powered by this archetype is glorious. Have I mentioned the powerful options at high levels to force teleport foes into e.g. the hearts of active volcanoes and similar, deadly places or the gravitational, nasty vortex that may draw foes in? Yeah, this archetype’s array of unique tricks would have been enough for a whole alternate class and while powerful, plays like a damn cool take on the actually competent, unique magical rogue. I adore this archetype!
The CG Rebel Champion paladin is pretty straight-forward in comparison, being focused on fighting particular organizations and thus also changes the targets of their smite evil. Solid, but after the jaunter, not as mind-boggling.
The pdf closes with a DM’s introduction to the themes and design rationales behind Questhaven – useful to read and note and also a nice peek behin the designer’s curtain here.
Editing and formatting are, on a formal level, not perfect, but on a rules-level, paradoxically, far better than most supplements that tackle concepts of this complexity. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and sports evocative, original b/w-artwork as well as full color symbols of the deities covered. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
I have a certain mindset when I dig a Rite Publishing-book from my pile – usually, after just finishing a massive crunch-book that was as dry a read as summer in the Sahara. Rite Publishing’s books are good reads – the in-character prose, character quotes etc. make analyzing crunch books much more compelling – and, more often than not, it is in the small tidbits that the books shine – a mythological hint here, a quote there – and boom, you have your adventure hook, your inspiration. For all intents, I should have been terribly bored by this book – yet another supplement with deities that, by necessity of domains et al., fill certain niches? Well, I wasn’t – mainly to the mythcrafting being familiar, yes, but also distinct. The devil is in the details and one can see that here. In the hands of a less gifted writer than rite Publishing’s overlord Steven D. Russell, these deities could have been boring. Here, they shine.
What drew me as a customer to Rite Publishing, even in the pioneer days of pathfinder, though, was the unwillingness to provide material that is “okay” -Rite Publishing’s supplements tend to be as high-concept as they come, with the vast majority being all about capturing some iconic, unique imagery with crunch, not just recombining existing pieces. Heck, the magic items with scaling DCs based on character level that are pretty much a standard today? Saw that first in a Rite Publishing supplement. This pdf, ultimately, follows in this tradition. The jaunter archetype is damn cool, the design-decisions taken here and there are unique and still, after all this time, I feel the sense of jamais-vu here and there, a fresh wind blowing from these pages. So if you enjoy high-concept material that can easily be integrated into a campaign, material that can make deities more useful – or if you need some design-inspiration, then be sure to check this out.
Not all is glitter and bunnies, though – while, for most of the time, this pdf’s rules-language is concise to a point where one can readily see vast design-experience at work, wordings which cover all the bases I’d usually nitpick apart, there are some minor botches spread throughout the supplement; for the most part, these represent cases where the wording would have benefited from a slightly more concise flow or from being slightly more specific, but there are a few instances herein, where this, alas, impedes the functionality of some components slightly. While these blemishes are few and far in-between considering the page-count, they do conspire alongside the slightly higher amount of typo-level glitches than usual for a Rite Publishing book to drag this slightly down – not by much, mind you – this is still a damn cool supplement, but by enough to make me settle on a final verdict of 4 stars – with the caveat that, for me personally, the jaunter alone is worth the fair asking price.