Spellstaff: The Magic User’s Weapon
This supplement clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC,2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 13 pages, so let’s take a look!
This pdf throws you right into the subject matter, with the very first page already depicting the tables containing the respective spellstaves and the feats-table, while also explaining the terminology:
Charges denote the unit of ammunition utilized by a spellstaff; capacity the maximum number of charges a spellstaff can hold. Magic User would be any character capable of casting spells. Basic stat-wise, spellstaves sport a base damage of 1d8 for medium weapons, a critical threat range of 19-20 and a range of 10 ft. A regular spellstaff holds 10 charges, an attuned (or dual-attuned) spellstaff holds 8. It should be noted that, if you’re like me and consider infinite ammo-weapons broken and immersion-breaking, the rules do provide an alternative that assumes a crystal-based ammunition, which costs 2 gp for 10 shots. Per default, 6 minutes of meditation can restore one charge to the weapon – which is conservative enough to make, presuming a certain rarity, the weapon still functional without breaking immediately any sense of in-campaign logic. Spellstaves attack versus the full AC, not versus touch attack, by the way.
In a very interesting and iconic turn, spellstaves are fragile weapons, but only apply this quality versus melee attacks – if you’re like me, this immediately conjures forth some pretty awesome imagery of the battered barbarian reaching the caster, sundering his staff.
Spellstaves have a range of 60 ft. – not an absolute, mind you – they are, essentially, projectile weapons. Creation-wise, they can either be made via Craft Magic Arms and Armor or Craft Spellstaff – which is pretty vital. The feat-tax is here, yes – but the feat allows you to mend broken spellstaves at half the cost – something not *explicitly* allowed for the more general feat. While it is clear that the intention is for this option to be widely available, RAW it isn’t. It should also be noted that the Exotic Weapon proficiency for spellstaves is different -unlike other weapons, non-proficiency means that you can’t use the spellstaff – at all. This constitutes a pretty pronounced departure from regular weapon proficiency rules, and one I quite frankly am not too big a fan of – beyond the rules-aesthetic perspective, the basic issue is the thus imposed feat-tax, which hits full casters hardest – the central target demographic. We’ll return to this later on.
I understand the notion behind this choice, but ultimately found myself wondering why UMD or simply, a nonproficiency penalty, wouldn’t do the job (the former is explicitly forbidden by the FAQ on the last page) – the target classes already suffer from bad BABs, so a nonproficiency penalty will hit hard. Spellstaves, as such, are not masterwork weapons unless created as such – though the wording there could have been slightly more concise.
A pretty basic issue of spellstaves as a weapon would be the omission of the damage type they deal – as written, regular spellstaves deal neither piercing, slashing or bludgeoning damage, which means they do not bypass certain DRs. The problem ultimately arises when a DR /magic pops up -does the spellstaff’s blasts bypass it or not? Attuned spellstaves, available for a paltry 70 gp, deal magical damage types chosen upon creation: Fire, lightning [sic!], cold…or force. Force. You know, arguably the best damage type out there, against which there is next to no resistance. The damage type that reliably damages the incorporeal. Force, as a damage-type, is inherently superior to the elemental types of damage and as such should have a higher cost.
If the [sic!]-note above wasn’t ample clue – there is no such thing as “lightning” damage – the proper term is “electricity damage.” Dual-attuned spellstaves blend two energy-types, dealing half of either. This becomes problematic pretty fast – mixed elemental damage is rare for a reason – what if a target creature if vulnerable to one element used, but is immune to the other? Different resistances? The section also shows an ignorance of how elemental damage and DR interact – elemental damage automatically bypasses DR and is only subject to elemental resistance. How this works in game, I have no idea – only interpretations This seriously needs tighter rules. Finally, the price-point of dual-attuned spellstaves contradicts itself – the write-up notes it as 100 gp, the table at the same price as a attuned spellstaff, at 70 gp.
Spellstaves may be enchanted to hold +10 charges via a +1-equivalent enchantment and 3 sample, magical staves are provided. Secret spellstaves allow the wielder to easily pass it off as harmless, Spellstaves of the Elements and get a descriptor aligned with the elemental plane it was crafted on. In a callback to older editions I personally liked, these spellstaves are treated as +1 weapons while on the material plane, as +3 when on their home-plane…or when used against creatures native to the opposite plane, against which they also deal +2d6 damage. Nice one, concept-wise…but do these staves need to be attuned to the element of their descriptor? The write-up never notes whether this is a +1 attuned spellstaff or a +1 spellstaff per default. The Spellstaff of the Mechanical Genius has double range, ignores concealment and partial cover and reduces the AC-bonus gained from cover and soft cover by 2. This one’s pretty nice!
A total of 6 traits are provided to help you customize your character for spellstaff use: These generally are pretty solid and sport interesting rules – from providing a distraction for your rogue-buddy to once/day enhancing bloodline, domain, etc-spells to making your spellstaff glow like light for one charge – iconic. I am not a fan of thinning the herd – +1 to atk versus targets that are part of a group, but not adjacent to another member of the group. Why? Because it requires the GM to constantly determine what a “group” is – e.g., a mixed warband of goblins and orcs – a goblin is only adjacent to an orc and they hate each other: Does this constitute a group? Why not simply go for the usual “adjacent ally” rules-language? As a nitpick, two of the traits are depicted with a different font than the rest of the pdf.
The pdf also provides, as mentioned before, an array of different feats is contained herein, so let’s return to them. There would be a feat herein that lets you utilize your Int-mod instead of your Dexterity modifier to execute a ranged attack, while the follow-up feat provides the option to execute a full-round action and also add Int-mod to damage with the attack. These feats, while generally okay, imho falls short of their potential. While they thankfully avoid being *too* useful for gish-classes, the limitation to Int-mod locks out all Cha-based casters, which is a pity. Another feat allows you to add +2 to atk and damage versus spellcasters. I assume this, as per the (somewhat obscure) default only applies to characters capable of casting spells, not creatures with SPs – but unlike the question of who qualifies for spellstaff use, the FAQ is silent on this matter.
Overcharge is very interesting – it lets you expend additional charges to modify atk, damage, range or “critical range[sic!]” – the proper term is “threat range.” On a nitpick, threat-range expansion should be more expensive, since it is more powerful. The feat also fails to note whether the effects here stack with themselves – the benefits (apart from the threat range expansion) seem to imply it, while their bonus type contradicts this, as enhancement bonuses do not stack with themselves. It should also be noted that, obviously, the threat range expansion is not subject to this bonus-type based restriction, allowing for pretty nasty expansions here that should have a rewrite. And if you think I’m nitpicking – no, the feat notes you can spend up to 1/2 your CL in charges to enhance a single missile.
Spellstaff Sacrifice allows you to expend a spell slot as a move action to add the extended spell’s level in charges. Excess points are lost – pretty cool reload…but shouldn’t this provoke an AoO analogue to reloading, analogue to crossbows et al.? Spellstaff Defense is cool – total defense also nets you partial cover versus ranged attacks. Quick holstering of spellstaves, negation of the fragile quality while wielding it…there are some fun options here. But there also are a lot of issues here: Spellstaff retuning suddenly allows you to also use the sonic energy type in addition to force – while I like the flexibility, I can’t help but question whether the inclusion of sonic was intentional or not.
Metamagic Empowerment deserves a very specific place in design-hell – per two charges expended when casting a spell, you can mitigate 1 level of spell slot increase, with prepared casters reducing the maximum capacity until the spell is cast. Spontaneous casters need to pay 3 charges instead. Do I have to do the math to prove why this is broken with both ammunition and ammo-less recharge options? Calling your spellstaff back to your hand, jedi-style, is pretty awesome, also froma design perspective – its wording is precise and the action required scales with distance. Wand Battery, alas, once again is broken – it allows you to use spellstaff charges to power your wands, thus breaking the WBL in the long run by either underpricing a charge (and making no distinction between the value of charges) or by providing infinite charges, depending on the option you use. While the spell-level of the wand may not exceed the enhancement bonus of your spellstaff, this does not account for CL-variation. If you like chaos, there’s a feat that allows for a 10% chance of a primal magic effect occurring when using the spellstaff – not suitable for every group of player, but I know that some of you will love this!
The pdf also sports an array of archetypes, many of which exchange basic proficiencies for the option to be able to use the spellstaff from the get-go. The first of these would be the Serpentstaff Witch, who merges her snake familiar with her spellstaff (Does the spellstaff need to be bought from starting gold? If so, what if she does not roll high enough to afford one? And yes, this is a nitpick and will not influence my final verdict.), becoming a kind of amalgam – even when in familiar-form, the serpent can fire as if it were in its spellstaff-form, but, if I’m reading the somewhat convoluted ability right, the familiar uses his own action-economy to fire, using his mistresses atk. This may not look like too much, but in multiclassing, the familiar’s ability to utilize his own actions to fire becomes slightly problematic. 4th level provides a problematic ability – perfectly accurate throws of the serpentstaff within 30 ft., whereupon the snake transforms into its mobile form. Does the witch automatically hit other creatures? Can the snake immediately attack the foe and e.g. constrict? Does the attack, if any, count as a ranged attack? What if a creature is usually extremely nimble? I don’t object to the ability itself and it won’t break the game, but auto-hits tend to be abused HARD. And you don’t have to think long to come up with nasty combos – holding touches, for example… The other abilities are pretty solid, though.
The spellstaff adept wizard replaces the usual bonus feats and arcane bond with bonus feats at 1st level,3rd level and every three levels thereafter, with levels counting as fighter levels for the purpose of qualifying for ranged combat feats…which is VERY limited. Come on, name, from the top of your head 5 ranged combat feats requiring fighter levels as a prereq. Okay, now look online. I’ll be waiting. All right, from the top of my head, I came up with Disruptive, Spellbreaker, etc. (though does this count as pertaining to ranged combat?) Disrupting Shot, Martial Versatility (does that pertain to ranged combat, though?), Martial Mastery, Penetrating Strike and, of course, the Weapon Focus/Specialization-trees. There will be more out there, but I’m pretty sure I remember most of them. This is a bit of a limited list in my book, especially considering you’ll lose the option to take arcane discoveries. While the adept gets 2 spellstaff-related bonus-feats at first level, 4 opposing schools mean that this one is pretty weak and could use an upgrade.
The Spellstaff Channeler Sorceror has another issue: As a free action, these sorcerors can overcharge their staves with their bloodline’s power – while this is active, a spellstaff deals +1d6 damage and gains the descriptor based on the bloodline – whether this also changes the damage type and how that interacts with attuned spellstaves – I don’t have the slightest clue. I like this ability’s intent, but it’s horribly opaque. Similarly, whether or not the final attack of an otherwise, thematically cool ability that rewards subsequent attacks on the same target is a free action or whether it’s just a free action to declare it as such is simply not covered. The wording also implies an infusion of a bloodline power – if this is the case, is it expended or is that just fluff? The pdf also fails to specify whether the splitting missiles of this ability must target the same opponent – and maximizing weapon damage is pretty nasty when properly multiclassed – the only way you’ll use this archetype, anyways.
The Spellstaff Dancer bard would be a pretty solid one – essentially, we have a bard that gets minor defensive buffs when light armored and unencumbered and may use versatile performance for Acrobatics, Fly and Intimidate instead. Personally, I’m opposed to 1st level evasion, seeing that ability usually is gained at second level to avoid getting it via 1-level dips. Other than that, it is an okay archetype, with one ability overlapping with Fat Goblin Games’ Pole Dancer-archetype – I’m not sure which was here first, but generally, this is pretty solid. The same can, alas, be not said about the Spellstaff Disciple fighter: Instead of a 1st level bonus feat, the class gets a single 1st level sorc/wizard spell – both means to offset arcane spell failure. Spellcasting is Int-based AND spontaneous, which is a violation of how that is usually handled – Cha for spontaneous, Int for prepared. This one will not influence my verdict, though. Instead of a bonus feat, a spellstaff disciple may learn a single spell. Alas, the issue here is that the class itself does not really have a spell slot, but rather uses 5 charges to power the spellcasting. What does this mean? INFINITE SPELLCASTING! Only up to 5th level and in combat, problematic – but I can see these guys stockpiling staves, charging them and then cast away. BROKEN as all hell. Next.
Spellstaff Healers may use charges to extend the reach of healing spells (use proper rules language – there is not such spell school…) up to long range by expending charges. Which is horribly broken and takes a crucial nerf from 3.X away and reintroduces ridiculously powerful healing…and that’s before the +50% for one charge-enhancement to channel efficiency. 5th level provides 2-charge-based maximization of such spells AND channel energy. These can be combined. Broken!
Spellstaff Scrappers, a brawler archetype, uses the spellstaff as a melee weapon, which itself sports intriguing mechanics – you may switch between weapon-types emulated by the spellstaff, with each having a different ability and different bonus feats, later allowing for double weapon-like tricks and fluid changes between forms – this ability is interesting, creative and cool – and it is ruined for me by the class’s downright epic failure of how spellstaves regain charges – level 1 nets the archetype the option to regain 1 charge whenever you crit, roll maximum damage or reduce a creature to 0 or fewer hit points. A level 1 dip nets you ridiculous easy regains of charges and fails the kitten test so hard, I can hear extraterrestrial cats meowing from the adjacent galaxy.
The next archetype would be for Flaming Crab Games’ Priest-class, which I do not own and thus cannot judge. It seems to be on d20pfsrd.com as well, but I do not review online content – it’s too mutable. The pdf closes with some brief, basic pieces of advice regarding the integration of spellstaves into your campaign, the aforementioned FAQ and also provides a significant array of different plot-hooks – all of which are pretty nice!
Editing and formatting on a formal level can be considered okay, but on a rules-language, this pdf, alas, is deeply flawed and is in dire need of a good developer and rules-editing. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and is by far my favorite component of this book – it’s elegant and the book also sports numerous beautiful pieces of full-color art I really enjoyed. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with a very small (less than two MB!) version for mobile devices – kudos!
It is pretty obvious from the get-go that author J Gray has some absolutely glorious ideas – and indeed, I love the concept of the spellstaff to death. It is pretty much a gaping hole in the rules that should be filled. Alas, this pdf, and there’s no two ways around it, fails pretty hard in almost all regards. Beyond the vast array of issues in the finer details of rules-language that render this pdf more opaque than it should be (and no, I have not listed all of them), the rules unfortunately pretty much result in a whole cornucopia of problems. For full casters, spellstaves remain a sub-par option due to the massive feat-tax they require – my playtest did show that with either option, casters are, after first level, pretty much better off when simply retraining. It’s not like they’d hit much with their abysmal BAB. So, in my game, primarily gishes felt that these staves were useful – and for them, they may be a tad bit too good. The problem remains that the very basic rules of how spellstaves operate, are too opaque and leave holes at the very foundation of the concept, destabilizing everything built on it.
Now this focus on gishes could be intentional, granted – the issue remains that, once multiclassing comes into the fray, this pdf completely falls apart. There are several extremely ill-conceived archetype abilities that are horribly broken herein, running the whole gamut of problematic exploits and flawed wording, to the point where I honestly wouldn’t allow anything in these pages near my main campaign without excessive fixes. And we’re not talking about brief changes, but about massive design-changes, which would take me quite some time to do. Less experienced GMs will look at the task required with question marks over their heads.
While writing this review, I’ve been cursing quite a bit – because the system, make no mistake, CAN be salvaged. In fact, just about every chapter herein, with some SIGNIFICANT streamlining, could have been made awesome. In fact, that’s what I hoped for. I re-dl’d the pdf right before posting this one to make sure it hadn’t been, hoping that I might rewrite this review. Alas, the flaws remain – there is next to no component that does not sport one issue or another and I am, quite frankly, pretty frustrated with this book.
Author J Gray does show promise, but this pdf, and there are no two ways around it, is simply not functional. The rules-language is horribly flawed and does not manage to represent the complex concepts properly and there is a whole array of issues with even the base items. That being said, while not many, there are some functional pieces of crunch herein, some concepts that are awesome and show promise. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded up to 2 due to the awesomeness of the concepts and these components. I sincerely hope I’ll be able to write a review of a revised edition soon, one that eliminates these issues and lives up to the awesome premise.