This massive book by Flaming Crab Games clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2.5 pages SRD, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 83.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Back in 3.X, there was the old saying that arcanists just suck at necromancy – and to a certain extent, this still is true – surprisingly, if you think about. While fiction does provide ample examples for vile priests commanding the legions of the undead, the iconic image is still that of the necrotheurge (which would be the proper, non-game-speak way to refer to them, just fyi…), the arcane caster, the evil wizard commanding legions of the risen dead. While 13th Age does sport an excellent necromancer class, pathfinder so far has had no base class focusing exclusively on controlling the dead to do your bidding. Until now.
This pdf introduces an alternate class (proper classified as such!) of the summoner, the undead summoner. The class must be non-good and gets d8, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor (no spell failure while wearing light armor), spontaneous spellcasting via Charisma, cantrip-access, 3/4 BAB-progression and good Will-saves. Additionally, the undead summoner begins play with a so-called fetch, basically the class’s eidolon (for which btw. handy char-sheets are provided).
A Fetch has d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves, 4+int skills per HD, No Con-score (instead using Cha as an undead), immunity to mind-affecting effects (here the closing bracket from the list enumerating them is missing in a harmless typo), immunity to death effects, disease, paralysis, poison, sleep and stunning as well as nonlethal and ability drain (but oddly enough, not ability damage, though I assume that to be intended) as well as energy drain and damage to physical ability scores. They are healed by negative energy and immune to any Fort-save unless the ability also affects objects, not subject to massive damage and does not eat, breathe or sleep. This otherwise functions as a summoner’s eidolon. The astute reader may note two components here that are interesting: For one, while gaining a lot of undead traits, the fetch is not explicitly designated as an undead, which RAW would mean that it could be healed both by positive and negative energy. This is an obvious oversight, though; one that should be rectified. From a didactic perspective, including all rules for the fetch would have probably made this easier to use and perhaps prevented the minor issues that plague this component.
Secondly, as the book does showcase and explicitly state, unlike an eidolon, the fetch cannot be dismissed or banished by the usual, outsider affecting means and pays for this by being destroyed at 0 HP. Astute readers may also have noticed that the fetch’s significant array of immunities is paid for with Life Link, which is absent from the class’s features. Fetchs begin play with one feat known and learn an additional feat at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter. Conversely, they retain the eidolon’s Str/Dex-increase, evolution pool and maximum attacks columns sans change. Comparing both, you will also notice that the fetch’s BAB is non-standard, capping out at +11 rather than +15. While this disjunction from the BAB-progression is uncommon and not too elegant, I’ willing to give the pdf the benefit of the doubt in this case, since a slightly decreased BAB would make sense considering the fetch’s significant immunity-array. Ability score increases, evasion and multiattack are retained from the regular summoner’s eidolon progression. So that’s the fetch – back to the people controlling the undead monstrosities!
Second level provides the Necromantic Affinity feat…but you’re more interested in the summoning, right? Well, at 1st level, the undead summoner can cast summon undead I 3+Cha-mod times per day as a spell-like ability, but ONLY when the fetch is not summoned. The wording “uses up the same power as the summoner uses to call his fetch” is a bit problematic, since the summoning of eidolons, on which the fetch is based, usually does not suffer from such a limit. The summoning takes only a standard action and called undead remain for 1 minute per level, instead of 1 round per level. The summoning of the undead mirrors the wording of the base summoner, which means it’s pretty precise, but it also retains a slight ambiguity that plagued the original summoner’s ability, namely the lack of specification whether creatures called forth may act immediately upon being called. Most base summoning tricks circumvent this issue by having a casting duration of 1 round, but the SP of the original summoner did not explicitly state a ruling on this, an omission mirrored here. While I’m not going to penalize this pdf for this, it still would have been nice to see. And yes, before someone tells me – I’m aware of how it’s done – this rant was aimed primarily at showing awareness for a flaw in official rules-language that could use some minor streamlining.
Spells known and spells per day are pretty much the same tables as for the regular summoner. At 4th level, the class receives Cha-mod uses of a d4-based channel negative energy, though it can only be used to heal the undead, not harm the living. Channel energy increases in potency every two class levels beyond 4th, meaning the undead summoner can dish out at least some healing to the undead. Now aforementioned SP-based undead summoning is further diversified – as the base summoner’s SP, the undead summoner’s SP-summonings do not allow for the stacking of called creatures. However, at 5th level, 7th level 13th level and 19th level, the ability can be used as a one-use to call forth multiple undead via the new spells contained herein: Basically, you still have only one instance of the SP in effect, but you gain more creatures out of it. The respective abilities sport a sensible scaling mechanism over the levels, increasing in potency. The capstone is, unsurprisingly, an undead apotheosis.
There also are class archetypes: The Fetch Master increases HD to d10, gets full BAB-progression and 6+Int skills – but at the cost of no Summon Undead – and, I assume, also not its follow-up abilities. The undead summoner’s Master Summoner gets 5+ Cha-mod uses and may stack summons – basically duplicating the problematic base archetype. If you didn’t mind it, you won’t mind this adaption. If you considered it broken, you won’t like this one either. The pdf also provides a slew of undead-themed archetypes for other classes.
First of those would be the Blight Ranger, who gets an undead FETCH companion at -3 levels. Not an animal companion (who already are strong) but an intelligent fetch with evolutions and all. And no, he does not pay for this with other tricks. OP. The Famine Druid also gains a fetch, undead empathy, and shaping into undead. Full-powered fetch. OP. The Nightmare Rider cavalier gets a quadruped or aquatic fetch as a steed with the mount evolution – problem here: The mount needs to be large, meaning the cavalier can’t ride his mount unless that mount is large – which is a 4-point evolution. He replaces expert trainer with Touch of Corruption and gets fear-causing banners. The archetype nets a full-strength fetch, which is extremely strong and OP; it also doesn’t work unless a 4-point evolution is chosen…and, touch of corruption is significantly stronger than expert trainer – which is made obsolete by the fetch anyways. OP.
The Undead Bound antipaladin replaces fiendish boon with scaling undead servants – no complaints here. Undead Charmer sorcerors have two spells known less each level, but they gain the bones mystery (with bonus revelations at level 1, 3 and every 4 levels thereafter), including the capstone final revelation and they must take the undead bloodline, which is slightly modified. The archetype may also affect undead as though they were humanoids, which is much stronger than you’d anticipate, considering the usual immunity and thus lack of requirement of investing into boosting that save. I rather like this one, though I do believe that the significant amount of bonus revelations may be overshooting the target line by a bit. Personally, I’d also make the “treat undead as humanoids”-ability restricted to daily uses. Undead Hunter rangers gain a full strength fetch companion (“that must be animal-like” – this is NOT proper rules-language! What does “being animal-like” entail? Low Int? Quadruped? No idea!) – again, immediately making the class pretty OP – which is particularly sad since I did enjoy the diverse undead foci provided for the archetype. The Undead Stalker rogue replaces trapfinding with scaling skill-boosts versus undead, traps sense versus better saves and defenses versus the undead and replaces 4th level’s rogue talent with at-will hide from undead. On a nitpicky side, the ability’s header lacks the SP-declaration, though the text does feature it. This makes a weak class even weaker and even more situational – the archetype needs an upgrade.
Now this rather depressing chapter is done, we turn our attention towards spell-lists provided for the respective character-classes and then a SIGNIFICANT array of Summon Undead-spells – beyond the base-spells, there also are aforementioned legion-spells and the aptly-named level 9 Zombie Apocalypse…which is pretty dang awesome.
Speaking of awesome – for each of the summon spells herein, we get statblocks – all colelcted herein – from the CR 1/3 Grabbing Beheaded to Zombie King Crabs, Paleoskeleton Triceratops to Fallen Flumph Graveknight antipaladins, mummified gynosphinxes and the obvious flaming crab skeletons, this extremely detailed array of statblocks, partially crafted, partially collected, makes this book exceedingly more useful than it would otherwise be – no page-flipping, nothing – awesome! We’re speaking of no less than 66 1/2 pages of undead statblocks, mind you!
Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good. On a rules-level, there is something odd going on here: Some parts are precise, well-phrased and sport next to no issues, while others (namely the archetypes) fall horribly flat of the precision the base class sports. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly, easy-to-read two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artworks, sparse though they are, are beautiful b/w and fit the book rather well and the nice fetch-sheet is a cool touch.
Alex Abel’s Undead Summoner is pretty damn awesome – this book made me very happy when I first read it – not only does it provide a convenient undead statblock resource, the alternate class summoner presented herein is different enough to warrant the alternate class…and it makes the undead summoner, the undead-commanding arcanist actually work – even at low levels, which is absolutely and positive awesome. While the class does sport some very minor needs for clarification (Positive energy healing for fetch could be e.g. eliminated by simply stating that it has the undead type…), this is a huge step forward in the evolution of Flaming Crab Games and when playtesting the class concluded, I found myself positively excited to write this review. While not yet perfect yet, with some VERY minor streamlining, this book would be 5 stars + seal of approval – that was my expectation upon testing the undead summoner and I was looking forward to writing a completely positive review.
There is but one huge and strange component that tarnishes an otherwise carefully-crafted book, namely the archetypes. Oh boy did these archetypes sour the pdf for me – up to this point, I was pretty confident that this book would be all awesome, but balance here is dreadfully off – not only does the fetch easily surpass all creatures it replaces, the non-relevant exchanges of companion-supplementing abilities further exacerbate the significant power-discrepancy. Know what’s even worse? RAW, the fetch adheres to the fetch’s rules and that of the undead summoner – which, unlike quite a few of the classes here, does not sport a penalty for destroyed fetch-companions, meaning the beast can be called again and again. It’s not only better, it also can be used with impunity! Basically, the archetypes grossly underestimate the sheer power of the fetch (or an eidolon, for that matter) when compared to e.g. mounts, animal companions etc. Add to that glitches à la a cavalier who can’t ride his intended mount replacement and we have a section that single-handedly manages to drag down what otherwise is an excellent resource. From OP archetypes to one that makes the poor rogue even more restricted in the class’s usefulness, this section is seriously bad and were the whole book of this quality, I’d bash it rather hard.
However: The archetypes take up only 3 pages of this book, which is mostly devoted to codifying undead summoning for each level; most of this pdf is statblocks and the new class and its tools. This has to be represented by the final verdict. So, in the spirit of transparency, here’s how I arrived at my final verdict: For the undead summoner, spells and statblocks, I would have went for 4.5 stars, rounded down due to the minor issues. The horribly flawed archetypes (which I’d at best give 1.5 stars) for other classes, while broken as all hell, make up only a very small part of the book. Granted, quite an array of space is taken up by statblocks, not all of which obviously are new – though enough of them are – and what’s here in that regard is nice. It is via careful deliberation that I arrive at a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the whole of the book. Still, I remain with a warning against the archetypes…but also with an explicit recommendation for anyone even remotely intrigued by the undead summoner as a concept – you’ll get more than a fair share for your bucks and personally, I look forward to making more of these nasty masters of the undead for my campaign.