The Bear Sphere
This expansion for Spheres of Power clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages, so let’s take a look!
Okay, so first things first: Do you love potentially groan-inducing puns as much as I do? Then that alone will make this supplement worthwhile. The introduction does indeed set the tone wonderfully: “The Bear Sphere is an impawsible creation […] nothing could have koalafied […]grizzly old mages[…]” – you get the idea. I loved that.
But what does the bear sphere do? Well as a swift action, you can channel the spirit of the bear for 1 minute per caster level, and while you do so, you also are treated as the animal type, and get the Endurance feat; if you already have Endurance, its bonuses are doubled. Complaint here: The dual type does not specify what happens when your original type would get a benefit, and an animal a penalty – do we use whatever is more beneficial or detrimental? This needs clarification. While channeling the bear spirit, you can activate certain powers, the bearacteristics, which is a tag for bear talents, and constant benefits last until the end of the bear channeling. The base bearacteristic included in the sphere, is the option to spend a spell point as a free action when making a melee attack roll, gaining a bonus equal to ½ character level (minimum 1) to attack and damage roll. If used in conjunction with unarmed strikes, the attack provokes no AoOs. Personally, I’d have liked the bonus to be typed, but since there are ample instances of precedence regarding analogue abilities sans type, I’m okay with that.
The talent section contains 18 bearacteristic talents, and 5 without the tag; let’s start with the untagged ones: Here, we have Bear Form, as they tend to cover more basic aspects: Bear Form lets you spend a spell point while channeling the bear spirit to assume bear form, with 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter improving the benefits granted by this talent. The scaling makes sense, and the ability is properly codified in the details. Bear Smell nets you scent, or doubles its reach; Bear Speed nets you a scaling bonus to movement rate while channeling the bear spirit. Hibernation lets you spend a spell point when resting to channel the bear spirit for the duration of 8 hours. This heals you completely and rids you of non-magical poisons and diseases and you get a magical skill check to rid you of curses. This is a very potent healing option that may require some limitation in grittier games. Personally, I’d have preferred a simple scaling mechanism for healing, instead of this flat full-heal. Finally, there is Bear With Me, which lets you touch a target and spend a spell point to grant them the benefits of the channeling of the bear spirit for 1 minute per caster level. The target also gets the benefits of any bearacteristic talents, and you may spend spell points to activate them; however, bearacteristics that require an action to activate are exempt.
Okay, so what do these bearacteristics do? A Step Too Fur lets you spend a spell point as an immediate action to make a scaling are (5 ft. + 5 ft. per 5 CL) difficult terrain. Angry Bear lets you spend spell points to enter a barbarian rage for 1 round per CL, which explicitly lets you continue using Bear Sphere abilities while in this rage. Perhaps the most hilarious talent here, is the one that finally lets you realize your divinely-ordained right to bear arms: As a swift action, you replace your hands with two bite attacks, with this being a polymorph effect that explicitly does not cancel other polymorphs, and the granted attacks count as both a natural attack, or an unarmed strike, with damage dice increasing by one step every 5 caster levels. I am not a fan of them counting as both natural and unarmed attacks, as this lets you escalate attacks rather seriously – for games that sport players with serious system mastery, I’d recommend having the caster simply CHOOSE as which they count when using the talent: Functionality retained, problem averted.
Bear Necessities nets you a morale bonus equal to ½ CL to Survival checks made to forage food and shelter, which is significantly weaker than most talents here. Beary Scary nets you ferocity, Beary Hairy +1 natural armor and fire + cold resistance 2; this one may be taken multiple times, increasing its benefits. Bears Love Honey lets you spend a standard action and a spell point to heal yourself or a touched ally by 2d6 HP, with the amount increasing if you have more Bear Sphere talents. Bearer of Bad News is a language-dependent effect that lets you, as a standard action, spend a spell point to cause targets within 30 ft. to require a Will save to avoid being temporarily confused. Fursome Aura nets you a fear aura that renders targets shaken on a failed save; this is kept in check by having a hex-caveat (immunity for 24 hours if the target saved); however, there is one instance here where the rules could be tighter: One could construe that, since this can be loaned to targets via Bear With Me, that these allies have different auras. Noting that this still counts as the same aura would have been prudent. Bearbaque has, I am pretty sure, an omission: It nets you a breath attack with a cool-down, and the cooldown can be paid off by “an additional spell point”; for balance’s sake, I am pretty sure that the breath was intended to have a base spell-point cost at low levels; at higher levels, that cost could be dropped. Either way, this should be rectified.
Grin and Bear It lets you spend a spell point as an immediate action to reroll a save; Grizzly Attitude nets you ½ CL as a morale bonus to Intimidate to influence opponent attitudes when channeling the bear spirit. Paws and Reflect is activated as an immediate action and costs a spell point: When attacked in melee by a target in your threatened area, you make a magical skill check, and if the result is greater than the attack, it is redirected to the assailant. Smarter Than the Average Bear lets you use a spell point for +1d6 to a skill use. Teddy Bear is awesome: While channeling the spirit, an ally may hug you as a standard action. This allows them to reroll a saving throw against a detrimental effect that required a Will save. They may only try so once per effect. This is awesome. Think Think Think lets you spend a spell point and 10 minutes to reroll a failed Knowledge check, once per check attempt. Unbearable Rawr lets you, as a standard action, execute an AoE-demoralize, with the option to spend spell points to enhance the check. Ursine Blows is cool: When striking a corporeal target while using bear strength, you get a chance to knock the target flying.
The pdf also features 3 advanced talents: Antarctic Circle lets you use a full-round action and a spell point to draw a circle: The area inside becomes immune to bears; such targets can’t enter, and all inside are buffed; this circle maybe boosted to apply to all animals. Arctic Circle builds on that: It lets you spend an additional spell point; this attracts bears, which take a little while to arrive, but then form a troop that obeys the caster, with higher CLs upgrading the troop. In case you were wondering: We do get full stats for black bear, grizzly bear, and dire bear troops: Awesome. If you’re a fan of e.g. Chris Kutalik’s wonderfully outré Hill Cantons setting, you’ll appreciate Arm Bears: As a standard action, you can touch a bear and spend 3 spell points, granting the bear the ability to handle simple and martial weapons, as well as firearms. XD It should be noted that an alternate divination per Diviners who also have the Bear Sphere is included.
The pdf then proceeds to present 3 new archetypes, the first of which would be the barbearian, who replaces fast movement with Basic Magical training as a bonus feat, locked to the Bear sphere; otherwise, it’s the usual bonus talent. Additionally, bear sphere talents may be chosen instead of rage powers. Instead of the morale bonus to Strength and Constitution, the barbearian gains the benefits of channeling the bear spirit while raging, treating class level as CL for the purpose of benefits, but duration is always the length of the rage, and the barbearian may continue to use Bear sphere while raging. While raging, the barbearian may spend rounds of rage instead of spell points. At 11th level, greater rage is replaced with a +1 bonus to melee atk and damage, and thrown weapon damage while channeling the bear spirit. This replaces greater rage; tireless rage is replaced with a loss of fatigue, even when using Angry Bear. Mighty rage is replaced with aforementioned bonus being increased to +2.
The bearon commander replaces lingering commands with Bear sphere and Bear With Me, and the bearon gains a spell pool equal to Practitioner modifier, +1 per 2 commander levels, min 1. If the character has a different source of spell points, only the bonus spell points are gained. Class level is treated as CL for the purpose of the Bear sphere. At 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the bearon gains a bonus magic talent from the Bear sphere instead of enhanced tactics, and the bearon can use Bear With Me in close range, and the bearon can grant bearacteristics that require actions to activate, and the bearon may pay the spell point cost and activation action to allow the target to activate and use the bearacteristic – I *assume* that the ally targeted can’t pay spell point or activation action; otherwise, this’d be pretty OP. Call in a specialist logistics ability is replaced with 4 effects: Care bears increase the effectiveness of healing; honey bears provided food and shelter, and an expert bear and a sage bear are included as well.
The child of hope druid has proficiency in simple weapons and light armor and bucklers, and may choose a martial tradition if it’s the first level. The archetype is a High-Caster and uses Wisdom as an ability score modifier instead of spellcasting, with level + Wisdom modifier spell points and blended training. Instead of nature sense, you get a bear guardian as a replacement for a regular animal companion, which still counts as such for all purposes. The character is locked into taking a bear companion with an increased Intelligence via nature’s bond. Instead of wild shape, the archetype gets a familiar at 4th level. Also at this level, the bear companion shares access of all Bear sphere talents the child of hope has and always channels the bear spirit, with durations where applicable modified to 1 minute per caster level. The bear companion uses the child’s spell points; personally, I think that this sharing does make the archetype rather nova-prone, since RAW, the bear has its own actions and does not need to be directed like a regular companion due to the increased Intelligence it has.. 10th level nets Speak with Animals, and at 16th level, a modified version of Animal Friend, which has the attitude-enhancing effects always in effect. The capstone nets a second familiar. This archetype is weird. The companion is very strong, and the addition of up to two familiars si super-weird. Not a fan.
We get a new incanter specialization that nets a bear companion akin to the one of the child of hope, ability to speak bear, and at 8th level nets 1/day, +1/day for every 4 levels beyond, as a full-round action, call the bear to your side. 11th level nets the bear the advanced template, and 15th level provides the bear SR 11 + incanter level. We also get a prodigy imbue sequence, with a neat finisher. The supplement also nets an Item Crafting option.
Beyond aforementioned bear troops, we also gets stats for the feared Multibear, who gains additional heads and arms as they age; they start with 5 natural attacks, and Bear-sphere only High Casters as well as Behemoth combat tradition practitioners. We get stats for multibears at CR 5, CR 9, 12, 15 and 19.
Editing and formatting is very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the supplement sports a few guffaws that bear (haha) keeping in mind. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports nice full-color artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Adam Meyers’ Bear Sphere is a hilarious, generally well-crafted supplement that is worth checking out for the puns alone. The material is focused on being useful in play, and fully functional. While the supplement isn’t perfect, it is certainly a fun and worthwhile expansion for the system. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.
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