The Sanguinist’s Handbook
This expansion for the Spheres of Power-system clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my readers.
After a brief flavor-introduction, we start with the archetype section, but this time around, it is more prudent to skip ahead and return to these later, for this supplement, unlike previous Spheres-expansions, presents a wholly new sphere, the Blood Sphere.
The base ability of this sphere would be Blood Control: A s a standard action, you establish a link to the blood of a target creature within close range. Unwilling targets receive a Fortitude save to prevent the establishing of the link, and targets at less than half maximum hit points or currently suffering from bleed damage suffer a -4 penalty to this saving throw. Creatures immune to bleed damage due to type, subtype or template are immune to blood control, but sources that otherwise bestow immunity do NOT prevent the use of blood control – an important distinguishing component that retains the sphere’s viability. A creature affected by blood control may use a mental-only standard action to repeat the Fortitude saving throw, which may even be used when dazed or nauseated. A second creature attempting to establish blood control over a target already controlled must succeed on a magic skill check.
As part of establishing blood control, you may also apply one (quicken) or (still) ability, and once established, a standard action may be used to apply additional of these effects, unless otherwise noted, as a standard action. This doubles as counting as concentration on ongoing blood control. If you can concentrate as a move action, this may work in conjunction with such sped up effects as well.
As you could glean from that, the tags to look out for among the effects are (quicken) and (still) – and you probably have deduced that these cancel each other out, not unlike the modes of certain antipodean casters or solarians: A (still) talent ends a (quicken) talent and vice versa – a target can’t be affected by both a (quicken) and (still) talent at the same time, with the new effect superseding the old one.
The blood sphere nets Bleed (quicken, which causes caster level damage that may not be stilled until blood control ends (minor nitpick – “heal” not properly capitalized); Coagulate (still) is the inverse, and reduces bleed damage by 1 + 1 per 3 caster levels, and creatures using abilities that would cause bleed effects must succeed a magic skill check to avoid having the damage negated. Non-magic means substitute the BAB instead – yep, this is Spheres of Might compatible.
There are, unless I have miscounted, 24 blood sphere basic talents included, so let’s take a look at some of them – and let us begin with the untagged ones. Self Control allows yourself to be treated as always under the effects of your own blood control, and allows you to use (quicken) or (still) abilities on yourself as a swift action. You also don’t count towards the limit of Mass Control. This talent allows you to spend an additional spell point to target 1 additional creature per 2 caster levels (minimum 1) within range, with all needing to be affected by the same ability. This additional cost only applies once when used in conjunction with blood control. (Nice catch!) Slick penalizes targets under the effect of your blood control regarding CMD versus maneuver like disarm, trip, etc., and the effect may be started and ended as a free action. Interesting to note: While this is an untagged talent, it has a second use that is designated as (quicken), namely the means to make the blood potentially having the target fall prone; for spell point expenditure, this can render the blood a slick patch that may make others that enter it fall as well.
Red Mist lets you evaporate blood streaming forth from blood control’d victims, generating concealment, with the option of spell point expenditure to increase the area of effect. Kudos: This does get interaction with winds, sight, etc. – and it has a cool angle: You can choose to take Constitution damage to make all creatures in the mist treated as though they were bleeding for the purpose of blood control saves. There is a talent called Lengthened Control that allows you to make blood control last longer – useful for buffing; Lingering Control lets your blood control remain in effect for a number of rounds after you cease concentrating on it Hemorrhage increases the damage output of bleed (quicken); Improved Range extends range, and Improved Bleed increases the DC to stop the bleed (quicken) ability. Really cool: Mana Bleed allows you to drain away spell points or spell slots, with equivalents provided and the loss increasing based on caster levels.. This can be combined with Absorb Blood to grant temporary spell points, though thankfully it does have an anti-abuse caveat. Absorb Blood allows you to grant temporary hit points and cause Constitution damage to heal damage, and much to my pleasant surprise, the latter has a spell point cost that prevents the ability from being cheesed – and yes, Mass Control synergy does exist, and yes, this combination still retains its rules-integrity.
Blood tracking may be taken twice, rendering you always aware of blood control’d and bleeding targets, and even blindsight for such targets upon taking it a second time. Crimson vortex allows you to create a kind of blood sphere trap that may be maintained and moved, with spell point expenditure as a means to increase the radius. Exsanguinating strike allows for use of blood control in conjunction with attacks, including Spell Attack. Inject lets you increase casting duration of blood control and take Constitution damage and make a ranged or melee touch attack (ranges tightly defined!), and if you have Hemokinesis, you may hold this charge. If successful, the target is treated as though bleeding for the purposes of blood control save penalty, and you get to ignore SR for the purpose of Blood sphere effects for some time. Cool: Immersion in water etc. may end the effect. More importantly: This talent does allow you to bypass type/subtype/template-based Blood sphere immunity. And yes, Mass Control synergy is provided.
What is Hemokinesis? Well, it is a kind of blood-themed telekinesis with multiple options, including synergy with Slick, the option to make Blood Constructs (yep, you can make them with the right talent!) fly, generate arcs of blood that may blind targets or even transmit alchemical effects or diseases. (Yep, Spheres of Might fans – Alchemy-synergy!) With Greater Blood Control, you can spend an addition spell point or increase casting time by one step to apply two effects of a (quicken) or (still) talent. (This gets action economy discrepancy verbiage right.)
Since I already mentioned the option to make blood construct, let us take a look at the tagged talents – which btw. sometimes tend to have (quicken/still) noted – yep, there are quite a few that offer more than one option. Manipulate health acts as a kind of variant status, with means to make diseases nasty or get rid of them added. Manipulate Alchemy is a pretty genius one, as it allows you to exert your control over blood to affect the circulation and potency of formulae, potions and poisons, including the means to force such effects from a target. Control oxygen provides a variant haste that thankfully can’t be stacked atop similar effects, and also comes with options for fatigue-based condition manipulation. And yep, it has a cooldown to prevent abuse of e.g. constant rage-cycling exploits. Note: In a VERY limited manner, this still allows for very limited rage-cycling, but not to an extent that would exceed options already available.
The blood puppet (quicken) talent does what you think it does – it lets you control targets over their blood! AWESOME. Migraine is a sickening pain effect, while the (still) talent Numb acts as a nasty deduff. Big plus: Interaction with other spheres like Duelist, Divination, etc. is provided.
Among the advanced talents, we have 3: Puppet Master lets you make all puppets perform the same sequence; Sanguine Minion enhances your blood constructs, Overclock is an upgrade of the oxygen-controlling haste effect, though at the cost of burn – still, awesome! Drain Lifeblood lets you cause Constitution bleed, and Arrest Flow (still) is restricted to high levels and can render the target unconscious. These are well-placed as advanced talents – potent, yet tight. Like them!
Okay, now that we know how the Blood Sphere operates, let’s take a look at the 3 archetypes included: the Bloodscarred symbiat replaces Linguistics with Bluff and uses Charisma as governing class ability and spellcasting ability score. Mental powers are replaced with the Blood sphere, and, since they have a strong vampire angle, the bloodscarred gets the option to check the presence of undead, a scaling bite attack (including high-level minor temporary hit points that will not unbalance the game), wall clinging, darkvision (or darkvision range increase), mist form and a Mind Control variant. Psionics are replaced with the ability to ignore the negative effects of negative levels and a capstone, that enhances their vampiric domination. Nice one.
Hemophage bloodragers are only proficient with simple weapons, light armor and bucklers and is a Low-Caster using Charisma, with class level + Charisma modifier spell points. Fast movement and bloodline feats, if the proficiency list was not enough indicator, are lost in favor of blended training. Instead of a bloodline, these folks can access bloodlines by drinking the blood of creatures with the appropriate bloodline or associated creatures, gaining use of the bloodline powers. Big plus: No, you can’t cheese the ability to gain infinite use bloodline powers by cycling bloodlines. Blood must be harvested fresh, but a limited amount of special draughts may be prepared, with creature-sizes and draughts they can provided noted. Nice: This, probably by design, arrives at similar caps as my own blood-based designs and those of similar supplements. A handy list is provided for suggested types and bloodlines, and per se, only the bloodrager’s core bloodlines may be taken thus, though your home-game may allow for more. The bloodrage enhancement abilities are modified to work in conjunction with the sphere-system instead.
The Hemetic philosopher alchemist gains all knowledge skills as class skills and is an Intelligence-based Mid-Caster with class level + Intelligence modifier spell points and a magic talent gain with every caster level attained. Throw anything and bombs are replaced with the Blood sphere, using class level as CL. Swift alchemy and poison use/resistance/immunity are replaced at 3rd level with crimson vials. The character can spend one minute to create a temporary potion, which may be done as a full-round action for one spell point. This does provoke an AoO, and the potion only lasts for 1 hour per class level and its complexity may not exceed 1 per 3 class levels. The archetype can have up to Intelligence modifier such potions, and the character can create potions at a lower caster level. Since the potion is made from his blood, this doesn’t cost gold, but requires a scaling save that causes damage – and this damage MAY NOT BE HEALED save via resting. Higher levels allows you to ignore sphere prerequisites, but at the cost of an increased DC.
The pdf also offers means for alchemists to take the Blood Potion feat, and a rage power that provides minor healing to barbarians (can’t be cheesed, based on limited resource); beyond that, we do get a nice incanter sphere specialization, a prodigy imbue sequence (HOORAY!!!) that lets you extract blood constructs as finishers (awesome) the Monster troubadour trope that lets you smell fear, climb, healed by negative energy – very Hyde-like. There also would be the Path of the Moroi for the Wraith class (review forthcoming).
The book contains 14 new feats, with aforementioned Blood Potion allowing you to create potions that may only ever affect you, but you can activate multiple ones, or do so as a swift action. Gaining blood drain, acidic or burning blood (good ole’ Geralt’s Black Blood, anyone?) – cool. The latter burning/acidic blood, can btw. be weaponized via Hemokinesis. Want a humor familiar? You can have that. You can wrap extracted blood constructs as a kind of blood-based power-armor around willing allies (OUCH!), and e.g. feats to negate AoOs, adding (form) talents to constructs, combining death and blood – nice. Minor nitpick: Dual sphere feats aren’t descriptor’d here. Champion feats, though, are, with the options for Blood-using Duelists can attain their weaponry to blood spilled, for example: Bloodmonger and Spell Attack are reproduced here. Of course, an (Admixture) feat for Destruction-users may be found. Reservoir is functional, but has a pretty obvious formatting glitch you can’t help but notice. The blood points it nets you may btw. by stored in a new item – crimson flasks.
Two really cool unified traditions, 3 sphere-specific drawbacks, a boon and two properly codified traits are provided. The pdf also sports 3 alternate racial traits, two of which are for Skybourne races.
The book contains two rituals: Water from blood is level 0 and does what it says on the tin (love it), and lifeblood sacrifice lets you kill a willing or helpless creature to restore life to a dead target. There also is a neat level 5 incantation, steal lifeblood, allows you to go Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed and become younger via blood. Spekaing of which – yep there is a blood bath artifact. Oh yeah. At +1, the thirsty weapon special ability also ties in with the aforementioned Reservoir engine as basically a storage extension. Rules for crafting Blood sphere items in conjunction with the sphere-crafting rules can be found.
Absolutely awesome: There are optional rules provided that propose blood as spell component and focus, or as a substitute for alchemical components. Oread blood as acid flasks, for example. This may just be a page, and just a start, but I LOVE it. It makes adventuring matter. Aforementioned blood constructs: 7 stats, from Cr 1/3 to 11, with familiar notes where applicable, are provided. We also get stats for the Cr 1/3 humoral ooze and CR 3 mosquito swarms. The book closes on one final, triumphant inclusion that I got ready to complain about when opening it for the first time: Yes, it does come with its own, custom 100-entry strong Wild Magic-table! AWESOME.
Editing is very good on a formal and rules-language level. Formatting is not: There are a lot of instances where talents, skills and spell-references are not properly formatted, and there are three-letter abbreviations here where they shouldn’t be. This is rather jarring to me, as the book really deserved better. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf provides a blend of well-chosen stock art and some pieces I hadn’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
I freely admit to having a soft spot for blood magic. Something about its visceral nature appeals to me. However, most iterations of the concept I’ve seen, suck, and as my fervor for the subject matter means that I tend to look at material VERY closely.
Andrew Stoeckle’s “The Sanguinist’s Handbook” is awesome. I love the subdued scale/mode-component, the combos, the precision in complex interactions. Beyond the mechanical precision, this book offers the cool visuals – Red Mist, for example, not only is useful, it’s plain cool. And there are A LOT of those inside. Add to that the Spheres of Might and Champions of the Spheres synergy, and we arrive at a sphere, which, while poaching liberally in the other sphere’s playgrounds, still feels distinct in both mechanics and execution. The book also feels like a work of passion. There is nothing in this book that feels phoned in; it shows passion and commitment alongside a deep mastery of the intricacies of the spheres rules that allows for the avoidance of the pitfalls of the system.
I love this book. I really do. The only other supplements in the whole series that managed to excite me to the same degree would be the Telekinesis-expansion and, obviously, the (almost entirely) brilliant Chronomancer’s Handbook.
If anything, the sanguinist’s handbook has me clamoring for more – the Blood sphere deserves more love, and I’d really love to see an expansion to the sphere. Now, that being said, the number of formatting snafus, particularly in a book like this that very much requires close reading to get the action economy etc. right, is a bit problematic and prevents this from getting my highest rating. As provided, this is still one of the best supplements in the whole series, though – without the formatting glitches, this’d be a Top ten candidate. As provided, my final verdict will instead be 4.5 stars, with my seal of approval added. And since I couldn’t find any issues that really hurt the integrity of the game, I will round up.
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