Thunderscape: Law & Destiny
This class-centric supplement for Thunderscape clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This book, in case you did not know, is all about Thunderscape’s arbiter and seer classes – I assume that you’re familiar with both of them in this review. It should also be noted that, while this is a book about those classes, it is very much one about these classes in the context of Thunderscape’s world of Aden, so this is not just a splatbook of new mechanics, which is evident from the get-go by the massive piece of in-game prose that the book starts out with. The book engages in a couple of interesting operations in that regard: “Law & Destiny”, for example, is a thing in-game – it’s Aden’s most popular, longest-running fiction series.
Indeed, we do get very detailed explanations of the role of the respective classes not only in the context of the role in the party, but also regarding the history of the class in question and their role within the context of Aden as a whole, and the respective nations in particular. These very detailed explorations into Aden’s lore are written in a compelling way and are surprisingly versatile. So yeah, the prose featured herein is pretty impressive. Of course, these entries make distinctions between Pre- and Post-Darkfall!
That being said, there are also new rules-relevant components, such as new arbiter maneuvers. Unless I have miscounted, we get 19 new arbiter maneuvers. Some of these provide linear scaling of mechanics – for example Applied Intellect would fall in that category, as it allows you to treat your Intelligence score as 2 higher for the purpose of arbiter class features, reducing the MAD (Multiple Attribute Dependency) slightly; armored fall adds Acrobatics to your class skill list, lets you ignore some falling distance, and decreases the damage dice caused by falling. In an interesting small tweak, these benefits only apply while wearing medium or heavy armor, and a kite shield. This is a relatively rarely seen design-style – you can see the arbiter using their armor and shield to cushion the fall to a degree. The design paradigms of these options also manage to account for interesting operations that show a cognizance of finer balance-components of PFRPG. Take the demolish maneuver: It builds on the shielded stance, and doubles the threat range, as well as adding Intelligence modifier to the damage. Interesting here is that it gets the interaction with other threat range expansions right, limiting the stacking of such effects to specific class abilities, while proscribing the use in conjunction with other components. Making AoOs inflict short-term entangled or penalties applied to the target’s attacks versus targets apart from the arbiter also fall into this interesting category.
Other maneuvers include gaining social skills as well as rerolling e.g. Diplomacy checks (which makes sense – the class is called ARBITER!). This type of maneuver is, design-wise, a bit more simple, but there can be errors in even the simplest of options – take the notion of a limited use pool of temporary hit points. There are plenty of means to trip here and either reduce usefulness or make it easy to abuse, and the option presented here, which includes being able to use it while paralyzed, disabled, etc. In spite of its limited use, it will matter very much when it comes into play. Or take the means to extend charges. There are also interesting options, like choosing to lose shield bonus to AC for DR 3/adamantine. Building on sage resistance, we have the means to add Intelligence modifier to saving throws versus magic. Yes, magic – not just spells. Using shield charge to attack multiple targets, 1/day negating critical strikes – there are some cool ones here. On the other hand, there is an ability that nets you +2 to attack rolls (untyped) when wielding a kite shield and adjacent to 3+ enemies. That is oddly specific. There is one instance, where you gain DR 10/lethal, oddly phrased as “DR 10 vs. nonlethal damage.” As a whole, though, these new arbiter tricks are certainly worthwhile and rewarding.
The book also features two feats designed for the class: Flexible Strategist lets you choose a strategic maneuver as a flexible maneuver; this maneuver may be replaced with another via 1 hour of meditation, turning it into a kind of wildcard talent. Kite Shield Mastery lets you use the kite shield to grant cover as though a tower shield, and reduces its armor check penalty by 2.
Speaking of shields: The book also introduces new items pertaining these shields and arbiters: For example, there is a kite sheath, which allows for easier concealing of weaponry, and quicker drawing of the like. Another shield variant introduced here in two iterations would be the adjucator shield, which allows for the bracing of specific weapons, including a windowed variant. (And yes, rules to adjust the weapon viable for bracing are included!) While the text specifically calls them a variant of kite shield, I do think that it would have been prudent to explicitly state that they are treated as kite shields for the purpose of interactions with class features, but that is me being super nitpicky, and should not be construed to be a strike against the book. One new medium and 3 heavy armors are presented, and like the aforementioned shield, these come with donning times specifically noted in their own table – nice! The hasta, a variant of shortspear for use with adjucator shields may also be found in this equipment section, and we get two different twinshot crossbows. Particularly relevant for arbiters would also be the inexorable special weapon property, which clocks in at the equivalent of +1: For AoOs, this enchantment increases the enhancement bonus by +1. Sounds like a worse vanilla +1? Well, here’s the catch: For one, RAW; this allows you to exceed +5 as a limit by +1. Secondly, the ability nets you an additional AoO per round, which is particularly neat for arbiters!
The pdf also features a moderately complex arbiter archetype, the adjudicator. This archetype gains Acrobatics as a class skill, and replaces Combat Expertise with Point Blank Shot with a weapon of choice (odd limitation here; PBS is usually not weapon-specific), but interestingly, they can wield two-handed firearms or crossbows while wielding kite shields. The archetype adds Intelligence modifier to Acrobatics and Ride checks AS WELL AS…Initiative! Ouch! This replaces relentless. Instead of shieldwarden’s stance, we get a modification that is based on ranged weaponry, allowing for firing while in total defense, all while granting allies shield bonus. Keen mind, honed mind etc. are modified towards a ranged build as well, and Ultimate Justice is replaced with a pretty badass ability that lets you execute AoOs, one per enemy per turn, within the first range increment, and do so even if you have no AoOs left! Brutal and cool capstone – depending on where you are, terrain-wise, this could be the one-man-army arbiter standing against a whole army unleashed by the Darkfall! Like it! The archetype also features 4 strategic maneuvers, which include having wildcard special ammo with them, for example. It#s funny – the archetype is püretty straightforward in concept, but its execution is more compelling and interesting than I expected it to be. It may be just one archetype, but it is a really, really cool one.
Both arbiters and seers might wish to take a look at the 8 new background traits provided. These include reducing armor check penalty, having a dual identity (weaker than e.g. that of the vigilante, since this book predates Ultimate Intrigue), +1 AoO, properly codified social skill bonuses, etc. Two of the traits are specifically intended for seers, one granting you +1 use of second sight, while the other extends the radius of a specific fatebending aura. But before we come to the seers, there is one more massive section for the arbiter to note: We also get NPCs, two of them, to be precise: Sir Dabot, and Nigel Rathbone. We receive these NPCs with detailed background information, interesting and enjoyable to read background stories, and before you ask: Yes, we also get stats for seers ( Xien Wei Fong, and Benvok the Exiled) for these levels. One of the respective NPCs is a build for the vanilla class, while the second is one making use of a new archetype herein. Personally, I do not mind that e.g. favored class abilities and racial abilities are included in their own lines, but since it is a minor deviation from the standard, I felt it’s worth mentioning.
As far as the new mechanics for the seer class are concerned, we have 11 new minor prophecies, which include swifter activation of an aura currently known, or gaining/doubling low-light vision. (Granted, doubling low-light vision will not be relevant in most contexts, but the notion at least is commendable.) Blessed mentor seriously increase the bonus bestowed by second sight, increasing it by Wisdom modifier, but not when using the ability on herself. Also interesting would be causing second sight’s bonus as a penalty to atk against other targets when hitting a target with a second sight-fortified attack. Increased fatebending DCs, a multiclass-supplementing DC-increase and engine-tweaks like this can now also be chosen. Interesting would be the ability to designate a target as being part of the fatebending aura, sharing second sight’s bonus to saves with allies, and better sniping in the aura. Two new auras are included: Once enhances second sight, increases basic uses of the ability, and the other one doubles the negative hit point threshold before dying.
8 major prophecies include treating initiative rolls of 10 or less as 10 instead, or an extra immediate action that may just be used for second sight. Compared to gaining darkvision 60 ft., these certainly are preferable. (Darkvision 60 ft. is an option that should not be this valuable.) You may have noticed something, provided if you are familiar with the seer: Second sight, as an ability, is highly limited, so changing it can be problematic, limiting the usefulness of the new options herein that widen the ability’s breadth of application. Well, consume fate delimits the ability, in that when an enemy was reduced to below 0 hp in the seer’s fatebending aura, the see regains a second sight use, essentially delimiting the ability. I totally get this…but hand me my bag of kittens, I need to replenish my second sights. Seriously, having an anti-abuse caveat wouldn’t have been hard here. Granted, this doesn’t break the class, but it is a jarring design glitch in an otherwise admirably-precise supplement. The major prophecies also allow for the changing of the aura to a cone, as well as making the aura stick to targets. A new aura is included here as well: This aura nets fast healing for allies, at the cost of consuming second sight uses – and here we have the infinite healing exploit. And all my excitement and goodwill are flying out the window: Infinite healing for the whole group, just pummel a bunch of kittens – you won’t even expend them, because the aura’ll heal them as well! Gather up, gather round – let us all abuse kittens for precious HP.
I’m sorry. It’s just heart-rending to me that, after all these years, there are still instances where designers botch this ridiculous exploit strategy, when proofing it is so damn simple.
Anyhow, the book also features three new master prophecies: One nets a standard action when scoring a critical hit, which may only be used to move or cast a spell. The second one is a new aura that lets the seer 1/turn (I assume the seer’s turn here) choose a single attack roll, save or skill check made by an ally, which is then rolled twice, using the better result. I am pretty sure that this should be 1/round, and that specifying an action (or lack thereof) would make sense. The final one nets you blindsight 10 ft., or an increase by this amount. Which is certainly not on par with the other master prophecies. The pdf also presents 10 new seer spells, the first of which, arsenal of destiny, is a multi-weapon-targeting variant of weapon of destiny. Divine beacon is a shorter range, longer duration divine warning. Bleak bond makes you and your count as flanked. There is a greater version of psychometry, and embed fate lets you anchor a fatebender aura to a static point. Press the advantage is an interesting low-level buff that applies versus targets with lower initiative. Spatial nudge can be cast as a swift action and lets the target make a 5-foot step. Spatial inversion is a short-range swapping of places – which, at 3rd spell level, is a bit overkill. Timely inspiration is also very strong – immediate action to cast, +4 to initiative. This is in as far remarkable, as it looks as immediate actions being a subset of swift actions as a subset of free actions as allowing them to be used prior to rolling for initiative, which is not exactly how I’d have interpreted this. And yes, the spell prevents use if surprised, but yeah – it deserves mentioning and discussing with your players, as another way to read this, would be to consider the swift action guidelines of when they can be used to supersede those of free actions when pertaining to immediate action use. Vision trap is essentially a magical camera that sends brief mental visions to you.
On the cool side of things, the pdf discusses a variety of divination techniques, and guess what: There also is a diviner’s kit among the items, as well as an inspector’s kit and a military outfit. The pdf also introduces Thaelium as a special material. This material can be charged with second sight to glow, and weapons made from the material are particularly conductive there. The low-cost prophetic grants a 1/day insight bonus to one attack, skill check or saving throw, or double a second sight’s bonus. The item is slotless, and as such, I am super grateful for the caveat that prevents a user from benefiting from one of these more than once per day. The robes of the seer enhances Perception slightly and increases the fatebender aura. Enchanted divination tools enhance random percentage chances of spells such as augury or commune (both not properly in italics). Oh, and then there is Law & Destiny, in both its muhndane iteration, AND in the magical special edition, which not only house secret codes, but also allow for second sight recovering. The pdf also includes rules for a cursed variant of aforementioned prophetic charms, and there are 5 feats relevant for seers: One lets you substitute Wisdom modifier for Strength regarding attack rolls with a chosen weapon; you can build on that for ½ Wisdom modifier to damage as well. Fate is Fickle is interesting: You roll a die at the start of the day: If the result is even, the second sight work as usual; if odd, it instead imposes penalties. Predestine Spell is a metamagic feat that requires using a name for a specific individual (true name not required), and said target has a DC that’s two higher. This comes at the cost of +1 spell level. Visionary, finally makes a prophecy known essentially a wildcard that you can change daily.
The book also features two archetypes for the seer, the first of which would be the fatesealer, who lose aura reading in favor of Bluff, Escape Artist and Stealth as class skills, as well as adding vanish and invisibility to their spell list. They can learn sneak attack as a prophecy, and come with a new aura that penalizes Perception and make susceptible versus sneak attacks. Solid engine-tweak. Mentor seers increase their second sight benefits for others, but decrease it for themselves. The archetype may not use offensive fatebender auras, but gains aura of healing and aura of second sight at 2nd level. The archetype has two exclusive prophecies, one of which lets you use a move action to extend the radius of the fatebending aura by 10 ft. The second one lets you expend 5 second sight uses to take an attack for an adjacent ally.
The pdf concludes with a massive array of roleplaying tips for both classes, as well rather detailed Ultimate Campaign-style origin tables for the two classes.
Editing is very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, it is similarly pristine with few exceptions. Formatting is similarly concise, though at times it does deviate slightly from standard. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the book features an array of high-quality of full-color artworks. Puzzling and grating: The pdf lacks bookmarks, which makes navigating the pdf jarring, to say the least.
Rich Wulf, Shawn Carman and Matt Tyler deliver an impressive book full of flavor for the two Thunderscape classes, one that focuses on a rather holistic approach of components. The design, while not always brilliant, shows a deep consideration for combinations and angles. It is not that often that small archetypes manage to excite me to this extent. That being said, while the vast majority of designs is pristine, there are a few outliers, which would, per se, not suffice to drag this down. However, the lack of bookmarks is – for a book of this density, their absence is seriously annoying, particularly since we first get arbiters, then seers, and then a combined feat/item/etc. chapter, requiring jumping to and fro. As a whole, these factors conspire to make this a good book, bordering on the very good, but missing it by a margin. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down.
You can get this class expansion/lore book here on OBS!
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