Thunderscape: Saints & Sinners
This installment of the class-centric Thunderscape supplements clocks in at 43 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, first of all – this book deals with the thaumaturge and fallen classes of the Thunderscape setting; I assume familiarity with them in my review. Secondly, while this is a class-centric supplement, it does not necessarily focus JUST on new mechanics – we kick this off with in-character prose, and indeed, the book defines the classes within the context of the world of Aden to a degree beyond what you’d usually see.
We do learn how it is to be a member of these classes in Thunderscape’s setting, both as member of a party, and within the context of the various societies of the setting. The respective, exceedingly well-written entries do not differentiate between Pre- and Post-Darkfall attitudes to the extent as in e.g. Law & Destiny, but this does not change that the supplement provides a lot of lore and context that makes the classes feel more like parts of a greater whole. I really enjoy this way of linking setting and crunch.
Speaking of crunch – let us begin with the fallen, shall we? As you know, the class is very much defined by essentially a bloodline-like ability-suite called “stigma”, and 10 new ones are presented. Yes. 10. Each of these come with 5 bonus feats to choose, two special abilities, and a suite of stigma abilities, with 2 provided, most of the time, for 4th level, 7th level, 10thlevel, 13th level, 16th level and 19th level. There are instances where higher level abilities only net one. Going through all abilities point by point would bloat this review beyond usefulness, so I’ll instead give you and overview. Apparition nets you negative energy or cold damage inflicting touch attacks, and later nets self-only invisibility, fly and high level turning incorporeal. The claws can be upgraded, obviously. Cataclysm is about withstanding – as such, it fortifies you versus being knocked prone, lets you stomp to knock targets prone, call forth magma elementals, create pits, earth glide etc. Drake is a dragon-apotheosis angle (which has a minor formatting snafu at one point, with a lower caps “reflex” save; the drowned stigma nets you water-themed SPs and better grappling, including grab. Midnight is the stealth HiPS-gaining one, including darkness, shadow conjuration, etc. Rimeweaver, unsurprisingly, is the cold-themed stigma, including minor terrain control, slowing targets, etc.
The sanguine stigma lets your torment cause bleeding damage, animate blood…and if you have kittens on your hand, you gain infinite fast healing. *sigh* needless exploit there, particularly since assuming blood form is such a cool angle. Scrapheap lets you integrate equipment into your body and is perhaps one of the cooler machine-apotheosis angles I’ve seen in a while. Stormwracked is about agility, with an increased base speed and Acrobatics as class skill, as well as air- and electricity-themed tricks. Withered, finally, might be another one of the really interesting ones, as it allows you to keep enemies from charging/running; it deals with time and space, particularly time, including combo’d haste and slow, for example.
As for supplemental material, particularly items, we have the darkforged bindings, which allow you to easily perceive the frightened and track them; an elixir of normalcy acts as a veil stigma. The hide of hellish fury makes them count as three levels higher for the purpose of stigma abilities. Trait-wise, we have 8 new traits, all classified as background traits. Vicious and Horrifying are two relevant for the fallen, enhancing torment DC or +1 scourge damage; the latter should be a trait bonus, not untyped. The other traits apply to the thaumaturge: +1 DC for an aspect, proficiency with a bonded legend, bonus to Diplomacy with them (again, type missing), and shedding light. Beyond these, we have counting as +1 BAB higher for a feat, and Disguise sans the usual penalty for pretending to be another race.
The pdf provides two engine-tweak-style archetypes: The chimeric fallen loses all bonus feats and toughened, but gets to choose two stigmas, gaining all 1st level abilities, with later levels requiring the PC to choose which one to take, and you suffer an additional -2 to Disguise to represent your nature. The Carnivore archetype also loses the fallen’s usual bonus feat array, and instead gets feast of the damned: As a full-round action, they can absorb the essence of a corpse of a being that has only been dead an hour or less. You get to choose an ability from a massive table, provided you meet the prerequisites. Essentially, this is a surprisingly well-crafted take on the blue mage angle. There are also 9 supplemental feats for the fallen: Agonizing Wave lets you impose the tormented condition (and only it) as a move action to all adjacent targets. Hungry Torment nets you a free action use of torment when reducing a tormented creature to 0 hp. Greater Torment increases torment and suffering ability DCs by 1. Nightmare Smite lets you expend two suffering uses to lace suffering into an attack, with a +1 to the DC. Stigmatic Mastery nets you additional uses for stigma-based abilities, differentiating between uses gained for daily abilities or those you can execute more often – kudos there. Terrible Charge lets you spend suffering to make a full attack at the end of a charge…which is basically a better limited-use pounce, and should probably have a higher minimum level. Torment’s Reach lets you apply scourge damage via ranged weapons when targeting tormented enemies. Withering glare nets you an AC-bonus against tormented enemies Finally, Wrath of the Fallen lets you entangle, fatigue, frighten, nauseated, blind or stun targets those that incur conditions from your suffering.
The pdf includes two fully depicted NPCs with fully realized background stories – Iago Vesten an echo fallen with the horror stigma, and Ariana Dell, a human fallen with the rimeweaver stigma. The thaumaturge NPCs are Gudrun, a jurak thaumaturge, and Ivana Vetrov, a saint adept. These note bound legends in their stats, as well as aspects typically prepared. As usual for Thunderscape, the statblocks are actually a bit more detailed than usual, and thus deviate a bit from the standards, calling e.g. racial abilities and favored class options explicitly out. I like this notion. All NPCs come in three iterations – one at first level, one at 6th level, and one at 12th level. The statblocks are per se solid, though I did notice a few minor snafus.
The thaumaturge gets a serious amount of content herein: 15 new thaumaturge legends are included herein, ranging from the Arcadian to Faceless, Kraken, Sentinel…the interesting aspect here, indubitably, is that the requirements for the respective legends, such as not speaking when drawing upon the Beast, often act as a roleplaying balancing-based tool for the per se potent legends included here. The Faceless makes you a great social chameleon, but if someone sees through your disguise, you’re on your own; the demon and champion’s tenets are incompatible; in comparison, the more down to earth fencer withdraws when you wield a weapon that is not light or one-handed. The magister has no requirement, while the kraken retreats when you spend more than an hour out of water – get it? The proficiencies, feats, spirit points and BAB generally make sense, though it should be noted that the new legends tend to be better than e.g. the Diplomat. Of particular note: The martyr lets you regain uses of legends or heals your spirit damage when withdrawing – which is pretty much a gamechanger. That being said, the rules-language here is a bit opaque – it took me a some close-reading to deduce how this fellow works.
The pdf then proceeds to present a huge amount of new aspects – unless I have miscounted, 18 of them. And these introduce a pretty cool innovation: A lot of aspects herein have so-called resonances, which are aligned with certain legends, changing how they operate. Let’s take the aspect of vigor as an example: The passive effect lets you recover 1d10 spirit damage when consuming an aspect and rendering it inactive. The consume effect lets you, as a standard action, recover 1d6 HP per level, maximum 10d6. If you, however, have the Immortal, said legend’s Spirit Points are increased to 4+2 per level, the passive benefits of the aspect increase tor recovering 2d10 spirit points, and you can consume the aspect to draw upon the Immortal as a free action if it is currently inactive, replacing the active legend. This addition of the resonance engine radically enhances the way in which the thaumaturge class plays, rewarding thematic consistency with combo-potential. I *really* like this. It cements the Thunderscape thaumaturge class as an, in many ways, better iteration of the medium-concept. Beyond these, we also have 14 new greater aspects, which follow a similar design paradigm, making the thaumaturge the definite “winner” as far as the book is concerned. Indeed, the inclusion of the resonance concept is a pretty significant incision into the chassis, and imho suffices in its extent to warrant potentially a revision of the core book’s aspects regarding an addition of resonance options.
Indeed, as much as I love the new thaumaturge material, it should be noted that rebalancing the entire class chassis to account for the new options would have been prudent, as the thaumaturge has, with these options, all the makings of something truly outstanding. Don’t get me wrong – the new and improved thaumaturge with these options is impressive, it seriously is. If you take an in-depth take of the combos and components, you will notice some inner-class power-discrepancies here and there, though. Still, big kudos for how this improves the thaumaturge.
As far as supplemental material is concerned, we get the mythwrought armor special ability that enhances the duration of aspect or legend effects; the weapon-version sets the weapon ablaze after consuming aspects. Terrifying weapons deal bonus cold damage and increase fear effect durations. Channeler icons let you replenish aspects, pearl of power style, while enhanced books of saints and sinners allow for legend-swapping (unlike the mundane version). Rings of mystic proxy help using scrolls by consuming aspects. As far as the equipment is concerned, we have outfits that designate you as infected (and nobody looks closely at them…), relics, incense that lets you focus on concentration, war paint and taxidermist kits. Oh, and there is a new artifact, which is essentially a chaotic evil Hellraiser-box, Garquorin’s Terrible Puzzle Box. As a note: The magic item section this time around oddly seems to be missing a couple of italicizations in the run-on-text. Nothing serious, but noticeable in the context of the overall book.
We also have 4 feats intended for thaumaturges: Ancestral Guidance nets each bonded legend an additional bonus feat. Extra Legend does what it says on the tin, Soul of Sacrifice lets you exchange a legend at the start of the day for two aspects, and Thaumaturgical Focus increases thaumaturge class ability DCs by 1. We also get two archetypes, the first of which is the saint adept, who gets a paladin code of honor, and 4 + Int skills per level, but only half the thaumaturge’s usual legends, rounded down, +1- 3rd level makes them choose a legend as saintly benefactor, which nets a bonus form a variety of choices, with 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter yielding an additional improvement. This replaces manifest legend. 9th level nets a 1/week commune instead of saving grace. 17th level allows for temporarily gaining the half-celestial template while drawing upon the saintly benefactor. The second archetype, the soulless, goes the other round – instead of focusing on specialized legends, the soulless doubles the number of legends. There is a glitch in the rules-syntax here, when “legend” is used instead of “level” at one point, but that as an aside. The available spirits are determined randomly each day, and when not drawing upon legends, they are staggered! OUCH! I actually really like this. This “full house” allows the soulless to use saving grace more often, and e.g. use legends to transfix opponents in a dramatic manner. I so want to play this fellow. I love this archetype.
Beyond that, we have the Legends domain for clerics, which essentially lets you dip in aspects, and, later, even a legend. The Nightmare sorcerer bloodline is easily the weakest piece of crunch in the book – it’s just another fear-themed bloodline, and an uneven one, with +6 to Intimidate at first level, frightful presence, etc. – not the biggest fan. Beyond the usual roleplaying tips, we get a couple of cool ideas regarding the fallen and their burden, quirks and eccentricities, and we close with detailed, well-crafted origin-tables in the vein of Ultimate Campaign for the two classes.
Editing and formatting oscillates between excellent (most of the book) to good, with few flaws, though these rare ones do sometimes influence rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the book sports fantastic full-color artworks. To my utter baffling surprise, the supplement lacks any bookmarks, which makes navigation a total pain. Particularly since we first get both class chapters, and THEN the items, feats, archetypes, etc. for BOTH, necessitating some serious skipping around. I am not a fan of this organization.
Rich Wulf, Chris Koch and Shawn Carman deliver a pretty impressive book here; while I generally consider the new material for the fallen nice, it was, to my surprise, the context of the class in Aden, the setting-relevant aspects, that excited me most. Then again, the thaumaturge did steal the show with the inclusion and solid implementation of the resonance-sub-engine. If you even remotely are interested in playing a thaumaturge, you need to get this book right now. This book, more so than any previous Thunderscape-supplement I’ve reviewed, walks the line to true greatness. However, as much as I love several aspects herein, there also are a few filler pieces here, a few typo level glitches that can slightly impede the ability to parse the rules at once.
And yet, I have always valued creativity and high concept over e.g. penalizing a BAB off by two in a statblock; this might not be perfect, but I can’t bring myself to rounding down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, which is why I will round up. If you enjoy these classes, get this right now.
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