So, Lost Spheres Publishing, back in the day, began with the Transcendent 10-series. While these represent the early works of the company, the company flew under my radar for a long while, so it’s high time we took a look at the series, right? It should be noted that the company has evolved since then – reviews of more current books will hit sites soon as well. But how do these early works hold up against the test of time? Let’s find out!
One thing I really enjoy about this series would be the designer’s commentary that is provided for each respective piece of design – they help a GM and player to properly contextualize the content, which is particularly helpful for folks who don’t have a veteran’s level of system mastery. The pdf predates the ACG and OA, and as such, I will not complain about a lack of representation of the classes from these books in the spell-lists.
Anyways, this pdf is 8 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Now, in Feats of Synergy – Heartbound Heroes, we introduced the Heartbound descriptor to denote a special bond between characters. However, the pdf was remarkably silent regarding the effects of the loss of one’s love. Well, this pdf is what addresses this component. While not exclusively for characters with heartbound feats, such characters may exchange them for Forlorn feats upon losing their partner. Forlorn feats represent an extreme trauma of grief, and as such should not be taken lightly. The forlorn feats are as follows:
-Alone, So Alone: After losing your loved partner, you no longer can benefit from Aid Another, instead gaining a penalty. However, you get to choose Constitution or Wisdom, and may use that attribute modifier times per day a swift action to grant yourself a +1 circumstance modifier to any d20, with the bonus increasing by +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. This imho shouldn’t apply to saves, but your mileage may vary here.
-Aura of Despair: This is a psionic feat For each forlorn feat you have, you may take a -1 penalty to morale bonuses to all d20s rolls; while you have your focus and thus suffer from the profound loss, creatures within 30 ft. also take this penalty, sans save. This should be classified as a mind-affecting emotion effect. Other than that, one of my favorite Aura-feats released in the series.
-Burn It All Down: For each forlorn feat you have, you may incur a -2 penalty to morale bonuses to hit; for each such penalty incurred you add +2 to damage, +4 to damage vs. objects. This should specify that it only applies to weapon damage, as the penalty is insignificant for some spells etc..
-Embers of the Fallen: Choose one spell per spell level that is not on your class list, but which was on the lost partner’s spell list. These spells may now be learned as spells of your character’s class, at the spell levels of the fallen love. Each spell cast this way imposes a penalty equal to the spell’s level to all saving throws and lasts for spell level rounds. Rules-verbiage is a bit rough here. Also problematic: While the verbiage prevents duplicating spells (once at 2nd or 3rd level due to different classes, for example), the new spells and their interaction with crafting becomes rough. Still, I like the notion of this feat, if not the precise implementation.
-Faces of the Forlorn: Bluff (not capitalized properly) at the start of combat to appear flat-footed, when you are not. The sequence is not 100% clear here; I assume this check to happen prior to initiative being rolled, but then, it can actually provide some issues with how surprise rounds are handled.
-Forlorn Spell (Metamagic): Unlike the heartbound equivalent, this one does have the Forlorn-descriptor. At 1 spell level higher, this is design-wise exciting: It tracks the stats of the creature affected. If it failed the save to the spell modified, it takes a penalty to all stats, skills, ability scores, attack rolls, etc. that isn’t 0 or a positive morale bonus. I like this idea. Problematic here would be that the feat fails to specify how it behaves regarding the penalties of dependent complexes. If both a skill and its governing attribute are penalized, does this translate to twice the penalty? Technically, it’s not the stacking of an effect with itself, but of two different effects of the same spell. This needs a bit of clarification, but represents an interesting “insult to injury” type of debuff.
-Heart of Winter and Spring: Lets you take both heartbound and forlorn feats and count them as each other for the purpose of benefits. Polyamorous may be exchanged for this one upon losing a heartbound partner.
-Sorrow’s Song: Basically inverts the benefits you’d usually grant to your allies via bardic performance and applies them as penalties to the same number of enemies. This is the type of verbiage that works well in houserules, but not in a finalized product, as debuffs should note range, effect type, saves, etc. and just flipping bonus to penalty can become really problematic really fast. I like what this attempts, but the execution is rough.
-Stilled Heart; Select Constitution or Wisdom; the chosen attribute times per day, as an immediate action, you may choose to ignore an effect that would result in a negative condition other than death on a failed Fort- or Will-save, postponing the effect for the chosen attribute modifier rounds. Nice.
-Wordless Pain: Communicate simple concepts sans language or the use of Diplomacy etc.
The pdf also sports a bonus psionic power, absolute loss, which is a mind-affecting telepathy of 4th level for dread, tactician and telepath. The power targets one creature in Medium range, with a Will save to negate. On a failed save, the target gets a Fort-save; if it succeeds this one, it takes untyped (boo!) damage and a penalty to all d20 rolls. On a failure of the second save, it falls to -1 hp and starts dying. The power may be augmented for more (+1d6) damage and penalties (one more) for one power point, or for 2 power points affect an additional target within 30 ft. of the first. This should definitely be a death effect, and is, for the chance of hit point ignoring mega-damage, too powerful. Would not allow it, in spite of the two different saves providing a decent chance to mitigate it.
Editing and formatting are solid, if not perfect. There are some minor deviations in rules-verbiage and a few hiccups, but as a whole, I have considerably enjoyed this. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with read highlights and a subdued border. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.
Christen N. Sowards’ feats are NOT boring. That is a pretty big plus in and of itself. While he has grown as a designer in leaps and bounds since the release of this supplement, there already is potential and ambition evident here. Indeed, this pdf is a good way to showcase the series’ pros and cons: The GM advice and designer’s commentary is useful and renders the pdf more user-friendly than it would otherwise be. Additionally, the very concept of the feats ties in with roleplaying, as opposed to just providing some crunch. This is a design-paradigm I’d very much love to see more often. Forlorn and heartbound feats, as a duality, are a compelling concept and one, which, while rough around the edges, can be a neat cornerstone of a character concept. Indeed, the concept itself is so prevalent in media, that it may well be worth contemplating revisiting at one point.
That being said, as much as I enjoy the ideas featured in the series, this pdf does feature some aspects where the lack of experience back then shows, regarding verbiage and some finer details of balancing the feats etc. As such, this must be considered to be a somewhat mixed bag that a GM should explain and modify prior to giving it carte blanche. With the material slightly less intriguing/refined than the heartbound file, my final verdict cannot exceed 3 stars.
You can get these feats here on OBS!