This massive class-pdf clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 30 pages of pure content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
Before we get into the details of the general class, let me explain some of the basic premises of this class. If you’ve been following my reviews *VERY* carefully, you may be aware of the fact that I consider the troop-subtype awesome – much like swarms, it makes the pitchfork-wielding mob a challenge and its level of abstraction enables venue of storytelling not well-supported by the default system. At the same point, I am a pretty big fan of the mass-combat rules introduced in Ultimate Campaign, superbly supported by Legendary Games’ glorious plug-ins. Both have one thing in common – a disjoint of abstraction, one that is slightly exacerbated by mass combat.
Pathfinder’s combat is detailed to the point where one may argue that the game turns into a kind of simulator once combat begins – it is probably as close to a simulator with a low level of abstraction as you can get without compromising the fluidity of the playing experience. At the same time, mass-combat rules provide a relatively high degree of abstraction. The general attempts to bridge the gap between the mass combat and regular combat rules. As a base chassis, the general is a class with d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, shields and light + medium armor as well as goo fort- and will-saves.
The basic means to achieve that would be the general’s squad. A squad can be considered a somewhat abstract troop of individuals which doubles as a kind of pet-creature that defends the general. As such, an obviously slightly gamist level of abstraction is required to run the class, but one that makes sense – but can the base mechanics stand up to the premise? Gained at 1st level, a squad acts as an aggregate, is not subject to flanking or massive damage, but to sneak attack and massive damage and when reduced to 0 HP, it disbands. A squad counts as one creature for the purpose of skill-checks, attacks, initiative, etc. Squads initially occupy 3 squares, shapeable as the squad sees fit, with actual size category determined by the component creatures. One may move through their squares and the squad may move through occupied squares, but incurs AoOs when it does. Squads cannot be dragged, pushed, repositioned, tripped, grappled or bull-rush’d, except when the effect applies to an area. Squads grappling opponents do incur the grappled condition. Squads are immune to single target spells and require AoE-spells to be properly affected, though, thankfully, with the massive array of spells, the GM remains the final arbiter to whether an obscure spell affects the squad. Squads obviously take +50% damage from spells and effects that inflict AoE damage. Nonlethal damage is properly covered as well.
Whenever a squad disperses or takes damage that is not magically healed within 1 minute, calculate 1/4 of the damage as casualties. Casualty damage cannot be healed by natural healing, since it not only stems from injury and death, but also from loss of morale and desertion. A squad suffering from more than 1/4 of its HP as in casualties receives 1 negative level, though said level cannot kill squads, only impose the penalty- Squads that suffer more than 3/4 maximum HP in casualties are disbanded until the casualty damage can be repaired. Yes, this is pretty much in line with how such mechanics work when used in mass combat. In order to regain troops, generals have to journey to a given settlement to recruit new members. Handy DCs by settlement-size are provided and a squad has a relatively simple attack, though one that can be supplemented by a second attack or a shield. Squads can execute combat maneuvers, threaten squares and can execute AoOs as normal.
Squads increase their HD (D8) every level and have 3/4 BAB-progression, good ref-saves and begin play with1 feat, gaining +1 at 3rd level and then +1 every odd level thereafter. A squad gets good ref-saves and increases its armor bonus every level by +1. Squads also receive a scaling str/con-bonus that scales from +0 to +7 and increase the numbers over the levels of up to 12-18 soldiers, occupying increasing amounts of squares, up to 6 squares. Squads also have their own skill-list and get 2+Int skills per level. Squads can make their teamwork feats only work in conjunction with one allied character.
Now, obviously, the general makes for a superb general when used in conjunction with the kingdom building rules, including quicker, scaling training and army-limits – awesome! Whenever a general benefits from a tactical bonus due to placement on the battlefield, he increases this bonus, rewarding players actually playing the general as the tactical commander he is intended to be. Now where things become interesting is via the synergy of general and squad: As a standard action, the general can enhance the squad’s BAB to equal his level and at higher levels, the commands become VERY interesting – 3rd level unlocks the swarm attack: When the general issues this command as a standard action, the squad may expend a standard action to deal general-level damage to all creatures and unattended objects in reach. At higher levels, a buffing command that can be executed as a swift action provides further bonuses.
3+Cha-mod times per day, generals may issue motivational speeches to heal non-casualty damages to the squad that scale thankfully. At 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, a general may learn one squad tactic. Here, we have an example of the rare Legendary Games-glitch, with the page number not being correct, instead listing a “page ??” – thankfully, the adjacent internal linking renders this glitch cosmetic at best. Squad tactics cover a list of 3 pages, with improved mobility and aiding as well as the option to temporarily render terrain difficult. Further hampering spellcasting, firing volleys of bolts etc. can all be found, alongside more conventional tricks à la Blind Fight etc. Holy or unholy damage are also interesting. I noticed a minor issue with Mitigation tactics: This allows the squad to mitigate damage retained, with the amount depending on the general level – namely that since the ability does not use DR or resistance, I’m not sure whether the minimum damage of 1 still applies or not. Granted, this one point is not going to cut it in most cases, but I still would have loved to see this covered. Raising or lowering earth squares in record time may sound none too impressive, but oh boy can you make nasty ambushes with just a bit of time on your hands… All in all, these squad talents are great, though formatting can’t seem to decide whether to include a blank line between the talents or not – mind you, this gripe remains an aesthetic one.
At 2nd level, 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the general may select a genius stratagem, which can be executed as a move action and the stratagem either affects an ally or his squad within 30 ft. The stratagems lasts for Int-mod rounds and cover various supplemental buffs, with some being relegated to higher levels. A personal favorite of mine allows for nonlethal damage sans penalties. The general also receives the cavalier banner class feature at 3rd level, with cavalier level +2 as the effective level. 4th level nets contacts in all sorts of places, with command skill determining availability. 5th level also nets higher effective scores for kingdom-building-related bonuses to Loyalty and Stability. Now if the action-economy seemed pretty bled-dry, you’ll like to hear that, at 7th level, the general, fighting in tandem with his squad, may lend the enhancement bonus and weapon special abilities to his squad, more interestingly in conjunction with ranged weapons and a proper interaction with ammunition.
Better yet, at higher level, increased power in mass combat, with full synergy with Ultimate Battle, extends the general’s field of influence from kingdom building to mass combat. Beyond these abilities, soldiers from the squad sacrificing themselves to keep the general from harm and similar defensive abilities round out an excellent class, with the capstone making the general an instantly recognizable man of wide renown.
The class provides solid favored class options for the core races and also features several archetypes: The Crusader would be a religious commander who can incite a kingdom to forego a kingdom’s leader bonus to stability, instead applying it to a reroll of the three checks rolled. Other than that, the archetype nets favored weapons and a minor defensive aura. The guerrilla receives different squad stats and an emphasis on hit and run tactics, with vital strike-charge-synergy, for example. Kingpins would be the subtle commanders, with Stealth and Disguise allowing the kingpin to blend with the squad and the squad to be less conspicuous. Via their illicit gains, they can mitigate failed stability checks and foiling truth-finding and becoming pretty divination-proof also help. Damn cool one! The mindbender is a kind of eldritch-themed enchantment-specialist with a limited array of SPs that help recruiting and succinctly, ways of determining magical influence and a psychic debuff. I like the fluff here, but found myself wishing this had been realized as a telepathy-related archetype instead.
Nobles obviously have quite a bunch of gold to through around and may maintain endowments of a building autonomous of the kingdom and may have friends in higher places. The Rallier provides bravery and more enduring marches. Reavers share teamwork feats with their squad, but take longer to command it and can charge through their squad with a nasty synergy attack. Redeemers are specialists of rehabilitation and nonlethal victories – love them! Revolutionaries receive automatic casualty-replacements when in an area with sufficient dissent. They may also destabilize kingdoms and high-level revolutionaries may whip their squads into zealous frenzy, preventing dispersal.
Strategists do not get the support command, but may designate high-value targets and keep said order lasting longer. Tacticians depend mostly on Intelligence, not Charisma for motivational speeches etc. and may have two sets of squad tactics, switching between the two with a drill. And yes, the archetype gets a contingency plan. the Tactician can be VERY strong, as it essentially has a gestalty-squad. Tyrants use fear-based tactics and intimidation, while warbringers are the bloodthirsty barbarian warlords. On a nitpicky side, I don’t think “Blood Rage” is a smart way of naming an ability, with the bloodrager out there.
The pdf also provides an alternate class, the hordelord, who must be evil, gets d8, 4+Int skills, proficiency with light armor, scythes and simple weapons and arcane spell failure in better armor. The class gets 1/2 BAB-progression as well as fort- and will-saves. Instead of a squad, the hordelord receives a unit of zombies that pretty much follows the rules for squads, with the exception that dispersal is handled differently and that replacements require only a ritual and some monetary investment. Hordelords receive channel energy as a cleric of their level and command undead as a bonus feat at 1st level. Hordelords get spontaneous spellcasting of up to 6th level, governed by Cha, but restrict their spell-selection to necromancy spells and those with the fear and death-descriptors. In a nice catch, the pdf does specify the priority sequence for spells that can be found on multiple lists with different spell levels. The hordelord also receives a kind of adaptation of squad tactics at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, with some unique tactics thrown into the mix. (The question-mark glitch also can be found here, btw.) At 2nd level, the class also receives the path of depravity, a bloodline-like modification that further provides bonuses at 9th and 16th level – 3 such paths are provided. Increased and trampling zombies, killing off zombies to power your spells and becoming a scythe-wielding master of the undead – all covered. It should btw. be noted that the zombie horde does NOT suffer from the usual staggered-issue of the shambling undead.
The pdf also provides 2 pages of feats with extra class feature-uses, class feature upgrades, combat maneuvers, excluding allies from swarm attacks, etc. – a solid array of feats. The final page covers interaction of Leadership feat and general and lists the troop-subtype’s characteristics for your convenience.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches, only some very minor glitches. Layout adheres to legendary Games’ 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides ample gorgeous full-color artworks, some of which may be familiar to fans of Legendary Games. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Will McCardell and Linda Zayas-Palmer make for an excellent team – after their superb and impressive demiurge-class, the general manages to achieve an unprecedented feat in blending personal and kingdom-level adventuring, spanning the gap between the two. When I first heard about this pdf, I expected a lot of undue overlap with Michael Sayre’s cool Battle Lord, perhaps the most interesting adventurer-group commander I’ve seen so far. Instead of going that route, the general does something wholly unique, not only providing perfect synergy with kingdom building and mass combat, it also is distinct n that it makes adventuring with a troop of allies a valid option – hey, perhaps your players actually provide names for the squad members! Whether Bridgeburners or Black Company, the general has significant narrative potential that surprisingly is supplemented by tactical options beyond the scope of other classes – not necessarily in power, but in the breadth – battlefield control via earth-lowering etc. make for damn awesome tricks, for example. The fluid flux from the personal to the abstract dimension make this an achievement in design that proved to eb exceedingly fun to play, more so than many pet-classes I have seen. The synergy with Ultimate Rulership and Battle further enhance this.
So all absolutely awesome? As far as the base-class is concerned, yes. Now I’m not saying that the archetypes and alternate class are bad, far from it. However, I would have enjoyed the zombie horde to be more distinct – it didn’t feel very zombie-ish to me – no staggered condition, no consumption of foes, no instant regain of casualties, no increased amount of members/area covered…. that and the VERY similar scaling of the squad’s stats (being almost carbon copies) render the horde and its master a reskin that falls woefully short of being truly distinct. When the hordelord should have had me cackle with glee, it disappointed me as a minor reskin with some basic modifications. More paths would also have helped here. So that would be missed chance one. Some of the archetypes provided also feel very basic, with only a few truly blowing me away. That being said, I am pretty nitpicky here and ultimately, these gripes are not necessarily fair – why? Because both archetypes and alternate class provide imho less of a distinct, unique identity – they are system/engine-tweaks for the class. Basically, they serve to highlight a significant array of possible modifications for the general-chassis and thus can be considered guidelines to modify and adapt the base engine of the class – which is superb.
“But wait”, you say, “I don’t want to play with kingdom-building!” – you’re lucky. While the general is intended for the like, just letting these fall under the rug does not impede the performance of the class – the general can be played without those rules and is still a powerful class. Since the kingdom-building/mass-combat abilities do not influence regular adventuring, you won’t lose any power, just some of the experiences that render the class so incredibly awesome.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the final verdict here – on the one hand, we get a superb class that is mechanically truly distinct and innovative; on the other hand, the supplemental content did fall flat of the potential and uniqueness of the class, being essentially an array of engine-tweaks that provide options galore, yes, but on their own, they will not make you gush. So I waited for the playtest and asked about the fun-level this class provides – and here, the general excels. While I am not impressed by most of the supplemental content beyond their functionality as engine-tweaks, there are some gems herein and ultimately, no problems worth complaining about. More importantly, the general itself is a piece of beauty and genius – it is fun, both in regular and kingdom-building campaigns, utilizes several jamais-vu-level innovative mechanics and manages to proudly place its banner where no other class has tread before – and ultimately, I love it for that and recommend it wholeheartedly. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval….now can we have more kingdom-synergy-classes? Ultimate Kings and Queens, for example?