Jan 132017
 

Ultimate Occult

This massive sourcebook clocks in at 150 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 145 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

So, what is this? This book basically represents a take on psionics, one that re-envisions it as using the psychic magic system. Basically, it lets you use psionics in a game that doesn’t, for whatever reasons, allow the use of Dreamscarred Press’ superb Ultimate Psionics. This endeavor is based, in short, on three base classes:

 

The Mentalist gets d6 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, 1/2 BAB-progression, good Will-saves and Intelligence-governed prepared psychic spellcasting of up to 9th level. Instead of having a preconfigured spell-list, they receive two psychic spheres (the analogues to psionic disciplines), +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter -starting at 2nd level, one spell per spell level that is associated with a chosen sphere may be treated as though on the mentalist spell list; at 10th and 18th level, this increases to two and three spells per spell level, respectively. Each sphere also has a signature spell that is immediately added to the spell-list. This flexibility is further modified by the mental magic ability, which allots a number of Psychic Energy (PE) points depending on level. These points may be expended to cast any spell on the mentalist spell-list.

 

Starting at 6th level, mentalists may expend PE to use spell trigger and spell completion items sans UMD by expending points; at 14th level, the costs for such activations are decreased if an effect is not on the mentalist spell list, but on that of a chosen psychic sphere. As a capstone, the class may 1/day when preparing spells/regaining PE add all spells of one sphere to her spell list. Additionally, the class has a revelation-like system, so-called mentalist ploys – the first is gained at 1st level and another one is gained every 2 levels thereafter; these need to be chosen from the array of the chosen psychic spheres. At 11th level, the class unlocks master ploys – either allowing for the selection of a new ploy or learning the master benefit of a ploy the class already has. Basically, think of the ploys of two step revelations, where you may spend an advanced talent to learn the mastery benefit.

 

The ploys, generally, are pretty well-crafted, as we’ve come to expect from Alexander Augunas – clairsentience specialists may use PE to enhance Knowledge-checks, improve d% rolls, improve initiative or the like; metacreativity specialists can generate ectoplasmic items (alas, lacking a caveat to prevent the creation of keys for locks and the like), enhance their own body or weapons with buffs – you get the idea. Psychokinesis specialists can add damage to a chosen energy type, ignore scaling amounts of resistance, change energy types – basically the blasting array. Psychometabolism allows further control over transmutation effects, enhancing curing, etc., while psychoportation allows for the forced teleport (sans specifying that is it a teleportation effect for the purpose of spell-interaction) other or greatly increase maximum distances of spells. Telepathy allows for harder to identify spells, better and more reliable control of dominated foes and the ignoring of mind-affecting immunity. Finally, the universalist sphere can net phrenic pools and allows for the poaching of psychic discipline (no to be mixed up with psionic disciplines, which are called vocations here) tricks. Basically, this class is a kinda-arcanist-style caster, with all the flexibility and power that entails.

 

The pdf also offers a take on the psion class, who gets the full-caster chassis and limited weapon proficiencies. They get the same PE-array as the mentalist and spontaneous, Int-based spellcasting. I am not a fan of the new psionic focus stand-in-ability: Gaining focus is loud, visual, and adds +2 to CL when used as a move action, +4 when used as a full-round action and when both a full-round and move action is used, you end up with +6 CL for the purpose of concentration and overcoming SR. Note that to use Dreamscarred Press’ psionic focus this way, you had to select feats…and that the bonus only applied to overcoming SR/PR. And that it capped at +4, +8 when expending psionic focus, which is a pretty big deal in DSP’s psionics. 11th level decreases the psychic focus action economy further to convey a +4 bonus when used as a move action, +6 when used as a full-round action.

 

Regaining focus is somewhat less important here, though the mechanic still exists. Starting at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the psion receives a psychic release, which is basically an ability powered by expenditure of the psychic focus -these include kineticist-like accepting of burn to restore PE, a shorter cooldown after failed concentration checks to maintain psychic focus. Cooldown? Yeah, that would be one aspect I tend to like in this take on the focus mechanic – if you fail concentration to maintain it, you’re sans focus for a time. Temporary negation of negative conditions, splitting rays – you’ll see some familiar faces here.

 

Now I already mentioned that psionic disciplines are now called vocations and they net class skills, a signature spell and a list of vocation powers to choose from. These are aligned with the associated ability scores of the vocation/discipline and each has a respective spell list. To avoid nomenclature confusion, the Dex-specialist has been renamed kindler, just fyi. The vocations also determine the respective capstone abilities of the class.

 

The third base class herein would be the psychic warrior, who, in this iteration, receives d8 HD, 4 + Int skills, proficiency with simple and martial weapons, spontaneous Int-based psychic spellcasting of up to 6th level drawn from its own list (with a nice overlap/spell-level caveat!), 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fort-saves. I am not a friend of moving the casting attribute to Intelligence, as it makes the class more MAD (multiple attribute dependent) than it already is and more vulnerable to Will-saves. Battle trances may be entered at will, with a similar cooldown as psychic focus if you fail a concentration check. They also gain PE, though less than 1/2 what the psion and mentalist gain -and that is good, for they may cast spells with a casting duration of 1 round or less as a swift action via PE expenditure. The warrior path chosen at 1st level determines further benefits of the battle trance, with 7th and 15th level unlocking the benefits of a secondary and tertiary path to her list of choices when entering battle trances. Alternatively, the psychic warrior can focus on one path, gaining first the greater, then the true trance and their benefits.

 

Additionally, these choices determine which warrior’s path-exclusive path abilities the class can take; while a couple of the talents of the class are generic and available to all paths, each path also features an array of techniques exclusive to it. Each of the warrior paths chosen nets class skills to aforementioned trance abilities and path techniques and the marksman is now completely rolled into the warrior path formula.

 

The pdf also contains archetypes – mentalists may replace mentalism ploys with mesmerist stares and mental scions focus on one sphere, but may learn psychic releases. The latter is a bit strong for my tastes, but yeah. Occultists may use the Bizarrist archetype that loses circles and the 1st level implement school, but does gain spells and bardic masterpieces. The vitalist is now a psion archetype and receives the collective instead of psychic focus. Transfer wounds replaces the 3rd level psychic release and further psychic releases are replaces with a choice of vitalist methods. The wilder similarly is now a psion archetype, replacing psychic focus with wild surge. Similarly, psychic releases are replaced with a selection of wild releases – the respective specialist surges now are part of this selection.

 

The dread class, in this book, instead acts as an archetype for the psychic warrior with its own, one path – which was a bit puzzling to me, considering what you can do with the base class. Somewhat problematic – the immunity to fear negating ability must now be specifically chosen. The telekinetic warrior would be an aether-using psychic warrior/kineticist-crossover. The pdf also offers Unchained variant multiclassing options for the 3 classes. Really cool: We receive favored class options not only for the core races, but also for the less commonly used races – the featured and uncommon races from the ARG et al. including the esoteric races like the orang-pendak etc. are covered. Kudos! The pdf also contains 7 feats – one for use of battle trance in conjunction with rages and the others basically are the +x formula. The pdf also rewrites the Autohypnosis as an occult skill unlock…oddly for Intimidate, but I can see where that comes from.

 

Then, the largest chapter of the book apart from the classes begins – a massive collection of psionic powers converted to psychic spells, with undercasting mechanics and spell variants etc. covered. I can’t really go through all of them piece by piece, but the translations generally, as befitting of Alexander Augunas’ reputation, are precise. The final page of the book contains a conversion of the dorje magic item class, which allow for limited uses per day supply of PE for activation of PE-requiring tricks.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf has several full-color artworks in a combination of original ones and older ones. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Alexander Augunas has usually a knack for making me love themes and topics I expected to hate; he is a talented designer and his translation of Dreamscarred Press’ psionic rules to psychic magic contexts is well-crafted. There is not much to complain about in a formal regard.

 

The target audience, people who allow 3pp-content, but disallow Ultimate Psionics for some reason, most certainly will like this book.

I’m sorry.

I really tried.

I’m so not the target audience for this. I feel like I’ve failed this book.

I’ve been playing with Dreamscarred Press’ psionics for such a long time, in both 3.X (yeah, there were amazing DSP books in that era!) and PFRPG. Literally no other sub-set of 3pp-rules has had this much playtesting in my games…and it works meticulously. Some of the new Psionics Augmented material requires GM-oversight in my book, but yeah – the core-book gets a unanimous pass in all my games and I have never, ever encountered issues with it. I don’t really get the raison d’être of this book. Now that being said, I did try the system herein and I’m slightly weary of the mentalist, courtesy of the pseudo-arcanist casting. At least in my games, the class outperformed the psychic psion but a bit. I don’t really consider the psychic focus take here to be superior to the psionic focus mechanics and the absence of cryptic, tactician, aegis and full soulknife ability array were felt.

 

Now granted, Ultimate Psionics requires more system-mastery than this does. But this book isn’t so simple that I could recommend it as “psionics lite.” There are no psionic crystals and the feat-customization is severely lacking compared to Ultimate Psionics; the focus mechanic doesn’t offer this complex or rewarding an action-economy juggling, granted – that may be a bug or a feature for you. But ultimately…as a person, I miss it.

 

I also was surprised to see a point-based casting-enhancer mechanic, since one of the selling points I could see would be that people who dislike juggling pools, the diehard vancian fans, don’t have to handle points. Granted, the points don’t directly pay for spells…but for abilities and upgrades. I really try to wrap my head around this. And many of my criticisms in this list, ultimately, aren’t fair – this is a 150-page book that competes with an over 400-page tome that doubles as one of the best crunch books published by any 3pp ever.

 

I did kind of hope that we’d see more of the kineticist/implement/etc. overlaps with Occult Adventures…and I somewhat hoped to see more of this type of material – perhaps some cool overlaps with psychic focus and mental focus? Personally, I also experienced a flavor-disjoint; to me, psionics always had this “draw from the inside”-flavor, whereas psychic magic felt like it was a personal channeling of external forces via the personality of the caster.

 

What I’m trying to convey here is this:

The system presented herein achieves its goal with the full compatibility with psychic magic. It achieves this goal and is, design-work-wise, well-made. This book is good.

 

At the same time, it absolutely does nothing for me and I’ll never touch it again. Something in its takes on the concepts rubs me the wrong way in a manner that is pretty subtle; perhaps it’s the comparative decreased array of options. Perhaps it’s that, for me, several of the translations take away some of the cool gambits I expect the system to juggle. Perhaps it’s that the classes herein, to me, don’t have a sufficiently unique identity that sets them apart from Dreamscarred Press’ iterations. Making them more deeply ingrained within Occult Adventures’ cool tricks would have made this conversion into a full-blown re-imagination and thus completely changed the focus of this book…but it, to me, would have made the book more appealing. Perhaps some novel fluff would have helped; maybe that would have made the mentalist feel less like a collection of rules and numbers. Perhaps it’s that, with some very small “get a bit of kineticist, get a bit of stares” options as exceptions, the pdf doesn’t employ that many previously impossible tricks.

 

This is a good book, but the emotional response it elicited from me was less than stellar. As a person, I really disliked this – not, as usual when I experience the like, on a basis of flaws in the rules etc., but due to a pretty strong, emotional, response – which is rather uncharacteristic for me. As a reviewer, I can appreciate the expert craftsmanship that went into its design, I can try to deduce reasons why one likes this and it is my duty to rate this according to its merits, not based on an irrational emotional response and a matter of taste. Hence, I will rate this for what it is – a good conversion of psionics to employ psychic magic instead. The system could have gone one step further and really dive into the nit and grit, though – hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

 

That being said, if you loathe, for whatever reason, Dreamscarred Press’ psionics and still have a craving to see their material adapted to psychic magic rules, then this is exactly what you wanted and should be considered to be exactly what you wanted.

 

You can get this massive book here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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