This massive pdf clocks in at 104 pages, a total of 101 being content, so let’s take a look…
…wait. A quick note before:
DISCLAIMER: I was a contributing author for this book. I also provided some editing, so yes, I am involved with this project. Beyond that, though, there’s a reason why this review exists in the first place and that would be that I had no part whatsoever in making the basic system. The truenamer originally debuted in “Libram of the First Language,” which I reviewed long before anything like Strange Magic or my involvement with it was even contemplated in the first place. This, the basic system was so good, it would have made last year’s Top Ten, had this pdf, the expanded and revised version, not come around. Obviously, my own take on the classes I contributed is a positive one, so please take that into account. I am going to explicitly state whenever I created something and I will ignore all parts of content I created for the purposes of my final verdict.
So, how does truenaming work?
Okay, much like the misaligned original 3.X Truenamer, Bradley Crouch’s class gets access to a diverse set of codices: First would be the codex of mind body, which is essentially a starter’s codex. Truenamers start game with 3 recitations from this codex and get +1 at every level. At 4th level, the truenamer gets access to the codex of artifice, with another recitation gained at 5th level and every two class levels beyond that. The third codex, the codex of far-flung spheres, is gained at 7th level, with an additional recitation every 3 class levels after that. Finally, the codex of the realized vision nets the truenamer the first recitation at 10th level, with 14th, 18th and 20th netting additional recitations. All recitations gained are subject to their respective limitations/prerequisites.
Got that? Okay, so how do recitations work? First of all: Thank all philosophies you may or may not believe in – it’s not a skill-check. How that system didn’t work, anyone who tried truenaming in 3.X already knows. But it does maintain the spirit – there is a so-called truenaming check: DC 7 + 3xrecitation’s level. The check is essentially a d20+class level+int-mod, saves against them 10+recitation level+int-mod analogous to spells. Relearning recitations, interaction with established spell schools (via similar schools), Spell Resistance – all the interactions with regular magic/spellcasting are taken into account. And yes, defensively reciting at the usual 5-DC-penalty is also included. Now it should be noted that truenaming magic always is verbal (d’uh), but rather interesting, penalties which would apply to a similar concentration-DC are halved.
Now failure has its price – 4 laws govern truenaming magic: Upon failing a truenaming check, the truenamer incurs a penalty to subsequent truenaming checks equal to the failed recitation’s level for 5 rounds. Whenever a truenamer recites a recitation one level lower than the maximum of what s/he can recite, s/he may take 10 on the check, resulting in less chaos and some degree of reliability. VERY interesting would also be the law of flowing rhetoric – a truenamer cannot have the same effect twice in play, i.e. no two same recitations. Even if counterspelled or otherwise failed, a truenamer needs to wait for the recitation’s duration to have elapsed to again try to utter it – this makes durations of buffs etc. a double-edged sword…interesting. Finally, the multiverse gets annoyed by truenamers asking the same thing over and over again -each subsequent use of a given recitation per day increases the truenaming DC by +2 until the truenamer has sufficiently apologized to the multiverse (i.e. rested).
Now if that wasn’t enough complexity for you so far, at 3rd level the truenamer gets an inflection (something not all truenaming classes get, btw.), and another one every 3 levels after that, though it should be noted that different classes/archetypes may get different inflections. These increase casting time of an recitation to a full-round action and also increase both the DC of the truenaming check to properly cast them and the law of malleability-DC by a fixed amount. The latter would be the law that makes casting consecutive iterations of the same recitation that day harder. Essentially, these are kind-of metamagic modifications that allow you additional effects, but at the cost of not being able to pull off the same trick that often. And yes, inflected recitations count as the base recitation for purposes of the law of limited malleability. These inflections allow you to e.g. substitute a chosen energy form with another, empower recitations, increase their range, maximize them or even penalize target creature’s saves by -2 as well as forcing them to reroll the save and take the worse result. As you can glean, the respective inflection vary in strength, but thankfully are concisely balanced via level-requirements.
The base truenamer class would get d6, 2+Int skills per level, d6, good will-saves, 1/2 BAB-progression – we have no doubt a full caster on our hands. The first interesting component can be found in the proficiency section – truenamers do not take the classic arcane spell failure chance, instead increasing the DC of their recitations by at least +1 (for armor/shields etc. sans armor check penalty) or otherwise by their armor check penalty. It should be noted, that, while they do get proficiency with simple weapons, no shield or armor proficiencies are part of the deal, thus imposing a feat tax if you choose to go that route. Still, an interesting design decision here.
The truenamer also gets some archetypes: The Orator gets a modified spell-list and increases the bonus gained for speaking a creature’s language at higher levels at the cost of one inflection. Instead of the 12th level inflection, he becomes harder to demoralize (and more adept in this game of chicken!) He also becomes rather adept at prepared speeches, adding int-mod to them if he had time to prepare (does not extend to truenaming!). Instead of the double-inflection-trick, an orator gets a special inflection that extends a recitation to all creatures close to the primary target of the recitation.
The Truescribe can create one scroll per available codex, containing one recitation that does not influence the law of finite malleability, essentially netting the archetype a small pool of reserve recitations (which can’t be used by others btw. – no UMDing these…) These special scrolls adhere to their own set of unique limitations and, while expanded via another ability, they remain thus limited. They also become particularly adept at resisting writing-leitmotif spells and effects and later even gain a save against the dreaded explosive rune-spell. At 12th level, they even have a shorthand, which allows for a difficult UMD-check to properly use their scrolls – rather cool.
The third archetype would be the verminspeaker, who gets the shared-language-bonus versus mindless creatures (thus making him/her also an ooze-talker or golemwhisperer) as well as a vermin-animal-companion sans share spells and very limited tricks. At 6th level, they learn an inflection that allows you to use mind-influencing effects on mindless beings…which can be VERY strong in my experience. DMs should take care when throwing golems and the like at a vermin speaker…
Now Brandon F. has sponsored an archetype called the “Chessmaster” – beyond being specialists in the codices of artifice and hearts and minds (not gaining access to the codex of the realized vision), chessmasters are defined by the mnemonic conceit with which they organize truename magic in their minds – said conceit would be a chess board – each recitation may, upon resting, be associated with a chess piece, more of which are unlocked during the regular level-progression – now here’s the catch, though: this association is fluid and can be broken. A chess piece’s passive ability is triggered whenever the associated recitation is recited. Active abilities, however, are only triggered upon the association being dissolved, making this essentially a very versatile form of unique metamagic for truenaming that provides significantly different benefits from what inflections grant.
The Savant of Heart and Mind obviously is a specialist of said codex, but more than most specialists, this one only gains access to this one codex – obviously, this massive decrease in flexibility needs to come with benefits – and indeed, the savant can provide unique tricks for the codex and easily heal himself – each recitation nets temporary fast healing, which makes the savant tough. While I usually would complain like crazy about nigh-infinite personal healing, the relatively low frequency means that it does not outclass proper healing.
When the master of Forest Guardian Press and great designer in his own right, Morgan Boehringer, sponsors an archetype, you better know it’ll be interesting – the Tuneful Inflectionist receives three unique inflections and more of them – while that may not sound like much, in a highly modular system such as this, the inflections can result in VERY interesting additional tricks at your disposal: At-will dismissal of recitations, for example!
The second base-class herein would be one of my own design, the Scion of Discordia. The basic idea here would be simple – these guys can insult the multiverse. Rather than just making the universe do their bidding, they can pronounce words that can be considered anathema by the language of creation – this constant insulting does mean that the basic, reversible codices of a scion are somewhat unreliable for a small whiff of chaos magic. The true catch here, though, would be the multiverse’s reaction to the insults the scion of discordia flings: The result is a so-called Discordant Zone. This can be considered a kind of zone in which the rules of reality are modified. The zone’s radius scales over the levels and it also can be directed at higher levels, making it mobile. Now here’s the thing – the zone can be modified upon being established, making the scion within the zone a nightmare for casters – not only is the scion a superb counterspeller, the zone also doubles as a means to making magic REALLY hard. Think of the zone being the one rebuttal to all those nasty casters – from crippling healing to dispersing negative conditions, the discordant zone allows the scion to undermine resistances and immunities and essentially be a blue magic-style lock-down controller of other casters… And yes, there are more unique tricks to be found here, courtesy to the significant array of talents with which one can customize the scion’s nasty tricks – like a sudden-death mode for the zone, deflecting missiles, options to selectively take creatures and exclude them from the zone’s effects.
Brandon F. also sponsored an archetype for the scion of discordia, the disciple of discordia – the zones of these guys always try to center upon the disciple, moving back towards them, but as a fun note, they receive options to become faster (and/or make the zone slower!), thus making it possible to run from the zone as they move about the battle-field – which is pretty much more awesome in play than it sounds on paper. Discordant Instigators, designed by yours truly, would be a kind of ninja/scion-blend – these guys get modified skills and proficiencies etc. and use the discordant zone to provide them with extra sonic damage – think of them as cosmic battle rappers who can deliver killer insults – quite literally. The final archetype would be the rulebreaker who does just that – instead of receiving a counterspell pool, these guys can get a loophole pool with which they can modify the basic rules of truenaming.
Obviously, a significant array of feats allow for the modification of truename magic, class features of truenamer and scion, etc., adding a significant array of further options to the fray.
Beyond these, there also are Prestige Classes, the first of which would be Jason Linker’s Polycosmic Theurge, which blends truenaming magic with ethermagic. Yes, this was just as insane to balance as it sounds like, but know what? It works! Speakers of the Word would be Bradley Crouch’s blending of divine magic and truename magic. Brandon F. also sponsored the Trueshapers, specialists of the powerful codex of the realized vision, with an oracle’s clouded vision featuring in the class – the cool thing here, would be the means to modify how the recitations behave range and area, providing a kind of recitation nexus. The wordsworn defender would be a combat/truenamer class – solid! Finally, Bradley Crouch provides the willshackler, who receives so-called command words, which provide enchantment-like unique effects. It should be noted that roleplaiyng advice for both e.g. the wordsworn defenders and general recitations are provided.
All right, got that? Great, let’s take a look at some select recitations (though I’m NOT going through all in detail – you want this review to be shorter than 10+ pages, don’t you?).
The first thing you’ll note in the codex of the heart and mind would be that we not only get a list of all the recitations – beyond sharing a range of 60 ft and targeting one creature and applying SR, they actually have two effects! Take the attraction-recitation: You can pull creatures 10 feet in a straight line towards you, the movement netting a +4 dodge bonus to AC vs. AoOs. The reverse instead sends the target away. So far, so obvious, right? What about slightly increasing/decreasing DR? Things become more interesting with e.g. ice-themed attack recitations that can deal damage to targets or provide a defensive, cold-damage dealing sheen? Here, we have different durations for the regular and reverse effects and both have their own conditions to reduce the damaged target’s movement speeds temporarily halved. And yes, temporarily raising zombies (or destroying mindless undead) is possible.
Rather awesome would be a recitation, which makes a target a living bomb – but also makes the target realize this, allowing it to being able to minimize collateral damage. The reverse is rather special as well – this one makes it possible to negate self-destruct abilities. Beyond the tinker’s kamikaze directives, think certain staves and their planes-shattering final strikes. Yes, useful and unique. Many of these recitations actually work with rather cool durations/effects that only happen on the end of a recitation’s duration, necessitating actual planning on behalf of the truenamer.
Now the codex of artifice is more about item-modification, allowing you to net temporary charges to wands (or make them consume twice that amount when used), buff weapons/armor etc. A minor nitpick here – the recitations dealing with charges should probably in their reverse function double the amount of charges consumed. As written, the recitations only consume “2 charges” when activated, which becomes problematic as soon as some item has abilities that cost multiple charges – is it double the charges or +1 charge consumed?
What about instilling alchemical items with paranoia, inciting them to go off? What about making items orbiting bodyguards or imbuing items as deadly splash weapons? Ranged stealing (via proper use of CMB etc.) or protecting belongings is possible! Very cool for those ambushes in the night – make temporarily hastily donned armor properly donned and vice versa.
The codex of the far-flung spheres has a range of 100 ft and an AoE of 20 ft. and, unless the first two codices, this one has only one effect per recitation. Barring creatures from teleporting, making creatures more adept at grappling etc. – all nice. But what about yodeling and making the target area difficult terrain? Yes, funny and oh so cool! What about insta-growing plants/fungi etc. for rations? Also VERY interesting – an area that deals damage to the target in it that has the MOST hp. This one has a LOT of tactical potential!
The final codex, the codex of the realized vision, is the one closest to regular spells, with just about every recitation featuring its own formal properties like individual ranges (e.g. 60 ft., personal, touch…) etc. Animating up to gargantuan animated objects, afflict targets with crushing ennui (save or do nothing -for 5 rounds! Ouch!), creating non-weaponized spheres that can dig tunnels for you. Also interesting: Cover the floor with material that deals +3d6 damage upon falling, including being tripped! Cool for its tactical options! Asking questions to the multiverse, fabricating objects ex nihilo – quite a few options here. Oh, and there is also a recitation that erases creatures from the multiverse – but instead of save-or-suck, it requires consecutive saves over the duration. Once the target has failed 3, s/he/it’s gone – cool take on the mechanic – Think about players scrambling to take down the truenamer to prevent their comrade being erased! When mechanics in themselves make for more fun/excitement, then that’s a good indicator for good design! (Preventing falls with huge spongy discs can also be achieved, should you be so inclined!)
Have I mentioned e.g. the truespeech “Lament of the Platypus” or the “Ode to the Porcupine,” hinting at a slight embarrassment of certain cosmic forces? Yes, much like the best of Interjection Games-releases, a subtle, unobtrusive humor permeates some of the pieces of content herein. What about making the dying explode, Diablo II-style or generating a sphere that can burrow through the earth?
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. layout adheres to a nice, custom 2-column b/w-standard with cool b/w-artworks blended with runes and the like. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Even before this revision, the base system was a glorious, beautiful, even, piece of math – the original system took the most infamously broken magic subsystem of 3rd edition and actually made it work – superbly so. Now the additions made by both Bradley Crouch and Jason Linker alone imho would have made this a legendary supplement.
Now, I ask you to indulge me for a second – I am VERY proud of the Scion of Discordia – I know of no other class out there that has a customizable, mobile and flexible debuff zone that does not focus on hampering melee et al., but on locking down hostile casters – whatever the nasty caster combo your players use, the scion can probably throw a wrench into it, all without devaluing other casters. Oh, and its zone has some VERY unique effects that no other debuffing class can execute.
I consider this class, alongside the etherslinger, the best pieces of crunch I’ve written so far. That completely aside, though, the base system, even without its refinements, even without the additional work by Jason Linker and myself, was a thing of beauty and awesomeness – you can still check my review of it on my site.
Said review praised the base system as “Truenaming that ACTUALLY works!” – and I stand by that.
Now with the vastly increased content, all those additional bits and pieces, I definitely consider this to be one of the coolest subsystems out there – well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and I also nominate this as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.