Veranthea Codex: Forever Dark
This expansion to the Veranthea campaign setting clocks in at 86 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 79 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So, this massive pdf represents the underdark sourcebook for the world of Veranthea, which, as you undoubtedly have surmised by now, is called “The Forever Dark” in this setting. We begin the survey of these realms with a general list of the peculiarities of the place, including the ever-present darkness, animals having an instinctual fear of the place, shifting mazes, Trekth remnants (represented by a variety of hyperlinked traps and then proceed to move on to a brief list of the respective notable locales (more on that later) and the history of this extensive area.
Now, we have before commented on the way in which Veranthea classifies races and people and this notion is expanded with another notion – that of the Horror People, which encompass the traditional underdark races as well as doppelgangers, leugho, mongrelfolk, etc. – wait, what? Yep, the pdf does introduce three new player races. The leugho represent souls that have not journeyed properly to the afterlife, reincarnating instead as a conglomerate of seething, roughly humanoid ooze. The race gets -2 Dex, -4 Cha, is medium and humanoid, slow and steady, has darkvision 60 ft and may breathe both air and water. The race gains the ooze’s immunities to crits, magic sleep effects, paralysis, precision damage, poison, polymorph, sneak attack (kinda redundant…) and stunning. They also suffer from light blindness to balance the potent immunity array. FCO-wise, they gain a rather nice array, including some options for occult classes.
The leugho racial archetype included would be the quivering master monk, who replaces stunning fist with agitated strike, which leaves a disgusting slime on foes that proceeds to cause scaling damage. 3rd level and every 6 levels thereafter yield a natural armor bonus instead of still mind. Starting at 11th level, the archetype gains adhesive, which automatically grapples foes hit via ki-expenditure…but unfortunately, the rules here are a bit wonky and have 5E-remnants – the activation action, for example, is “a reaction” – which, alas, makes the ability hard to judge. It also requires clarification regarding the grappling of significantly larger creatures. The race also gets 3 pieces of mundane equipment, one of them being a draught that fortifies leugho Cha, but is poisonous to other creatures. Pretty cool: The second piece of equipment allows the strange race to use part of its body as a kind of grappling hook. Really cool! Thirdly, a Disguise-enhancing acid can be found. The race comes with 3 racial feats: Fluid Form nets +2 to Escape Artist and allows you to squeeze through narrow confines. Magic Souls nets you very limited spellcasting (cantrips and 1 first-level spell) that can be sometimes changed. Veteran Souls is interesting: As a swift action when making a combat maneuver, you can add +1d4 as a luck bonus to CMB, at the cost of -1 to AC for one round. The feat requires that you choose the maneuver, but may be taken multiple times.
There are 3 magic items: Clinging belts increase climbing capabilities and AC, but make you slower and penalize Escape Artist. The focusing tiara penalizes Perception, but helps with Sense Motive and concentration. Additionally, as a standard action, the wearer can focus on a skill based on a mental attribute, which may then be rolled twice, taking the better result. The latter is pretty potent for the price-point. Finally, the helm of altering form is a variant hat of disguise that allows leughos to gain alter self‘s benefits. The 3 racial spells employ tendrils – deflecting tendrils temporarily yields Deflect Arrows; reflecting tendrils extends the benefits to ranged attacks made with spells and SPs, while tendrils of vengeance extends the AoO-reach of the leugho and nets a slam for such assaults. Additionally, it has a nice synergy with the previously mentioned spells. As a race-related monster, we get the CR 6 iteration of the by now notorious Orang-Minyak-monster from Indonesian lore – cool, though I do not get why it was not included in the bestiary section, where it belongs…
The second race is a classic, namely the mongrelfolk: These guys get +2 Str and Con, -4 Cha (making them a bit lopsided), are medium humanoids with darkvision and they gain +4 to Stealth and Sleight of Hand. Additionally, they gain the sound mimicry universal monster ability. Once again, a serious array of favored class options for them can be found herein. Equipment wise, we get a variable saddle and an analyzer that helps discern the main minerals of a given object. The softwhip can never deal lethal damage, but it is perfectly silent and never cracks…and it makes training easier. Granted, my brain contorts a bit regarding how the whip cannot crack, but “a wizard did it” makes sense, I guess.
Racial feat-wise, we get Bioforging, which can decrease costs of objects via using flesh. Instincts of the Beast can be used either Str or Wis-mod times per day and requires that you choose a hunter’s animal focus upon taking it: As a standard action, you can temporarily grant the focus to yourself. I am not a fan of the fact that the feat can be taken additional times, with separate daily uses – it is not clear whether you gain all benefits in one activation, or whether you require separate activation. Wild Limbs, finally, nets you the option to temporarily transmute your limbs (limited daily uses), gaining modes of movement or natural attacks (not codified as primary or secondary, but you can resort default there). taking the feat additional times expands the options available.
The magic items included would be the megagun, a massive weapon that generates its own ammo (when does it regenerate the ammo?) and it inflicts bonus damage when exceeding the target’s AC….and it may fire cones, but does not specify how much ammo that conical blast consumes. The item’s issues stem mainly from not being categorized as a regular weapon: Do you need proficiency for them? Do they count as firearms? No idea. This is particularly puzzling since the ultrabow properly specifies that it’s used as a firearm – it btw. inflicts 6d6 piercing damage, firing javelins…and it being partially squid-y and alive, those that succeed Handle Animal checks can reload them Cool visuals here. The nightmare scepter connects a target to the brain stored in it, requiring Intelligence checks to break free of the strange enchantment. Racial spell-wise, we receive 3 different spells – arcanalus’ spell condenser imbues low level spells in items; attuning vibrations grants a vehicle a kind of sonar. Destined touch lets you touch a creature, which then may use swift actions to look into possible futures, though there is an increasing chance that the opposite effects take place, making the spell a bit chaotic.
The third race would be the Pantako, rock-like beings who receive +2 Str and Con, -2 Dex and Cha, are humanoids, slow, get darkvision 60 ft., have a slam attack (properly codified!). They may also curl up as a boulder, charge foes and inflict double slam damage as well as gaining a free trip attempt. Cool: Inclines used here are taken into account by the rules. The race also gets stonecunning and +4 to Stealth in rocky terrain. They also are experts at flinging stones
Instead of the boulder tricks, these guys can choose to gain light fortification and a +1 natural armor bonus to AC. The Martako-variant increases the darkvision range and they may even see through magical darkness. Additionally, they can use their Stonestealth bonuses when in dim light or less. Once again, we do receive quite an assortment of favored class options for the classic classes.
The racial feats include an upgrade option for the damage of the flung stones via Deadly Stones. Perfect Roll lets you immediately stand up as a swift action after a boulder charge, with a second taking of the feat allowing for quicker kip-ups in other situations as well. Destructive Roll provides a further damage increase for these rolling charges, provided you have enough room to charge. The racial archetype included for the pantako would be the rolling warrior fighter, who gains Exotic Weapon Proficiency for the new weapon included here, the pantako spoke as well as Perfect Roll at 2nd level, replacing bravery and 2nd level’s bonus feat. Starting at 5th level, the rolling charges as treated as the chosen weapon training ability and also yields Improved Overrun while using them. 8th level delimits overrun attempts when using rolling charge and increases reach for the purpose of making trip attacks at the end of such a charge. The ability does not note which one it replaces – I assume armor training. 11th level yields basically a full attack/rolling charge combo – but the ability could use some clarity: Are these attacks made as though they were charge attacks or are they treated as regular attacks?
Now, I already noted the spoke, but we also get a stone that temporarily helps camouflage in the dark and a concealing rock that can hold objects. Magic item-wise, we get a rolling cloak that lends a pantako’s rolling charge and stonestealth. Sharpening gloves change the damage type of flung stones and stonelobbing goggles grants (or enhances) the stone-throwing. The 3 racial spells include the pretty self-explanatory stone stride, a lesser version of stoneskin and a spell that adds electricity and sonic damage to a charging pantako – +2d6 each, to be precise.
Okay, now that we have covered these races, let us return to the Forever Dark itself, shall we? We learn about the Vehoro of the Trekth, an unknowable mechanism that rearranges parts of the underdark according to its mysterious whims. A brief, cliff-notes summary is provided for outposts in the darkness and we also learn about 4 different cults and conspiracies – which feature two “see page @@”s leftovers.
The respective continents of Veranthea then proceed to get their own write-ups: In Grethadnis’ case, we have the shining cities of the morlocks – most may be just like beasts, but they do have a caste of geniuses ruling and generating basically an utopian society in a radical twist of the concept – the dangers of these places, including the strange ash giant known as the Tollman and the weird rivers – like the river of forgetfulness and the like…and yes, there is a sample such metropolis included. Yawwil, archmage of Veranthea, has his stats repeated here as well – CR 37/MR 10, using some hypercorps rules…just in case you have forgotten.
The continent of Urethiel’s underworld is defined by the dynasties of the dead, which are ruled by immortal yami in a mirror of the upperworld of Urethiel. The concepts of honor, inverted magic and the power of undeath here generally enhance undead and tip the playing field towards them – which is cool…but damn, did I wish we got more on this region. Various brief write-ups depict the diverse undead here and include minor CR-modifications for some of them, as the respective write-ups include minor stat-changes…which are nice, I guess, but I did wish we’d learn more about these darkened halls. The pdf also reproduces the deity-write-up for Death here. While nice, I would have loved to learn more about the yami dynasties here instead…but oh well.
Thirdly, the forever dark under Trectoyri consists of the Fleshmazes – once not a spawning ground of monsters, but a sprawling subterranean empire once known as the Formless Empire, where citizens had mastered their bodies. Craft Biodevices, a variant of Veranthea’s steampunky/techy rules, can be found representing this concept here and the influence of the nightmare gods (all three of which have been reproduced in the book, alongside their heralds) can be felt here. Additionally, beyond the hordes, starvation and the like, there is a good chance that you’ll contract a fleshwarp mutation from Horror Adventures. Once again, beyond these special terrain traits, we do get a few tweaks for existing creatures….and once again, frankly, I wished we learned more about these inspiring regions.
From here, we move on to the concept of the horrid caravans – the travelling settlements of the mongrelfolk that endlessly traverse the forever dark (sample settlement statblock included, btw.), defined by fire power and a blending of magical creatures, weaponry and golems – this section also includes a variety of unique and interesting items, from flashlights to fungi generating darkness – though we once again have a “See page @@”-remnant here.
The chthonic evil of the Nightmare Gods is opposed by the cult of the dragonminded, who come in 4 variant sects and as a 10.level PrC that has been reproduced here for your convenience. Since I haven’t done the detail-analysis of it before, there you go: It requires a BAB of +6 or higher and the character to be psionic. Chassis-wise, we get d12 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, proficiency with firearms and 1/2 Fort- and Will-save progression. Power points increase from 5 to 95 over the course of the PrC. (The table’s reference in the text reads 5-X-X instead of 5-1, but that’s cosmetic). The PrC can enter a fugue state as a swift action, up to 3 + Wisdom modifier rounds per day, +1 round per class level. This state nets +4 Str and Con as well as Power Resistance 10 + class level + Wisdom modifier -basically a slightly altered rage, but one that has pretty tight rules. 2nd level yields a 1/day use of Fort instead of Will, +1/day use every 3 levels beyond 2nd. 3rd level yields power resistance 5 + 1/2 class level + Wisdom modifier.
At 6th level, these guys can use a standard action to duplicate antipsionics field for Wisdom mod rounds per day – this one is strangely listed before the 4th level ability, manifestation, which lets a dragonminded generate an ectoplasmic duplicate as a standard action while in a fugue state. Thankfully, the actions available to such a duplicate are pretty limited and maintaining them requires swift action expenditure, which eats big time into the combo-array available to psionic characters. 7th and 9th level increase the options available to these duplicates and the capstone provides unlimited substitution of Fort-saves for Will and immunity to all effects that require a Will-save…which is weird, as it makes the use of the now unlimited ability moot due to flat-out immunity.
New options for the prestige class would be the two archetypes included for it: The outermind replaces the Fort-for-Will-Substitution with the option to summon monsters and replaces the regular benefits of the fugue state’s double with a summoner’s eidolon of levels equal to twice the PrC’s levels. The phantom gains Skill Focus in a chosen skill while in fugue, but may only use this skill – instead of a double, the phantom creates a swarm of tormented soul fragments that inflict swarm-like damage to targets, increasing the damage via scaling on subsequent rounds. Not a big fan of these two. The Lesser Fugue feat is too strong for its prerequisites: As an immediate action, you can grant yourself the mindless quality. Sure you can’t cast, manifest or use skills while in this state, but it still blows other defenses hardcore out of the water. Sure, it only lasts a round and has a hard cap, but yeah…not a fan here, either.
The section depicting the nightmare gods also sports cool terrain features, suggested associated creatures and then proceeds to expand upon the material presented in previous releases – while this does mean that there is some serious overlap here with previous publications in the Veranthea-line, it also collates all information in one handy section. The section also reprints the stats of mighty Sciemaat, the Shattered and mentions some extended hooks for stories set in these depths – also providing a page on the nature of serpentfolk (with hilarious accumulations of “s”-letters in the respective headers). As sources of psychic magic, these dark gods also come with 3 occult rituals – as a nitpick, spells mentioned here have not been properly formatted.
From here, we move on to the bestiary section, which covers, as mentioned before, some reprints of heralds, for example, as well as the darkness-maddened creature template, including a sample witchwyrd creature. Beyond that, we are introduced to the forever crow and its petrifying gaze – these strange creatures may petrify adventuring groups, only to lead others to them to un-petrify them. At CR 8, the forever knight is an unerring tracker…and is nigh-impossible to permanently destroy, auto-respawning unless defeated in very specific circumstances, which makes it a great impeccable plot-device monster.
At CR 13, mongreldragons can employ mirages and confusing breath and the pdf reprints the obitudaemon and the ocual. The CR 5 tunnel wasp (amazing artwork, btw.!) comes with an acidic miasma, while underlambs are pretty poisonous…but can make for delicious food when prepared properly…The pdf also features random encounter tables for the different sections of the forever dark and reprints the information on the collector cabal.
Editing and formatting can be considered to be good – I noticed a couple of glitches. Layout adheres to Veranthea’s pretty busy 2-column/1-column full-color standard, cramming a ton of information on one page. The pdf comes with a blending of original full-color artworks, some reused pieces from previous books and public domain stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Michael McCarthy & Mike Myler, with contributions from Jeffrey Hersch, have written a compelling, inspiring sketch of the underworld of Veranthea. The idea to basically blend wild west tropes with distinct iterations of the underworld as a connecting leitmotif makes sense and is cool. I personally enjoyed the importance of terrain and unique rules presented for the respective areas. At the same time, there is quite a lot of overlap with previous books in the Veranthea-line, and often in sections where I really, really, really wished that the page-count had been used for new material.
You see, the general characteristics of the various versions of the Forever Dark are genius, evocative and practically DEMAND being used – but they don’t really come together well. They present evocative, inspiring sketches, but that’s about it – this is less of a region sourcebook and more of a “very broad stroked”-general toolkit.
Whether you’ll like this book thus very much will depend on how much you value these inspiring tidbits. The new races are a bit of a mixed bag – the leugho may be my favorites here, in spite of their immunities, they end up being a pretty balanced choice. The mongrelfolk’s items made me much more interested in the race…while the patanko… exist for me, but probably will never be used. They also scream “abuse the heck out of my charging mechanics” to me, but that may just be me. I was kinda bummed by the absence of age, height and weight-tables for these races, though.
How to rate this, then? Ultimately, for me, this is a mixed bag – on the one hand inspiring, on the other sketch-like in details and somewhat disjointed regarding the global perspective and details. On the one hand, we get some seriously cool ideas, but on the other hand, we also have a bunch of old material seriously chomping away at the page-count and some seriously avoidable glitches. Thus, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars – if you value ideas, terrain and some cool monsters etc., round up; otherwise, round down. My official verdict will round up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this toolkit/environment sourcebook here on OBS!