Advanced Occult Guide (SFRPG) (Priority Review)
This massive tome clocks in at 435 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 2 pages of KS-backer thanks, leaving us with 427 pages of content.
…okay, 3 are an index, which is a very much required feature for a book of this length.
This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a priority review by my patreon supporters. Oh, and I’ve had various iterations of this book available throughout its genesis, just in case you’re wondering how I can have a review of a book of this size done at release. It’s because I’ve been able to test this as it became more and more refined for quite a while.
The first thing you need to know about this is this: This is one densely-packed colossus of RULES. While there is flavortext, while there are artworks galore, this massive tome is essentially ALL FRICKIN’ RULES. That is more page-count than e.g. two Alien Archive tomes back to back. And approximately half of it is player-facing stuff, which might make this one of the meatiest tomes of player options for SFRPG out there, perhaps even the meatiest.
As you can glean from its sheer size, the volume of the book makes an analysis of every single piece of content prohibitive – while possible, it would take weeks of dedicated work to talk about everything, and bloat the review to a wordcount that would all but ensure that nobody will read it in its entirety, so I’ll be giving you a general overview of what to expect within this tome, highlighting what particularly stood out.
As for the scope of this tome, it behooves me to state that this delivers several components of gameplay that I consider all but mandatory for my enjoyment of SFRPG: This book unites rules for age categories (mechanically-relevant), rules for ritual magic, rules for corruptions, rules for curses and diseases that include level-scaling, and size-change rules, including the tools for grid adjustments. Oh, and pact magic.
If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll note that all of these are things I love…but this also means that this has very big shoes to fill, and usually safe bet books that I think I’ll love end up disappointing my, but I digress. The avid reader will have noticed at this point that some of these components have been released before, and indeed, in many ways, this is a best-of compilation of previous Starfinder-material released by Everybody Games, save that it’s, well, not just a simple compilation. Much to my pleasant surprise, I went through my previous reviews of individual files and realized how damn often the minor niggles I had were addressed, how often the designs had been adjusted, improved, smoothened.
But I’m getting ahead of myself once more. We begin with an assortment of various new themes, which includes the options to play old characters, young prodigies, chosen heroes, isekai adventurers (people from our world), and those who have fallen through time; and yes, the concept of the chimeraborn is also represented via mutations – these have been streamlined into a superior context, namely by making them functional according to the COM-rules, but also in accordance with the PF2-inspired, highly modular and rather cool species reforged series of Star Log.DELUXE-pdfs. Want proper emotional awareness, a draconic bloodlines, or limited ability for regeneration due to levialogos limbs? You can have that. And no, this can’t be cheesed.
(In case you’re new to the latter: The levialogoi are super-deadly and EXTREMELY hard to kill outsiders inspired by Supernatural’s Leviathan story-arc. They are awesome and have transcended this basic concept to being essentially all-consuming, nigh-unkillable super body-snatchers…and yes, they are in the bestiary.)
The book also presents no less than three base classes, with only the zoomer, the dedicated speedster class being something that SFRPG-fans may have seen before, though, suffice to say, the fellow’s been expanded and streamlined. The two new classes fill important niches in SFRPG that will have some fans jump in the air: For one, we have a dedicated shapeshifter class, which begins with a limited number of dedicated forms and expands these over the levels; adaptations allow you to customize your shapeshifting, aspects provide scaling benefits (4 per aspect); beyond these, we also have instinct, which are the talent-like further options available…oh boy can you tweak this fellow. Yes, you can make hybrids. And the class has its own massive forms-engine to easily and quickly tailor your forms. Want to crush enemies? Have a breath weapon? Yeah, possible. Want species traits? Yup. Oh, and in case you don’t want to wait, guess what – premade forms available. This is a class with an incredible depth, and considering how modular it is, it is astonishing how well its results come out. So far, I haven’t managed to use it to break the game – it delivers potent builds, but none that would render the game askew.
Secondly, we have the elementian. What’s that? Well, it’s essentially a kineticist-like class, save that its engine hasn’t been copy-pasted from PFRPG; instead, it has been rebuild from the ground up with SFRPG in mind, with the Burns-equivalent being Strain. It should be noted that the class offers multiple choices regarding key ability modifiers, and the option chosen also influences how Strain affects you. You can gather power to gain Energy, you get the idea. However, the way in which the elements have been modified is impressive – while thematically clearly the heir of kineticists, the elementian’s chassis is completely different, with each element noting its associated ability score, skills, weapons, the elemental strike damage and weapon properties that can be applied to them, etc. Of course, these also provide a linear array of abilities, and a serious number of techniques allow for customizing this fellow. It’s also notable that building an elementian for the first time is a much quicker process than making your first kineticist.
Now, the book also features a serious number of archetypes, some of which are old acquaintances – the legacy ones like shadow dancer, eldritch knight etc. are here; but personally, I was most excited by the pact maker (who does what it says on the tin)…and the soulmark user. What’s the latter? Okay, brace yourselves, fellow otakus: Fate/STAY – the archetype! You know, drawing soulmarked weapons from your body! Seriously, in another book, this’d have been a class of its own – here, it has been condensed to a surprisingly tight and varied archetype that spans two whole pages of delicious goodness. Oh, and there is a terminator archetype that essentially replaces/refines the previous assassin concept. I have one serious issue with this one: It lacks an ability that is called “I’ll be back.” 😉 Kidding aside, the concept of the vessel has also been included in this section: Whether protean, demon, angel, archon, etc. – you can play a character housing such a passenger.
Of course, there is also a whole cornucopia of class options waiting for you: We occult method as a replacement for the biohacker’s scientific method and fields of study like aberrantology or necrology. Mechanics can have an infernal apparatus or a biomech drone chassis; solarians can be attuned to the music of the spheres; vanguards can choose the zero point aspect – and that is not even coming close to the depth of the material herein. For example, what about a witchwarper who replaces infinite worlds with a more planar-themed ability? The feats, in case you were wondering, follow similar high-concept/utility design-paradigms. What about one, for example, that lets you summon fictional characters from the zeitgeist instead of plain old critters? And yes, this has mechanical benefits.
The armory section of the book includes positron weapons that combine electricity with positive energy, and, as hinted at before…SHRINK WEAPONS! 😀 Black boxes for armors, a powered armor designed for fighting ghosts…or what about the option to store your vehicle in your armor? This might be a good place to note that, like all books of this size, this cannot be perfect – in this one, we have for example one instance where “vehicular” should read “vehicle”, but one still grasps the functionality of the material presented. Augmentations and cybernetics, from extending arms to golemgrafts and necrografts complete a pretty massive chapter, and yes, technological and magic items are included in the deal as well, and we do get artifacts…yes, including the infamous time-traveling hot tub. The new drugs presented are provided in the excellent format introduced in Pop Culture Catalog: Vice Dens, which renders them scaling and relevant for all levels.
The chapter on magic presents new spells that allow, among other things, to alter ages and sizes, call forth temporal duplicates…and yes, limited time manipulation. Several pages of new formwarps are included alongside a selection of rituals, which do include means to lock out targets (one of the best “create a barrier vs. critter xyz” takes I’ve seen for a d20-based game, and pretty crucial for my future horror-y designs), using your blood to banish foes (Heeellooo Supernatural once more…), and much to my joy, there is also the call the end-times, your friendly custom-tailored apocalypse ritual for all your insane cultist needs! (Endzeitgeist not included.) Binding agreements, clone creation, dividing targets into multiple creatures…or what about fantastic voyage, which projects your consciousness into nanomachine effigies, unlocking a whole new sphere of potential adventuring in creatures and on the microscopic level! The classic “use map to narrow down on target as it burns/otherwise designates the goal” is also provided. Rites to break potent spells, imprison targets, robotize them, etc. are also part of the deal. And no, I haven’t even mentioned all of them – suffice to say, they do come with adventure hooks. Not that you’d need them after reading them. The “design your own ritual”-section is super-appreciated as well, and rather smooth.
The pact magic section of the book is absolutely great; there is but one thing I dislike about it – namely that I’d have loved to see an entire tome devoted to it…one might dream. At this point, it’s also no secret that I adore Alexander Agunuas’ corruption rules, and have blood space, botanification, cannibal cravings etc. all in a handy book? Great. Ever greater, though: What about a corruption that ties in with the size-changing rules and makes you slowly become a titan, as “Attack on Titan”-titan? Yeah…*shudder* The cognitive fixation that can be used to roleplay intrusive thoughts is also one damn fine (and very tactfully-handled) piece of writing that gets two thumbs up. Levialogos subsumption, in which you slowly are absorbed into one of these monstrosities, also is one damn great corruption. You may want to get rid of it…but its benefits are so enticing…Going Akira, aging backward, going soulless…also part of the deal. (And yes, the classic like turning into a blob, therianthropy and vampirism are here as well…)
Curses include eternal sleep, wendigo psychosis, lost identity, amnesia and more, and from cures to affixes to modify them, the engine is concise and solid, and for diseases, a similar frame is employed.
One of the highlights in utility would be the handy grid adjustment section I mentioned before – that’ll be printed out and tacked to my screen. And in case you were wondering: The book does provide rules for ultrafine creatures…and supercolossal ones, the latter including rules for use in starship combat. Speaking of which: Let us talk about how cool the bestiary section is, because not one of the critters in it is lame or boring. NOT ONE. What about an earth elemental creature consuming emotions, aptly named apathyst, which also is presented in planetoid size as a nasty alternative? A best-of from the Star Log.EM-series is provided here, including Deisauryu, the Godzilla of the Xa-Osoro system; new critters include shrink devils, and one of my all-time favorurite critetrs every published, the Great old One Allakhadae, the Arsonist Against Reality. Speaking of Great old Ones? Good ole’ Cthulhu and Hastur are included, and our friend Slenderman also gets the Great old One treatment – The Tall One. Yes, these fellows are all beyond CR 20, obviously. Unlike many critters at such high CRs, they are, however, actually suitably hard (read VERY) to stop. Yes, I did not use the word “eliminate” for a reason…
Beyond these, we have aforementioned levialogoi, soulless, killer clowns…and hateflesh creatures. They are what you’d expect: Super-icky flesh/bone things that reminded me of Tomb raider 1’s Atlantean monstrosities, save they are even more grotesque… ”sinewed screamer” indeed. What about wererenkroda? One of my favorites would be the “thing-That-Walks”-template graft. Remember Kyuss and the worm-that-walks? Now picture you could make such a collective entity out of everything. The artwork illustrates this by providing a nightmare fuel kitsune thing-that-walks: Humanoid, consisting of thousands of the shapechangers…and boy it is disturbing. Want something more biblical? What about the beast with 7 heads and ten horns, the Woe of the Dead (CR 25)? Yep good luck stopping this harbinger of the end of days… The tome concludes with proper class grafts, template grafts, and a whole arsenal of critter abilities.
Editing and formatting are honestly better on both a formal and rules-language levels than a book of this size crafted by a small team (and I mean size category superfine) has any right to be, particularly considering the density and complexity of the rules-operations and subject-matter featured within. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and features a huge amount of artworks penned by Jacob Blackmon in his signature style. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I don’t yet have the print version, but I’ll get it as soon as possible.
Alexander Augunas, with additional design by Liane Merciel, Matt Morris, Michael Sayre, Chris S. Sims and Owen K.C. Stephens, has done it. Seriously.
Let me make that abundantly clear:
For me, this is the most important Starfinder rules book I currently own. This is a superior achievement regarding not only scope, but also of quality of the content herein, and a love letter to STARfinder.
You see, it’d have been pretty easy to take PFRPG1ed’s concepts like pact magic, kineticist, size rules, etc. and just jam them on top of Starfinder’s chassis. The systems look so incredibly similar. This may be new to some readers, but probably not to most designers: That doesn’t work. Starfinder operates under wholly different paradigms in many ways, and the way in which its math is constructed is a long shot from PFRPG’s 1st edition.
This book shows that the author REALLY knows SFRPG…and LOVES the system. All the systems that a lesser designer would have half-heartedly grafted onto the engine? They have been designed with panache aplomb, from the ground up, expanded, tweaked, changed, improved – until this is what we got. This beautiful, wonderful tome that breathes SFRPG from every page.
The main achievement of this book, however, does not lie in the quality of its new class options and monsters, well-designed though they may be.
It lies in the fact that this book unlocks a whole plethora of inspiring storylines and scenarios, whole types of adventures and playstyles, that the system previously did not support. With this, you could theoretically play Supernatural in Space, a whole campaign in the body of a dying person, duke it out with the Great Old Ones, unleash apocalypses, play a full-blown space-horror game , duplicate a ton of my favorite anime scenarios…and so much more.
Crunch can be good when it lets you do cool new stuff, when it helps you realize that one cool idea you had; crunch is outstanding when it sets your mind ablaze with so many ideas for new characters, plotlines, and campaigns, that stare, starry-eyed (haha) at the pages and can’t wait to use…everything.
How do I put this best? If I was an isekai stranded in the Xa-Osoro system, and you put a proton-rifle to my head and forced me to choose only one Starfinder book apart from the core rules, only book, and told me that’d be all I’d get forevermore to run Starfinder….i’d choose this one, without a second of hesitation.
It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close, and it is more inspired than several hardcovers I could mention. And in contrast to most tomes of this size, it never lets up. It doesn’t have this one section where it feels like the author ran out of ideas or steam. This is a resplendent masterpiece that is a must-own for every self-respecting Starfinder-GM out there.
Right now, this is the best Starfinder book in my library. This is the tome to beat.
5 stars. Seal of Approval. Best of. Hot contender for the Top Ten of 2020 (and a true ray of light in this horrible year). And this is an EZG Essential. I wouldn’t ever want to run a SFRPG-campaign without it.
Do yourself a favor. If you even remotely are interested in SFRPG, if you are playing/running it…get this. If you’re a player, buy this for your GM. This is a truly outstanding gamechanger.
You can get this legendary tome here on OBS!
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