Advanced Races: Lizardfolk
This installment of the Advanced Races-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
So, with the lizardfolk getting shafted in the ARG (apart from being used as an RP-example), we receive a full-blown depiction here – following the ARG, the lizardfolk receive +2 Str and Con, -2 Int (though I would have preferred the second bonus to fall on the mental attributes for a more versatile focus) , receive a swim speed of 15 ft (including +8 to Swim checks) and a 1d3 bite and two 1d4 claw primary natural attacks. They also receive +2 natural armor, can hold their breath longer and get +2 to Acrobatics. Know what – nothing to complain about, apart from the subtype not being “reptile” but “reptilian” as per the official terminology. Yeah, I know – cosmetic gripe – distinct, solid and suitable for any power-level. Kudos! And yes, I am aware that the damage for the natural attacks is non-standard for the size, but this decision actually maintains the balance of the race, so congrats for knowing when to deviate from the rules to maintain balance.
Better yet, the lizardfolk receive a plethora of alternate racial traits. Want to play climbing lizardfolk? Just replace swim speed with climb speed and holding your breath with the option to retrieve small objects carried on their person as a move action via prehensile tails. Nice! Alternatively, they can replace swim speed with burrow speed.
Minor chameleon capabilities (only when not moving) can be found alongside deathrolls (with better grappling) – and yes, lizardfolk can be large (or small for that matter), but pay for the increase to large size with a hefty fine of their cooler abilities. I tend to be very weary of large characters, but they did work well in playtests, even though my min-maxy players did make their reach count. Gliding lizardfolk and poison bites may be among the options you’d expect to find, but what about a 1/day blood-gout from the eyes, frightening targets? With the correct descriptor as mind-influencing fear-based, btw.! Oh, and yes, there are lizardfolk that can run across water – with concise mechanics. There is one option I am not 100% comfortable with – replacing only the +2 AC bonus with healing 1 hit point per minute. Depending on your campaign/class-combos, the infinite healing could become problematic – when e.g. the lizardfolk has a class that can reassign damage taken to itself, only time is a limit to the healing capacities. That being said, the slow rate may actually make this work for most campaigns, so yeah – tentatively and with said caveat, but still – an okay choice. Should it become problematic, I’d suggest having it cap at con-score (not bonus) times 3 hit points per day.
As a nice support bonus, three racial subtypes that can be created with these traits are spelled out for the discerning and time-starved gamer. Favored class options for barbarian, druid, hunter, ranger, shaman, skald, sorceror and witch can be found and are solid.
Among the racial archetypes, we get the ambush predator rogue, with deadly ambushes (providing enough preparation), full-round actions during the surprise round and scaling, better holding of one’s breath. Simple, yet thematically-fitting archetype. The primitive weapons master fighter not only makes primitive weapons not suck via an array of diverse, passive abilities – the archetype also may substitute one of 9 first fighter abilities whenever he would receive a bonus feat – and these are very interesting. Broken Weapon, for example, allows the primitive weapon master to deal 10 hp of hardness-bypassing damage to a weapon before he confirms a critical hit to have it automatically be confirmed – the ability is great on an idea-level, but why not simply use the broken condition for the weapon? Another issue that may crop up here would be the possibility of indestructible or regenerating weapons/artifacts – a caveat for weaponry like this to avoid abuse would very much be in order. On the plus-side, making poisons, diseases etc. stick longer to a weapon is downright awesome. What about boomerang-style hits versus secondary targets after a miss? Bleed damage or weapon-damage-dice-size-increase (avoiding the hornet’s nest that is proper size-increase) or armor that damages weapons that strike it – the abilities are generally diverse and thematically fitting, providing a distinct identity that sets the primitive fighter apart from the barbarian.
The Saurian Champion cavalier receives one of 6 dinosaur mounts and a very interesting ability – at higher levels, these Acrobatics-using cavaliers may have their attacks originate from somewhere within the mount’s space – pretty interesting trick and pretty sure I haven’t seen that one before – so yeah, neat. On the minor downside, the mounts are powerful (including assisted flight) – but then again, that is possible for small druids via core-rules AND the archetype receives no order or the tactician-progression, so balance-wise I’m fine. And in practice, this archetype turned out to be surprisingly cool. – come on, who doesn’t like riding and tumbling accross the massive dinosaur one rides? Sanguine Scale witches can deal spell level damage to themselves or helpless targets to increase the CL by +1 and at high-levels, may thus even add metamagic feats. At 6th level, hexes may be powered by bleed damage while, allowing her to extend the duration of them (or her spells) in a cool alternative to cackle. That being said, while the effect thus enhanced needs to currently be in effect, an explicit disclaimer that this cannot target instantaneous effects would have been in order.
The story-keeper Skald archetype prepares spells like a bard, but needs no spellbook, learning all spells via rote memorization (take THAT bastard DMs à la moi, how enjoy destroying spellbooks) and a couple of nice ranging songs modifications – which are neat, though the formatting of them could have been a tad bit more clear – the song looks like its own ability, not a sub-ability of the extended list. That is, again a cosmetic glitch. Varied spellcasting and neat aiding others. The Pestilent Savage barbarians receive disease-laden bites (including rules for characters sans bite attacks!), better saves versus diseases and toxins, better damage-output and a minor debuff aura make for a solid archetype.
A total of 9 racial feats allows for savage assaults, including, potentially, multiple vital strikes via natural weapons for truly devastating bursts of destruction – but at the cost of exhaustion. I would have loved this otherwise cool idea to sport a caveat that makes it impossible to use this feat when the character can’t become exhausted – it *is* possible, after all. Better flanking attacks, sprints during the surprise round, being more inscrutable – all interesting. I even like the feat that renders you immune versus an array of detrimental conditions and charms, but at the cost of never benefiting from morale bonuses. Making the tail a secondary attack, stealthy swimming and leaping charges – solid designs!
3 magical items, from a dinosaur-transformation skin to enchanted, minor con-damage dealing claws to a sight-enhancing mask, nothing to complain about here. 6 new spells, from affliction-suppressing brumation to inflicting cold susceptibility to targets to haruspex-style divination and a size-increasing dinosaur-like state of savagery. The star, though, would be the positive Waste Not spell, which provides bonuses for eating the remains of fallen allies. This one was LONG overdue. As any anthropologist can attest, cannibalism’s taboo and stigmatization is a cultural phenomenon – while in our culture it is consider vile and the source of quite a few nasty myths that have enriched our cultural collective consciousness, in some societies, it actually denoted an explicit and distinct honor – and seeing this, in a non-evil way finally represented, is pretty great in my book.
As you may have noted, this pdf, alongside the former, belongs to the new school of Advanced Races-pdfs, with a more distinct focus on crunch, less so on fluff – hence, you won’t find notes on child-rearing egg-laying or the like herein (imho a pity), but at least we do close the pdf with a nice, short and sweet fluff-only summary of a sample lizardfolk tribe.
Editing and formatting are very good – I noticed no truly grievous glitches herein. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ beautiful two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork ranges from gorgeous full color to solid b/w.
Steven T. Helt, Stephen Rowe and Dan Dillon have established a pretty high quality standard for their work – one that here is reflected in one of the most refined Advanced Races-supplements to this date. While fluff-wise, there isn’t much to be gleaned from this pdf, the mechanics are interesting – with a coupe few hiccups, the overall presentation is professional, balanced and interesting – the options provided belonging firmly in the subtle school of design. While most of them will not elicit immediate jubilation, they provide mechanically-relevant, intriguing alternatives. If there is one thing I can fault this pdf for, then it’s that the format and design did not manage to render me jubilant about one given component – the pdf does not provide an obvious star, an OMG-how-awesome-is-that-at first-glance-crunch or cultural tidbit. What it does provide is a balanced race that should fit into any campaign and a damn cool dino-riding cavalier who is more interesting in play than the crunch would make you think on the page. While not perfect, it does not sport downright broken options and can be generally considered a well-worth addition to just about any given campaign. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, with the rare minor issues not being enough to rate this down – hence, rounded up to 5.