Akashic Mysteries: The Vizier
This first installment of the Akashic Mysteries-series clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
First of all, in case you don’t know – this is the PFRPG-version of “Magic of Incarnum”, updated, refined and refluffed. But it’s more than that. Let me elaborate – back in teh day, i liked the basic concept of Incarnum; its balancing may not always have been perfect, but it was an interesting system, one I wished had come out sooner and wish better cost/benefit ratios. I didn’t enjoy the fluff, but that could be changed easily. Still, the system didn’t seem to gel well with my group, until we went gestalt – in that playstyle, it excelled.
Fast-forward to this series – has it inherited the weaknesses of its parent-system? What about the flavor? We’ll see!
The class introduced herein would be the vizier, who receives d6, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with light armor, bucklers and simple weapons. The class has 1/2 BAB-progression and, uncommon for a full caster, but not unheard of, good fort and will-saves. The main schtick of the class, though, would be veilweaving, which is grouped into two categories, namely veils and essences. A 1st level vizier begins play with 2 veils and 1 essence and increases that to a total of 11 veils and 30 essences at 20th level.
Viziers receive instant access to all veils on the vizier’s list, apart from those of an alignment opposing that of the vizier. When required, a veil’s save DC is 10 + number of essence points invested + vizier’s Intelligence modifier. A vizier may invest up to his character level in essence into a given veil or given receptacle. Here, the wording is slightly non-standard – not to a point where I’d complain about this or detract from the verdict, but still, making this one slightly more linear in its wording would help. At 3rd level, 11th and 19th, the vizier increases the maximum capacity of a receptacle by +1. DCs also increase by +1 on these levels. Re-allocating essence into veils can be done as a swift action each round. Veils are prepared much like spells each day after rest etc.
You may have noticed that the vizier, in spite of what the base frame of the class might look like, is NOT a spellcaster – however, they do treat vizier-levels as arcane caster levels for purposes of qualifying for feats and abilities. Now I mentioned that essence can be freely re-distributed between veils – well the same does *NOT* hold true regarding the investiture of essence into magic items with charges: Wands, staves and wondrous items can be infused with essence, gaining additional charges that last for 24 hours before dissipating. These cannot be reassigned and remain essentially locked in the item. Here, there’s issue, though – (warning: nitpickery!) balance is a bit opaque, since the basic veilweaving does not specify when the essence-pool refreshes, instead stating “A vizier must have at least 8 hours rest or meditation to achieve a clear and focused state, and must meditate for one hour to shape his veils for the day.” One could argue that you could theoretically invest essence twice into an item in a given 24 hour-period. Would that be smart? In most of the cases, it wouldn’t be. I’d hence suggest to include a sentence that clearly states that essence invested in items does not regenerate before 24 hours have elapsed. Also, since the duration and essence capacity maximum (see waaaay down in the section on veilweaving) could cause confusion here, I’d strongly suggest rewiring the rest/essence-regain-wording.
There is another issue – an item that has essence invested in it not only gains the temporary charges, it also does never prompt UMD checks to use. While the ability can only be used to activate spells of 8th level or lower, it can still lead to problems.
What do I mean by this? Surprisingly, I’m not complaining about items with few charges being left as treasure to have some “smart bombs” here; What I’m not sold on is simply the flat-out “no UMD”-section AND the non-scaling nature of this ability. What if the players find a wand with precious few charges or a unique staff and can just flat-out use it? I am aware that these are fringe-cases, but it would theoretically allow the vizier to utilize charge-based items beyond his level’s capacity (if the DM foolishly drops them into the treasure…) – and there is a pretty easy solution that prevents the issue: Just make the highest spell level of the item the governing factor for whether or not you have to UMD and make it scale with class level progression, by e.g. tying it to twice essence capacity. Now, yes, the base ability isn’t broken, but I maintain that such a solution would be much more elegant and prevent fringe-case abuse.
Now there also are so-called chakra-binds – these are gained at 2nd level in a linear manner, +1 at every 2nd level, in a fixed progression from Hands, feet, head, wrist, shoulders, headband, neck, belt chest and finally, at 20th level, body. At 9th level, the vizier can bind veils in the ring slot and at 15th level, you can bind them into both ring slots. On a nitpicky-side, I don’t get why the ring-slots are not wrapped in the chakra-ability, but that is purely a cosmetic gripe.
At 3rd level, viziers may reshape a veil 1/day (+1/day for every 4 levels thereafter) as a standard action that provokes AoOs into a new veil. Additionally, each time the daily uses increase, you may also shift one additional veil per ability use. The capstone allows for at-will veilshaping – and whenever the class uses the veilshaping ability, he regains 3+Int temporary essence.
Viziers also receive a kind of bloodline-ish linear ability chosen at first level – a total of 3 are provided and I hope we’ll see more of those. The Path of the Crafter, Path of the Seer and Path of the Ruler.
The Path of the Crafter gain a bonus equal to 1/2 class level (rounded up or down?) on all skill-checks made as part of the crafting process. That is *pretty* powerful. Allies within 30 ft. that activate a magic item, treat caster level and DC of the activated item as +1. That is nasty, but will also make the vizier rather popular with his adventuring companions. Okay, where things get rather unique would be in one particular ability – transfer essence. This allows you to meditate on items and exchange their bonuses and special abilities. – Found a cool weapon, but don’t have the proficiency for it? just exchange the enchantment with those on your trusty sword. I applaud the fact that you can’t cherry-pick abilities. Now, on the other hand, wand/staff charges can also be exchanged if the items have the same highest spell level – a fitting restriction, but one I’d suggest to be supplemented with an analogue caster level (or lower) restriction to prevent spells that increase their potency with caster level having their charges cheaply upped by using charges from items that do not scale with CL. Once again, not a bad glitch, but rather one that can easily be fixed.
The path also grants item creation feats and a decreased craft-price at higher levels. Oh, and kudos for the intelligent item/cursed item/artifact caveat!
The path of the ruler is all about granting a will-save/sense motive debuff aura, with selective exclusion of allies. Enforcing a reroll at high levels is nice, but when compare to the Crafter’s benefits, the path of the ruler feels pretty meek. The poor guy could use an upgrade for his aura.
The path of the seer increases movement of all allies within 60 ft. by +5 ft, +5 more at 9th and 17th level – neat. Now the interesting part comes next – the seer learns teamwork feats and for each point invested, the class may share ALL teamwork feats granted by this ability (1 is gained at 1st, 5th, 9th and 13th level) with an ally; additionally, veils tied to hand or feat may be shared alongside with allies. High-level seer-viziers may freely retrain the teamwork feats. See, that one is a competent, powerful commander-style path and once again, mops the floor with the relatively uninspired ruler-path.
Next up would be an array of new feats, 37 if I’m not mistaken. There are some feats for non-akashic classes to wilder in the system. Feats with the new [Akashic]-descriptor increase the essence pool by +1. The feats very much do support one aspect I loved about the original incarnum – gestalting and multiclassing. Investing essence into one school to have the school’s spells at CL+1? Can see that. On the downside, these feats constitute neither veils, nor charge-bearing items, so not sure whether one can freely re-allocate essence invested via feats of this formula. Free reallocation would amount to pretty much free CL+1 for all spells of that school. While not too bad in this example, when one takes a look at the power point-reducing feat in the same line (reduce PP-cost by essence invested, thankfully with power-level based additional restrictions), it becomes apparent that free reallocation is something that needs to be addressed, otherwise, you could decrease the cost of ALL powers subsequently. This is especially puzzling since the feat that allows you to invest essence in favor of getting power points *does* specify the 24 hours-no-reassignment cap. This also becomes also apparent when taking a look at the otherwise interesting veilbound metamagic, which once again uses a 1/day formula.
The pdf ought to specify whether it uses the 24-hour bind-and-locked wording or whether it imposes a cap on how many times per day essence can be invested in a feat – utilizing both models quickly becomes confusing. After multiple extensive playtesting sessions, I’d suggest the former, i.e. going analogue to charge-investment, for what it’s worth.
Conversely, not all feats suffer from this specific issue -akashic charge allows you to 1/day invest essence in the feat, granting a bonus to atk and damage when charging equal to the essence invested. Its missing no-reassignment clause has been addressed in the errata and I’m willing to believe that this component will feature in the next update. This type of complaint, however, can be fielded against a whole feat-class herein – I assume that to be oversights in layout/editing, since some feats clearly sport this caveat. There are *a lot* of feats interacting and enhancing existing feats here and math-wizards *will* have a field day here. I just hope that all those cool feats receive the “no reassignment for 24 hours”-caveat in the next update – as provided here, the feats that lack it can be broken pretty easily.
Essentially, the point boils down to the following scenario:
Does the feat grant a significant bonus based on essence-investment? If yes, it should have the essence bound analogue to charge items.
Does the feat instead grant a highly situational or very restricted bonus? Then essence should remain flexible to justify the feat investment.
In any case, adding the 1/day restrictions feels a bit tacked on; with just a bit of minor streamlining, this whole section can be rid of its minor issues and made more smooth.
Beyond these, I also noticed that “Essence of the Immortals” has the [Akashic]-descriptor, but has neither an essence pool as a prerequisite, nor does it grant +1 essence -the same holds true for some other feats, but I have not yet determined whether that’s intentional or an oversight.
This may all have sounded terribly negative – it’s not my intent to do so. It’s just that this one glitch in how the whole feat-class works makes it very hard to judge whether these work as intended or not. The plus-side here is that the math underlying the feats can be considered powerful, but NOT overpowered – at least once the 24-hour lock-caveat has been implemented. To close my discussion on the feats with something positive – the massive gestalting potential of incarnum is not only maintained, it is surpassed – the feats here have something for just about everyone to utilize, which is downright awesome.
All right, so let’s get to veilweaving, shall we? Every veil is associated with a chakra and *can* be bound to the chakra if the akashic class is powerful enough to do so, gaining more benefits. Each chakra corresponds to an equipment slot and some veils can occupy one or two or even more different slots. It is very important to note that veils bound to chakras do *NOT* interfere with items worn in the same slot – the biggest suckage-factor of incarnum is GONE.
Upon manifesting the veil, you can choose which slot the veil is applied to. If you remember the above discussion of the class, you’ll realize that new chakras become unlocked at a fixed progression. Veils interact with spells and spell-like abilities as if they were spells. Veils, unless they modify/grant natural attacks or weapons, are subject to SR. Veils can be targeted and even sundered to temporarily suppress them. identifying veils works via Knowledge (arcana), which may seem a bit odd, seeing the usual adherence to Spellcraft for such a task…but I actually really like this decision. it adds a “different” flavor to the magic-class. Now before you all start screaming regarding how huge, highly circumstantial bonuses can be stacked up – there *is* a pretty conservative essence capacity limit based on character level – no more than this fixed amount can be invested in any one veil, feat, etc.
Now the veils…ooohhh, if you like customizable classes, you’ll have a field day here! Fascination-auras with customizable aura size may be nice…but what if a target is freed from the effect and you have bound the veil to your wrist? Well, then you can deliver what my group called the “akashic pimp slap” with a free action ranged touch attack. Eyes of fiery death? Yup. Veils that improve starting attitude (and this one ACTUALLY manages to achieve the “disarming smile/diplomancer-trope *so much* better than comparable options, it’s really cool) can be found herein alongside those helping with elemental affinities. Want a veil that allows you to spontaneously create zombies (or cairn wights in ring-slot-bound-form?) from the deceased? Channel-like effects of veils have thankfully daily limits imposed upon them to prevent abuse – that’s how it’s done.
On a nitpicky side that will not influence the final verdict, the veil that grants a draconic breath weapon could have used a short list of what dragon-colors net lines and which cones – while *I* know them by hard, many players will have to look that one up. As mentioned, nitpicking here and not gonna penalize the pdf for one page-skip required. Pretty awesome – by binding the aforementioned veil to the neck, you can further increase your draconic breath’s power; alternatively, you can grow wings with increasing maneuverability. Now the hand cannons combined with target of Opportunity are a pretty nasty combo -especially when combined with a sniper as deadly as the one I have in my group – but come on. Hand cannons. I actually made a hand cannon in an archetype once. I’m a berserk fanboy. I can’t hate on magical hand cannons. (Plus, while powerful, they’re not broken.)
Want whips of light? Yup. What about binding it to make trip attempts against every enemy in range whenever the veil is triggered? Yep, that’s crazy awesome to not be flooded by groups of moderately competent mooks. And yes, in playtest, a defense scenario against floods of foes actually saw the vizier shine pretty nicely.
Editing and formatting are good, but not perfect – here and there, the wording’s flow could be improved, especially among the feats, which feel like 2 versions of rules-language collide for a section that is more confusing than it ought to be. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes bookmarked, though not extensively so. The pdf does come in two versions, with the second being more printer-friendly.
Okay, after reading this review, I’d really love to know what you think follows next. Admittedly, the vizier, to me, has a very much WiP-feel – the wording of essence-regaining/veil-redistribution could be clearer, feats feel a bit over the place regarding the system they utilize and one of the 3 paths is not only much more boring than the other two, it is also significantly weaker. So that would be the downsides.
On the plus-side – this MOPS THE FLOOR with Magic of Incarnum! The vizier is so much cooler than the incarnate, it’s not even funny anymore. Seriously, it’s so much better, it’s not even funny! The fluff is better. The execution is better. The math is more elegant and if the wording issues are ironed out and there’s no ambiguity left (especially re item interaction), this will be a total and utter blast. I honestly did not expect to like this due to several factors:
1) Fluff. Done. Not only is the new fluff cooler, the writing actually dares to be funny once in a while in an unobtrusive manner. Take this one: “Binding this wicked veil to your Shoulders chakra makes you slightly less cuddly than a rabid dire porcupine.” Win.
2) Item-slot issue. Resolved.
3) Massive combo-potential requires plenty of foresight and solid math to prevent ridiculous abuse.
Number 3…oh, how I dreaded you. I had never before read a book by author Michael Sayre. Know what? This man knows his math. The vizier turned out to be a strong class, yes, but it is not overpowered – it requires continuous resource-management, is highly customizable and manages to maintain the gestalting capacities of the original system. Bonus-types are applied consistently. Options are cool, unique and fun. I did not expect to like this pdf to this extent.
The good news here is: Michael, you are talented indeed and I’m stoked for future installments of the series, though they are a colossal pain to review. The issues this pdf has can easily and quickly be fixed and boil down to wording, flow and making mechanics more explicit by establishing a slightly more concise terminology. For example, 24-hour-essence-storage = binding essence to; otherwise: investing essence into x. Simple, easy and once established and explained, prevents a lot of confusion and allows for easy streamlining of feats etc. and may actually save space regarding word count!
So yes, this pdf has some WiP-level rough patches. But its potential is GLORIOUS and exceedingly fun. The flexibility provided is glorious (and on par with PFRPG’s versatility – no two viziers need to be alike!) and the veils are fitting and unique. Combo-potential galore rules. Were it not for the glitches and rough patches I complained about, this would be a no-brainer 5 star+ seal of approval file. The glitches would usually make me harp on this harder than I did here, probably for something around the 3.5 star-area. BUT: They can easily be fixed, mostly boil down to requiring slightly more precise wording and do not reflect badly on the system provided here. After using this and analyzing it, I can’t, not for the life of me, bash this as something even remotely mediocre. It’s not. This pdf is fun and I am stoked for future Akashic Mysteries and a cleaning of the glitches that still haunt this. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars, with an explicit recommendation for everyone who likes complex, customizable classes (and, of course, fans of incarnum!) to check this out.
You can get this cool, versatile and fun subsystem/class here on OBS!