Into the Breach: The Cavalier
This latest installment of the Into the Breach-series clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up on my list of queued products at the request of my patreons.
As always, we kick off with archetypes galore, the first of which replaces tactician and its follow-ups and mount…with an airborne mount. If you expect me to start complaining now – I won’t. Assisted flight is possible via the base rules, though primarily for small druids, so yes, I am okay with that. Hippogriff, giant wasp, pegasus, pteranodon, roc and wyvern are provided as mount-choices with stat-modifications and advancement (all 4th level but the wyvern, which has to wait until 7th level until it gains poison) provided. As a base-line, they are treated as animal companions with class level as effective druid level. As a friendly suggestion – if you go with this archetype, invest the bucks into the STELLAR Companions of the Firmament-book. Why? Because it is the ultimate assisted flying-book and covers all the rules, provides alternatives, etc.. Did you for example know that flying mounts need to be able to carry their riders without transcending light load? So yeah, the archetype works well, even better with this book and there is no overlap here. Kudos!
The second archetype would be a more complex one, the Briar Knight – which is quite frankly a reason this took relatively long to get done. So, the concept is far-out and awesome: You get a crawling vine plant companion with full class level as effective druid level. This companion, however, can act as an armor – it begins play granting a +5 bonus to AC when acting as armor and increases this by +2 every three levels – now if that sounds massive, bear in mind that you cannot enchant this armor – and you can damage it as armor while worn, as a creature while it’s separate. The armor may execute a single attack or disarm/grapple-maneuver, with the latter separating it from the briar knight. The ability even covers the instance if the armor is slain while being worn. I do see an issue here, though – the ability does not specify the action-economy for transforming from armor to creature and vice versa. Becoming a creature can obviously happen as part of initiating a grapple, but I have no idea how long “donning” the armor takes. Since the vine acts as a companion, does it require handling/tricks to be told to let itself be donned? Granted, these are relatively minor oversights, but they deserve addressing – the armor is very powerful, so tying the maneuvers and donning to such checks may provide for a delightfully uncommon balancing mechanism. At 3rd level, Briar Knights may, as a standard action, emit 15 ft.-tendrils for low-range disarm or trip combat maneuvers, increasing his CMB for this special attack by his armor’s AC-bonus – which is excessive. I’d suggest a significantly more conservative bonus-scaling here. 4th level not only nets the vine constrict, it also allows the briar knight to generate a detonation of thorns in a 10-ft burst, dealing 1d6 piercing damage per 2 briar knight levels, with a scaling save. COOL! At higher levels, Briar Knights can be sustained by photosynthesis and receive fast healing while in daylight. I would have appreciated a note whether the spell of the same name does qualify for triggering photosynthesis or not – I think magical daylight should not trigger fast healing. At 11th level, briar knights can root themselves in the floor for class level minutes, slightly reducing speed, but granting tremorsense as well as providing significant defenses versus several combat maneuvers. The capstone provides a plat apotheosis. The Briar Knight, as you can see above, has some issues to address – but it also tackles a highly complex concept and manages to get this mostly right – as provided, the archetype is functional with some DM-calls. More than anything else, it is absolutely awesome – this archetype can easily be reskinned as Spiderman’s Venom, the archetype and the basic framework is neat indeed. The massive AC-bonus may be nasty, yes, but I do not consider it in itself an issue. Tanglevine strike does require a heavy whack with the nerf-bat, though. Conceptually absolutely awesome, I sincerely hope this archetype gets some minor polish to make it live up to its absolutely awesome premise.
The Charioteer gets a chariot and light horse at first level and replaces mount with driving stunts, with one new stunt granted every level. All right, I’m going to come clear here – I adore vehicle combat. While I have reduced the excessive DCs of driving checks in my home game, that’s about it -other than that, my players have loved vehicle combat ever since. And these driving stunts – well, they add a massive, cool dimension to this: Flinging allies from the chariot, better ramming maneuvers. As a nitpick – a stunt that should allow for limited, quicker acceleration/braking forgot to include the braking option obviously intended by the ability’s name in the wording. 1/day 1d4 HP repairs to the chariot do feel a bit…minor – especially since 4th level nets a superior chariot repairs. Some scaling mechanism for more daily uses for the minor repairs would be in order here. Oh, have I mentioned the option to get a flying (or swimming!) chariot if you have flying mounts? Yes, awesome. Using driving checks to negate incoming attacks is also part of the deal. While there are some minor rough edges and while this one is pretty dependant on the campaign, it is awesome in my book. Why? Because the stunts also add the one thing to the charioteer the cavalier class lacks – player agenda. The stunts provide meaningful choices every level, so yeah – overall, a well-crafted archetype.
Next up would be the clockwork knight. Instead of a mount, this one can repair clockwork constructs via his Craft (clockwork) and a mount is only gained at 4th level, at druid level equal to class level -3. This mount is pretty loud and gains DR 5/adamantine. Does not sound too impressive so far? You would be right – at low levels, this archetype does not sport too many impressive tricks. At 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, the knight may upgrade his mount with a selection of upgrades that is continuously increased – at 12th and 18th level, the choices essentially increase significantly. Now the archetype does not explicitly state that the mount receives the traits of the clockwork-subtype, which can be kind of irritating since e.g. getting rid of vulnerability to electricity constitutes one of the possible upgrades, so a more explicit stating of this component would have rendered the archetype slightly more user-friendly. On the plus-side, the upgrades do provide some utterly awesome options – from size-increase to a new movement mode, adding injectors to the mount (for delivering poison or acid or the like) to yes, a friggin turret, the options are interesting -especially seeing how the archetype receives siege engine proficiency and can mount ballistae or catapults on huge mounts. This per se is awesome, though I wished the catapults sported proper interaction with minimum crew-size – as written, the non-light-ballista siege-weapons would require a larger crew of 2 for light catapults, for example. While yes, this does not render the siege weapon inoperable, I think that an increased action economy would have helped this cool option. As a cool design decision, several of the upgrades add further benefits if other upgrades are present – mithral bodies can e.g. increase maneuverability for flying mounts. At the same time, interaction between these upgrades is not always perfect: Take Darkwood body and mithral body: Darkwood body can be taken at 6th level and increases DR to DR 10/adamantine and replaces vulnerability to electricity with vulnerability to fire. At 12th level, mithril bodies would increase DR to 15/adamantine, add +10 movement rate and make the natural attacks of the mount count as silver. So what if you choose darkwood first, mithral second? The only net benefit from darkwood would be the changed vulnerability. Including a mini-tree of required prior choices or the like would have probably helped here. This btw. extends to a couple of other upgrades wherein the higher-level choices invalidate the lower level ones. The archetype is okay, I guess, but falls flat of its concept.
Crudus Domitor would be an archetype for the evil – with Dazzling Display and Demoralizing Lash as bonus feats, though the latter is modified to work with non-whip weapons. These guys can also smell fear and get a Blood Pact Mount, which does not gain animal companion benefits, but instead receives upgrades in the form of templates at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. Whenever the archetype causes fear for the first time in a target creature, he temporarily adds a bonus to Str and the ominous weapon quality to his weapon. Trampling and improved speed when trying to run down foes are nice and I also like the imagery of using freshly slain foes of sufficient power (non kitten-able, btw.!) to increase the AC of the crudus domitor. At higher levels, worsened fear-effects and panic-inducing criticals are solid. Overall, no problems here. Solid, evil archetype.
The Formation Rider, alas, has some issues: The base ability, formation, simply does not work. “At 1st level, the formation rider knows how to lead formations of mounted soldiers. When the formation rider and his allies are riding in a line the formation rider can use a full-round action to lead a charge. He and all allies in the line may immediately move and attack as if with a standard charge and then move again (continuing the straight line of the charge). The total movement for the charge can’t exceed double their mounted speed. The formation rider, his mount, and his allies do not provoke an attack of opportunity from the opponent that they attack. Each ally may choose to attack the same target as the formation rider or a different one but everyone must end their charge in a line with all allies in the formation. The formation rider can use this ability once per day.” For one, does this change initiative? What if mounts have different movement rates/modes? What is “a line” in game terms? How many allies can be affected? How can they attack the same target as the formation rider, even though they do not need to be within range regarding their weapons? The upgrades further improve that and while I like the concept, the execution, as provided, does not work.
The Lord (or Lady) in Burlap constitutes a folk hero archetype that can fight particularly well with farm tools and can make weapons stuck that they have disarmed. Unseating mounted foes and similar, thematically-fitting options round out a conceptually awesome, befittingly humble archetype I thoroughly enjoyed. The Mounted Brigand would constitute a cavalier/rogue crossover that gets sneak attack, but has less stringent requirements for his order and delays order ability gains. Interesting would be the fact that these guys can execute terrible charges that also deal sneak attack damage. All in all, a lethal, solid archetype.
The Oath-bound Protector swears to protect a single, living creature, granting AC-bonuses when adjacent to said ward at the cost of their own defense. Now where this archetype becomes awesome is with the modified order abilities: Each of the orders gets a modified version, including ronins/knight errants. Damn cool ones, in fact. While not all are perfect in their wording, they are functional – so all in all, a solid option! The next archetype is right up my alley – the shieldmaiden. With Cha-mod times Deathwatch, counter shield bashes, making the shield count as a banner and similar shield-themed benefits, we have another solid archetype here, though one I wished that delved deeper into the obviously nordic source-material.
Spirit Riders get an ethereal mount that cannot make attacks or be attacked – yes, this is a significant deviation from how etherealness works, but in campaigns with bastard DMs like yours truly that slay mounts, this archetype makes more than a bit of sense. At 5th level, spirit riders can cha-mod times per day grant their weapons the ghost touch ability, with higher levels granting scaling bonuses as well as a limited array of weapon special abilities. Once again,a solid archetype.
The Steadfast Challenger replaces tactician-tricks with several abilities that allow for better movement around the battlefield and the more relentless pursuit of adversaries, with better movement and means to mitigate escape regarding the targets of their challenges. Once again, a nice archetype.
The alternate class provided in this book would be the Sword-sworn troubadour, with d10, full BAB-progression, good ref- and will-saves, 4+Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons and light armor.1st level troubadours not only get an instrument they can play while wielding a weapon (with an audible range of 100 ft.), they can also make a perform check versus a target’s will-save – if the troubadour wins, the target creature is flat-footed for 1 round. This is a pretty powerful option and it uses opposing rolls as opposed to PFRPG’s standard of d20-roll vs. fixed value. Flat-foot-locking is thankfully not possible, though. 1/day, a troubadour can sing a battle hymn, +1/day use at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Initiating a battle hymn is a full-round action and the duration depends on the hymn in question, but often clocks in at 3 rounds, 1 minute. Hymns can be deciphered with Linguistics, which makes it possible for opponents to also benefit from the hymn – that’s a nasty drawback! That being said, some of the battle hymns are NASTY: Double the range of any spell cast by an allied spellcaster within 100 ft. for double the casting time is problematic not only regarding balancing, but also regarding how concentration for spellcasters works in such a context. Relaying message to all allies in a one-mile radius would be another option, though one significantly weaker than the others. While not bad per se, the overall array of battle hymns could have imho used a tighter balancing or level-scaling among themselves. Bonus feats are granted at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, teamwork feats are granted at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The capstone allows for two battle hymns to be in effect at the same time. All in all, a solid, if not perfect alternate class.
The first PrC herein would be the Feywarden, who gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 fort- and will-save progressions, full animal companion-progression, 9/10 spellcasting progression. Requiring non-lawful alignment, 2nd level divine spellcasting etc., the PrC also gets access to the unique order of the fey – which is a bit odd in that it is presented as part of the PrC, but obviously refers to total character levels – with nature’s fury referring to 15th level, I am not sure whether the order abilities for 2nd and 8th level are referring to character levels or PrC-levels and the table, alas, does not help here either. Clarification would be appreciated. The PrC getting an order also makes me wonder whether/how that would interact with the cavalier base-class and rders gained from that class. The PrC also has the option to conjure forth armors and gets cha-mod defensive capabilities as well as DR/Cold iron and even butterfly wings, culminating in a fey apotheosis.
The second PrC is the Obsidian Knight gets full BAB-progression, medium fort-and will-saves, 7/10th spellcasting progression, d10, 2+Int skills per level and require both 2nd level divine spellcasting and a cavalier’s order as prerequisites. They do not gain any weapon or armor proficiencies. Obsidian knights receive elemental channel as a bonus feat, affecting all types of elementals, usable 3+Cha-mod times per day. If you already have channel energy, instead add +3 uses of channel energy instead. The PrC also can use this to generate an aura that increases the weight of metal armor etc. to make the targets suffer heavy encumbrance for Cha-mod rounds. The obsidian knight can also use this to conjure forth thin walls of earth that work as stationary tower shields and his weapons can receive obsidian-based benefits to weapon enhancement as well as the ability to react to being hit by elemental spells by adding the appropriate weapon quality temporarily. Bull rushes in a straight line, very lethal caltropy shard-fields and a potentially ray-deflecting shield complement this PrC further. Guess what – I really, really like this earth-related PrC. Kudos!
The Rime Reaver gets d10, 2+Int skills, no new proficiencies, full BAB-progression, 1/2 fort and will-save progression, 7/10th spellcasting progression. At 2nd level, the rime reaver gets cold resistance 5, which increases by +5 every two levels thereafter, stacking with the bloodline power. Jup, this is intended to work as a conjunction of sorceror and cavalier. The PrC replaces the companion with a polar bear and stacks class levels with sorc levels for purposes of bloodline powers. 3rd level nets a weapon of ice that is treated as adamantine, dealing half damage as cold damage and as a capstone, the companion becomes mythic. Once again, a solid PrC with some cool imagery.
The pdf also provides a new order for cavaliers, the order of the bow. members of this order may apply challenge benefits to ranged attacks when mounted and attacking someone within 30 ft. and obviously, is a ranged specialist. At high levels, they may shoot targets of charges of allies as immediate actions. A nice order.
The pdf also sports a +2 equivalent enchantment that enhances trip and disarm and adds free trip to crits. The pdf also provides stats for jousting lance tips, better tethers and an alchemical goo that frightens mounts. Resting saddles and standing saddle stirrups also provide for nice items.
Editing and formatting are good, though I noticed some instances of minor flaws in punctuation and missing spell-italicization. Layout adheres to Flying Pincushion Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf provides some solid full-color artworks, ranging from neat to stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
The cavalier has a troubled history in my games – while I love the concept of the class, there is no other base-class that has this bad a ratio for player agenda – you choose mount and order and that’s about it. Not particularly compelling as a chassis to work from. That being said, this pdf manages to provide some form of flexibility with several of the options provided herein and enhance the base-class with several distinctly fun and high-concept archetypes and class options, widening the limited scope of the base class.
Frank Gori, Jeff Harris, Taylor Hubbler, Jason Linker, Andrew Hoskins, Kiel Howell, Jacob Michaels, Richard Litzkow, Mikko Kallio, Mark Nordheim – congratulations! Why? Because this is one review I very much enjoyed writing. The “Into the Breach”-series took a bad beating from yours truly with some of the installments, but this here is a huge step forward. Where before, even simple rules-language sported issues here and there, this one feels infinitely more refined. Indeed, if there are glitches to be found herein, they often can be mitigated by a capable DM and/or stem from daring to tackle some rather complex options. Now, as you can glean from the above, this pdf is certainly not perfect, but it works much, much better than any book in the series I’ve read so far. To the point where both charioteer and briar knight (though the letter with nerfed tanglevine strike and some finetuning) will make appearances in my campaign. The majority of the content herein is solid and there are glimmers of brilliance here and there that make me confident in Flying Pincushion Games further improving to become truly awesome. While not perfect, I value the high concepts higher than the problems and consider this pdf a fun addition to one’s games and thus will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.