In the Company of Doppelgängers
This installment of Rite Publishing’s „In the Company“-series clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
After a brief introduction of how this book came to be, we dive headfirst into the great in-character prose that is a hallmark of the series – with a threatening undertone, as the account provided for Qwilion of Questhaven did also allow the doppelgänger sufficient knowledge of the sage’s body… Anyways, we receive well-written notes on the background and myths of the race, including notes on the potentially problematic childhoods and adolescences of doppelgängers – by the way, the race refers to itself as immickers. This whole section, including the way in which the infiltration of societies are covered, carry a surprisingly threatening undertone, as the narrator tries to justify the influence of immickers – it’s all for the best for communities, obviously. The purchase of identities, even temporarily, is a thoroughly creepy concept as described here – the prose is impressive in how it makes a seemingly compelling, yet thoroughly disquieting case for the race. Similarly, the race is contextualized within the races and monsters via a tie to Limbo, providing an interesting angle there as well.
Unusual about immickers: They only lead a very brief life, and as such, their starting ages are modified. As shapechangers, they sport different builds and guidelines for these are presented – well done. Racial trait-wise, immickers gain +2 Str and Cha, -2 Con, are Medium shapechangers with a normal speed, darkvision, +4 to saves versus charm and sleep effects, +1 natural armor bonus. They gain at-will alter self to assume Small or Medium sizes, without adjusting ability scores – in order to assume specific sizes, immickers with a Charisma score of 12+ gain mental intrusion: They can employ detect thoughts, using Charisma as governing attribute, as per the psychic monster rules. The use costs 2 PE and an immicker’s PE-pool is equal to 4 PE per day. The immicker may assume the form of those that failed the save against the ability, but the ability thus gained only lasts for 24 hours. The adjustment process to such a specific shape takes 10 minutes and it remains in effect as long as desired, until changed. This is a really smart set-up: It provides full shapechanging at level 1, while still retaining balancing limits. Very elegant solution here!
There are two alternate ability score arrays: Brutes get +2 Wis and Con, -2 Cha, while guilekin gain +2 Dex and Int, -2 Wis. The other alternate racial traits allow for the replacement of the save bonuses in lieue of save bonuses against transmutations. This may also be replaced with properly codified (Nice!) claw attacks. Darkvision can be replaced with low-light vision. There is also the option to replace the natural armor and save bonuses for skill bonuses against a specific race. My favorites here, though, would be the alternative intrusions: The book makes excellent use of the occult rules, allowing for intrusions via detect desires or detect anxieties as a basis for assuming precise shapes – this allows you to customize the race in a rather interesting manner. The save-bonuses may btw. also be exchanged in favor of gaining two such intrusion options. Big kudos for these!
We also gain favored class options – beyond the paragon class, alchemist, barbarian, bard, cleric, fighter, investigator, medium, mesmerist, oracle, psychic, ranger, rogue, slayer and vigilante. I have no complaints regarding their powerlevel. Now, as befitting of the flexibility of the class, we actually get variant multiclassing options for the doppelgänger paragon class– nice! The pdf also provides archetypes: Mental grafter psychics gain Disguise as a class skill and does not gain a psychic discipline. Phrenic pool is based on Charisma. At 1st level and every 4 levels thereafter, the psychic gains +2 points of PE to use for the intrusion abilities. Successfully using mental intrusion also allows the character to regain phrenic points, and yes, there thankfully is a hard cap of regained points, preventing abuse. This replaces the detect thoughts SP. At 3rd level, the archetype gains the mindtouch phrenic amplification, but only for the purpose of using the spell or spells gained via the intrusions. 5th level unlocks all types of mental intrusion and 9th level provides two forms to fluidly change into, with additional forms unlocked every 4 levels thereafter.
The morphic petitioner cleric loses proficiency with the deity’s favored weapon and gains Bluff and Disguise as class skills, losing Knowledge (arcane) and Knowledge (history). Here’s the cool thing: Each day, the morphic petitioner swears loyalty to a deity, preparing cleric spells thus. The deity’s alignment must be within one step of the cleric, but this temporary allegiance influences the alignment aura and neutral petitioners can choose whether to use positive or negative energy anew, while good and evil petitioners are locked into their respective correlating energy. The petitioner only gains one domain, but may choose these anew with each new temporary allegiance.
Versatile armsmaster fighters begin play with the doppelgänger’s paragon’s appraising gaze, but may only retain combat feats thus gained. This replaces the 2nd level’s bonus feat. Also pretty cool: The archetype also gains a wildcard feat and at 6th level and every +4 levels thereafter, the bonus combat feats may be changed similarly. The ability codifies the prerequisite caveats correctly and the activation action improves, but retains a 1/round maximum. If this sounds like ridiculous flexibility, you’d be correct – however, an Int-based maximum keeps that somewhat in line. Weapon mastery may be changed, btw. Flexible and thankfully, more interesting than the base fighter, yet still sufficiently contained.
Druids may become natural mimics, who gain Natural Spell and treats the shapechanging as wild shape for the purpose of feats etc. The key ability of this archetype would be that it blends wild shape with the intrusion of the base race, but unlocks progressively better SP-equivalents, including monstrous physique, giant forms, form of the dragon, etc. They also, obviously, may assume animal forms and may memorize a progressively growing amount of forms.
Now, as always, the key component of this pdf would be the racial paragon class. The class gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, NO base proficiencies, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and 5 PE at first level, scaling up to 15 at 20th level. The key base ability of the class would be appraising gaze, a more potent form of the base race intrusion. When succeeding at an intrusion, the class may make a special check to learn to mimic one particular trait of the target. This check is a d20 + Intelligence modifier + level (should probably be class level – in a later explanation, this is correctly depicted). The doppelgänger can retain knowledge of up to “twice their Intelligence score modifier” – that should be either “twice their Intelligence score” or “twice their Intelligence modifier” – I assume the latter to be correct; the former would be too much. The doppelgänger can choose to forget information at any time as a free action. This ability taps into baseline mimicry: The doppelgänger paragon gains the weapon and armor proficiencies of the current mimicked form and also a caster level in spellcasting classes, but this does not grant spellcasting prowess, only the option to activate spellcompletion or spelltrigger items. At 1st level, 2nd and every 2 levels thereafter, the class gains mimicked traits – these are retained in the dominant disguise and must correspond to the dominant disguise.
At 3rd level, the class gains morphic memory: At 3rd level when preparing a dominant disguise, they can choose two shapes they retain memory of via Appraising Gaze; these can assumed via change shape at-will. What is the by now often mentioned dominant disguise? At 3rd level,, one of the disguises is designated as dominant; this must be one chosen via morphic memory. The doppelgänger may only manifest mimicked traits while in the dominant disguise. Wait, what? Yes, this is somewhat confusing. At level 1, we gain 1 mimicked trait, another at 2nd…these only work in dominant disguises…but dominant disguise in only gained at 3rd level… I am, alas, not sure how this is supposed to work, meaning that this constitutes a serious flaw in the base engine of the class.
At 2nd level, the doppelgänger paragon chooses a specialization: Martial, skillful, or magical. The latter specialization gains access to the mesmerist’s spells per day, using the medium’s table of spells known. Charisma is the governing attribute – and yes, this means that mimicked traits will be used to gain more spells known. At 5th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class gains an additional spell known. Magical specialists can only take general and magical mimicked traits. Martial specialization changes the BAB to full, but are locked into martial and general mimicked traits. Skillful doppelgangers gain +2 x their class level as bonus skill ranks, which may be reassigned upon gaining a level. Bingo: They may only take skillful/general mimicked traits.
At 5th level, the doppelgänger can mimic racial features in all disguises. 5th level nets an expansion for the detections available – slightly odd: one spell noted here is detect fears – which should imho be detect desires, as the other detection options mimic those available to the base race. At 9th level, the class gains a second dominant disguise, with its separate amount of traits – i.e. the full array, making the character exhibit two modes. 10th level nets the ability to count as both humanoid and monstrous humanoid and may be treated as either for a given effect. This does not grant inherent awareness of the effect. 13th level provides 1 mimicked trait for all forms retained in the morphic memory – these must not be dominant disguises. 17th level yields a second specialty and the capstone, the original form’s level no longer is capped by the level of the mimicked target, but instead use the doppelgänger’s level.
The check to learn traits, just fyi, categorizes them in three DCs – 5, 10 and 15…which means that the check becomes redundant rather quickly. Personally, I’d have preferred finer scaling here. Such mimicked tricks btw. use the level of the doppelgänger or that of the original, whichever is lower. Kudos: Interaction with e.g. psychic energy is covered, though, as an aside, we can find cosmetic hiccups here. Like “Craft: Alchemy” – not the correct formatting. In the skillset mimicking “equal to the appropriate HD amount in that skill” did confuse me. On the plus-side: The codification of alchemy is pretty solid. Beyond mimicking talents, the book then goes into the massive, impressive breakdown of Paizo-classes – including antipalas, ACG-classes, Occult Adventures-classes, vigilante, and even versions for the unchained versions of rogue, monk and summoner are included – which is neat and, detail-wise, impressive as all hell. Weird: The talents associated with the witch seem to have been cut from the book. I’d like to comment on their balance – as a whole, they seem to be solid, but due to the glitch in the base engine of the class, I have a hard time analyzing this properly.
The pdf concludes with 4 feats: One for +3 on gazes (wasted feat, considering the low DC), +1 mimicked trait (must be general), using your level as CL for item-activation if it’s higher and gaining more of the mind-reading options – here, the detect fear-glitch can be found once more.
Editing and formatting are still good on a formal level – while I noticed more hiccups than in most Rite publishing books, as a whole, this can be read in a fluid manner. Regarding rules-language, I am thoroughly impressed by the high-complexity difficulty attempted here – for the most part better than I expected from the first big solo-effort of the author. However, unfortunately, some rules-hiccups compromise the integrity of pretty central components herein – development-wise, this could have used a stricter hand to iron out the minor hiccups. The pdf sports nice full-color artworks, though fans of Rite Publishing may know some of them from other supplements. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.
This is Joshua Hennington’s first stand-alone book, at least to my knowledge. Good news first: It is significantly better and more skillful than a ton of books by more established designers. The author manages to create a truly evocative race that gains all the cool shapeshifting without compromising even more conservative campaigns. The basic set-up is glorious. The prose and the ideas of the race similarly are inspired and make for a great reading. This book was on the fast-lane track to the 5 stars + seal verdict…but then, the paragon class came. And suddenly, the previously impressively precise rules-language starts to fray a bit; the class buckles under the weight of its high-difficult theme/concept. You can see the intent between the carefully connected abilities and how the engine is supposed to work…you can have the idea…but, of all the abilities, it’s unfortunately the core ability-cluster of the class that sports problems that compromise its entirety. From a didactic point of view, I read the system a couple of times and while I get the breakdown by class, even if it worked, it may be a bit needlessly complicated – codifying class features as tricks, with class and specializations as subtypes and minimum levels may have been a slightly more easy to implement solution.
I know. This sounds bad. It really isn’t that bad. The first half of this book is inspired, but the second half, at least to me, seems a bit rushed – the rules-language becomes less precise, we have references to non-existent spells, slight deviations from rules-language… With slightly more polish, this becomes a really interesting book, but I can’t rate that. I have to rate what’s here. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, but unfortunately, I can’t round up, in spite of the freshman bonus: The flaw at the heart of the class keeps me from rounding up, in spite of the freshman bonus. That being said, I sincerely hope to be able to read more of Joshua Hennington’s writing – this book does show a ton of promise and when/if it’s revised, it may easily become a fine gem. Until then, consider the race depicted herein to be one of the best-balanced, most interesting shapechanger-races I know. It may be worth getting for the race alone.
You can get this inspiring, if not perfect book here on OBS!
You can get a massive Halloween-themed “Play the Monster”-bundle containing this one here on OBS!