In the Company of Fiends (revised edition)
The revised edition of „In the Company of Fiends“ clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
Now, as always in the series, we begin this supplement with an introduction to the race at hand, written from an in-character perspective. This time around, the race would be the nephilim, and the arguments fielded in favor are twisted, delightful and compelling, worthy of the logical leaps of e.g. Paradise Lost, as the narrator manages to sell, rather compellingly, that “Hell loves you unconditionally”, that “Do what thou wilt” as the whole of the law might well make for a rather compelling maxim to live by. The prose here is rather fantastic, as it is steeped in the unreliable prejudices of the hellish narrator – suffice to say, he has no good things to say about daemons, demons and the like. Fun here: Sidebars throughout the pdf provide somewhat alternate perspectives.
Now, rules-wise, the nephilim race gets +2 Constitution and Charisma, -2 Wisdom, is Medium and gets a base speed of 30 ft. Nephilim are humanoids with the evil subtype as well as a selected humanoid subtype, but are affected by effects that specifically target evil outsiders. As a minor complaint: What if an effect for example targets a nephilim with the elf subtype, granting a buff to the elf, but a debuff to evil outsiders? Which takes precedence? That should be clarified. Nephilim may be raised and returned from the dead as normal, suffering none of the usual outsider restrictions. Nephilim get darkvision 60 ft. and these beings, granted a mortal vessel, are chosen ones of the lower planes of sorts: 1/day, they may target an evil outsider of their subtype with less or equal HD and use command on them, suing character level as CL. If the target has less or equal to half the nephilim’s HD, the effect is charm monster with character level rounds duration instead. If the subtype matches the nephilim’s fiendish ancestry, the SP ignores SR and has a 1-hour duration. Save DC is Charisma-based.
What’s fiendish ancestry? It’s a racial trait wherein you choose one of 8 different fiendish subtypes, ranging from asura to qlippoth, granting an alignment-based subtype as well as passive bonuses to saves versus specific hindrances like poison, disease, etc. as well as minor skill boosts. Bonus types are correctly codified here. The fiendish ancestry also determines the fiendish resistance, generally to two energy types, with some of the ancestries allowing for limited choice of one of them: Devils get resistance 5 fire and may choose from either acid or cold as the second energy type, for example. Each nephilim has a dark master – an at least Balor-level potent being that has a lesser geas with an open-ended request on the nephilim. 8th HD frees from this obligation’s negative effects, btw. Nephilims are inhuman, and people conversing with them get a Sense Motive check to determine that something is afoul. Nephilim treat both material plane and that corresponding with their ancestry as the home plane, and may thus not be banished. Now, alternate racial trait-wise, we have the option to be Small, SÜs and skills to haggle with souls (including the presence of soul gems, etc.), replacing fiendish ancestry with sadism, which here translates to +1 to CL and saves vs. fear and pain effects, as well as +1 morale bonus to attacks versus those affected by them. Improved lying instead of fiendish resistance, being a better oracle, being bloodthirsty – some sinister options here. Cool, btw.: The latter comes with synergy with the dread power class feature – more on that later. Limited poaching of humanoid traits in steps is also a complex rules-operation done right here. Particularly cool: The pdf provides concise rules for becoming a nephilim. The section also provides favored class options for arcanist, barbarian, bloodrager, brawler, cavalier, cleric, fighter, dread (DSP’s psionic class), inquisitor, magus, mesmerist, occultist, paladin, rogue, sorcerer, summoner, warpriest, witch and wizard.
Now, the pdf contains a total of 12 racial feats for the Nephilim: Beyond the “Extra class feature” type, we have a feat that gets id of the Inhuman drawback, courtesy of having broken the humanoid soul trapped within. There’s a multiclass-enabler feat; a high level Style feat that makes unarmed/natural attacks adamantine or improves them further, even taking special DRs into account. There is a feat to enhance your body with grafts, though, being a feat, it provides numerical bonuses – personally, I prefer the subject to be represented with an array of actual grafts. There is a metamagic feat, Hellfire Spell, which labors under the misconception of there being such a thing as unholy damage – which there is not. *SIGH* AoE-demoralize as a full-round action, with a hex-caveat to prevent abuse, having a Symbiosis with the mortal soul within…some nice ones here. We also have a feat for bonuses versus an outsider type and a hellish one that allows you to twist language-dependent effects with your Linguistics. Really liked that one! High level wish-twisting and seeing a target’s sin is nice. Speaking of which: The pdf provides some really cool food for thought regarding that concept, quoting e.g. Gandhi. This little sidebar on sin inspired me more than many whole books on fiends.
Now, the heart and soul (haha!) of this pdf would be the fiendish exemplar paragon class, who must have an alignment corresponding to the fiendish ancestry, gets d10 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, proficiency in simple weapons, and +1 martial/exotic weapon if she does not gain a natural weapon. You see, 1st level nets either a natural weapon, or a proficiency or Improved Unarmed Strike. Natural weapons are correctly codified and weapons chosen can either inflict normal damage or consult a scaling table, which includes entries for Small and Large exemplars. The class gets full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Ref-saves and ½ AC-progression. If this chassis seems too powerful for your preferred playstyle, fret not, for the book actually provides a second chasses, which only nets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression and comes with a drawback that prevents returning to life. Kudos for going the extra mile to account for table variance here!
Now, the fiendish ancestry chosen as part of the racial traits also determines further bonuses regarding the paragon class – the fiendish ancestry class feature builds on this, with 4th level and every 6 levels thereafter expanding the benefits of resistances, saving throw bonuses and, as soon as it’s granted, determining the DR. Fiendish ancestry also comes into play at 10th level, where it determines the unique aura granted.
Fiendish exemplars also begin play with a so-called dread pool, which contains class level + Charisma modifier points. The pool replenishes once per day after a 1-hour supplication period. Points can be expended as a swift action to grant bonuses to social skills, conceal alignment, duplicate detect desires (nor properly italicized, but comes with a hex-caveat to prevent spamming). Minor complaint here: The pool interacts with the talents of the class, the so-called dread powers, but the latter reference to “1 point of dread power”, a term not established in the pool’s class feature-text. Dread pool should contain “dread points” or “dread power points”, dread powers should probably be called dread talents or the like to set them apart. While this terminology snafu is minor and does not compromise the integrity of the rules per se, it can be somewhat confusing at first and is uncommon to see for both Rite Publishing and the author.
Anyways, the fiendish exemplar begins play with one dread power and gains an additional one at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Some of these require specific ancestries and others don’t – as a whole, these represent the active abilities of the class, though a few passive ones can be found as well – even these, however, do allow for some way of spending dread power points. Saves, if relevant, are governed by Charisma. This massive list contains summoning tricks, telepathy, immediate action dispels, charging weapons with negative energy, adding negative levels to strikes, ruin bodies of water, maddening touches, blasts of hellfire (again, incorrect damage types), Empower Spell-Like Ability evil SPs…the section, as a whole, is pretty neat, with some unique effects added: E.g. on a natural 20 on a CL-check with aforementioned dispel, the target must save or be unable to cast divine spells for a round! Cool, right?
Anyways, at 2nd level, and then again at 4th and every two levels thereafter, the class receives a ruinous gift – basically, the massive talent array of passive abilities that the class offers. Some of these turn the exemplar progressively more inhuman and make concealing them harder…and the class feature also notes the skill check to determine the nature of the nephilim. Depending on your fiendish ancestry, you may select some of them sooner: Demodands can become adhesive at 6th level, for example, while others must wait for 10th level. Now, it should be noted that, while I called these “passive”, that is not entirely true – there are a tone of ruinous gifts that allow for additional effects to be added via the expenditure of dread power (points). Faster sprinting, Wisdom damage, resistance boosts, inflicting starvation on targets hit, getting a monstrous girth, spores, exuding shrapnel…there are a ton of customization options here. The capstone provides at-will commune and archfiend apotheosis, which only allows the target to be slain in one specific plane.
The pdf also contains a variety of different archetypes: The antumbra is a paladin shatters the preconceptions of evil nephilim, representing redeemed being, who subsequently replaces mercies with progressively better ways to attempt to redeem others. The corruptor mesmerist gains fiendish ancestry at the cost of one less spell per day, and touch treatment is replaced with scaling effects via touch, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day, interacting with implanted tricks, if any. These effects include, as the archetype name implies, suggestions, etc. The painfeaster bloodrager receives a variant bloodrage, the so-called sadistic frenzy, which is governed by Charisma. While in this frenzy, the character can execute painful strikes, which behave as a variant sneak that causes non-lethal damage and which may target creatures subject to a fear-based condition or those sickened/nauseated. These specialized strikes only scale when the better bloodrages would be gained, though there is an interesting choice, as the character can enhance their potency by choosing to take some limited lethal damage himself. These painful strikes, however, do grant stacking temporary hitpoints and the ability, impressively, gets the interaction of the complex rules-chassis correct. The painfeaster may choose ruinous gifts instead of bloodline powers and is locked into a fitting bloodline. Higher levels allow for low level spells added upon entering frenzy and adding sickened/nauseated on successful critical hits.
The rules-wise most impressive achievement of this chapter, though, would be the Left Path archetype, which can be applied pretty much universally. The archetype nets a dread pool and allows for the selection of dread powers and ruinous gifts – but comes at a price: Either the character is willing or unwilling – in either way, the archetype pays for the gained power with ever more decreasing autonomy and deeper shackles to the masters of the lower planes. I really enjoyed the storytelling potential here. This is pretty much my favorite rules-component herein.
The final chapter is devoted to magic items, 9 + 1, to be precise. Trophy of the Damned requires a potent sacrifice, but grants access to a dread power once you have quenched its thirst. Fallen reliquaries can store dread power points for passive benefits, but they also act as a battery of sorts, which is interesting. Hellfire brand, bingo, labors under the misconception of unholy damage existing. Mother’s milk temporarily nets eidolon evolutions, but at a hefty ability score drain cost once its duration elapses. There is a piercing that must be worn prominently, but which can make pain instead translate to benefits and redistribute these effects via piercing/slashing weapons. There is a magic whip. A ring to twist language, a vest of misdirection made from saint’s bones, and soul’s essence, an intoxicant for evil outsiders. The final item would be the legacy item lance of the end times, which sports 8 progression levels and requires that you defeat progressively more potent good outsiders to unlock its superb powers. Beyond the more common special weapon abilities added, the lance also allows for 60 ft.-line-attacks at higher levels, coup de grace at range and call forth progressively more potent fiends.
Editing and formatting are pretty good, but not as pitch-perfect as usual for Rite Publishing – there are a couple more typo-level glitches here and a few minor terminology snafus. Layout adheres to the crisp, new full-color two-column standard and the pdf sports quite a few really nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though e.g. archetypes don’t get their individual bookmark.
Okay, I’ll be frank: Theme-wise, this resonates with me on several levels. For one, Paradise Lost’s sentiment “better to reign in hell” always resounded with me; I do not have a shred of faith in me and I’m very, very weary of the Judeo-Christian good/evil-dichotomy that suffuses our cultures and roleplaying games. All my games gravitate towards a more shades of grey mentality. As such, alignment tends to be more fluid in my games, and strange though it may sound, the suggestion of the diversification of the sin-concept is thoroughly compelling to me. Similarly, I found myself gleefully pouring through the logical leaps that the in-character prose provided. The alternate view-points and snippets provided in the sidebars similarly inspired me: Hearing a qlippoth-possessed nephilim claim that he can control the entity before being set ablaze, warning of its freedom being MUCH worse, for example, set the wheels in my mind in motion. Flavor-wise, this ranks as one of the best entries in the whole series.
The concept of the nephilim is inspiring and the execution is similarly performed on a really high and precise level. The scaled version as an alternative was really appreciated as well, allowing even grittier games to take part in the experience presented within. And yet, I found myself slightly less excited than I should have by the mechanics. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it’s not the few and rather minor hiccups – they universally can be considered to be minor and can be neglected. It’s the scope. The very notion of the nephilim and what we associated with the various outsiders covers a TON of ground. Oddly and paradoxically, more so than even the aberrations, because the nephilim, as presented, are strongly charged with ideologies. As such, there are so many things that we expect from them, so many areas and tricks, that ultimately, this felt somewhat like the original, non-expanded “In the Company of Dragons” – it does a formidable job at depicting the notion of a playable fiend, but it cannot, by sheer scope, cover all the bases. This may be the one shortcoming of the pdf, for the concept presented by the race is genius in the hands of a good roleplayer. The notion of possession, of the diverse means of codifying the relationship between possessor and possessee, are interesting and narrative gold; so is the universal left hand archetype. On the other hand, mesmerist, items, the redeemer-pala…while well-executed, they feel slightly less mind-blowing than usual for the series.
Now, it is important to note that I am complaining at a very high level here – this *is* a very good book that contains a lot of really cool options. This is definitely worth owning and it can inspire whole campaigns. It may not be perfect, but my final verdict will still clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this extremely flavorful book here on OBS!