EZG reviews One Bling to Rule them All – Socketed Magic Items for PFRPG
This massive pdf is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The pdf kicks off with an introduction, and one that mirrors my own sentiments – magic in PFRPG feels codified -distinctly un-magical even at times, and magic items have become a staple that can identified easily and without great effort. This system seeks to remedy that – but how does it work?
Basically, there are crystals and gems that have a school’s aura and a caster level – these can be identified via the eponymous spell. But what is NOT unearthed by such a paltry casting is the crystal’s true function – why? Because it has none until it is inserted in a focal item. Instead of the function, one gets an impression of an emotion – like anger, or adventurousness. This emotion provides a general inkling of what can be expected, but does not provide a sure knowledge of what can be expected. Let’s take the example of adventurousness, shall we? Let’s take the example of cracked amber:
Cracked amber has a moderate aura of conjuration and transmutation, occupies a lesser slot and is aligned with adventurousness. When studded to a baton, it allows the wielder to once per day conjure a cone of con-damage dealing mosquitoes (that deal piercing damage versus vampires instead and don’t work versus plants etc.). When studded to a crown, it allows the wielder to grow a probiscus that nets the character a bite attack that also deals con-damage and may heal the wielder when used versus vampires. When instead inserted into a weapon, the weapon deals 1 point of additional con-damage on critical hits or deals bonus piercing damage versus vampires, again with the caveat that creatures sans blood are immune.
However, that’s just the basic premise: The crystal system is a tad bit more complex: Lesser crystals, like aforementioned amber, actually need to be used in pairs. Yes. One crystal alone is useless. Dangle, dangle, dangle – be good players – go to the adventure-locale of doom, there ought to be the crystal you’ve been looking for… I really like this design decision. While inserting a pair of lesser crystals into an item is only a full round action, there are inherent limits: When two different types crystals are put in an item, they just cancel each other out and short out for 24 hours. Since some of these crystals have limited uses per day, one would assume changing them would be the prudent thing, but after using these limited abilities, removing the crystals causes the focus item to become inert for a day. Similarly, crystals that provide passive bonuses cause focus items to become inert when they are removed.
Beyond these lesser crystals, there’s a second type – so-called nexus crystals. These contain various conflicting emotions and thus need to be prepared to be used in conjunction with magic items – via spellcraft (formula provided, should you choose to design more), no taking 10s or 20s.. On a failed check, the nexus crystal becomes damaged, increasing the DC further by 5. A second failure completely destroys the nexus crystal. Furthermore, magic items slotted with a nexus crystal cannot have this type of crystal removed sans ruining it. In contrast to lesser crystals, nexus crystals offer one benefit, regardless into what item they’re slotted in. Now emotions have been touched upon – but what are they? Adventurousness, Anger, Compassion, Curiosity, Envy, Fear, Malice, Smug, Surprise, Wonder – while I think it should be smugness instead, that’s just me being pedantic to the nth degree – ignore this. All in all, I like this emotion-idea, though honestly, I would have enjoyed a broader variety here – since envy is represented, why not make one for each deadly sin (or cardinal virtue?) or simply offer more – perhaps detrimental emotions? Or those that tie in primal concepts like love/lust – Joyous rapture, for example? Not complaining, mind you – just saying that there’s room for more here.
Now we’ve got all those nifty crystals – but where to put them? As you could probably glean from aforementioned example, the answer is focal items. Here’s another neat balancing factor: If a character ever is in possession of two or more focal items, all of them short out for an hour- the limit’s one per character – no exceptions. There are 3 categories of focal items: The crown generally confers defensive abilities or spell-in-a-can close range effects. While called crown, belts, amulets and similar items may just as well be made with the same benefits – though not gloves, bracers or boots – the crystals require close proximity. Crowns may hold 3 pairs of lesser crystals and 1 nexus crystal and don’t work for a whole day after you changed crystals. Weapons can contain the same amount of crystals and follow much the same basic guidelines (including becoming inert for a day after changes), but instead focus on passive offensive abilities and martially themed spell-effects. Finally, batons can only hold a single pair of lesser crystals or one nexus crystal – but unlike the other two item classes, batons have no “memory”, i.e. they don’t become inert, allowing you to cycle through various pairs of lesser crystals and use their abilities – in such it is an exception to the becoming inert-rule that applies to the other socketed items. Another balancing factor mentioned in a sidebox is rather crucial to keep batons from being thoroughly OP – the effects of lesser crystals, when not duplicating spells, can be counterspelled by ANY spell of the school that corresponds to the school associated with the crystal.
Unsocketed focal items cost 1000 GP and may not be enchanted beyond their capacity as a catalyst of the crystal’s powers – even adding a spell can cancel out the effects of such an item, making e.g. the offensive use of magic weapon and similar enchantments possible. Interesting regarding both buffing and combat tactics when dealing with socketed items.
Now before we get into the details, we also get a page that helps give you some ideas to introduce these items into your campaign and what to consider when doing so – a nice basic starting point. And then we’re introduced to the lesser crystals – and the first one already is an oddball of superb narrative potential: Blue Amber, when socketed into ANY type of item, prevents death from exposure to space, allowing you to hibernate for 10 years and survive the drop from the orbit – though of course the planet you’re stranded on may still kill you. Now more common would be functions as displayed by dark amber: When attached to a baton, the amber may produce one lump of amber that turns the baton into the equivalent of a warhammer with a crit mod of x4 and +4 to confirm crits – upon a critical hit, the baton returns to its non-weaponized form, though. When inserted into a crown, it nets a +3 natural armor bonus and when applied to a weapon, it applies the keen or impact properties depending on damage type and adds + base dice damage on critical hits – one to look out for d12-aficionados!
Cerulean crystals allow you to go SubZero on your foes – turn batons into icicles and snap them in the wounds you deal, leaving your foe bleeding, fire dual rays of frost that impose penalties of foes for a limited amount of time or add 1d3 points of cold damage to your weaponized attacks. Clear copper crystals on the other hand are more defensive: When added to a baton, they increase caster level +2 when using conjuration (healing) spells, when inserted into a crown, they allow you to treat the first 20 1s rolled every day when subjected to a healing spell while wearing it as 3s and when added to a weapon, the wielder of said weapon gets fast healing 2 for spell-level rounds up to a maximum of 2 minutes of fast healing per day. Clear ferric crystals also are interesting: You may declare “friendly” creatures when putting the item on the ground – thereafter, when another being enters the area, the crystals emit a piercing scream and can also activate one predetermined ability of other lesser crystals (or even a nexus crystal) set in the same item, making essentially for a crystalline alarm/contingency/watchdog-type offering. Of course, that happens only if the crystal manages a perception-check at the wielder’s skill -4 to spot the intruders, thus not invalidating spell-based solutions to the stand guard-issue.
What about temporarily turning the weapons of your foes into gold, making them terribly unwieldy and easily sundered, shooting jets of fire-damage close-ranged jets of molten gold or coat your weapon in gold alloy, conferring immunity to rusting grasps – nice when hunting rust monsters – or what about clear pebbled crystals, which allow you among other things, to permanently make terrain difficult? What about different diamonds, which allow you to create blades of light, boost HP or net weapons enhancement bonuses? Or the graphite-speckled diamond, which detonates upon your death as a kind of final vengeance. What I hold highly in favor of this pdf as well is that not all crystals of different capabilities are straight progressions of abilities – take emeralds, for example:
Cracked emeralds allow you to turn you baton into a vine whip that can maintain grapples on its own, shoot short-ranged poisonous vines when attached to a crown or create temporary vines that move towards a designated foe and attack him/her/it as if in melee within a close range. Glinting emeralds, in direct comparison, may 1/day infuse a target with the desire to steal a valuable item, net +3 to saves versus compulsion effects or force a foe hit to focus on disarming you/stealing your weapon to get that nice, shiny piece – when said foe could spend the time better doing a variety of things. There are also crystals that boost your speed when hit critically (or your allies when of the same race and close), net you temporary DR, reduce armor-bonuses of foes hit by a touch attack.
Also interesting would be the 7 types of Moldavite: When, as a finicky full-round action, a handle of a wand is brought close to such a socketed item, it hovers there and allows for the use of the wand sans expending a charge – but even rather miniscule attacks/forced movement etc. cancel the process, but before you start screaming – they also come with a level limit depending on quality and a limited use per day. They also have a set, low caster level that prevents the crystal class from becoming overpowered. Onyx are also cool – they allow you to throw meteors once per day – the exploding type. Per se cool – but why do these meteors strike unerringly? There are not many effects that do so and meteor swarm, which requires touch attacks, doesn’t hit automatically. Yes, it’s only 1 2d6 + 6d6 explosion meteor per day, but still – why the disjoint between mechanics? I think the ability would still be viable enough when tied to a touch attack. Also, the onyx’ entry reads “it wants left alone” – a minor editing glitch. Tourmalines should also be noted as exceptional – when attached to a baton, you can project a limited amount of magically-conductive globs: These globs enhance damage dealt by spells by +2d6, increase healing received via spells by +2d6 or, when not dealing with damage/healing, they increase the effective caster level by +1. While construction of these is not intended (the design-intention being of bringing unpredictability), a sidebox does provide guidelines for DMs to make construction of these crystals possible – though personally, I’d advise against it.
Next up are nexus crystals – which represent more complex blends of emotions and hence are more powerful – but also come with their own respective downsides. Some of these are fairly straight-forward and have both components thematically linked – the very first one, Architect’s Dream, for example – it nets you +3 to craft-skills and allows you to use craft untrained – but if not creating anything for a week, you incur a -1 penalty to all rolls until you do. Coagulated Corrosion is interesting for acid-themed casters, allowing you to add silent and still spell to spells without increasing casting time or spell level – 1/day – and whenever you drop a creature of CR equal or greater than your CR -2, this ability recharges. However, it is also expended when being hit by electricity damage or casting an electricity spell. The crystalline quiver nexus crystal may conjure 4 arrows into being, either made from cold iron, silver or adamantine (insert rant on admantine being slightly more powerful than the other materials here) and have these arrows also get a +1 luck bonus to atk and damage – however, when failing to penetrate DR, this bonus falls flat until the arrows conjured by the quiver successfully penetrate a creature’s DR. Martyr’s Vow is yet another winner – the crystal nets a +3 bonus to spells and effects causing a vast array of negative conditions – but when an ally within 30 ft. gets struck by any of them, the condition is transported to the crystal’s wielder.
Oh, with precious pinions, you can go Daedalus – including the option to plummet as your waxen wings melt and you repeat the folly of Icarus. What about a nexus crystal made from all 4 elements, with 4 benefits and the option to triple the efficiency of the effect when on the corresponding elemental plane, but at the cost of being unable to access the other powers. What about the final word, which allows you to counter counterspells 1/day – but which also propels you into a deadly rage that forces you to try to kill any foes with spell and power who successfully manages to counterspell your magic.
And then, we get the massive nexus crystal generator: 5 pages, each with a table of 20 entries are awaiting you with tertiary, secondary, primary and high level abilities and downsides – all coming with corresponding emotion/school descriptors etc. Regular nexus crystals come with the standard three abilities + 1 downside, whereas more powerful crystals also add the high-level abilities. We also get a midlevel and high-level sheet to jot down nexus crystals generated via these tables – a special mentioning should be given that the abilities in these tables do not necessarily reflect those provided by the sample nexus crystals – a nice bonus, given just recycling would have been a possibility. Primary and Secondary abilities tend to be relatively unique, whereas tertiary abilities constitute of spell-in-a-can effects, as are the high-level abilities. We also get a sheet where one may jot down the thus generated regular and high level nexus crystals. We also get a table to add socketed items to random magic tables, a table of random sockets and a massive 8 tables spanning 3 pages that organize the nexus crystals according to base value and double as a way to roll random crystals.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not 100% perfect – the scarce few glitches I found did not impede my ability to understand the content, nor did it detract from my enjoyment of this pdf – scarce typos à la “guantlet” have never bugged me that. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard with some neat photos of crystals interspersed. The pdf comes bookmarked, but not extensively so.
So, remember the exploits of Eando Kline when Golarion was still a hazy notion of various hints that could be gleaned from the texts, the modules etc.? I fondly remember the Wayfinder as a sort of catalyst for his exploits. Yeah – it looked wondrous, the combination of magic items being full of potential. And then Seekers of Secrets hit shelves. Oh boy, was I DISAPPOINTED. The rules were solid per se, but oh so BLAND. Where had the magic, the unique effects gone? The sense of wonder, codified and replaced by a relatively lame ioun stone-insertion system. My disappointment knew no bounds.
Let’s make this abundantly clear – this pdf represents what imho a socket-insertion system SHOULD be – modular, studded with a vast array of possibilities – and ones that are not immediately available at the snipping of one’s fingers. The crystals herein, especially the lesser ones, ooze a variety of options and the sheer fact that they come with so many of them serves to make them rather useful – and above all, magical. These crystals don’t necessarily come with all those abilities you’ve come to know and expect, instead featuring a wide array of unique effects beyond what one usually sees from magic items – most are imaginative and overall, the system is solid. While mostly, the content is solid, there are exceptions here and there, with e.g. the ways meteors work differing from an already existing mechanic. And I know that harping on things like that seems excessive, since you can always argue for the mechanic to be its own entity, separate from the established spell. However, my point is that this may lead to confusion – did this meteor require a touch attack or did it hit automatically? -You get the drift – the more streamlined the rules, the better.
In the end, though, the number of cases where I can field such a complaint are few and far between – also thanks to the sheer amount of unique effects one may find herein. The generator is also rather cool and makes for a wide variety of options – though personally, I would have loved it if the high-level abilities would have been unique ones as well.. That being said, this system is glorious – why? Because the system could easily be expanded to also allow for unique effects resulting from specific combinations of crystals – which would make for an awesome expansion that would make players try more combinations – do they unlock new powers or just make their socketed items useless for the day? The sheer fact that this system makes me come up with expansions on a whim is a testament to how well it is made – speaking of ideas for expansion – why not make ioun-stone insertions in a similar way? But that is for potential future supplements, I guess.
So is this supplement perfect? No, but it’s evocative, oozes flavor and does a great job in bringing some versatility and insecurity back into magic items while at the same time offering well-balanced tactical options. And at least to me, that offsets the minor incongruities with established components here and there – which, though, are less than I’ve seen in some other Interjection Games supplements. If that type of thing is exceedingly important to you, then detract half a star from my verdict. That being said, this is still an awesome supplement that is so much more satisfying that ioun-stone socketing as established.
My final verdict for this awesome system is 5 stars + seal of approval – and a hope for expansions! 😉