EZG reviews Mind over Matter: Psychic Warrior, Aegis & Vitalist
The second Mind over Matter-supplement for Dreamscarred Press’ Ultimate Psionics clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page intro/ToC, 1 page “Thank you”-note and 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 22. pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
We kick off this pdf with new Aegis archetypes, the first of which would be the Bulwark Sovereign. The bulwark Sovereign increases size by a category when manifesting the astral suit and changing into the suit takes two full rounds, which is rather impractical. To offset that, the astral suit receives free customizations (hardened strikes and hardness, at 10th level reach) and imposes an additional penalty to stealth and fly. They also receive scaling bonuses to diplomacy, persuasive as a bonus feat and may dismiss their armor at higher levels to net allies deflection bonuses. I generally like the ideas of this archetype, though it does offer unfortunately some issues that do not tie in well with how things are generally handled – for example, it locks down base speed at 20 feet, when usually armor would modify speed – as written, this one could actually increase the speed of a character. The deflection-bonus granting ability also feels wonky to me and doesn’t really pay off – 1/day as an immediate action makes it feel very much like a one-trick ability and its conservative cap could also have used some more leeway, not beginning with the cooldown that leaves the aegis incredibly exposed afterwards. Still, a significant step up from the first Mind over Matter book.
It should also be noted that the sovereign bulwark gets a couple of customizations – and generally, they actually can be considered interesting: Immunity to the fatigued condition while in forgeform, for example, would be interesting and using power points to power some of these is a good idea to me. low-powered natural attacks while in the suit are neat, as is the *idea* to pay 2 points of armor bonus for a shield slam as part of a standard action or full-round action – cool per se, but alas, the pdf fails to specify as what type of shield the manifested effect counts and whether this would allow the aegis to make a full attack of shield bashes – I assume yes, but the wording is not 100% clear, even though it’s better than in the first book. Forcing foes to attack the aegis would be a cool customization, but should have a caveat that it’s mind-influencing. instead of damage reduction, one customization features an incredibly awkward wording about reduced damage. Where things get ugly is with the hardness customization, which is 3-point and nets hardness, making the aegis a true bulwark – which is okay, though its wording is a tad bit wonky. However, the customization can be taken multiple times and the archetype does not specify whether the free hardness customization granted counts as taking it 1 time, since the customization’s stacking is limited by class levels. Oh yeah, and at low levels: Ridiculously powerful. Now an increase in total defense capabilities is cool, but the customization that allows one to wield oversized weapons fails to specify what happens if the aegis already is wielding oversized weapons – double increase? (And yes, this IS a very possible build that isn’t hard to pull off, not some fringe case…) – compared to that, getting hide in plain sight at high levels and depending on the terrain feels lame – the clunky, loud, ACP-crippled bulwark won’t be doing any hiding ever, even with this ability.
The Reverie Templar Archetype for the Psychic Warrior starts all combats with an insight bonus to AC (complete with flawed formatting for such an ability), which makes no sense – it “automatically activates at the beginning of combat” and “Is lost whenever the templar is denied his dex-bonus to AC.” Dear author, allow me to introduce you to one of the most basic concepts of any combat in Pathfinder, a nebulous condition that almost never enters play CALLED FLAT-FOOTED. Urks. This isn’t even trying, is it? Sorry for the sarcasm-outburst, but this one had me yell at my screen. Oh, and it can be used only 1/day, more often at higher levels…wait, what? I thought it activated automatically? Now what is it?? Wanna have a laugh? You get that for warrior’s path. They may also draw enemies into psychosomatic combat, imposing a penalty on them. Want to laugh further? No range, no action type, no limit on how many foes may be drawn into such a combat, how many simultaneous foes can be drawn in, no info on planar boundaries/teleporting away – nothing. This isn’t even a skeleton of an ability. And honestly, I’d at this point love to say that this archetype has nothing going for it, but the capstone that lets the psychic warrior and all allies roll twice for a round on just about anything is damn cool. The reverie templar also gets metaphysical gifts, talents gained at 7th level and every two levels after that. The joke here is that some lack the psychosomatic combat prerequisite they’re based on…and that idea -wise, they are cool: Flying, making a leap that does not provoke AoOs towards a target…cool. But the execution. Take the latter example -you choose whether to “make a standard attack or full-round attack” at the end of the leap. The ability specifies that one may not leap past targets unless one has e.g. charge through, but how would the movement be resolved? Can it be stopped? Does a 5-foot step count as movement for the purposes of this ability, which prohibits other types of movement? And so on. Unlimited, rangeless, descriptor-less PARALYZE coupled to a will-save? Yep. Urgh. I’m stopping this right here and now before I get an aneurysm. This is so, so frustrating – the archetype has great ideas, is high concept, but its execution is almost painfully SLOPPY.
Onwards to Vitalists – the Verdant Metamorph must choose a special vitalist method and gains the ability to speak with plants, not at will, but at cost in exchange for collective. Yeah. Request Aid, Spirit of Many et al are exchanged for shape-changing via metamorphosis. Collective healing is replaced with plant-focused leadership. This is ridiculous. And no, summoning plant creatures for ridiculous amounts of PP or healing plants does NOT make up in ANY way for the lack of flexibility that actually makes the vitalist class work. This tries to be a plant-themed, druid-style vitalist and obviously does not understand what makes the base-class work in-game, what makes it be on par with other healing classes. The result is a crippled mess. And no, not gonna pick apart wordings. Gain a power? Wow, how cool. Wait a sec, the central manifesting coolness about the vitalist is that the class can switch through powers, so gaining a bonus power is nigh WORTHLESS.
The Vivere must choose the new Hypervital Method and suffer from a curse – this curse deals damage each time they rest (how does anyone of these guys ever survive infancy???) and for every couple of power points spent -the problem is – can this damage interrupt manifesting? Does it prompt concentration checks? Don’t know! The ability doesn’t tell. AGAIN. On the other hand, the hypervital method in itself is something that can be fixed and isn’t inherently broken or bad. So credit where credit’s due.
Now the 9 new feats also can be considered interesting in their ideas – but once again, realization proves problematic: Take Artful Opening, which allows an aegis to exchange AC for +1 AoO for int-mod rounds. Sounds simple? Well, 1/round you may hit a foe with two attack of opportunity when they’d otherwise provoke one. Yeah, if you can’t see the disaster waiting to happen – concentration, does damage stack? Are they executed at the same time? if a foe falls as result of your first AoO and incurs a condition, does the second attack hit at the same time or after the condition has been applied? Finest AoO-Chain territory and miles away from the system mastery required to properly craft it. Ever wanted to waste a feat on negating the +2 flanking bonus of foes while in a special trance that lasts only a precious few rounds per day? Well, you’re in luck, now you can! Want to wonkily calculate how many power points you have spent each time before resting and be rewarded with damage AFTER resting by the non-working hypervital curse? (Yes, seems like the damage is continuous WHILE resting as well, though the original curse’s wording is so botched, I couldn’t tell…)
Jamming doors via strength is an interesting idea – though personally, I wouldn’t spend a feat on it, but still, no complaints there. The other feats are nothing to write home about, mainly because they serve to expand broken abilities and yes, for just one feat tax, the verdant metamorph make heal almost as good as the base class…
Now I mentioned those nifty new powers – know what the one for the verdant metamorph does? Guess thrice! You’ll never figure it out! Close range, MELEE touch attack, for 1d3 points of untyped damage. For only 1 Power point! The best thing is – you can augment the power! Then it also deals 2 points of damage to you if you spend more than 5 pp on it! And no, no other additional benefits. No. I’m not kidding. The second power is a rip-off of contact other plane.
I’m almost done…so sweet. The pdf closes with mythic material, this time providing the 3rd tier abilities for mythic psionic characters. After the 1st tier abilities were broken as all hell and balance-wise all over the place, I wasn’t looking forward to this. AND BAM! First one is a winner, ladies and gentlemen!!! Can you hear the abuse? Yeah! Deal 10 hp of damage to yourself, gain tier x 2 power points. No limit! Ring of regeneration/fast healing, never run out of power points again! Forcing targets to manifest your powers seems like a cool idea – until you realize that the ability doesn’t specify whether it has to be the same target, same area etc. A Darth Vader-style grip would be rather nice, were it not for the fact that there already are copious rules to represent that, established rules with tighter wordings. Forcing your alignment on targets is just brutal – it cripples all paladins, antipaladins and similar classes and while mythic, is still much too strong. Most of these fellows require atonement afterwards if properly played during the change… Now one ability allows you to expend mythic power to use cha, int and wis as physical attributes for a select amount of time and, if you’re familiar with Ravenloft’s dream-rules, I like that. Thing is – the ability botches to make clear whether the physical attributes become you mental ones or not – it *seems* like it, but the wording’s so clunky, I have honestly no idea whether that’s the intention. It would utterly cripple all manifesting classes… Hive Mind control is cool, but once again, very strong, even for mythic gameplay. If a player uses this one smart, he’ll never have any issues… Breaking all non-magical objects with psyhic tsunamis sounds nice, though again, wording is clunky. On the other hand – why not spend you rare path ability for a neutered, limited version of speak with dead? Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it?
The pdf closes with 14 mythic psionic feats that include glorious mistakes like failing to mention the Minimum 1 caveat after announcing that something deals half your tier bonus damage What about getting a phenomenal +1 stacking bonus to AC (Mythic psionic dodge, baby – can you feel the blaze of glory? Granted, that one also allows to expend mythic power to gain mythic tier as bonus against one attack, but still…) Others, like Psionic Body’s miss-chance granting, while wordy and anything but refined in their rules-text, at least are cool and worthy of being mythic feats. What about Delay Power, which gets a cool mythic version that lacks any specification on how many words can be used max to make such a power manifest? Other than that, there are actually some gems to scavenge here…if you dare.
Editing and formatting on a formal level are…not good. Changes from 2nd to 3rd person, strange wordings etc. don’t help, neither do non-standard rules-depictions. On a mechanical side, this pdf saw neither playtesting not formal rules-editing/formatting – it’s essentially a total clusterf*** in that discipline. Layout adheres to a rather beautiful 2-column full-color standard with nice pieces of thematically fitting stock art and looks neat and professional. So yeah, nice one there! The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and a second version with hyperlinks – nice to be able to choose which version one uses, especially if you’re like me and always have your mouse jump and select text while reading on screen.
Ahahahargh. The author has great ideas. Unfortunately, he has nowhere near the system-mastery to pull off the complex stunts he tries. A capable developer à la Will McCardell could potentially have salvaged this, but as written, this pdf constitutes a train-wreck. While the first archetype exhibited signs of improvement over book one, the same cannot be said about the rest. The overall feeling of this book is that it’s a rushed, unplaytested mess with balance all over the place that lack the basic grasp of what makes at least one of its target demographic classes work in the first place. Don’t get me started on the hornet’s nest that is the balancing on non top-tier mythic options; And yes, there *IS* a balancing there. Add to that the copious amounts of non-standard wordings, broken class features, untyped damage bonuses, abilities that scream “I’m broken”, ridiculously weak options and we have the very definition of an, unfortunately, bad book. The first archetype can be saved by a good designer; The latter ones can be scavenged for ideas. Try as I might, that’s everything nice I could come up with to say.
I’d like to close with an apology – I’m aware that this review is more scathing than my usual ones. It is like that for a reason. Problem-pdfs like this one take forever to get done and at one point, this one felt like it was punching me in the gut. My experience was somewhat like this: “Oh, cool idea!”…”No, this does not work at all…”…”Sounds nice…*reads on*” “And there we go, no idea how this is supposed to work, non-standard formatting, flawed rules language, next…” Now imagine doing that for HOURS. When I was done, I was honestly just frustrated – Peter K. Ullmann shows promise, has glorious ideas, but whatever the issue, whether it’s time-constraints, none existing developing, lack of careful reading – the end-result is just…sloppy.
And that’s a huge, colossal, damn shame.
Dear author, if you read this, don’t give up, but take your time, reread the rules, how to phrase abilities and learn their semantics and syntax. You can do it. Make your visions worthy and work.
I can only rate this 1.5 stars, rounded down to 1 for the purpose of this platform, the 0.5 representing the promise and ideas to be scavenged herein.