Letters from the Flaming Crab: Puppet Show
This installment of the unique „Letters from the Flaming Crab“-series clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We begin this pdf with, as always, a nice, letter from the eponymous planes-hopping vessel, before diving right into the crunchy bits – which, this time around, would be a new hybrid class – the marionetteer, whose parents would be both summoners and vigilantes. Interesting combination, right? Well, chassis-wise, the marionetteer gets d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor, ¾ BAB-progression and good Will-saves.
The marionetteer can conceal the animated nature of a puppet – checks to Disguise marionettes as regular, inert puppets receive a +20 bonus; dual identity pertains the puppets. The marionetteer begins play with a Tiny puppet, the marionette. This puppet has hardness 3, 5 hp, 3lbs. weight and is bonded to an entity who brings it to life at the marionetteer’s command. In effect, the marionette is two things at once: The inanimate puppet receptacle and the animating spirit – these are referred to as the inert and animate forms. Calling the spirit into a puppet requires 1 minute. At 14th level, the marionette may be animated as a full-round action and the marionetteer doesn’t have to touch it – it just has to be within 100 ft.
Unless chosen otherwise, the puppet is inconspicuous and attempts to scry on the puppet work only when the puppet’s form is what’s searched for. The marionette is not a summoned creature, but may be forced into the inert state by being subjected to dismissing effects à la banishment etc. It acts on the same initiative as the marionetteer. It requires commanding, which is a move action that provokes AoOs. The commanding process, however, is pretty subtle, requiring a challenging Sense Motive DC and observation of both marionetteer and puppet – the DC scales with class levels and Cha-mod of the marionetteer. Marionetteers can only command marionettes up to 100 ft. away and they require line of sight; a marionette sans commands doesn’t act, but is not helpless – pretty important, there. Replacing an inert marionette takes 12 hours and class level times 10 gp and replenishes ½ maximum hit points. The marionetteer may only have one active marionette at any given time.
Since marionettes and eidolons work similarly, the rules for eidolons, including table, have been reprinted here for your convenience, which is nice. Now, where marionettes and eidolons differ in how they work would be the base form available – there are two base-form chassis types available for the marionette, the Arsenal and the Proxy. Both get a different set of accessible evolutions, allowing for different playing experiences – the Arsenal is Medium, the proxy is Small – both get claws, arms and legs, but the proxy also gets precise strike (basically a 1d4-sneak analogue that may be taken multiple times); the proxy is basically more subtle; they do not gain share spells. Arsenals get good Fort and Ref-saves, Proxies get good Will-saves. Arsenals have a base speed of 20 ft., proxies have a base speed of 30 ft. The claws inflict appropriate damage (1d4 for Arsenal, 1d3 for Proxies). Evolution points are reassigned at a newly gained level or when the marionette is replaced. Starting at 8th level, the marionetteer no longer needs line of sight to control marionettes within 100 ft.
At 1st level, 4th and every 3 levels thereafter, the marionetteer gains a social talent, using his class level as vigilante levels for the purpose of prerequisites. Marionetteers are always considered to be in their social identity. At 1st level, they add ½ class level as a bonus to Perform when using the inert marionette – I assume minimum 1 here, a minor oversight. Starting at 2nd level, they gain +1/2 class level to either Perform or Bluff. At 7th level, 1/day a marionetteer can cause those watching his performance cause suggestions for those watching the performance.
Starting at 3rd level, the marionetteer can repair damage done to the marionette 3 + Charisma modifier times per day as a standard action. This restores 1d8 hp. At 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the healing increases by +1d8. The ability can only used while the marionette is in inert form. Returning a marionette into inert form, just fyi, takes a standard action.
Starting at 5th level, a marionetteer can, as a standard action, animate Tiny, non-magical, unattended objects within 100 ft., as if using animate objects. The animation period spans 3 + class level rounds and at 7th level and every odd level thereafter, the number of puppets or their sizes increase. Multiple objects thus animated may be commanded with the same move action. At 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter, the marionetteer can maintain an additional marionette – only one may be active, but the marionetteer may basically switch through them, which is surprisingly cool!
At 12th level, as a standard action, the marionetteer can cause a humanoid target within 100 ft. within line of sight to make a Reflex save (DC governed by Cha-modifier); on a failure, the creature is dominated by Charisma modifier rounds; the dominated creature can be commanded as a move action that provokes AoOs. Creatures thus ensnared by the commanding strings of the marionetteer can attempt to escape the mystic bondage via Strength or Escape Artist checks. Nice one and, due to the lack of limitations apart from duration, a powerful tool.
As a capstone, the class gains either the option to split the animating force into 2 marionettes at once (both of which suffer -3 to all d20-rolls while the animating force is split thus) and may command them at once, or the marionetteer may share senses with the marionette and command them as a swift action.
Evolution-wise, we get full movement while using Acrobatics and Stealth and the option to make startling attacks when unaware of the marionette, rendering the target flat-footed versus the marionette (gets uncanny dodge interaction right); we also get increased speed. Scaling DR to represent the constructed body, firearm training, a second life (banishment to a home plane) – all in all, a nice array. The class gets archetypes: The performer replaces social talent with bardic performance and social grace with +1/2 class level to Diplomacy – basically, an archetype for less social-heavy games.
There is more, but, unlike what you might have expected, we go one step beyond: The pdf now proceeds to contextualize different, interesting puppeteering traditions; these are represented in more than one associated archetype; take Bunraku, one of the traditional Japanese traditions: We get the Phantom Puppeteers bardic masterpiece, which creates buffing mirror image-like shadow assistants – pretty cool! The marionetteer archetype here would be the Joruri: The puppet they use to animate needs to be bigger and as such, is more conspicuous: The puppet is as tall as the animated marionette (remember: The puppet for the regular marionette is Tiny!) – the archetype loses the animate objects-ability tree in favor of 3 + Cha-mod make whole, the ability to have the animated, sentient marionette guard them while sleeping and allow the puppet to heal them when dropped to 0 hp or below via Heal. At higher levels, we have a puppet that heals class level hit points per night. At 13th level, the marionetteer may accept the damage taken by the puppet and he may, 1/round, take a condition inflicted upon the marionette. 15th level nets the ability to share senses and commanding the puppet no longer requires hand movements. 17th level allows the puppet to drain spell-completion objects held to gain fast healing temporarily; at 19th level, the puppet gains temporary hit points and a buff against the caster upon succeeding a save against a single-target spell. Additionally, reduced effects on a success are completely negated.
Amazing: We dive into Afghan Buz-Baz, puppetry accompanied by music, next: The bardic masterpiece associated here would be the Bolero of Obedience, which allows you to issue commands or murderous commands, but lets the target retain mental and verbal command of his actions…now here’s a creepy visual for you… The archetype provides would be the Markhor Maestro, an archetype for the druid, which gains a modified class skill list and modifies the skill bonuses gained by nature sense to apply to perform (string) instead. They use Charisma as governing spellcasting attribute and are locked into a ram companion. They also gain inspire courage as a bard of their level, but only apply the benefits to the companion and summoned creatures. Flavorful one.
Giant puppetry comes with the Manipulation of the Massive masterpiece, which allows you to penalize the saves of bigger creatures or buffs allies to ignore size modifiers or restrictions based on size against creatures taller than you – this one can, depending on your campaign, be potentially be really overpowered – in e.g. an anti-dragon/giant campaign, I’d ban this masterpiece. The archetype presented for the marionetteer replaces the ability to have multiple marionettes at the ready with a single marionette that grows in size – space/reach, modifiers etc. are provided.
Chinese/Taiwanese glove puppetry (Du Dai Xi/Po Te Hi) is represented by the Battle of Sheng Mountain, Final Act masterpiece nets 1-hour per class level inspire courage sans performing, and targets may, as a swift action, end the effect with moment of greatness –cool. There also is the puppet partnership spell, which ties a puppet with an ally, allowing you to buff the ally while concentrating on the spell – per se a standard buff made cool by the visuals, which render the spell unique. The puppet protector is basically a figurine type that animates as a puppet fighter – three variants are included.
Indonesian Ondel-ondel comes with the Invocation of the Guardian masterpiece, that calls forth a protective ancestral spirit. The ondel-ondel sentinel would be basically a costume/puppet that you enter – you can sense evil inside and may merge with the puppet – think of it as a non-scifi-ish paladin-y power armor. Really cool! Punch and Judy are represented by Slapstick Reaction can cause targets to attack allies on failed saves; the Punchman bard archetype replaces well-versed with increased demoralize durations; lore master’s 5th level use is replaced with an immediate action option to grant allies rerolls versus enchantments/compulsions by expending bardic performances. They replace suggestion with dispel magic. Shadowgraphy is represented by The Nightmare Revue masterpiece – which can be brutal. AoE phantasmal killer…OUCH! And yes, minimum level etc. make that okay…and yes, I can picture that being one cool story angle… The archetype associated with this tradition would be the umbral pupetteer summoner: The eidolon gets the shadow creature template, but the creature can only be called in darkness. Summon monster is replaced with shadow conjuration, which expands to greater shadow conjuration at higher levels.
Ventriloquism comes with the Phantom Voice masterpiece allows you to hijack the utterances of other creaturesm which can be used for all kinds of cool shenanigans. The focused arcane school associated with necromancy that is presented here, gastromancy, lets you listen to the stomachs of the dead, listening to their wishes. (Yes, that’s a thing!) The final tradition of puppetry depicted herein would be Mua Roi Nuoc – Vietnamese water puppetry. The masterpiece we get here would be The Crocodile and the Farmer’s Daughter combines communal water walk with the option to gain, as a swift action, expeditious retreat for 1 round while still on the water. We also get a spell here – water dancer – basically the significantly improved and amazing version of water walk: You can walk up steep inclines, and even up waterfalls! Water elementals don’t get water mastery against you, etc. – cool!
Now those of you who, like myself, tend to enjoy researching other cultures may be aware that quite a few of the puppetry traditions here are associated with rituals/festivals – well, guess what? There actually are kingdom-edicts for kingdom-building rules herein: Glove puppetry, ondel-ondel and flood festival all come with their own edicts that helps the respective kingdom. Really cool!
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect – there are a couple of minor hiccups (like “arionette”), but those don’t influence the integrity of the rules. Layout adheres to Flaming Crab Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf features several really nice public domain artworks and photographs that do a better job at conveying atmosphere than bad stock art could. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
J Gray, Jeff Lee, Neal Litherland, Michael McCarthy and Anthony Toretti are all experienced designers – and it shows here. Siobhan Bjorknas and J Gray in development certainly did a good job unifying narrative voices. For one, while this is most certainly a very, very crunchy book, its crunch is constantly grounded in cool ideas, flavorful descriptions, etc. – even in engine-tweak-style archetypes, there is some soul, some unique identity and cultural context, which does a lot to endear these concepts to me. The marionetteer class is GLORIOUS – it is not necessarily a great class for mega-dungeon exploration, but for e.g. Ravenloft-esque adventures, intrigue/social/city-campaigns or those focusing on the occult (or on explorations of different cultures!), this is GOLD. The hybrid class manages to retain the influence of both parent classes without being just a collection of recombined parts and ranks as one of the most flavorful examples for hybrid classes I know – it has a distinct and unique identity I enjoy.
The grounding of class options in the diverse puppetry traditions covered is a great idea and opened my eyes to some cultural traditions I wasn’t aware of – in a manner, this pdf actually ended up educating me, which is something I love. The diverse options for the traditions kept me glued to the screen, and frankly, in spite of this review having been more work than the average letter, I was honestly bummed when I reached the end of the pdf – the concept of puppetry and the notions explored herein, these cool traditions, they inspired me more than I expected and I’d frankly love to see more. What more can you ask of a short pdf like this? Excellent job, 5 stars + seal of approval, in spite of minor blemishes here and there – the totality of concept, flavor and crunch is too cool to rate it any lower.
You can get this inspiring, cool supplement here on OBS!