The Master of Forms Expanded – Shadow and Darkness
This expansion for the absolutely AWESOME Master of Forms base class clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The master of forms class is a genius elemental martial arts system that provides diverging tricks, with each element playing differently…so, how does the new element shadow fare? Well, for one, the master of forms in the shadow stance immediately enters an element’s stance when performing a non-shadow form, allowing for the flexible transition from shadow to another element. The pdf contains two secret arts associated with shadow: All-encompassing shadows lets him choose three wild card forms for which he meets prerequisites and perform them as though he knew them. Withdrawing shadows lets the master steal the shadow of a creature within 60 feet, requiring Will-saves to perform supernatural abilities or cast spells – on a failure, the target loses its action! Damn cool!
Beyond that, obviously, the pdf does feature a selection of shadow forms: Blinding dust to be used in lieu of attacks, tentacles of cold-damage dealing shadows that entangle creatures attacking you in melee… pretty interesting. Cobra Strike, as 0 focus required, +1 focus change, is interesting, allowing you to perform an attack that only deals base weapon damage as a swift action, but prevents you from otherwise attacking the target. Form of the Spider enables you to work more efficiently when flanking a foe, but penalizes your attacks against foes you do not flank…and, you may expend focus to perform an attack against a flanked creature as a free action. There also are forms that allow you to copy other forms (at -4 focus change for the bigger one, at +1 for the smaller form, but with a more limited scope, obviously). A form that grants benefits when studying a foe before striking is nice…and there would be a cool gambit form, which makes the next AoO against you automatically hit, but grants you DR equal to half your class level against it…and allows you to retaliate with an AoO if you do take damage…and it does this while increasing focus by +1.
Balanced, short-range teleportation (but only into flanking position!) and freeing your shadow to set up flanking position with you would be another interesting combo move and there is a -1/0 focus change form that allows you to flank a target even if you aren’t – it costs 0 focus, obviously, when you’re already flanking, but does allow for focus maintenance in such cases. Kudos for getting this one! There also would be a -4 focus change ability that lets you set-up a short-range teleport that automatically causes an attack to miss. this one is pretty complex, but cool and works well indeed. Also interesting in that I have not seen it done before: Repeating an attack that previously missed with all previous modifiers and buffs…which is gold for the instances where you have to hit…and then rolled that stupid natural 1.
The pdf also does provide archetypes, the first of which would be the drifting one: When he performs two consecutive forms of the same element within 1 minute, he loses 1 point of focus, but when he does perform 3 of them within the time frame, his maximum focus increases by +1, with universal forms being treated as their own element. He does pay for this flexibility with stances, though. At 5th level, he may expend 2 focus to gain the benefits of an elemental stance for 1 round, though…and no, he can’t be in more than one at a given time. 9th level is truly interesting, allowing the drifting one to change a form’s element for 1 focus, replacing the secret art gained there. 13th level nets improved evasion, while 17th level unlocks an element’s secret arts while the maximum focus is increased and 20th level provides 1 focus regeneration at the beginning of his turn whenever the archetype’s focus is 0. This archetype plays surprisingly different when compared to the base class. Cool!
Elemental Partisans can also be, via a special caveat, be unbalanced masters and chooses an element at first level – though shadow is excluded from the list due to being the unopposed, connecting factor. Elemental partisans may not learn forms or secret arts of the element opposing his own element chosen…but for the exclusion of this one element, they do gain access to a selection of 3 special forms per element: Earth lets you instantly grow a tree (!!), get barkskin or leave entangling brambles in your wake.Fire lets you damage adjacent creatures to your target with fire damage (including a means to bypass resistance for focus expenditure), leave a comet-like trail of blazing fire that damages those nearby or add free 5-foot movements to all your focus expenditure, mimicking the chaotic dance of the wildfire.
Ice lets you name a spell or supernatural ability and hamper a target trying to employ it, end all ice forms in a burst of cold…and the final one is pretty cool: Ice needs a bit of set-up, but when it does hit, it gets brutal: Cause bonus damage on successful saves and render those that critically save shaken? Yeah, that *feels* like ice, all right. Lightning lets you enhance your defense and generate static electricity…and it gets the awesome grounded ability: Designate a square within 120 ft. as the “ground” – when you move towards it, your base land speed doubles, but upon reaching it, you can’t move from it until the beginning of your next turn. Volatile, fast and risky – cool! And yes, you can fire a blast of electricity. Wind, finally, lets you fire unarmed attacks at range, AoE-trip foes via cyclonic air…and there is a form that lets you expand the reach of non-AoO-unarmed attacks by +20 feet.
Now, I already mentioned the unbalanced master: These guys can only learn forms with a focus change of -4 of their primary element, which is chosen at 1st level and all forms with a focus change of +1 of an element other than the designated primary element are treated as though they only had a focus change of 0. However, depending on the primary element chosen, these guys do get a pool dependant on the chosen element and they contain a number of points equal to the class level of the unbalanced master. These points have vastly diverging uses that fit with the themes of the element – earth can, for example, substitute these points for focus points when dealing with -2, -3 or -4 focus change earth forms, but only when below 1/2 maximum health. Fire can utilize the points to pay for secondary effects of forms, etc. – basically, these are modifications of the resource management of the class that depend on the respective element. Very cool!
Walkers in darkness would be up next and while there is a slight formatting glitch with one ability not properly bolded, the archetype is very intriguing. Walkers in darkness are vessels for so-called observers from Elsewhere and these entities tend to change the character – at 2nd level and every 5 levels thereafter, the walker gains a gift from elsewhere, basically one type of new talent the archetype receives – these can range from extraordinary to supernatural and cover both active and passive abilities. Among the passive ones, increase base land speed, rerolls when confused and the like can be found, while the active ones are somewhat different. The walker in darkness begins play with an escalation pool equal to his class level and whenever the walker performs a darkness form that can escalate, the form’s escalation score may be paid from this pool. In a unique twist, the pool may be increased: A walker can choose, upon replenishing the pool via resting, to accept a -1 penalty to one saving throw; for each penalty thus accepted (maximum equal to 1/4 class level, minimum 1) he gains a temporary darkness point that stacks and is added to the pool. This replaces stances and stance savant. These points, just fyi, also represent the fuel for some of the active abilities the archetype has, including a damaging gaze…and yes the gifts can also be used to increase pool-size and 17 of them are included in the deal.
Here’s the thing, though – this is no mere simple standard archetype – instead, this one comes with a whole array of specific forms exclusive to the walker. For example, the guys can vomit forth acidic darkness with a save to negate…or to halve, when the escalation cost is paid. Basically, the escalation cost is somewhat akin to psionic augments or at higher levels-options in 5e in that they provide further flexibility to the respective forms, which pretty much…well, awesome. What about a form that makes any attack that is successful against you provoke an AoO? Entering a foe’s square for +10 bonus to atk in a desperate offense, adding scaling bleed damage to combat maneuvers, staggering foes (with minor, untyped damage) and a save to negate the stagger, temporary hit points, bursts of energy that strike secondary targets…nasty. Have I mentioned gouging a creature’s eyes out? Complete with a “takes more uses versus creatures with more eyes”-caveat? Yeah, pretty visceral. Okay, and then there is Mutually Assured Destruction. Not a death effect…but if a creature kills you…well, it is shunted to the nastiest part of elsewhere, obliterated from existence. Oh, and guess what? If you pay escalation and the creature doesn’t have enough hp…it doesn’t even get a save, but if you do pay this cost, you’re erased as well. That’s pretty awesome for both villains and anti-heroes. Claws of darkness that slowly degrade are also possible…with escalation, they may even detonate! Corrupting items…what about attacking versus touch AC or getting SR? Yeah, pretty damn cool and flavorful!
Editing and formatting are excellent on both a rules and formal level, with one bolding oversight as a cosmetic glitch being my only true complaint. Layout adheres to Interjection Games’ clean and easy to read, printer-friendly b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment…then again, I’d suggest printing this out anyways. The book, beyond abstract swirly-like graphics, also features several flavorful b/w-artworks I haven’t seen before – nice!
Bradley Crouch’s Master of Forms is one of my favorite classes. It’s appropriate for any type of game, from high to low fantasy; its elements play differently, with each having a unique feeling, a unique experience and their combinations and customizations make the class extremely rewarding to play. Well, this book not only introduces a very skirmish-y ninja-ish style of gameplay that is very unique, even in the well-trodden arena of shadow-themed classes, it also enhances the customization options of the base class via unique and intriguing archetypes that radically change the manner in which the master of forms plays; better yet, the damn cool walker’s escalation system addition may have covered a LOT of ground with the significant amount of cool forms provided, but it’s nowhere near tapped out yet and once again, plays differently from a regular master of forms. What you do and don’t do, what your forms allow you to pull off, here as much as in the base class, define very much the playing experience; with cool combos, unique stunts and a general feeling of…well, being awesome, suffusing this pdf as much as its parent book.
I am very happy for this book to have seen the light of day, for the system is rewarding and the cool system of the class with its focus-changes, planning and combo-tricks very much feels like playing a balanced version of friggin’ Mortal Kombat: Supernatural martial arts that still feel believable in the context of a fantasy world, that have, in spite of being fantastic, a certain grounding. (Meta-pun re grounding form! I’ll punch myself later…) Suffice to say, if anything, this book is a shining example of how great such an expansion can be. I absolutely adore it. My final verdict will, unsurprisingly, clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this one gets a nomination for my Top Ten of 2016…excuse me, I have to plan a walker villain for my next game…
You can get this inspired expansion to a glorious base class here on OBS!
Want master Crouch to create your own custom content? You can have him do just that here on his patreon!