The Mentalist’s Handbook
This installment of the Spheres of Power-expansion books clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
As always, we begin this supplement with a brief piece of nice introductory prose before getting an overview of the content within, moving then forward towards the new archetypes, of which there are 4 this time around. The first would be the impressor fighter, who replaces the armor training ability sequence with the emotions eliciter class feature, gaining an emotion power of his choice at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, using fighter levels as eliciter levels. 5th level acts as the minimum cap for lesser powers, 8th for greater powers and 11th for master powers. The archetype employs Intelligence as governing ability modifier. AT 19th level, the archetype may execute an emotion power as part of a full attack, here erroneously called “full round attack”, to nitpick a bit. The emotion power may be executed against a target different from the full attack and provides synergy with Elicit Strike and Impressionistic Strike. What is the latter? A very potent new feat, which builds on Elicit Strike and allows you to spend a swift action to add an emotion power delivered by touch to the target of your attack, but only with weapons you’re proficient with.
The second archetype would be the egregore symbiat, who gains the Mind sphere as a bonus sphere, or a Mind sphere talent if he already has it. The psionics of the egregore are modifier as well: Telekinetic manipulation is replaced with coordination. Whenever an ally within 60 ft. damages a target, until the end of the egregore’s next turn, he adds + class level to damage AND automatically confirms one critical hit per round. Sure, this only works to targets susceptible to precision damage. But it’s auto-crit-confirming. AT FIRST LEVEL. Yeah, not gonna happen anywhere near my game. 6th level’s extension allows the egregore to use, as an immediate action, a lesser charm versus an enemy successfully hit by an ally’s melee attack. This expands to include greater charm at 16th level. The ability does not allow for target expansion, which is an important balancing factor here – like it! 11th level nets all allies within 60 ft a bonus (untyped, should be insight) to Will-saves equal to the number of allies within 60 ft., capping at the egregore’s Int-modifier. This replaces psionic fortress. 16th level replaces telekinetic colossus with trepanation. As a move action, the egregore can become pure thought and reside in the mind of an ally within 30 ft. Defeating the ally ejects the egregore and the ally may eject them at will – I assume as a free action. The ally gets +2 Int, Ref-saves and Will saves and may use the egregore’s “magic defense score” – that should probably read MSD. SoP does not sport a “magic defense score.”
Instead of pushed movement, the egregore who deals damage to an enemy within 30 ft with a weapon or natural attack may use an immediate action to establish a connection to the creature’s mind, increasing the save DC of mind-affecting abilities versus the target by 1, as well as gaining a +1 insight bonus to saves versus the target’s mind-affecting abilities. These bonuses increase by +1 for every 3 levels after 6th. The bonus is doubled to Bluff, Intimidate, Perception, Stealth and Sense Motive checks and the egregore is cognizant of the target’s position and conditions. The effect lasts for 1 hour per class level and may be ended as a free action. This is relevant, since the egregore may only have one such connection active at 3rd level, increasing that to 9th and 15th level. Starting at 6th level, the connection may be used to deliver Mind sphere abilities, ignoring distance towards a target thus affected, but when a charm fails to affect the target, the splinter ends. 12th level allows for the delivery of greater charms, 18th for powerful charms.
I want to like the egregore, but its ability sequence is wonky – the most potent ability is utterly OP and gained at first level, making dipping into the class too easy; the higher level options are interesting and per se well-crafted, but I still can’t fathom how auto-confirmed crits and almost always on class level bonus damage (when WON’T you have an ally within 60 ft.?) got into this AT FIRST LEVEL. This needs serious nerfing and I’d strongly suggest redistributing the abilities gained by this one.
The fright wright is an eliciter that replaces the fascinate ability of hypnotism with…staggered. Due to a fear-effect, granted. OH BOY. Where do I start? Unlike regular hypnotism options, this has NO SAVE TO NEGATE. It’s auto-stagger for class level rounds. Now look at fascinate and staggered back to back. Notice something? Staggered is one of the most brutal conditions in PFRPG, whereas fascinate is…situational. Highly situational. Staggerlock options are NOT something you should have at low levels, much less SANS SAVE. Note that, while duration is equal to eliciter levels, this still allows a 1st level character to reliably stagger-lock targets for the rest of the party to pick off for 3 rounds. At 3rd level, the fright wright becomes immune to fear and nets Persuasive as a bonus to Will-saves versus fear for allies within 10 ft. At 4th level, enemies within this range lose fear immunity and all hostile creatures in that range take a -4 penalty to saves vs. fear effects. These abilities replace defensive empathy and liberate and it should be noted that creatures with 4 or more HD than the character do not lose fear immunity. This neat little balancing tool is delimited at 16th level instead of inspire heroics. 9th level allows the character to take 10 with Intimidate checks if she has ranks in that skills. She may always add +1d6 to the result of an Intimidate check, which is somewhat weirdly phrased – I assume that this unlimited surge only applies when not taking 10. 1/day, she may take 20 for Intimidate, adding this surge. 13th and 17th level add an additional daily use to this ability. This replaces convincing. 10th level replaces inspire greatness, which adds Persuasive’s bonus to magic skill checks “When using the fear’s herald class feature […]” – here’s the problem: You never use that class feature. It’s the always-on fear-immunity canceling/penalty feature gained at 4th level. Does this mean that the effects apply when a target is within that range?
Instead of link, we get ochlophobia at 15th level, which is cool: A frightened or panicked target’s sight and hearing may be shared by the fright wright, provided the target is not protected from mental intrusion, etc. The fright wright may cast Mind sphere talents or emotions that cause fear effects through the target’s eyes. This is so cool – why not gain this sooner? Sure, it’d need some restrictions at lower levels, but this ability has the coolness of really allowing for a meaningful, different playing experience – relegating it to higher levels in favor of the numbers-boosts is almost criminal.
The next one would be the beastlord shifter, who replaces quick transformation with the Mind Sphere, but comes with a hefty drawback – the beastlord is treated as an animal for the purpose of charms and other mind-effecting effects. However, he may also affect animals, vermin and magical beasts with mind-affecting effects. This is a simple, yet thoroughly compelling modification of the base chassis here. Like it! 4th level yields Hunter’s Call, which lets the beast lord spend two spell points to target any number of animals, magical beasts or vermin at medium range, with the cap being 2 HD per CL affected (cool: Magical beasts count as 1.5 HD – rounded up or down? No idea) and a duration of 1 hour per caster level. On a failed Will-save, the critters treat actions “favorably” (which not employ the starting attitude-system?), though orders must still be made with an opposed Charisma check…which is a bit weird. Also: What’s the activation action of the ability? No clue. Can you convince more targets at once? No idea. The deviation from established wild empathy is not only not required, it makes the otherwise really cool concept somewhat wonky. This replaces lingering transformation.
All right, after the rather sobering archetype-section, we move on to a 5-level PrC, the waking sleeper, who gets d10 HD and must have BAB+3, 5 ranks in Knowledge (nobility) and underwent the rite of waking slumber, cast by a character of at least CL 12. “What’s that exactly”, you ask? Well, it’s one of the new incantations featured within this book. This incantation basically represents a number of subtle, hypnotic suggestions that unlocks the powers of PrC and makes for an interesting master/slave or teacher/pupil-relationship. The PrC gets full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-progression as well as 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons. The incantation leaves the character with the mark of the master, a sign or tattoo, which imparts a -10 penalty to resisting the DC of scrying and autofails any Will-saves triggered by mind-affecting effects originating from the master. Masters dying and then returning to life resume the effects, unless the waking sleeper dealt the killing blow. The ability requires that the master’s power exceeds that of the waking sleeper and takes undead apotheosis into account. Waking sleepers gain a pool of combat feats for which she meets the prerequisites – 2 at first level, +2 more at every subsequent level in the PrC. These feats, however, cannot acts as prerequisites except for other feats in the pool, and may only be accessed in a so-called state of recall. A state of recall may be entered for 4 + Wisdmo modifier rounds, +2 per level after first – that should reference the class levels here. In this state, the character gets +2 Strength, +2 to Will-saves (morale bonuses) and choose one feat from the pool, gaining access to it. The ability has a fatigue cooldown, somewhat akin to rage. How do you enter a state of recall? No idea. The ability fails to specify its activation action. While in this state, you are immune to scrying, and while in regular form, your sleeper version can’t be scried…okay, why not simply employ the vigilante’s dual identity engine here? As an aesthetic nitpick: This ability is missing from the class table.
2nd level nets catatonia, which translates to + PrC levels healed per night’s rest. The class can also will itself intoa deeper sleep, regaining more ability score damage, but at the cost of not being able to make Perception checks while sleeping. Being awoken from this state via shaking etc. causes 1 round of being dazed. 3rd level increases the morale bonus to saves to 4 and increases the feats granted in sleeper state to 3. At 4th level, attempts to influence the waking sleeper in a state of recall must pass an MSB-check versus DC 15 + total levels in a casting class. Note that the PrC is NOT a casting class! The capstone at level 5 increases the bonus granted to +6 by state of recall to +6 and allows for the selection of 5 feats. Additionally, two feats may be changed as a free action. Complaint here: I assume that the prerequisite-caveat is still in place here, but RAW, it could be read otherwise.
We also receive two new eliciter emotions: Excitement nets a bonus to speed (5 ft. per two class levels, min 5 ft.) and 1 + 1 per 4 class levels to AC, Ref-saves and Acrobatics/Fly checks. This is usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day and the boost lasts for 1 round. The lesser upgrade increases the duration to 2 rounds, the Master version to 3. The Greater option lets you do the following: “You may target an ally within 30 ft. as a swift action to grant them an immediate attack at their full BAB.” It can only be used 1/day, thankfully, +1/day for every 4 levels beyond 8th. Minor nitpick: I *assume* that the target needs no action to execute the attack – “immediate” as used in the verbiage does imply immediate action, though. Choosing another word would have been prudent here.
Tranquility is the second emotion, and allows you to grant a target 1d6 +1 per 2 levels (should be class levels) temporary hit points that last a minute. 3 + Cha-mod uses per day. These temporary hit points increase to 1d8, + 1/level (again, should be class level) for the Lesser version, 1d10 +2 per level (should be class level) for the Master version. The Greater power would be a standard action to remove the exhausted, fatigued, frightened, nauseated, shaken or sickened condition (choose one) from a willing ally within 30 ft., usable 1/day, +1/day for every 4 class levels beyond 8th.
All right, we begin the basic magic chapter with a new Mind sphere base ability, namely cloud. Talents with this tag emanate in a cloud form the object/creature/etc. targeted and creatures entering the cloud are affected. Objects may be imbued with one, with cubic feet maximum affected based on CL and creature affected based on size category, with multiples of 5 levels as the scaling for size categories. Somewhat odd: Components of objects or creatures may be targeted, which poses a serious issue: The example talks about targeting a head of a two-headed dragon, for example. Does this use the dragon’s size category or does it reference the head? In the latter case, how do you determine the head’s size? The radius of the area thus imbued is 10 ft. + 5 ft. per CL, or you can make a 10 ft. + 10 ft. per CL line. Establishing a cloud takes a standard action that Provokes AoOs and they behave akin to charms in that they have different strengths and require e.g. Powerful Charm to execute the powerful versions. A single creature or object may only be imbued once per day. Group Charm may not be used to affect clouds, but they otherwise behave as charms. Apart from the wonky component part, a cool and welcomed option!
4 such (cloud) talents are included within: Dispersion creates basically a “hiding spot”, akin to how many Stealth/Survival horror games (like the Clock Tower franchise or Haunting Ground) handle this – first, enhancing Disguise (akin to e.g. the Hitman games) and then, we get breaking of line of sight, hiding from being observed, etc. – I LOVE this. It’s pure gold for infiltrations. Esteem represents a buff to social skills, though one that becomes easier to perceive at higher power-levels. Lure lets you invite or repel creatures of a type/subtype, acting as a debuff even if you manage to pierce the defense this provides. HD is used as a cap.Misdirect does what it says on the tin, scrambling movement.
We get 10 new charms herein. In all brevity: Amnesia is really cool, eliminating a progressively longer duration of events and getting the respective interactions with e.g. Break Enchantment and similar effects right. Calm is also neat, eliminating [emotion] effects, but also morale bonuses and the like, which more potent versions eliminating the will to fight. Candor lasts a bit longer than usual and forces the target to speak only what is believed to be true. Nice! Cerebral strike provides means to cause nonlethal damage, with more potent options adding ability score damage and making the save to negate halve instead. And no, you can’t abuse this, as it can’t reduce ability score below 0. Disrupt focus is a great anti-caster tool, forcing concentration checks, with more potent options no longer requiring your concentration. Gestures is really cool, hampering somatic casting and, at more potent versions, cause targets to drop items, drop them prone at range or force them to execute AoOs, using your own, move them, etc. You may even, with the powerful version, make the target the origin of your magic, forcing them to provide the somatic components…obviously, depending on the requirements there. And yes, Utterances-synergy included. Love it. One complaint: Forcing targets to move into damaging or suicidal circumstances should provide the customary reroll for the save to resist the effect. Utterances, then, would be the verbal brother to gestures’ somatic trickery.
Inception implants memories in the target, first seeding rumors and then progressively more potent ones. Really cool for intrigue games. Mind shield is a progressively better boost to Will-saves, which first discharges, then halves its efficiency with each use and then, in the powerful version, yields immunity to enchantment spells and effects that may be surpassed with a check versus your MSD. Mind spy lets you use the target’s senses.
Wow. I almost can’t believe the same author wrote these! While the power-level of the talents oscillates, this chapter was inspired and provided a welcome breather after the less than superb first chapter. Advanced magic in the book provides something I loved to see – synergy with Occult Adventure’s dreamscapes, which is really fitting for the Mind sphere. When using a powerful Enthrall charm on another target with the Mind sphere, you can create at +1 spell point a Memetic Link, using the caster stats, but using you to determine results, allowing for the establishment of a chain of Enthralled targets. Perfect for masterminds. Recondite Stimuli allows you to choose one type like plants, oozes, etc. and affect them. The Zeitgeist (cloud) advanced talent allows you to extend charms to whole populations – really creepy and full of storytelling potential. 6 rituals are included here: Agreement is basically a sphere-based form of binding contract, with Pact being an even more severe version. Create mindsphere is self-explanatory. Dreampath guides you and other creatures into your or another willing target’s dreamscape. Dreamquake can severely damage thought constructs. Mental block fortifies your dreamscape. While we’re on the subject of longer duration effects: The second incantation herein would be River of Reverie, which makes you use magically-charged cheese to fish for dreams, acting as a superb defense versus the undead.
Three examples of spellcrafting are provided – Confirmation crisis, at 2 spell points, instills the target with rage and confidence of success, goading them to attack foes. Liar’s lament, at 1 spell point, makes liars catch fire. Meralda’s delirious donnybrook can only affect the caster’s type, but at 4 spell points, it stuns targets and inflicts nonlethal damage, as if pummeled by tiny fists, with saves to stop it. Nice.
The pdf also includes 10 new feats: Deceptive Advisor makes your requests laced with Mind magic and thus more reasonable (neat). Dynopathy lets you use spell points as daily uses of emotion powers with limited daily uses. This one will need careful observation in the future – it would have been easier to future-proof by establishing different costs based on different daily uses – 1 point for 3 + CAM, etc. Mind Over Matter lets you delay the onset of received damage and poisons via spell point expenditure. This is a surprisingly complex and potent feat I really enjoyed. Otherworldly Mind makes your dreamscape behave as another plane and thus makes scrying etc. harder. Pressure Point Proficiency penalizes Will-saves of those hit by your unarmed strikes. The penalty can be increased with a follow-up feat. Silver Tongue lets you reroll social skill checks with a scaling bonus, at the cost of spell points. Swarming Strike lets you expend 3 rounds of psionics to gain a bonus to damage from up to casting ability modifier allies to coordination. Synchronicity lets you extend single target touch range emotion powers to a range of 30 ft. and affect up to Charisma modifier beingts. Problematic here: Touch-based options are balanced by requiring an attack; AoEs usually allow for saves. This bypasses the save-requirement and the touch. Begs to be cheesed, in spite of the resources required.
There’s a trait to affect another creature type with talents usually only applicable to your type. The casting traditions Beast Charmer, Chi Trancer, Gadgeteer, Hypnotism and Bonneteur are presented, all being solid. We get the new Mental focus drawback, and 4 neat new sphere-specific drawbacks are included – blatant side-effects (like e.g. a Joker-smile by the affected, a twitch, etc.) needing to share a language…really cool ones. Boons include Embodiment, which allows you to consider yourself to be philosophically kin to something, potentially allowing yourself to be affected as such – rules-wise, this is too wide open for my tastes. Virtuoso makes you caster savant regarding Skilled Caster checks, as well as providing some stealthier somatic/verbal casting. Wild Will makes critters froma chosen terrain more susceptible to your magic.
The final page provides the conscription special weapon property, which can add the Command charm’s powerful effect to targets hit at +3 cost, thankfully with a cooldown to prevent abuse. The jamais vu armor quality, at +2, can be activated via command word to cause onlookers to save or forget you for a short duration. Nice. Staves can get the meditation quality for +2000 gp, granting double the enhancement bonus to concentration when casting a spell or sphere effect to which the staff’s enhancement bonus applies. Mesmerism, at +3, nets a gaze that interacts with charms – which is per se cool, but as a whole, feels more like something an archetype should convey – tying it to the item feels weird to me.
Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are good – I noticed a couple of formatting deviations and internal inconsistencies, but nothing too glaring. On a rules-language level, the pdf is WEIRD. Power-levels fluctuate rather significantly between options and rules-language, at times, manages to convey highly complex concepts, while in other cases falling a bit flat. Layout adheres to Drop Dead Studios’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf features full-color interior artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume that more authors have worked on this. John Little delivers a book that starts of really badly: The archetype-section is a mess and made me put down the book for a while. That being said, I am actually glad I returned to finishing the review for this book! As subpar as it started, as interesting it becomes. The basic and advanced magic chapters are really interesting and sports some narrative gold-mines that can yield truly complex intrigue/infiltration/etc.-scenarios. While the options presented oscillate rather wildly in their respective power, there is a lot to love in this book once you get past the first chapter. While there are problematic options in subsequent chapters as well, the majority of the book remains interesting and features some truly cool tricks.
That being said, it also feels significantly less refined than usual for the series and ultimately, in its current form, amounts to a mixed bag for me. The good aspects are really, really cool, but the bad things are also rather atrocious. Personally, I can just disregard the problematic options and enjoy the gems herein – as a private person, I’d round up. As a reviewer, though, I noticed no-go-issues that I tend to penalize rather harshly. Hence, my official verdict cannot round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.
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