Path of War Expanded
The massive expansion to Dreamscarred Press’s Path of War-series clocks in at 181 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 176 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
But wait, before we do, let me make one thing abundantly clear: I am aware that Path of War as a system is a divisive topic. I am very conflicted regarding the core book for it, a tendency I expressed in my review back then. I stand by *ALL* of these criticisms and have defended them, time and again, so let’s get this out of the way first: If something fails the kitten-test, I consider that a needless flaw in the design; I consider infinite healing not to be a part of the core of the game, since only a few combos allow for it, often due to these combos being based on at least one badly designed piece of crunch. I will complain about that. Similarly, I will complain about Skills-for-attack-substitutions, since skills are MUCH easier to blast through the roof via spells, items, etc. I consider all of these problematic. You are entitled to have a different opinion. I don’t tell you how to play, that a certain type of game-style is the “wrong” way or any such nonsense. I just depict what my subjective experience is regarding the material.
Before we dive into the analysis of this pdf, let me first make some things clear -I am not going to judge this pdf as per the power-level of the base game and instead take a look at it in the context of Path of War and its increased power-level -anything different would be rather ridiculous regarding an expansion to said system, after all. Conversely, this is not going to be a rehash of all my different takes on individual rules-decisions of Path of War that ultimately, to me, are unnecessary design-relics. If you’re not familiar with the gripes I have with the base-system (and the opinions which diverged from mine on that, after all, I do not consider my reviews to be the only valid opinion!), you can read up on them in the extensive discussion on my site and certain boards. Hence, I will try to limit my complaining about these old gripes to a minimum, should I encounter them. Please, please read the above again, carefully – I’m not here to prescribe an opinion, I’m here to give my honest assessment.
All right, that out of the way, let’s begin with the latest iteration of my favorite previously-released Path of War class, now revised…so what does the Harbinger do? Chassis-wise, the Harbinger, who gets d8, 4+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort- and will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial melee weapons, light armor and shields. The harbinger begins play with 5 maneuvers known, 3 of which can be readied and 1 stance, increasing this to 16 known, 10 readied and 7 stances at 20th level. Maneuvers may be chosen from Cursed Razor, Riven Hourglass, Scarlet Throne, Shattered Mirror and Veiled Moon. For my issues with the old disciplines, please check my reviews of those. I’ll return to the new disciplines later. Harbingers can be considered the brooding anti-heroes, the dark bringers of woe and as such, contemplating10 minutes of negativity allows the harbinger to ready other maneuvers. In order to regain spent maneuvers in combat, Dark Claim is used – as a swift action, the harbinger can claim a creature in close range she can see – this lasts for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 her class level and a number of creatures equal to class level can be claimed at a given time. Whenever a creature claimed is reduced to 0 hit points, the harbinger recovers initiation modifier expended maneuvers, and when he claims a target, he also gets 1 expended maneuver back. It should be noted that a harbinger is aware of the precise location of a creature claimed, though not being able to see the creature still nets total concealment.
Now if you’ve been expecting an anti-kitten-test rant here, I have to disappoint you – maneuvers are not a limited resource and as such I’m perfectly fine with the option of a harbinger carrying around bags of kittens to claim and kill…why? Well, because they can also regain a maneuver as a standard action, which renders the whole shenanigans moot. If played smartly, a harbinger will not want for maneuvers, though they *can* run out of them, requiring the expenditure of actions.
First level harbingers add 1/2 their Int-mod to attack rolls, 10th level harbingers also add full Int-mod to damage rolls, offsetting their 3/4 BAB. I am NOT a fan of dual stats to any roll, but that is documented by now, alongside the obvious means to min-max the s*** out of such a set up, right? They also get +10 ft. competence bonus to movement rate, increasing this by a further +10 ft at 10th level and this bonus is applied before any other modifications due to load et al.
At 2nd level, the class gets Dark Focus – a kind of specialization on one discipline, which nets a +1 competence bonus to atk and damage, increasing these bonuses by a further +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. The focus’d discipline’s save DCs are also increased by +1, though this bonus does no longer increase, eliminating one of my two main complaints about the first iteration of the class.
6th level nets wither Advanced Study or Discipline Focus as a bonus feat; 10th level nets a second discipline and 14th level provides the option to spontaneously expend a maneuver readied to spontaneously perform a maneuver known from the Dark Focus’d discipline, though it has to have a level equal to or lower than the expended maneuver. Finally, 20th level makes all maneuvers known of the chosen disciplines count as readied in addition to the ones readied regularly.
At 3rd level, harbingers may 1/encounter (thankfully now defined in in-game time in Path of War, so no more complaints regarding that!) move up to her speed as a swift action, increasing this by +1/encounter at 9th and 15th level; however, at these very same levels, harbingers can also opt for fly speed, swim speed plus immunity to inhaled toxins, climb speed with bonuses to disarm and grapple OR the ability to teleport up to her speed as a move action – while the latter sounds like it is the most powerful of these, that would be a flawed assumption – the action economy versatility does somewhat balance these out, though teleport and flight remain clearly the stronger options. On a nitpicky side, though, I do believe that this short-range teleport ability does need to specify that it is a conjuration [teleport]-effect. Why? To maintain balance with existing mechanics that block teleportation-effects. Still, not a grievous oversight here.
At 4th level, the harbinger may initiate a readied strike as an immediate action once per encounter whenever she reduces a foe to 0 Hp or below, with the strike being required to have an initiation action of one standard action, +1/encounter use at 10th and 16th level. IT should also be noted that the target needs to be adjacent, which is an important restriction in my book. The limit helps to keep this in line and makes it a good resort when a harbinger needs an extra oomph. Now granted, this ability, while not looking like much on paper, is actually very powerful – seeing how, in many games, the GMs are not as adept at drawing out combats, these abilities may be considered very painful for a continuous micro-novaing through “small” encounters.
5th level provides a +2 bonus to AC and Ref when moving more than 10 ft. in a given round, rewarding alacrity – as does the 11th level ability, which allows for the movement of 1/2 movement as an immediate action 1/encounter. I like this ability per se, but does it have the capacity to waste e.g. attacks or spells executed against the harbinger? I assume no. This messing with the movement economy is not bad, but some clarification would be nice.
7th level nets magic aura at will, though, in a minor complaint, the SP’s not italicized. At 8th level, creatures flanked by the harbinger and his allies take a -2 penalty to saves and skill-checks. 12th level adds no-save shaken to a creature claimed and 13th level provides something pretty cool as well: The harbinger provokes no more AoOs for movement from claimed foes. 17th level allows a harbinger, as a full-round action, to move up to his speed and initiate a strike at any given point of the movement, while 18th level lets them initiate strikes as an AoO (OUCH! – and yes, has a restriction regarding activation action of the strike!). 19th level…is imho OP. All maneuvers initiated by a harbinger ignore ALL immunities possessed by the targets. Still…notice something? The thematically unfitting ability that let you stand around as opposed to skirmish is gone!
I consider the harbinger to be the best Path of War-class and I *really* like it; minor gripes aside, it is a great base line even if you dislike Path of War to create your own skirmishing class.
Archetype-wise, the harbinger gets 3 options, the first of which would be the crimson countess. The Crimson Countess deals damage to creatures claimed – 1d4 at first, then 2d4 at 6th level, +1d4 every 4 levels thereafter. The ability per se is rather cool, though I have an issue with the damage being untyped – the lack of a means to negate the damage renders the character extremely potent against any threat that is short on HP and great on alternate damage-negation. This, theoretically, allows for very easy high-DR construct-slaying, for example. Applying a proper damage type would help here. At 2nd level, the crimson countess receives a pool of vitae points equal o the number of claimed targets, with a max storage capacity equal to the class level of the countess. The pool drops to 0 after 1 minute out of combat and the countess receives +1/2 vitae points as morale bonus to atk and damage rolls made via maneuvers, +2 when executed against claimed creatures. The ability also scales with levels, providing additional means of utilizing vitae, with further untyped damage equal to her class level to all claimed creatures as a move action, additionally potentially providing 1d6 hp per creature claimed – the healing may be none too much, but it still makes me think that my countesses would carry bags of kittens around for handy claim-kills and infinite personal healing. *sigh*
On the plus-side, the ability does provide an expansion of the recovery options (4 vitae for one counter or boost) available, with higher levels netting 8 vitae points forced teleportation (which should specify that the effect is a conjuration [teleport]-effect for the purpose of interaction with base rules) and a 6 vitae option to shove off half damage (or ability damage) to a target claimed creature – the latter can be extremely powerful, though the archetype actually prevents the worst of the ability’s potential for OP abuse. The capstone provides a lethal 10 vitae save or die; make it and take damage ability.
On the awesome side, the class receives the powerful ability to turn into a big pool of blood and reform at 9th level, getting a bunch of unique benefits while in said form. This archetype, in a nutshell, replaces agility with reliable damage-output – though swift action movement is still here. I love the fluff of this glorious beast. The Crimson Countess actually will see some use in my game (ONLY as an NPC-class) with very minor tweaks and imho, this archetype plays radically different, with the minimum of vitae points putting player agenda and planning higher on the agenda than I would have expected. This is not a cookie-cutter archetype and it is fun – some minor tweaks can make it work even within my conservative preferred power frame, though the infinite healing and untyped damage represent two needless glitches in this one’s frame.
The second archetype, the Ravenlord, receives a bird-exclusive animal companion with the harbinger’s Int that shares in several class abilities; slaying it deals Constitution-damage to the harbinger and it acts upon his initiative and does not gain bonus tricks or share spells, but it does share dark focus, but not the benefits of the bonus feat granted at 6th level. Now the unique thing is that the ravenlord may have the companion execute maneuvers: At 3rd level, the raven can initiate strikes and counters, though only one of the pair may initiate a strike in a given round. The interesting component here would be that they also generate a small area of debuffing gloom whenever the OTHER executes a strike, allowing for a fluid (and EXCEEDINGLY fun) switching between roles and benefits. Also: They actually can be defended against by being designated in proper rules-terms – good, since the penalties are massive. At 13th level, the gloom lasts longer and eliminates insight and morale bonuses. I really like this archetype!
The third archetype for the harby would be the previously unreleased omen rider, who gains Medium Armor Proficiency as well as mounted Combat at 1st level and may replace a discipline with Piercing Thunder. Also at first level, he gains a spectral steed that can be called to his side 3 +initiation modifier times per day, dismiss it as a move action. The steed has 1/2 the rider’s HP, the same AC and shares miss chances, immunities and resistances with the omen rider. What’s a bit overkill in my book: “The spectral steed is not affected by effects that target an area, nor is it vulnerable to effects that do not deal hit point damage.” – So no fireballing them? Meh. I get the design rationale behind the idea, as the steed is pretty fragile, but still. The steed has a 40 feet land speed, +10 ft every 2 levels to a maximum of 100 feet and can bear the rider’s weight + 50 lbs. +10 lbs per omen rider level. It also learns to traverse swampy, sandy etc. terrain unimpeded at 3rd level, at 6th level it can walk on liquids as though they were firm ground; 9th level nets fly speed equal to land speed (and initiator level bonus on Fly checks) and 12th level lets the rider call his steed and have it arrive with him already mounted as an immediate action. The steed can make the movement for the omen rider for maneuvers requiring it and benefits gained are extended to both. At 5th level, the steed nets +2 to AC and Ref to itself and the rider, 20% miss chance when it has moved at least 20 feet and 10th level provides infinite running, with prolonged sprints ignoring fatigue…”Denn es reiten die Toten so schnell…” 8th level nets the omen rider or his steed the option to gain 2x HD temporary hit points when he reduces a claimed creature to 0 HP instead of recovering maneuvers. All in all, an interesting, unique mounted harby with great visuals.
The second class herein would be the mystic, who receives chassis-wise d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armors and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves and begins play with 7 maneuvers known (which scale up to 21) as well as one stance, scaling up to 7. Mystics can have 5 maneuvers readied at 1st level and increase that to up to 12…however, here, things become interesting: Much like To9S’s Crusader, the Mystic does not have 100% reliable access to her maneuvers: The Mystic, before her first turn, determines 2 maneuvers, which are immediately accessible to her; thereafter, at the end of each of her turns, she gains one randomly determined maneuver from those of her readied maneuvers, unlocking this one for the remainder of the combat. If using the Lightning Recovery or Victorious Recovery feats, the mystic can immediately unlock such maneuvers, providing an option for players that are not 100% fine with the random nature of this mechanic. If, during a combat, the mystic would have no withheld maneuver to unlock left, she instead receives all readied maneuvers back and may choose 2 new ones to be immediately unlocked. The number of maneuvers granted at the beginning of combat increases by +1 at 3rd level, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th and 18th level by one maneuver, but unlike the base chosen two, these are randomly determined as well. Discipline-wise, the mystic can get Elemental Flux, Mithral Current, Riven Hourglass, Shattered Mirror, Solar Wind and Veiled Moon.
The Mystic key-ability is btw. Wis and the class also receives a so-called animus – this means that mystics count as class level arcane spellcaster levels for the purpose of prerequisites and stacks mystic levels with caster levels for the purpose of item creation etc. At the start of her first turn, the mystic receives 1 + Wis-mod animus pool; this pool increases by +1 every subsequent round and lasts for 1 minute out of combat. Whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver, she adds an additional +1 animus to her pool. Animus may be spent as part of a maneuver initiation action for e.g. a cumulative +2 insight bonus to d20 rolls (atk, CMB, skills) associated with that maneuver, up to a maximum of 3 animus spent for a +6 bonus, increase the DC by +1 per point of animus spent. 4th level unlocks 2 animus spent per maneuver for +1/2 class level damage. Alternatively, animus can be used to ignore 10 points energy resistance or 5 points of damage reduction. The latter is a bit problematic: DR is not a unified concept: DR/adamantine or DR/epic is significantly more powerful than DR/magic – a finer and more precise scaling here via animus spent would have made the ability significantly fairer and more streamlined.
At 9th level, mystics can target foes up to her base speed with a melee maneuver or move up to movement rate as a teleportation-effect as part of the initiation – nice to see the acknowledgement of it being a teleportation and the line of sight caveat. Also for 2 animus points, mystics may target creatures within 30 feet with melee strikes. 13th level and 19th level unlock up to 4 and 5 animus spent per maneuver, but do not unlock additional options.
Animus is important in other ways, though: Mystics are attuned to the elements and when they ready maneuvers, they select an active element and associated energy type. Whenever the mystic initiates a maneuver that deals damage, the mystic may spend one animus to change the damage type to the respective active element. As a standard action (or as a free action upon assuming a new stance) she can change the active element. If the character is psionic, her active element and active energy type are the same and if the mystic has the Elemental Flux discipline, she treats the active element as the active element for Elemental flux.
It should be noted that the class also has a reset for readied maneuvers, namely blade meditation: As a full-round action, a mystic can spend 1 animus to immediately receive and EXPEND (*NOT* initiate!) the maneuvers readied, the mystic receives a new set of maneuvers as per the default rules of the mystic’s ready-mechanic. Being slightly more vulnerable during this period, foes attacking the mystic still have to contend with the raging elemental maelstrom unleashed: Until the start of the next round, foes attacking the mystic receive 1d6 points of active element damage, +1d6 per point remaining in the mystic’s animus pool. The class also receives bonus feats at 2nd, 12th and 17th level, being able to choose from Item Creation and Combat feats. The mystic also receives solid chances of emulating unknown spells when crafting at 4th level.
2nd level provides a +1 insight bonus to AC versus psionics and spells (and psi-like and spell-like abilities), increasing by +1 at 6th level, 11th, 16th and 20th level by +1. At 3rd level, mystics may, as a move action, spend 1 animus to affect up to Wis-mod allies within line of sight with her elemental glyph, lasting 1 + Wis-mod rounds and new glyphs supersede glyphs already affecting a target. Glyphs are supernatural abilities and add new effects at 3rd, 8th, 13th and 19th level. Beyond the elements, metal, darkness and illumination provide associated buffing options – air e.g. is about movement, darkness concealment etc. At 5th level, the class gets an interesting ability: When targeted by spells/psionic powers or spell/psi-like effects that have a Fort or Ref-save partial, she may substitute a Will-save AND is unaffected on a successful save. If she fails, she receives 1 point of animus, but this ability only works while unencumbered and in light armor. The ability is very powerful, yes, but its limitations mean that it works actually pretty well in the Path of War-context.
At 6th level, the mystic may 1/day as a free action swap a readied maneuver with another one the mystic knows, +1/day at every 4 levels thereafter. At 9th level, the mystic may, as a standard action, utilize animus to suppress identified magical/psionic effects for Wis-mod rounds. Somewhat odd: The ability seems to contradict itself “In order to use this ability, the mystic must have identified an ongoing spell or power through a Spellcraft check or other method.” and “This ability can only be used on effects within 30 feet, although the mystic does not need to identify the effect while it is within that range…” seem contradictory…I think this means to say that the requirement for identification is void while within 30 feet….which is somewhat odd, regarding the range…as written, you can’t suppress effects farther away…
15th level allows for the expenditure of a move action to gain 1d6+Wis-mod animus points…which can be used outside of combat and lasts 1 minute. As a capstone, the mystic may create a glyph with the effects of two glyphs at the same time – brutal.
Archetype-wise, we get 3 for the mystic as well, with the knight-chandler being the first: The Knight Chandler on the other hand is a pretty detailed, complex archetype: The archetype needs to be non-evil and, at 1st level, receives a soul candle, a fist-sized mote of light that sheds illumination in a radius depending on the knight chandler’s illumination pool. Once per round, the knight-chandler may will, as a free action, to move the candle up to her speed, ignoring difficult terrain, but being unable to pass through solid objects. If the candle is within the knight-chandler’s space, she can have the candle move with her. Additionally, as a swift action, the knight-chandler may summon the soul candle to her square. Allies within 15 ft. of the candle gain resistance to the active element, equal to the number of illumination points in the knight-chandler’s pool and the candle is only weakened in magic-dead zones, not suppressed.
Outside of combat, the knight-chandler has 1 point of illumination in her pool; upon entering combat, she adds +1 illumination point per round. She may also use a swift action to gain 2 illumination points and receives one whenever she initiates a boost. She also gains Tap Animus, which means that she does have animus in addition to her illumination pool. It should also be noted that levels stack with arcane spellcasting levels for spells known and purposes of feat-prereqs. Their attacks may add faerie fire and inflict bonus damage equal to initiator level at 4th level. At 9th level, 1/round, the knight-chandler may, as part of a strike, end an outlining effect via aforementioned faerie fire to heal 1/2 damage inflicted…which, once again, is infinite healing, can be kitten’d…you know the spiel by now. Not a fan. At 17th level, the candle can act as the chandler’s position for line of sight and may teleport to the candle…which is honestly pretty cool and it has the teleportation effect caveat.
Starting at 3rd level, knight chandlers can utilize candle magic, beginning with votive effects and unlocking lantern effects at 8th level and bonfire effects at 15th level. The effects projected may be changed as a swift action and the ability has been refined – only one effect of a given type may be active at any time. The relatively close limitation of the soul candle’s light is what makes these work, for the effects are rather brutal: More five-foot-steps, teleport, as a lantern effect flat-out immunity to death effects…and then, there would be the bonfire effects, which provide AoE fast healing for infinite healing for the whole group and even ability score damage healing for initiators and a life 3-style option to reduce the pool to 1, but also receive immediate healing for 1/2 maximum hit point total plus an end to just about all negative conditions. I consider the latter to be pretty problematic, since it basically flat-out prevents death negating any damage that would bring the character below 0 Hp when used. Then again, this one is draining and can only be used 1/encounter, which now prevents the total abuse of the ability.
Also, seeing the ridiculous amounts of damage initiators can dish out, abilities like this may be actually needed in the long run. This does not change the fact that the archetype once more provides basically infinite healing, meaning the archetype will limited in its usefulness for some tables – as much as I like the archetype’s mechanical frame, it won’t get anywhere near my table. At higher levels, knight-chandlers may share boosts or counters readied with allies and as a capstone, the archetype gets an apotheosis alongside an increased illumination pool minimum.
Another archetype would be the Aurora Soul, which gets a modified list of proficiencies and disciplines: These fellows get Broken Blade, Elemental Flux, Riven Hourglass, Steel Serpent, Thrashing Dragon and Veiled Moon as well as Heal as a class skill. Instead of the usual bonus feats, the archetype receives the monk-y bonus feats like Improved Unarmed Strike at 1st level and its Greater brother at 3rd level. 7th level adds initiation modifier to unarmed strike-damage and treats them as magic; 12th adds the modifier to CMB and CMD and 17th to unarmed confirmation rolls. At 2nd level, they get a defensive aura that is active whenever they have at least one animus, adding initiation modifier to AC, even to Touch or flat-footed AC, but not against attacks that hit her before her first turn.
The third archetype would be the gunsmoke mystic, who gains access to Elemental Flux, Rivn Hourglass, Shattered Moon, Solar Wind, Tempest gale and Veiled Moon as well as Sleight of Hand as a class skill. Additionally, they obviously are proficient with firearms and gains Gunsmithing at first level, with the option to upgrade the battered starting gun to masterwork quality for the usual costs. The issue of costly bullets is reduced by the option to make animus-based bullets, which also reduce the misfire value, not unlike the etherbullet mechanic I used in my own etherslinger. The archetype also has the option to use animus to clear the gun and may gun-fu firearms in melee. At 3rd level, they may spend animus to add initiation modifier to damage rolls with firearms and at 7th level, the archetype may spend a move action to increase a gun’s range. 12th level provides a ricochet shot-combo with ranged strikes and 17th level nets free animus reload when initiating maneuvers. 1st level also nets Rapid Reload and higher levels quicker reloads for bigger guns. All in all, a solid take on the gun-wielding initiator that addresses many of the issues of the base firearm rules.
The book also sports a previously unreleased base class, the zealot, who gets d10, 4+Int skills per day, full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves. The class begins play with 5 maneuvers known (scaling up to 16), 3 readied (scaling up to 10), 1 stance (scaling up to 7) and 1 power point per day, scaling up to 70 at 20th level. The zealot has proficiency in simple and martial weapons as well as with all armors and shields, but not tower shields and receives access to the Eternal Guardian, Golden Lion, Piercing Thunder, Sleeping Goddess and Solar Wind disciplines. The initiation modifier of the zealot is based on Charisma. Zealots begin combat with all maneuvers readied and may recover maneuvers via their zeal ability, which nets a +1 bonus and increases by a further +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. This bonus is applied to him and all allies within his collective when he hits a foe with a strike maneuver and also when he uses the aid another action.. When using aid another this way, it is a move action and lets him recover initiation modifier, minimum 2, maneuvers. However, this does not allow the zealot to recover maneuvers expended in the round the aid another attempt was activated and alternate uses of aid another do not allow for the cheesing of this restriction.
I already mentioned the collective and the presence of power points makes abundantly clear that this class has some psionic tricks: As a standard action, the zealot can generate a collective, with a maximum range of medium (limitless at 15th level, plane-border-transcending at 19th level), consisting of initiation modifier or 1/2 class level individuals, whichever is higher. Members who have their Wisdom score lowered to 1 are automatically removed. A zealot can initiate maneuvers with one of more willing targets (or harmless effects ) and a range greater than personal on a member of the collective. This extends to powers and spells as well, which imho overshoots the target, though, oddly, powers seem to require the [Network] descriptor. A zealot may also aid himself and at 2nd level, uses Cha instead of Wis for the purpose of psionic feat prerequisites.
Additionally, 2nd level nets the zealot a conviction (+1 every 4 levels thereafter), which lets him gain bonus feats, the option to spend power points to expend the duration of zeal, extend his zeal benefits to mindless creatures, get a Cha-based version of Combat Reflexes as well as 1/round move action granting…which can be exceedingly powerful. Additionally, fortification-like boosts, Psicrystal Affinity and similar options can be found here. Also at 2nd level, the class gets martyrdom, which allows the zealot to redirect 5 points of damage per zealot level from his collective’s members to himself – but, rather cool, it does not contain a means to cheese this via resistances or immunities. The cool idea here is, btw., that zealots may spend power points to negate damage incurred thus on a 3:1-ratio (5:1 at 12th, 10: 1 at 17th) and, at 7th level, he may also affect ability damage thus, with power point expenditure as a means to offsetting the effect. This is actually a very cool ability, particularly in the very damage-happy Path of War-framework.
3rd level unlocks aid another at range through the collective as well as telepathic communication within it. Starting at 4th level, he may transfer maneuvers of a level lower than his highest with power point expenditure equal to the maneuver’s level to allies in the collective. At 11th level, he may lend an additional one…and before you ask: When he recovers the maneuver, the ally loses it, so not collective death strikes. At 4th level, the zealot chooses one of three missions, basically means of using power points for effects, coupled with passive benefits; if applicable; the more powerful, active effects are learned at 8th level. He can spend a maximum of 1 power point + 1 for every 4 levels per round to power these. Creation provides the option to still save a creature killed via hit point damage in the round after and the zealot can spend power points to heal within the collective. Additionally, he may spend power points to generate walls of ectoplasm or suppress negative conditions. Destruction as a mission would be more offensive, ignoring up to 2 x zeal’s bonus of hardness or DR (once again, does not distinguish between power levels of different DRs…), add bonus damage to strikes or extend maneuvers to affect 15-foot cone or 20-foot lines. Finally, Protection increases reach…and has a pretty OP, but perhaps in Path of War, required ability: At the expenditure of the psionic focus (which btw. is the determining factor for the passive benefits of missions), the zealot can halve the damage of an ally. Compared to that, the DR these guys can grant and power point based free counters, while powerful, feel less brutal.
5th level nets Diehard and more staying power, 9th level automatically lets him save versus the negative repercussions of the death of a follower of the collective, 13th level nets stalwart and at 16th level, the souls of his collective’s departed are kept within it, allowing for easier resurrection. At 10t level, his collective may transcend death, allowing him to continue to operate in a limited capability while his physical form is destroyed.
Archetype-wise, the zealot receives two archetypes, the first of which would be the Discordant Crusader, who may use both good and evil desciptor’d maneuvers, regardless of his own alignment – he loses Piercing thunder, but gains Silver Crane and Black Seraph. He may switch profane and sacred damage via the expenditure of his psionic focus – which is only useful in a rather limited manner, considering that both damage types have been introduced by Path of War and that there are no creatures resilient to either…which remains, just fyi, a huge gripe I have with both disciplines. The theme of moral ambiguity is continued regarding weapons at 5th level and the inability to detect his alignment. Duality of Discipline Focus and different augments gained via mission, instead pertaining the two disciplines, as well as a dual-stance activation as a swift action complement this one.
The second archetype would be the void prophet, who replaces Golden Lion and Solar Wind with Cursed Razor and Riven Hourglass. Pretty cool: He has an alternate means of recovery, as he can add unwilling targets to his collective and debuff creatures affected thus. Beyond this, higher levels allow this fellow to reduce insight and morale bonuses and power-point-based, relegate countered attacks to collective members, with higher levels allowing the unwilling addition to the collective via strikes. Very interesting twist on the base frame!
Beyond the archetypes for the new classes, this also offers material for the classes introduced in Path of War: Brutal Slayer stalkers replace Thrashing Dragon with Black Serapth and Primal Fury. When this guy uses a full-round action, he recovers initiation modifier (minimum 2) maneuvers and gains 2 x level temporary hit points as well as DR equal to his initiation modifier, while also adding his initiation modifier as bleed damage to the next strike. The benefits last 1 round and temporary hit points stack with already existing ones. Whenever a brutal slayer crits, he increases his Strength for initiation modifier rounds instead of gaining deadly strikes ( first +4; +6 at 8th level, +8 at 16th). 4 new stralker arts are provided: Using ki to get brutal strike benefits versus targets, applying them to flat-footed targets, increased Str-bonus and the option to reduce damage to sicken the foe can be found. Instead of a dodge bonus, they gain a scaling natural armor and they add 1/2 Str-mod to AC and Ref instead of Dex, with 6th level providing full bonus instead – and yes, maximum Dex-mod of armors still caps that.
The second stalker archetype, somewhat unfortunately named vigilante, replaces Solar Wind and Veiled Moon with Primal Fury, Scarlet Throne and Tempest Gale and uses Int instead of Wis as initiation modifier. To recover maneuvers, he expends a full-round action for +4 to AC as well as the regaining of initiation modifier maneuvers, minimum 2. He can also move up to his speed and the next attack adds sneak attack damage. Alternatively, he can recover one maneuver as a standard action. The vigilante has an inspiration pool equal to 1/2 class level + initiation modifier, allowing for the expenditure of such points to add a +1d6 surge to the respective skill or ability check, with Knowledge, perception and Sense Motive requiring no such expenditure. For two points, this can be applied to atk and saves and applying it to saves is an immediate action. These guys also get trapfinding and full sneak attack progression instead of deadly strikes. They may select investigator talents instead of stalker arts and the capstone allows for free +1d6 to all attack rolls as well as the option to enhance DCs with the inspiration mechanic. It may sound odd, but this may actually be the first time I liked something as a private person about the crit-fishing stalker class…I pretty much enjoy this one on a personal level.
The Warder may elect to choose the fiendbound marauder archetype, which replaces Golden lion and Iron Tortoise with Black Seraph, Cursed Razor and Eternal Guardian. These guys manifest a fiend’s grip – a spectral claw that has the reach and grapple properties and is based on the gauntlet the archetype wears and attacks with it are treated as though they have grab. They add the cursed condition to those marked and generally can be pictured as pretty adapt grappling specialists. The ordained defender gets either Eternal Guardian, Black Seraph or Silver Crane, depending on alignment and uses Wisdom as initiation modifier. They have an aura and gain limited access to inquisitions or war-priest blessings at level -2, with minor powers unlocked at 3rd, major powers at 13th level. Warlords may elect to become Desperados, who, bingo, would be gunslinging warlords: With Tempest Gale added and a gun as starting equipment, 2nd, 5th and 9th level for quicker reloads as well as access to grit and deeds and, at 5th level, scaling bonus damage when using guns with Solar Wind or Tempest Gale. Okay take on the subject matter, though personally, I consider the mystic archetype to be a bit more interesting.
There are also a lot of archetypes for non Path of War-classes. These begin play with 3 maneuvers known, 3 readied and 1 stance, scaling up to 15 known, 7 readied and 5 stances and unlocking up to 6th level maneuvers. From aegis customizations for maneuver access to barbarian primal disciples (yes, skills for maneuvers can be used in rage) to rubato bards that utilize a tempo pool to nightmare dreads, deadlier marksmen and myrmidon fighters (that have a very wide array of disciplines available!) as well as grit and deeds and finally offer a discipline-based fighter…) to monks of the silver fist, knight errant paladins, ambush hunter rangers and hidden blade rogues, this chapter is pretty impressive and useful. Why? Because it offers means to make the non-Path of War classes still valid in a game that utilizes the increased potency of the Path of War-system. Two thumbs up for this!
Beyond the massive selection of archetypes, the pdf also offers so-called class templates – these would basically be archetypes that can be applied to multiple classes, much like the general archetypes pioneered back in the day by Rogue Genius Games, with individual replacements for the eligible classes. Here, the Bushi, who regains maneuvers when sheathing a weapon, the mounted hussar, the alchemist/investigator polymath or the privateer can be found Inquisitors and Warpriests may elect to become warpath followers.
The pdf also sports three prestige classes, the first of which would be the 5-level animus adept, who needs to have animus healing as well as at least 5th level. Basically, these guys can be considered to be the PrC-based mystic-light-version, with basic, advanced and master glyphs allowing the character to partake in a variant of the mystic’s glyph-system. The 10-level Landsknecht PrC, at full BAB-progression and medium Fort-and Ref-saves and is absically the mithral current/scarlet throne specialist reach-fighter, including a unique strike and stance that may either be counted as scarlet throne or mithral current. The third prestige class herein would be the phoenix champion, whose chassis is similar to that of the landsknecht, but, as you may have guessed, these guys would be the ranged combat specialists. The book also contains pages upon pages of feats and going into the details for each would bloat this review even further. Animus-based healing per encounter, 1/encounter combining a riven hourglass stance with a free counter from the discipline, blending of psionics and martial arts, extra x-feats, adding penalties to those claimed – there is a metric ton of crunch here and while I’m not a fan of all components, going into each and every one…well…this is already at the 12-page marker right now.
Pretty cool: We get favored class options for the path of War classes as well as new options for old classes -from new stalker arts to new gambits; some archetypes and previously released material also has now expanded options.
OKAY, so next up would be the disciplines. Now you are, of course, interested in the two new disciplines herein, right? Well, the first would be Cursed Razor. This discipline is associated with heavy and light blades and spears, with Spellcraft being the key skill. Spreading curses inside your aura, using brands to disrupt abilities – the discipline as such provides an intriguing array of options. The maneuvers also allow for paralysis – which is problematic since the maneuver in question ignores immunity to the save-or-suck effect. That being said, long-range teleporting foes into adjacent non-difficult terrain, attack with bonus damage? Cool! Plus: It gets the descriptor-thingy right! High-level stealing of abilities is also evil and fun. This is, no hyperbole, my favorite discipline so far -strategic, bereft of legacy-rules and logic bugs and focused on nasty debuffs and unique tricks, it is powerful – at low levels, perhaps a bit too much. But still – over all, the most PFRPG-feeling discipline I’ve read so far.
Elemental Flux, associated with Spellcraft and available for monk, thrown weapons and light blades. Elemental Flux requires elemental damage of some maneuvers to be determined in advance, but may choose this as a standard action. Furthermore, quite a few of the maneuvers in the discipline can be augmented via the expenditure of animus points. It should come as no surprise to the reader, then, that we’re dealing with highly flexible offense/defense options here – unlike other disciplines, the significant flexibility of elemental flux is pretty hard to counter when combined by the resource-management of the mystic. For future-proofing purposes, this bears mention. As provided, though, the discipline is also highly interesting, with more than one maneuver offering wildly diverging in effects beyond just switching the respective energy damage types – and ultimately, I found myself enjoying this component most about elemental flux: While thematically, I did not consider the discipline too captivating, its flexibility is what ultimately makes me enjoy it. It should also be noted that the respective elemental benefits are pretty well-balanced among themselves. So yes, I was positively surprised here!
Eternal Guardian, a previously unreleased discipline in this book, is associated with Intimidate and represents the total conviction to an oath or task; favored by bodyguards around the world, its weapon groups are hammers, heavy blades and polearms. Cursing targets that strike you to save or become unable to move, allowing allies to not provoke AoOs while moving in your threatened spaces…concept-wise, I found myself enjoying this one. Similarly, intimidating an opponent to fail with an attack as a fear-based counter does make sense in a way. Teleporting between strikes, retributive tricks…all in all, I found myself enjoying this discipline as one of the better ones in the overall balancing.
Mithral Current, associated with Perform (dance) and the weapon-groups light blades, heavy blades and polearms, is up next. The discipline also has a unique flair and mechanical component: Being pretty much about Iaijutsu-style quick drawing, the discipline codifies a type of requirement for certain maneuvers that requires the wielder to properly draw a weapon immediately prior to utilizing the respective maneuver. The concise definition here is pretty much glorious and it should be noted that it does make basically for an optional component that can add additional effects to the respective maneuvers. It should also be noted that some maneuvers and stances here do allow for free sheathing of weapons as part of their usual effects. The discipline also does sport numerous rather interesting defensive tricks – alas, unlike some other more recent Path of War-installments, we once again have a more pronounced emphasis on skill-checks as substitutes for more valuable numeric options like AC etc., adding in the swinging effect more than in e.g. the harbinger’s designs and making the content presented here feel less streamlined…and, again, more prone to being gamed. On the plus-side, the actual gaming flow of calm turning to brutal counter-assault and visuals of mithral current are fun.
The Piercing Thunder discipline, based on Acrobatics and with polearms and spears as weapon groups, is all about charging and defending against such assaults as well as reach-trickery. It should be noted that the Twin Thunder Stance lets you dual-wield weapons that would otherwise not be eligible. The strikes, counters and boosts also obviously had some dragoon-inspiration, with repositioning leaps and the capstone allowing for a massive, devastating line-AoE-charge.
The third discipline covered herein would be the Riven Hourglass, with the associated skill being Autohypnosis and the weapons being light blades, flails and hammers. It is this discipline I dreaded most…you may recall my indignation at some of these strikes right? Well guess what: E.g. the previously broken strike the hourglass level 1 strike now has a save to negate and a cleaned up wording. KUDOS!!!
That being said, granting an ally your move, standard or full-round action, to be taken immediately as though they had readied it, is still horribly broken in my book. It allows you to break any semblance of action economy and is chock-full with abuse the system to smithereens combos. While at least swift and immediate actions are precluded from this due to the boost’s activation, the combo potential with other classes is vast. Riven Hourglass should be, as a discipline, carefully analyzed by a GM before allowing it – it may be the, group-dynamics wise, strongest discipline in all of Path of War…and that’s saying something.
Shattered Mirror, the second discipline, focuses on heavy and light blades and close weapons and uses Craft (glassmaking, painting, sculpture or sketching. Shattered Mirror offers stances to curse temporarily foes hit by you and strikes that add nasty spell failure chances (also to divine casters!) – nice! There also would be a pretty interesting counter, one where I actually *drum roll* LIKE the fact that it’s powered by a skill-roll. Why? Because it’s a magical counter and it requires the target to be cursed – this requires set-up and provides a grounding of the odd mechanics within the context of the gameworld. Oh, and it helps that the effect is not one that vastly benefits from maxing the hell out of the skill. The Shattered Mirror lets you do something interesting – utilize, for example, the atk of the last attack of the foe, dealing nasty damage to the target. Know another thing? The Skill/attack-material here is intriguing – using a skill IN ADDITION to attack rolls to add benefits to strikes? Now that a) makes sense to me and b) is elegant and avoids the easy stacking of bonuses on skills – kudos! A very powerful maneuver would be Equivocate – choose a target: When said target is subject to a power, psi-like ability, spell or spell-like ability, you also receive the benefits – and vice versa. While VERY powerful, this also allows for a vast array of exciting tactics. I’m not a fan of using a craft-check in lieu of a save, but that one will not break the game. Doubling strikes and setting the range at close is powerful – as is a strike that curses a target to receive damage equal to what it inflicts – thankfully of the same type. Still – nasty and also open for abuse, though to a lesser extent. Imho, such a maneuver should have a caveat that precludes AoE-damage from being reflected multiple times. The capstone covers a save-or-suck strike that imprisons the target’s soul – yeah, ouch. Cool imagery, though. Shattered Mirror is an odd discipline in that it imposes, much like Blue Mage/Mimic-style-classes, a task on the GM – namely one that should be *very* aware of the potential of NPC/Monster abilities being hijacked. This does not need to be an issue, but it could be one since that type of foresight usually is not required – and yes, I can see a GM walk face first into a brick wall here.
Sleeping Goddess associated skill is Autohypnosis, the weapon groups being flails, heavy flails, monk and spears as well as any mind blades or similar abilities. Sleeping Goddess adepts gain power points equal to the highest level maneuver they know, +1 per additional maneuver known, including stances. You also gain the psionic subtype. In a unique twist, several of the maneuvers of this discipline have a means of being augmented by the expenditure of power points, with a maximum of 1 power point + 1 per 4 initiator levels as the cap. The way in which these are used in pretty unique and also interacts with psionic focus – more often than not, the augmentation options offer varying, scaling means of increasing the potency, also using psionic focus as one of the resources you can use: A basic strike that debuffs, for example, can be divested of its save by psionic focus expenditure. While, in many cases, these seem to be justified, a strike that locks Sus, SPs, spells and powers is nasty when divested of the save…and there I am, getting ready to write a rambling diatribe…and there we have it: Duration reduced to 1 round. While this is still, nasty…I kinda like it, actually. At least in the ridiculously high-powered Path fo War context, it certainly makes sense! Blending false sensory input with strikes is also cool. I’m not a fan of the overpowering optimism boost – as a swift action, it instantly recovers your psionic focus AND, for 3 rounds, you pay no power points to augment…which, basically wrecks the whole limited-resource-aspect of them once you get this 6th level maneuver.
Tempest Gale would be the final discipline covered herein, with Sleight of Hand as the associated skill and weapon groups bows, crossbows, firearms and thrown weapons as associated weapon groups. This discipline also features a unique option, namely the fact that you may execute ranged combat maneuvers, which are treated much like melee combat maneuvers, with the exception that they do not provoke attacks of opportunity and that they apply range penalties, if applicable. From the classic disarming shot to negating cover to using Sleight of Hand as a ranged Disarm-attempt to negate attacks, the discipline feels very much like the classic wild-west-trick shooting option. In other rules-contexts, I’d probably complain rather hard about the power of ranged combat maneuvers, but within Path of War, it feels pretty much grounded when compared to the options some other disciplines offer. In fact, the rules utilized in this one may rank as some of the more easily scavenging materials for games that do not utilize Path of War. As a whole, I enjoyed this discipline and its flavor.
…Come on, can a guy get some applause, I have almost not complained about skill-rolls as substitutions for harder to buff rolls in the whole discipline section! ;P
Kidding aside, we have one more section to go: Martial Traditions. No less than 14 fully depicted martial traditions await the reader, from the Acolytes of the Arrow to the Cirque de la Fumée, I *really* enjoyed this fluffy sendoff after the ridiculous amount of crunch this book smashed in my face, though the allegiance with such organizations does provide tangible benefits. An oath is required (and depicted!) for the respective traditions and common tasks and available services further help integrate the disciplines within the context of a world. If anything, I really wished this chapter was a bit longer – the write-ups were evocative, the read-aloud oaths nice…and it makes Path of War’s options feel…well, less focused on crunch, more like something you can easily and organically introduce into a setting. The traditions also, obviously, help justifying why certain folks have access to these powerful maneuvers, while others don’t.
Editing and formatting are very good – while I noticed minor hiccups like missing italicization or bolding instead of italicization, for the most part, this book excels in these disciplines. Layout adheres to a nice, two-column full-color standard and the artwork within is a mixture of unique, new artworks and stock art. The book comes with a second, more printer-friendly version and the pdfs are fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Chris Bennett, Jade Ripley, Sabrina Bennett, Anthony S. Altovilla, Andreas Rönnqvist, Luke Williams – these would be the folks wrote this colossus of a crunch book. The question burning on your lips may well be: Should I get this?
Well, that kinda depends. If you didn’t like Path of War and shared my trepidations regarding many of its design decisions, then, surprise, you won’t like this either. What you may find, though, is more material to scavenge that in the first book: There are quite a few bits of content herein, more so than in the first Path of War, that make for great scavenging material.
That being said, this still represents a higher powerlevel than I usually use for my base-line of comparisons and, much like the first book, this is not for everyone. At the same time, this book does A LOT of things better than book I: The integration of now Path of War classes via a rich array of archetypes that sport the power-level of the system help making the content feel less like an intrusion. Similarly, the new classes are unanimously better than those in the base book. The harbinger is inspired and my favorite Path of War class – a great skirmisher, that, with some nerfs of the disciplines, may even work in less powerful games. The fact that the designers have listened and further improved this fellow is simply great, making this the star of the book, at least for me.
The zealot may well be the class that Path of War needed – with the massive defensive/damage reassigning/mitigation effects it has, it allows a group (and foes) to withstand the tremendous amounts of punishment the system allows you to dish out. As such, I consider it to be pretty much the most crucial class a Path of War group can have on its side.
I’m still not a fan of the mystic, though – I consider it to be the weakest of the new classes in terms of focus: It feels like a crusader-like chaotic maneuver-specialists that constantly apologizes to its player via options to exert control, when the unique selling point, to a degree, is the lack thereof. That being said, the animus-system here and the knight-chandler archetype in particular do unique, fun things with their complex rules – and, in direct comparison to the classes in Path of War 1, I still consider this one to be more interesting.
To cut a long ramble short: This is, as a book, better in every way than the first one. The classes are more creative, the adaptation of non-martial classes to the system goes a long way; heck, I consider the disciplines herein unanimously more interesting than those featured in the first book. And yes, I still grit my teeth whenever I read skill-checks versus X…but, and this may well be a subjective impression, I do have the impression that, via descriptors and counter-options, the totality in that regard is a bit more sound. Then again, with Veiled Moon already being the prime example of skill-abuse, there simply were not many possibilities to exceed that. On a more positive side, the fluffy traditions in the back, while perhaps the least flashy of the bits of content herein, definitely rank among my favorites – they ground these rules in the reality of a given world.
Before I ramble on even longer: If you play with path of War and like the system, then this will blow your mind. Seriously. It pretty much is as big a step forward as the APG was over the PFRPG Core rules. If you like Path of War, then you absolutely need to get this book. Right now. If your trepidations regarding the system sprang from a lack of support for regular classes, then this book also remedies that.
There are two specific warnings I’d wish to utter to fans of Path of War and GMs in particular: GMs, take a careful look at both Shattered Mirror and Riven Hourglass. Both disciplines can be extremely powerful. Similarly, this book pretty much plays loose with action economy, providing multiple means of trading actions among characters and getting more – which, as a comparison base-line, is usually capstone-levels of power. So that definitely warrants some careful probing for some games using the rules.
How to rate this, then? Well, I rated the original book according to my standard balance-base-line. I stand by that. Compared to most crunch, its power-level is off the charts. Same here…but this is the expansion. It’s the book that builds upon the implicit playstyle enforced by Path of War and as such I can’t well complain about that or have it influence the final verdict. if you have an issue with immunity ignoring, a ton of damage and the like…then this may not be for you. If you want to play a superhero level anime-like game with plenty of unique attacks and defenses, then this is just what the doctor ordered.
Damn, this is hard…you see, as a person, I love a lot in this book in style, flavor and execution. Similarly, as a person, I absolutely loathe a bunch of the design-decisions, needlessly failed kitten-tests, infinite healing as a base feature and similar gripes…but. And here comes the big BUT: As a reviewer, these already were present in the base book. They are established components of the exceedingly high power-level of the Path of War system. Thus, as a reviewer, I can’t complain about that here. I can advise caution regarding the action-economy-switcheroos, but in the frame of the system, particularly with its already significant powerlevel, they are less jarring and broken then they would be in vanilla pathfinder.
How to rate this?
Well, for fans of Path of War, this will be the 5 stars+ seal-level of awesomeness best book of the year, simple as that.
Similarly, if you hated book 1, you’ll hate this as well, perhaps even more so.
For those skeptical of the system, well…it’s better than its predecessor in every way…but it’s still containing all those gripes I (and plenty of other people) had against the previous book. If you were torn on the previous book and considered it, like I did, a 3-star-book, then this should be considered between 0.5 and 1 stars higher for you, depending on how badly cheesable skill-rolls versus x, kitten-tests, infinite healing etc. annoy you.
As a reviewer, my official verdict, ultimately, will be smack in the middle – at 4.5 stars. While personally, I’ll round down regarding my own tastes…but as a reviewer, it frankly wouldn’t be fair to rate this based on such a decision. I also have a policy of in dubio pro reo. Which means my official verdict rounds up to 5.
You can get this massive book here on OBS!
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