Ponyfinder: Forgotten Past
This massive book clocks in at 72 pages, not including front cover, ToC, SRD, etc. – that’s pure content, so let’s not waste any time and dig right in!
This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of it in exchange for a critical and honest review.
Forgotten Past, the 3rd Ponyfinder book I am to analyze, begins with a brief elaboration on the history that shaped Everglow, and it has some, concept-wise, rather intriguing ideas: For once, the very notion of exploring crypts, dungeons, etc. is seen as a challenge; a kind of heroic real life extreme sports event for the curious and brave, if you will. This very twist of the classic ideas behind dungeon exploration in itself is a truly creative one I wholeheartedly enjoy: Essentially, this provides a great in-game justification for dungeon-exploration in the context of Everglow’s light-hearted flavor. This practice, however, was also what freed dread Apep, the demon that scourged Everglow, so yeah…there’s a lesson for those too curious in the tale as well. The timeline, as penned by Rough Draft, should be considered to be a general notion, not something set in stone – and indeed, the ruins that predate ponykind’s arrival in Everglow do hold a secret…or more than one. After a gorgeous two-page spread of the beautiful Everglow map, one of these secrets is unearthed with the deer-like ruminant race, a reclusive species of antlered beings that retreated into the ether, away from the world, to progress slowly towards extinction. But not all ruminants are willing to just run away, and thus, some do return to Everglow…and some are born here, as they are considered to be the progenitors of the Cloven and their bloodline, diluted though it may be, still remains strong.
Rules-wise, the ruminants get +2 to Int and Dex, -2 Cha, 40 ft. movement rate (30 when walking on two legs), a primary gore attack for 1d6 damage as well as +2 to Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering) checks. They also choose an impurity in the bloodline -Int 11+ ruminants can gain at-will detect magic, read magic and prestidigitation. Increasing the skill bonus granted to +3 and Int-mod daily SP mending would be another option. You can also get the cloven or ponykind subtype, or resistance 2 that scales with levels to a chosen element, plus DC +1 when using abilities and spells “of the same element.” Str +2 and Dex -2 is similarly possible. You could also be pure-blooded for +2 to initiative and a bonus feat. The pdf contains information on ruminant satyrs as well as purrsian pony and human satyrs. As an alternate racial trait for ruminants, they can lose their antlers for the option to 1/day roll a social skill twice and take the better result. As always, we get stereotypes on other races and well-written fluff to complement the race presented. That being said, yes, the presentation of the ruminants violates just as many of the formatting standards as those races in the “Tribes of Everglow” did; but, at least from a formal point of view, the content that is the basis of the race is pretty functional. That being said, the rules-language and formatting still is as flawed as in the aforementioned book – lowercase skills, for example. On the plus-side, though, for the most part, the race gets bonus types right. For the most part.
The book also provides a wide selection of racial feats. These provide e.g. the option to gain an additional awakened impurity (the bloodline-y racial trait) at 9th level. The ideas the respective feats champion are pretty intriguing: Bolt, for example, lets you combine running with withdraw, with the first 5ft. not threatening AoOs. So far the rules-language only deviates from the default, but is functional. That ends now: “If you perform a partial withdraw, your run can only cover half the usual distance.” There is no such thing as a “partial withdraw” in Pathfinder. There is a restricted withdraw…but yeah. Foregoing 2d6 sneak to cause a foe to become incapable of performing AoOs until the end of your next turn may not be perfect, but once again is functional. +2 Con for ruminants with the elk impurity can also be found. And then there would be Magnificent Rack, which increases your gore’s damage die by one step to 1d8. This one does not take the antler-less trait into account – it’s not part of the prereqs. Additionally, the feat has this gem: “When taking a charge with them, they deal double damage dice.” WTF is that supposed to mean? 2d8? What if they deal bonus damage due to items or class features? What’s the interaction with other feats? This is, once again, a grand case of the rules not working.
Now, since these basics are already pretty error-ridden, you can pretty much guess how the 5 utility wild talents for the kineticist fare, right? Well, know how the dimensional ripper made VERY sure it got all the corner-cases and covered more than a page with its basic set-up of the portal ability? Well, there is a 1 burn kinetic blast that lets you teleport to the square hit with your blast. What if the square’s occupied? “This is a teleportation effect and neither it, nor the movement, provokes.” What movement?? How does the blast not provoke an attack of opportunity? Also, this should be an infusion, NOT an utility wild talent. I could go on, but I’ll rather move on. Side Stepping has this text: “With force of will, you can step into, or out of, the ether. You must be close to the physical world, on the ethereal side. For one additional burn per passenger, you can take others with you, provided they are adjacent to you.” I kid you not, that’s the text. It’s a spell-like utility wild talent for a base burn cost of 0. There is (almost) EVERYTHING wrong with this. Not even kidding. Okay, SP usually means standard action, that’s still something you can glean. How is this, as a level 5 utility wild talent, even close to duplicating life bubble in cost? What means “close to the physical world, on the ethereal side.” mean? What does this actually do? Ethereal jaunt? URGH. Another wild talent grants you a +2 insight bonus to saving throws against effects that entangle, pin, grapple, paralyze or stun you.” and you may accept 2 burn to end one. As a swift action. Pin and grapple don’t usually allow for saves, that would be CMB/CMD. And swift action to escape them “and take the remainder of your turn?” Urgh.
Okay, the race-specific section is done, but there are two new class options for other races: Bloodragers can now take the unification bloodline, gaining +1d4 FORCE damage against every evil creature at first level. Leaving that uncommented. 8th allows you to emit a 15 ft-cone that “deals light damage.” …Okay, gonna stop right there and move on to the next, namely the destiny psychic discipline. It’s well-intentioned, I give you that: As a swift action, it lets you roll a d20, as a standard action, you record it. And then, you may replace a single other d20 roll with the recorded result…provided it happens before your next turn. This is pretty limited in its application and while the rules-language is anything but precise, the ability does have a limit. Avoid the tangles allows for rerolls of allies and the character rolling 1s, also with a limit…and you get how the ability is supposed to work…but the language still is flawed. Each time I read “that provokes” for provoking AoOs, I die a little inside.
There also are feats. Adding 1/2 your armor bonus and shield bonus to Ref-saves versus traps, for example. There is a metamagic feat here called Prepared Countermeasure. It almost works. “A spell so modified can be cast as an immediate action, even while surprised, flat footed, or otherwise normally unable to take immediate actions. The spell can only be cast to counter another spell/effect as it is being fired. Meeting the disable device check -5, if the caster level of the magic trap is not known, it suppresses the trap for 1d4 rounds. Level: +1.” You can get what this is supposed to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Wrecking Ball is just broken. At -2 to AC, your bludgeoning weapon attacks deal +1 damage per 75 pounds (or +1 per 50 pounds) you carry. To charge with this feat, you need to make a DC 20 Acrobatics check or Reflex save (all not properly capitalized, obviously) to “avoid going prone afterwards.” After the first attack of the charge? After the movement? No idea. Also: This has “BAB 11+” as prerequisite. At 11th level, if your character doesn’t have Strength 25 as a melee heavy hitter, I’d be surprised. Light load would equal +5 damage; A character with heavy load would benefit from +16 damage. Note that these doe stack with power Attack, Reckless Assault, etc.
I’ll just stop here, I have only scratched the surface, but let’s move on to the massive section of new traits in this book. One the plus-side: they have trait-types. On the downside: They are wrong. It’s Faith trait, not religious. It’s race traits, not racial traits – to distinguish them from the thingies that the race grants you. There are no cultural traits. That should be social. But hey, Regional’s correct! It may not be two out of three like Meat Loaf sang…but 1 out of 4…is pretty bad. It’s something literally ONE look could have fixed. ONE. LOOK. Sorry, I’ve been trying to be nice here, but this infuriates me. It’s one thing to get one piece of rules-nomenclature wrong…or two. But these books get more of them wrong than even casual checking should render possible. I’ve rarely seen so few components of crunch actually get the verbiage right.
The book also has three archetypes and while the brief anti-trap ninja-archetype is short of perfection, it can be considered to be solid. The Past Cleanser druid is themed around ruin exploration and replaces venom immunity with curse immunity, thankfully with an oracle-caveat, though, once again, the wording should be cleaner. The final archetype is the mechanically interesting one: The unspoken chemist can 1/day combine two extracts: Upon preparing them, this one is considered “to be a combination of two spells you know of its spell slot level or lower.” That may not be smooth, but it works. When the alchemist uses this extract, he rolls a d%; 1-15 mean that it harmlessly doesn’t work, 16 -85 trigger one of the extracts and 86+ triggers both. Each spell level lower than your highest spell level known adds +10 to the roll. Generally, I like the idea…but how does this interact with effects that modify the level of the extracts? Similarly, at 12th level, the archetype gets mastery “over seemingly random events” such as the random resistance of the archetype, confusion effects, you may roll twice. I like this idea-wise, but it needs a proper definition of such random events.
The massive book’s next chapter depicts fluff-only write-ups of famous explorers of history, both pony and purrsian etc. – from the curator of the earth-bound museum Aether Naut to the somewhat supernatural winged purrsian Broken Wing to the insectoid doppelganger Dark Lashes, the respective write-ups are creative, though some iterations of Everglow may balk at the mentioning of e.g. high speed trains and similar elements. Personally, I enjoy these components in my game, but your mileage may vary. From less colorful early flutterpony Night Wing to driven Rome Silvanus, the NPCs are interesting, though there are some odd font-changes in one instance. The chapter, as such, is well-crafted, but personally, I would have very much appreciated at least a couple of statblocks.
The next section deals with treasures, both mundane and magical – hoof tongs and rare books are nice. At +2, elsewhere weapons that strike from different angles when not successfulyl noticed via Perception, are pretty broken – the skills that determine the Perception DC can easily be boosted beyond belief, making the enchantment basically a guaranteed flat-footed versus most targets. A lighter material, feather steel, can also be found. And now, it’s FINALLY time for me to write something positive about pieces of crunch herein: An enslaving collar that forces to dance, the tainted heart of Everglow – these artifacts are nice and actually get their rules-language right – apart from lacking italicization of spells, weapons, etc. Not in every case…but yeah. A ring that allows the clockwork ponies to shed their inorganic nature? Generally nice. The frustrating part here is the inconsistency in formatting, more so due to these powerful relics often being pretty interesting – to the point where I could recommend them if they had been refined a bit more.
The next chapter would be forgotten magic, and it contains new spells – a lot of them. Those with the [forgotten] descriptor can essentially be called story spells you have to unlock – they are not considered to be available in the traditional sense. While the wording does suffer a bit here as well, generally, the rules tend to be more concise here – conjuring forth a ball of positive (or negative) energy that allows you to fire exclusively healing bolts can be considered a fun way of handling healing, though at Cle/Sha/Pal-level 3, its potency leaves something to be desired; 1d6 on a hit, twice as much on a critical hit. Sure, it lasts for 1 round per level, but there are better healing options out there. Generally, though, the spells are more solid than the other crunch components so far and has some nice ideas – e.g. a spell that allows constructs to be raised from the dead. The save-or-suck 5th level soul binding may be a spell GMs should be weary of, but other than that, this chapter pretty much was the most refined mechanical one so far in this book.
After that, we’re off to another idea-centric chapter, with ruins and other sites of interest: Basically, these would be fluff-only adventure locations that include divine puzzles, a dungeon that affects ages of those exploring it, abandoned steelheart factories, a dungeon that will test the love of those that enter, the travelling artifact museum – this section is, frankly, extremely creative and fun – to the point where I consider it perhaps the high-point of the book: The ideas are cool and really make you want to explore these places and I certainly hope to see them detailed with cool terrain and hazards in future books. The chapter also contains a short (for a metropolis) 3-page summary of the city of Murrage, which is similarly well-written, though the absence of a settlement statblock galled me. The book also sports a couple of traps, from CR 1 to 10 – these generally are okay, if suffering from the harmless iteration of deviations from rules-language. My favorite here would be the magnetic hole, which swallows thieves’ tools as a trap within a trap. As always, expect capitalization, italicization etc. not to conform to standards here.
The final chapter of the book would be the bestiary, which begins with the Bashtak (CR 1) -which are basically a variant on the medieval belief of nightmares being caused by e.g. cats and similar beings like incubi sitting on your breast. The CR 8 laughing moon would be a sphere that contains a grinning, creature, with satellites of smaller moons that grant it a whopping 20 ft. reach – it can also absorb these to heal itself. While not perfectly worded, it is perhaps my favorite bit of crunch so far herein and a cool boss-creature. The CR 12 render of fates, the only monster that does not gain its own lavish full-color artwork, is a solitary construct with a bladed shell that has a cursing gaze attack – and, once again, it is a cool creature. At CR 5, the ruin stalker is a reptilian canine with three eyes…and, apart from pretty good magical defenses, is comparatively unremarkable. The CR 3 Blood Wolf is a fey wolf; Keshari are at CR 1 basically the ponyfinder response to quasits – pony-shaped little demons with bleeding bites and fascination capabilities.
The CR 11 avatar of anarchy is an attaching, blood draining tentacle monster that can lay eggs in the fallen – if they are returned to life, they infect the target.The larvae tell the host about this, though, making the whole exercise pretty pointless from a life-cycle perspective. Oh well, logic and RPGs and such. At CR 6, we get a take on the sand golem – pretty much the bare minimum sans unique abilities. The CR 10 tomb guardian would be a purrsian mummy-variant that reduces damage “vs. small piercing weapons (arrows, bolts, darts, shuriken, thrown daggers and other ranged piercing weapons” – the wording’s unfortunate, for one can read that as either pertaining to the size of the weapon employed to fire them or make a point that the missiles shot be Large creatures affect it. Codifying this in a more established manner would have been prudent. The statblocks do contain glitches, in case you were wondering.
Editing and formatting, on a formal level, that much I can say, are better than in Tribes of Everglow, though they still contain issues. On a rules-language level, the components are still pretty bad, though not as bad as in aforementioned book. In direct contrast, I had no “WTF is that supposed to do???”-experience in this book, only frustration at the flaunting of even basic formatting conventions and some broken bits and pieces here and there. Still, the rules-language is not fully operational, requiring an ample array of GM-interpretation and handwaving in the finer details. Layout is a highlight – Full-color, gorgeous 2-column-standard with a metric ton of absolutely gorgeous, original pieces of full-color artwork. This book is seriously beautiful and gorgeous. The hardcover I have is solidly bound, with nice paper – no complaints. I don’t have the electronic version, so I can’t tell you about bookmarks etc. or the lack thereof.
David Silver & Byron Mulvogue’s Forgotten Past is a book of contrasts and an exercise in frustration for me. Why? Because the setting-information herein is very creative, fun and well-written. Similarly, the NPC-fluff-write-ups, supported by copious amounts of art, is a joy to read. But we’re not looking at a system-neutral book here. We’re looking at a roleplaying game supplement. Don’t get me wrong – the glitches are not as pronounced and jarring as in “Tribes of Everglow” – this *is* the better book, by leaps and bounds. But at the same time, a significant majority of this book’s crunch not only flaunts established rules-language that could literally be looked up at one glance, it also thus opens the floodgates for ambiguity, rules-issues etc. I like quite a few concepts herein; there are instances where the book gets its right. That deserves emphasis. But we have established a kind of quality standard among 3pps regarding the required rules-precision and this book, as much as it pains me to say it, fails that standard. My impulse is to give this 3 stars to account for the cases when it works, for the great fluff… but I have rated down books for significantly less issues than those found herein. I have rated mechanically okay, but uninspired books 3 stars…and this one may have some good ideas, some nice pieces…but it also has some broken bits; some seriously wonky mechanics and generally fails brutally.
It would, frankly, not be fair to rate this 3 stars – objectively, the craftsmanship of the crunch isn’t at this level. It’s better than in tribes…but not by enough. That being said, the often inspiring ideas and the bits and pieces that do work elevate this slightly above said book. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars. If you are in it for ideas and ideas alone, then round up – this book does achieve the goal of making the Everglow setting very much intriguing, to the point where I want to see those strange dungeons in play, where I want to see functional rules for age-category-switching dungeons and the like. As a reviewer, though, and for those that expect a certain functionality from their roleplaying sourcebook’s rules-information as well as a sense of consistency with the base rules, this must be rounded down.
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