Psionics Augmented: Occultists
This installment of the occult branch of Psionics Augmented clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
As always, we begin with a brief introduction to the matter at hand, including how to handle campaigns that feature both psionics and psychic magic – and, as a personal aside, designer Forrest heck’s observations regarding the occultist range true with me as well. When I read Occult Adventures back in the day for the first time, I wasn’t immediately smitten by the class – it took a more careful analysis to really appreciate it and by now, I am very fond of it. But I digress.
We begin this pdf with two different archetypes for the occultist class, the first of which would be the govi. Instead of aura sight, these fellows gain a bonus on skill-checks to see through disguises and detect mental control effects equal to ½ their class level. Additionally, possessed and shapeshifted targets within sight of the Govi must succeed a Will-save to prevent the govi from realizing that they are shapeshifters/possessed, respectively. And yes, once successful, the creature is safe for 24 hours – and they’d better be, considering that, thankfully, the DC scales with class levels. Starting at 8th level, the govi gains the signature ability that replaces magic circles, namely sealing techniques. As a full-round action that costs 3 points of mental focus, the govi can exorcise incorporeal undead, possessing creatures, those made by metacreativity, etc. within 30 ft. The target must succeed a Will-save. Cool: Creatures that have not been softened up by damage gain a bonus to the save against this form of being whisked away…into the implement! You see, the govi catches these critters in an implement (an implement can only hold one entity) and they may then proceed to expend mental focus 1/day to force a creature thus caught to reply truthfully. The trap is not perfect, though: The creature retains concisely codified, very limited awareness and keeps healing – upon reaching maximum hit points, it can attempt to break free once every day. Absolutely amazing, cool idea and execution here! At 12th level, the govi gains true seeing (not properly italicized) when carrying an implement with a caught creature inside, replacing binding circles. 16th level allows the govi to spend an additional point of mental focus to attempt a sealing technique as an immediate action instead. Before you’re asking: The govi retains outside contact, but must cast magic circle to use it – good catch!
The second archetype herein would be the shattered mind, who replaces Knowledge (planes) with Knowledge (psionics). The archetype gains access to psionic powers and power points, beginning with a base of 1, upgrading that to up to 128 power points at 20th level. The maximum power level known increases up to 6th level. The governing attribute would be Intelligence and the power list employed would be that of the psion/wilder. Instead of knacks, these fellows get talents and as they employ psionic powers instead of spells, they get access to some alternate focus powers: The Conjure implement is replaced with Create False Implement, which lets you expend 1 point of mental focus to generate a duplicate of a psicrystal implement, which may diverge from the original, but allows you to use the powers stored in that implement; it may, however, not be used to store mental focus or use effects that require it. Secondly, psychic fog is replaced with psionic fog as an alternative. As a standard action, you may expend 1 point of mental focus to generate a cloud of fog, duplicating fog cloud (not italicized) and may not be blown away. At higher levels, the occultist in question may expend more mental focus, duplicating solid fog (again, not italicized), but at a reduced duration. Sacred implements and the penalties they impose on opposed schools instead apply to the manifester level of powers of that school’s equivalent disciplines. This represents an interesting change, as far as I’m concerned, and a relatively subtle balancing trick. Now, I did mention psicrystal implements in the alternate focus powers – unlike normal occultists, shattered minds infuse their implements with a piece of psionic power and a fragment of their mind, beginning play with Psicrystal Affinity (reproduced for your convenience!) as a bonus feat. 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter provde an additional implement school. The implements then are treated as psicrystals, gaining the personality and abilities as normal, but preventing the acquisition of a regular psicrystal. Improved Psicrystal and other feats that alter psicrystal only apply to one of the implements, but she may take these feats multiple times, each time applying them to a new psicrystal implement. Class features interacting with psicrystals only affect a single psicrystal implement of the character’s choice. Shared and hel powers are only held by a single psicrystal implement and they are not shared among the collective of psicrystal implements. Upon creating a psicrystal implement, the shattered mind learns a single power from that school’s equivalent psionic discipline (see the handy table provided) – big kudos: The rules-language takes powers with different levels into account and gets the complex rules ramifications there right. If a given school has multiple equivalents, the archetype must choose one. Powers manifested with implements are treated as being manifested with their minimum manifester level (great cheese-avoidance there!) The base focus powers are granted, as usual.
Okay, that is a massive codification, and an impressive one. 8th level provides scatterbrained: The fragmentation process takes its toll, imposing a -2 penalty to Diplomacy, Intimidate and Perform checks, but also a +1 bonus to saves against effects that detect surface thoughts. The psicrystal implements can use her Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma scores instead of their own and share bonuses granted to the shattered mind by feats, abilities, etc. Starting at 12th level, the shattered mind can expend her psionic focus as a full-round action to assume control over a target carrying a psicrystal implement. This does not require line of sight, but still has a maximum range, allowing for absolutely amazing set ups, particularly since the effects grow more potent the more psicrystal implements the target wears – 4 steps are provided. Damn cool.
16th level provides channel power, even when not within reach and as a capstone, the shattered mind, if killed, is not truly vanquished unless all implements are destroyed, allowing the shattered mind to potentially destroy the mind of unfortunates that find her implements…pretty amazing. I adore the complexity of this archetype and its amazing theme – but there is one RAW problem that can utterly break the balance of the archetype: Psicrystal Containment, aka having the psicrystal carry a spare psionic focus. Since the psicrystal implements allow the archetype to take this feat multiple times, you can amass more psionic focuses than with any other option…and, as any fan of psionics can attest, the psionic focus remains one of the most potent resources. Even a single additional focus is potent. Multiple ones? OUCH. I strongly, strongly suggest for all groups that have a lower power level to expressively prevent this combination – it is OP for all but the most high-powered games and sports a ridiculous combo potential. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Other than this (which will hopefully be nerfed/remedied), I loved this archetype to bits, though! I also was positively surprised to see some nice roleplaying advice for the psicrystal implements – kudos!
Beyond these, we also are introduced to the cryptographer psion archetype, who, instead of the regular discipline abilities gained, instead receives a single implement school of his choice, treating his psion level as occultist levels, though the implement school must correspond to the associated discipline, as featured in the table mentioned. Additionally, the respective psionic implement schools may be chosen, but more on that later. The cryptographer only gains one implement as well as ½ class level + Intelligence modifier, minimum 1, mental focus for use with the implement. 1st level provides the base focus powers, while 2nd level and every 6 levels thereafter provide a focus power from the chosen implement school, using, unless otherwise noted, Intelligence as the governing attribute. As the shattered mind, the cryptographer receives the modified focus powers covered before, if choosing them.
Now, I already mentioned this, so yes, this pdf contains a total of 7 implement schools, each of which corresponds to a psionic discipline; characters with the psionic subtype qualify for this, but when they cast psychic spells instead of manifesting powers, they learn spells from the associated magic school instead.
The 7th path, athanatism, balance-wise problematic for inflicting positive energy damage versus living targets (who have basically no means to resist it), provides a resonant power that provides negative or positive energy resistance. The basic focus power provides a scaling touch attack that deals 1d8, +1d8 points of damage per 2 class levels while psionically focused. These are the combination of negative and positive energy and can’t be resisted by either. *sigh* I can literally rattle off limited-use abilities that inflict damage that can be resisted. Won’t get near my game. The focus powers include a sickening aura and a pretty cool option that nets you better defense versus incorporeal attacks and lets you lock attackers in semi-corporeal form. Binding a corpse to your shadow is pretty cool and inverting healing effects nearby is damn cool. There is also a spectral projection option and a touch-based save or suck that renders a target BOTH confused and unconscious – it make wake up, though and the ability has a save, so yeah.
Clairsentience provides an initiative boost as a resonant power and a really cool base focus power: As a swift action, you can select a number of squares equal to the mental focus remaining in the implement (with a maximum that increases over the levels) and ignore difficult terrain in them. You may even treat them as though they were not occupied by other creatures and don’t provoke AoOs when moving into or from a selected square, though you may not end movement in such a square and need to be psionically focused to do so. The focus powers include protection from being scried, duplicating remote viewing and combo it with a psychic spell, daze targets, reroll d20s, agin uncanny dodge, etc. – pretty cool.
Metacreativity nets you a scaling AC bonus as a resonant power and an astral guardian as a base focus power – a 1st-level astral construct, which scales in potency with class levels and is limited by mental focus invested. Here’s the thing: You have to expend the psionic focus to call it and can’t regain it while the guardian remains. Big kudos: No servitor-combo-cheese and the ability gets the decreasing mental focus and thus, guardian power after expenditure done right! I already mentioned the false implement, and the other focus powers include ectoplasmic creation, entangling globs of ectoplasm, crowd-control via ectoplasmic pillars and blasts of properly typed and codified shrapnel.
Psychokinesis provides active energy resistance to wearers/holders of the implement and the base focus power lets you expend your psionic focus as a standard action to fire a scaling array of elemental missiles (1 +1 for every two occultist levels, up to 10 and equal to the amount of mental focus remaining) that hit on a ranged touch attack, inflicting damage based on your active energy type. Ouch. Even though the number of missiles will decrease, these are ranged touch attacks, each of which inflicts 1d8 + Intelligence modifier damage of the active energy type. 60 ft. range, sure, but as a standard action that is based on an infinite resource. That outclasses several comparable limited resource psionic powers and spells. No. Just no. This imho needs mental focus expenditure. The focus powers includes columns of energy (which, while dealing small AoE-damage, do cost mental focus), increased movement rate, untyped touch (why untyped?) that can propel targets backwards, shape psychokinesis effects to exclude squares via mental focus expenditure (cool!) or control objects (not italicized).
Psychometabolism nets temporary hit points in a persistent pool that are carried on from wielder to wielder; these may be replenished via healing, which is pretty neat. The base focus power nets you one or more alternate forms (as disguise self – spell-reference not italicized) and the focus powers include bonuses to Str- and Dex-based checks, bite of the wolf or claws of the beast, DR, metamorphosis, a touch for a touch that can render the target helpless and prone for 1 round on a failed save or alter the appearance of a creature. Psychoportation’s resonant power nets an increasing, minor miss chance that does not stack with concealment. The base focus power is cool – it lets you penalize your own movement speed to make an ally faster – AMAZING! The focus powers include a potent 11th level trick (at 3 mental focus, it’d better be!) to warp space to make all allies within 100 ft., for one round, be treated as though they were in your space – and yes, this gets the interaction with line of sight right. Potent and cool! Swapping places with an ally is nice. I’m not a big fan of untyped damage via a touch, but the mental focus cost at least keeps it limited. Short-range teleport, time hop (not italicized) are okay…but I love twisted path. On a failure, it forces the target to only move diagonally! That’s creative!
Telepathy’s resonant power fortifies against mental intrusion and divulging thoughts/mind reading. The base focus power lets you bond with allies, shifting perceptions to their PoV while psionically focused, with more senses shared at higher levels – cool! The focus powers include boosts to social skills and the ability to implant suggestions. Also cool: An ally bonded to you can be granted an attack by you if you expend 1 point of mental focus. Yes, this does provoke AoOs and, being based on mental focus expenditure, does not invite cheesing. Stopping a creature’s move on a failed save is cool, but the ability fails to specify a range – RAW, it doesn’t even require line of sight or effect. Another power lets you infiltrate the senses of targets hit by your bonded allies, which is cool. Another one lets allies use your senses or establishes a telepathic network between the bonded characters – very cool!
There also are two feats: Soulbound Implements requires enhanced mind blade and one occultist level and lets you stack them for the purpose of the enhancement bonus of the enhanced mind blade. Additionally, you can channel your mind blade with the implements on your person, reducing its enhancement bonus by +1 to tie it to the implement school in question. 1/round when hitting an opponent, you may use a focus power usually activated as a standard action as a free action for +1 mental focus cost and the mind blade may be reduced to +0 sans having to reshape it. Interesting! The second feat, Absolute Focus, alas, is broken. I mean BROKEN. Choose one focus power you know. Expend the psionic focus to reduce the mental focus costs of the power by 1 to a minimum of 0. Say hello to infinite healing via Flesh Mend! Say goodbye to all diseases and epidemics via purge corruption. Single occultist with this talent can end them. Blergh, this needs to die or be at least nerfed to minimum 1.
Editing and formatting are on the one hand very good – on the other, there are plenty of missed italicizations. On a rules-language level, we have, for the most part, the level of excellent precision we expect from Dreamscarred Press. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard and the artworks within are full-color stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with a second, more printer-friendly version.
Forrest Heck, with additional design by Kevin Ryan, Adam Boucher and Doug Haworth, delivers a truly impressive pdf; rules-language and design-difficulty-wise, this is one magnificent beast of a pdf. I found myself smiling from ear to ear, time and again, and I really enjoyed many of the options herein. The Containment-focus cheese needs addressing, though if you and your group can agree on not gaming the shattered mind, it otherwise is one amazing monster. The implement schools presented were mostly amazing, though their internal balance is a bit weird. Athanatism’s base touch is too good for an unlimited attack that bypasses everything. Similarly, the use of untyped damage without a clear need strikes me as unnecessary. As written, both athantism and psychokinesis are stronger than the others, to the point where I wouldn’t allow them in most of my games…which is somewhat jarring, considering how well-balanced most of the material herein is. Oh, and Absolute Focus needs to die. It’s a delimiter of the worst sort.
How to rate this, then? I’m really torn. The formatting was a bit worse than what we usually get from DSP. Still better than many comparable files, though. What’s more difficult for me is that I’d love to unanimously recommend the pdf, but the somewhat schizophrenic dual focus makes it harder than I’d like it to be. For the most part, I’d allow this pdf in my games. Barring aforementioned complaints, there is a lot of really cool, well-crafted material within this pdf. At the same time, I do have some serious concerns regarding the power of quite a few options. Have I mentioned that the feat needs to die? …if you don’t mind infinite healing exploits and/or have subscribed to the high-powered Path of War-style gameplay, then you’ll probably love these aspects…but at the same time, you may consider some of the options too well-balanced with regular gameplay. On the other hand, if you enjoy a more conservative power-level when gaming, then you’ll need to be aware and wary of the flexible elemental artillery, etc. In both instances, I’d strongly advise a thorough close reading before implementing (haha!) the content herein.
In the end, I enjoy, yes, even love a lot here, and I hope the aforementioned rough patches will receive re-evaluation. Without these blemishes, the pdf would have been 5 stars + seal. With them in place, however, I cannot go higher than 3.5 stars…though I’ll round up, as this does not deserve being relegated to the 3-star arena; the vast majority of the content, after all, is pretty damn cool.
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