Psychological Combat (Revised Edition)
This is #6 of my Top Ten of 2014!
This pdf clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Now this pdf kicks off with the crucial question – what is this pdf and why use it. First of all – feint and demoralize are the odd rules components out when compared to Pathfinder’s otherwise streamlined combat maneuver mechanics – this pdf streamlines this to introduce a psychology DC. The DC would be 10+ HD+wis-mod or 10+sense motive bonus, whichever is higher – simple, easy to calculate on the fly – so kudos there. But also, at least so far, not that new.
Where things become more interesting would be with the new antagonize action. This can be used via Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate or Handle Animal, depending on creature targeted. Also depending on the skill you use, on your creature type in relation to the type you target, etc, we receive different benefits. If you successfully manage to antagonize a foe, you hamper their options to execute AoOs etc. – essentially, this would be “drawing aggro” from targets akin to Path of War’s Warders, only for every character and better balanced due to a better scaling DC-system/presence of a DC in the first place. The pdf also fixes Demoralize by including the rules for fear immunity/mind-affecting components, fixing a whole in the rules. Kudos!
Okay, now the new morale system is what essentially makes this revision worthy of a second look by yours truly – the rather clunky, counter-intuitive original system has been replaces with a MUCH more elegant solution: A circumstantial variance from -5 to +5, depending on circumstances, to saves and psychology DC. While this may not sound like much, the implementation is exceedingly easy to grasp, plays smoothly and requires no work whatsoever on part of the DM – glorious!
After a short piece of aptly-written IC-prose, we are introduced to new class options to help against the effects of psychological warfare – alchemists receive a new cognatogen, barbarians a means to antagonize and deal damage as well as a mini-archetype focused on provoking foes. Brads may learn a new masterpiece to AoE-antagonize foes with a scathing satire and fighters may opt for a lightly-armored master of wits. Witches receive a hex which allows them to declare targets antagonized against her allies, while still reaping the benefits of the condition, while rogues receive talents for better feat qualification, feinting, teamwork feats and even the inquisitor’s solo tactics. Beyond that, treating flanking allies as qualifying for teamwork feats is a neat advanced talent, while the rapscallion mini-archetype is better at psychological warfare and may sneak attack foes that are demoralized, etc. (go synergy with Dreads, for example…); the rapscallion loses evasion, though, so be cautious…
Speaking of inquisitors – these guys receive a new inquisition which allows them to use wis instead of int for the purposes of feat-prerequisites and now also receive the interrogator mini-archetype – think of interrogation specialists, medieval style, with fitting bonus spells. The true winner here, though, would be the cavalier: Not only does this poor, under-supported class receive a nice new order with the Order of the Dazzling Lotus – an order devoted to heroics, righteousness and one’s country and also a master of seeking retribution and inflicting scathing tirades upon his foes. Now Braggarts are perhaps one of the most interesting archetypes I’ve seen in quite a while – so inflated is their ego, these guys do treat EVERY combat as a performance combat. This mechanic and its way of bringing performance combats and its effects into game are elegant and damn cool – kudos! The second archetype for the cavalier would be the challenger, an archetype that has essentially an antagonize-based variant of solo tactics- interesting as well, if not as iconic as the braggart. Both slayer and investigator are also covered in this new and enhanced version, receiving their very own tools of the trade. Kudos for going above and beyond with these additions!
A total of 9 (2 more than before) feats, each of which also comes with a second, mythic version, have been provided herein – combining maneuvers with antagonizing targets, ranged feinting,, using wild empathy for psychological warfare versus beasts. Especially interesting – the improved/greater variants of the maneuvers: Improved antagonize decreases the action-type it takes, while its greater variant allows you to plant a suggestion for a specific tactic in your foe’s head. Generally, interesting and well-crafted feats. The two new ones help regain panache on natural 20s when using psychological combat and a new teamwork feat (alas, missing the descriptor) allows you to double-team foes with psychological pressure.
The final page offers a total of 7 new traits, 4 combat, 3 social – tying wis to intimidate instead of cha, better resistance versus taunts, using cha to determine your psychology-DC or better intimidation versus kids and animals – all there. And yes, I do like the fact that there’s such a trait in here – after all, we all knew that *one* woman or man down the street we ALL were afraid of, since we knew they hated children…
Editing and formatting is generally very good – I did not notice significant glitches that would have impeded my understanding of the rules presented herein. Layout adheres to a nice, beautiful and printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard with several neat pieces of original full color art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Alexander Augunas is not a novice designer, and it shows – the explanation of the rules herein is pretty concise, easy to grasp and mathematically feasible. The new antagonize option is glorious and something that has been absent from games for too long. Additionally, the fixing of demoralize et al. was long overdue. Did you know that Alex founded Everyman Gaming specifically to publish this pdf? Well, let’s say it shows. While the original psychological combat was nice, the streamlined morale system makes this pdf much, much better and to boot, we actually get more content as well!
This is the level of customer support that deserves true acknowledgement, especially for such a small press. You may recall that I loved the original psychological combat – I ADORE this revision. I’m not kidding when I’m saying that quite a few pdfs I’ve bought have seen so much immediate resonance at my table, so much use in such a short time. This is an unpretentious, humble pdf, one that may not sparkle and shine (though it *is* beautiful AND has plenty of original artwork!) in a glory-hounding way; Yes, some class options may not blow me away; BUT the streamlining of psychological combat, the new maneuver, the awesome traits, the added content – all of that make this pdf a TRUE GEM. You will hardly find any pdf in this exceedingly low price range that enhances your game as this gem does; Now, bereft of its one mayor flaw, psychological combat stands as a shining example of what small presses can do to enrich our game. This little pdf has managed thus to not only gain 5 stars + seal of approval and become a candidate for my Top Ten of 2014, it also receives immediate EZG Essential status as one of the basic pdfs I will henceforth require all my players in all my campaigns to have read. This is a true must-buy file.