This massive book clocks in at 186 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement and 1 page of back cover, leaving us with a massive 177 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Well, this book has two sections – one for players and one for GMs – it should be noted that the player’s version, the Suzerain Continuum Guide, can be considered a massive teaser for this book – and it’s FREE! So yeah, you can take a look at what this book offers by downloading that one.
But back to what this book offers, shall we? Suzerain, in a nut-shell, can be described as a kind of meta-campaign setting template; it denotes a massive collective of worlds and plains. Campaign settings are described as realms – so both Golarion and Athas could, potentially, exist within the confines of this meta-setting. Suzerain assumes that you use the hero point mechanics introduced in the APG…but goes one step further: For one, the maximum of 3 hero points is not in effect. Secondly, escaping death only takes one hero point and returns to play with starting hero points if their rank is high enough.
A given Suzerain character has a Telesma, a special kind of gem set in jewelry, weapons or the like – but more on Telesma later. Suzerain Sports 10 ranks in 6 categories that denote how much you’re touched by “greatness” – even rank 2 classifies you as god-touched, while 10+ means you qualify as a demigod. Each rank provides its own benefits: Hero Points, bonus feats, ability score increases, save bonuses…and later even a pulse pool (equal to 1/4 character level + highest ability score modifier)…but again, more on that later. Rules for cohorts, new followers in a given realm and similar interactions are covered.
Upon reaching demigod rank, characters can “flex a nexus” – a nexus denotes an important historic anchor. You flex a nexus by paying 1 pulse and 1 hero point, 2 for a major flex – these allow for the modification of the setting; consider them narrative wild-cards: Whether you manage to find a fully functional hovertank in a post-apocalyptic desert or make a bridge disappear – the effects are basically massive narrative components that are deliberately loose in their wording…with one exception: They last about 5 minutes and generally can affect an area of about 150 ft. Creatures with a pulse pool can resist…that’s it. Gods (and ONLY true gods) can use 3-point godlike flexes…which brings me to an important motif: The characters may become demigods here…but they sure are no deities…to quote to old Shadowrun/WoD-wisdom: There are always bigger fish in the tank…Character creation wise, 6+2d6 or 25-point-buy are recommended for this high fantasy romp.
Okay, so what do these Pulse-feat-tricks do? Well, once your PCs have reached demigod-hood…they’ll have some impressive tricks at their disposal: Via the right pulse feat, you can e.g. mitigate critical hits down to regular hits or even force them to reroll the original attack (NOT the confirmation roll) or rearrange initiative order as you see fit immediately after initiative is rolled. 3/day SPs, reduced falling damage (plus means to stop nearly any fall), temporarily ignoring fear conditions (upgradeable to immunity while you have at least 1 pulse) or partially breaking through resistances. Choosing an attribute and using pulse as constantly consecutive means to retroactively add bonuses to the related check on a 1 pulse:+2-basis, extended number of targets for spells, using pulse as a +5 bonus to any d20 check (not even an action), causing a sickening pain-aura to form around you – the pulse-feats themselves are powerful, but well within the confines of what can be deemed as something a GM can handle – it should be noted that their general feeling is less that of hyper-specialization or escalation that mythic rules sport, instead focusing on a broader, more general means of usefulness. If you need a comparison: Mythic rules are more about playing guys like Hercules, where these seem to champion a playstyle that is more reminiscent of Dr.Who – you’re basically better, stronger, more resilient and have reality-bending powers, but still retain a certain fragility…though it’s hard to kill you. Really hard.
Interesting: Once the group has achieved an average of folk hero on the ranking system, their telesmae resonate and they receive their very own pocket dimension. Telesmae are basically semi-sentient, very powerful artifacts with a divine spirit – while it’s impossible to lose them per se, they do have a catch – in the spirit world (the ethereal plane), they are easily distinguished; they act as beacons to gods and outsiders alike and mean that you’ll have a lot potential issues on your hand…and finally, while not too smart, they do have a will of their own…which can also lead to troubles. Telesmae are considered to be CL 20 items with an aura of moderate abjuration, divination, illusion and have 30 ft senses. Starting at 11th level, they increase their Int by +1 per level, with Wis/Cha adhering to a 1/2-progression and 11th level + every 3 levels thereafter, they gain a telesma growth, basically an ability you choose from a set of different ones. Basic telesma personalities also grant a skill bonus – yeah, they are kind of like psycrystals. On a nitpicky side, the table of these personalities and the header have been integrated in a less than superb manner on the page – the text from the previous page continues under the table, while the table’s header-section adheres to the same formatting as said previous page, which makes this page, at first glance, slightly confusing.
So that’s the basics.
After that, a sample world is mentioned – Relic, in the year 298, where Egyptian-style sea elves rule the waves and huge Greco-Roman empires loom – think of it as a blending of classical antiquity with your basic fantasy tropes. Unique-crunch-wise, there are a couple of Planar feats – the base feat of these must be taken at first level, with further feats allowing the character to enhance his/her/its tricks; The feats closely reflect the politics of the setting, with prerequisites featuring “may not be an elf” or “may not be bestial” – Fury, as a feat-tree, is for example a means to play a quasi-lycanthropic shapechanger that starts the game with full claw and bite-attack array, while Living Rock reduces your speed by 5 ft., but grants DR 2/bludgeoning…and yes, these feats often have additional, Pulse-based effects that obviously come into play later. Considering that this is a sample and teaser, it’s hard to judge whether these kind-of-racial feats end up as balanced in the context of the overall world -for a default high-fantasy world they sure as hell are potent.
The second part of this massive book would be the GM-section – so what do we get here? Well, we begin with a discussion of the spirit world, Suzerain’s iteration of the ethereal plane and what is has to offer; how religion can shape the place and the pulse-touched CR+2 template that allows the GM to make creatures that can employ some of the PC-tricks. Native creatures of the ethereal plane, the spirits of feral glee and their variants, the spirits of feral empathy are featured alongside the Mael-born – at the end of the spirit world, the veil lies…and beyond it, terra incognita: Very little solid ground, all held aloft by pure pulse – here space and time become fluid and some gods have their realms in this weird place – and there are a lot: Whether Yggdrasil’s realm, that of the archangels or Mount Olympus or the more strange realm of pure mages, where raw mathematics and genius reign supreme are concerned – the places depicted sound fantastical and sufficiently familiar and weird to be considered interesting.
The section discussing travels in time and space via portals and other means deserves special mention: Unlike many a bad movie or series-episode, it establishes a concise background that subscribes to the elastic history approach and explains its tenets and consequences in detail – while this section may be fluff-centric, ultimately, it is useful – more so than quite a few more rules-heavy takes on the concept I’ve seen.
Now one of the most pronounced goals of Suzerain is to make gameplay beyond 10th level more interesting, more fulfilling – thus, the discussion and advice regarding games at folk-hero rank (rank 6 – 7) cover a significant array of themes to ponder – whether to restrict yourself to one world, how to make multiple themes and campaign settings fluidly interact. Similarly, extensive pieces of advice for player/character types…and demigod games are provided: With themes like massive glory, end-times, alternate realities and similar high-concept ideas, the contemplations and themes change here once again. There also is the idea of the plot-point campaign – which is then exemplified via a massively detailed sample campaign in Relic – while each chapter sports just a couple of scenes, there is a lot of crunchy material herein: Nanobot pseudo-swarms, various NPCs (often with complex class arrangements), a new vehicle…and a suitably cataclysmic final fight.
Sure, it’s basically a skeleton set-up…but if you’re time-starved or if the creative juices have run dry, this is great. Similarly, for scavenging purposes, there is quite a bit to find here. Similarly, multiple encounter/adventure-sketches follow suit, providing a pretty wide and diverse accumulation of ideas to scavenge and peruse -and yes, several of them take place in different epochs of our very own world, while others assume diverse realms within the maelstrom – whether they want to pit themselves against the desolation engine or stave off an invasion of bipedal, evolved saurians and their titanosaur from an alternate earth. What if priests tried to manipulate the Olympian gods to bring about the end of the multi-verse? Or a quasi-sentient protocol infects and converts people? …well, and of course, the obligatory throw-down between aforementioned arch-angels and dread forces of darkness – including multiple, fully statted high-level foes. Basically, the majority of this section of the book can be considered a sketch-book of stories, encounters and adversaries that make for a rather superb scavenging-ground, even when not playing Suzerain directly.
Editing and formatting are very good – I noticed no significant accumulations of glitches. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard. People with extensive collections of obscure 3.X-supplements may recognize some of the gorgeous full-color artworks herein, though I have seen the vast majority never before. The book is art-heavy and beautiful. The pdf is fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print edition.
Miles M. Kantir, Zach Wellhouse, Alan Bundock, Clyde Clark, Richard Mendenhall, Aaron Rosenberg, George “Loki” Williams, Pastor Allan Hoffmann, Richard Moore and Matt Medeiros have done an impressive job in this huge book. Suzerain endeavors to be basically a campaign-template for high-level gaming and themes – and it succeeds in several interesting regards: The decision to emphasize the narrative component without drifting off into the, pardon my French, competitive bullshitting of FATE, works surprisingly well in the Pathfinder-context. The demigod-rules are sufficiently different from mythic rules to fit a different playstyle and themes, which is a BIG plus in my book – I love mythic rules (provided I can use all those Legendary Games-supplements; I hate vanilla mythic with a fiery passion…)…and I can see myself growing to love these rules as well, perhaps even combining them for some particularly brutal foes.
Theme-wise, Suzerain is basically the planewalker’s toolkit as opposed to mythic’s superhero-flair. Toolkit…that’s what describes this book best. There are crunchier books out there, sure – but the ideas and observations regarding often problematic themes, setting-switching etc. make this a handy tome to have. The crunchy statblocks and adventure/campaign-sketches also illustrate rather well how to utilize these rules….or rather, concepts. The true treasure herein lies in the concepts and yes, this book makes it significantly easier to come up with a justification for the jumping between worlds.
Suzerain is an intriguing book, that has two minor flaws, which I still feel obliged to mention: In the player-section in particular, a cleaner division between fluff and crunch would be appreciated – the size of the Pulse Pool, for example, is neither its own paragraph, nor bolded or the like – it’s hidden in the flow of text, something you can observe regarding other components as well. The second component would pertain the fact that the numerous, rather awesome-sounding realms that Savage Mojo has hinted at in Palace of the Lich Queen (and/or already released for their Savage Worlds-rules-set) have not yet been converted to PFRPG; while I e.g. am truly intrigued in this fantasy take on Norse or Greek mythology, the antique/scifi-blend of Set Rising and similar settings, this book, by necessity, is a bit opaque regarding the respective places. Personally, I would have loved to see more on the Spirit World and the Maelstrom, the meta-world, if you will – perhaps with mechanical repercussions, unique hazards or planar traits.
As it stands on its own, Suzerain is a captivating, massive book somewhere between campaign template, DM-advice book and meta-setting – and it fulfills these roles rather well for the most part. Still, in the end, I found myself wishing for more material regarding the meta-realm, if you will – something you can chalk up to a) the excellent prose that made reading this book a rather pleasant experience and b) the amount of space devoted to the high-concept campaign/adventure/encounter-seeds. In the end, I consider Suzerain a worthwhile, high-quality book that will continue to grow in usefulness with the release of subsequent settings and books in the continuum; as a stand-alone book, for now I will settle on a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
The player’s guide for Savage Worlds can be found here for PWYW on OBS!
And the Savage Worlds-version of this book is right here!