The Necromancer’s Handbook
This expansion for the Spheres of Power-system clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
After a brief 2-page introduction and guidance on how to use this book, we begin with the new archetype-section, which, this time around, covers 8 new archetypes. The first of these would be the bonewright armorist, who gets Death as a bonus sphere and modifies summon equipment; instead of calling forth materials, these fellows sculpt or form weapons and armor from bodies – their own or the dead. Summoning equipment from undead reanimated within the last hour does not cost a spell point; (as an aside: 20th level makes calling equipment from bodies or the character free) without a corpse on hand, the archetype has to “spend” 1d4 hit points, +1d4 per point of enhancement bonus, the damage representing the realignment of bones et al. This damage may not be reduced or redirected, but it may be healed, so it doesn’t behave as burn. The archetype also offers an array of 8 exclusive arsenal tricks, and a few of these do modify the Attack action. The tricks allow for bone weapons to be particularly effective against the same species as the donor, the full use of equipment, even while grappled due to grafted weaponry, making targets battered, etc. Battered? Well, yeah, like in Spheres of Might – and if you don’t have the book, fret not – while you’ll be missing out on one of the best books for PFRPG out there, this book does offer the relevant rules for your convenience. Healing by absorbing bone (thankfully associated with a spell point cost), debuffs added to attacks, etc. – all in all, a flavorful archetype, though there are a few purely cosmetic typos to be found here.
Soul adept elementalists replace Escape Artist with Knowledge (religion) and get the Death sphere instead of 2nd level’s bonus feat. Favored element is replaced with Ghostly Admixture (Reprinted ehre, but for convenience’s sake: It’s the ghost strike blast option), and may use the feat to use Admixtures even without the (btw. reprinted) talent. 9th level and 15th level add half and full level, respectively, to damage dealt with Ghostly Admixture blasts. Elemental defense is replaced with a scaling bonus to saves vs. stuff you’d associate with necromancy like death effects, disease, etc. Elemental movement is replaced with wraith form, which may be activated as a move action and renders the archetype incorporeal, for up to class level + casting ability modifier rounds. Being trapped in a corporeal object when the duration elapses is properly covered. The archetype also has a custom capstone, which nets immunity to death effects, sneak attacks and critical hits as well as DR 10/magic. Sneak is an odd one to list here, as it is a specific ability, in contrast to e.g. studied strike etc..
Cursed stranger gunslingers alter grit and lose gunsmith in favor of cursed hands, which autobreaks any gun the slinger touches, but as long as she has at least 1 grit, she doesn’t automatically miss, nor does it explode. Misfiring thus also replenishes a point of grit. Kudos: The ability has a caveat that prevents abuse via kittens, helpless targets etc. The archetype can choose Death sphere talents based on reanimate as bonus feats, and the archetype has 3 custom deeds: Cursed bullets, at 3rd level the option to reanimate a target shot as per the ability, using full class level, and 11th level increases the debuff of the cursed bullets. The dread crusader mageknight begins play with the Death sphere and Necromantic Limit drawback, as well as Cryptic Strike, using class level as CL for the latter. The archetype’s three mystic combats increase Cryptic Strike damage, and has two mystic combats that allow the character to build upon to spend spell point to attack more targets in reach.
Jinkininki rangers lose favored enemy with the pretty grisly requirement to consume the dead to gain the benefits against the targets, which is pretty cool. Favored terrain, camouflage and hide in plain sight are replaced with +2 to initiative and Stealth in dim light or darkness, with higher levels providing darkvision and a spell point based frightful presence . Stealth and initiative benefits are assigned to lighting conditions, and the archetype is a Low-Caster governed by Wisdom, with class level -3 + Wisdom modifier points, and a magic talent gained at 5th level and every 2 levels thereafter. The archetype may also choose Necrosis feats as combat style feats.
Necrosis feats are a new category of feats herein, in that they have effects on the character: Necrosis feats taint you, and make it progressively harder to return the character back from the dead, but they also increase in power based on the number of Necrosis feats you have, with 4 necrosis feats being a common threshold. Necrosis feats that require being activated as an immediate action may be activated with the same immediate action, and a character gets spell points equal to the number of necrosis feats they have. I assume this is gained ONCE, not per necrosis feat – this could be more clearly stated. These feats allow for the reversal of reacting towards positive and negative energy, we can find cold and electricity resistance, natural armor bonus and DR, blindsense to notice bleeding targets (and directly affect them via ghost strikes), and even a phylactery-lite-version may be found – per se a solid and nice concept, somewhat akin to Akashic feats, lite-version. The 4-feat-plus benefits often btw. make the benefits last longer or enhance them in similar manners; another hazard against which you get a save-boost, etc.
But for now, let’s return to the archetypes: The spectral infiltrator is suitable for rogue/unchained rogue, and loses trap/danger senses as well as the talents gained at 2nd, 6th and 14th level. For those, the archetype gets ghostwalk, the option to use a move action to ignore difficult terrain and move alongside surfaces, gaining class level to Stealth, with the total duration per day 3 + class level. At higher levels, this allows for flight and quicker activation. Nitpick: ghost touch reference not italicized properly. The four exclusive talents include a chance to cause Wisdom damage to targets seeking to mind-control, trigger-change for magical traps and an untyped damage (not a fan) via incorporeal touch attacks, while the other upgrades ghostwalking. The archetype also comes with 3 advanced talents and a custom capstone. Surprisingly nice engine-tweak!
The spheres of power shifter-class gets the famine spirit archetype, who gets Alteration and Death instead of shapeshifter, and a variety of animal empathy that works only with pretty dumb undead and that improves at higher levels, replacing the communication abilities. Endurance is replaced with the bite bestial trait. Higher levels make those slain by the bite harder to return to life, and the swallow whole ability, including acid. This includes being capable of swallowing targets larger than the character, and bite attack/Vital Strike’d bites. Fun fact: I had a character like this in my very first Ravenloft campaign back in the 3.0 days, and while my rules back then were obviously less refined, this did make me smile, concept-wise.
The gravecrawler symbiat replaces mental powers with Mind and Death, and instead of psionics, implants drones in creatures, creating a rather icky (and awesome, flavorwise!) collective that allows for the surveillance of targets implanted. The trap sense is replaced with swarm powers – you see, the archetype carries a unique insect-colony inside, and begins play with 2 swarm abilities chosen from a massive list; another is gained at 3rd level and every 3rd level thereafter, and 7th and 13th level allow for the quicker use of these abilities. If applicable, Intelligence is the governing ability score modifier, and from debuff droning to burrow speed and to cocooning targets, discorporation (tightly codified within the spheres system), etc., the options here are delightful. While there are a few italicizations missing, this one is AWESOME. 9th level, for example, allows you to affect your drones with Mind and Death sphere effects, regardless of line of effect, and yes, undead reanimated do have drones and the whole Mind/Death-synergy thing actually comes together really well with awesome visuals! This one is a winner of a class hack and ends the engine-tweak-centric archetype chapter on a high note!
The basic magic chapter offers a couple of options that plenty of folks have been asking for: These include going Diablo 2 necromancer with corpse bombs, instilling cannibalistic urges via your (ghost strike)s, manipulate corpses to e.g. regrow skin or change the appearance (awesome for investigative scenarios)…and yes, there is a powerful option to sacrifice undead to take the hit for you. No, it can’t be cheesed. Undead may also be used to deliver ghost strikes, we can find an option that allows you to grant undead combat feats, talents or teamwork feats and the means to hamper and even negate healing of ghost strike’d targets. Teaching tricks to undead, and absorbing targets into your negative energy-infused flesh…some cool ones here.
The advanced magic section contains 4 new talents – one for combining undead, one for a sphere-based haunt-creation, and there is a means to painlessly kill allies – which then may be called back from the beyond easier. For complex infiltrations/intrigue/etc., this is pretty neat. There also is an option to bypass death effect immunity, which should be handled with care – obviously. Now, I’ve already talked about some of the new feats, namely the new Necrosis feat category, but we do have more: A feat that prevents bleed effects from being stilled by magic, for example, is pretty cool – and yes, Sanguinist’s Handbook’s review is coming very soon! There also are (Dual Sphere) feats, including for example and impressive one with the Weather sphere, which allows you to animate a ton of undead, provided it ours enough. It’s a small thing, but I love how this explains in-game why undead come out of their graves in hordes preferably when it storms. Cooperative undead commanding may also be found, and Destruction fans will probably enjoy the option to apply (blast shape) talents to ghost strikes. Note, though: Considering some of the combos with AoE attacks via ghost strike, this bears keeping a close eye on. While it does thankfully provide a Will-save to negate, it can become deadly rather fast. Ghost strike in melee, and we have an Improved enhancer for Cryptic Strike. Death and Telekinesis may be used in conjunction, which blends neatly the Poltergeist component with the other sphere. There is also a nice charmed life tweak that allows you one of three rather neat defensive tricks due to being a Skeletal Contortionist, and there are feats to specialize on variant necromancy, and the option to get an undead animal companion. The pdf includes a new trait (Benefits:-header missing) that nets you a 1 HD necrotic marionette, and we get 4 nice sphere-specific drawbacks. What’s that marionette? It’s basically a puppet that counts as a corpse, and is featured in the new equipment section. NICE. The section also introduces splinter orbs (also known as bone balls) – basically skeletons in a ball, easy to carry around. The book concludes with salient advice for GMing necromancy, an errata of Greater Undead for use with the material, and a recap of haunt rules and being incorporeal – handy.
Editing and formatting on a rules-language level are pretty strong, and on a formal level, the book is also more precise than a few others in the series. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has a mixture of new and stock full color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
“Yawn, yet another Necromancer book.” Nope, actually, this has quite a few often neglected tricks. Back when Spheres of Power first hit stores, I found myself enjoying the take on necromancy, and this book provided some genuinely positive surprises. The archetype section was off to a slow start, but kept its biggest and most impressive components for last – both famine spirit and gravecrawler are impressive beasts indeed, with the former being a cooler take on the wendigo/famine-trope than many I’ve seen before. The Necrosis feats as a means to reward specialization are a nice angle, though I do believe that offering a broader range when the additional benefits kick in may be prudent, if only to avoid all of them kicking off with taking the fourth feat. That being said, at the same time, the combination of more precise formatting and some genuinely creative and fun options means that Luke Williams and Adam Meyers have created one really nice sphere-expansion. While there are a few components where a slight bit of polish may be prudent, these are few and far in-between. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform – this is simply closer to the 5 than to the 4 stars.
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