This massive first part of the Strange Magic II-project clocks in at 162 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a ridiculous 158 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
However, before we do, please be aware that I acted as editor for this project. I was not involved in the creation of the crunch for it, though. Still, as such, I will refrain from rating this book and try to curtail my enthusiasm for it. The system itself is based on Bradley Crouch’s second base-class, the Herbalist, which I reviewed back in the day, long before this was even remotely close to an *idea*, much less a finished book. However, this book is, essentially, more than a colossal revision and expansion – a simple look at the page-count will tell you that.
So, first thing you need to know is that the system sports three base classes, the gourmend, the naturalist and the herbalist.
Chassis-wise, they far as follows: The Gourmend gets 1/2 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, d6 HD and proficiency with simple weapons and shields, excluding tower shields. The class is subject to arcane spell failure regarding the use of preservation pots etc. when using armor etc. without proficiency. The class gets 4 + Int skills per level.
The herbalist’s chasses nets d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and scythe and light armor and shields, applying arcane spell failure as spoilage chance when using non-proficient armors etc. The herby gets 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fort- as well as Will-saves.
The naturalist gets 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons and martial weapons sans metal as well as light and medium armor proficiency and with non-metallic shields. As before, the class suffers from non-proficiency issues of spoilage for the respective items when dealing with non-proficient armor etc.
Now, all three classes have in common that they employ earthenware jars: Naturalists begin with one such jar and increase that to up to 4 over the levels; the gourmend also begins with one jar and increases this to 6. The herbalist begins with 1 such jar and also increases this to a maximum of 6. Earthenware jars are distinguished in two different categories – cultivation pots and preservation vessels. The naturalist has to choose which one he’ll get, respectively, while the herbalist and gourmend track them separately. Plants with the herb descriptor collected can be placed in a cultivation pot – thereafter, the pot yields such a herb on the following morning regardless of environment. Preservation vessels can prevent the spoilage of herbalism plants and products (output from recipes) and each such vessel can contain up to 4 points worth of material, but each vessel can only contain one product.
Basically, the cultivation pots allow you to carry herbs from environments to other places and retain them, while preservation vessels provide a means for preparing one-use stuff and other options…storing up on limited use material, basically.
Before we go into the respective classes, it should be noted that this system is, to a significant degree, druidic chaos-magic: Basically, you roll find herbs each day and consult the table(s) for the biome you’re currently in – this roll then determines the plants you get to choose for that day. The classes increase the number of find herbs rolls the respective classes – the higher the level, the more rolls. The classes can all get up to 10 such rolls. The total point value of the respective plants in each entry of the tables for the biomes is the same, mind you: Naturalists roll on tables that provide a value of 6 points worth of plants, whereas gourmends and herbalists roll on tables worth 10 points of plants per entry.
If that sounds complicated, rest assured it most definitely is not – you roll and there you go. Plants generally range in point values from 1 – 4, just fyi – 4-point plants tend to be special plants with powerful effects, whereas the lesser point values represent more common (or more broadly applicable) plants. The presence of jars allow a well-travelled herbalism user to customize his herbs, as he gains various plants from diverse biomes, allowing for a LOT of combos and providing a reason to travel and adventure right there written into the chassis of the system.
There is one more thing to bear in mind – some plants are asterisk’d in the respective table – the reason for this lies in the fact that some archetypes modify the find herbs roll and the base engine, which can eliminate these choices…but more on that later. As you may have noted above, cultivation pots can usually only cultivate plants with the herb descriptor. There is a reason for this limitation in the soft balancing of the class and system, but there are other descriptors like fruit or fungi – with the right feat, these can also be cultivated, providing an even further increased amount of customization options between herbalism users.
Before we get to the plants themselves, it should be noted that all of the three classes get favored class options for the core races as well as aasimar, drow, hobgoblin, kobold, orc, puddling and tiefling – the Interjection Games array of FCOs, basically. So what distinguishes the three classes? Well, the gourmend begins with a culinary background and culinary pool equal to class level + Wisdom modifier. This pool replenishes itself after resting and is primarily used in the preparatory phase of the adventuring day. 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter yield a talent from the selection of the class and the class employs recipes – it begins play with one known and adds another one each class level – these are written down in the recipe book and require a skill-check to pull off; the results of such a recipe spoil over night unless preserved in some way. Furthermore, the class, starting at 2nd level, constructs a familiar out of foodstuff. A fox of sausages? A gingerbread scorpion? All possible. This whole custom familiar-building ties into aforementioned culinary skillsets. These basically can be pictured as orders or the like, but provide more options and imho a bigger impact on playing. Why? Well bakers can create terrain control doughballs that can be further upgraded with talents…and combine such doughballs into gingerbread cookie golems!
Candymakers can create weaponized candy and a vast array of magical truffles! Cheesemakers get a similarly impressive array of diverse cheese types, while specialists of meat can harvest meat and prepare it for buffs…and they know their knives…Finally, preservation brewers can brew certain plants and thus carry more of them around…though the process isn’t as simple as it first sounds. These basic culinary skillsets also btw. influence greatly the customization options available via aforementioned talents: New cheese-types, permanent candy weapons, quicker cheese-ripening, gingerbread golems with limited skills and feats…there is a lot of cool customization here…including socketing truffles on ranged candy ammunition. Yes, this may sound ridiculous…it kinda is…but you’ll stop laughing when the insane guy starts kicking your butt with candy canes…
The herbalist gets a similar, yet completely different set-up: The class also gets a pool (1/2 class level + Wisdom modifier) and recipes at 1st 2nd and every 2 levels thereafter. As the prime herbalism users, they also get some anti-poison/poison-use-themed abilities and are defined more by their plants and cultivation choices – which can be enhanced via aforementioned pool. The chassis here, in short, is easier to grasp, simple, really.
So, what’s the defining trait of the naturalist? Plant companion. These guys carry a huge terracotta pot around with them, and inside is a deadly, carnivorous plant. Like an oversized, mean-spirited pitcher-plant. Or, perhaps more easy to picture, a rabid venus man-trap. This once was an archetype, conceptually, and I complained back then that this should be a full-blown class, with plant-familiar customization. Guess what we got? Bingo! Want your plant to have grabbing roots to spider climb you around? What about jets of acid? Or sickening halitosis? Or a pouch that can transform plants into other plants? Or the option to have your companion produce some plants? To attune to microcosms (basically biome subtypes)…or perhaps you’d like to philosophize with the plant? No problem, it can get Knowledge skills! This is basically the herbalism pet-class par excellence and it really is rewarding to customize the plant with the myriad of options available.
Speaking of options – there are archetypes. A lot of them. One for the naturalist trades the plant and jars for spellcasting. A herbalist archetype specializes on poisons. Zen cultivators use ki (multiclass, baby!) and carry around miniature zen-gardens. Flowerchild herby get a modified familiar, while compounders can use herbalism poisons as cures (!!), which can really help versus unfair arrays of ability-damage spewing foes. Armotalologists can make incense of plants, changing how the base engine of the class works…and speaking of which: Gardeners learn to use their green thumb pool to use special earths that can be employed to modify plants. All of these are impressive per se, but three stand out: The Entomologist, the Mycologist and the Geologist.
In any other books, these guys would be their own classes. In fact, they basically are: While using the common engine, they all have their very own and utterly unique lists of effects: The entomologist catches magical insects (which eat herbs, just btw.); mycologists get a vast array of cool fungi and exclusive tricks…and geologists gain rocks. You know, for the people that are so misanthropic, they even hate plants. 😉 Kidding aside, the geologist rocks are also basically their own set of unique effects. While we’re at the subject of fungi – there is a fungus variant for the naturalist as well…and an archetype that gets a hive-like amalgamation of fungal material, which can generate a wholly deadly an unique array of spore-based pain.
And yes, the feat-chapter provides MOAR customization for these complex options…and archetypes can be combined, to a degree, with sidebars explaining the multiclassing process and the like
While the respective biomes and lists of them are provided for your convenience, it is amazing to note that the respective plants come with an extremely concisely-presented explanation of how they work – so even if you’re not the rules-savviest of players, this should not provide a big hindrance. Plants can provide a metric Ton of different effects – from bomb-like explosions to healing to oil-like applications, going through them all would frankly bloat this text beyond belief. Suffice to say, in the tradition of Interjection Games, you will not find lame “copies xyz”-arrays: There is a ton of material here that does things other systems and options can’t do…or does it at least differently, lending a unique identity to the classes and how they play.
Now, I know, this sounds kinda cool, but there may be issue with differentiation in some campaigns. What if, e.g., you travel from a horrid battlefield in the desert to a place in the same desert where horrible things from outer space crashed – are you stuck with the same biomes? Nope. This is where microcosms come in. When in an appropriate environment that would qualify, you can roll on the table and replace the asterisk’d plants with a roll on the microcosm’s respective table – and these are not lazy reconfigurations of the regular plant-life, mind you: We actually get thoroughly unique plants! 9 microcosms are provided and since the rules for making your own biomes and microcosms are so simple, creativity is basically the limit. Not that you’d need to anytime soon – with the vast amount of herbs, 9 base biomes, the supplemental engines and the recipes, you can play for years without this becoming stale.
Editing and formatting are top-notch – or at least I hope so. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard with a white back ground and nice, green and unobtrusive vines on the sides. The interior artworks are beautiful water colors and original b/w-character artworks, which lend in combination a rather nostalgic and warm-hearted touch to the file. The pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks, making navigation simple and convenient.
Suffice to say, I liked the original herbalist and this one-ups the whole thing; no, it escalates it. You see, one issue with chaos-magic and such systems always lies with the chance of being stuck with useless options – and in all the playtesting I had with this engine, I *NEVER* encountered that scenario. The pots-engine allows for a degree of control, but not without rewarding expenditure, not without compromising the chaotic nature that is ingrained in the engine. I consider this a really remarkable and well-made system that has a metric ton of playing mileage to offer. I know that I can’t imagine not using this in my game.
But then, while I do not consider myself biased (ask me about stuff I personally wrote that imho isn’t up to par and I’ll gladly answer), one could consider me biased here due to my involvement with the creation of this book. That being said, there are a bunch of 5-star-reviews for this book out there and if you get this book based on my recommendation and don’t like it, contact me. I am positive that, if the concept even remotely intrigues you, you’ll love this for its balanced, versatile and well-crafted array of options.
You can get this massive tome here on OBS!
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