Veranthea Codex: Into the Veil
This expansion to the evocative Veranthea Codex-setting clocks in at 42 pages of content, 1 page of front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
We begin this expansion with a brief history of the veil. But what is the veil? The far North of Veranthea’s oceans contain a colossal screaming maelstrom, a twisted wall of winds that stretches for as far as the eye can see. Most sane captains avoid the massive hazard, but time and again, the foolhardy and unfortunate are drawn into the veil…and those that survive find themselves in a region of scheming city states and pirates…think of the area basically as pirate country. A total of 4 greater landmasses can be found within this region, with the map featuring common routes. The mystical nature of the horrid storm are fully depicted – and traveling out of the region is a near suicidal attempt, as beyond the perpetual storm, the roaming reefs, made of a constructy components of chitin and sinew…and yes, there is some truth to the speculation of the storm, nay, the whole region, feeling a bit like a prison….for this is where the legendary mythic lich H’gal and his legions battle the puppetmen, constructs with an uncanny ability to infiltrate humanoid society, all in order to contain his greatest mistake, something even he could not undo…
Against the backdrop of this not-so-subtle shadow-war, we have settlements made of flotillas dubbed anchorages, one of which receives a full settlement statblock and some notable locations that generally are intriguing, but no map. Now onward to the major geographic locations that move with this massive storm: The first of these would be the coldest, Polis Prime, which has a unique aesthetic of viking long-houses in the country meeting full-blown pseudo-democracy under the Misteria Conglomerate and its massive industrial complex – in the hands of a capable GM, this can be an intriguing backdrop indeed, with once again, a statblock for the metropolis and information on its quarters, but alas, no map or the like. A colony of trectyori exiles can also be found here (once again, with stats) and the technology featured within the region may well be the result of the adversary of H’gal, adding a magic vs. tech-angle to the whole proceedings.
Speaking of H’gal, the southwestern landmass is tied to his history; the deadlands, a wasteland deemed inhospitable until the successful settlement Gearingsport sprung up. This section, just btw., also introduces magnetite, a new material that treats weapons made from it…as though the user had spellstrike, usable Int-mod times per day. Oh, and it may hold touch spells for hours equal to the enhancement bonus, with a swift action activation. For +2500 GP for light armors, more for better protection…but still. Nope, this is underpriced for its potency. Not getting anywhere near my game. The section also mentions the disturbing blackblood plague…but does not provide a mechanical representation for it, reducing it to an anecdote about a crafty being…a missed chance there.
The northeastern part of the Veil features tropical Caramballa, an archipelago where Port Balas provides the sufficiently Caribbean flair you may want…though there is the component of the sinister lurking behind the surface, as youngsters tend to suddenly leave for the jungles, never to return, to follow the mad whims of Carambal, the Last Irrational, a character previously statted and reprinted here. The details provided for the region also mention a Will-fortifying brew, but alas, no price. A note on the shadow war between H’gal and his mysterious mistake (I’m not spoiling the truth in this review) extending to beneath the waves make sense and we get a cool environmental hazard/trap at CR 15 – which would be even more amazing if it was formatted slightly better – white text over a full-color artwork in the background…not a fan from a layout-perspective. The pirate-county here would be Port Ciaro, once again fully statted.
The final region would be the Ostershain Isle, where rich soil provides food aplenty and a mercantile, stern enclave of mages rules. The order of the chambermages, with the secret of their prodigious power and their silent sentinel order or potentially anti-magic guardsmen certainly can be used as a nasty magocratic body of adversaries.
Now, as you may have noted, there is a very strong, high-concept leitmotif underlying the whole region – that of the conflict between H’gal and his mistake. The supplemental material further emphasizes that: H’gal’s stats are reprinted alongside a cool trap, a nasty venom, a disease that covers your weapons with bleed-inducing blood (cool, but dangerous)…and we also get a cool new critter as well as stats for basically the end-game of the metaplot, which boils down to the PCs either using an intelligent doomsday device against a cthulhoid mecha or vice versa…or grow to mecha size themselves to duke it out with these threats…which is incredibly amazing and epic. The pdf also provides ample adventure seeds for your consideration.
After that, we are introduced to the Alterran race that spawned H’gal: These guys get +2 Dex, +4 Int, -4 Con (too min-maxy and lopsided for my tastes) and are monstrous humanoids with 30 ft. speed, darkvision 60 ft, stability, light blindness, +1 to Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering), plates that grant a “+1 natural bonus” (lacks an “armor” or “to AC”) and a 1d4-talon that does not specify whether it’s a primary or secondary weapon. Instead of darkvision and light blindness, they can gain +1 to Clim, replace the two skill bonuses with UMD and Knowledge (arcana) or gain at-will detect undead, which formatting-wise/rules-language-wise may be intended as a supernatural or spell-like ability. I don’t know, since the pdf doesn’t mention it.
Some alterrans replace their tinkering expertise with 1/day silent image, mending or obscuring mist (italicizations missing), while others lose the natural AC and reduce speed to 20 ft. … for DR 5/bludgeoning. While I consider DR to be grossly overvalued regarding design, lumping the DR all in at first level is too much – why not employ a more elegant scaling mechanism here? Others of these guys gain 50% miss chance in dim light instead of the natural armor bonus, which is similarly OP for the trade-off. Nice: We get a TON of favored class options for the race, covering the advanced class guide and occult adventures options. Not so nice: The kineticist FCO, for example, could use some clarification whether it allows for the addition of acid damage to electricity blasts and vice versa or whether it only enhances the damage output of the blast with the corresponding element.
The race also receives two racial archetypes: The biojammer corsair for the magus, who gains a modified skill-list and a modified proficiency-list, which includes the armerrufe -basically a bio-engineered quasi-musket that targets touch AC and deals electricity damage. They slowly recharge and the wielder may recharge them quicker as a swift action, taking nonlethal damage when doing so. At 3rd level, the corsair gains an arm with such a weapon integrated into the arm, allowing the character to one-hand-wield the weapon, but leaves the weapon fully charged all the time for infinite blasting. 5th level nets Craft Biodevices, with only a +15% price increases and 11th level netting the feat a second time, eliminating the price-increase. 10th level allows them to survive in the starless void for up to 10 minutes per arcane pool point expended… I assume the expenditure to be a swift action, but the archetype fails to specify that. Now what does the aforementioned feat do? Well, it is based on Knowledge (nature) and duplicates magical effects, but lets the item in question work in wild magic/no magic, but only up to 6th spell level. It must be integrated to some extent into a users body. Generally, a pretty decent feat…with some flavor, but honestly, I don’t get why the mechanics here do not tie in with the technology rules that imho make more sense in that context…but that may just be me.
The second archetype would be the colonial outcast, who increases sneak attack damage dice when used in conjunction with talons to d8s, but other weapons instead use d4s. 3rd level nets +1 to Disguise, Intimidate and Sense Motive vs. humanoids, which increases by +1 at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter, replacing trap sense. 4th level replaces the “rogue trick” (should be “rogue talent”) with the option to ignore up to 15 ft. of difficult terrain when using Stealth; 8th level and every 4 levels thereafter increase that range by +5 ft. The pdf also features more items: Chitin salve helps detect alterrans and increases an alterran’s natural armor bonus, but at the cost of reduced movement. Ystill-grath nests are generally a cool item: A bio-mine that is flavorful…but honestly, it took me more than one reading to get how the item is supposed to work; the rules-language is operational, but it could use some refinement to make the great concept shine.
Beyond the aforementioned feats, one that adds a talon attack to grapples, one that adds a spedd lockdown while grappling and one that nets a climb speed for alterrans can be found. The pdf also features 3 magic items – an item to fly in space, a gauntlet that disperses goodberries to wounded wielders as well as a vat that may use greater restoration, disintegrate those inside and when used to destroy creatures, it helps retraining their tricks…pretty cool. 3 spells can also be found: Gene Thief lets you steal racial traits – but only lets you employ those that you could, limb-wise. Unfortunately, I think the spells needs more clarification: Can a creature gain a bite attack thus? Or would that not qualify? No idea. Perfect Integration immediately integrates a biodevice and stellar journey basically is the magic equivalent of a rocket drive, allowing for the passage into outer space.
The pdf concludes with 2 pages of random encounter-tables.
Editing and formatting isn’t per se bad, but it also isn’t as tight as usual for Rogue Genius Games, with a couple of hiccups extending to rules-language. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and deserves both criticism and praise: On the one hand, much like previous Veranthea-supplements, it crams a TON of information on each page, but on the other hand, this time around, I felt that the rules-info and similar components sometimes suffered a bit by how they were jammed in on the page. The book is very busy…and this business may account for a couple of the small oversights, like a lack of stats for minor alchemical items mentioned in the flavor. Artworks are mostly full-color stock art, with public domain images spliced in. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Nicholas J. Giebel’s “Into the Veil” has been an interesting experience for me: On one hand, I absolutely adore the metaplot, the endgame-scenario of it, the vehicles that supplement it…these components are amazing. The concept of the whole region, similarly, is damn cool…but at the same time, in spite of being chock-full with information, this book left me wanting. You see, Veranthea Codex is a high-concept setting, but here, it feels like the amazing high concept drowns the whole setting sourcebook component. The respective regions lack the maps and details to really shine/outshine the metaplot…which brings me to another issue. The whole region has a “imprisoned/stranded” leitmotif and doesn’t really deal with the means of escape properly. The exceedingly evocative and amazing theme, the underwater connection…all of it is *mentioned*, but not really elaborated upon.
You have this glorious conflict and components…but the details that allow a GM to really make it his/her own, those need to be provided by the mind of the GM. It took me a long time to properly enunciate what this feels like: Into the Veil is an amazing sketch of a mega-adventure or of an AP and if you tackle it as such, it can offer some serious fun. At the same time, I have no idea regarding local nomenclature, habits, etc. – there is a lot of details missing here, to the point where the whole region becomes shadowy. To visualize it: Imagine a tapestry of amazing lights that look intriguing…but having a hard time connecting them to form a concise image. The presence of cthulhoid entities and biotech could have provided a wellspring of utterly amazing crunchy options in conjunction with the backdrop and the underwater-connection, but the pdf does not really deliver in that regard.
From a rules-perspective, this book left me universally pretty unimpressed; while I like the biomechanics concept-wise, I think the pdf is reinventing the wheel here; Veranthea already has arcanotech, there is the tech-guide…why add another, brief and none-too-detailed obscure subsystem here? Anyway, I don’t want to come off as too negative – this pdf does have some great ideas. If anything, it buckles under the ambition of its theme: This would have made for a superb 100+ pages mega-adventure or similarly-sized sourcebook; at the page-count provided, even with the impressive amount of information crammed into its pages, it feels like it is too brief, not detailed enough to make everything come to life.
The pdf could have either used splitting up and development of different books or a tighter focus. So, once again, while I do believe that this does have value, it also falls short in the regional sourcebook category it is situated in. While not bad by any means, when I compare this book to the Vathak regional guides, Purple Duck games’ region books or Frog God Games’ mighty Borderland Provinces tome, it falls short. I hope to one day see this mutate into a massive mega-adventure that is bound to be awesome, a cool, detailed sandbox that transcends the sketch-like nature this offers…but, as a whole, in spite of loving the metaplot, I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for this book.
You can get this supplement here on OBS!