The Vivomancer’s Handbook
This installment of the Spheres of Power-expansion books clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, ½ a page blank, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 33.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
After a brief piece of introductory prose, we begin with the first big chapter, traditionally one that contains new archetypes. This time around, we get a total of 5 new such options, the first of which would be the essentialist alchemist, who is an Int-governed Mid-Caster. The archetype also receives class level as a competence bonus to Craft (alchemy) for creating alchemical items and may use it to identify potions. This replaces, obviously, the regular alchemy class feature of the alchemist. Spell pool-wise, we get character level + Intelligence modifier spell points and a new magic talent with every increase of the caster level, but not with CL-increases from other sources. Instead of throw anything, the essentialist gets access to the Life sphere and the Water of Life talent as well as the Medicinal drawback. If the character already had the Life sphere, he does not gain the drawback. Water of Life, if previously present, may be replaced with a substitute. When using Water of Life, the essentialist may use class level as caster level.
What is Water of Life? It’s one of the new basic talents herein, one that lets you imbue food with the Life sphere’s abilities – you target the consumable item and only one consumable may be imbued at any given time and it may only hold one ability. The consumable may be used by other characters as a potion, though. Here’s the catch: Liquids thus imbued, like alchemical reagents etc. provide the benefits of the imbued ability as well as their original buff. Limited, yet versatile and creative – love it! What does the drawback do? Well, medicinal prevents you from targeting a creature directly with Life sphere talents – instead, this drawback forces you to take Water of Life and limits you to it – no Ranged Healing. It also prevents the taking of the Glorious and Sympathetic drawbacks introduced here, but more on those later.
Now that we have established how the base chassis works, let’s take a look at essences, which replace bombs. The essentialist may imbue consumables affected by Water of Life further as a free action, but it only works if the consumable has been imbued by the essentialist in question. The ability can be used class level + casting ability modifier times per day and grants a +2 alchemical bonus to the highest ability score of the target, with ties allowing for choice of the ability score affected. The bonus increases by +1 for every 4 class levels the target has. Essences last for 1 minute per class level and one provides enough sustenance for 1 day. Abilities that grant extra bombs instead grant extra essences. Instead of mutagen and persistent mutagen, the essentialist may 1/day produce a mutated essence in a 1-hour-process. This explicitly counts towards the daily essence cap! Like mutagens, only the essentialist may properly use these, and others are nauseated. Upon imbibing the mutated essence, the essentialist freely chooses the attribute to which essence applies, increasing the bonus granted by +2. Nice: Since we suddenly have choice here, the archetype specifies that only one essence can be applied per target, something implicit in the base ability, made explicit here for comprehension’s sake. At 14th level, duration of the mutated essence increases to 10 minutes per level. Unless I have miscounted, we also get no less than 15 specific, new discoveries that tie in with the new essence-engine presented here. These include +2 essences, applying poison resistance and immunity, respectively, to diseases, also adding a +2 alchemical bonus to a creature’s lowest ability score when using essences, adding invigorate to the effects of the Life sphere power, etc. Very interesting: Using Enhancement sphere enhancements as Life sphere abilities for the purpose of Water of Life. And yes, the ability manages to get the complex ability interaction right. There also is an analogue ability for the Alteration sphere’s shapeshift, just fyi, and other discoveries allow for the use of essences to create non-sellable poisons. While I am never a fan of untyped damage, the option to create untyped poisonous exhalations is relegated to a high enough level to get a pass. All in all, an interesting, meaningful and well-made archetype.
The folk healer ranger loses shield proficiency and is a Wisdom-using Low-Caster with class level + Wisdom modifier spell points. The archetype replaces wild empathy and endurance with the Life sphere and a magic talent at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Instead of favored terrain, we get a scaling bonus to Heal checks and penalty-less self-healing as well as skill unlocks for Heal. Swift tracker and tracker are replaced with Brew Potion-less potion-brewing for the Life sphere and the ability to increase crafting DC by +5 to include a Life talent. At 8th level, the creation of a Life potion may be crafted in a single standard action, but, before you complain, such hastily made potions deteriorate within the hour, so no, you won’t break the assumptions of most fantasy worlds with it. At 7th level, the folk healer may spend a spell point as a full-round action to temporarily gain a form of favored terrain (i.e. skill bonuses), replacing woodland stride. Funny typo: “apples” should read “applies.”
The pharmakon soul weaver gets the Life sphere and the Affliction talent, as well as the Limited Restoration (restore only – so no cure/invigorate) drawback. What does Affliction do? This new talent lets you use restore as a standard action to interfere with the life force of other creatures, requiring a touch attack. The target must succeed a Will-save or become exhausted, fatigued on a successful save. Here’s the thing: If you have Life talents that remove conditions, you get more options, though only one per use. These include being disoriented (penalty to concentration, Perception, no morale bonuses), being nauseated, confused, etc. As always, if the character already has the Life sphere, he does not gain the drawback. When using Affliction, the pharmakon may spend channel energy uses instead of spell points. Instead of the blessing/light class feature, the pharmakon gains an iatrogen at 2nd level and every 4 class levels thereafter, which is similar to an Affliction, but more potent. These may be used with channel energy or spell points, with the save DC equal to the classic 10 + ½ class level + casting modifier. Really cool: When using an iatrogen on a creature already under the effect of 3+ different iatrogens, the target must succeed a Fort-save or drop to -1 hit points and dying. This makes them potentially deadly, but since they require a set-up, I can live with this. The iatrogens include bleed damage, ability score penalties, fear-based conditions (properly codified), temporary staggering, a temporary stimpack-like boost to HP, Inflict Disease or Drain. Nice one!
The spirit mender druid is a Wisdom-using High-Caster with level + Wisdom modifier spell points and gains 1 magic talent per level. Knowledge (geography) is exchanged with Knowledge (religion), and if the druid chooses a domain as nature bond, she gains the associated sphere as well as a bonus talent at 5th, 9th, 13th and 17th level, analogue to the sphere cleric. BAB, however, is reduced to ½ level, for full-caster progression, and while the archetype if proficient with club, dagger, dart, quarterstaff, scimitar, scythe, sickle, shortspear, sling and spear, they are not proficient with any armor or shield. Instead of wild shape, these fellows get spiritual protection, which translates to a Wis-governed, scaling bonus to AC and CMD while unarmored and sans shield, somewhat akin to the monk’s bonus. However, these folks have attendant spirits – think of these as a kami-like blessing (as an aside – any form of general Animism can similarly work here), cleaning clothes, stains, etc., but the spirits are adverse to metal, and metal armor and possessions will fall off quickly, with e.g. alchemical silver and the like as noted exceptions.
The spirit mender gets + ½ class level to Escape Artist (not italicized properly) and gets Cantrip for free and cantrip-effects affecting her can be performed as a swift action. The spirit mender also gets the bond spirits ability, with 3 + Wisdom modifier spirits at once (minimum 1) acting as maximum. Summoning spirits takes 1 minute and they orbit the character and they are properly codified. These spirits can be used to duplicate a variety of spirit powers, the use of which requires a standard action and expends the spirit, sending it back to its origin. At 1st, 4th, 8th, 12th and 16th level spirit powers are unlocked and allow for an interesting gameplay: They basically behave mechanically like a cooldown buff-option that allows for high-level condition-removal, enhance skill checks, stabilize allies, aid the living, temporarily gain a Life talent she qualifies for, etc. They count as a soul weaver’s bound nexus, using spirits as souls. Nice! Instead of woodland stride, we have a universal version that also makes the spirit mender take no Stealth penalty for moving. Instead of trackless step, we get a universal version, as the attendant spirits clean, get rid of scent, etc. Cool!
The worldsoul incarnate would be the final archetype, available for both regular and unchained barbarian, replacing rage with a state of rapture that can be maintained for 4 + Con-mod rounds, +2 rounds per class level.. While enraptured, the restrictions to Cha-, Dex- and Int-based skill checks with the usual restrictions applies, and the state of rapture also includes -2 to AC. After rapture, the character is fatigued for 1d4 +1 rounds. Here’s the thing: While enraptured, the worldsoul incarnate may channel primal energy: When spending a free action to maintain or enter rapture, the initiate gains class level vitality points. These are lost at the end of the turn, so no hoarding. These vitality points may be spent to gain temporary hit points, bursts of speed, replenish minor amounts of hit points (5:1-ratio), +1 attack versus a target previously hit for 8 vitality points…or, at higher levels, restore (not formatted properly) for 11 vitality points…and sundering magic for high level characters can also be found. This replaces the rage tree as well as indomitable will and fast movement. This is a really cool, player-agenda-emphasizing rage variant I thoroughly enjoyed. Beyond that, the archetype comes with an impressive array of rapture powers that include channel energy fly speed (behind a proper minimum level caveat), an aura of light…really cool stuff!
Regular barbarians can choose from 3 new rage powers that include limited healing, temporary hit points and ignoring DR of creatures harmed by positive energy. Armorists can choose new properties for the bound staff as well as the driving unique ability that uses Invigorate at full armorist level as CL. Incanters get two new 2-point specializations that include lay on hands and mercies. Mageknights get 3 new mystic combat abilities, which allow for the set up of a mark: If an ally hits the target, you can invigorate him as a free action; Self-reliance allows for better self-invigorate/cure-ing and Signature Scar allows you to scar foes and temporarily siphon off healing. There are two new ki powers, which nets a temporary hp buffer for monks and a chance to block the ki of enemies, stifling healing. Rogues, unchained rogues and slayers can choose 4 new talents as well. There is one that lets you immediate action attack when regaining hit points, but with a cool-down that prevents abuse. Reducing natural armor via decreased sneak attack damage (which can be properly healed), adding a swift action feint to seriously damaging hits and siphoning off healing temporarily on a failed save are interesting. There also are two new hexes, one that hampers healing and one that makes targets harmed by both positive and negative hit points, healed by neither. That one should probably have a 1-per-day caveat. There are minor formatting snafus, but nothing that truly hampers the functionality. All in all, this player-facing chapter is INSPIRED. The archetypes are meaningful and balanced, offering different playing experiences that also sport cool flavor. Really well done!
Now, there are 23 new basic talents here. I have already mentioned e.g. Affliction, though there is more: For example, Contagion interacts with restore, allowing you to attempt to attempt to redistribute a negative condition to another target. Quite a few of the respective talents provide numerical boosts – Deeper Invigorate enhances invigorate to instead grant 2 temporary hit points per CL. Clarified Strike lets you make a single ranged or melee attack as a standard action, affecting the target hit with a Life Sphere ability. What Diagnose does should be pretty self-evident and Esoteric Healing lets you heal non-living creatures, while Latent Healing provides a latent fail-safe cure/invigorate that the target can trigger a s a swift action. The talent thankfully does not allow for holding more than more Latent Healing. Interesting: Disruption allows for nonlethal damage and Painkiller also heals nonlethal damage. Healing charm (but not compulsion/control), an update of Revitalize and using positive energy to really penalize the undead…some nice ones. The section also introduces the (vitality) tag. These grant bonuses to allied targets that receive a Life sphere ability’s benefits, lasting 1 minute or taking damage from an attack or failed save. Only one vitality talent is conveyed per sphere-use, but individual vitality talents may be chosen when affecting multiple targets. These include bonuses to atk and damage, +30 ft. movement or +4 to AC and saves. There is one option that may be a bit overkill, or that could at least have used a minimum level: Adrenaline Surge lets you expend 1 spell point when using a Life sphere ability on an ally, who then may spend an immediate action for a full-BAB atk, moving the speed, stand up from prone, etc. For 2 spell points, multiple affected allies can gain this. What’s my problem here? RAW, the surge does not need to be used on the next turn, which I’m pretty sure it should be. Storing it seems weird to me.
There are 3 different advanced talents included in the pdf. Hypervitalize is the minimum-15th-level superbuff to Revitalize, which nets a whole smörgࣸåsbord of different immunities that include immunity to death effects (will be interesting regarding interactions when the Death handbook hits sites), immunity to physical attribute damage and drain, etc. for +2 spell points. Life-Saving Cure makes cure always suffice to bring a creature to minimum 1 hit point and Transfiguration suspends old age penalties and increases temporarily current and maximum hit points as well as providing immunity to diseases. There is an incantation to cover the restoration of the dead to life and there is a 0-level ritual to preserve organs and e.g. conserve detached limbs. There also are a total of 26 new feats that include Wound Manipulator, an Alteration Dual Sphere feat that adds the classic minor healing to shapeshift. Another dual sphere talent allows you to swift action use a Life Sphere ability to follow up Destruction’s disruption. Increasing the size of Fount of Life, quick treating of wounds via spell points or ki, using inspiration as well as invigorate (self-only), gaining temporary hit points upon spending grit, panache, etc. is interesting. I particularly enjoyed Psychosomatic Healing, which allows you to create an illusion of healing that actually translates into a kind of DR-ish mechanic that reduces damage the target takes. Allowing allies to use Fount of Life, and the usual extra x feats are included. There also are a couple of Anathema feats, which build on the feat of the same name – the feat allows you to use channel energy, fervor or lay on hands as a touch/ray to damage targets, and as such, is actually usable sans the whole Spherecasting engine, with increased damage output, range, etc. as the usual modifications for such ability-types available via follow-up feats.
The section also includes 5 nice traits (properly codified and typed!) and I already mentioned a few drawback details: Requiring that Taste of Victory is triggered would be one: Taste of Victory is btw. a new talent that lets you heal when reducing a target to 0 hp or below – and yes, the talent cannot be cheesed! Kudos! Slow Recovery prevents instant healing; only being able to take conditions onto you or having creepy healing that needs targets to save…all pretty cool.
The pdf also includes alchemical items – Restoreing fish liver grog, temporary hit points via liquid life – nice. If you enjoy spontaneous alchemy (I love it), recipes are provided for both! Huge kudos there! 3 new herbs are also provided, though some harvesting-related DCs etc. would have been nice here. We also get 8 new potions/consumables, which include a cleansing potion in two versions that can get rid of quite a lot of negative conditions . A standard healing potion, healing Halfling black bread, a last-second save that can bring creatures that have just died, a seed, which, when planted, can produce a seedpod that duplicates the body of a deceased…solid array of classic themes. I already mentioned before that a class option provides access to new Life staff properties; equitable allows for limited condition removal of tough conditions at +1, which may be a bit low. Vital fortifies vs. Death sphere and negative energy/death effects and yields Counterspell, usable only vs. Death sphere abilities at +2. Wellspring includes a pool that can enhance cure. There are 3 regular wondrous items. Alabaster gloves enhance positive energy use via the Life sphere; clear gem duplicates any healing via positive energy within 60 ft., which, even for 75K price, is pretty damn OP. As a nitpick: “Wondrous” is not a slot. Limited fast healing boots are interesting. Beyond these items, we also get an armor, a shield and a necklace that behave pretty much like godling-items, increasing in power over the levels, with new abilities gained at almost every level. These can btw. be taken apart and made non-scaling sans issue, as GP values are provided for each level an ability is gained.
The pdf also introduces the Caladrias, a CR 1/6 Tiny magical bird, raven-like with white feathers, which can sense diseases and remove them. I love this critter, but I wish we got familiar/companion stats here. We also get the CR +0 damaged soul template, which represents a target that regenerates quickly and violently…oh, and they’re functionally insane, which is not good news for everyone else. Cool! We end with a nice two-page advice-section for players.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, very good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series and the full-color interior artworks are really neat – I haven’t seen any of the pieces used before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Andrew J. Gibson, with additional material by Amber Underwood, Derfael Oliviera and Trevor Stevens, provides an impressive spheres-handbook. After the somewhat underwhelming rules-issues in the Mentalist’s Handbook, this provided more than a breath of fresh air. You see, Life/healing is a sphere that isn’t exactly “sexy” – this pdf acknowledges this and manages to make healing interesting and versatile; the tweaks possible to action economy are nice. The archetypes are pretty much all-killer and the rules-language of healing requires notorious amounts of care to prevent cheesing. While I cannot 100% guarantee that a combo can’t break the material herein (I may have overlooked a combo), the engine components as presented herein do not per se offer such exploits – the rules-language is precise, to the point and interesting, sporting the necessary checks and balances. Moreover, the book actually sports rather flavorful angles for roleplaying and character concepts, rendering this one of my favorite installments in the series. Now, I am not a fan of every single design decision herein, but this still should be a considered a must-have for any Spherecasting-game that features healing. (I.e., probably all of them!) My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars. Well done!
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