By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Open Design is 19 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving 16 pages of content, so let’s check out the new material for the Druid, shall we?
The pdf opens with a short one-page discussion of the druid’s role in an adventuring group and how to play him before introducing 2 alternatives to wildshape: The rather simple swarm shape that lets the druid mimic the swarm skin spell and the other, more complex alternative, Nature’s Multitude, which lets you not morph into one animal, but rather split up into e.g. a flock of birds. The rules for said ability need to be concise and concise they are, though I’m reluctant to say whether this form can be considered balanced. Recalling the natural spell feat and the possibility to combine nature’s multitude and said feat, my DM-senses start to tingle a bit. While damage that exceeds one animal’s HP is handed over to other members of the multitude, I KNOW in my guts that players will find some way to exploit the hell out of this one. Prior to some extensive playtesting, I wouldn’t allow this particular option. Similar concerns can be addressed on a lesser scale with reagrds to the option to gain flock companions instead of regular animal companions, though I’m less reluctant to allow them in my game due to the lack of direct casting capability sans massive investment on parts of the player. We also gain three alternate qualities for companions, one of which grants spells equal to 1/3 of its HD to the companion, another granting it the ability to speak and a thrid one enabling the druid to magic jar into her companions. Combine Nature’s Multitude, Flock Companion and this quality and at 13th level you have a practically unkillable PC. While I can see NPCs pulling this off, I wouldn’t allow this particular combination for my players. Some additional restriction might have been appropriate here.
Next are new archetypes, 3 of which pertain to the phases of the moon, 4 (for the animal shaman)to the elements and 2 to forests in general: All Archetypes have in common that they are rather simple and, unfortunately, bland. Channel energy and enhanced domain access? Come on, if I wanted to play a cleric, I would have rolled a cleric! Elements? *Snore* I’ve seen that done before – over 9000 times. Some of them more compelling. The Green Warden is a foe of undead who gains disease immunity, channel energy and turn undead (but not to heal) and bonuses against supernatural attacks by undead. Boring? Rather clericy? Then there’s the Forest Child, per se a cool idea, as she can damage natural foes7fey etc. and undergoes an apotheoses into a plant. However, two abilities feel rather light on the new-ability-section for an archetype. I was utterly underwhelmed by the archetypes, as the alternate class-features felt much more interesting and inspired than these boring archetypes.
We also get 5 new domains (Bird, Hunter, Insect, Transformation, Tree) with 2 subdomains each. The abilities for said domains were nice, however, I would have loved to see some unique abilities for the respective subdomains instead of the usage of already existent ones, especially due to some of the abilities like Primal Cancellation (which cancels all moral distinctions like subtypes of creatures and spells, DRs etc.) being rather creative and neat.
The 5 new animal companions are rather creative, though: A Brain Ooze (!!!), an electric lizard, a mobile flytrap, a forest worm and an acid-spitting green slug are introduced. I would have loved for artworks or small ecologies for them, though, as they seem to be interesting animals, not only as companions.
The pdf closes by providing 10 new feats that improve the capabilities of animal companions and druids – a feat that duplicates improved natural attack for wild-shaping druids by doing the same and stacking would be one example, better spells with the creation-descriptor being two more. The Totem Aspect feat should have been more detailed/split into several feats, though: It enables you to temporarily add +4 to an attribute corresponding to the animal for uses of wild-shape abilities. I think each animal should have come with additional benefits, making them more distinct. Healing Tongue is a strange feat – it enables you to use heal checks via licking wounds. While I can see the druid taking it, an animal companion taking it would be strange indeed, as the user still has to make heal-checks and most animals don’t have that particular skill. Nevertheless, that seems to be one of the prime intentions of the feat’s design. Strange.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column standard and artworks are stock, but fitting. The pages have an used-parchment look and the pdf comes without a printer-friendly version. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks. When all’s said and done, this pdf underwhelmed me – while some components are imaginative and haven’t been done like this before, the majority of the content left me unimpressed. The options to get flock companions and split into more animals is cool (though I have some minor balance concerns) and the new animal companions are neat. Especially the feats and archetypes left me unimpressed and provided a jarring contrast to the better ideas herein. There is some quality to be scavenged here, though, thus, in spite of the subpar parts, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3.
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