By Thilo Graf
This pdf from LPJ Design is a whopping 168 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page dedication, 3 pages ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover.
The pdf also comes with a 4-pages character sheet and 21 pages of printable tokens containing artwork from the book to be used as counters. Unfortunately they e.g. bear the face of Calix Sabinus, severely limiting their usability. The pdf is also fully bookmarked.
That leaves 135 pages for the Obsidian Twilight campaign setting, of which 16 pages make up the introductions to the respective chapters, all in the format of one page introductory quote and a two-page spread complete with a nice piece of artwork. I won’t count these pages in my page-count for the respective chapters.
The first chapter gives us an introduction to the world of Abaddon, a world devastated by a cataclysmic meteoric strike that wiped out more than 85% of the world’s populace and makes for a grim backdrop. Spanning the general events of the cataclysmic 100 last years, this makes for a nice lead-in. (5 pages)
Chapter 2 (25 pages) features the races of Abaddon. It kicks off with notes on the standard races, how they deviate from a standard campaign setting (Halflings are e.g. feral cannibals that file their teeth) as well as featuring some in-character names for the races. While I liked them, I think that the very comic-style artwork provided for them makes one thing clear: You DON’T WANT to play standard races in Abaddon. Why? Well, first of all, the OT-specific races all feature cooler, extremely nice artworks. Secondly, they are more powerful.
- Exalted, the direct offspring of celestials like Zebadiah (see later), that may actually have been born from rapes and the like, adding a shade of grey to the do-goodie angels trapped in Abaddon. I liked the fact that their nomenclature features a family name derived from their progenitor/Zebadiah. They are lawful native outsiders, have 90 ft. Darkvision (where 60 ft. is more common, but ok), +2 Charisma, can summon an immaterial blade and get to choose from a very limited spell-list a spell-like ability to cast 3/day. While some of the spells felt weak, e.g. Charm Person, Disguise Self, Purify Food and Drink and Detect Magic seemed like godsends in Abaddon to me.
- Genesai, offspring of demonic outsiders mating with angelic outsiders, felt a bit weird to me. They get +2 Con, + 2 Wis and -2 Cha, are native Outsiders, have 120 ft. Darkvision (!!!), immunity to charm and compulsion, a summonable blade and bonuses against outsiders (+1 to hit and damage, + 4 Dodge). These strengths are somewhat offset by an aura that unnerves animals, resulting in some penalties. All in all, though, I think that this race is slightly stronger than the standard ones.
- Harrowed are the offspring of mortals and undead and as such, feared and loathed. While I personally don’t like the concept of undead being able to father children with mortals, I have to admit that the race is somewhat cool: The are not undead, but rather get a +50% damage from undead-targeting spells and heal only half as many hit points by being cured. They also get bonuses to disease, poison, death and paralysis, Darkvision 60 ft, can hold their breath longer and don’t need as much food as mortals. They also get a bonus on attacks and damage against undead. Their attributes get a + 4 Str and +2 Con bonus contra -2 Cha. While this deviates from the standard formula of 2 plus-2 bonuses and one -2 penalty, I think it works due to the healing drawback. Neatly done, although the in PFRPG uncommon +50%/-50%-stuff adds a bit to book-keeping for the player, but hey, you get a prime candidate for melee classes.
- Infernals are the offspring of demonic bloodlines and as such, are chaotic outsiders. They also get a whopping 120 ft. Darkvision, +2 Con, the unnatural aura, can choose 2 qualities from a list of Infernal Taint abilities like resistances to elements and the like. They also get a plus 2 bonus against summoning and teleportation as well as the ability to cast specific spells 3/day like the exalted. They also get a natural claw attack. Due to their flexibility and the fact that you get to choose both 2 Infernal Taints and a spell-like, they felt slightly stronger to me than the standard races.
- Khymer. Of all the new races, this concept is the weirdest by far and I didn’t know whether to love or hate it at first. Ok, bear with me: Khymer are actually psionic, sentient, toxic (1d6 Str) and necromantically active blood. Khymer are aberrations and are immune against spells that specifically target humanoids, +2 Wis, get 60 ft. Darkvision and a bonus PSP as well as the ability to metapsionically enhance their psionics by burning out their body vessel faster. Body Vessel? Yep, Khymer die when left outside a host body for longer than 2d12+Con rounds, which means they’ll need a lot of corpses to inhabit, as the limit for one vessel is 100 hours. They also get double damage from dehydration and +50% damage from fire and cold, the latter of which is a rather uncommon mechanic in 3.5/PFRPG. Dreamscarred Press’s Psionics Unleashed had not yet been released and due to the fact that I’m still waiting for my dead tree copy of said book, I can’t comment on whether they are compatible. They felt a bit strong as psions and while their vulnerabilities somehow offset it, the body vessel (which makes Khymer cool) also makes them kinda clunky to play – they can only change bodies when within 2 hours of burning out their body or reduced to lower than 10% of their HP. Mechanically, that’s not too user-friendly.
- Lykians are the lycanthropes of Abaddon. They get +2 Dex, – 2 Int and -2 Cha, but get low-light vision, a +8 bonus to acrobatics with regards to jumping, a +2 bonus to climb and survival, better concealment-miss-chances, a diseased bite as well as natural weapons (claws and bite). These are offset by a savingthrow-less vulnerability to silver and cold iron as well as a -2 penalty to will saves. All in all, while they make “Werewolves” playable, they felt a bit weak to me due to the significant penalties.
- Osirian: Black-skinned humanoids, they have a cool background as a favored race before the cataclysm. They get +2 Dex, + 2 to reflex saves and +2 against necromancy spells. They also get an ability called “Necromantic hellfire” that causes fatigue in living beings and disrupts undead. Compared to the other races, this one felt rather weak, but I’d also use them in another setting. In Golarion, they would have to have another name, though.
- Raijin: Raijin are a fusion of a mortal and a vengeful spirit and are applied as a template t other races that could be acquired during play. I like that as a nice alternative to treasure. They get -2 Cha, get the equivalent of the Die Hard feat, +2 on Will and Fort saves and all weapons they use are treated as plus 1 for purposes of bypassing DR. I really like that concept.
All in all, most of the races are cool. So cool in fact, that they are what I deem “Devil-may-cry-cool”, which is not bad per se, but means that they are somewhat over the top and I think that less would have been more here. The fact remains that these races practically guarantee that people belonging to them are heroes or villains, somewhat diminishing the moral choice of becoming a hero and stand against the overwhelming darkness or succumbing to it. I can’t for the life of me, imagine e.g. a Genesai in any other profession than a PC-class. Most of the races felt subsequently a bit stronger than the base races and more inclined towards specific classes than usual. I’d have my PCs earn Raijin-status and refuse to add the template to any of the new races apart from Osirians due to balance reasons.
Chapter 3 contains new spells found on Abaddon. (39 pages) 6 pages contain spell lists by class.
I liked most spells and for the sake of me completing this review this century, I’m just going into extremely cool spells or problems.
- Blood Tentacles summons tentacles from dead or dying people (killing them) that grapple enemies. cool idea, however, no CMB is given in the spell description.
- Bone construct: Makes it possible for a Necromancer to make moving things from bones. Great spell to get creative and create/amplify undead. I love “roleplaying” spells like this one, though I think that the spell should have a monetary component to balance out the fact that it’s permanent. As it stands, it conflicts with PFRPG crafting.
- Bones of Adamantine has a casting time of “One kill round”. Not sure whether that’s a typo or if there is something like a kill round.
- Chains of Antimagic: Great idea, I’ve been using a spell like this in my homebrew for years.
- Consume Man: One of my favorite spells (Cuigna Arthanath or something like that) from the complete book of eldritch might, this insta-kills one enemy, violating PFRPGs retake on Instakill-spells.
- Corpse Storm: 4 corpses per level of the caster bombard an area, propelled by a black cloud of negative energy and bludgeon and panic the poor guys in the area. ‘Nuff said.
- Curse of Warts: Cover the target in warts from head to toe. Great way to humiliate cocky PCs.
- De-vein is a lvl 6-Insta-kill spell and thus does not conform with PFRPG design philosophy.
- Disintegration Field works like a mass 3.5.-Disintegrate. It should be revised to conform to PFRPG disintegrate.
- Healing Interdiction: Cool high-level curse that prevents healing.
- Identify Scrier: Mechanically ok, I hate this spell. It identifies the name of a scrier. This could break many an adventure plot.
- Knotting the Cord: Another 3.5-favorite of mine from Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia – nice to see it back in print.
- Maggot Infestation: A very cool spell that unfortunately suffers from 3.5-Insta-death-syndrome. Needs to be updated to PFRPG.
- Mark of Death: Another Insta-death-itis-spell that needs to be updated to PFRPG.
- Realign the Heavens: Powerful spell that does just that – very nice.
- Tendrils of Eternal Night: Iconic spell, unfortunately lacks a CMB for your convenience.
In conclusion one can say that this chapter contains several appropriately dark spells, most of which are somewhat useful or cool. Unfortunately there has been some serious recycling of spells from 3.5-sources (I would have preferred new spells), but this per se is no problem. The fact that several spells still use 3.5.-mechanics, though, is a serious problem, somewhat limiting the usability of this chapter and giving you the impression of a cut-copy-paste-job. Plus: They are NOT new spells as advertised.
Chapter 4 contains new prestige classes and feats (25 pages).
- Blade Witch (d8, 4+Int skills, medium BAB, good Ref-save): A gish-like class that can empower her blade via the sacrifice of spell-slots and regain spells by killing foes. My main gripe here is: The PrC has no capstone ability for 10th level. The final level of the class is a “dead” level: BAB +1, +1 Ref, +1 level spellcasting. Who’d go for that? Besides, it violates PFRPG design philosophy: No more dead levels, at least get access to a new level of spells. That is not ensured by +1 spellcasting level in a PrC.
- Blood Duelist (d10, 4+Int skills, good BAB, medium Ref-save): Khymer warriors that use their blood-body to enhance their combat prowess. The 4th level ability grants DR 5/Fire and reduces all piercing attacks against the Khymer to 1 point. Oo Op, anyone? Apart from this ability, though, the class rocks. I’d suggest amping the DR up to 10 and canceling out the piercing damage-negating ability.
- Dark Overseer (d6, 4+Int skills, slow BAB, medium Will-save): Leader-type Character, demoralizes foes and uses fear. I can’t see my players picking this class, it feels rather weak. The level 10 capstone is cool, though: You get a lich-like phylactery. All in all, a nice class for charismatic mastermind antagonists.
- Demon Seeker (d10, 2+Int skills, good BAB, irregular Fort + Will saves [both +6 at 10th level]): “Evil” Paladin-like Anti-infernal zealots. Ok class, I guess, but nothing to write home about.
- Headhunter (d8, 4+Int skills, irregular BAB [+9 at 10th level], irregular Fort + Will saves [both +6 at 10th level]: Very cool class that uses shrunken heads of slain enemies to bolster their own combat prowess.
- Reaper (d10, 2+Int skills, good BAB, good fort-save):This class is utterly and completely over-powered. Reapers may attack more than one square with one hit, up to all 8 around them at 10th level. Why take whirlwind attack again? If that was not enough, they learn to ignore ANY DR a undead creature may have. At the second level of the class. Which means that a level 8 character can wade through the DR of ANY undead creature. This is a stellar example of “cool idea – lacking execution”. I’d rather eat my dice than allow this class in my game.
- Cannibalism [Lykian]: I think Halflings should also be able to do this, at least from the sparse fluff I read. Apart from that, eating a slain enemies heart to restore 1d8+1/HD HP is not that much. Useful at lower levels, but I think it should scale accordingly.
- Casting out the Unclean: Turn evil outsiders. I don’t know, I think clerics should be able to turn undead first as a prerequisite to this feat, which is no longer a given in PFRPG.
- Death Touch: Clunky mechanics taken straight from the cleric ability in 3.5. Needs revision.
- Erupt[Khymer]: Lets a Khymer burst his body vessel in a toxic explosion. Great idea, but I think the damage should scale with the levels – 4d4 is rather laughable at medium and high levels.
- Fade out [Genesai]: While powerful, the loss of actions and the usage of their shattersoul blade makes this ability to cease to exist (and become immune to damage) for a short amount of time quite interesting. Strong, yes, but it can be handled.
- Final Revenge[Rajin]: even if you die, the spirit within keeps you around as a stronger Zombie for one final bid for revenge. Cool idea, especially due to still being able to be resurrected.
- Ghost blooded [Harrowed]: Can turn incorporeal for lvl/rounds per day. Can break adventures and is VERY strong at lower levels.
- Lace spells: Originally from the Book of Eldritch Might, I considered them OP then and still do so.
- Poltergeist[Rajin]: Use telekinesis BAB times per day as a free action. DC is 10+level+Wis-mod, only one telekinetic attack per round, but can use normal attacks in addition. Ähem. This is OP. Srsly. You can grapple with telekinesis. You need Wis and Con 14+ and a BAB of 3+, but nevertheless: This feat is broken.
- Prehensile Tail [Infernal]: Get a second off-hand for a light weapon with your tail. No. Just no. OP. I don’t even have to do the math, just think about it.
- Torch Fighter: Now this is a cool feat: Use a torch as unarmed attacks and set enemies on fire.
- Unscry: Great feat, but why doesn’t it have a captivating fluff text? Just two lines could have inspired awesome adventure ideas.
To sum it up: Apart from the blood duelist and the head-hunter, the PrCs didn’t wow me and the feats didn’t either. Some racial feats are very cool, most are standard fare – good, but nothing to write home about. I was kinda irked by the amount of material from the Book of Eldritch Might I’ve seen so far – there is serious recycling going on when some of the original ideas show that the authors can deliver cool original concepts and I want more NEW material.
Chapter 5 describes the dangers of Abaddon (25 pages).
The chapter kicks off with 2 new monsters (with two versions each, normal and paragon) as well as a template for necromantic infused creatures.
The monsters are:
- Boneshard Golem (CR8)
- Paragon Boneshard Golem (CR 11)
- Souleater (CR 8)
- Paragon Souleater (CR 11)
Both the monsters and the template get their own, drop-dead gorgeous artworks. The fluff for the creatures is both plentiful and aptly written and I’m glad they have been updated to PFRPG – in my first version of the pdf, they still had been 3.5..
After that, we move on to the major players of Abaddon:
- Asi Magnor: Asi Magnor is a CR 30 mummy-king with a quite complex stat-block befitting of such a big baddy. The entry comes with a short history of the villain as well as some magic items of his regalia.
While I really do like complex stat-blocks, I am not too great a crunching numbers myself. One of the things that struck me as a bit strange was the creatures speed of 25 ft., when a normal mummy has 20 feet. Oh well.
The regalia of Asi Magnor unfortunately does not live up to his cool premise and the component weapons, while featuring cool names, seemed quite weak to me or at least not befitting a CR 30 endgame villain.
- Calix Sabinus: Calix Sabinus, the CR 35 vampire-lich lord is quite possibly the most powerful entity in the blasted, cataclysmic land of the Obsidian Twilight setting. While I vastly prefer this stat-block to e.g. the one of Asi Magnor, Calix’s melee capabilities somehow left something to be desired for me. Yes, his vast arsenal of spells and abilities make him deadly and his nature makes him almost unkillable, but he is a fragile enemy and I’m not entirely sure he should be.
Once again, his magic items, while this time iconic, are nothing to write home about at this power-level.
- Zebadiah: Zebadiah (CR 30) is the crippled angel and progenitor of the exalted race. Once a mighty and perhaps the last force of celestial good in the lands of Obsidian Twilight, the angel Zebadiah has been crippled, defeated and mutilated by Calix Sabinus, forever roaming the lands with his half-scarred form, seething with righteous anger for his humiliation.
His statblock is great and actually makes him a credible threat for high-level PCs (or Npcs) and for once, his magic items are befitting in power-level of such a high-level creature.
It should be noted that all three legends have been updated to PFRPG and DO have CMB/CMD etc. While the artwork for Asi Magnor left me unimpressed, the other two ones are simply stunning. If you already own the “Fallen of Obsidian Twilight”-series, though, you’ll already know them.
After that, we get 8 new diseases, ranging from DC 14 to DC 20. The fluff of the diseases is actually quite cool and tells you something about Abaddon, while the mechanics are not that imaginative. They don’t suck either, though.
We also get 20 new environments & hazards, one of which actually takes up more than a single page! There are some more typos here, which somewhat impedes the enjoyment of the otherwise captivating descriptions of the hazards.
The final page of the pdf is a full-color map of Abaddon.
For 15 bucks, you get an awfully beautiful book. That’s the first thing you’ll notice. Apart from some artwork that has been recycled from other LPJ books, most of it is original and stunningly beautiful. The layout of the book is on par with this beauty. However, the book loses some of this appeal if you already own the “Races of Obsidian Twilight” and “Fallen of Obsidian Twilight”-pdfs, as the artworks for e.g. the races have been used in both. Unfortunately, editing is subpar at best with typos, double paragraphs etc. This book deserved a better editing and some of the abilities and spells go against some of the revisions of PFRPG. (Insta-death, looking at you…)
To understand my final verdict, you have to understand something: I saw this setting and immediately wanted to love it. I’m a Ravenloft-DM and have always loved Dark Sun.
Why then, has this book left me feeling somewhat confused and irritated?
The answer is quite simple one of sub-par advertisement of the setting: Obsidian Twilight has almost nothing in common with Ravenloft, there is no psychological, subtle gothic horror anywhere in sight. In fact, you’ll probably play such an inhumane race that it will be hard to create the subtle traumas and effects on sanity etc.
I’d also disagree with regards to Dark Sun, there are not enough survival aspects as of yet.
Do I like the premise of OT? Yep, otherwise I wouldn’t have bought it. Can I tackle it on its own, without these two frames of reference? Yes. It is a setting of high-powered races and powerful villains – Epic Fantasy in a dark, post-apocalyptic setting. In the end, this is closer to Midnight than it will ever be to Ravenloft, which is not bad, as I love that setting, too.
Would I buy it again? Hard to tell. Why? Well, I already owned the “Fallen of OT”-series and the “Races of OT”-book. This “Campaign setting” does not feature THAT much new content. Many of the spells I already knew from the complete “Book of Eldritch Might, “Magic of Arcanis” and other sources. The same goes for non-racial feats. This disproves that the spells are all new. Which is a pity, as I really like some of the concepts and especially the powerful Rajin has captured my interest.
I didn’t notice the new magic items and equipment either, so that’s false advertisement.
The central problem of this book and what really, truly irritated me though, was: Even after reading the book, I know almost nothing about Abaddon. Highly detailed? Ähem. No. Sorry, but just: No.
There is no sample town, no sample nation, no political landscape, no sample NPCs apart from the big three, nothing. There is the chronology in the beginning, granted, but THAT IS NOT ENOUGH TO QUALIFY AS A CAMPAIGN SETTING.
All I know about the world, I had to pierce together from the sparse fluff throughout the book and that makes me crave for more. But there isn’t any more. Instead of a developed world or at least a broad overview, I got a sketch of an interesting setting that actually contains far less information that e.g. the Gazetteer for Golarion. Or just about every other campaign setting or even Player-friendly book I ever read. Heck, I’ve read short stories that tell you more about the world they are set in.
This book, at least for me, is a prime example of squandered potential – the world HAS potential and I WANT to know more about it. I don’t want x pages of spells that have been cut-copy-pasted from 3.5-books without heeding design changes in Pathfinder. I don’t want x pages of tokens with Calix’ face that either detract from his horror or just plain don’t work for other creatures. What I want is, what this book is advertised as – a CAMPAIGN SETTING for this cool and unique world. As it stands, the book unfortunately falls terribly short of this premise.
That being said, I so desperately WANTED to give this book a good review. It’s beautiful. It makes me yearn for more. I can’t. There are several typos (-1 star). There are some design-issues with the races and PFRPG (-1 star). There is A LOT of recycled material that takes up the space that could have been used for…A friggin’ campaign setting. Or the Information from the product description LIKE EQUIPMENT, MAGIC ITEMS OR HIGHLY DETAILED REGIONS; HISTORY AND ORGANIZATIONS (-1 star). Damn, this depresses the hell out of me. My final verdict will be 2 stars. HOWEVER: If you can live with the sketchy backdrop of the setting, the design-incompatibilities with PFRPG, if you only want some inspiration: Go for it. The artwork is gorgeous and you’ll surely be able to scavenge some parts. I really hope for OT to succeed and get the careful, caring treatment its potential deserves. As it stands, it unfortunately leaves much to be desired.
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