Apr 302015
 

emerald_orderBy Endzeitgeist

This installment of Kobold Press’ Demon Cults-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 10 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

“A Demon Cult? Urgh.” If that was your response, then you’re pretty much like me and oversaturated by bland “doing it for evil’s sake”-idiot-plot-device adversaries. Thankfully, Kobold Press seems to have taken up the mantle to make secret societies and organizations no longer suck and actually have a distinct identity – at least that’s the goal. So can the Emerald Order fulfill it?

Well, for once, the Emerald Order is not actually a Demon Cult – worshipping Thoth-Hermes and having deciphered the secrets within the Emerald Tablets, the members have managed to attain increased magical prowess – alas, as per the truism, power corrupts and the Emerald Order, in the time-honored tradition of secret societies, is exerting significant influence of the bodies politic in the realms wherein they have established themselves. Guided in that endeavor are they by their fully statted CR 15 sample character, the middle-aged master of the order, who sports no less than all ten levels of the new PrC, but more on that soon. The statblock is nice to see, though AC the non-flat-footed AC seems to be off by 1 point – now the statblock itself remains functional for the DM and hence, I won’t complain too much about such minor hiccups.

The PrC covers 10 levels and is called Disciple of Emerald Esoterica. It requires 2nd level spellcasting and 3 ranks in some skills for relative early access, making the fluffy requirement of acknowledgment by the order to most important component. Formally, the PrC nets d6, 6+Int skills, 1/2 BAB-progression, 1/2 will-save progression and full spellcasting progression. The abilities themselves, sporting colorful names like “Key of Wisdom” and the like, deserve special mention -aforementioned first ability allows for the stacking with cleric levels for ability purposes or skill bonuses to wis-based skills that increase based on ranks akin to lesser skill focus-style benefits. Similar benefits are provided for arcane casters and oracles at higher levels (the latter working out surprisingly well re balancing builds) and beyond that, each level nets some sort of limited spell-like abilities than scale in their daily uses per day. Resistances can also be found herein among the abilities granted and disciples may, at higher levels, act in surprise rounds and later even learn e.g. final revelations, bloodline abilities et al. or, yes, grand discoveries. A basic glance will show you that this renders them accessible much sooner, which means that yes, imho you should keep this PrC out of player-hands…UNLESS you actually want them to enjoy those apex-level tricks for longer. It should also be noted that the order learns to chip away emeralds from the artifact-level tablets (which get a full write-up) to make a DR-granting ioun stone and that over all, its rules-language is pretty precise. Several SP-granting abilities sport a duality-theme, which is nice, but doesn’t really mitigate the fact that these aren’t as cool as e.g. the forewarned ability versus surprise rounds mentioned before – I would have loved some more esoteric abilities here – ironic, considering the focus of the order. And yes, the PrC, generally, can be considered rather solid.

Furthermore, disciples may create the Smaragdine golems, unerring trackers and magic absorbing sentinels – that, much like aforementioned leader, receive a glorious, high-standard visual representation in a beautiful piece of artwork. Where the pdf truly fills its role, though, would imho be in its numerous adventure suggestions involving the order, all grouped handily by APL – these range from kingdom-destabilization to polymorphing afflictions and should drive home rather well the diverse methods employed by this cabal. I loved this section and each, but one of the hooks has its first sentence bolded, thus allowing you to take in the premise of the hook at a glance! Fans of Midgard should also be aware that there is indeed a box helping you use the order within the context of said world.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a modification of Kobold Press’ beautiful 2-column full-color standard, with the borders evoking the theme of the gorgeous front cover. The original pieces of artwork are drop-dead gorgeous. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jeff Lee’s Emerald Order is a surprising first choice for a Demon Cult in that is feels more like an esoteric order as popularized by the pulp novels – the pdf manages to quote he themes of implied supremacy, of strange orders offering powers beyond the ken of the uninitiated and thus creates an organization that can be considered interesting indeed. Now while I’d be rather careful about allowing PCs to take the PrC herein, the added edge my provide interesting mechanics and while not suitable for every campaign, I can see an order PC working in some campaigns – rather well, actually!

Now this installment may not be perfect, but it is a more interesting book than I imagined – while I’d expect fame/reputation mechanics for cults and organizations intended for player use, as a mostly NPC-focused order that could potentially double as a player-expansion, I will not hold this omission against the pdf. I would have liked somewhat more detailed information on suggested resources at the order’s command, on how they handle threats and the policies of the cabal, but that is my personal preference – there are a lot of ways to run such conspiracies and while a general inkling of the like is provided, the non-alignment-specific nature of the order (though they are strongly geared towards evil, the PrC is not…knowledge itself is neutral…) means that here, a bunch of cool choices and options at their behest could have been highlighted – don’t get me wrong – this stuff is hinted at and generally covered, yes – I just wished the pdf was slightly more concrete and the same goes for the means of advancement within the order’s hierarchy This is me nagging, though. The Emerald Order is a cool organization, one that oozes the spirit of pulp and classic weird fiction and for the low asking price, you receive a nice organization to throw into your games.

When all is said and done, this can be considered a good first installment of the series and one that makes me look forward to the other installments, which I will cover as well…and rather soon! My final verdict for this one will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform since it over all feels to me like it could have gottn slightly more out of the order’s awesome visuals and style.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Apr 302015
 

139229[1]By Endzeitgeist

This module clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 86 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Now the first thing, before anything else, you should know that this literally is the only book you need to run the module – no switching to thousands of different books, not a full bag of supplemental material – this module provides more supplemental material than you can shake a stick at: First, we get all spells used in the book; then, there would be the rules-reference section, which includes all those handy special abilities, from ability drain to breath weapons, handily explained for your convenience. The same goes for magical items, btw. And yes, there even is a nice array of animal tricks explained for your convenience, rendering this module exceedingly comfortable to run. Beyond even that, though, we get something you can use even when not running the module – the bestiary-section does provide ample Knowledge DC-checks to deduce information on the respective creatures featured in the module. Oh, and the module does sport all artwork handily collated at the back of the book in the form of a collated appendix, allowing you to print it out as a kind of look-see-artwork-booklet.

Think that takes up too much space? Let me assure you, it doesn’t – the module, even after that, clocks in at a massive 52 pages – there is *A LOT* of content to be covered. It should also be noted that this module, like all 4$D-modules, does provide handy lists of CR, adversary, XP and treasure for each relevant encounter, including options for extra treasure, depending on your playstyle (and extra PCs – up to +2 PCs are thus supported without you having to do ANYTHING). You should also be aware of the vast amounts of maps – while not necessarily beauties, I’ve seen worse and EVERY relevant location is covered – the sheer amount of maps provided deserves applause, especially since they also come with high-res jpegs and player-friendly iterations.

It should also be noted that the unique town herein does sport an extra mini-gazetteer for the players and that a clue-flow-chart helps running the module.

So far for the formal criteria, now let’s take a look at the module itself, shall we?

Now before we dive in, this is the SPOILER-WARNING. Potential players should immediately jump to the conclusion. Seriously, you will be so sorry if you spoil this one for yourself.

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All right, so this module begins common enough – a drunk father and ratcatcher, bereft of his daughters (who have chosen the adventurer-lifestyle) have recently taken off and the grief-stricken father immediately tries to pick a fight with the PCs. However that works, in the end, the PCs will have been tasked by the man to track down his daughters and ensure their safety – and the trail leads into the aptly-named twisted moorland. Now if you have played the supreme “Journey to Cathreay”, you’ll immediately realize the sheer massive amount of detail you can expect from 4$D wilderness trips – and this module does feature just that – random weather-tables (with all relevant rules), random encounter chances by time – the level of detail is staggering and from lone guest-houses to the farm where the two adventurers hang out (sans the daughters, mind you, and very much hostile…), the level of detail provided is interesting indeed – take e.g. a druidic stone circle, where the devout PC may acquire a temporary elemental servant – not required by the story in any way, but it does add the sense of cohesiveness and realism to the magical world depicted herein.

Now whether on friendly or hostile terms with aforementioned adventurers, the PCs sooner of later will make the acquaintance of a dryad of a forest most dilapidated and desolate, who ahs struck a deal to ensure her survival – and in case you haven’t noticed, yes, there is a subtle theme at work here, but more on that later. Her combat tactics come with a level of detail scarcely seen and from TPKing to less lethal failure scenarios and the like, the encounter with the pragmatic, corrupt dryad offers quite an array of different options. Now, alternatively, the PCs may have found among the adventurer’s belongings a call for help in clearing out an evil temple or have been bluffed by them – in either way, the temple is just another elaborate anti-adventurer trap, much like the dryad’s gambit. If this does not look to exciting so far, rest assured that the way in which this is handled is superb – and the level of detail provided here is staggering as well – take a skeleton with a foreign pterodactyl bone rattling in its rip cage – and yes, this is a curious and intriguing foreshadowing of the things to come.

Either way, the investigation sooner or later will bring the PCs to the aptly-named town of Twisted Bridge, where a special kind of evil flourishes. The town is not a poor place; in fact, it is quite wealthy (and fully statted). However, it is a town rules by egotism and passivity- we have a macabre blending of gillmen working menial labor and a kind of aristocratic upper class, sneering at the irrelevant, marginalized people that do not belong to the illustrious crowd of the village’s people – here, everyone is in only for themselves and their immediate friends and family. Mind you, this is not a depiction of a town that is suppressed or “kill ’em all”-vile – it can be considered almost a subtle satire of a mentality that is all too real in our very world. Sounds too dreary? Players not into subtle, unobtrusive social commentary? No problem, just spring on them the top-hat wearing deinonychus currently running a errand for his master and they’ll be right back in the fold. And yes, this is one of the colorful sight &sound-style random encounters form the table. On a mechanical level, the mentality that considers “evil” behavior a matter of discussion and the townsfolk’s fun when looking at paladins whirling from all the evil they can detect is not only rationale and concise, it makes surprising sense and adds a whole new spin on the black-white-morality conundrums.

Twisted bridge itself is not only mapped, but also sports what essentially amounts to a lavishly-detailed gazetteer-section that had me reminisce about the weird cities in 3.X’s Scarred Lands, though, obviously, in less depth, Twisted Bridge definitely can be considered a town so unique and dripping with flavor and tangible magic, it exudes an allure that is difficult to describe – from undine sorcerors to lizardmen, from chocolatiers to female-only hair-saloons (aptly and humorously named “Rapunzel”), twisted bridge equally breathes a sense of decadence and wonder, of despicable passivity and carelessness and intoxicating wonders – and allows one to easily see how one can be sucked into the moral choices such a lifestyle may engender. The massive investigation-potential and related clues definitely allow for one glorious free-form investigation, set against one of the most compelling backdrops I’ve seen in quite a while.

The trail of the girl’s horses, though, can sooner or later be tracked to a farm – where matrons grow narcotics to allow the people in town to sedate their children, should they act up – have I mentioned, that, much like many a good fantasy or scifi novel, this module can be enjoyed on a consumerist perspective and still has some serious social commentary going for, should you be so inclined as to delve into it, all without shoving an ideology down your throat? Among the narcotics-inducing plants, though, jack-o-lanterns loom, including a moderately intelligent one, with whom the PCs can talk, alternating quickly between settings of potentially psychedelic horror and abject comedy – oh and then there is a level of detail that borders on the ridiculous, the ridiculously awesome, that is – the fields actually note which plants are grown where: From chai to chilies, the handout provides the detailed notes on this. Yes. *That* is a realism that can only be described as staggering -and whether you use it or not, it does add immensely to the sense of immersion. The trail, then, leads to the cathedral of bone, the macabre abode of the town’s de facto dhampir-ruler and aforementioned, top-hat wearing dinosaur companion. There *is* a macabre axe-beak skeleton to be found here, but whether or not hostilities break out depends very much on the PC’s actions – and yes, the reason *why* a friggin’ axe-beak skeleton is here, is also given – and the pterodactyl bone mentioned before may give the PCs away, so let’s hope their investigation skills are on par.

Among the weird places to be found (potentially via the nasty adventurers), an alchemist (vivisectionist) and the way golem he created as an automaton to sate the depraved desires of the townsfolk can also make for interesting encounters, the latter even for a potential cohort of the oddest kind. Tzitzimitle, the main antagonist of the module, currently resides in a clock tower most unusual – in that e.g. it sports a pool that is inhabited by piranha-level voracious, bad-tempered killer-goldfish. No, I’m not kidding. This is a thing – and it is glorious. My players actually started laughing as their PCs started to be chomped by the little buggers. The exploration of the tower, alas, yields no satisfactory results (apart from further leads and the satisfaction of destroying clockwork creatures and braving the traps with which the place has been laden) – and so, a further stop along the way may be the massive Necropolis of the town, where the bored, amoral gargoyle Gabriel, a picturebook sociopath, awaits – alongside Enya, one of the kidnapped girls, who is currently trapped within a mausoleum that is both warded and dangerously unstable – and hence, rescuing her will prove to be difficult.

Have I mentioned, that her statements (or the alchemist’s investigation) can lead them to essentially the same goals, namely the sewers, where the whispers of the dead abound and a worm-that-walks, the gaoler of Enya, provide further evidence of the horrible things to come: And it is at the very latest here that the pieces will *click* together – Tzitzimitl, an exceedingly powerful oracle (level 10) who has gleaned the circumstances of his death, but not the particulars, has entered an unholy alliance with a powerful wraith named Yetaxa – with combined efforts, they have not only engineered all those nasty anti-adventurer traps the PCs had to face; they have also introduced a truly decadent festival to the town, wherein the living dance with the wraiths under the control of Yetaxa – at the low price of just one innocent to be wraithified per festival – and who cares about strangers? Hence, the first of the daughters, alas has already been transformed by Yetaxa in the general rehearsal of the last festival -for today, shall be different. Wraiths cannot endure the sunlight, but a total eclipse renders a festival today possible – and also the only way in which Tzitzimitl’s prophecy of his own doom could come to pass – hence, he has engineered this rather elaborate plot to prevent just that.

Alas, the festival, detailed with a concise timeline and hearkening to a carnival, through a glass darkly, proceeds – and provides the PCs with an option to save Enya – provided they have been smart enough to provide her with an amulet they can acquire, which renders her impervious to Yetaxa’s cruel attempts of transferring her to undeath – so, in a finale both decadent and epic, the PCs will have to destroy Yetaxa in the catacombs – success frees the wraith and spawn from his control, resulting in a massacre and the prophesized death of Yetaxa, while also putting the PCs in dire peril, as they are shepherded into a dead end by now free, vast amounts of undead – only to be saved alongside Enya by the rays of the sun emerging from beyond the eclipse – and yes, if played right, this *is* one hell of a finale that also sees a town made uninhabitable by the undead – as well as killing the powerful Tzitzimitl and setting him up for potential sequels as a new undead threat to face!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though I noticed a couple of minor typos – “intimation” instead of “intimidation” can be found once, as can be “wont” instead of “won’t.” The language-geek in me also cringed whenever I read “coup-de-gras” instead of “coup-de-grâce” – that has nothing to do with fat, greasy or the like, but refers to the deathblow. Layout adheres to 4$D’s printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes in two versions, one for the US-paper-format, one in A4 for Europeans like yours truly – love that! The artwork provided is copious and I have seen none of the neat, old-school B/w-art before – really nice! The cover, as always, is also breathing the spirit of old-school awesomeness. The cartography is functional, as are the handouts, and make up for not being the most beautiful being provided for just about EVERYTHING.

Okay, let me get one thing out of the way – my complaint about the typos above? That is the only negative thing I can say about this module. At this point, all of the following things are a given: 1) Whenever Richard Develyn releases a module, my players want to play it asap, even if it means putting the main-campaign on hold. 2) I actually go to these modules when I require a break from reviewing; when I’m frustrated and need a reminder of why I actually do it. 3) Every module has a radically different style.

All of these hold true with Dance Macabre – even though formally, like the Key to Marina, it can be considered an investigation module. Alas, the way in which it works is pretty much radically different – less of a scavenger hunt, more of a detective tale, it reminded me in the best of ways of the first Gabriel Knight game in the atmosphere it evokes – what we have here can be called a blending of far-out fantasy with the underrepresented panache of proper, fantastic Southern Gothic. From the themes provided to the imagery evoked, the glorious sense of decadence oozes from each and every pore of the module – you can play this as pure entertainment…or emphasize the striking themes it evokes: If you want it to, this module can serve as a social commentary and a rallying cry against indifference and cold-heartedness.

The absurd amount of details provided help running the module immensely, and so does the flow-chart, though novice DMs still should read the whole module before trying to run it – this one is very much free-form in its flow. The true genius here, at least in my onion, would be the blending of the horrific and the absurd, of horror and comedy – and the optional nature of either. A competent DM can easily ramp up the comedy factor and make this module genuinely funny. Or utterly horrific. I ran this module twice prior to writing this review; the first time emphasizing a Ravenloftesque sense of horror for my mature players – and it worked perfectly. The second time around, I mastered this with a mixed group that contained some kids – and emphasized the fun and odd parts. Yes, there are some dark elements here, but nothing kids (talking about the 8 – 12-range) can’t handle – make e.g. the courtesan a menial laborer à la Cinderella and we maintain the message, but make the theme child-friendly – cosmetic reskin and that’s it. One of them surprised me when she mentioned that she had understood that fear of death can lead one to horrible choices, that one should instead do good and that the town exhibited traits of our own society – and that payback for such a behavior might come in some guise or another. Subtle themes, clearly understood – yes, this can actually be played as a morality play with some educational value.

Southern Gothic horror, absurd, but still exciting comedy or a means of teaching about the world – the module provides a lot of playstyles – and it ran completely differently both times I ran it, so it has replay value to boot! I *ADORE* this module. It is unique in every sense of the word and sports yet another facet of Richard’s capacity that sets him apart as one of the few authors who push the boundaries and raise the level in the art of adventure writing. And yes, this module, in my opinion, can be called art…or proper literature. It is excellent and while the odd typo here and there may be slightly annoying; it is mainly due to the exceedingly high level of quality of the whole book this catches one’s eye. Still, I implore you to get this awesome piece of adventure-writing. It is unique in all the right ways and acts as one glorious example of what adventures could be beyond rolling dice and slaying monsters. Highly modular, versatile and with replay-vale, oozing with details, this module once again receives my highest honors – 5 stars + seal of approval and since this was released in 2014, candidate for my Top ten of 2014-status.

Do NOT let this one slip by!

Endzeitgeist out.

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Apr 092015
 

aasimarBy Endzeitgeist

This installment of the advanced races-series clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

We kick of this pdf, as always, with first a general look on the race of the aasimar as a setting-agnostic race before receiving excessive notes on how the work in the context of the Midgard campaign setting. Both do have something in favor for them – the first in that it treats aasimar less like humans with a tendency for goodness and more like nephilim – including more pronounced escalation, the latter for providing a spotlight on the different regions, including Shuppurak, where aasimar roam the streets – still one of the cooler concepts in Midgard in my book.

So after this fluffy introduction, we receive 6 new alternate racial traits for aasimar – these include exchanging one resistance for fire resistance 5, turning gaseous form for 3 rounds for every 5 character levels (with a missing italicization that extends to all traits of that style), blindsense 10 ft. or other spell-like abilities – searing light and 1/day dispel magic, to be precise. Now both gaseous form and dispel magic are somewhat iffy in my book – while not per se broken, do feature one unpleasant issue, namely that they provide very early counter-measures that usually are relegated to slightly higher levels. Nit-picky? Well, perhaps, but only for as long until you realize what you can do with gaseous form and that it can’t be counterspelled in this instance. There is also an Eagle’s Splendor version that deserves special mention – while also suffering from the flawed italicization, it does have a unique representation in a light-emitting, rather unsubtle halo upon activation – pretty cool imagery!

We also receive 6 new traits, 5 of them racial (though they do not note this) and one social – One is particularly…well, let’s not say overpowered, but rather circumstantially very strong: Blood Moon Born gives you a free Maximize Spell 1/night when under moonlight of a full moon. This would be what I’d call the “controlled lycanthrope conundrum” – lycanthropy is damn cool, but as soon as you can control it and there’s no risk, you’ll try to match the power-boost with your adventuring; This is something similar – while situational, it is very powerful. I think a less prohibited restriction and a less significant power boost would have made this a better trait. Child of the Living God is also too strong – +2 to intimidate, intimidate is always a class skill AND a +3 (wonky; usually +2 or +1)-bonus (untyped, as all of these bonuses – that should be trait bonuses) against creatures with divine, profane or channeling abilities. +3 to what? Atk? Saves? Intimidate? In the latter case, does it stack? No idea what this trait is supposed to do, needs a revision. (And no, didn’t mention all types of wonky wording in these…)

We also receive 4 mythic traits – here, the wording, alas, is not better – while one can *glean* what the author means by “All animals and magical beasts with an Intelligence of 1-3 are automatically moved one level of attitude in your favor”, this is NOT how starting attitude wording works. The Mythic Calm trait is also odd in that it allows the removal of the cowered condition as well as the frightened condition, but does nothing against panic or being shaken – the trait ignores negative condition hierarchy – an oversight? I don’t know. Mythic Mark falls completely off the rails in an almost tragicomical way – the trait allows you to generate a mark similar to a arcane mark, visible only to mythic creatures. This mark supposedly creates unease. The trait features this sentence: ”

All non-mythic enemies within 30 feet of your sigil are uneasy, whether they can perceive the mark or not, and their DCs on rolls to resist fear and Intimidate effects are increased by 2.”

Now I *know* what this ability *means* to do, but – read that carefully – as written, it would mean the creatures become more susceptible to fear AND harder to demoralize. This shows a basic ignorance of how demoralize works and makes it possible to completely invert the intention of the trait, creating confusion in spades. Urgh. Sensing mythic power is a cool idea as well, but one deviating significantly from how all comparable detection mechanics work – immediate awareness does not for a concise rules-aesthetic make here.

We also receive 4 new feats – and it’s a bit like a completely different author has written them – the overthrow-feat, for example, lets you use reach weapons to ground flying adversaries and does so with pretty concise mechanics – the mentioning of “stunning damage”, which does not exist, being the one issue in this one. I’d usually complain about the follow-up feat, which allows you to do that with thrown and projectile weapons, but the significant feat investment makes it somewhat work. There also are feats to increase your celestial resistances (BORING) that manage to not adhere to the same wording – while not wrong or problematic (and thus not subject to decreased rating), they are somewhat inconsistent – we once have an “increase by…” and once a “increase to” – yes, nitpicky, but that sort of thing does potentially create confusion.

We also receive no less than 8 mythic feats – granting DR is pretty solid, though one feat that specifically protects versus smite may be too circumstantial for many classes (unless the DM is even more smite happy than I am); Others….well, may overshoot their target goal; for example the very unfocused Angelic Scion: This feat (with moderate prereqs) grants you immunity to non-mythic poison and petrification, alter self at will, truespeech AND two slam attacks (no idea if primary or secondary, whether they follow the rules for natural weapons or not since they have a caveat “2 per round”…) and if you hit with both, the sucker on the receiving end has to save versus fort DC 25 or be stunned for 1d6 rounds. STUNNED. Yeah, I get the whole angel theme – still, that’s too much for a feat, has nigh no bearing on mythic tier/power, rules-wise, and is just all over the place. This needs to be broken down into multiple feats. Smite cleave, permanent amphibious template etc. may be strong and arguably, not very elegant, but can be defended. Beyond formatting issues, though, doubling your “first” (whatever *that* is supposed to mean…First attack? Smite’s damage bonus?) damage bonus (later triple and quadruple!) when smiting evil creatures. Ehem. I’m sorry, but has the author EVER seen what even a moderately competent smite can do? Even without an optimized build? If one class feature needed no upgrade to damage potential, it was friggin’ smite. +40, +60 and +80 to damage per attack via ONE feat. Not even gonna get near my mythic-adapted modules. Unfortunately, the other feats aren’t particularly inspired either, leaving me with not much nice to say.

Onwards to the archetypes, the first of which would be wis- instead of cha-using Celestial Rhymer. This bard casts divine spells and receives paladin spells as well and at later levels, they can spontaneously convert spells into healing spells, also receiving a domain at second level and even channel energy at 5th (though at least at level -4). Dirge of Doom is also modified – the archetype pays for that with versatile performance, well-versed and lore master. Yes. You heard right. I’m sorry, for I love the concept, but imagine me going full-blown Plinkett here and uttering “What were they thinking?” – so you remove any casting restrictions, add a bunch of spells from one of the strongest spell-lists (and take the spells, if they exist on multiple lists, on the lowest level), add channel and all the nasty tricks and spontaneous healing conversion as well as domains for THAT? Yes, the abilities taken away are neat…but they nowhere near justify this power gain. Plus: Wording issues. No, not gonna list ’em all. The Celestial Summoner also uses wis and once again, casts divine spells – seen that before in Will McCardell’s Celestial Commander, a powerful archetype one of my players uses, btw., so what does this one do? They may summon forth special celestials (with precise creature depending on HD) in a silent 1-minute prayer, with dismissal being possible as a standard action. These celestials adhere to pretty conservative healing rules and only one may be present at a given time – essentially, celestials as replacements for eidolons. While the ability is pretty complex, it gets rather close to working properly. It doesn’t fully reach that level, though. Celestial Summoners may only know, as mentioned x+wis-mod names of celestials to summon this way, with increased HD increasing the options available. So far, so nice – but do the numbers of true names known stack or do they simply increase by +1 when the celestial summoner increases in levels? Celestials are also vulnerable to “profane” spells and receive double damage from them. Issue here: There is no [profane] descriptor, not even profane damage, only profane bonuses. Unholy Blight, for example, deals untyped damage and channel energy deals negative energy damage. hence, this drawback needs complete rewiring. I haven’t even gone into some of the other issues here. At 18th level, 2 of these celestials can be in effect at a given time.

At higher levels, celestial summoners may sacrifice hit points to heal their summoned celestial allies and draw upon them to heal herself a limited amount of times per day. Here, a technicality is an issue – the wording implies that the hit points transferred heal the creature/summoner, when they should instead negate a likewise amount of damage. Why is this important? Because if damage kills the creature, it is sent back to its plane and can no longer benefit from the healing effect. A formality, yes, but an important one. The class also receives the benefits of partial apotheosis -which generally sounds like a solid choice – however, the “summoner’s racial energy resistances increase by +10″ – what if the archetype doesn’t have any due to not being an aasimar? There is nothing preventing non-aasimar from taking this archetype, so what about these guys? This is relevant due to multiple abilities using this mechanic and wording type. As a capstone, the celestial summoner may conjure forth one of the most powerful good outsiders – solars, animal lords, star archons – pretty awesome. Conceptually, a cool archetype, but one that does have some significant streamlining to do.

The purifier inquisitor archetype receives a 3/day scorching ray and a second domain for solo tactics and teamwork feat. They also receive a divine-energy only flame strike are and may summon a very limited array of celestials as a standard action. A pretty disjointed and boring archetype in y book – nothing special or interesting here. We also get two new subdomains, the angel (deva) and radiance subdomains, both of which are pretty solid.

Next up would be 14 new spells, most of which with mythic alternate versions and augment options. These allow you to polymorph into angelic beings, conjure forth magnificent mansion-like fortresses, receive a celestial herald to carry your message (or objects!), receive a bardic atonement (nice, though the DC 25 DC perform check at the end is ridiculous – any bard capable of executing 6th level spells should NOT have to roll to succeed at that skill check!), forced conversions for inquisitors…per se nice. Where things turn baffling would be with Hammer of Righteousness –this is essentially a copy of holy smite, which instead of good, uses lawful as the type. Know what’s funny? Order’s Wrath already does exactly that. Instead of causing daze, this one causes FRIGGIN’ PARALYSIS – no duration!!! BAFFLING.

A) Paralysis is one of the most powerful conditions in PFRPG – it needs a duration. B) There already *is* a 4th level spell called order’s wrath that does just the same thing, but *with* a balanced condition. This spell is condition-escalation, more sloppy than its base variant and generally should not exist. Kill it with fire. Speaking of yet another blatant and unnecessary escalation of power with worse wording than its original: Imbue with Divine Power – not only spellsharing, now also available for palas, druids and rangers (there is a reason this was cle/orc-exclusive, you know…) and it allows you to share channel energy as well – same spell-level, btw. Oh, and channel energy can only be used to “turn or rebuke undead” – which does require a FEAT in PFRPG. Baffling in its ignorance of basic spell-balancing with a CORE (!!!) spell (same level, MOAR power) and pretty basic rules-concepts.

A better goodberry that allows for condition rerolls may not be inspired, but is solid when compared to the rest. A mythic variant of the mount-spell is nice in general concept, but wholly geared towards aasimar, which it shouldn’t be – mythic power or no mythic power, no vile wizard should be able to augment a such a spell to generate a half-celestial mount… Summons with an angel theme and a bardic spell that nets a +2 sacred bonus to perform checks may be okay, but also boring.

There also are new magic items, all of them mythic – from powerful shields to urns that can store mythic power, the items here are solid and nice even, especially when compared to the rest of the pdf. One significant word of warning, though: I’d *STRONGLY* advise any Dm to be very, very careful when allowing mythic power-storing urns in the game and closely monitor their availability – let your PCs craft these things and all comes crashing down at high levels. Not perfect, but far away from the issues of the majority of the crunch herein. Now on the very much damn cool side would be the final 4 transcendent artifacts – these legendary items can bestow mythic power on their non-mythic wielders and are all intelligent. As artifacts, I won’t hold their vast power and game-changer-level effects against them – after all, that’s their clear intent. Now on a nitpicky side, how the interaction between the granted mythic tiers and existing ones of potentially different paths is handled is never explained and the item-type could use some more concise definitions in how their abilities interact with fringe-cases, but at this point, I’m beyond complaining about such minor issues.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is okay – there are various italicization glitches and on a rules-language level, the pdf falls on its face pretty hard. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ 2-column full color standard and the pdf does come fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork is a combination of re-used artwork, neat glyphs and the cover of KP’s awesome planar book.

What has happened here? I’ve read a bunch of pdfs by author Adam Roy and while he is not the most precise of authors out there regarding rules-language, I can’t really fathom what has happened here. The fluff and ideas herein are, as almost always in his writing, top-notch and inspiring and there are some true conceptual gems in here. I *do* enjoy the idea of making the larger-than-life nature of aasimar tied close to mythic rules and the focus on a more extreme aasimar-kind akin to myth’s nephilim is pretty awesome and I do like the concepts of the items…

Damn, I can’t find much more positive to say. The crunch herein is a total cluster-f***. Imprecise bonuses, wording issues, blatant power-escalation among spells, cloned spells sold as something new and archetypes and don’t get me started on the feats. If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume that this was the work of a total rookie. The fluff and often, the concepts herein – these are *awesome*, but balance is nowhere to be found herein and the crunch more often than not feels phoned in, like it cannot live up to the evocative concepts promised by the fluff…or like it did rule of cool everything. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for breaking the rules if it does add something to the game, but what is added should better be up to snuff. This is not. It should be noted for everyone NOT using mythic rules, that all components that do not suffer from massive issues are mythic. The sudden focus on the mythic rules, while thematically fitting, feel a bit awkward and may result in unsatisfied customers who assumed they’d get more non-mythic oomph, so caveat emptor.

Were it not for the items and the glorious fluff, I’d bash this down to 1 star, comme un beau homme sans merci. It is explicitly and only due to the great fluff and damn awesome concepts and cool item-ideas, I will instead settle on a final verdict of 15 stars, BARELY rounded up to 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Apr 072015
 

101_Swamp_Spells By Endzeitgeist

101 Swamp Spell clocks in at a massive 44 ages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 39 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

Unlike most spells, these are tied to the very environment – a rules-decision I like. After all, fiction brims with monsters and casters drawing strength from their domain (and yes, that happens to be one of the rules-concepts I pretty much love in D&D 5th edition), so seeing spells like this added makes for a good thing in my book. The pdf sports the swamp patron-spell list and spell-lists for ALL casting classes. So, essentially – these spells are potent, but when executed in a swamp (a term defined e.g. by virtue of ranger’s favored terrain et al., rendering the concept not alien to PFRPG’s rules and thus safe from my nitpickery), their potency increases beyond the otherwise existing combo-potential.

Okay, I can babble on for all eternity, but you’re interested in what I actually mean by that, aren’t you? well, let’s take a look at Acid and Poison, an 8th level spell that lets you target an object or point in space – said object thereafter becomes the origin of an emanation that transforms environmental liquids into acid that also poisons targets. Now if you’re familiar with making spells, this will render ALL alarm-bells a-ringin': First, we have a complex area of effect, since it does provide the option for movement of the emanation origin. Well, the wording covers that. Secondly, the save-sequence versus acid/poison is less linear than one would expect. Once again, the pdf manages to handle that. Thirdly, the spell relies on environmental liquids – a term that is open to wide interpretation…until the concise, well-written definition gets rid of all ambiguity. Additional swamp effect? Ruin and affect magical and attended liquids on a successful caster-level check. And there I was looking forward to tearing the spell apart…

Kidding aside, this is pretty impressive, since it takes just about all variables of a spell and does something unique and interesting with them, elevating this spell far above the default “yet another damage-spells” crops. This spell also renders one sample of the aforementioned terrain-based enhancements these spells receive. Other spells utilize a slight escalation of the potency of their effects, while others are indeed, completely dependent on the terrain – flying through foggy air saturated with high degrees of ambient moisture only works for as far as there’s enough of that around – upon leaving such a swampy area, it’s literally all downhill for the airswim spell – love btw. the imagery the name alone evokes. This, however, is NOT where this pdf is content to stop – Kin of the Moor deserves, nay, needs to acknowledged for its interesting mechanics. A ritual in anything but name, it requires the recipients to provide hair as a fetish for a specific bonding to a vast area. Now the most intriguing part of this base spell would be that the text actually renders a highly complex mechanic for area of effect extension possible, allowing for the slow, but gradual extension of one’s domain. All creatures thus bound not only see a significant increase in potency (and yes, this increases proper wording that manages to capture numerical escalation beyond the bonds of usual level-caps) while in their chosen terrain, they also can be returned from the dead much easier.This is NOT where the spell’s appeal ends, though.

Let me confess something. I’m pretty much bored with many types of vanilla spellcasting. I’ve simply read too many default deal xyz/conjure forth bla-spells to be impressed by them anymore. I shrug, move on and hope for some glimmer of the new. Now, aforementioned spell serves as the basis for other spells, allowing you to teleport established kin to your side via another spell. This may sound pretty bland, but one look at the level and the entwined mechanic unveils this as a) actually pretty innovative and b) interesting also regarding the inherent logic of conflict-resolution in a magical world. I am dead serious when I’m saying that a couple of brief reflections made me come up with pretty interesting stalemate situations and adventure-seeds. And these days, not too many spells or themes evoke that from me.

Speaking of interesting synergy and terrain control – if you read a spell-title like chill fog, you pretty much expect a bland numerical damage, perhaps some obscuring mist/fog cloud-duplicate, but, at least I, did NOT expect the supercooled fog to quickly escalate its damage potential, potentially even duplicating full-blown the effects of encase in ice. More straight-forward, yes, but even if you refrain from utilizing this spell in its regular way, the base mechanics can make one glorious hazard – just think about it: The PCs open portal X, crash cooling tube of super-golem Y and suddenly, they have to flee the dungeon from the spreading, deadly cold – and taking too long to clear the doors and debris will see them slowly freeze, the escalation providing ample hints at the unpleasant fate to come. Yes, I may like this a bit – why? Because it COULD be bland. It could be boring. It could be reductive and simple. It’s nothing of these, instead electing to be evocative, uncommon and inspiring.

Now the terrain-control spells via control fog and e.g. control bog remain in no way behind these interesting options in the rather versatile and interesting benefits they put at the behest of their casters. Yes, not all spells reach this level of coolness (pardon the pun) – summoning nightmares 8and later, cauchemars) would be thematically fitting, but also pretty bland. However, what about the protection from swamps-spell? It sounds like everything I HATE about environmental spells – I mean, what good is a cool locale if the PCs can easily negate all effects? Well, this one instead makes hiding in swamps easier as well as providing bonuses versus poisons and diseases. Bonuses, not immunities, mind you. While a humble spell, it once again could have run afoul of quite a few bad design-choices and instead opted for a story-enabler: It doesn’t negate the threats of swamps, it tips the scales in the PC’s favor. And it’s better hiding component can be used by a good Dm to send an experienced group into swamps beyond their capacity. “Yeah, you only have to save the townsfolk from the swamp’s inbred cannibal – be sure to not run into the black dragon while crossing his terrain…”

Hey, remember those nifty shock lizards? Those cute buggers with the arcing electricity that got TPK-level nasty in groups? Well, what about spells that make you and your allies shockingly good team-members, providing essentially a teamwork-spell? Yeah, neat! There would also be a spell that is very powerful called Spirit Naga Soul. This allows the caster to cast cleric spells of 3rd level or lower at the cost of a reduction of 6th level spells…and very exotic material components. Now this spell could be considered very powerful and indeed, thankfully, the pdf acknowledges this. So what it does to balance this is the requirement for nasty and costly material components. Is this spell for every group? No. But instead of leaving the DM in the dark about its potency, it instead finds a way to balance this and thus puts control firmly in DM hands. What about a spell that lodges a stirge-proboscis in the target, draining blood and potentially attracting living stirges in swamps…Yeah, these spells take quite a lot work off the hands of a DM seeking to portray a concise environments – where usually, one would have to remember the like or create synergy-effects on the fly, these spells increase the immersion by helping the DM with generating the illusion of a concise terrain and spell/world-interaction. Yes, the spells may at times be variants of already existing options – but they are NOT boring. They are not bland. They are superior, more concise and creative iterations. They are, essentially, closer to my own ideal of how magic ought to be.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a greenish variant of Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard. Artwork ranges from mind-boggling original to thematically-fitting stock-art and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

I did not expect to like this book one bit. It has ALL the strikes going against it. Yet another spell-book? Yawn. First time author? Urgh. Terrain-centric spell-book? Noes. I mean, think about 3.X terrain-books – cool hazards, cool effects, challenging ideas – and a bunch of classes and spells to negate all of that coolness. Not fun. Plus, I’ve read more than 4K spells for Pathfinder alone. On the plus-side, the book had Rite Publishing (with a nigh unparalleled track-record of decidedly non-boring, original and most of the time, superb pdfs) as a publisher. And I happen to be aware that author David Paul has academic teaching experience. Why is that good? Because academic writing (or software coding) isn’t that different from writing good crunch – you have a very specific set of rules-language, a syntax and semantics you have to work with, while at the same time being required to create new and innovative results without violating said parameters. And if the parameters hit their borders, expand them in a way that fits as seamlessly as possible within the frame of the presentation of the established rules-set.

I haven’t seen such a good spellbook from a novice-designer in ages. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that I consider the spells herein innovative and inspiring. I am also not exaggerating when I’m saying that I was rather impressed by the willingness to tackle difficult concepts and putting them into a tight, fitting rules-language without compromising the vision behind these spells. This pdf was inspiring to read to an extent I very, very rarely encounter with spell-themed books. Better yet, this pdf’s crunch is not only inspiring, it displays the required mastery of craftsmanship to back up the artfully depicted effects of these astonishing spells.

To my complete surprise, this pdf’s pages blew too fast by while I was reading the pages and actually left me craving more such supplements for other terrain types. David, if you’re reading this, please keep writing. I really want to see where you can take your designs -we need more pdf like this that make spells interesting again. Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Mar 262015
 

128921By Endzeitgeist

The final book for the first “Path of War”-book is 25 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD (leaving 22 pages of content) and is  all about supplemental content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

After a short introduction of the topic at hand, we delve into new archetypes for the Path of War- classes, so let’s check out the Judge first, an archetype for the Stalker. If the name wasn’t ample clue for you – the stalker can be considered a blend of inquisitor and stalker and thus gains additional options to use via their ki pool over the levels of their class-progression: +4 to bluff/sense motive, detect alignment and similar shenanigans, +4 to a save as an immediate action and at 9th level, they may spend ki to change a readied maneuver for another one they know and have it immediately readied – thankfully with a limit beyond ki here, the trick that only takes a swift action can only be pulled off  wis-mod times per day.

Judges also get judgments (1/day, +1/day at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter) – here, some problems have crept in: Take the “Bloody” judgment –  The judge inflicts horrible, bleeding wounds that gush with the deity’s rage. The target suffers 1d6 points of bleed damage for 1+wis-mod rounds. Unlike the regular inquisitor judgments, this one is ACTIVE and, as written, can be read as the wound materializing upon pronouncing the judgment as opposed to hitting the foe with an attack. A clearly unintended RAW vs. RAI -glitch and nothing serious, but still. The “Deadly” judgment’s text is completely absent from the pdf. A formatting glitch, probably. The other enhancements are okay, though personally, I’d consider level 10 a bit early to make attacks count as adamantine, but then again, this s Path of War, so yeah – within the context of this series, it works – especially, since the archetype pays for the bonuses with deadly strike and the related stalker arts. At 3rd level, instead of a stalker art, judges may choose a domain or inquisition sans spells/bonus spells according to their deity’s portfolio. At 7th level and every 4 levels after that, the judge gets a stalker art or may choose the new final judgment-art. This one requires one round of studying the target as a standard action.

On the following round, attacking the foe with a maneuver denies said foe the dex-bonus against the attack AND requires a save versus 10 + 1/2 class level + wis-mod to avoid dying. Yeah. Ouch. I know Path of War is all about amping up fighter potential etc., but insta-death attack available as soon as level 11 is…uncommon. While the assassin’s death attack has a higher DC, it also requires 3 (!!!) wounds PLUS a sneak attack. No way. sorry. There’s no limit on the insta-kill strikes for the judge apart from immunity if you make the save – for one day. This is arguably more lethal than MANY similar spells, declasses the assassin and needs another caveat – HD, something like that, even in the context of Path of War.

Blending and greater blending are replaced with discern lies and the ability to spend 1(!!!) ki with a martial strike to act as greater dispel magic for wis-mod effects that ALSO deal +1d8 damage per spell/effect dispelled. Come again? Yeah, the ability requires judgment to be active, but still – this ability would be strong even sans the bonus damage(or do I have to explain how to hoard ki?), but the bonus damage…urks. The second archetype for the Stalker would be the Soul Hunter – these guys recover maneuvers via standard actions or via their soul claim ability: Up to wis-mod creatures at a given kind can be claimed – these guys provoke AoOs when withdrawing from the soul hunter. Upon reducing a claimed creature a claimed creature, the soul hunter immediately regains wis-mod expended maneuvers. See this issue? Yeah – epic fail of the kitten-test. Put bag of kittens next to soul hunter, claim kitten plus foes, kill kitten if maneuvers run out, rinse and repeat for instant unlimited maneuvers. Broken and needs a HD-cap based on the level at least.

Claimed foes also suffer from soulburning for +1d6 bonus damage, +1d6 for every 4 levels per attack/maneuver. Soulburning replaces deadly strikes and works like it with respect to stalker arts – which may be fine and all, but at 5th level, all claimed within 30 ft. can receive the damage of soulburning for 1 ki. No save, no option to negate the damage. Combined with soulclaiming’s flawed mechanics, that makes the kitten-test even more failed, though the other ki-based options granted are admittedly nice, as are the option hunting-based options to scry on targets and scent plus better tracking versus claimed targets…though at 12th level, the class recovers an expended maneuver when reducing a claimed target – I assume this stacks with all the other ways to regain maneuvers, though the ability fails to explicitly state it and could be misread. The archetype needs some work to properly work.

We also get 4 new warder archetypes, the first of which would be the Dervish Defender may grant allies their shield bonuses and is less heavily armored, granting int-mod (also vs. flat-footed) to AC when not heavily armored. This ability per se isn’t bad, though calling it “Two-Weapon Defense” when no weapon in the off-hand is required feels a bit weird. While the archetype gets a damage-boost ability for two-weapon fighting and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the archetype felt a bit weird to me due to the hidden feat-tax that is heavily implied by some abilities – the archetype gets no bonus-feats for dual-wielding characters – which feels a bit weird here. Warders and the action-economy intense dual-wielding seem like a good match (especially with light armor thrown in the mix) and the general idea of extending the narrow focus of the class is great, but the archetype, as written, feels disorganized to me – the dual-weapon benefit at 15th level feels disjointed from the rest of the archetype’s tricks, seeing they don’t provide any benefits for dual-wielding and indeed more feel like one-hand/buckler-style. Not sold on this one.

The Hawkguard may use ranged weapons and bucklers together and replace access to iron tortoise with solar wind (including corresponding class skills) – beyond that, a threat- range of 15ft. around the character, excluding adjacent squares is interesting, though it doesn’t make sense with context to ranged weapons/tricks to attack with them in melee, though that gets remedied at 3rd level, so yeah.

1/day extending the use of defensive counters to one round is interesting – one minor gripe being here that “defensive counters” isn’t   defined term – why not just call them “counters”? Also, I’m not 100% sure what “Extending the instantaneous duration to 1 round” entails – Potentially twice the damage? Doubled duration of detrimental effects? Using one counter sans expending it on all eligible targets for one round? Some clarification would help here. Overall, solid ranged warder, though in need of some slight  rephrasing.

The Sworn Defender may choose specific wards to protect and may, a limited amount of times per day, intercept attacks on the wards and increase their AC and extend readied counters with a range of personal to adjacent allies. Cool bodyguard archetype! The final archetype for warders would be the Zweihänder (Just can’t write the umlaut-less version sans cringing…) Sentinel, who gets aegis-AC bonus when wielding two-handed weapons. They also gain access to Scarlet Throne in exchange for Broken Blade, may treat their two-handed wielded weapon as a shield for purposes of shield bash et al. The archetype also either extends reach by +5 ft. or make reach weapons work in adjacent squares and instead of aegis, gets bonus damage when using AoOs/counters. Nice one – no complaints.

Warlords get 3 new archetypes as well, the first being the bannerman, who gets AC-bonuses when using medium/light/no armor and wielding light weapon plus buckler/ranged weapons as well as three additional tactical presences:, one netting a massive +4 bonus to all social skills, one providing a fear-aura and one, at 17th level, allows the warlord to lend readied maneuvers to allies within 30 foot – which is cool, but does the ally retain the lent maneuver when moving further than 30 foot away from the bannerman? Immediate action boosts and bonuses for allies when in Golden Lion fit well with the topic of the archetype.

The second archetype for the warder is the Steelfist Commando replaces Scarlet Throne and Solar Wind with Broken Blade and Steel Serpent and if that wasn’t ample clue – unarmed strikes plus dodge bonuses make this one somewhat monkish, including some stealth-capabilities. Per se cool archetype, though personally, I think limited access to rogue talents/ninja-tricks in lieu of some more conservative warlord tricks would have made it even more distinct – still that’s just a personal preference here and won’t be held versus this archetype. The final one would be the vanguard commander, who loses solar wind in favor of iron tortoise, starts game with improved shield bash (and modified proficiencies) and gets a new gambit – when shield bash charging, allies within 30 foot can gain a 5-foot-step – nice. They also add cha-mod to ref-saves, mitigate somewhat ACP when in iron tortoise or golden lion. Heightened Defenses deserves special mention here – when using a boost, the character gets +1 immediate action to initiate a counter, but only 1+Cha-mod times per day. This can b a rather powerful option when played right and breaking the exclusivity of the immediate action as one of the most valuable action-types feels problematic. Also potentially rather powerful – free shield bashes with EVERY melee strike and EVERY counter versus adjacent foes. NOT a fan of these.

Next up would be 14 new feats – one making bucklers shield bash-eligible (also for the purpose of disciplines), one that adds shield bonus to ref-saves and touch-AC (the latter, I can see – the former is OP as all hell, especially seeing how the feat offers both in one package and ONE component of it surpasses similar feats…). There is also a teamwork feat that increases threat-range  for you and flanking allies by +1, a further +1 if both have steel serpent stances activated. While these do not multiply with usual abilities and thus are applied afterwards, an EVEN FURTHER increase of threat ranges by up to +2 is something that won’t be used in my games – high-crit-builds already are rather ludicrously easy and this makes it even worse. Speaking of broken as all hell – Defensive Web.  When refreshing maneuvers as a full-round action (lacks caveat for refreshments faster…), adjacent enemies CANNOT LEAVE YOUR THREATENED AREA BY ANY MEANS. Yes, allcaps. Acrobatics? Screw that! teleports? Pf. Withdraw? Please! A passive, unlimited refreshing can infinitely keep ANYONE in the area. This is better than ALL options to prevent escapes COMBINED. Broken as HELL and needs to die a fiery death, even within the context of Path of War.

Not all feats have issues, though – focus on disciplines, ending charges with strikes, temporary hit points for penalties to atk (with a one-round caveat, somewhat analogue to expertise/power attack) – nice ones. Ricochet Weapon, when used with a strike, nets the weapon gets the returning quality for 2 rounds. Serene Stride is also rather broken, allowing you to ignore movement and acrobatic penalties when moving through difficult terrain and even water as long as you have 1 point of ki.

Victorious Recovery also requires some clarification  -1/encounter you can regain a maneuver when reducing an opponent to 0 hp. What about non-lethal damage? Also: Fails the kitten-test. Does the feat stack with similar abilities, regenerating even more maneuvers or is the feat mutually exclusive?

It can be taken multiple times – does this increase the number of uses per encounter or the maneuvers regained? Both? Tactical Rush allows you to 1/encounter move up your movement as a move action. Utterly broken, even in Path of War’s context and suffers from the same multiple-taking ambiguity of the former feat.

Next would be the Prestige Classes: At d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 fort-save progression and +8 levels of spellcasting progression over 10 levels as well as 1 golden lion/ two of disciplines s/he had access to prior entering the PrC, the Battle Templar. Now this obviously is a divine/martial combi-PrC and generally, the idea is cool. Reach of the Divine, granted at level 2, is already insane, though – martial strike = casting spell on self or ally within 25 ft +5 ft. per 2 initiator levels, even if the spell’s range is touch. Worse, the cast is PART of the attack. Now remember -that probably still leaves the move action, swift and immediate action after that dual assault.

Furthermore, the ability, insanely powerful and utterly breaking action-economy also fails to specify whether the spell-cast provokes an AoO, though the wording “As part of the [attack] action” makes me think that no, the cast does not provoke an AoO – after all, regular strikes don’t. Even in Path of War, this is a serious power escalation. Other classes get tricks like that as a CAPSTONE. Even before adding further AC-bonuses to the ability at later levels. They also later get + spell level cast as morale bonus to atk for a  minute and can expend spells to regain maneuvers – or make allies regain them. At least that’s probably the intent. The wording: ” and may expend his divine spell energy to recover a maneuver of this ally” could have been more elegant and sounds like the templar can recover expended maneuvers of the ally, poaching in ally’s maneuvers. Oh, at 9th level all nearby allies will have unlimited healing via fast healing 5. Whenever the templar recovers maneuvers (which can be done infinitely) all allies in close range (25 ft + 5 ft.per 2 initiator levels) gain fast healing for initiator modifier rounds. Wohoo – unlimited healing – never again prepare heal spells, channel energy next to obsolete, no more healing potions/scrolls. This ability, even as a capstone, would be broken and needs to DIE. It’s literally INFINTE HEALING. Compared directly, the capstone which allows you to sacrifice high-level spells to net allies healing and morale bonuses is ridiculously weak. This is officially the worst PrC I’ve seen in ages.

The Bladecaster gets d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB progression, 1/2 fort-save progression, 8 levels spellcasting progression, limited martial maneuver progression- notice a similarity? Yeah, this one is the arcane equivalent. At 1st level, the PrC can ” The bladecaster may select one arcane spellcasting that he possesses;” and cast that sans arcane spell failure in light armor. What is “one arcane spellcasting”? A spell? ALL spells granted by e.g. levels in wizard? One arcane spell-list? Don’t know, though I assume the second option…

The PRc also gets a special stance that allows the PrC to sacrifice spells for bonuses – and this one is insanely powerful – damage-potential of the spells outclasses the benefits by far. Or so it seems – you get e.g. +1d6 bonus damage per spell level – of the sacrificed spell’s energy type if applicable OR, if not UNTYPED. Not even force, UNTYPED. You know, the damage- type you can prepare against? Now even slashing, piercing – UNTYPED: Urgh. What about

spell level to ALL saving throws? 5 x spell level resistance to ALL ENERGY TYPES? Yeah, duration only scales up to 3 rounds, but still. (Don’t get me started with cantrips, btw. – the class ignores them completely.) Then again, the class gets a martial strike/cast spellcombat- like ability – as a swift action, useable 1+ initiator-mod times per day. Which renders me baffled – does this override the casting duration of the spell in question? Is it in addition to the swift action/action required by the strike? Does the spell still elicit a SR/save etc.? This ability needs severe cleaning up and gets utterly OP at later levels, when it actually gets a REACH. Countering spells via initiator-checks may also be powerful, but at least the ability works as intended and sans wonky mechanics. As a capstone, spells requiring an attack can be used to deliver martial strikes – even as a capstone in Path of War, broken – no more range limits. All melee strikes on range. Against touch AC. Urgh. At least the casting still potentially provokes AoOs here…

The third PrC, Dragon Fury, gets d12, 4+Int skills per level, +1 maneuver at every odd level, +1 readed per day at 3rd, 6th and 9th and +1 stance at 3rd level, full BAB-progression, 1/2 fort+ ref-save progression and is all about two weapon fighting – less penalties, power attack as if main-hand for both (or even as if two-handed), repeated counters – all mostly cool. At 8th level, the class  gets a kitten-bag-fail ability that recovers an expended maneuver for every foe brought to 0 hp.(Insert Kitten-Bag rant again, plus nonlethal damage still not taken into account…). The capstone is cool, though – move 2x movement rate and attack like crazy. Neat capstone. The first PrC herein that I don’t want to throw into the deepest fiery pits of hell – this one’s actually cool. Nice!

The Mage Hunter, at d8, 4+Int, 3/4-BAB-progression, 1/2 ref-save progression and get access to spontaneous spells up to 4th level. Which they can cast governed by their initiator attribute – which is a blatant breaking of how spells are cast by any class. Int, cha, wis – can see that. I’m so tough/strong, I can cast magic? Nope, sorry. Admittedly a nit-pick, though. The mage hunter may expend spells as part f martial strikes to dimensionally anchor foes (which is nice, though aforementioned feat is better…), add damage-dealing dispel magic effects to strikes etc. The criticism of the former iteration of the simialr ability still applies here. There is also a class ability/stance that allows the mage hunter to cast spells as a swift action as part of a martial strike (see criticism above) AND not take any damage when making a save vs. an effect that has partial effects. That is a combined mettle and evasion. Mettle was broken in 3.X and has, for good riddance, not reared its ugly head in PFRPG. This is worse, even in the context of Path of War. Nuff said. The capstone, which eliminates the option to cast defensively, is the other nail in the coffin for this class – Knowledge  (Martial) DC 21 to realize it before hand? Nice, only casters don’t get the skill as class skill…Also: Hit point regeneration via SR and even granting temporary hit points. Doesn’t sound so bad? AT this level, your PCs will have At-will abilities, which translate, once again, to INFINITE healing, though this time “only” for the character, not everybody. Still, broken as hell, even for a capstone.

The final PrC, the Umbral Blade, gets d10, 4+Int skills. full BAB-progression. limited maneuvers and 1/2 ref-save progression and is all about a connection to the plane of shadow, increasing power of veiled moon etc. Which is kind of cool, though I’d suggest a minor re-fluffing here, if only to avoid confusion in planar environments that lock out cross-planar effects. Using wis INSTEAD of str-mod to damage is in this context fine with me -kudos here! What leaves me utterly baffled would be “Blade of Night:” As the umbral blade’s shadow blade becomes a conduit for darkness and shadow, he is capable of opening a dread gateway within his soul to cause this darkness to surge through him and through the open conduit that is his weapon. The umbral blade may charge his shadow blade with this power as a move action, and later when needed, he may release this power as a free action as part of an attack or martial strike. This hungry and chilling darkness inflicts cold damage, and Blade of Night is added to each attack that the character makes during the round it is activated on.” What the friggin’ hell does this mean? Does it change regular damage to cold damage? If so, is there a more convoluted way to say it? I don’t get, at all, what this ability does. Which is a pity, for the signature stance of the class rocks and is really evocative in its imagery, increasing its power over the levels into essentially an area, where it nets at-will blink (no italicization in the text), bonus HP and even turning incorporeal. One potential issue – the pyramidal way martial maneuvers are organized means that the changing effective stance level can lead to some confusion here.

Better stealth, hide in plain sight and shadowy apotheosis also work. Over all, another solid, if not perfect PrC.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are worse than in previous Path of War-installments, with more glitches and rules-ambiguities. Layout adheres to DSP’s 2-column full-color standard and the pdf utilizes stock art that is thematically-fitting. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, with one being more printer-friendly.

I feel like I’ve jinxed it. Author Chris Bennett’s last two Path of War-supplements on the Warder and Warlord were vast improvements and had cool rules, neat ideas, streamlined design. They were not perfect, yes, but still – they worked. And honestly, the archetypes herein do mostly a good job and left me generally smiling. Then came the feats and PrCs.

All right, to make that clear – I judge this pdf not by regular PFRPG-power-levels, I don’t compare it with fighter or, whatever divine being you worship or ignore, rogues and monks, but rather by the one implied by all previous Path of War-installments. The characters therein can compete with spellcasters on a damage-output level, while not suffering from depleting resources – which changes the dynamics of the game, yes, but it remains manageable. Most abilities are single target and somewhat restricted by atk, by a balance that may not be standard PFRPG, but it exists – good, that leaves SOMETHING for the casters to do beyond utility spells. The martial PoW-classes are a bit on the short-end regarding in-class variation, so adding archetypes = exceedingly good idea. In fact, I was utterly stoked about this release. Then I read it. So many failed kitten-tests. Infinite maneuvers. And then, the feats came. Want to know how broken some are? I can name HORRIFICALLY OVERPOWERED feats by Rogue Genius Games I’d rather allow into a 15-point-buy-low-magic-game than letting “Defensive Web” get anywhere near even a mythic game. This is not an increase, it is an escalation. Not starting with the caster/martial combo-classes that make the magus run to the next corner and cry his eyeballs out. Even if you just shrug at the power-level and think “Endzeitgeist is an idiot who’s just nitpicking and complaining” – riddle me this: Do you consider PrCs that can net a whole group infinite healing good design?

Nope? Thought so. This pdf is far from unsalvageable and indeed, some of the content works for me and fared exceedingly well under scrutiny/playtesting. That being said, this is still the most flawed of the Path of War installments to date and has ample issues that require fixing.

Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded up to 2 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Mar 262015
 

141630By Endzeitgeist

This pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD and 2 pages of

advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As always with Rite Publishing’s 10-items-series, the first thing you may wish to know is that you

actually receive much more bang for buck than the 10 items promised on the cover – quite a few of

the items herein come in a bunch of variations – e.g. a lesser, standard and greater version with

increasing power. Now another peculiarity established by the series would be that this improved

versions do not simply provide numerical escalations of bonuses, but instead provide additional

abilities, making the better versions of the items a whole slew more unique than one would expect.

That out of the way, let’s take a look at the items, shall we? The first item, the boots of jaunting, will

probably immediately end on the wish-list of any wizard interested in a longer lifespan – they grant

motes of movement, a mini-pool of 3 points per day. The lesser ones allow the wizard to use a swift

action to escape grapples or teleport into a standing position. The standard version lets the wizard

blink automatically away from critical hits or any attacks that would reduce the wizard to below 0 hp

– if the wizard manages a second save equal to DC 10 + 1/2 attack bonus or DC of the ability, the

damage is negated. The greater set also has the option for short-range teleportation. Damn cool

items that would be utterly op, were it not for their limited uses. Still pretty strong for the price point

(greater boots cost a mere 6300 GP – that is *very* liberal…), but that may just be me.

The next item, the Emerald Familiar, is pretty cool – it can be tossed to the floor (and reforms the

following day) and increase the size of the wizard’s familiar into…let’s say, nasty dimensions – the

greater variant increases sizes by 3 categories, including natural weapons, attribute bonuses, etc.!

Yes, that is awesome. Conversely, the lesser version, which is now included, just becomes a regular

sized creature. Damn cool!

The emerald of expectation comes in no less than 10 variants – one for each spell level and one that

can contain up to two spell levels. What does this item-class do? It allows the wizard to swap a

prepared spell with a spell of an equal level or lower (provided the spell is upgraded to the target

spell level via metamagic) from her spellbook 1/day. Generally, I enjoy this type of item since it

allows for an increased flexibility, without treading too hard on the toes of spontaneous casters – that

being said, I consider the frame of time required for activation to be too liberal – 1 standard action is

nasty. Depending on the power level of your campaign and the amount of spells your wizard finds,

this may be a nasty kick in the shins for spontaneous casters, whereas in other groups, this may be

just what the doctor ordered – still, DMs should very carefully contemplate the massive added

flexibility for wizards – remember, this allows for infinite spell-changing due to a lack of daily uses,

bringing wizards almost up to spontaneous casters in terms of flexibility! They cost less than pearls of

power and while they do not increase the spells per day, they have no daily limit…for most groups,

this will probably be too strong. (If you like the idea, set the activation to 10 minutes or 1 hour to

make them less useful in combat/stressful situations…)

Eyes of the Studious Failure are interesting – the more a creature saves against your single-target

spells, the more insight-bonuses to your spell’s DCs against said target you accumulate. The lesser

version can activate this once per day, the standard thrice per day and the greater one always

triggers it.

Gloves of the Ray allow you to increase the range of spells with a range of touch to close as per the

Reach Spell feat a limited amount of times per day, but they now require ranged touch attacks. The

different item qualities denote the spell level at which these items cap – lesser can cast up to 3rd,

standard up to 6th and greater up to 9th level spells this way. Additionally, the gloves can 3/day as an

immediate action completely negate an incoming ray, with the max level of the incoming ray

following the same formula. Designer Steven D. Russell has eliminated all prior ambiguities – now

these gloves work properly and rock!

The Mantle of the Schoolmaster doubles the duration of the 8th level wizard school class feature,

while diviners and scryers may 1/day spontaneously convert a spell into a divination (scrying) spell of

equal level or lower. Cool item that enhances one of the few truly iconic wizard tricks – kudos!

The Robe of the Schooled instead allows activation of the 1st level school ability as a swift action or

temporarily extend a continuous 1st level school ability to an ally within 30 ft. as an immediate

action.

The Wizard’s Battered Hat is high in concept and imagery-wise – it acts as a handy haversack for

spellbooks only. Additionally, once per day, the wizard identifies a spell from his spell-list being cast

(here at DC 15 + double spell-level), the spell is automatically inscribed in the book without cost or

space required in the spellbook. Before, this lacked a daily limit -with it, it is a pretty nice, cool item!

Wizard’s Journeymen Rings allow for the 1/day reroll of d20-rolls, with lesser applying only to

concentration, higher ones also applying to caster level checks, failed melee/ranged touch attacks

and dispel-checks.

The pdf also provides a minor artifact/legacy item with Alymmanthar, “the Dire Wand” – to give you a

brief run-down: legacy items are specific items that grow in power with your character level, increase

their potency thus and require specific tasks to become better. Their chosen wielder senses an omen.

This item has been crafted by some of the legends of Questhaven from a new special material and

sports generally some nice abilities that involve dampening magic items, high jacking them and yes,

even golems, as well as dire magic item related curses. Better yet – the wording of this cool, complex

item has been streamlined to be easier to grasp.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting of the revised edition of this pdf are neat – I noticed no rules-relevant glitches

survive the purge. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s 2-column full-color standard. The pdf comes

with nice full-color artworks I haven’t seen before and is fully bookmarked for your convenience, in

spite of its short size.

Steven D. Russell can craft superb crunch – I never doubted that. But thatis something quite a few

(though by far not “many”) authors can do. Where he excels, though, is in capturing high-concept,

iconic imagery and representing said material in tight rules-representations: There aren’t many books

I review that tend to make me grin feral smiles as often as Rite Publishing books.

Now there is another reason I thoroughly respect Rite Publishing – Steven cares about quality. If a pdf

(like this one’s first iteration) has glitches, he fixes it. The first iteration of this pdf was nice, but had

some issues. It is a small, inexpensive pdf and I wouldn’t have been surprised, had it not been fixed.

Well, it was. The issues are gone, the new writing is concise and improves even my nitpicks. This is

customer service…AND it renders this pdf the cool book it deserves to be. Now on the nitpicky side, I

consider the emeralds as an item class too strong for all but the most high fantasy of games (or those

where players never want to play spontaneous casters in the first place), but that is just about all of

the negativity I can muster towards this cool pdf. The items herein are glorious, interesting and often

downright inspired. My final verdict for this revised edition will hence clock in at 5 stars!

Endzeitgeist out.

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