By Thilo Graf
This pdf from 4 Winds Gaming is 82 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisements, 1 page blank inside back cover and 1 page back cover, leaving 74 pages of content.
The pdf kicks off by 2 pages of introduction on both the book and the nature of violence, which are both a good read and a nice overview of the topic at hand.
After a short overview of strategy and the cultures of the standard races is followed by alternate class features for the different classes: We get serene barbarians (a great concept!), a tree of violent performances for bards, clerics can change domains for extra energy slots, druids can exchange trackless step for creating a trapped path, fighters can gain bonded animals, monks a climb speed, paladins can get spell-like abilities, rangers orisons, rogues can exchange evasion for spell-resistance. Sorcerers and Wizards get the only alternate features I’m not totally into – Essentially, you can play a sorcerer that is a bit more wizardry for a sacrifice of their bloodline and you can play a more soceror-like wizard if you sacrifice arcane school. I didn’t like these choices, because they undo the additional distinctive quality of the classes, but if you were bugged by these innovations in PFRPG, go ahead, here are the options. (6 pages)
Then, we’re right into class variants and the part kicks off with a bang: The one-level modular apprentice-class for "multiclass"-characters just KICKS ASS. Seriously, this class with its selection of abilities depending on the aspired class combo is just brilliant. Due to being released before the APG, we unfortunately don’t get support for these classes, though. I’d love an update or a treatment of them in a potential sequel. *Nudge nudge* Bards FINALLY get some love in this section: We get the schooled bard variant class, which is nice, and 5 cool wholly new bardic schools: Mesmerizing, Minstrel, Rousing, Sentry, Warchant. (10 pages)
Next on the platter are PrCs:
- Armour Bonded: d10, good BAB, medium Fort save, 2+Int skills: This class fuses with its armour, losing some part of its humanity. Cool concept, balanced class.
- Blood Caster: d6, bad BAB, medium Will save, 2+Int skills: This class can sacrifice Hp to gain blood points and use them to power spells. I love the concept of blood magic and thus know a versions of the sanguine caster, but this one, while mechanically solid, didn’t excite me.
- Butcher: d8, medium BAB, medium Fort save, 4+Int skills: A class focused on the new severing limbs-mechanic. More on this later.
- Crowd Displeaser: d8, medium BAB, medium Ref and Will saves, 6+ Int skills: Cool class focused on annoying enemies. Nice class to piss PCs or NPCs off.
- Daredevil: d8, medium BAB, medium Fort and Ref saves, 4+Int skills: Unarmed, fast combatant, can choose from 7 special maneuvers. Nice class, but I would have loved to see more manoeuvres.
- Expert Fighter: d10, good BAB, medium Fort save, 2+ Int skills: This 3 level class is restricted to people with only combat feats and grants a bonus feat per level.
- Holy Striker: d8, medium BAB, medium Fort and Will save, 2 +Int skills: Cleric/Fighter-like class focused on praying etc.
- Ioun Angel: d6, medium BAB, medium Will save, 4+Int skills: Cool catser-class that can use additional Ioun Stones to circle aroun body parts, granting bonuses to abilities depending on the body part.
- Jinx: d8, medium BAB, medium Will save, 3 levels of the 10 don’t get spell-advancement, 4+ Int skills: One of the coolest PrCs I’ve seen in quite a while: This class gets an aura of bad luck, their curse getting stronger with the levels and later even a certain person immune to the curse. This class is rife with roleplaying potential and is just plain awesome.
- Land Shark: d10, good BAB, medium Fort and Will saves, 4+Int skills: A VERY niche class, this one gets an air-breathing shark as an animal companion and several shark-abilities and even Wild shape. No spell-progression, though, making this class more suitable for Rangers/Fighters/etc. than for Druids.
- Monster Within: d6, bad BAB, medium Fort and Will saves, one level does not gain spell-casting progression, 2+Int skills: This class is a great twist on the Jekyll/Hyde-trope with the transformation being triggered by casting magic. Depending on the level cast, the transformation becomes more powerful. While this class is dependent on book-keeping, I love it.
- Pikeman: d10, good BAB, medium Fort save, 2+ Int skills: A great class for the underrepresented spear-fighter – I love it and it made me immediately want to play one.
- Righteous Rager: d10, good BAB, medium Fort and Will saves, full casting progression, 4+Int skills: Barbarian/Cleric-combi class.
- Roughhouse: d10, good BAB, medium Fort save, 4+ Int skills: An expert bar fighter class. Cool one for the one dirty fighter who kicks out the drunks, the legend in the seedy bars etc. I wouldn’t play this in a campaign not focused on urban adventuring, though. It comes with a table for improvised weapons, which is nice.
This section takes up 27 pages.
Chapter 3 contains 56 new feats, some of which expand upon new combat manoeuvres presented in a later chapter. Others expand upon spell-casting (improving range at the expense of caster levels etc.), one lets you treat your levels for the purpose of one spell as spell-casting levels. My favorites, though, are the ones that expand on fighting styles: Want to headbutt enemies? Twist the knives in your enemies, fire bows while wielding melee weapons, also attack with your off-hand weapon as a standard action etc. The feats are all well-balanced, cool and fit some niche. I’ve rarely seen such a big collection of feats in which I didn’t at least consider one over-or underpowered. Nice work!
We also get 21 new spells, of which several are centered on the severing limbs mechanic. In contrast to the feats, though, the spells didn’t really make me yell with excitement. Perhaps due to being pampered by RiP’s 101-series. The whole chapter 3 is 14 pages long.
Chapter 4 (6 pages) introduces new tactical manoeuvres:
- Choking Strike: Choke enemies. Nice manoeuvre.
- Sever: I have a lot of problems with this one. The save to avoid losing the limb in question is the CMB-roll, which is HIGH. Additionally, the attack DEALS NO DAMAGE. Yep. Severing limbs DEALS NO DAMAGE. That’s just wrong. While I get the mechanical balance reasons for this decisions, I think it’s a) too easy to sever limbs and b) not dealing damage is just wrong. While I love the idea of the manoeuvre (I’m all for gritty play-styles after all!), this one just doesn’t do it for me. Thus, also the feats, the PrC and the spells using this mechanic just don’t do it for me.
- Throat Threat: A blade to the throat, the fantasy-equivalent of the Mexican stand-off, this manoeuvre rocks.
8 kinds of Off-hand tactics, special manoeuvres for when you have one hand free, are also presented. i loved them and would love to see more of these minor manoeuvres.
Finally, this chapter includes all the information for the penalties when you lose a limb. Great and useful information, even if you don’t use the sever mechanics.
The final chapter contains the narrator of this book, Flynn Dielle (fighter 10, bard 5 CR 14) as well as a reprint of the prosthetics-section from 4-Winds Luven Lightfinger’s book. (9 pages)
Layout adheres to the two-column-standard, artwork is b/w and classic in style and e.g. all the PrCs get their own artwork. Editing is top-notch and I didn’t notice any typos or editing glitches. The snarky and snide comments of Flynn make an otherwise dry and crunch-heavy book a great read and while some PrCs didn’t strike my fancy, they are all well-designed and some just plain rock. The apprentice-class is a stroke of genius and the variant class features are cool and well-designed. On the downside, the spells, while not bad, left me absolutely unimpressed and the sever-limbs-mechanic is terrible in my opinion. This book is about options, though, and thus I’ll just ignore these and use the rest. The book sets out to make fighters smart and succeeds in this endeavour. More importantly, though, this book also avoids power-creep and still offers interesting and cool options. Due to me not liking some mechanics and the spells, I’ll refrain from giving the full 5 stars and instead settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
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