105166-thumb140[1]By Enzeitgeist

The latest installment of the Wicked Fantasy-line is 27 pages long, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages ToC/prelude, 1 page cover artwork, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving us with a total of 21.5 pages of content for the Wicked Fantasy-take on Rat-men, or as they have come to be known, the Roddun.

So what are the Roddun? Well, much like Warhammer’s Skaven or similar origin myths, they are humanoid rats, ratfolk so-to-speak, which have emerged by means not wholly mundane or understood – when a dread plague scoured the realms of men and its cities, whole quarters and neighborhoods were sealed off to fend for themselves, while the bodies of the infected sent blue flames and a sickly sweet scent upwards to the heavens. Into this void of lawlessness and desolation, a new force emerged – from nowhere, much like how the Haffuns emerged, came humanoid rats that looked after the infected areas, showed compassion with the infected and thus, while neither human, nor part of the society, managed to claim their place in the poorer regions of their respective new homes.

Mindset-wise, the roddun see the world in a model of concentric degrees of kinship that values the closer circles more than any others and much of their unique morality is structured around said circles and the concept of gratitude for favours rendered, which is inextricably linked with another key psychological mindset, namely that of necessity and ownership. Much like the infamous race of kenders, roddun have a unique sense of propriety, much dependant on whether an individual needs a respective good: Thus, for a roddun, a poor man’s wooden bowl might be of a greater value than one among 20 silver spoons a noble might own: At least favour-wise. Beyond that, they consider goods that someone doesn’t need valid targets for the taking, resulting in plenty of potential for conflict as well as a devaluation of coins, since they provide no true tangible benefit for survival.

Roddun that have left their fathers and mothers to fend for themselves in the world are organized in so-called mischiefs, which essentially constitute gangs that act as a kind of law-enforcement and seek to accumulate respect with the roddun’s shadow society – thus sooner or later pitting mischief vs. mischief and rodduns in positions where they have to duel for leadership of their gag, eventually rising to the point where they can challenge an area’s King Rat. A kind of super-enforcer, kingpin or godfather of such an area, the King Rat is not only the big boss, he is also the person that will ritually end old roddun’s lives. Once they have become old and meek, roddun ritually grant gifts to all associates, say goodbye, list their deeds to the King Rat and then challenge the King Rat in a vain attempt of seizing the throne. Since such challenges are always to the death, the King Rat will fight his now old follower/friend/family member and vanquish him/her, adding the final deed of “Challenged the King Rat” to a roddun’s list of deeds.

If my detailed description has not been ample indicator – as with all installments of Wicked Fantasy, the fluff and narrative, its description and dramaturgy is awesome and highly evocative. Unfortunately, much like the other recent installments of the series, the introduction of the crunch also means a distinctive break – not only from fluff to crunch, but also from high quality to something, well… that is not. Roddun gain + 2 to Str and Wis, gains a mischief pool of 3+Cha mod points (and additional points each level, but more on that later), immunity to mundane diseases, blindsight of 60 ft., 2 natural claw attacks and a natural bite attack AND fast healing 1 that improves over the levels. Immunity to disease. 3 natural weapons. Friggin’ Blindsight. AND scaling ‘*%&# fast healing? Honestly, what have the designers been smoking? None in his or her right mind could consider this clusterf*** of abilities balanced! Even when compared to similarly broken options, this one takes the powergaming-cake. Never gonna happen in my game. Ever. Have I mentioned their gemstone magic, which is represented via feats? They make a broken race horribly overpowered, extending for example disease immunity to magical diseases, double the blindsight range and add a kind of photographic (not eidetic) memory and increase the fast healing even further and upgrade claws to 2d4 base damage and bites to 1d6 – which is just as well, since the original damage values for the rodduns natural attacks are provided nowhere in the pdf, rendering at least this ability unusable sans the feat as written.

There is also one feat in this book I’d consider well-made and that lets you make a hostile takeover of another mischief and thus is tied with the section of rules herein I loved as much as I abhorred the racial traits: There are rules to measure respect and essentially recruit businesses to become a criminal overlord or godfather-like figure and extract favours from them – sheer, utter brilliance, as is the scaling of infamy AND good reputation in one person via heroic and villainous respect. The system is great, simple and a potential godsend for DMs running Thieves World-style campaigns or looking for a criminal-style campaign based in an urban setting – the one downside being that the system as an integral part of roddun way of life cannot, by design and basis, be extrapolated to wilderness, dungeon or rural locales. How do roddun interact with people in the wild, for example?

There also is a racial five-level PrC called King Rat to represent aforementioned Kingpins. King Rats gain d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, +6 to fort and ref over 5 levels (non-standard-progression: Not cool!) and full spellcasting progression. Apart from the glitch save-progression, the class is rather cool in concept, gaining a discount when shopping as well as being ahrd to kill: They gain their class-level on “dying saving throws”[sic!] – what does that mean? Death effects? Also spells that would kill them via damage when they fail their save? Falling rocks? Haunts? Traps? The wording is unfortunately non-standard and rather ambiguous. Apart from this faulty ability, the ability to curse foes with the king’s wrath, making killing them much easier is a cool capstone. We also get two archetypes, the first being the Junk Wizard, who is essentially a take on a hasardeur-style mage (i.e. wild mage): these mages can actually try to cast spells of up to 3 higher levels than they would usually have access to by expending multiple spellslots and risking a fizzling of the respective spell or evena catastrophic backfire. Generally a REALLY cool idea and while the implementation cool use some minor streamlining, I don’t have too much gripes against this one and consider the archetype actually enjoyable. The final archetype presented in this pdf is an urban legend, the Skootzik – a class of roddun that serves as direct killers of the King Rat and are a variant of the ninja that use a gem-dependant variant of ki that is fluffy awesomeness and gain 60 ft. climb speeds. “See the unseen” is yet another aspect of crunch gone horribly wrong:

“This trick also grants the skootzik the ability to see on top of her benefits from blindsight.[sic!]” Ahem. What? They already can see, can’t they? They are not racially blind! They can see up to 120 ft., can they not? Plus, they get Blindsight. I don’t get what this trick is supposed to do. Again, the idea is great, the implementation crappy.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting can no longer even be considered mediocre, providing ample homophone errors, punctuation glitches, non-standard formatting, lack of bold items etc. –all-around failure in that department. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with a parchment-like background and the pdf comes sans printer-friendly version, but with bookmarks –to which the glitches btw. also extend. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I LOVE THE IDEAS OF THE SERIES. THE PROSE IS EXCELLENT. BUT: The last couple of installments of Wicked Fantasy, on a rules-level, feel like a frustrated novelist’s endeavour to jam a bunch Mary Sue-ish races down the gaming populace’s throat without care for balance or even ensuring that the content works within the unbalanced frame of reference of the respective pdf. Instead we get half-baked abilities that fail to specify the basic rules-coverage to make them work as intended, if not balanced, adding design insult to injury. At least this installment got rid of the annoyingly restrictive tables that prohibited races from taking just about all classes we had come to hate and loathe in earlier Wicked Fantasy installments.

Game design is both art and craft and while the embroidery of the Rodduns, the respect and reputation and mischief mechanics all work and are neat, the core of the product is terribly, completely, utterly flawed and in my opinion, broken beyond repair. DMs can use this race, sure, but as a player-race the roddun are far beyond the power-levels of even the ARG-races, which already feel a tad bit too powerful for my conservative tastes. Were I to judge ideas and fluff alone, this would be a straight 5 star +seal of approval-book, but the utterly broken accumulation of feats, flaws in basic ability, class and race-design as well as the at the very best horribly sloppy editing and formatting mean that this pdf can at the very best, in spite of its cool ideas and premises, be considered a stay-away-candidate. Due to the reputation-rules (which use no standard pathfinder-mechanics and thus have no chance to fail at what they are doing compatibility-wise) and the coolness of the ideas which help to offset a tad bit the horribly failed crunch-design and the insulting bordering editing, I’ll settle for a slightly higher rating than for the last installment – 1.5 stars, rounded up to 2 stars for the purpose of this platform due to slight improvements over the elves and gnolls.

Endzeitgeist out.

Wicked Fantasy: Roddun: Scourge of the City is available from:

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