A Necromancer’s Grimoire – Faces of the Rakshasa
By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Necromancers of the Northwest is 37 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 32 pages of content for your perusal, so let’s check it out!
As has become tradition with NNW-books, the latest addition to their roster begins with a short story after which we’ll get the new 20-level racial rakshasa-class. I’m an avid fan of the animal-headed, shapeshifting manipulators and this is the class for all the people who ever wanted to play one as a PC. Wait, what? Yep, you heard me. The class gets d10, 6+Int skills per level, good ref and will saves, sorcerer casting at half class level, scaling natural armour bonus and 4 levels sans HD. It’s the Green Hag from Secrets of the Witch all over again. The native outsiders do get DR, spellcasting, ability bonuses etc, improving detect thoughts/telepathic abilities, Spell Resistance and finally can even kill others with their latent mental powers at 20th level.
We also get a section on their height & weight, how they interact with the world and a lore section. The pdf also offers advice on how to handle the at-will-detect-thoughts ability, which unfortunately, boils down to a gentleman’s agreement with the DM and the assumption to tell the player when something important comes up. That does not solve the problem. To keep the class balanced, HD-less levels are included and furthermore, playing a rakshasa means no multiclassing until 14th level. When compared to Rite Publishing’s racial classes, that just feels inferior design – necessitated due to the power of the rakshasa, granted, but inelegant and inflexible nevertheless. The small niche of people who want a rakshasa-PC might like this class, but everyone else, even those remotely intrigued, however, should not be too excited to play this class. If the DM is willing to put up with the unresolved and potentially annoying/unbalancing detect thoughts-issue, that is. As you might have gathered, I’m not too excited about either the mechanics or the premise of a rakshasa-PC, but, oh well.
The next section elaborates the new caste-system of the rakshasas and offers a plethora of new kinds of rakshasa with different animal heads. Bandara (Monkey-headed, CR 5) rakshasas for example are associated with lust with all the dark tones the affections of the creatures could entail. Siyara (Jackal, CR 7) rakshasas, embodiments of treachery can alter themselves to take the appearance of any individual. The boar-headed rakshasa (CR 9) are covetous creatures of gluttony and can steal items and draw strength from their gluttonous escapades, even when consuming only mundane goods. The elephant-headed rakshasa (CR 10) are the scholars of the race, brilliant analysts who can find weaknesses in individual combat styles. The murderous crocodile-headed Bajul (CR 11) can instil his dread lusts for death in mortals via his whispers. The Rhino rakshasa, personifications of aggression and rage can also inflict their fury in others – why they don’t get barbarian-like abilities, though, is beyond me. The delightfully creepy spider-headed Makari rakshasas live to inflict pain and sadistically disable and then dismantle their foes. The vulture-headed (CR 15) variant of the race embodies cannibalism and death and thus can consume the dead to ensure that bringing them back is a harder task – even worse, they draw strength from it. The most powerful form of rakshasa in this mini-bestiary section remains the Ular at CR 17, though, getting poisonous breath, paralyzing gazes etc. and symbolize the cardinal sin of pride while abhorring deities. Snake-men that hate deities. *sigh* Where all the other rakshasas felt like they had something going for them, this one rather elicited a yawn, at least with regards to this motivation.
When all’s said and done, I was pleasantly surprised by this mini-bestiary – the rakshasas all had at least something going for them, a nice ability or two and come with a lot of fluff text, information on their caste etc., helping you present them.
Editing is top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches, though one of the bookmarks is called “Untitled” when it should read Ular (Serpent) . The used-parchment-look-layout adheres to NNW’s two-column standard and is functional. The pdf comes in two versions, a printer-friendly one and the screen-version with the parchment-look and both are extensively bookmarked. The artwork is stock and rather cheesy and unfortunately we don’t get artworks for the respective kinds of rakshasa, which usually helps immensely with monsters. Due to the very low price, that is kind of understandable. What is not understandable, at least to me, is the mess of a class the rakshasa is: No multicasting is a bummer, but as mentioned, I understand that as a design-decision (though not one I’m fond of). What I don’t get is how the plethora of mind-reading abilities are presented, but without a viable solution but a gentlemen’s agreement – otherwise, the game will GRIND to a painful halt. Often. Designing adventures for mind-readers can be fun, after all my own group has had a telepath for the last 7 years, but only if he cannot perceive thoughts constantly. Any artificial restriction, any way at all to limit the classes ability to x/day would have been a vast improvement. As written, I do not see a well-crafted class, but a detriment to fun for all participants waiting to happen, even more so than with the Green Hag-class.
The bestiary, though, is something: The monsters are well-crafted and their fluff actually makes them sufficiently sinister, devious and even downright creepy – here we can see what the guys at NNW can do.
How, then, do I rate this? The rakshasa base-class fails in all regards but the 1:1-simulation of playing a monster from the bestiary and thus I’d give it 1 star. The bestiary, though, is actually quite well-made and would usually receive a score of 4 stars from yours truly. The bookmark glitch is detrimental, as is the lack of pictures for the monsters, though. My final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2. If you’re in this for the monsters and don’t care about artwork, go for it. Otherwise steer clear.
Arcane Archetypes is available from: