RPG review – The Secrets of Adventuring
This massive compilation is 226 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 219 pages of content, so let’s check this out, shall we?
The very first component of this pdf would be Jonathan McAnulty’s Divine Channeler-class, an agent of the divine much more closely defined by the domains he chooses than a regular cleric or oracle would be – not only can they take some from the new meta-channeling feats, there also is an entry for each of the domains that specifies the way in which channeling manifests itself visually, audibly etc. and each domain gets associated minor and major channeling powers as well as special combat channeling powers. Not only that, but many domains actually provide multiple channeling effects for the respective domains, further adding to the distinctness and versatility of the class. Beyond all the feats and domains, we go one step further, as is appropriate in a compilation like this: Jonathan McAnulty has created quite an impressive array of subdomain channeling effects and released them in various articles throughout the issues of Rite Publishing’s free monthly e-zine Pathways.
For the first time now, these articles, also sporting multiple holy books, feats, spells and similar supplemental material to ensure your gaming experience with the channeler is as awesome as it should be, have been collected in one massive tome, collecting a total of 70 (!!!) pages of material for the divine channeler. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – it takes to reads to realize how brilliant this class is. Humble unpretentious and at first perhaps not to shiny or exciting, slowly peeling behind the layers of the mechanics reveals a take on divine agents and an alternative for primary divine casters that is not only a joy to read, but makes encountering servants of different gods (or even different orders of the same god) a joy and a more unique and ultimately rewarding experience. A great, humble design, now properly collected and compiled. The only thing I have to complain about is that I wished the feats were all in one place, the spells all in one, the books all in one etc. instead of splitting them up according to topics as they appeared in pathways, but that’s a personal preference and YMMV.
Right after that, we delve into the Secrets of the Luckbringer, which back in the day when the original class apeared, blew me away. Building on Owen K.C. Stephens genius framework utilized in the Time Thief, the luckbringer is the only good take on a “fortune’s favoured”-character I’ve ever seen, making the per se cool idea finally work by providing us a tricky, versatile and unique class with imho one of the best flavour-introductions Steven D. Russell has ever penned for such a pdf. The pdf also contains the supplemental material for the luckbringer in the shape of a version of the black cat burglar archetype, the 10 luckbringer feats released as a separate small pdf and a similar small pdf containing 10 magic items that work for any class, but work better for luckbringers. I’m at this point going to spare you the almost obligatory praise of the class that has featured in many reviews of mine when I needed to compare a class to the master-class of design, to the 5-star-plus-level – just let it be known that this imho is one of the best 3pp-classes out there right now and that in Rite Publishing’s “Secrets of Renegade Archetypes”, there’s a new archetype inside as well as a variant of the Black Cat Burglar. ‘Nuff said about this one!
Speaking of the first class of class-design – the following class has for a very long time been perhaps the single most ambitious class I’ve known in PFRPG – I’m speaking, of course, of the taskshaper. Taskshapers are children kidnapped to the courts of the fey of Auberyon –they are not the changelings, they are the replaced, groomed in the ever-changing realms of the fae to become an elite-force of deadly beings, constantly changing and evolving, for taskshapers may not only change their shapes – they may actually change skills, change bonuses to saves and even mimic combat capabilities and abilities they have witnessed, while also getting the powers to inflict destabilizing touches on the foes – oh, by the way: In the very first iteration of the pdf, the class lacked the neat and great fluffy introduction it now has. The separately released additional 10 feats that allow e.g. high-level taskshapers to rise from the ashes of their body as a literal phoenix have also been compiled herein. Oh, and if you need a good idea what a taskshaper could be: Take a look at the cover of this book! The class might take some keeping track on part of the player, but ultimately is a stellar and rewarding experience to play and with the feats now included and cleaned up as well as the expanded intro, the taskshaper has reached 5 stars + seal-level of awesome.
Now if you’re rather looking for a series of complex archetypes that are about battle control, teamwork and iconic and complex options, you might have missed the two “Secrets of the Tactical Archetypes”-releases by the two rising stars of crunch-design Will McCardell and Benjamin Rombeaut. Well, herein they are, again, neatly compiled into one offering that collects genius archetypes like the spirit-using Aetherurgist, the magic battery Magilith sorcerer (who can also leech it), the throwing weapon specialist Peltast or the benevolent circle warden witch – for the sake of brevity, I won’t go into detailed analyses here and instead point you towards my reviews of “Secrets of Tactical Archetypes I +II”, where I did take a look at all of them Suffice to say, I’m quite a fan of these interesting archetypes and the fact that they all have some distinct powers that truly make them stand out from the fray.
Now Gunslingers are one of the classes your either love or hate – I count myself to the former and thus welcome the inclusion of Secrets of the Gunslinger in this book, a pdf that originally provided archetypes to represent pirates, asian-style fire artists, gunslingers blending their arts with accursed hexes via cursed bullets and wandslingers for everyone who’d rather use wands than black powder. We also get new magic items, feats and a template to create an undead gunslinging monstrosity – Hell yeah! Speaking of cool classes and cooler supplements – the “Secrets of the Inquisitor” – to this date the most complex and imho best inquisitor supplement out there, thankfully has also found its way in here, providing not only a neat variety of archetypes but also GLORIOUS feats based on the stratagems of Sun Tzu/Zhuge Liang – these feats are especially suitable for solo-tactics and oh boy, do they make the inquisitor badass and all about deceptive warfare. Take these feats, read the carefully and never stop grinning. These feats were what made several of my recent NPCs truly stand out tactics-wise. They’re that good and this component thus constitutes another must-have in my book. While the supplemental material for the Magus released by Rite Publishing has also found its way inside this book and can be considered one of the finer supplements for the class, in direct comparison to the legendary inquisitor-pdf, it feels just like a very good addition – which is okay, after all not all releases can be strokes of genius!
The complete opposite, unfortunately, can also be found herein – David Mallon’s “Secrets of the Oracle” to this day remains the worst pdf Rite Publishing has released in my opinion and shows a distinct lack of rules-concepts, balancing and even unique ideas – just about any idea herein has been done in vastly superior ways in other sourcebooks and from ridiculous save-or-die abilities (pitiful amounts of damage, but fort-save or die? That’s not PFRPG-design!) to rays that blind on touch attacks sans save via darkness (disregarding darkvision and e.g. the ability of many creatures to see even in magical darkness) and abilities that simply violate central tenets of PFRPG-crunch design, the inclusion of this pdf in the book remains puzzling to me and actually hurts the book. Why the worst pdf Rite has published so far has been included in this compilation, I don’t know – while one or two good ideas can indeed be found herein, the overall execution is so poor that any sense of wonder at lotus-eater oracles is quickly lost in anger at the at best lackluster execution – if you get this as pdf, do yourself a favour and spare the ink of printing these pages out and skip to the next chapter.
Which is a great example of old material getting updated and not simply slapped together – when the “Secrets of Martial Mastery” was released, it was a groundbreaking collection of alternate combat manoeuvres: From creating openings and bypassing armour to going corps-à-corps with foes, we get a nice array of updated material with what at first sight might seem problematic: Inflicting e.g. the “paralyzed”-condition on foes is very strong, even if only for one round. However, requiring a manoeuvre, dealing half damage AND allowing for a save is enough to balance the options and make them just that: options, i.e. choices that can be viable, but are not overpowering. Scaring, exhausting and parrying are covered in these pages and due to the release of UC, several of the manoeuvres have been redesigned to work as a subset of options for the dirty trick manoeuvre, including low blows, tormenting attacks etc. There also are 3 new grapple-options as well as feats to avoid provoking AoOs – especially the latter is interesting, since thankfully we get a generic feat template called “Improved (combat manoeuvre)” instead of wasting space on x cut-copy-paste versions of the same feat for different manoeuvres. Cool decision and a certain distinctiveness is still maintained by the “Greater” feats provided as well: Here we actually also get feats that look similar in that they enhance the respective manoeuvres, but also provide additional benefits depending on the manoeuvre in question. Now if you want to play a trick fighter/mundane martial artist, then the “Master of the Art”-10-level PrC has you covered. A great chapter properly updated to reflect current rules-development, this was a pleasant surprise for me and represents the willingness to keep up the support for older publications – great to see!
Editing and formatting are very good, though I did notice a couple of editing glitches like a “mystieries”[sic!]-bookmark – overall, though, there is not an inordinate amount there, not enough to warrant a downgrade in any way. Layout adheres to RiP’s old rune-covered b/w-2-column standard with artworks being mostly fitting stock. The pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks.
I really enjoy the update the martial mastery-content got herein and I’m a big fan of both the luckbringer and taskshaper-classes, which imho are two of the best 3pp-classes out there and having their material collected in one book is a massive boon – more so true for the stellar divine channeler-class and all the supplemental material it has seen in various issues of Pathways. The magus and gunslinger options by Steven D. Russell ooze that peculiar brand of iconicity and eureka-effects that I’ve come to expect from Rite Publishing and the tactical archetypes have deservedly gotten their own rave reviews upon their release and established their authors as up-and-coming talents in the field. Oh, and then there is the simply genius “Secrets of the Inquisitor”, perhaps one of the best class supplements released for any APG-class by any publisher…
So all well? No. I honestly don’t get why the abysmal “Secrets of the Oracle” has been included – as mentioned, it is imho not only one of the worst oracle-supplements out there, it is infinitely beyond the quality of ANY of the other component pdfs that make up this massive compilation and the imho worst pdf RiP has ever released – and I own them all. If the design-sins of the original product had been remedied, if it had been redesigned back from the ground up (the only way to salvage at least some of the ideas) and then included, I would have probably cherished it – but taking this disastrously bad pdf on board actually somewhat undercuts the otherwise superb quality of the contributions herein.
As much as it pains me, with the minor glitches here and there as well as the presence of latter files, I can’t justify rating this pdf the full 5 stars, as much as I want to. I’ll instead settle for a dual final verdict: 4 stars + seal of approval if you take the abysmal 1-star-oracle-supplement into account, 5 stars + seal of approval if you choose to ignore the oracle and focus on the disturbing amount of stellar, excellent crunch herein. Sine I feel that the majority of awesomeness outweighs my gripes, I’ll round up the middle-ground verdict of 4.5 stars to 5 for the purpose of this platform.
The Secrets of Adventuringis available from the Paizo website.
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