Review – Westbound
This massive expansion book for the Pure Steam steampunk toolkit/setting clocks in at 165 pages,1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 156 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
Beyond the confines of the Federated States, there exist two general “peoples”, nations if you will – or rather, cultural entities – the first of these would be the Mesocine, who are distinguished between Manrik lizardfolk and Zaurto kobolds. The former get +2 Str and Con, -2 Int, a primary bite attack that deals 1d4 piercing damage (kudos for codifying this properly beyond the basics!), hold breath, a swim speed of 15 ft., two primary claw attacks at 1d4 slashing and 1/day, when taking damage, they can fly into a frenzy, doubling their racial attribute bonuses, but also suffer -2 to AC while frenzying. Whenever one of their readied actions is triggered, they can move up to half their speed as a free action, which is a rather potent ability. As a bit of a drawback, they take a -4 penalty to saves vs. cold spells and effects and upon failing a save, they are staggered, making for a viable Achilles heel. However, they can survive 4 times as long as a human before beginning to starve. Additionally, poisons have their onset time doubled and duration halved, with poisons sans onset times gaining an onset time of 1 round.
There are 4 alternate racial traits, one of which replaces the readying and frenzy with a lame +2 to Ride and Handle Animal (bonus type’s correct, though!), a climb speed of 20 ft. in exchange for the swimming and holding breath. Instead of frenzy and being cold-blooded, some can have ferocity. Finally, there is the option to share pain instead of frenzy, allowing for the limited sharing of damage as non-lethal damage with willing nearby allies. This is problematic, considering that more damage can be shared when more of these guys are around – the damage shared is converted to nonlethal, which can potentially be exploited with some combos – it’s not an easy scenario to set up, though.
The zaurto kobolds get +2 Dex and Int, -4 Str, are Small, have a movement rate of 30 ft., low-light vision, +2 to Craft (traps), Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Perception and both Craft (traps) and Stealth are always class skills. They get resistance 5 to an energy type corresponding to their draconic ancestry. Zaurto with a Charisma of 11 or higher can cast charm animal 1/day as a SP, but may only affect reptilian creatures. They can trade low-light vision for darkvision 60 ft. and light sensitivity. the skill-bonuses for a detachable tail that can be used to force a crit confirmation roll to be rerolled (and which takes a few days to regrow, depending on Constitution) or for gliding wings.
The second group/cultural entity wold be the rageaic, which is the catch-all for goblinoids. Bugbears gain +4 Str, -2 Dex and Int, making them very lopsided in that department. They are slow and steady, have darkvision 60 ft., +1 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +1 natural armor (and are immune to exposure from cold climates – which is pretty strong in some campaigns) and they gain a +4 bonus to Constitution checks and Fortitude saves to avoid fatigue and exhaustion. They also get +4 to Intimidate and +1 to attack rolls versus orcs and dwarves. 1/day, when reduced below 0 hit points but not killed, they can continue fighting for 1 round – in order to avoid exploits there, the ability has a 1/day caveat. Alternate racial traits focus on +2 to Ride/Climb and CMD vs. bull rush and trip, +2 to break objects and sunder or a bite attack.
The rageaic goblin is similarly lopsided, with +4 Dex, -2 Str and Cha. They are Small, have a 30 ft. movement rate, +1 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +2 to saves versus fear effects and they ignore the size penalty to Intimidate. They can eat a lot and get +4 to Survival rolls to scavenge food and to saves to resist the nauseated and sickened conditions. Gaining two favored classes is also part of the deal. Among the alternate racial traits, we gain a +3 to Craft (alchemy) and Knowledge (engineering) option; +1 to disarm and trip (and whip proficiency); +2 to Survival and saves versus diseases or, finally +2 to Acrobatics and always falling on your feet, rather than prone.
The rageaic hobgoblin gets +2 Con and Cha, darkvision 60 ft., +2 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +2 to Diplomacy and Bluff (and they don’t worsen attitudes when failing Diplomacy), +2 to combat maneuver rolls with light or heavy blades and they are all proficient with longswords, rapiers, short swords and treat bastard swords as martial weapons. As alternate traits, they can choose +4 Intimidate; +2 to Appraise, Craft and Profession regarding metals (and the knowledge to make wootz steel), +1 to DCs for spells and SPs of enchantment effects (and 1/day charm person as an SP 1/day, if their Cha is 15 or higher). Finally, the last trait nets a martial weapon proficiency and imposes a -2 penalty to resist Cha-based skills for 24 hours after the hobgoblin has successfully used Diplomacy.
None of these races comes with their own age, height and weight table or FCOs, btw. – you’ll have to refer to the standards here and the new classes herein or in Pure Steam get no support in that regard either. Now, I mentioned Wootz steel – it’s a new material that, weirdly, is located here instead of the equipment section. A weapon forged from this material ignored half of an item’s hardness, provided the hardness of the object is lower than that of the wootz steel. These weapons are also more resilient to being sundered, just fyi. While somewhat costly, the material is pretty OP – all magical enhancements to it have their costs reduced by 25% the first time it’s enchanted. still, considering te moderate price, this makes the material universally better (and cheaper) for all but the most inexpensive of magical items…OP.
The first new class featured in the book would be the marshal, who must be lawful, gets 4 + Int skills per levels, good Fort- and Will-saves, full BAB-progression and proficiency with simple weapons and firearms as well as longsword, rapier, sap, short sword and whip as well as light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. They begin play with a badge that can be replaced as a masterwork tool and nets +2 to Diplomacy and Intimidate as well as a firearm. They can purchase mundane firearms and ammo at 10% (!!) of the regular cost and the official channels may reduce the cost of enhancement by 25%, but extend the time the process takes. This ability makes the excessively expensive firearms more affordable at lower levels. 2nd level nets the ability to use Perception to follow tracks and adds +1/2 class level to follow tracks. At 2nd level, the marshal may also pronounce, as a move action, a legal warrant upon a humanoid creature he can see. If the marshal has sufficient evidence, the marshal gains a +2 bonus to a wide variety of skills, the DC of his round-up ability used against the target and this extends to atk and damage. These bonuses btw. scale at 6th, 11th and 16th level and, starting at 10th level, the marshal may pronounce a warrant on a whole group or organization.
At 3rd level, the marshal chooses a nation, in which he is acknowledged as legal authority and thus gains further social skill bonuses as well as a variety of special actions that represent his status as a representative of the law: he may imprison targets, enter places and requisition ever increasing resources: First gear and later even personnel or land. I really liked the class codifying stringently these privileges. Now, I already mentioned round up: Starting at 4th level, the marshal can elect to deal nonlethal damage without the regular penalties, adding bonus damage when choosing to do so, as well as reducing the target’s speed by half on a failed save. At 8th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the bonus damage increases and the marshal gets a condition to temporarily apply to the target in lieu of the reduced movement rate. 6th level allows for the limited sharing of the warrant’s bonus with allies and 10th level provides the ability to take 10 in movement-rated skills while pursuing a target. 14th level nets quarry. At 20th level, a warrant’s attacks versus the marshal inflict minimum damage and the marshal gets basically advantage when rolling against the target and auto-confirms crits.
The class also features player agenda, in case you were wondering: The marshal begins play with a marshal acumen, gaining another one every 2 levels thereafter. This include Amateur Gunslinger, with iterative taking of the acumen providing more benefits. Diehard (and not being staggered while in combat with a warrant), combat feats and gun training can be found here. Similarly, there is a means to track faster, an option to use marshal class features against monstrous humanoids, reducing concealment benefits, etc. The array also includes TWFing and combat maneuver enhancers. For the most part, like in the racial section, the book is very precise in its rules-language, though a few minor hiccups like “1-round-action” instead of “full-round action” can be found. Similarly, there are some instances that don’t sit too well with me – e.g. the application of two ability score modifiers to a skill is yet another means to needlessly escalate skills. The class does btw. mention the code of conduct and addresses traveling with problematic companions, but, much like the second class herein, it does not come with favored class options.
The second class within this book would be the tech savant, who gets d6 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, good Will-save progression, 1/2 BAB-progression and proficiency in light armors, firearms, simple weapons, double crossbow, hand crossbow, heavy and light repeating crossbow as well as any weapon they personally craft. They employ science via contraptions, using the gearhead/constructor list and using Charisma as governing attribute. The class may use Charisma instead of Intelligence to govern the techy/crafty skills and may use them untrained, with higher levels yielding take 20s once per week and then, day (6th and 11th level, respectively), and is treated as engineering for the purpose of archetype etc. interaction.
The contraptions, in case the class chassis didn’t make that clear, scale up all the way to 9th level. Contraptions, fyi, need to be prepared in advance and they may learn new schematics, unlike many Cha-based “casters” – I *think* the absence of a spellbook equivalent is supposed to signify that the class can only retain a certain amount of known schematics in memory, but RAW, there is no caveat that explicitly states that he cannot learn more. Beyond the already impressive contraption array, the class gets a Cha-governed pool. One of these can be used to enhance a contraption DC by +1; more points can be used in conjunction with a given spell, but only when used with knacks. At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the tech savant gets a so-called savant knack – basically the equivalent of the class to the arcanist’s exploits, after which it was obviously fashioned. These knacks interact with the contraption engine, allowing for points to be expended e.g. upon preparation to treat effect schematics as known schematics. Adding calibrations without affecting activation time, decreasing the final adjusted level, gaining an inspiration pool and some investigator tricks as well as some obviously based on exploits can be found.
2nd level nets jury-rigging via Field Repair and the option to salvage items. 4th and 18th level yield quicker crafting and reduced maintenance periods and the capstone provides the means to use the pool to pay for activation costs of contraptions. I am honestly not sold on this class. The tech savant is, much like the arcanist among the casters, more potent than previous pure steam options (even when limiting contraptions known) and the wonky bits in its engine make this the first class in the series to not really work for me.
The book also contains a metric ton of class options – and I cannot cover them all in the full level of detail without bloating this review beyond belief and utility, so, in a quicker overview: Alchemists gain new discoveries, including catalyst discoveries – these basically can be considered to be metamagic-like effects for bombs, snake oils, extracts, etc., adding e.g. sickened/shaken-suppressing to conjuration (healing). Only one such discovery may be added per base, thankfully. It should be noted, though, that a discovery can yield the bombs lost by the huckster archetype, who is a snake oil specialist alchemist, capable of bluffing and gathering crowds (snake oils replace bombs). On the barbarian side, an option to gain uncanny dodge while in rage (if you lose it) – like the Brave archetype, who gats war paint, a war cry and trophies collected. Decent, if unremarkable, from a mechanical point of view. Maverick bards get diminished spellcasting and a kind of alternate bardic performance called gunplay with 6th level providing a flurry-like additional attack when gunplaying (the haste referenced is not italicized properly, as a minor hiccup). Other than that, we have basically gunslinger abilities, using bardic performance instead as a resource…which is a bit problematic, considering how much more rounds of bardic performance the class has – this makes, basically, a nova-y variant bard/gunslinger hybrid.
Cavaliers get a cool new order, the lone star, and archetype-wise, a cavalier who gets a cool bike that can be modified in a variety of interesting ways – rather cool one! Chaplains get three new organizations, the first of which would be the mendicants. The mendicants have 4 vows that define them and allow for further specialization: The vow of the pure fortifies the chaplain’s body; the vow of the ally can cause targets to surrender and is pretty much the good guy/shepherd-like type; the vow of the unfettered represents basically anti-tech luddites and finally, the geirbound may only use magic from his own class, not any other sources, focusing on countering such magics. The network nets some rogue tricks and skill tricks. The Ulleran Trade Council chaplains are well-funded, gaining a stipend and connections.
Gearheads can gain innovations to add contraptions to weapons or make them work akin to traps and 4 new specialties: Chronikers get perfect timekeeping skills and may gain clockwork appendages or a clockwork familiar. Cryogenicists and Pyrotechnicians are pretty self-explanatory. The arsenalist significantly increases the damage of the 0-level effect-schematics and focuses on weaponized contraptions. The gunslinger may elect to become a desperado, who gets some Perform-bonuses, charmed life and a couple of unique deeds and uses Cha as governing attribute for grit. More interesting would be the gaucho, a knife-specialist gunslinger that should be welcome not only in terms of flavor, but also for campaigns/cultures that do not favor guns. It also gets a bit ranger tricks.
In spite of diminished spellcasting, the arcane gun magus archetype is extremely powerful, getting full gun/spellcombat/spellstrike tricks, exacerbating the glass cannon tricks of the magus with firearms. On the plus-side, ranged spellstrike carries a chance of spell backfire, which serves as at least a bit of balancing, though deed access at -3 levels and the whole package render this one too strong. The monk gun devotee is, bingo, yet another monk/gunslinger-combo with gun katas – i.e. flurry with guns. It is impressive to note that the archetype gets the interaction of reloading with flurries and the melee/ranged use of guns in flurries right. Quicker reloads via ki, using Wis instead of Dex, temporary darkvision via muzzle flashes…all in all, I generally considered this to be one of the better takes on the often-represented trope. The flurry is pretty potent, but considering the issues of the monk class, I get why the power-increase is here. Rangers may choose from 3 solid new combat styles and the wrangler archetype, bingo, representing a cowboy-ish ranger, makes for a fun option.
Cool: Rogues may elect to become hobos, who understand the hobo code and employ improvised tricks. The new witch hexes include options to increase misfires, grit/panache costs and the like. Doubling threat ranges for increased misfire rates is interesting and thankfully prevents stacking abuse. Similarly, hexes that influence contraptions make sense in the context of the rules provided herein and the base Pure Steam tome.
The book also includes basic, brief (and not too interesting, alas) rules for formal gun dueling or showdowns. The book also sports a ton of different feats – including calibration feats, which are interesting: Instead of just being somewhat akin to metamagic, they offer two strategic options: If applied during contraption preparation, all activations benefit from it; both uses require a higher level activation charge, but if spontaneously, the numerical effects are not adjusted to represent the increased level. Spontaneous addition also renders the contraption broken and takes longer, so while it offers flexibility, this is not something you’ll be doing a lot. The feats have some cool tricks: Aiming by mirrors, a nice feat-tree for lasso-combat, some contraption scavenging…and particularly dragging foes with lassos while mounted and the like are interesting. The feat section is interesting and fun and comes with optional variant rules for tackling targets.
The equipment section mentions variant currencies, bladed revolvers, harmonica pistols, rotary guns, bola bullets, hollow-point ammo, extinguishing grenades, dynamite sticks, liquid nitroglycerine – the classics of the Western genre. Weird: nitroglycerine deals force damage, which affects incorporeal creatures. Usually, explosions are bludgeoning and/or fire damage. Copper cable, alchemical fuel additives, chakram hats (Mr. Bond’s calling…) and services, from document retrieval to funeral services are all covered here. The magical equipment also has some stars – dusty equipment that can generate choking clouds, motocross equipment, de/consecrated bullets, double-action pepperboxes…what about boomsticks, magic shotguns that can be loaded with thunderstones to generate sonic bursts.
The artworks here deserve special note: The b/w-artworks for the special guns are absolutely amazing: The dead iron, made seemingly from a backbone, almost organic-looking, the hydra pistol with its dragon-themed design-elements – these are beautiful. As a minor formatting quibble, the text of the items does not italicize the special weapon properties in the text consistently. Cutting edge technology, from dowsing rods to metal detectors, are cool. However, not all are perfect: Healing crystals, for example, increase healing by 1d4 +1, whether natural or magical. All healing. Fast healing 1. Orisons. Not cool. Worse, the crystal does not specify how often it can convey these benefits, so I figure all the time. It also does not note whether it occupies a slot (which it definitely should). We also get some cool vehicles – coal cycles, rail layers, olmechs, gyro skiffs and ornithopters…and yep, handcars. The book also contains rules/clarifications for motorcycle combat and how it differs from Mounted Combat.
The next chapter depicts the Mazan pantheon and the Brelon archangels – with the write-ups being solid, but the deities lack subdomains, obediences and the like – by now standards for the game. There also is a decent, if unremarkable dream domain. Beyond all of these, the book also is a massive sourcebook of the West of Ullera, with settlement statistics and qualities summed up for your convenience before the massive sourcebook-y section begins – including a handy glossary. These sections also contain a ton of sample NPC personalities, often using rules presented earlier in the rules section. With the taan ocdrul draconic haunts, the disputed lands and their extreme weather patterns (hail fire storms, for example!), there is a serious wildwest of steam-vibe going on here and it is here, mostly, where the previous elements start coming together to form an atmosphere that diverges from the standard. Flashpoints, winged mavericks, the kingdom of Rausch, indebted to the highest ideals (funny for me, since in German, it is the word for being in an intoxicated state), halflings in steam-driven wheelchairs – there is a metric ton of great ideas.
Beyond these, the book also sport new factions, from the elite secret-ops airship Jormungandr to the desert wolf raiders, the Triple R motorcycle gang, these are also pretty interesting. The final section of the book is devoted to the bestiary, which covers creatures like the jackalope and giant armadillo or the sandtroll, ranging in CR from 1 to 6. The section has lists by terrain, CR and alphabetically and, with dire armadillos that can do the cannonball, the dread clockwork plague (which progresses in 3 stages), the evil cactus spirits khoyans, bull and loch satyrs – some solid critters here.
Editing and formatting shows some serious care: On a formal level, I noticed surprisingly few glitches. Similarly, on a rules-language level, the book is surprisingly precise and crisp, with only very few issues regarding the clarity of the material, even in the more complex rules-interactions. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the books sports a lot of gorgeous, unique b/w art of a consistent style, delivered by Mates Laurentiu, Alejandro lee and Rebekah Crowmer. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks, but sports no index, which is a bit of a comfort-detriment for a book of this size. I cannot comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the physical version of this book, since I do not own it.
Adam Crockett, Brennan Ashby, David Perry and L. James Wight have delivered a massive steampunk-wildwest-toolkit here. While there are a couple of pieces of crunch that I consider problematic, balance-wise, these remain in the minority – for the most part, this represents an impressive achievement and a must have addition to the game for fans of Pure Steam. I do bemoan that this book was obviously completed before Occult Adventures hit sites – the occult rules and Wild West feel very much like they belong together and I often felt myself wishing that some of the concepts could have benefitted from synergy there. Similarly, the lack of subdomains or obediences for the deities and FCOs felt a bit jarring to me. The new races also oscillate a bit in their power-levels, ranging from very strong to core race standards.
This book has me a bit torn: When it embraces its Wild West tropes, it really excels most of the time, but some of the options also felt, at least to me, less inspired than their concepts: The desperado, for example, has been done much better based on the vigilante-chassis, for example. It should be noted, however, that all of these are, ultimately, small imperfections. The book, in many of its rules, is more conservative than many of the options I’ve seen in my reviewing. When the rules are innovative, they hit a pitch-perfect tone, but the book does not maintain this level of brilliance throughout; personally, I wasn’t absolutely blown away by the respective materials -they all are nice, but don’t have these brilliant stand-out options. Don’t get me wrong – the crunch never becomes bad. This is a really nice book and brims with creativity…but, much like a ride through the magnificent West, it also has its lulls, where the landscape is less interesting.
Don’t let that keep you away from this book, though: If the idea of a Wild West suffused with steampunk aesthetics even remotely intrigues you, then this should be considered to be a must-own tome. If you enjoyed Pure Steam, then chances are that you will adore this book as well – this may not represent perfection, but it is a professionally-made, high-quality tome. It alleviates the dearth of choice for chaplains and gearheads and the new notes on nations and places are evocative and fun indeed. The book is roughly 1/2 crunch and 1/2 setting information and both are intriguing and should be considered to be inspiring.
Still, as a whole, the book left me smiling, but also feeling like its Wild West themes could have used a bit more emphasis. To me, this book’s flaws lie less in what is inside the book and more in what isn’t, when the new races don’t bring anything remarkable to the table and with a couple of filler archetypes, I really wished the space had been used for something more far-out. Perhaps that’s just me being the mythology-nerd, but I kinda hoped for a blend of themes and tropes from Native American myths and a bit more frontier-Western, if you will. Or perhaps kingdom-building rules for steampunky frontier development…something like that. There are so many cool things that could be done with the amazing base-line. Again: This is a very good book, but also one that left me slightly dissatisfied: The Wild West theme can definitely yield enough for a Westbound II. Again, this is me being nitpicky – this is well worth getting if the themes interest you even slightly.
My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.