One of the ways in which Pathfinder (nee Third Edition) is different from previous editions of the world’s most popular fantasy role-playing game is in the proliferation of mechanical character abilities. Whereas before your PC had comparatively little stats, nowadays they have many different mechanics that serve to define what they can and cannot do, from skills to feats to class abilities and more. However, most of these exist largely in a vacuum – while some may be prerequisites to others, few actually build off of each other, and they can form a collection that’s quite disparate in what they offer (particularly for multiclass characters).
It’s in that spirit of tying a character’s abilities more closely together that Misfit Studios has released Superior Synergy: Fantasy for the Pathfinder RPG. Let’s examine it and see how well it ties things together.
Superior Synergy comes as three PDFs, those being the main file, a printer-friendly version thereof, and a short checklist file for the various synergies. Ostensibly, this checklist (which uses a very handy alternating grey-and-white set of rows for each item, making them easily distinguishable) is used to chart which synergies your character qualifies for. However, it should be noted that GMs can make good use of this as a tool for denoting which synergies he allows in his campaign to begin with.
The main file is just over seventy pages in length, and has the technical aspects that a good PDF product should – it comes with full, nested bookmarks, a hyperlinked table of contents, and has the copy-and-paste enabled. These go for the printer-friendly version also, which eliminates the cover, the page backgrounds and borders (those being an off-white and a muddy brownish, respectively), and turns the few interior illustrations from being full color to black and white. I’m personally of the opinion that printer-friendly file should eliminate the illustrations altogether, though that’d usually require a new layout.
So what exactly does Superior Synergy present for your Pathfinder game? Simply put, this book posits that if you have certain prerequisites – be they of skills, feats, class abilities or whatnot – then you can gain an extra benefit. This is usually automatic, but some times will require a check.
The book’s first chapter deals with skill synergies. I need to take a moment to state, in the plainest terms possible, that these are NOT the same as the skill synergies from 3.5. For that matter, these are not even the same as the material from the 3.5 version of Superior Synergy. Rather, these skill synergies function off of making a check with a certain skill, and the check result modifying another skill check.
There’s no ambiguity here regarding what skills affect what, or how long the synergy check takes, etc. as the book goes into very specific detail on the mechanics (as well as the flavor of exactly how) these synergies use. For example, you can make an Acrobatics check which modifies (depending on the check result) a subsequent Climb check made to catch yourself or someone else on a fall, as you’re good at twisting and teetering enough to give yourself a bit of an edge…if you’re lucky. If you’re not, you’ve actually made things worse.
Feat synergy is, perhaps ironically, very similar to a section of new feats (and indeed, the book notes that if you think giving these synergy effects out automatically once the prerequisites are met, you can turn these into new feats). As a Pathfinder aficionado, I was quite happy to note that these prerequisites took into account the materials from the Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, and Ultimate Combat. So for example, if you have Bludgeoner (UC), Dazing Assault (APG), and Weapon Focus, you qualify for the Staggering Blow synergy, which lets you attempt to attempt to stagger a foe for a round. There’s a lot of great material here that lets you put forward a lot of feats that might otherwise be totally ignored (such as some skill-boosters).
For all of that, though, it was the next chapter that was my favorite: class synergies. Simply put, this section is (as I read it) one big love-letter to multiclassing, as it grants synergy abilities from having different class features. If you have the track class ability from being a ranger or inquisitor, and the detect evil power of a paladin, you gain the Track Evil synergy, which grants a bonus to tracking evil creatures. I really enjoyed this section, as it did a lot to make multiclassing sexy again.
The spell synergy section is the only part of the book that doesn’t offer several dozen synergies. Having only a half-dozen synergies, these are the result of using certain types of spells within one round of each other. Perhaps surprisingly, these are written with a more generic stroke, mostly combining types of spells that mostly lend themselves to fairly obvious combinations – here you’ll find rules for using fire and ice to weaken items, electricity conducted by metal or water, and similar things, though at least one (several mental effects at once can confuse a creature) takes a more innovative leap.
The last section of the book is crafting synergy, and basically allows for characters with a nuanced background to craft weapons with built-in non-magical abilities. If you can rage and have Skill Focus for Craft (armor) for example, you can build armor that’s painful to wear but as a result increases how long you can rage (slightly)...but only on a successful Craft check, otherwise you’ve essentially created an item with a slight (non-magical) curse.
The book ends with several pages of the checklist I mentioned at the beginning, something that seems redundant, as the file is already included separately.
Overall, I found Superior Synergy: Fantasy PFRPG Edition to be an expansive book of great options for your characters. Having said that, there are some concerns that I’d want to thoroughly weigh before I used it in my game. For one thing, the synergies that require an extra roll can slow down game-play, though I do appreciate that these are the synergies that aren’t guaranteed to be an extra boost for characters. By contrast, the always-active synergies are faster, but mean that PCs will automatically receive a power bump…though even that’s controllable if you decide to make some of these into feats, or just disallow certain synergies altogether.
It’s that modularity that, I think, really puts this book over the top. There are so many options here, which can be easily added, tweaked, or disallowed, that there’s really no way you can’t find a happy medium in terms of figuring out what parts of this book to allow and what not to. Taking that into account, there are still a few minor problems (a synergy for a paladin’s smite evil and a barbarian’s rage…alignment compatibility issues there), and the occasional spelling and grammar error, but nothing that’s a deal-breaker. I say, start using Superior Synergy, and make your characters more than just the sum of their parts.