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Bokafesh’s Never Ending Dungeon
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2018 18:46:21

Bokafesh's Never Ending Dungeon, is a rather unique product. In over thirty years of gaming, I've not seen another product with this premise – it caught my eye. That alone makes it worth the price of admission.

The premise is rather neat. The dungeon begins with a finite size, and has certain properties. By exploring new areas, the dungeon grows. A new sector is generated (choose your options, or use a combination of the charts for inspiration or go entirely randomly selected features), and it retroactively changes all the existing sectors.

The adventure/campaign can be adjusted easily for anywhere from a single session of play to as long as an extended campaign. It was designed for a ninth level party, but has adjustments for lower and higher level characters. There are a number of plot hooks to ensnare our characters into the story.

Exploration will reveal the nature of the dungeon. The characters begin within their first sector, and interact with the environment and the creatures therein. At some point, they discover the connection between this sector and the next. The next sector may be similar, or perhaps radically different, and as an example could be a trade town. The thing is, prior to going there the original inhabitants did not trade with anyone, but having visited the trade sector, there is now a bustling trade between the two sectors – and that is the way it has always been. The retroactive changes won't be immediately apparent, but upon return to a previously visited sector differences will be present and potentially drastic.

I'd probably use this product as and side quest and nest it within another product, rather than run it as an entire campaign, but you could build an interesting setting off of the basis established within and expand it in interesting directions. I especially like that previously known facts can change with exploration, and that the new reality is how things have always been, as far as all the inhabitants of previously found sectors are concerned. That definitely has potential for an interesting setting.

The PDF is 40 pages, including covers, credits and the OGL, which leaves 36 pages of content. The PDF has been divided into sections, including an introduction, several charts to randomly generate a new section (or to use as inspiration to partially randomly generate your own), some premade sectors and information on the mysterious caretakers, and then NPC statistics. The document is well bookmarked, making it easy to navigate. The scans were done well, and the text and diagrams are easy to read. The writing and editing were excellent, as the product is easy to understand, and words are spelled correctly.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bokafesh’s Never Ending Dungeon
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Alternate Paths: Martial Magic
by Dylan T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/12/2018 12:56:38

Alternate paths: martial magic is a book aimed at making spell casters, particularly arcane spell casters more competent battlefield combatants. The book begins with a plethora of alternate rules to help GMs achieve this end. The first of which is the suggestion to do away with arcane spell failure chance entirely and follows up with a few suggestions on how to mitigate this advantage. The options presented are drastically different in terms of tactical effectiveness with one increasing the casting time for spells forcing you to throw away the AC bonus you get from your armor on each turn you cast a spell, which IMO should be all of them. My biggest issue with this is that this is presented as some sort of massive overwhelming advantage, but spell casters have always had means of thwarting attack rolls that were better than just having a high AC.

After that are rules for charging spells, taking more time to cast a spell to greater effect and supercharging spells for even greater effects beyond that. The book presents this as a dangerous gambit that gives foes a greater time to interrupt the caster. This doesn’t quite hold up in practice, as most of the charged casting times can still be completed on the casters turn and even the fastest supercharged casting times is a full 30 seconds. Making spell casting either too fast for that problem to come up or so slow as to be impractical in combat scenarios. Most of the actual benefits for doing this are pretty underwhelming, with one exception. The ability to apply a single +1 metamagic feat to a spell for free.

For spontaneous casters this is no big deal, for prepared casters spontaneous metamagic application is a huge game changer. Supercharging a spell in this manner allows you to add 1+1/2 your caster level in metamagic feats to the spell. That allows spell casters by way of feats like extend spell and bouncing spell to more than double their daily spell allotment. I don’t think this alternate rule is irremediably broken but one of the options is just so much better than the others that the rest come off as a waste of page space. I’m also assuming that you can’t just slap quicken spell on a supercharged spell to bypass all of the downsides. RAW, but definitely not RAI.

Then there’s a solid system for substituting the components of a spell with concentration checks. This is a neat way to get a newer player familiar with concentration checks in a low risk scenario.

This is followed by cosmic magic, a set of rules for a fourth type of magic more fundamental than the psychic, arcane, or divine magic. This is a neat, if somewhat cliché concept. I wish more page space was dedicated to this, as it’s a -1 to your caster level in exchange for some trivial benefits. After that there are critical spell rules, the ability to have a 5% chance to increase a spells caster level by 2 in exchange there’s also a 5% chance for a spell to completely fizzle. Doesn’t really add much to the game. Frankenspells, the ability to cast two spells at the same time to produce a greater effect. Most of these interactions are pretty well thought out save for how saving throws interact with each other. The caster picks which save from the spells they cast applies to the entire effect, a bit of ludonarrative dissonance as it’s more advantageous combine two spells with different saves in order to target a creatures bad saves, rather than because you care about that extra effect.

Then the book presents rules for gestalt play & magic knights. I don’t see any separate rules for magic knights but the gestalt rules are basically the same as the version that appears in unearthed arcana. Frustratingly, what’s there is rewritten to be more confusing and the section on how to incorporate prestige classes into gestalt characters is replaced with a paragraph that basically boils down to don’t.

There’s a bit on swapping spell lists between classes. It posits that as long as both classes have the same casting progression, swapping spell lists doesn’t cause too many problems. I disagree. While classes that aren’t defined by their casting ability like the ranger and the paladin can get away with that; Classes that have better progressions then that have some serious issues. A Magus with the Bard spell list is a thing of terror, and a cleric with the wizard spell list renders the wizard obsolete.

We get a section on how to mix metamagic feats and magic weapons. Casting spells as attacks of opportunity and ways to turn prepared spells into impromptu weapons, an attempt at balancing the physical ability scores as spell casting abilities. And suggestions to give everyone the magus’s spell combat ability.

The most elaborate alternate rule however is the mana system. This replaces the slightly counterintuitive vancian casting system with a more straightforward pool of mana points that are expended to cast spells, like in a video game. Spell casters have a pool of mana that grows as they level up, spells cost an amount of mana equal to their level to cast, and cantrips cost 1/3rd of a point. The system even acknowledges the problem with mana based systems, where spell casters can use resources normally reserved for low level spells on high level spells thus gaining the ability to cast them much more frequently. Little red presents three solutions to this problem. The first is to give spell casters a sort of magic fatigue that keeps them from casting spells after casting too many spells. This magical exhaustion goes away after a minute and can be reduced if you take a move action so it doesn’t do the job of limiting a spell casters daily high level spell usage very much and really adds a little too much complexity back into what is being sold as a simple alterative to vancian magic.

The second solution involves increasing the mana cost of a spell so that higher level spells cost more mana, two different formulas are provided along with a reference table. The reference table is presented after the next solution and as a minor nitpick gets its own formula wrong in for a single cell in that table. This is the first of many questionable layout decisions that are common throughout the book.

The third solution presented is to increase the cost of casting a spell if other spells of the same level were cast previously. This is an irritating amount of book keeping and again I’m not sure why its bundled with a solution that pitches itself as being simple.

Ultimately a lot of these rules are just ok with a handful of bad options sprinkled throughout the section. There’s not a lot of effort being put forth here and what we get are 12 pages of rules that are on the level of a series house rule the GM whipped up in an hour. Of particular note is that there are no specific solutions presented for the two biggest problems that spell casters face in combat, lack of hit points and poor fortitude saves. The closest you get are second order solutions like making constitution your spell casting ability score and gestating as a class with a good fortitude save which requires some preexisting knowledge of these problems.

First up in the classes section of the book is the beast, a magically altered solder that, while lacking any spell casting ability is able to retain spells cast on themselves indefinitely. These spells can come from the wizard or cleric spell lists and never get higher than 6th level. I initially balked at having buffs from two of the largest spell lists in the game spontaneously and permanently become part of a character every few levels but there’s a fairly detailed section on talking to your GM about what spells to take and only one of the beast paths, which are akin to sorcerer bloodlines actually allows you to arbitrarily add spells to your character and it’s the one that saddles you with crippling mutations. The class also gains a resistance bonus on saves against spells and spell like abilities. This bonus is mostly eclipsed by a cloak of resistance, so this feels a bit superfluous.

At 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter the beast gains beast talents, which are rogue talent-esq psudo feats. There are 10 beast talents to choose from which range from useful abilities like gaining spell resistance or spell like abilities (presumably from the cleric or wizard lists) to things prone to weird rules interactions like learning metamagic feats and applying them to spells cast on you. Suddenly taking quicken spell from a feat to take at around 8th level to something you should take as soon as you are able.

The class ends with a list of alternate favored class bonuses, none of them are particularly out of left field but the elvish one seems significantly weaker than the rest of them, only being useful for a handful of spell effects at 20th level.

After that is the cannoneer, a siege magician who’s class features revolve around blowing people up with a big freakin’ cannon. They specialize in dealing damage over an area, rather than to any one target in particular. As they level up they gain shells, which are special effects they can apply to the attacks they make with their cannon, all of which are pretty neat. Unlike the beast class which presents its talents at the end of the class these are placed right in the middle, a baffling layout decision on little red’s part.

As the class progresses they gain the ability to create a magical energy field that renders them immune to negative effects of their cannon. Presumably this allows you to fire at foes directly in front of you. It also provides a constant 20% miss chance against ranged attacks. Later on they gain the ability to ignore the effects of the evasion ability and raise the minimum on the damage dice dealt by their arcane cannon. At 20th level they can maximize the damage dealt by their arcane cannon a few times per day, this would normally be fine but it comes off as a bit unimpressive considering they’re already treating any damage dice that are less than 4 as 4s at that point.

The class also has some alternate favored class bonuses, all of which are fine, but the table precedes a few of the class features for some reason. This class really could have benefited from some editing as are several instances of weird language and poor layout decisions that tripped me up when I read through the class for the first time.

Then there’s the curse-wielder a warrior who wields a cursed item a la Elric of Melnibone. While there are several different types of items you can use for this class feature and each has their own benefits and drawbacks, the basics of the class functions more or less the same way for each one. As you use your abilities you gain stress and if you gain too much of it you need to make a will save to retain control of your character. I personally despise class features like this as they create more work for the GM and allow players to stop paying attention to the game.

Every curse-wielder can use an ability called power surge to take stress to get a bonus on attack rolls for a round, and can spend a bit more to deal extra dice of damage as well. Later you can add debuffs to attacks that you use this ability on, provided you don’t affect the same target more than once per round.

In the beginning these effects are wildly inconsistent in terms of overall power ranging from flipping a targets gender to rendering them blind. At 9th level these options expand giving you a plethora of new options. These are a bit more consistent ranging from frightening foes to afflicting them with a disease. One of the options is the effect of a bestow curse spell, this is hands down the best of the effects giving you one of the most powerful debuffs in the game without any of its normal drawbacks on all of the attacks you make in an encounter at about the same time as a normal spellcaster can do it 3 times a day. At 15th level the list expands again, adding two options: petrifaction for a few rounds or a chance to drop anything you’re holding. That second one is worse than bestow curse, which has a chance to just take away all of your actions for a round.

That aside, every even level you get a bond evolution, which is a new power that your item manifests. Some of these are unique to certain types of items while others are generic. Armor bonds include things like damage and energy resistance, giving the armor magic armor abilities temporary, and completely negating the armor’s maximum dexterity bonus to AC. This would give you positively amazing AC but you need to be 8th level to take it, which makes it a bit hard to build around, unless you happen to be starting around that level. Weapons gain things like an extra attack, magic weapon special abilities, and the ability to hold the weapon in an extra-dimensional space. Wondrous cursed items grant several different utility powers and some summoning and buffing abilities.

The generic bond evolutions include things like shooting rays and cones of negative energy, the ability to willingly give up control of your character to gain a bonus on attack rolls, and the ability to change the damage type dealt by your power surge ability. Among those options is positive energy, which heals living creatures. Because there’s no limit to the amount of stress you can take, this class has the ability to heal an unlimited amount of damage.

After that we have the esper, a self styled psychic paladin that channels the force of the collective positive emotions of intelligent life. At first level they gain an aura of hope that suppresses fear effects within 30 feet, so long as the DC is less than 10+esper level+charisma modifier. This goes up way faster than the standard save formula, so its usually going to work unless you’re heavily outclassed. It also gives all creatures a bonus on saves against mind-effecting effects and forces barbarians who are raging to make a will save to keep raging, which just sounds frustrating to me.

You also gain the ability to draw power from nearby allies, giving you a bonus on attack and damage rolls as long as you have allies within 100 feet of you that aren’t suffering from negative emotions. As you level up you gain vibes, special powers you can get while you’re drawing power from your allies. These include things like healing, telepathy, and taking on negative mental effects that your allies would normally suffer from.

Some of these options are a little on the weak side, but not egregiously so.

You also gain 4 level spell casting, like a paladin. Also like a paladin your caster level is 3 lower than your class level. How 2009. The esper spell list strikes me as a little odd. While they have spells that work off of positive emotions like I’d expect of them such as charm person, build trust, and heroism. They also have a lot of spells that work off of negative emotions like cause fear, ego whip, and they know.

Also the favored class bonuses table on this class precedes some of the class features.

The next class in the book is the inquisitorial scholar, an alchemist/inquisitor hybrid that fills a similar niche to the slayer in as much as they use knowledge to fight their enemies. They gain the ability to make extracts like an alchemist; these are also used to fuel their class features. They also gain a hunt class feature. Rather than provide some kind of fixed bonus against certain creature types hunts function as a sort of extraordinary version of the inquisitor’s judgment ability that only function against one type of creature at any given time. This is more specific than a single creature type, so if you fought say, a red and a green dragon you’d only get bonuses against one of them. Most of the actual hunt benefits are pretty solid. Of note is the subdual hunt which forces you to deal non-lethal damage but gives you a slayer level damage bump, and the elimination hunt which gives you full BAB during the hunt.

Also of note is the survive hunt which gives you a bonus to saving throws and AC but turns into a penalty when being attacked by non-hunted creatures. Rendering it a pretty weak option overall. Hunts are fueled by expending an extract of the current highest level they have available. This is a little weird narrative wise as you could use, say a 2nd level extract to activate a hunt but only if you don’t have any 3rd level extracts left. They also gain the ability to give a creature vulnerability to either a common elemental damage like acid, cold, electricity, or fire or a type of damage thematically relevant to the targeted creature. Increasing all damage dealt to them by 50%. I find this odd because the inquisitorial scholar doesn’t have any class feature that allows them to exploit these vulnerabilities unless they happen to be thematically relevant and a more normal damage type that anyone could exploit.

Most of the rest of their class features are basically lifts from the alchemist or inquisitor. Of note is the ability to take alchemist discoveries this is mostly of note because the inquisitorial scholar can’t take any discoveries that modify the bomb or mutagen abilities. This eliminates the vast majority of the alchemist discoveries and leaves only the weird ones that make sense for the mad scientist thing the alchemist has going for it but are aggressively thematically incoherent with the inquisitorial scholar.
After that we have the Maghamir, a magus/caviler hybrid class whose name loosely translates to adventurer. At 1st level they gain a version of the challenge ability that works on both spells and melee attacks and a flying carpet mount. This has the unfortunate effect of making them more or less immune to melee attacks in most situations where they can use their mount. They don’t gain a version of spell combat, they do, however gain a version of spell combat that only works on a charge.

So while they’re nowhere near the damage machine that is the magus they have quite a bit of utility built into the rest of the class. They get Treasures in lieu of magus arcane which range pretty wildly in utility from gaining a +4 enhancement bonus on any check where physical attraction is a factor to gaining a magus arcana, note that because you have no arcane pool your options are severely limited. Of special note is the “been there stole that” treasure, which allows you to as a standard action roll 3 times on the magic item table from the core rulebook and gain one of the items. This both takes a standard action, keeping you from using the item that you just produced on the same turn you produced it and not guaranteeing anything useful. I find this strange because there’s a thematically similar ability in the pathfinder chronicler, a prestige class in the back of the core rulebook that doesn’t have either of these problems.

The maghamir also is a member of a fleet, an organization with goals much like a caviler’s order. Thematically they’re all pretty similar to existing cavalier orders, but there’s about 30 of those so avoiding that would have been a lot of effort for no real benefit. Each fleet ether gives you class skills or gives you bonuses to skills you already had. Most of them also let you swap out your mount for other things, ranging from a unicorn to the ability to turn into a lightning bolt. The abilities you gain out of them are all pretty well balanced, if oddly formatted. The favored class bonus table is ahead of some of the class features on this class as well. This just seems like something that could have been avoided pretty easily.

Then there’s the Sagebeast a spellcaster with a monster sealed within them. While that might sound a lot like a certain anime that’s been going on for the last ten years some effort has been expended to differentiate it from that. However it’s mostly to the classes’ detriment. The monsters you have to pick from are all really boring things like Orcs and Yeti. Like the class spends multiple paragraphs talking about how sagebeasts live lonely lives of seclusion, how the sagebeast must master themselves before they can master their powers, and that how they’re often created to protect communities but all of the options you get to reflect that are chump monsters.

Mechanically the sage beast is a 6 level spell caster with ½ BAB who casts wizard spells. When they run out of spells (or when they use certain class features) they enter a monster form that improves their BAB to full and grants them a few other benefit s based on monster within them. They have consumptions; special ablates that allow them to expend spell slots for various benefits most of them are fine balance wise, one of them allows the sage beast to grow multiple size categories, which can represent a pretty significant bump in damage the other problematic one is nightmare aura, which allows you to spend an arbitrary amount of spell slots to create a fear aura with a DC equal to 10+1/2 your level+ the level of spells you sacrificed. This allows a sage beast to create very high DC aura that causes creatures to become panicked on a failed save. That forces you drop everything you’re holding and run away taking apart an encounter with a swift action isn’t particularly cool in my book.

Just re-fluff a bloodrager, this isn’t worth it.

Finally there’s the Shujaa, which is what happens when you take a sorcerer and perform the magical equivalent of foot-binding on them. The opening paragraph makes a point of how this is almost exclusively forced upon young children. Ironically their name loosely translates to “hero”. Overall this is a bit more tragedy porn than I’m comfortable with, which is a shame because this is a pretty well thought out class otherwise. The process a shujaa undergoes gives them powerful abjuration magic. They gain an abjuration spell at each level that they can cast at-will. The level of spell you can take with this ability never gets very high, capping out at 4th level spells by 18th level. There are still some nasty spells at these levels that get much nastier in the hands of a shujaa (looking at you stunning barrier), but this class feature is largely self contained. Their other class feature is an aura of magical energy that grants them a shield bonus equal to their charisma modifier + 1/4th their level. Combined with heavy or even medium armor that’s some pretty high AC but they gain their primary means of fueling their class features when they take damage, so it balances it out a bit.

As you level up you gain the ability to smack people with your barrier and the ability to distribute the shield bonus from your barrier to your allies. You also gain “barrier functions” as you level up, gaining new ways to manipulate your barrier. These range from making your barrier air tight, gaining energy resistance, to bull rushing creatures with it. All of these are pretty well balanced against each other.

My only (non-subjective) complaint with the class is that I’d have liked to see a bit more of the classes Aramaic roots reflected in the classes mechanics. As it stands you could just swap the classes name out with anything and it would still be coherent.

The book closes out with a selection of new feats. Most of these are class support feats, letting members of classes in the book gain more barrier functions, bond evolutions, and the like. There’s also salvo casting which lets wizards cast two low level spells with the same action, I’m not quite sure why that’s limited to the wizard. There are a few general feats, like the ability to shove someone who’s about to have a spell cast on them away and gain that spell’s benefits and the ability to make items that are cursed, not to be confused with the cursed items in the pathfinder rulebook.

Also of note is the warrior-wizard style this is a drastically underpowered feat chain that masquerades as a good option. It starts off giving spell casters full BAB when they make a full attack action with melee weapons, then allows you to use it when you only make one attack, and then finally allows you to use your caster level as your fighter level for qualifying for feats. This is a lot of feats for something that’s mutually exclusive with how you ordinarily approach combat as a spell caster and doesn’t give you any means to bridge the two. The book even notes that this style is far more powerful in the hands of a spell caster that can already bridge the two like a bard or a magus.

There are also four new metamagic feats, one lets you take line and ray spells and bend their line of effect as part of casting them and one that lets some (the ones with mass in their name) buff spells spread to adjacent allies. These are both fairly well balanced; the one that lets you spread buff spells in a little niche and its level adjustment is a bit on the high side. The other two don’t really feel like metamagic feats. One only effects the dispel magic and antimagic field spells while the other expands the functionally of the elemental spell metamagic feat.

Ordinarily I’d be a bit harsher on improved elemental spell as it shaves two feats off of a build but the builds that used the elemental spell metamagic never particularly cared about getting all four so it’s not that big of an issue. Ultimately, I don’t think that alt paths: martial magic does what it sets out to do, it lacks the defensive options to let spell caster keep up with the more physically oriented classes while giving them tempting offensive options that allows them to think they can. I can’t think of a better recipe for salt and dead characters.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Martial Magic
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Alternate Paths: Martial Magic
by Mariah M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/11/2018 18:28:24

I recently bought this product and I personally loved it!

I loved the alternate rules and such and it truly can add to the setting that I use.

Though, I don't currently play Pathfinder, I definitely tweak them and run them with my 5e content and it has made my games awesome and my players happy.

What more can a GM ask for right?

Thank you for another great product LRGG



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Martial Magic
by Adam S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/06/2018 19:30:01

First of all, let me say that I was given a free book for reviewing, but I don't think it will affect my review.

So this book has an unusual niche- It's for improving the martial abilities of spellcasters, with several optional rules and multiple warrior classes with exotic abilities, called "exotic classes," and feats.

So the first chapter is optional rules.

Battle Mages discusses alternatives to arcane spell failure for armor, for those who want to get away from the squishy wizard stereotype, either permanently or as temporary methods to avoid it, depending on your comfort level.

Charging spells is a rule for empowering spells by taking longer, could go with a dragonball z dynamic to it, or making the magic more ritualistic. Definitely won't be appropriate for some campaigns I imagine.

Component bypass, what you'd think. Another way to avoid squishy wizards by avoiding somatic components among other things.

Cosmic magic, now this rule is a little bit of an odd man out, it doesn't really increase the battle prowess of spellcasters, although it reduces spell failure for armor if you were an arcane caster to begin with.

Cosmic magic, for those who haven't bought other books that have discussed it, is the primal universal source of magic that arcane, divine, and psychic magic all flows.

By the rules presented, just change the name of the spellcasting class to "cosmic sorcerer," or "cosmic paladin," whatever.

This could easily be expanded. Some classes wouldn't change too much by changing their source of magic, but conceptually some classes would change conceptually a lot. I could easily see archetypes for cosmic sorcerers, druids, paladins, and the like.

Critical spells, not that exciting on it's own, but neither are critical hits. I imagine someone will use this to let spellcasters have fun by plugging into the Laying Waste system by TPK games.

Frankenspells casting two spells at the same time combining them into one. Can be used to say throw a lightning bolt and a fireball at the same time at someone, or take advantage of spell interactions. Like say combining a harm and a heal spell to deal nonlethal damage, as a given example.

Magic Knights, this rule suggests gestalt play in pathfinder to allow someone to be a full bab warrior and a nine level caster at the same time.

Metamagic weapons is a fun idea I feel. Allows someone using a magic weapon to add a metamagic feat to their attacks. Since most metamagic feats don't have prereqs that non spellcasters can't meet, this rule could benefit noncasters too, if you want archers with seeking arrows or fighters beating up ghosts with ectoplasmic sword strikes.

Spell as attacks of opportunity, what it says on the tin there.

Spellblade is an interesting rule. It allows spellcasters to temporarily invest a spell into making a sword out of magic. I could definitely see some archetypes based on this one. A paladin or inquisitor with a divine blade, or a magus specializing in spellblades.

Swapping spell lists, not really about enhancing the martial power of spellcasters, but I'm sure someone somewhere would want to play a Paladin of Nature with the ranger spell list, as a example.

Physical casting modifers involves using Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution, with suggested downsides to balance things.

Universal spell combat, magus spell combat for everyone.

The next optional rule is a mana system to get rid of spell slots, with a "spell stress system" as an additional limiting factor, with two further optional rules to alter the cost of individual spells as desired.

Next is the classes.

The first is the Beast, a different take on the magical warrior. They don't cast spells, rather they have permament spell effects on them, up to 6th lvl. Full BAB, proficient with all armor and shields and simple and martial weapons. They use their class level for caster level when appropriate, and Con as their caster modifier. Spells that end when triggered normally recover in one minute.

Beasts have three paths to choose from for costumization- Government sponsored soldiers, the independent mercenaries, and the mutants. Mercenaries can change their permanent spells but have to pay for it like a scroll, or make spells cast on them last like their augmentations. Mutants can have more augmentations, but suffer a penalty, and can gain extra senses, natural attacks, or counting as a different type of creature as their mutation takes hold. Soldiers are the fighter like option with extra combat feats, but they don't choose their augmentations.

Further adding to customization they gain access to Beast talents, things like spell like abilities, gaining enhancement bonus to their natural or unarmed attacks, or recharging their augmentations when they save against a spell or spell like ability.

Lots of options for expansion that I can see. Alchemical supersoldiers, psionic Beasts who have implanted psionic powers, Androids who magically tinker with their own bodies, Beasts who gain their powers from a Sorcerer like heritage, racial archetypes for those who tap into their dhampir/skinwalker/kitsune/planar heritage, etc.

Cannoneers, dexterity based medium BAB class that specializes in firearms, and the magic cannon they wheel around. Instead of spells, their magic manifests as different types of shells they can fire from their magic cannon. Not for me, but I'm sure it'll appeal to others who want to be heavy artillary.

Next is the Curse-Wielder. Elric. Bilbo Baggins. Witchblade. Powers work off buiding stress, when stress gets too high the cursed item takes over, but resting 8 hours a day or rampgaging (letting the cursed item take over) reduces it. Their main attack power is adding negative energy damage to their attacks with which they can add curse effects. A major choice for this class is to whether fight or give in to the curse, another one is what kind of item they are stuck with, and the third is the personality of their cursed item.

Espers, champions of the collective unconscious. Full BAB limited casters like paladins, they gain an aura of calmness, bonuses from having allies around, can add nonlethal damage to attacks, Commune with the collective unconscious, a psychic shield, among other class benefits.

Inquisitorial Scholar. I think I would have reversed that name myself, but moving on. Hybrid class of Alchemist and Inquisitor. They use their knowledge of their nonhumanoid opponents to combat them, often through the application of alchemy. Think the Men of Letters from Supernatural or the Watchers from Buffy.

Maghamar, hybrid class of magus and cavalier. Magic carpet riding air force. They can channel spells through charge attacks. And join "fleets' instead of orders. One fleet turns this into a unicorn rider instead, though.

Sagebeasts. Spellcasters who can Hulk out thanks to a powerful monster within them. Proficient with light and medium armor and shields (except tower shields), but only ignore spell failure from light armor, and all simple and martial weapons. Intelligence based 6th level spontaneous casters. In monster form they are full BAB, an alignment shift, and abilities depending on what specific monster they turn into. While as written they are focused on goblins, monstrous humanoids, and giants, I imagine someone is going to want to expand that. Lycanthropes? Demons? Undead?

Shujaa, magical warrior tank class who are denied all magic but abjuration. Personal forcefield that provides a shield bonus, gain armor proficiency as they level up, they learn to shape their force field to share it with allies or attack with it, gain attack bonuses with it or add magical enhancements, etc.

Next is feats. There's the new metamagic feats and class feature dependent feats, including one that allows sagebeasts to maintain their alignment. but wow. They have a style that allow one to use their caster level for weapon attacks., and at it's pinnacle qualify for fighter feats and use their caster modifer for attack rolls.

Now now all these options aren't for everyone, I imagine a campaign that pushes the envelope with some of the more powrful classes out there will be more receptive than vanilla pathfinder games, but there is lots of fun stuff in here, that I imagine will inspire some of the readers. So 4 out of 5 from me.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mantaur (Racial Guide)
by Jeff L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/26/2018 13:29:47

This product features a racial write-up of the mantaur, a new playable race that is half human and, well, half nearly a whole other human. It's odd. It's also based on an Internet meme that's been floating around for a bit after an image appeared on Reddit. That said, it offers a strange yet interesting new race compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The PDF is 8 pages, including the cover, title page, four pages of content, and two pages of required OGL info.

Physically, the mantaur is the torso, arms, and head of a human attached to a whole other humanoid body, minus the head. This unique configuration allows them to move either as a quadruped, with increased movement rate, or as a biped, with an extra pair of arms at their disposal. The breakdown of their racial traits puts them at an 11-point creature, with the lion's share of that going to the extra arms. One of their racial traits is androgyny, described “as being of both genders simultaneously.” As far as mechanics goes, this doesn't mean much. I can't think of any in-game mechanics that deal with it, aside from the elixir of sex shifting and possibly the Charming social trait. This seems like a missed opportunity to me to have added some new mechanics that might allow for this trait to be a racial advantage. Also, I should point out that in this reference, the term is being used to describe physiological traits, which may be problematic for some, especially since there is a section titled “Gender” that also uses the term to describe social roles. In the mantaur race, if the upper human portion of mantaur has physical male traits, its lower portion will have female traits, and vice versa. Socially, the mantaurs only focus on biological differences when mating, so there is little difference in social roles or fashion based on physiological makeup. Reproduction isn't explicitly tied to romantic partnerships either, which is a novel approach for societal norms and helps to define the mantaur as a distinct species, despite its very human features.

The book covers the other standard race write-up categories (society, relations with other races, alignment and religion, adventurers, and naming conventions) and provides height/weight and starting age charts, as well as favored class options for five Pathfinder core classes (barbarian, bard, druid, fighter, and monk) as well as the athlete, lover, and nomad classes from Little Red Goblin Games. Missing from the lineup are any new mechanics tied to the class. No new mantaur-specific spells, magic items, weapons, or equipment are offered, and that's disappointing. An offering of that type would have gone a long way towards helping to further solidify the idea of the mantaur race, as well as providing a little extra bang for the buck where the pdf is concerned. I'd personally be interested in seeing what sorts of equipment or magic would be developed by a race that has the advantages of quadrupedal movement and four arms, though not simultaneously. It would have also been an opportunity to give the androgyny racial trait some actual mechanical relevance.

One person comments on the original mantaur posting on Reddit: “I HATE THIS. I hate this so much and I want everyone to see it.” I was originally inclined to agree. Kudos to Scott Gladstein, Ian Sisson, and Christos Gurd for using it to develop a playable race that I don't hate and find intriguing. I only wish the race had received the full APG-style write-up. All in all it is a solid offering for the price range, and I give it 3 out of 5 stars.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mantaur (Racial Guide)
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Sergal Racial Guide (Official)
by Jay M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/25/2018 09:14:52

I originally purchased this as a joke, however it was significantly higher quality than my expectations, and led to me actually making a Sergal character in one of my campaigns. I would definitely recommend it to others.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sergal Racial Guide (Official)
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Battle Chef
by Ben D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/21/2017 13:55:23

“That is why I decline the title of Iron Cook, and accept only the lesser title of Zinc Saucier, which I just made up.” – Bender, Futurama

Little Red Goblin Games brings the world of gourmet chefs to a fantasy setting with the Battle Chef class. This is a full class, and it has some pretty interesting mechanics. Like fighters, the battle chef is a d10 HP class, but has a ¾ BAB, more akin to rangers. Battle chefs also gain recipes which work like spells, and can have a cuisine specialty, which is similar to focusing on a school of spells. What I really like about this system, is that preparing a 3-5 course meal works like a video game; by consuming the meal (spells) in order, they give bonus effects. The effects of each recipe is determined by flavor profile (a minty recipe for example adds ice damage to you attacks.)

While the battle chef class, and accompanying recipe system, is the meat and potatoes of this release, there’s an appetizer-size portion of feats, and chef-based weapons and magic items make up the dessert.

Personally, I’d have liked seeing a selection of armor and shields (who doesn’t want to use a big wok as a shield, and wear an Apron of Protection +1?) I would like to see a few more feats in there, and maybe an archetype or two based on different kinds of cooks. Additionally, I think a d8 HP per level might be more appropriate here, but I don’t think it breaks the class in any way. That’s just me, and it doesn’t take away from the unique flavor of this class.

Well worth the money spent. Please tip your servers.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Battle Chef
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Alternate Paths: Martial Characters 2: Fight Smarter
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/04/2017 03:54:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive installment of the Alternate Path-series clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, which leaves us with an impressive 75 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so the Alternate Path-series has carved a rather unique niche for itself in the context of splatbooks, focusing less on just adding to the pile of options and instead, showcasing some experimental and rather unique options – this time around, smart combat is the theme, and as such, the book begins with its mission statement and advice for the GM to make combats more interesting – and to not penalize players for not taking certain skills. This, among others, mentions the importance of terrain and skill challenges, the all but forgotten option to yield in combat and the like – as an aside, for skill challenges, check out Everyman Gaming’s phenomenal Skill Challenged Handbook – it should be core. It’s that good. Anyways, milestone-based leveling is also touched upon, before we dive into the new rules.

The first of these variant rules would be reactions: These are not a copy of 5e’s reaction-system, mind you: Instead, it allows the player to take a standard action as a reaction, with the two actions behaving just like swift actions and immediate actions. This adds a massive increase of dynamics to the combat – on the plus-side, implementing the system devalues bland “I hit 6 times with my weapons” full attacks (as they can’t be performed when you took a reaction). However, at the same time, this vastly changes the combo-dynamics, devalues AoOs and AoO-based builds and de-emphasizes long-term strategy for combats or at least increases the variables to an extent where prediction becomes very, very hard. Suffice to say, readied actions lose all relevance upon implementing this – and thankfully, the pdf does offer serious in-depth advice regarding the implementation of reactions: Class-based restrictions, basing them on feats, imposing of penalties – there are some serious and helpful pieces of advice there. Whether you like the flow of combat thus modified or not ultimately depends on your table – if your group is like mine and already has a lot of fluid movements and changing front-lines, then this may perhaps not be as amazing. If, however, you’re struggling to make combat something else than trading of full attacks, then this may be really amazing for you. All in all, an interesting variant rule-set.

Secondly, we look at the options for the conservation of attacks – iterative attacks are not particularly well-regarded in most tables I know. The system allows characters to sacrifice these iterative attacks in favor of bypassing hardness/DR, a +1 to atk, 3 may be sacrificed for a 5-foot step and 2 may be sacrificed for reloading or fighting defensively sans penalties. I am not a big fan for the atk-bonus benefit and as a whole and while the system does prevent abuse via TWF, flurries, etc., I do think that just replacing the iterative attacks with a kind of pool of options would have made sense. The implementation of this rule greatly favors single, devastating attacks – so if you’re building god strike characters or focusing on Vital Strike etc., this can be a bit ugly. Here, some discussion on the ramifications of the implementation would have been nice.

Next up would be simple grapple rules – which, while functional, do decrease the options available to the grapplers. The pdf suggests providing free Improved combat maneuver feats to increase their value – which generally is not necessarily a good idea, considering how other options build on them. Going with an extraordinary ability would have probably been smoother and retained the feat-tree-structure. I am, however, a HUGE fan of the variant aid another rules presented here: Providing a leg up and allowing for variant swift and full-round action aid anothers adds a tactical dimension to aiding your fellow adventurers.

The pdf also provides a couple of variant, inverse skill-uses: Torture via Heal, Ignoring via Perception or Misusing Magic Items – the first of these is less interesting, but in particularly, Misusing Magic Items can yield hilarious results – a successful check lets you roll d20 on a massive table. And yes, you can bestow transient sentience on an item. (As a minor formal complaint – spell-references are not always concisely italicized in the book.) We also get brief rules for wall jumping and running (cool) and a really cool fill-in of a rules-hole: The pdf contains an adept and sensible way of dealing with burrowing movement: The 3D-movement, hardness of surfaces and DR granted by material per 5 feet certainly will be used in my game. Speaking of 3D-movement – the proposed levels-approach makes sense and is easy to implement.

Finally, we have rules for cooking strange stuff in dungeons – as a minor complaint, “and large size creatures count as x2 large size creatures.” Should read “and Large size creatures count as x2 Medium size creatures.” – sizes are capitalized and there is a slightly confusing misnomer here. As a whole, I wasn’t too smitten by this cooking-variant. I’ve seen the concept done in a more rewarding manner.

The pdf also sports new classes – 5, to be precise. The first of these would be the calculator, who gains d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons, light and medium armors and shields, excluding tower shield, as well as with battle tomes. Calculators may enter computation mode as a swift action – this requires concentration and further swift actions to maintain and fear effects end it. While in computation mode, the calculator deals minimum damage and may not be affected by morale bonuses. However, they receive the computation bonus to all Knowledge checks and attack and damage rolls with ranged weapons, finesse weapons and one-handed or lighter melee weapons. This computation bonus equal to ¼ of the calculator’s level and may never exceed the character’s intelligence modifier. Okay, so is that minimum 1? No idea, alas. More importantly would be that the calculator gains 1 point of brilliance at the start of the calculator’s turn while he maintains computation mode. Question: If the character enters the mode for one round and then proceeds to end it on the second round, does he get this point or not? A calculator can only sustain the mode for a maximum of 1 minute and proceeds to take 3 times their class level in nonlethal damage upon ending computation mode.

A calculator’s brilliance pool may never exceed ½ class level (minimum 1) + Intelligence modifier (minimum 1) and may meditate for 1 minute to fully replenish the brilliance pool. The calculator begins play with one formula (the “average formula”) – formulae may be entered as a free action while in computation mode and they are incompatible with combat styles. Another formula is gained at 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter. The aforementioned formula lets you deal average damage, btw. Other formulas allow the character to e.g. treat an attack as using full BAB, gain Quick Draw and Combat Reflexes for 1 round, etc. – these formula, unsurprisingly, cost brilliance to activate. Immediate actions can be used to reduce the damage incurred to minimum damage. Finagle’s Law can be a bit problematic, allowing the character to deal maximum damage – with high critical multipliers and multiclassing, this one can be very, very potent and should probably be relegated to the higher levels or feature another restriction.

2nd level, weirdly, nets a +1/4 class level bonus to saves versus illusion spells or those with the emotion or fear descriptor and imposes a similar penalty to all Charisma-based skills. This lacks the minimum 1-caveat, making 2nd level in essence a dead level RAW. Mathematical savant is interesting and gained at 3rd level – it grants an approximate idea of the success-chances of certain actions – and yes, GMing-advice is provided. Problem: No activation action is provided. Also at 3rd level, the class gets to choose a calculator axiom, with another one gained every 3 levels thereafter – these basically represent talents sans activation cost – including proficiency with firearms, constant detect chaos/law and the ability to ascertain morale bonuses/penalties (not a fan) and bonuses to AC versus lawful targets, damage versus chaotic ones. There also are a couple of such abilities that require brilliance point expenditure.

There also are some interesting stances here – a minor complaint: Improved stances do not require their base stances as prerequisites, which they should, seeing that they have no effect without them. Ally-boosts to concentration or precision damage caused are also interesting. Apart from these minor inconsistencies, this section is rather interesting. Probability prediction, gained at 5th level, is interesting: As a free action, the calculator may 1/round at the start of an enemy’s turn call out an action – if the enemy follows this action, the calculator imposes penalties on the enemy or otherwise hampers them via ally-support. At 8th level, whenever the calculator in computation mode rolls a natural 3, he can spend a point of brilliance to invoke Pi and treat the result as a natural 20. At 19th level, the calculator may spend 1 point of brilliance at the start of their turn, treating all attacks as using the highest BAB – nasty shredder, even at 19th level, and strangely favoring TWFs. The capstone renders immune to death effects, critical hits and possession and lets the character assume an “intangible state” as a swift action. This does not exist. I think this is supposed to mean “incorporeal”.

The face-changer would be obviously inspired by the Men of Braavos, must be non-good and gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves and proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light armor. The shapechanger begins play with the ability to disguise self as a Su, which does not allow for a Will-save to bypass. Okay. What’s the duration? CL for purposes of dispelling/ability-interaction? He can use it ½ class level (min 1) + Charisma modifier times per day. Starting at 2nd level, as a touch attack, they can store a creature’s mind – only one may be stored at any given time. The mind stored may then be accessed via Intelligence checks to recall information from it. 4th level upgrades this to work via touched objects that have been at least a year in the target creature’s possession. 3rd level’s surgical strikes is problematic: On a natural 15 or higher, you roll to confirm: If you do, effects that usually only trigger on a critical hit do trigger and you add + Dexterity modifier as precision damage to the damage caused. This makes fishing for crit builds and those that add critical hit effects via weapons or abilities very potent. Also at 3rd level and every 3 level thereafter, you gain a spy craft, which helps when going in deep cover – speaking a language sans actually speaking it, bonuses versus targets whose minds are held, changing places with a creature slain (generating the impression that the assassination attempt was foiled), morphing into the form of a loved one of a target – the abilities are interesting, but some are slightly exploitable: Killing spree nets you +2 to damage per foe killed, up to +1/3rd class level. Hand me the kittens, please. Similarly, there is an infinite, slow healing exploit. 4th level allows for the swift action reshaping of features, altering gender, race or age automatically. Okay, what’s the DC to notice the face-changer? 8th level provides a fluid form variant as an upgrade and 12th level nets polymorph – which is, unlike the previous ones, a SP. The previous ones have the magic interaction issues noted before.

7th level yields assassination – Dex-based save after 1 round study, on a failure, the attack’s target is reduced to 0 hit points. The ability may be used 1/day, +1/day for every 3 levels thereafter. The capstone lets him perform unlimited assassination attempts per day. 15th level upgrades the action required to swift and 20th level provides unlimited doppelgang…which is weird, for RAW, the base ability doesn’t specify a concise duration as the governing CL-component is opaque. Also weird: The pdf talks about allies and enemies and lets the face-changer define these anew each round, which is per se an amazing mechanic – the class, however, doesn’t do anything with it. Also, since quite a few abilities etc. sport caps on maximum number of targets, this can be a bit weird at the table.

The third class would be the nobody, who gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with hidden and rogue-y weapons and light armor, ¾ BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The nobody’s defining class feature is nonperson: As adherents of the grand Nothing, nobodies are hard to remember – it takes Intelligence-checks to recall them and 7th and 15th level further make it harder to remember them. While the class addresses how issues with adventuring companions are handled, the pdf does fail to italicize a spell-reference here. The nobody may enter a null state as a move action, for up to 4 + Intelligence modifier rounds per day, +2 rounds per level after that – that should be class level. Nobodies in a null state are hard to recall: The first time a creature sees them, it has to succeed a Will-save to perceive them. Fats movement or attacks etc. end a null state in progression. Creatures get +4 to notice the nobody when they can see him enter a null state. Yeah. This is pretty much a better variant of Hide in Plain Sight at first level. And frankly, it is very, very potent – not because of what it does, but because the ability is not codified regarding balancing components like effect-types etc. At 5th level, he can choose invisibility (improved invisibility at 9th level)as a SP instead, regarding the benefits – which, frankly, is worse in quite a few cases. 9th level also, confusingly, upgrades the null state to being treated as natural invisibility. This looks like a revision at some point went haywire.

Additionally, they get limited use touch attacks that deal scaling force damage and that impose negative conditions and later, even dispel effects and more creative tricks. These do NOT break the cloaking of the class. 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield upgrades to the array available, not unlike deeds. These include phasing targets away to the nothing for a round, being forgotten, etc. However, the abilities do have in common that they are missing some balance-components: Forgetting folks should be mind-affecting; silence-like effects lack a duration, spells are not italicized. It’s frustrating, really – the effects are interesting and generally, make sense. 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the nobody gets to choose a powerful sense and becomes undetectable by it, requiring Perception to notice them. 5th level yields void spike, the ability to cause negative levels with a 1d4-round cooldown, with 9th level and every 4 levels thereafter increasing the amount of negative levels caused by +1. 6th level nets constant nondetection and 10th level provides the option to become incorporeal while in null state at an increased round cost. The capstone provides immunity to critical hits and precision damage as well as the option to 3 + Int-mod times per day, as a standard action, destroy a creature on a failed save – 20d6 on a successful save. Ouch. At 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the class gets to choose an obscura, the talents of the class, which include entering null states as immediate actions in response to being targeted by a spell, attack, etc. Since this doesn’t move the character, I assume he is treated as invisible, with line of sight broken. More rounds of null state, fast stealth -you get the idea. AoE force damage, pocketing items into the Nothing – the class has flavor galore, but the important balancing tidbits, from clarifying durations to effect types make it problematic as a whole. A non-turn-ending, move action dimension door, exclusively to an adjacent to creatures, for example, is pretty damn cool and it, like many components of the class, would have deserved a bit more delicacy. As written, it is a VERY, VERY potent Stealth class. Unlike the previous classes, this one does get favored class options, btw. It also gets an archetype, the student of the sphere: Instead of the touch attack, they can basically conjure forth the lite-version of a sphere of annihilation and instead of void spike, he can later split these in smaller orbs. See, this one is really, really cool; amazing, even. That holds true for the whole class, mind you – with a bit of fine-tuning, this is a great class.

The sapper class gets d8 HD, 8 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves and begins play with Catch Off-Guard and proficiency with simple weapons, throwing axes, handaxes, picks (light + heavy), saps and all martial ranged weapons as well as firearms, if the campaign uses them. They are proficient with all armor and shields, including tower shields. The begin play with Int-governed bombs (like the alchemist) and these have a ½ class level damage progression, capping at +10d6 at 20th level. While they last only one minute, they CAN be handed off to allies…and they are Ex. So yes, they work in zones sans magic. Sappers also start the game with sabotage: A target hit by a bomb becomes flat-footed (or even prone, on bad failures) or takes a penalty to d20 rolls, governed by sapper levels. Only one sabotage can be used on a creature in a given round and the critter gets a Ref-save to resist the effect.

At 3rd level, sappers can consume bomb uses as a swift action to create distracting harrier auras with a scaling range. 15th level allows for the regaining of bombs via item destruction – with a cap to prevent cheesing the ability. 19th level increases the Dc to resist the harrier aura. The capstone potentially breaks non-magical items in the aura and suppresses magic items – which may then break…REALLY cool.

5th level nets an insight bonus to damage with firearms, on damage rolls vs. objects and with sundering weapons. They bonus increases every 4 levels. 10th level yields interdiction, which can drain spells, rage, ki and similar limited resources with sabotage – damn cool! And yes, the list cannot be comprehensive – that’s why the pdf has guidance to determine the points/slots thus consumed. Kudos! 2nd level and every even level thereafter yields a sapper art – these include bomb discoveries, obviously, but also adding the sunder property to bludgeoning weapons, counting as being equipped with a portable ram and crowbar, Disruptive, better dirty tricks, putting down landmine-bombs and terrain control via bombs, creating bridges, barriers or clearing underbrush, no longer misfiring…this class is a) balanced, b) cool. Now I wished the class got more sabotages as it progressed, but after the concerns with the previous ones, I was rather happy to find this fellow. Now, due to the lack of spellcasting, I’d strongly suggest giving this fellow more bombs per day as the levels progress than what he currently has, but that as an aside.

The final new class would be the scout, who gains d8 HD, full BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves as well as 8 + Int skills per level. …WUT? With that chassis?? Okay. Proficiency-wise, he gets simple weapon and all martial ranged weapon proficiency, proficiency with all exotic ranged weapons (!!!) and all simple and martial firearms as well as light armor. Scouts have a stamina pool equal to their Constitution score, which is increased by certain feats like Endurance, Diehard, etc. Starting at 5th level, they get +1/3 class level to the total stamina – I assume, rounded down.

Scouts may duplicate a lesser version of invisibility (Stealth-bonus equal to scout level, minimum +2) while not moving, ½ scout level (minimum +0) while moving – they can activate it for 1 point of Stamina. Starting at 6th level, hostile actions do not break this cloaking. Starting at 10th level, cloaking does not cost stamina anymore and at 10th level, the scout may spend 1 stamina as a move action to dimension door, sans ending movement. I think the cost is supposed to be higher: 14th and 18th level reduce it by 1 to a minimum of 1, but the cost already IS 1…Ridiculous: Range is equal to the scout’s overland movement.

They begin play with darkvision 60 ft. (+30 ft. if they already have it) and double that range at 5th level and they are treated as having keen senses for the purpose of prerequisites. Starting at 3rd level, the scout gains more options here: First the options to not be caught off-guard by invisible targets and better noticing them, then all-around vision (plus seeing through magical darkness) at 7th level, x-ray vision at 11th level, lifesense at 15th and true seeing at 19th level. This array is prefaced by the following: “Starting at 3rd level, the scout can gain the following suite of abilities provided they expend 1 stamina at the start of their turn as a free action:” Okay – does that mean 1 point per round of activation? Can the scout have multiple effects in place at once? Do the costs in stamina stack? No idea.

When unencumbered, the scout also gets scout movement – ½ class level as a bonus to Acrobatics to bypass obstacles and ignore difficult terrain at 1st level. RAW, this includes damaging terrain, which it imho shouldn’t. 3rd level adds scurry (+10 ft. movement rate, scales up to +60 ft.); 6th level provides feather fall and caps falling damage at 5d6 and 9th level provides spider climb (italicization missing). These cost 1 stamina to activate and once again, I have no idea whether the costs are cumulative or not. At 1st level, the class can spend a free action to gain a +1 competence bonus to atk against a creature until the start of their next turn, increasing that by +1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter. 2nd level provides evasion and the ability to make a party travel overland at the scout’s speed. Additionally, targets more than 60 ft. away take +1d6 precision damage per 4 scout levels, minimum +1d6, from the scout’s attacks. Starting at 5th level, the scout is constantly under the effects of a mundane variant of the alarm spell’s benefits. 4th level yields uncanny dodge, 8th level improved uncanny dodge. As a capstone, the scout auto-confirms ranged critical threats and recovers 2 stamina per round.

Starting at 5th level and every odd level thereafter, the scout gains an exploit. These are the talents of the class and they include combat feats (at fighter level -4), ranged combat maneuvers, 1/day regaining Constitution modifier stamina points upon reaching 0 stamina, spending 3 stamina to double base movement rate for a round, swift action 3-round haste for 3 stamina, doubled range increments for all ranged weapons…you get the idea. Basically, the class does what it sets out to do: Depict a nigh untraceable, extremely potent ambush sniper. If you ever thought that the ranged combat ranger’s DPR was too bad or that he was too easy to pin down, this class is basically that guy on speed. Suffice to say, I won’t let this anywhere near my table. I shudder at the thought of what even moderately competent optimizers can do with it.

The pdf also sport a ton of new feats: Extra class ability feats, for example (erroneously referring to Nobody as Cipher). There is an Indiana Jones-style use-whip-as-hand feat that’s actually well-made and really cool. There is a feat to remain hidden at -8 to Stealth while attacking. The Befuddling Basics Style is an interesting take of unlocking combat maneuvers while retaining the feat-tree. There is also a feat, weirdly with the [Tag]-descriptor, that lets you combine two combat maneuvers. Another feat lets you make an attack with a creature you have just killed. OP: Over-Prepared Combat renders a target you have identified flat-footed against your attacks after identifying it. A take on the concealed damage trope is okay – but personally, I really liked the option to use razor wire to generate protection from arrows – problem here: Duration? Does it move with you? If so, does the movement require actions to maintain the globe? Using razor wire to make traps etc. is pretty amazing. Reminded me of how bad-ass Walther in hellsing was and really made me want to use these, in spite of the minor inconsistency noted. Seize the Initiative lets you retroactively grant yourself +4 to initiative, -4 to atk in the first turn and prevents the use of precision damage. Still, considering how damage outclasses defense most of the time, this is problematic. There is also a feat to stand up from prone position that is better than restricted class talents. Not a fan. Several feats allow for magus-spell-poaching. Spellwire Style combines razor wires with touch spell delivery – which is 5 kinds of awesome – seriously – the wire-feats here are damn cool and there is another feat-tree for them beyond those already noted. Problem: RAW, the Style-trees don’t work. The follow-up feats have the [Style]-descriptor – a character may usually only be in one style at once and the follow-up feats are usually combat feats, making the descriptor-choice here plain WRONG. That doesn’t break them, mind you, but it is jarring.

The chapter also depicts a new type of feat, namely [Friend] feats – these require a bond between player characters and provide synergy boons: AC-bonus while near a wild-shaped druid friend, save-bonuses versus the school of your wizard buddy, +5 ft. movement while near your raging barbarian buddy. These are nice ideas, though one deserves special attention, as it represents more of an alternate rule and the pdf acknowledges such: Collaborative lets an ally take a prerequisite-less feat of yours to qualify for a given feat, prestige class, etc., but this locks the feat and prevents retraining. This can, obviously, provide some issues, when e.g. follow-up abilities build on the loaned feat; at the same time, it can make sense in some contexts, so yes – I’ll treat it as a valid variant rule, since the pdf clearly designates it as potentially causing issues.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not the strong suit of Little Red Goblin Games. While not bad per se, there are a lot formatting issues. More importantly, this pdf’s rules-language could really have used a strict and nitpicky dev to look at the power and finer rules-interactions. The big picture works, mind you – but its small things like effects not properly codified that turn a potent ability into a problematic one. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some solid full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Scott Gladstein, Ian Sisson and Christos Gurd’s latest Alternate Path was frustrating for me; you see, I REALLY like a ton of what I’m seeing in this book. The LRGG-crew is best when they’re experimental and you can say many things, but they don’t do cookie-cutter or bland. None of the classes or options herein are boring or sucky. At the same time, I really wished this had gone through the hands of a really picky dev. The options presented herein do have some issues in their rules-language and the details of their functionality and that drags them down quite a bit. Apart from the scout. The scout is just…takes a deep breath Anyways, what I’m trying to say is, is that this is SO CLOSE to being truly amazing. All of the classes have something really cool going for them, but whether it’s the inconsistent absence of FCOs for most of them or the finer details in the rules, this feels like a very much raw offering; like a beta-test of a very good, perhaps even a great game, but one that needs some serious work before it reaches the excellence and awesomeness it promises. From grossly undervaluing the power of Stealth (when playing by the rules) to the potent tricks, there is a strange sense of less balancing here. Take the sapper in contrast, who could really use more bombs over the levels, seeing that all cool class features are reliant on the expenditure of them and compare that to the others.

Can I recommend this? Tentatively, yes. You see, if you don’t consider this to be a run-as-is supplement, but rather a collection of experimental rules, and if you’re confident in your abilities to judge the impact of these options, then oh boy, I’ll guarantee that you’ll find some gems herein. At the same time, this is a very raw offering that fluctuates in the potency of its tricks rather wildly. A game that embraces the scout’s power will sneer at the relatively tame sapper and vice versa. The rough-edges in some of the ability interactions will require GM-calls. Still, while I should hate this book, I don’t. I enjoy it. Heck, I can see folks loving this. Why? Because it is creative and sports some seriously intriguing angles to pursue, significantly more so than many, many books I’ve read. As taken in its entirety, I can’t go higher than 3 stars for this: We have a mixed bag with some true gems, but also some less amazing components here. That being said, if you instead rate this for the cool scavenging options, you’ll get some real gems out of it – when rated as a grab-bag where you take some and leave some, then this suddenly becomes much more compelling – even with the flaws, this is at least 3.5 stars, rounded up, in such a context- And since I have a policy of in dubio pro reo, this is what my final verdict will be.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Martial Characters 2: Fight Smarter
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Stray Spells (Racial Guide)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/06/2017 05:30:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 23 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.

Okay, so the idea of spells becoming sentient humanoids isn’t new, but surprisingly, I have never seen the concept to be actually applied to a playable race, so the pdf does tread some new ground here. We begin the pdf thus with the “biology” if you will, of these sentient spells. Stray spells are, per se, immortal, though in practice, they always run the risk of being transcribed – this is a kind of Highlander-esque process where they can consume each other – the process takes 10 minutes, but more on that later. Stray spells are grouped in categories, depending on their spell school, with some specifics included – stray spells born from dispel magic, for example, tend to end up as loners…after all, their raison d’être would be the destruction of other stray spells – interesting nurture vs. nature angle for roleplaying here.

Speaking of interesting roleplaying opportunities – in a process not unlike transcription, two stray spells can fuse, budding basically into the analogue of offspring in an agendered, somewhat hermaphroditic process that could, e.g. generate fiery hail storm stray spells or even more interesting combinations – the only limits here, from a narrative point of view, are the ideas of those involved.

Racial trait-wise, stray spells get +2 Int and Dex, -2 Con, are medium native outsiders with a 30 ft. base speed. While sleeping, they gain a 50% miss chance, which is weird – does it stack with other miss chances? I assume no. “Anything that affects incorporeal creatures affects them.” You get the idea here – the racial traits, while understandable, don’t really adhere to the default formatting conventions, which may irk some of you. I felt the need to mention that, but let’s move on: They gain darkvision 60 ft. A stray spell can transcribe helpless stray spells or casters that are capable of casting 6th level spells or higher (or SP-equaivalents) when coup-de-gracing them, gaining temporary hit points equal to thrice the highest spell level the creature could cast or twice the creature’s HD if it was a stray spell, whichever is higher. These hit points last 1 hour and thankfully don’t stack with themselves. Stray spells “automatically makes an opposed caster level check against any attempt to dispel them, using their full character level as their cast level.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. A) That’s not how dispel magic or comparable checks work. B) How does this there even need to be a check (by whatever weird mechanics that’s supposed to happen), when the stray spell makes the check automatically?? They take damage upon failing the check and make end up being transcribed by the victor. But…I though they automatically make their check? That’s when it finally dawned upon me how that ability works: Basically, the roll a character level check against dispel attempts; they don’t automatically “make” the check, they just roll it, as a kind of saving throw substitute. -.-

After my initial annoyance over the rather wonky wording subsided, I found myself enjoying this drawback. As living spells, they are detectable by magic…and they have a spell form: They choose a spell of 3rd level or lower – as a standard action, they can turn themselves into a one-handed spell completion item that can be used by uttering the stray spell’s name as a command word. They use their highest mental attribute modifier as governing attribute modifier. A stray spell may be cast a number of times per day equal to 6 + the HD of the stray spell, minus 2 x the chosen spell’s level…which would translate to 3rd level spell access at 1st level. This is very strong, considering the potential AoE-damage output or the option to gain fly et al. at 1st level and should, as such, have some careful GM oversight due to the wide open nature of spells. Big plus: What can be used and what can’t while in this form are generally concisely codified and e.g. DR possessed translates to hardness, they have ego, etc. While not in any way a reliable indicator of power, they do come with RP-values, if you’re using them to gage general potency.

Random starting age and height/weight notes are included, as are favored class options for a couple of classic classes and some classes by LRGG. The racial paragon class does not get a favored class option, being already exclusive for the race – this class would be the stray king, who gets 2 + Int mod skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. They have full BAB-progression and good Will-saves. Spellkings may transcribe spellcasters of 2nd level or higher and non-spell-completion/trigger items, provided the Cl of the item is equal to or less than the Max Spell Level (which starts at 0th and increases to 9th) – transcribing items never yields temporary hit points, only spells.

Wait, what? Well, the class gains transcribed spellcasting: Upon transcribing a creature, the stray king gains 1 spell the transcribed creature knew or 1 spell used in the construction of an item. The stray king thankfully can only hold ½ the character level (should probably be class level) spells this way; the original spell of the stray spell does not count towards this maximum. The maximum spell level they can transcribe thus is similarly capped per level and such spells may be spontaneously cast, with Charisma being the governing spellcasting attribute. Stray kings begin play with 1 +1/4 stray king level starting spells thus known…and, as you may have gleaned, the existence of the class has some seriously cool roleplaying ramifications – which the pdf acknowledges and talks about! Kudos there!

The spellcasting engine of the stray king, just fyi, is not your run of the mill system either: Instead, the class begins play with 4 stray energy and increases this amount every level – casting a transcribed spell requires an expenditure of stray energy points equal to the spell level. The stray energy amount scales up to 40 at 9th level, which remains pretty conservative – and that’s a good thing, considering that the class can pretty much cherry-pick from diverse spell-lists, provided they kill the foes… 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter yield a metamagic feat and 3rd level yields the option to add 1 metamagic feat to the stray king’s original spell sans level-increase. Starting at 10th level, 2 may be added for free to the stray king’s original spell, 1 to any spell the class has. This is wonky and less elegant than it should be, considering the diverging level-increases of metamagic feats – tying the mechanic to the level-increase of metamagic feats would have been a more balanced and elegant option here.

8th and 16th level increase the speed of transcription and 12th level nets, 1/day “per 2 Charisma modifier” (wording could be streamlined) the option to regain a bit of stray energy via transcription. The capstone yields a second racial spell. At 3rd level and every odd level thereafter, the stray king class receives an enhancement, basically the talents of the class. These do come with roleplaying implications (Cool!) and some are accompanied by compulsions, which may temporarily be suppressed with a Will-save. They are intended as roleplaying catalysts and not as penalties – and it is nice to see the pdf state that as such for the GMs out there. The enhancements are interesting in how they interact with the class engine: Clear vision, for example, allows the stray king to add Charisma modifier to Will saves instead of Wisdom modifier and provides basically an evasion equivalent for Will-saves…but only while he has 1 illusion spell known. So yes, these enhancements interact with the current spell array known, thus rewarding diversification over specialization in the chassis of the class. A scaling, translucent armor that may be a bit overprotective, automatically transcribing undead (which leaves a somewhat nasty scent on the spell king that may offend some NPCs), swift action more flexible alter/disguise self variants, shifting temporary hit points gained from transcription to nearby allies – there are some really interesting and creative tricks here. On the annoying side – these are not properly codified by type – no idea whether they count as Sus, Sps, Ex…

A total of 8 feats are included (one of which lacks bolding for the Prerequisite and Benefit headers) that allow for the retaining of more spells, stray energy, the ability to cast the racial spell while not in spell form, extra uses in spell form, Sr equal to 10 + character level + highest mental attribute versus your chosen spell, which can be upgraded to apply to the whole school of the spell…interesting collection.

The pdf also features two sample stray king characters, Kaleido Skop, a stray spell bard and Dirk Chein, an inquisitor. Beyond these, a template allows for the creation of spell-based monsters and comes with a sample spell beast.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, while not bad, are also not exactly good: Beyond some formatting hiccups, there are a couple of oversights that impede playability (ability types) and some wording choices that are a bit unfortunate. That being said, the material herein DOES work and the playtesting this received does indeed show. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

While the option for a 3rd level spell at 1st level mho needs a nerf unless used in high fantasy/high-powered contexts, this pdf ended up impressing me more than I thought it would: The race of stray spells is saturated with roleplaying potential galore and, in spite of the wide open nature of the race, it manages to retain a sense of manageable balance much better than what I expected. Ian Sisson, Christos Gurd and Scott Gladstein have, as a whole, created one of the precious few new races that really feel different, that offer an interesting playing experience. The race is smart and fun and, as a person, I really, really like this pdf. More so than I frankly should, considering the hiccups, glitches and minor inconsistencies; with a picky dev, this would be 5 stars + seal of approval material, no questions asked. That being said, in spite of loving this pdf, as a reviewer, I must unfortunately take the hiccups and glitches into account and they do drag down what would otherwise be an excellent offering. Thus, my official verdict can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

If you’re willing to work a bit with the pdf and if you’re willing to look past the imperfections, you’ll have a diamond in the rough, though!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Stray Spells (Racial Guide)
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Shapeshifter (Base Class)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/13/2017 06:36:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This new base class clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 33 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 patreon.

All right, so another take on the shapeshifter? This'll be interesting! Chassis-wise, the class gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level as well as proficiency with light and medium armor and simple and martial weapons. They get full BAB-progression as well as good Fort-saves. At first level, the class gains a pool of primal energy equal to the class levels. Primal energy can be spent or invested - reallocating these points is a standard action and spent points replenish after 8 hours rest. At 5th level, points may be reallocated as a swift action, at 10th level as an immediate action.

Starting at 1st level, the class gains visages, which are prepared - 2 at first level, scaling up to 13 at 20th level. Visages prepared may be changed via 1 hour of meditation. This can be done up to twice per day: The first time, this fatigues the shapeshifter, the second time it exhausts the shapeshifter. A new visage level is unlocked at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter - so yep, there are 10 levels of visages. Visages, somewhat oddly-named, can be considered to be less pronounced modifications of the body of the shapeshifer - they represent a cross between talents and spells - like talents, they provide continuous bonuses, but like spells, they must be prepared and can be switched. It is an interesting set-up and one that actually makes the class feel distinct. We can find electricity damage added to unarmed strikes, extra arms (sans combat capability, thankfully), the option to squeeze into tight spaces, natural attacks and armor - interesting tricks here! Primal energy may btw. be invested in natural attacks to upgrade them to primary attacks and the shapeshifter may grow mouths from legs, horns from hands, etc. and thus may have multiple variants of the same natural attack. Have I mentioned fleshpockets? Firing spines?

The flexibility these options offer and the choices available make the shapeshifter a potent class from the get-go, one that quickly increases and allows for the duplication of summon spells, use primal energy to heal, boost saves, create deadly toxins, grow internal extra brains...the abilities grow progressively strong, but know what's absent, for the most part? Means to regain primal energy. While switching and passive abilities are free, the big whoppers and more potent tricks also mean that the flexibility decreases - I have rarely seen a class that makes you want to spend a resource so badly...and not spend it at the same time! While the highest levels allow for very limited energy regaining via autophagy (no, you can't cheese it). The section, just fyi, is massive.

Starting at 2nd level, the shapeshifter gains predatory focus - he can study a target within line of sight as a swift action, gaining an untyped bonus of +1 to atk versus that creature, which increases by a further +1 at 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter. In addition to this bonus, predatory focus has an additional effect, with 8 choices available. These include bonuses to critical confirmations (which upgrades to autoconfirms at 15th level), ignoring parts of DR (taking different types of DR into account) or bonuses to Knowledge checks. The power levels of these choices oscillates quite a bit. Slightly problematic: Using focus as part of an initiative check. Does this count as a swift action? does it end being flat-footed? I assume no, but I'm not sure. On a cosmetic side-note, a sidebar has been formatted as another ability here, which is, formatting-wise, a bit annoying.

Starting at 4th level, the shapeshifter gains the power to consume the essence of a creature via the mantle class feature. In order to do so, they must kill a creature who is the target of the predatory focus, gaining the mantle associated with the creature. A mantle requires an amount of primal energy to work, requiring investment. Only one mantle may be active at any given time and investing primal energy is either a swift action or used in conjunction with the shapeshifting ability that allows for primal energy reallocation. The ability, while working smoothly, could didactically be phrased a bit better: As I see it, you may gain the mantle upon slaying a creature with the focus, but it only becomes activated upon investing primal energy. I admit to being first slightly confused by the sequence here in absence of a duration for the consumed essence, but yeah. Consider this just me complaining at a high level.

A total of 9 such mantles are provided and their activation costs range from 1 to 3 primal energy. It should be noted that these provide scaling benefits and thus also increase the activation cost at higher levels - with the exception of two mantles, who only have a fixed cost. Mantles grant abilities at 4th level, 9th level, 13th level, 17th level and also sport a capstone ability each. There are interesting abilities here - let us take the aberration mantle, as an example: If you make a Will-save, the prompting creature must succeed a save against the same DC or be affected by confusion for one round. 9th level provides a very potent debuff: Targets suffer -2 to saves to resist fear effects and the shapeshifter gains a +2 bonus to Intimidate as well, with both scaling - and creatures affected by the shapeshifter's fear-effects take an equal penalty to AC, attack and damage rolls. In combination with some options out there, this can make for pretty crippling debuffing. 13th level yields a morale bonus suppressing aura and at 17th level, they are aware of such bonuses and may flip them via primal energy expenditure into penalties - pretty cool! As a capstone, they get a bonus after slaying foes that may be granted to allies.

The Mantle of the beast nets either Fight or Flight when below 1/2 maximum hit points: The former lets you reroll minimum damage (not just weapon damage - that should have a caveat) and increases the damage output by 1, while Flight makes them no longer provoke any AoOs from creatures they are aware of...which is VERY, very strong. The abilities activated may btw. be switched as a swift or immediate action. This duality extends to the options at higher levels, including double rolls for attack or saves. 13th level provides the option to add a full attack after a crit confirmation, with a bonus, no less, and when in flight mode, they may perform immediate attack actions when subjected to a critical threat. This mantle is exceedingly potent, to the point where I wouldn't allow it - and yes, I am aware that the 1/2 max hit point caveat is intended to provide motivation to not have these constantly unlocked, but making abilities available all the time sans this bloodied-style limitation and making them less potent would have imho made this one run more smoothly.

The construct mantle, with save rerolls, SR and 13th level spell immunity that is powered by primal energy expenditure makes for a really cool and potent anti-magic defense option (with high-level options to converse dispersed magic into force damage bursts!) - really like that one! The mantle of the dragon nets draconic tricks (properly codified claws, natural armor and energy resistance (or DR) based on the dragon used to trigger the ability. The free 9th level breath weapon may look like a bit much, but subsequent uses require primal energy expenditure and cooldown, preventing spamming as well as imposing a hard cap. Once again, a well-wrought mantle. Fey can yield an immediate action Bluff feint, including self-granting concealment, with higher levels allowing the use of the ability when a foe misses. Alternate effects like dirty tricks are unlocked as well. The mantle of man is also interesting - it focuses on better social skills and features some cool social tricks, like using primal energy to not have creature attitudes worsen towards them or undermine hostile mind-influencing magic. Nice one!

The ooze mantle allow for the free movement into the square of other creatures and may even attack creatures within them - here, a sidebar dealing with reach etc. would have imho made sense to explain the various interactions that this uncommon option provides. At higher levels creatures that share squares with the shapeshifter at the start or end of the round take acid damage - and at following levels, Con damage is added to it (with a save to negate) and this damage nets temporary hit points, 20 per creature within...which is eminently cheesable. Can someone hand me the bag of kittens for massive amounts temporary hit points, please? The plant mantle nets tree stride and photosynthesis as well as high-level terrain control - no complaints there. The undead mantle begins with the negative energy affinity-like positive/negative energy change (healed by negative, harmed by positive) as well as temporary hit points. At higher levels, they can add negative energy damage to attacks, replenishing the temporary hit points of the mantle. These hit points are also used as a resource for becoming e.g. incorporeal at 13th level. Once again, an interesting mantle!

Beyond the base class and its various mantles and visages, we have 3 archetypes - one for the barbarian, one for the druid and one for the rogue, all of which can be summed up as losing a bit of their base tricks in favor of access to the visage engine of visages up to 7th level. Two feats allow other classes to dabble in the engine, while two other feats net temporary hit points for polymorph-spells casting casters. Fleshy Foxhole is OP - it lets you use items while merged with your form, which can prevent means of destroying them. Similarly, and I did not think I'd say that at one point, the Extra Primal Energy and Extra Shapeshifting feats, which net +4 primal energy or +1 visage (or two, if they're lower than your highest level visage) prepared are BRUTAL. They are both so good, taking another feat is basically pure foolhardiness, which is not a good sign as far as I'm concerned. While they have caps of how often you may take them, I'd strongly suggest capping them unless you're playing a really high-powered game.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have two sides herein: On one hand, I was really impressed by the rules-language. While its wording deviates from a couple of standard conventions, it manages to get complex concepts done right and does so, as a whole, sans serious hiccups. On the formal editing level, we have minor plural hiccups, doubled letters and the like, so not so perfect there. Layout adheres to a solid 2-column full-color standard with original pieces of full-color artwork - many of which are actually quite cute, like the little oozes on the ooze-mantle page. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Designer Dayton Johnson had a really tough job here: One) I have literally analyzed more than 5 base classes dealing with the subject matter...and if I take archetypes into account, it gets worse. Two) He did not go the easy, standard route - the class does NOT use the eidolon chassis or that of the aegis or similar classes - instead it presents its own subsystem with a vast assortment of unique abilities, many of which are actually rather creative! This is NOT a phoned-in class - it is unique and creative.

In particular, the resource-management that lies at the heart of the shapeshifter is a true joy to behold: The game of switching visages is absolutely amazing and seriously fun, with a ton of combos hardwired into the class - it feels, at times, almost like a class penned by Bradley Crouch in that regard, and I mean that as the highest form of compliment! At the same time, the free access to all visages once the respective level unlocks, combined with the mantles, makes the shapeshifter a VERY potent class in the hands of an experienced player. GMs running a gritty or less high-powered game should consider implementing alternate restrictions, perhaps limit the visages available and nerf some of the mantle options a bit. What I'm trying to say is that the nitpicker within me could make a case that this class may be too strong, but I honestly don't want to. Why? Because I really love how it plays. While I will adjust the chassis and details of the class for my game, the playing experience presented by the shapeshifter is rather impressive - if I were to rate just the engine and how it behaves, I'd consider this an easy 5 stars. However, I do have a couple of complaints regarding some options herein and their power and similarly, but to a lesser degree, the glitches do annoy me a bit.

How to rate this, then? Well, for me as a person, this is a 5-star+ seal file for the engine tweaks I'll take out of it and for the actually creative and interesting options it has. As a reviewer, though, I do have to take my balance concerns and the hiccups into account, though, and from threat range increases that lack the stacking caveat to the other tricks, there is quite a bit to be potentially munchkin'd. I could rate this down to 3 for them, but that would not even remotely do this justice. Just note once more: This is a VERY potent option and not for low-powered games!

All in all, this drags my official verdict down to 3.5 stars, rounded up since it does not deserve being called mediocre - it is an exceptional, creative class, though one that imho needs a bit polish from the GM. If you don't mind the editing and are confident you can balance and tweak it, then get this ASAP - this is one cool class!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shapeshifter (Base Class)
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Tome of Advanced Item Use
by Dylan T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/10/2017 20:04:01

This book begins with a vaguely pretentious and somewhat condescending introduction. I happen to like artificer classes and new items thank you very much.

After that we get the collector base class. they get heirlooms, magical items that function only for them. TL;DR, If you want to play a class that is defined by the gear that they use, play an Occultist (from paizo’s occult adventures) or one of the myriad archetypes that gains that classes implements class feature. Even if you take away the abilities that are far too powerful, all you have left is an uninspired mess of a class that tries to use things that other classes get as supplements to their abilities as class features.

To be specific the collector has several problematic abilities. Their main class feature, their heirlooms take the form of magic items of up to a certain price. This price starts small and improves as the collector gains levels. While the value of the heirlooms progresses thought the collectors career, it stops mattering after 8th level. At that point the collector can select minor artifacts as heirlooms. This allows them to gain a sphere of annihilation as an heirloom. While this is rather difficult to control when they get it, it is still kill anything with no saving throw and there are a handful of ways to make it much easier to control. While this is the most egregious example of what you can do as a collector, there are still plenty of minor artifacts that are only slightly less disruptive to play. The collector can also recharge magic items that have a limited number of uses, multiple times if they take the bond (the rage power esque pseudo feats that they gain access to every other level) this moves a wand of cure light wounds from a smart investment to 50d8 of healing a day. As early as 3rd level. This is an absolutely insane amount of healing that no other class can put out until they begin approaching 20th level.

There are a handful of other things like the ability to cast a spell from a wand twice in the same round and a bond that allows you to add 1/4th your level to your AC, along with a favored class bonus that does the same thing, making you obscenely difficult to hit. Also noteworthy is what’s missing from the class, namely any way to improve the save DC or caster level of any magic items you have, making items that cast spells non-competitive at higher levels.

There’s also the questing knight hybrid class. I don’t have access to the other class it draws upon (the fighting man) so I’ll decline to comment on this. I do note however, that it doesn’t get an heirloom at 20th level, making its capstone worthless.

After the collector is the Sacred Smith, this is by far the coolest concept of the three classes presented, but needs some heavy modification to work at the table. Their primary class feature is sacred forge, the ability to, over the course of 1 minute, create something from nothing. They have 10 pounds of matter that they can create every 24 hours, plus an additional 10 pounds per level they have. Unfortunately I don’t see anything that prevents them from just making gold with this ability, worse at 4th level they can make items created with this ability permanent, allowing them to, in essence, turn half their pool of matter into gold every day. (TIL: 50gp weighs 1 pound). At 9th level they can make magic items with their sacred forge ability. This doesn’t take any more matter than usual, and therein lies the problem. Most magic items don’t have any listed weight, meaning that the collector can make them for free and need only pass a check that is honestly pretty trivial (10+1/200th of the items price, rounded down. This DC gets even lower as the sacred smith progresses in level). A wand of cure light wounds is 1 oz and requires a DC 13 check to make. Trivial amounts of resources for positively insane returns.

They also have a few Battlesmith Trainings, rage power esque pseudo feats that they gain access to every few levels. Most of them are pretty solid, save that they expend only a pound or so of matter, which returns after an hour. That’s a lot of book keeping for very little expenditure, that’s more irritating than anything else. There are a few outliers, one gives you an enhancement bonus to damage rolls to bludgeoning weapons. But you get an ability before that that lets you give any weapon you make an enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls that progresses at a faster rate. One gives you access to Dominate Monster (on creatures with the fire subtype) and Control Construct at 10th level. Those are 9th and 7th level spells respectively, and while they won’t come up every time, when they do, they’re absolutely devastating. Dominate monster lasts for a day per level and control construct is almost guaranteed to work if the sacred smith has ranks in spellcraft.

The sacred smith has a single archetype that allows them to trade out one of their abilities for the ability to create constructs via the animate objects spell, and later the craft construct feat. The last class in the lineup is the magician; they use a variety of props that mimic the powers of magical items in combat. While not particularly interesting, it is probably the most balanced of the classes.

Props are, as mentioned before, mundane items that the magician can turn into magic items, at least for a few rounds. They can only be slotless wondrous items, and the amount of gold they can cost varies by level. They can do this once per day per 2 levels they have. Unfortunately, they never get the ability to improve the save DC of these items, rendering there in combat use questionable at later levels.

They also gain secrets, ways they can modify certain magic items to gain certain effects. Most of these are pretty cool and I don’t have much to complain about. Although some of them give the magician bonuses on concentration checks and reduce arcane spell failure chance, niter of which were things the magician had to worry about, not having any spell casting abilities.

There is also a variety of new equipment tricks (from the adventurer’s armory book, a fact mentioned nowhere in the section). Most of these are solid choices, but some are pretty bad, dagger dance lets you do something you could already do, and hypnotic knuckle roll lets you spend a move action to give creatures a -1 on attack rolls for a round if they fail a will save.

There are also a handful of feats for intelligent magic items, a section of the game that’s better off being forgotten about.

Lastly there are a few rogue talents and magus arcana. These are all pretty solid, the magus arcana that lets you get a bonded item and later make it intelligent are pretty good, but I’m not sure how it works if the magus takes a wand with his arcane bond and makes it intelligent. Normally magic items with charges are explicitly not allowed to be intelligent items.

Unfortunately, most of the content in this book is unusable as presented, so I cannot give it a very good rating, but there are some gems in this book if you’re willing to put the work in to fix them.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Advanced Item Use
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Alternate Paths: Social Characters
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/04/2017 09:30:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive installment of the Alternate Paths-series clocks in at 87 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with an impressive 83 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

So, what is this book? One could picture this supplement, as a whole, as a spiritual heir to both Ultimate Intrigue and Campaign, but I'll get more into the nit and grit of that later. In case you have not discerned that - this may not be the book to get if you're looking to run a murder-hobo dungeon-crawling campaign - the focus here is on intrigue, social iteration, etc. As such, the book assumes use of the downtime-rules from Ultimate Campaign. The pdf then provides a couple of considerations for characters and for what it means to be "civilized" and some general assumptions there - this ties into the dichotomy between primal and civilized characters, which is also represented by a few favored class options grouped not by class, but by what end of the primal/civilized-dichotomy the character represents.

We move on from here to considerations on certain types of deities - these represent general tropes of urban gods and come with the proper array of domains and the like. In an interesting conceptual twist, some deities are classified as predatory, meaning that they don't have followers in the traditional sense, but that they are basically "worshiped" by falling prey to the: Drugs, as an example, would one such concept. I do like how this influences potentially the meta-considerations of the game and we also get to know about locational deities.

Now, beyond this, we are introduced to the concept of social "caste" - the pdf acknowledges that this may not be the best word to describe the system, but, as a matter of fact, it makes sense - if you take a look at how historical societies worked (and continue to work, to a degree), you'll notice that the notion is not only restricted to pseudo-Indian environments. Social caste may be advanced via certain classes in the book and a feat can also be used at character creation to inherit caste. It is interesting to note that the higher castes come with a required minimum level - if you want to take levels in the 3-level socialite PrC, for example, each level will have new minimum level requirements, which thus means that upper caste characters will generally have a higher level than lower caste beings. The PrC nets, just fyi d8 HD, 6 + Int mod skills. It sports full spellcasting progression and nets a social path bonus each level - more on those later. For the purpose of the PrC, PCs start as "strangers" and progress through the 3 castes. Each of the castes has several distinct social paths: These include e.g. crime bosses gaining an income as well as a bonus to Intimidate and Bluff versus lawful creatures. Commanders gain morale bonuses when attacking professional soldiers and beings in your organizational hierarchy cannot deny you proper requests...but all of those paths also come with a social responsibility - these are similarly tied to roleplaying, with the example of teh crime boss requiring the boss to keep his charges safe, while the commander, obviously, is beholden to the structures of the military in which he serves.

Being famous or infamous, a physician or the like all can be found. In the middle castes, we can find merchant princes, ministers and bannerman, while the lower castes contain ascetics or champions - I kinda wished we got a bit more of these - 4 lower versus 7 upper caste paths show the system tilting a bit towards the more prestigious occupations. That being said, the system does engage in something that does rub me the wrong way: We get "misc. bonuses" in quite a few of the abilities granted by these paths - know how many bonus types PFRPG has? Do we really need another one that is not clearly defined? Not a fan here, particularly since some have been codified according to proper types.

The pdf also introduces a mechanic for social combat - unlike Ultimate Intrigue's verbal duels, these social combats are designed to be pretty rules-light and may take place in combat. As a standard action, you roll 1d20 and add the number of skill ranks (NOT the easily cheesable skill's value!) and the associated ability score modifier - the skill must qualify as being a social combat skill, obviously. Yes, these are concisely defined. The DC would be 10 + 1/2 the opponent's HD + the highest mental ability score modifier of the target opponent. If you exceed the target DC, the opponent takes 1d6 nonlethal damage per 2 ranks in the skill used. If you exceed the DC by 5, you also gain an edge. Social combat is a language-dependent, mind-affecting ability. A character defeated primarily by social combat gains the yielding condition - it cannot take hostile actions, may only defend themselves and is considered defeated - it should be noted that the GM retains some control here.

I mentioned edges - there are three of these and only one may be spent per social combat. These may be used to reduce the number of damaging d6s rolled taken from social attacks, can add +2d6 to the social combat damage, or add +4 to a social combat roll. It should be noted that this section does not specify an activation action, which it should - it is pretty clear from context that using an edge should not require an action and is considered to be part of the respective proceedings. The mechanic is precise, mind you - just complaining about the oversight of this formality.

A further aspect that influences social combat would be determination - these would be the creature's willingness to stay in combat: Determination is equal to the creature's highest mental attribute + the creature's HD. (As a minor nitpick: HD are usually noted first in such formulae.) Now, pretty interesting: The determination of a creature is modified, according to situations: A parent protecting his/her offspring, would e.g. double determination, while convincing peasants to rise up against a hated despot is much easier and halves their determination.

So, how does social combat run? Well, the result of using this system is that wise-cracking heroes can deplete pretty efficiently the determination of otherwise superior, but brutish/dumb creatures, getting them to stand down/see the error of their ways. Since determination is tracked individually, larger amounts of foes can make for more rewarding combats, while combats versus few or singular enemies can be solved decisively and quickly. Whether you like that or don't depends very much on your game's playstyle. That being said, the simplicity and elegance of the system allows for VERY easy GM-customization: You can run these social combat rules completely without determination...or you could use determination as additional "social-only" temporary "hit points" that kick in upon reaching 0 hit points, if you want to. So yeah, I am not the biggest fan of the default system, but I very much enjoy what you can easily do with it.

All right, next up would be 3 new classes: The noble gets d8 HD, a whopping 8 + Int-mod skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression and good Will-saves. Proficiency-wise, the class gains access to simple weapons, hand crossbow, rapier and all one-handed non-exotic firearms as well as light armor. At the start of each social encounter or verbal duel, they gain edges equal to Charisma modifier +1/4 class level, which are designated as noble edges. I assume that these do not adhere to the usual "1 edge per social combat"-rule, but I am frankly not sure. They begin play as a member of the upper class and gain a social path, as per the previous rules. Noblesse oblige, however and thus, each noble must choose and adhere to a given ideology: Personal glory, group glory, organizational glory, greater good or movements may be chosen and all have in common that they feature restrictions for the noble and also determine cases in which edges may not be used. These are concisely defined. The noble begins play with renown and increase that to great renown at 5th level, incredible reknown at 9th, fabulous reknown at 13th and regal renown at 17th level. And yes, these are concisely presented.

Second level yields social graces (another is gained at every even level thereafter) - in case you have not figured that out, indeed, there is some overlap between the social aspects of the vigilante class and the noble Instead of such a social grace, teamwork feats, social combat feats, social caste feats or the aforementioned social bonuses may be gained.

2nd level also yields the ability to talk down foes - when inflicting non-lethal damage via social combat, they may enhance their damage output, temporarily inflict negative conditions and allies may be targeted to grant them temporary hit points. This, weirdly, mentions an ally saving against it, which is not something the social combat rules here sport as a default. At 6th level, the push button ability allows for the expenditure of noble edges to determine the attribute of the target used to defend against a social attack. Beyond that, depending on the attribute chosen, the noble may choose one of two different effects to generate associated effects, ranging from calming targets to treating damage rolls as 4s or granting more temporary hp. Starting at 7th level, the noble may use noble edges to talk down foes as a swift action, but may not exceed one talk down attempt per turn.

3rd level allow for the combination of regular and social combat attacks. 4th level allows for the use of edges to grant morale boosts to themselves (only one per round and here, noble edges and regular ones are distinctly set apart, clearing up any confusion there...but still, wished that the base mechanics had noted that.). 5th level provides basically evasion for Will-saves,, which extends to all allies within line of sight and earshot at 19th level. 11th level increases talking down social damage, while 15th level increases the steps attitude is moved via Diplomacy and Intimidate. As a capstone, we get immunity to mind-influencing effects and auto-confirmed crits in the area of renown. And yes, the immunity can be suppressed. The class comes with FCOs for the base races and some more exotic ones from LRGG's oeuvre.

Furthermore, the class comes with a massive list of aforementioned social graces as well as advice on playing a noble - which centers on both elaborating the class mechanics and the roleplaying aspects of it. We even get suggestions for different "types" of noble and fitting social graces. All in all, I enjoyed this class more than I thought I would, in spite of the few hiccups, it is generally a worthwhile option.

The next class would be the legionary, who gets d10 HD, must be non-chaotic, and receives full BAB-progression, good Will-saves, 6 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple and martial weapons and all armors and shields, including tower shields. The class chooses a unit type at first level - these unit types are assigned social classes and receive their own class features - each day when assigning tactics, this type may be chosen and the social classes act as a limitation here. From quicker flurry-like thrown attacks to bonuses to atk and damage when they have not moved, the respective unit type features generally are interesting and fit the themes. They also scale with class levels. As always, I am not a fan of per encounter abilities, which e.g. the triarii sport (insert my long and at this point, well-known rant why this makes no sense). Cool: Second level yields bonuses to AC when receiving a morale bonus or sharing a teamwork feat and may share spaces with allies, which can be rather potent. They also get a kind of wildcard equipment ability called "arsenal" at 3rd level, which may not be cheesed. Magical arsenal is unlocked at 8th level, which can be galling for some GMs, but yeah - I can see it work in some campaigns.

3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter yield a teamwork feat and 4th level grants access to the first so-called legionary tactic, +1 every 4 levels thereafter. Galling: The wording here is messed up: Beyond a bear/bare-glitch, the wording here contradicts itself, implying two base tactics at 4th level versus the 1 it previously states - it requires checking the class table to deduce which one it is.

The legionary tactics are associated with the aforementioned unit types and two per unit type are provided. While these generally are pretty cool, the downside of the limited choice is that there won't be much variation between different legionaries of one caste. At 10th level, 1/3 class level of them may be reassigned as a swift action...which, considering the limited selection, is less potent than you'd think.

6th level and every 4 levels thereafter yield Skill Focus in a skill (or a noble's social grace) - these also include unlocks and double as increases in rank. The capstone nets massive social skill bonuses and automatic critical confirmation versus professional soldiers. I really like that "professional soldier" is defined here concisely - and so is "citizen"...but frankly, that should NOT be hidden in a class capstone. Considering that this is not the only ability referring to these concepts, it should have been properly defined in the base terminology employed by the book. The class sports a few favored class options.

The third class featured within would be the showman, who receives d8 HD, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves, must be non-lawful and gains 4 + Int skills per level as well as a custom proficiency list. Showmen are subject to arcane spell failure - the showman gains spontaneous spellcasting of up to 6th spell level, drawing from his own spell-list.

The signature ability of the class, gained at first level, would be a phantom blade - a magical blade that may be drawn as a move action...and yes, Quick Draw etc. is taken into account. When attacking with this weapon, Charisma is used instead of Strength for calculating damage (the rules-language is a bit wonky here, referring to score instead of modifier) and the showman may expend spell slots to increase the damage output of the phantom blade. It attacks, fyi, touch AC. It should be noted that damage type of this bonus damage and the phantom blade is not properly codified either. Targets hit by the blade may succeed a Will-save - if they do, they greatly reduce the damage output of the blade. Also slightly wonky: The conjured, versatile phantom blade is eligible for use with Weapon Focus, which makes all kinds of no sense and renders interaction with other abilities rather wonky. 5th, 117th and 17th level increase the potency and reality of the blade as well as the damage-types the blade may use - which provides a clue that the bonus damage and base phantom weapon damage should not by untyped, but rather the same as the weapon duplicated. 7th level allows for the sacrifice of spells to increase the save DC of the blade.

Starting at 3rd level, the class gains Weapon finesse and always treats the phantom weapon as finnessable. He also gains the first so-called bladewarp, of which there are two types: Shapes and effects. Only one effect may be applied to any given phantom weapon, but any number of shape bladewarps may be applied. Another one is gained at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter. These are very potent and interesting, allowing you to strike at enemy spellslots/unused spells, confusing targets etc. Effects add power, while shapes allow for unique twists, but at the cost of making the blade easier to see through.

2nd level provides a bonus to Perform and more gold earned as well as the first carnival trick, with more being learned at 4th level and every even level thereafter . these represent the talents of the class. While the above hiccups did not bode well for the class, I was more than a bit positively surprised by the carnival tricks featured herein: We get the ability to basically teleport within illusions by stepping into the fantasy, readying counters to actions via skill-checks and knowing smiles or the ability to instill an identity crisis in the target that may well be more real than the poor hapless sod imagined. In short: These talents are really creative and make for cool poaching/hacking options, even if you don't plan on using the class as written.

13th level provides more reality for illusions, further enhancing this reality at 19th level. Minor nitpick: Spell-reference not italicized. The capstone eliminates the blade's save and increases the DC of his illusions. The spell-list's spells are not italicized and the class gains, once again a couple of different favored class options.

Now, while the base class has couple of unnecessary hiccups, it does come with a per se pretty intriguing archetype: the ringleader replaces spellcasting with an ability to generate temporary clones - and the archetype manages to concisely define and reign in this most difficult of abilities to prevent cheesing in a thoroughly concise and impressive manner. Instead of enhancing phantom baldes via spellcasting, he may expend clone uses to increases the damage output versus targets. Carnival tricks are restricted to a degree and 3 unique ones are presented. Additionally, 4th level and every 6 levels thereafter replace the carnival trick gained there with upgrades to clone staying power, with 10th level increasing the daily array of clones beyond the usual scaling of the base ability. Pretty cool: Shell-game-like switching of positions and at higher levels, the destruction of a clone can yield confusion to foes and reflexive swapping. This archetype is really nice and extremely hackable - I really, really enjoy it.

From here on out, we get 7 new spells - layout-wise, their pages sport quite a bit of free space - more than two could have fit on a given page, but that's a cosmetic complaint. From making targets seem buffoonish to making targets look like you (in a variety of versions) or the conviction of being attacked by chickens or other fowl, the spells are pretty nice. Magical very important papers help lending a sense of authority to the PC - but it should be noted that it has a couple of minor formatting deviations. Beyond the usual "extra" class feature feats, the chapter with new feats contains feat-based access to social paths, further enhances their bonuses or allows you to be part of more than one caste via Man of Two Worlds. Similarly, the paths and the social combat system entwine here, granting special attacks to e.g. Academics and sporting the [Social Style] descriptor - a type of bearing in a social context, if you will - otherwise, they can be switched akin to regular styles. And yes, much like regular styles, they sport 2 follow-up feats each and can be considered to be intriguing.

The final section of the pdf provides a significant array of different political services, codifying the arranging of relationships, assassinations, bribes, buyouts, etc. - these are well-codified with examples and descriptions, etc. - and both sources and modifiers are included, ending the pdf on a nice note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, traditionally a weak point of LRGG's offerings are generally good - while there are a couple of minor formatting hiccups and some abilities that could use a bit of refinement, as a whole, this represents a step up. On the big plus side, for the most part, this book does actually interesting things, often complex ones, and excels in some seriously difficult rules-operations. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with a blend of b/w and full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed and nested bookmarks.

Scott Gladstein, Ian Sisson and Christos Gurd have created a supplement here that I like more than any previous one in the series: While I personally loved the ascetic character-installment's esoteric tweaks, these did require a lot of GM-skill and consideration to properly use and this book is significantly more player-and GM-friendly. That being said, the book has, beyond a few editing hiccups, two crucial flaws that keep it from reaching the lofty praise I'd otherwise heap upon it:

One, the terminology and its definitions is didactically, not that well organized. Having to look up e.g. the definition of being a "professional soldier" in a capstone is not something I consider to be wise. Secondly, and more importantly in my book, the per se very cool social combat system presented herein could and should be a bit clearer in its presentation - and it honestly is stunning to me why the pdf does not elaborate for a page or so on the means of tweaking its baseline.

You see, the math of the system is pretty solid for what it seeks to be, but the default use creates a very distinct and pretty social default mode of operations...and that one may be one some GMs loathe. HOWEVER, the system, with absolutely 0 work on part of the GM, can be tweaked to enable for play in pretty much any campaign and playstyle you want to use. I can see the math, how it works in various campaign types and how it must be tweaked to accommodate them at one glance...but the same may not hold true for all customers. It is baffling to me why the pdf does not explain the repercussions of e.g. ignoring determination, of increasing/decreasing it, etc., when it is quite evident that some serious work has gone into the social combat mechanic. In short, even if you're like me and don't like the default, which provides pretty speedy resolutions, you may well want to take a closer look here - the system offers much more than what one can perceive at first glance.

The classes contained here are on the solid-to-good level: They offer unique tricks as well as sufficient customization options, even though a few minor hiccups can be found. The showman feels a bit like an odd man out - while per se not a bad class, it doesn't really tie in with the leitmotifs established here. I generally do like the caste-system mechanics and the favors, though the former could have used a bit of expansion.

How to rate this, then? Well, the balancing here is pretty good and similarly, even potent and high-difficulty tricks have been codified rather well. While the pdf does have a couple of hiccups that would see me usually penalize it further than I do in this review, I did draw a lot of inspiration from this book and that is something I rather cherish. If you expect perfection from a supplement and some rules that immediately let you go to town, then this may not be what you're looking for. However, if you're willing to work with the book, perhaps expand it a bit and do some tweaking, then you most assuredly will get your money's worth here. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Social Characters
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Alternate Paths: Social Characters
by Walter B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/20/2017 04:44:03

Alt paths social characters is the 6th entry in little reds alt path series. This time around they’re focusing on adding more social elements to the game, in much the same manner as paizo’s ultimate intrigue book. That book is called out in the introduction as another book that readers should consider picking up. That’s a nice little touch that most 3rd party books don’t bother with.

Content wise the book starts off with a bit of introduction, telling the reader what sort of games the content in the book is useful for, namely politics, money, social influence that sort of thing. These are traditionally areas that Pathfinder underperforms in.

Next it delves into civilized vs. primal a method of classifying a character that’s sort of akin to alignment. Declaring a character as primal or civilized gives them access to an additional option for their favored class bonus, this is a list of options available to all classes. While that’s certainly a novel design space, the primal options seem to be significantly better than their civilized counterparts. In addition to providing bonuses to more valuable things like initiative and spell damage rolls, all but one of the primal options can be used in any situation. However, the civilized options are all restricted to urban environments.

The next entry gives a series of archetypes for deities, roles that are more fitting for the sorts of gods worshiped by people in cities. Towards the end of the introduction it also talks about divine classes that worship these deities often don’t have a proper church but are instead unknowing vessels for divine power. That sort of works if you treat the deities that use those archetypes as vague-ill defined concepts, unknown to mortals I recommend ignoring that last bit if you give those deities names and history. Otherwise you’re just making it harder for your players to explore your setting. There’s also another much shorter section about making regional deities. After that the book goes on to introduce a social cast system, which lets you make characters with a more distinct place in the world. This is similar to the 5e background system. Social castes are tiered based on character level this is done by progressing in a prestige class, progressing in a social class from this book or taking a feat that has different benefits based on when you took it. I’m not that big of a fan of tying social roles to what is essentially a character’s capacity for violence, but it’s functional.

All of the social castes have a set of bonuses, sort of sub roles to help validate your character. So not every member of the upper class is a landed noble and not every member of the lower class is a pauper. In addition to the benefits of having a certain social bonus characters also have a responsibility that they need to fulfill in order to maintain the benefit of their social bonus. The usefulness of these bonuses vary drastically, most of the upper class bonuses amount to free money of varying amounts and bonuses to skill checks. Most of the middle class bonuses just give you skill check bonus, two notable exceptions include the academic, who gives you two extra skill ranks (that you can lose…) and the merchant prince who buys stuff for 20% less. They also have the ability to buy basically anything given enough time. The example provided is for the deck of many things. This is an artifact and the game takes great pains to make it clear that only the GM can choose to dole those out on a case by case basis. In return they need to move down right comical levels of money (2000 gp per level) every month. Most of the lower class bonuses are a bit more reasonable, the champion has easy access to master work weapons and armor and the wheeler and dealer can pretend to be a member of the higher castes. One notable exception is the ascetic; they gain a small ki pool like a monk. This is more useful for the monk class features it gives you (extra attack, +4 AC, +20 foot move speed) then anything that’s listed in the bonus, so I’m assuming this is unintentional on little reds part.

Next we come to the social combat rules, a lighter version of the verbal duel rules presented in paizo’s Ultimate Intrigue. Unfortunately these rules are aggressively terrible and I can’t recommend you use them.

Making a social attack is a standard action where you roll 1d20 + the ranks you have in a social combat skill and that skills modifier. The DC for this check is 10 + your 1/2 Opponent’s HD + Their highest mental ability score modifier. Math savvy readers might recognize this as the formula for determining a save DC. An odd choice as a character’s “social attack” is about twice as high as what characters add to their best saves. Beating that DC means that you inflict 1d6 points of non-lethal damage per two ranks you have in the skill you used to attack with. If you inflict more damage than your targets determination (1/2 their HD + their highest mental ability score modifier) over the course of the fight they yield, meaning they stop being a factor on the battlefield. Social combat is explicitly a mind effecting affect.

So this has a whole slew of issues, the math is half-handed. HD, and by extension skill ranks scale faster than CR does so opponents are going to hit harder and more frequently than players do. This is the exact opposite of how pathfinder’s combat meta normally works. Furthermore players can’t even use this system at 1st level because they can’t have two ranks in a skill yet. Because social combat deals nonlethal damage it interacts with defensive abilities in a bunch of weird ways. Damage reduction is the most effective defense against social combat, and if you wanted to social combat a vampire, too bad they’re immune to non-lethal damage (and mind effecting effects to boot). And when social combat does work, creatures have so little determination that if everybody does it then creatures yield within a round.

Next we get into the classes section of the book, starting with the noble. The noble has 1d8 hit die, 3/4ths BAB, 8+int skills per level and a good will save. Nobles start as a member of the upper caste and get a social path bonus from that list. Nobles start any sort of encounter with a number of edges equal to their charisma modifier +1/4th their level. For one of ultimate intrigues verbal duels, this is way too many as the most basic function of edges in that system is to roll a check one additional time per edge spent.

These edges can only be used when it furthers the nobles ideology class feature, but those are robust enough that you’ll be able to use them most of the time. The noble also gains renown as the vigilante talent of the same name. Nobles have a few other class features, social graces a rouge talent-esque pseudo feat system, they can spend edge to add their charisma modifier to attack and damage rolls and a will save equivalent to the monk’s evasion ability. The only other ability they have that’s problematic is their push buttons class feature. This class feature expands the nobles options when they successfully use social combat on a creature. This has several options but the worst offenders include a calm emotions spell, rage and suggestion none of which allow for a saving throw and two of which usually mandate that the caster stop to concentrate on the effect I cannot tell if the noble is bound by those rules as well. Special mention also goes to the befuddle option, which gives the target a penalty on will saves equal to 2+1/2 the nobles level. That’s how you calculate a will save, which means that the Noble can completely take the teeth out of the will save of anything he fights. At 20th level they gain their “a king uncrowned” class feature. This renders them completely immune to mind affecting effects, thus they are immune to social combat, which means that I as a GM can no longer use those rules in any fashion.

After the class features proper we get a two page dissertation on how to play a noble, this mostly states information that was obvious when reading through the class, I guess that could be useful for a new player, but it did take me out of the experience a bit. The last paragraph also mentions that you can only make a social attack on one creature at a time; something that I did not feel was made very obvious in the actual social combat section. After that, then we move on to the list of social graces, the classes’ equivalent of rouge or vigilante talents. These are mostly fine, but most of them are rogue and vigilante talents anyway.

The next class is the legionary, a d10, full BaB, with 6+int skills per level and a good will save. The class is a teamwork oriented martial character, much like the cavalier. As they progress in level they can choose to improve their social caste or take a few other types of benefits. They also gain a unit type, class feature that allows them to specialize in a specific form of combat. The legionary can swap their unit type at the start of each day, as long as they fit into that unit type’s social caste. This is unusual as you lose access to some class features as you progress. None of these are too egregious, there’s one for throwing stuff, one for hitting stuff, one for blocking stuff, one for buffing their allies and one for riding horses. Each of these roles has a few talents that are associated with it that give you a bonus while you have that role. These talents can be swapped out once per day. They also have some bonus teamwork feats, the ability to retroactively decide they had a particular type of weapon all along, and the ability to pick up skill focus or some of the nobles social graces. Their capstone is a massive bonus to social combat checks against citizens and auto confirming critical hits against soldiers. Most of this class looks ok, but I do note that they have three different class features that can add 1/3rd their level to their AC, all of which could apply simultaneously. That and the lack of a good fort save as a martial character is fairly crippling.

And last in the class line up we have the showman. A 1d8 3/4ths BaB class with 4+int skills and good reflex and will saves. The Showman is an illusion wielding thespian that can conjure a phantom blade, an illusionary shadow weapon to strike down his foes. They gain up to 6th level spell casting, which is charisma biased. The bulk of their class features revolve around improving their shadow weapon, adding effects to it by lowering the DC required to disbelieve it. I’m not a big fan of this dynamic, most of the things you can do to a phantom blade are pretty savage (confusion, stacking dexterity penalties, convicting a creature that you lopped off its limbs, ect – you can do all of these simultaneously). Some of of the penalties they take from this can be canceled out by taking things that make their phantom blade less useful (taking the average for damage or having the blade only work on one creature). However they also have other class features that boost the save DC of their blade to ridiculous levels, like adding the level of a sacrificed spell slot to the save DC or forcing a flatfooted creature to take a penalty on the save against their phantom blade. These abilities are completely independent of lowering the phantom blades save DC. You can apply all of the penalties to a creature that I listed before and not decrease the save DC at all.

The showman also has a variety of carnival tricks, ways to bamboozle his foes that don’t use his phantom blade. Most of these abilities are fine, save that they use that infuriatingly low social combat DC and are fully fledged skill checks, meaning that they’re even more likely to succeed. The ones that do this are also crippling debuffs many of which can effectively take creatures out of a fight for multiple rounds.

The showman has a single archetype that trades spellcasting for the ability to make duplicates of itself.

The book also features a few new spells, including the ability to make other people look or act like you. There’s also a magic item that lets you pretend to be someone important. These are all actually pretty cool.

The book also has some class support feats and some feats for interacting with the social rules, the social combat stuff is particularly problematic. There’s a feat that keeps characters from making social combat checks if you inflict social damage on them, a feat that gives you even more bonus on social attack rolls. There are also some social styles which are cool, except for using that DC that’s too low. There’s also a feat that lets you add your base will save to the DC of checks to influence you with social combat which makes the system almost useable.

The book wraps up with a collection of services that you can buy, there’s an impressive array of services listed, everything from assassinations, to bribes, to economically destabilizing a region. Most of these services are comically expensive, but the book spends about a half a page saying that the prices can very significantly based on who’s doing them and that using services to pay for other services is totally acceptable.

All and all alt paths social is the weakest entry in the alt paths series, it has some neat subsystems in it, but all of the serious crunch is basically worthless.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Ascetic Characters
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/31/2017 07:15:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive pdf clocks in at 86 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 82 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This pdf was moved up as a prioritized review in my review queue at the request of my patreons.

And now for something completely different! In the grey area between the divine and psychic spheres, there lies a character's personal philosophy; at last those of us prone to contemplation and self-discovery will know these notions and, indeed, in various media, we often have philosophies clash, as their chosen champions and Weltanschauungen clash on the fields of battle. This conflict of ideologies goes beyond the political border and draws its sustenance from a primordial, internal wellspring of conviction. As such, the concept of personal potential for divinity represents a crucial aspect of this book's take on make, so if the divine is uniquely and expressively tied to the acts of deities and their agents in your game, the base notions will require a bit of expansion.

In conjunction with the material herein, the first chapter, depicting diverse philosophies, would represent an interesting expansion regarding the different alignment based class features present in the PFRPG system: Philosophies are contextualized with parallel and opposed philosophies, creating a different interaction; the pdf manages to concisely codify the translation from the two-axis default system. As a nice bonus, the base array of philosophies presented herein could easily be expanded upon and/or combined with more, should the GM require the like. This would btw. be as good a place as any to note that wise sayings and proverbs grace almost every single page. At the lower center, you get a new one, often a tantalizing one.

Why do I mention that now? Because it shows the level of care and going the extra mile that sets this apart as a book that shows that it is near and dear to the designer's heart. Another subsystem introduced herein would pertain forms of awakening that radically change and alter how a character plays, depending on the form of enlightenment sought. Each of these awakenings generally has 4 steps, and these begin with a major penalty that slowly mutates into a strong and powerful boost, often a rather gamechanging one. A character with e.g. a loss of self identity may not refer to him/herself by name or as an individual and may be targeted by touch spells while within 30 ft. However, further, the character may actually cast personal spells on those nearby, which represents an exceedingly potent option, as you all are aware. The presentation of the awakening mirrors its theme, depicting the respective steps in a zig-zagging motion - very interesting and nice mirror of the theme. Being treated as all genders or all alignments represent other, massive boons for those following these paths to enlightenment....heck, you can even be disbelieved.

So yes, as you may have noticed, these awakenings to some higher principle are extremely potent; infinite use temporary hit point buffers can be, for example, gained by those studying detachment, while others may automatically reincarnate. Judging the balance of these options, ultimately, is simple not possible in the traditional sense; they radically change the way the game works for the character in question and have serious repercussions for the realities of the gaming world. In a world, where such quests are far-spread, the conflict of nations can become a truly nightmarish metaphysical hellscape, as philosophers of detachment stoically battle with the eternally reincarnating neighboring nation. On the other hand, if you are looking for ways to represent mechanically the exceptionalism of PCs striving for enlightenment of the respective senseis and masters of their kind, then you'll have a one-stop-shop for unique and potent boss-options. In short, this can act as a template for characters or whole worlds and whether these options are balanced or not within the context of your game hinges greatly on the roleplaying required from the player, the prevalence of the concept, etc. - it may not be for everyone and not always perfect, but oh boy, I love it. I mean it. We need more here. Can I please have cosmic indifference in an expansion to supplement panlocation? Extremely evocative and suffused with gorgeous, perfectly chosen public domain art. Big kudos for this chapter.

The next system presented here would be slightly more conservative, namely the investiture system. Basically, each character receives an investiture bonus that begins at +1 and increases by +1 at 5th level and then again at 8th, 12th and 16th level. The character also begins play with a maximum of 2 investitures and increases that to up to 7. Finally, we begin play with one aspect and increase that to up to 11 at 20th level. Basically, the idea here is to use one's aura to enhance a diversity of items, allowing player choice in that regard. As such, while there is some thematic overlap with PFU's automatic bonus progression, the precise representation is different nonetheless. You see, weapons and unarmed strikes can get bonuses to atk and damage, armor and shields to AC, and other items can be laced with bonuses to saves. Bingo, this is basically an answer to the Christmas Tree syndrome, and, more importantly, to the "boring numerical magic items you need to make the numbers come out right"- issue faced in many a game. This also means that PCs will not necessarily drown in magic items they have no use for, so in particular for rare magic games or games of groups that prefer magic to feel magical, this represents an easy way to make the retain the system's numerical feasibility. Beyond that, the aspects, presented much like in the same formatting as feats, allow for a degree of customization that is intriguing - we have the classic elemental bonus damage special weapon qualities codified thus, for example.

The elegant thing here would be that you can either just award them as you'd like per the suggested level progression...or, due to the easy feat-like presentation, make them a type of martial arts school/feat-type for low/rare magic games. Beyond that, some aspects actually allow you for quicker investiture or extra tricks - so now, this is not a simple system, but one rather a relatively easy system that can be implemented in a variety of ways.

Thirdly, we are introduced to a variety chakra system - using this system consumes the 1stm 7th and13th level feats and they are unlocked in a specific order, with benefits generally scaling . All chakras may be opened as a move action, and require swift action concentration to maintain, with 7th level providing the option to open chakras as a swift action as well and 18th level allowing the user to gain two benefits at once. Chakras may be identified and disrupted via various means, with the root chakra at the base of the ladder available from the get-go. Subsequent chakras are unlocked at 4th level and every even level thereafter, with open chakras penalizing the character's Will-save, making the constant maintenance of open chakras a dangerous proposal. Each of the diverse chakras has at least 4 different abilities for having the chakra open, with benefits ranging from SP/spell-duplication to a variety of other options that include pretty early true seeing. Somewhat annoying: spell-references and the like here tend to sport nonstandard formatting. My least favorite of the 3 systems, mainly due to the overlap and the "all in"-type of the system; either you get all or nothing and the flexibility is pretty pronounced. I can see this system to be somewhat problematic.

The first base class contained herein would be the flowmaster, who receives d10 HD, 4 +Int skills per level, full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Ref-saves. The class begins play with Throw Anything and Catch Off-guard and begins play with the option to render himself flat-footed as a free action; if rendered flat-footed thus, he can recover as a swift action. While thus rendered flat-footed, the flowmaster gains a bonus to AC equal to 1/2 class level "to a minimum to her Dexterity modifier" - does this mean that he gains a minimum bonus equal to his Dex-modifier? I assume yes. Enemies also gain no insight bonuses when attacking flowmasters. 2nd level and every even level thereafter nets a so-called eccentricity, which would be akin to a talent of the class, including Douglas Adams' Aboyne, which translates to significant bonuses versus opponents whose competence exceeds that of the flowmaster. The class can also use a touch-attack to make himself flatfooted and also make the target of his attacks flat-footed and may even fight while asleep.

The class also receives scaling damage with improvised weapons as well as evasion; beyond that, we do receive a skill check bonus when attempting something radically new. 4th level yields the interception ability, which presents counterattacks versus foes that miss the flowmaster while within their threatened area; these do begin with multiple options at 4th level, 8th level, 10th level, 13th level and 18th level providing new abilities. These generally are very cool, though e.g. the 18th level ability puppet, which allows the flowmaster to define a swift action or determine the target of a single attack on the creature's next turn, could be more precise. At 5th level, the flowmaster may execute an unconventional strike instead of a regular attack, which does receive a bonus, but also basically adds a "misfire" - on a natural 1 or 2, he hits himself. Instant-drawing imporvised weaponry, scaling DR and improved evasion complement the archetype. All in all, a pretty cool, unconventional martial artist class. And yep, favored class options for the core races as well as some exotic LRGG-races would be included here.

The second class herein would be the Ajna, who gain d8 HD, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Will-saves, 4 + Int skills per level and spontaneously may cast psychic spells via Wisdom, of up to 6th level, drawing upon their own spell-list. proficiency-wise, they receive only simple weapons and light armor. As a move action, the Ajna can render herself helpless, as she generates a projection that must stay within 60 feet, +10 feet per level. This projection may be maintained for 4 + Wisdom modifier levels, +2 levels per class level thereafter and, cool, temporary increases of Wisdom do explicitly not feature in this array. This projection sheds like, is incorporeal. Cool: The projection shares items etc. and the pdf lists the projection's incorporeal benefits are included for your convenience. They also begin play with Third Eye. Utterly OP: 2nd level Ajnas can execute melee attacks versus targets within 60 ft. +10 ft. per level - I don't have an issue there, but I do have an issue that the ability ignores line of sight/effect and that it converts damage into the very powerful force damage. At 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter, the character receives self-discoveries...which partially are a bit weird, featuring e.g. DR/force - when energy types usually use resistance instead. Here, the pdf is also pretty inconsistent, sporting force damage rays that deal significantly less damage than the aforementioned at range melee attacks. Increased projection etc. are included here, as is a haste like bonus attack at the highest BAB.

Starting at 3rd level, an Ana and his body may swap places as a swift or immediate action - this should probably be codified as a conjuration (teleportation) effect. At 6th level, the character may use rounds of his projection to power telekinesis, with higher levels yielding astral projection and the like. I really like the projection base mechanic and the concept of the class, but personally, I feel that this one needs some polishing; it feels very rough around teh edges regarding its benefits and pretty front-loaded. The concept could also, imho carry more.

The pdf also features a new source of power, named kashoom, a kind of cosmic energy that may be channeled with the proper forms and stances. The Kashun class would use strange martial stances to do just that. The class receives d10 HD, 4+ Int-mod skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Ref-saves as well as proficiency with simple and martial weapons and light and medium armors. They begin with 3 poses known and increase that to up to 10 at 20th level. A kashun in such a pose cannot benefit from a style or stance and wearing heavy armor instills 25% failure and they require concentration and may be entered as a free action. Starting at 2nd level, he may once per round as a swift action, transition from one such pose to another, firing an arc of cosmic lightning at a nearby target. Kashun become aware to breaching of planar boundaries at higher levels and, at 4th level, when not moving, the kashun can generate charge tokens, which may be expended to charge crackling energy into his attack, with 8th level improving the charging process. The class later takes a penalty to Intimidate, but also is bolstered regarding Diplomacy and fear effects.

At 1st level, the character also chooses a resonance, a linear bloodline-like ability; 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter yield another benefit based on the resonance chosen; these also influence aforementioned cosmic lightning ability. It should be noted that these follow-up abilities are not linear, though, allowing for some choice. These include gaining charge when moving around, increased movement rate, modifications to the pose-restrictions, etc. Beyond the resonance-specific ones, the pdf also sports several options that are universal, i.e. that may be chosen by each resonance. The poses are pretty interesting, with each one featuring at least 2 different, deadly tricks - including, once again, at-range force-damage conversion of strikes and e.g. short-term temporal stasis to negate hits, but no - can't be cheesed here.

The massive pdf also features a significant array of feats to pursue: Several of the feats are intended for use in conjunction with the chakra-system presented herein; but beyond those and the class enhancers you'd expect, there also are quite a few very cool feats that make sense from both a narrative and conceptual point of view - e.g. one that lets you employ Heal to suppress/alleviate a variety of mind-influencing conditions. Cool! Past Life Regression and Obsession allow the character to dabble in past lives, though admittedly, I prefer Legendary Games' iteration of that concept. The base Chakra-using feats from OA have been, just fyi, been revised to work in conjunction with the system herein. Pretty cool: Dragon Tiger Ox' classic [Qinggong]-feats are expanded, gaining three nice, new options. The pdf also provides a complex 5-feat chain of feats that represent the Opera Style of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, etc., allowing for the minor imitation of Style feats. As a nitpick - usually, not all feats in a Style's chain have the Style-descriptor - only the basic Style-feat, since feats with the descriptor require entering the style.

The pdf concludes with the vajrayana monk archetype for the monk/unchained monk and the guru ajna, who both are focused on the chakra system. Finally, the enlightened barbarian is pretty cool (yep viable for regular and unchained barb) - they get more skills per level, but must spend those on mental pursuits and the rage feature is altered to allow for concentration and yield bonuses to mental attributes, with the 2nd level allowing for mental attribute dependant feats. Solid.

Conclusion:

Editing and particularly formatting are a bit of an issue here: While rules-language, for the most part, tends to be pretty precise while juggling complex concepts, we find, time and again, diversions from the established standards, particularly regarding the formatting of spells etc. And yes, there are instances where that makes reading an ability problematic and more cumbersome than what it should be. Layout adheres to a nice, elegant 2-column full-color standard, sports neat full-color artworks and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

One can see the different authors of this pdf: Scott Gladstein, Dayton Johnson, Ian Sisson and Christos Gurd have delivered a pdf that sports A LOT I absolutely adore. The philosophies, the modularity of investiture and awakenings, etc. are amazing and provide, particularly for advanced GMs comfortable with crunch-operations, some amazing material. Similarly, the flowmaster is damn cool; the ajna is innovative and the kashun has some seriously cool tricks...but the devil is frankly in the details here. The ajna's hiccups in particular, the readily available force damage etc. make an impression as though something went wrong there. Similarly, and more grievously, the editing and formatting is unfortunately not as consistent in those sections as I'd love them to be. The presentation of the revised chakra system can also be slightly confusing at first reading - you should definitely be familiar with the original. There is a lot I could complain about in this pdf, a lot to nitpick and tear apart.

Thing is, I really don't want to do that. Because I actually am pretty positively surprised by a lot herein. The flowmaster can actually reproduce the fighting style of Voldo, one of my favorites from Soul Calibur; the kashun's poses, while sometimes problematic, similarly have some serious coolness and provide an interesting playing experience...and I adore 2 out of the three sub-systems presented in the book, in spite (or because!) of the massive impact they have on the game.

It is also pretty apparent that this pdf is a labor of love; you can feel the heart's blood oozing from this pdf and not one of the options in the book is bland cookie-cutter design; all options have some seriously complex and intriguing tricks that set them apart, make them feel distinct. As an advanced GM who is perfectly happy to modify content, tweak crunch, etc., I really, really like this pdf.

In fact, I really wish this had received a thorough editing pass by a very strict, nitpicky PFRPG-dev.

I am the nitpicky bastard, but this book still should be considered to be an amazing offering for the select demographic it's aimed at. It's not, let me make that clear, a book you'll just whip out and play with. This does require a bit of work, but it's worth it. The concepts in this book have candidate for Top Ten-level potential, but with the glitches and hiccups that are here, I can't rate this as highly as I'd like to - the highest I can go with this book, alas, would be 4 stars, though I really, really want to recommend this particularly to people who are looking for some seriously cool tweaks for campaigns. If you're an advanced player or GM and look for a radical change of pace, for something fresh and actually INNOVATIVE, chances are that you'll absolutely LOVE this pdf (or like me, parts of it!) and will gladly look past its issues. I enjoyed this more than many more refined books with better editing. This is, in short, the very definition of a diamond in the rough. I can't slap my seal on this, but think of about 2/3rds of this book as pure, glorious amazingness.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Alternate Paths: Ascetic Characters
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Heroes of the Waves (A Polynesian Sourcebook)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/25/2017 13:07:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 41.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

So, what is this? In one sentence, it is basically a toolkit to play a fantasy campaign based on Polynesian culture. This in itself already adds some value to the book for me. Beyond Tolkienesque fantasy and mostly Japanese-inspired Anime or Chinese WuXia, it is pretty jarring that we don't make half as much use of those fantastic cultures and mythologies our diverse species has spawned in our games.

We begin with a two page introduction (though parts of the second page are blank space and then beginw ith basically a cultural primer: We learn about "Mana", which constitutes as a term the equivalent of Gottesgnadentum, the divinely-ordained right to rule; "Tapu" would be the origin of the word "taboo", while "hara" denotes errors in the eyes of gods. "Pono" is the term for atonement for transgressions. Similarly, there was a profession-based, loose caste-system that is explained here; while not as rigid as that of the Indian culture which we nowadays mostly associate with it. Something I wasn't aware of: Kahuna can mean different things - when added to a word like a profession, it can denote expertise in that field, while its second use is basically somewhat akin to "priest". If that sounds confusing, you can use the Maori term "Tohunga" instead.

Now, a specific cultural circle will result, ultimately in a changed array of assumptions and the pdf guides you through these. First would be the absence of metal; there were no land mammals, which obviously meant no farming and significantly different domesticated animals. Similarly, there would not be one culture, but rather an extensive pluralism. All magic is considered to be divine and the vast amount of islands mean that each can easily serve as a self-contained module - and the closed ecosystems there are fragile, which allows for an interesting angle, should you choose to pursue it. Armor was, considering temperatures and the omni-presence of the sea, pretty much non-existent and impractical and as such, the pdf provides a nice AC bonus by level, which is dubbed mana - three such progressions are provided, beginning at +6, +4 and +2, respectively, and scaling up to +34, +30 and +25 at 20th level. The adaption of this system to other classes is dead simple: You look at armor proficiency and then, depending on the default proficiency, you determine the scaling AC. It is pretty obvious that characters sans armor proficiency don't get Mana at all, but from a didactic point of view, it would have made sense to explicitly spell that out.

In the absence of horses etc., Ride (Dex) is replaced with Seafaring (Wis). This new skill is used to handle ocean travel, faster travel, etc. - and similarly, the skill may be used to prevent capsizing when fighting e.g. in a canoe; and yes, Acrobatics may be used for that one as well. Judging depth and determining underwater obstacles, fishing etc. - the skill is concisely presented.

Okay, the basics out of the way, we look next towards the respective classes: Paizo-classes (excluding the ACG, OA, etc.-classes) and LRGG-classes are discussed and categorized in 4 groups: Classes that require no work to fit a Polynesian setting, ones that require some work to make them fit, those that need some serious explanation and those that are simply inappropriate - they'd require mechanical tweaks as opposed to thematic modification. Similarly, races are appropriately codified: With some tweaks, the genasi-style elemental races make sense in a Polynesian context. Similarly, gnomes are thematically appropriate, but the classic Tolkien-races are not. Merfolk and Gillmen fit the bill as well and LRGG-races are discussed similarly.

Speaking of races: The samebito would be an aquatic humanoid with slow speed (never modified by armor or encumbrance) and they gain +2 Str and Cha, -2 Wis, gain a swim speed of 49 ft., are amphibious. They gain fast healing when completely submerged in water, up to a maximum of 2 x character level per day. They also have a 1d3 primary natural bite attack. As a whole, they are appropriate for every game and should not unbalance even gritty games. Well done. The menehune gnome subrace, replace gnome weapon training with an untyped +4 to Swim and Seafaring. (Personally, I would have preferred racial bonuses here.) They also replace the hatred trait with double carrying capacity.

The Nawao (Wild Men), weirdly, come with RP-values when the other races did not, but that's a cosmetic inconsistency. Similarly, the racial modifications of ability scores (+2 Con and Wis, -2 Int) are not properly formatted, but otherwise functional. They are monstrous humanoids, gain +2 to Intimidate, +4 to Stealth and +2 to Survival (all proper racial bonuses) and have darkvision. They also gain +1 to damage rolls with simple weapons and may 1/day fly into a frenzy upon taking damage, gaining +2 Str and Con, -2 to AC for 1 minute. The bonuses to Stealth and Survival may be replaced with Stealth and Knowledge (local).

The gaunt, blue-skinned and red-haired Turehu follow the same formatting-choices and gain +2 Cha and Dex, -2 Wis and always treat Perform (wind instrument) as a class skill. They have a 20 ft climb speed and gain +2 to saving throws. Nice: They are afraid of fire and take a penalty when near one. They also gain this penalty when eating "cook food" - an "-ed" is missing here, but I like the flavor here. They may also cast bane and bless at will, with Cha governing the save-DC. Problem: The ability is not properly codified as SP or SU; the presence of a codified caster level (equal to character level) does retain functionality, though. All in all, apart from cosmetic hiccups, a well-crafted racial chapter.

The pdf also features 2 base classes, the first of which would be the Kahuna. The class receives d6 HD, 8+ Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB-progression, good Will-saves, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor and prepared divine spellcasting governed by Wis of up to 9th level.To prepare spells, the kahuna creates a makeshift prayer hut (or uses an existing one) to communicate with the spirits. Now, kahuna begin play with an interesting ability - they may cast forbid action (reprinted here for your convenience) as a swift action a number of times per day equal to 3 + class level + Wis-mod. A creature may, however, ignore the tapu pronounced by the kahuna, even on a failed save - this, however, results in a penalty that scales over the levels to ALL d20 rolls as well as auto-failure of critical hit confirmation rolls. This allows the kahuna to deal with crit-fishing characters, which is pretty neat. At 5th level, the kahuna may instead employ greater forbid action for 2 uses. 10th level adds a confusion-effect to the breaking of a tapu. AT 15th level, all enemies within 10 ft. per class level can be affected by a tapu, though this use of the ability costs 4 daily uses.

3rd level and every 5 levels thereafter, the kahuna chooses a Craft, Profession or otherwise skill-represented talent of vital importance to the community, gaining the skill unlock powers for the chosen skill, with skill ranks still being required to determine the effects. The capstone makes the kahuna count as having at least 1/2 class level ranks in every skill. Nice: If you're not plaiyng with skill unlocks, alternate benefits are provided. The class also comes with its own spell-list and favored class options for the races featured here + Oread and Undine as well as LRGG's Lun'la.

The second class may be familiar to those of you who have LRGG's Alternate Path: Martial-pdf. The Tataued Warrior gets d10, 2 +Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, proficiency with simple weapons, light armor and shields and prepared divine spellcasting guided by Cha, drawn from the ranger's list with certain modifications. These spells are unlocked at 4th level, analogue to the ranger. At 5th level, spellcasting is modified via the option to blood cast: As a swift action, the tataued warrior may cause spell level nonlethal damage to himself to change a prepared spell to another spell he knows. Minor complaint: Does this require concentration-checks/count as receiving damage for the purpose of concentration? I assume so, but I am not sure.

One of the coolest aspects here would be that following battle protocol is written into the class with ritual weapon: Upon commencing battle, a swift action sign of respect nets first a defensive bonus, with 6th level unlocking the option to use Cha-mod instead of Str for damage rolls and 10th adding both attributes to damage with the ritual weapon. I am not the biggest fan of dual attributes to anything, but as a whole, the execution here is solid. I mentioned the ritual weapon: This is a ritualistic object that may be empowered to act as a +1 weapon, with the state of empowerment lasting class level + Con-mod round. 4th level unlocks a variant form and allows for the changing of said forms via a ceremony, with every 4 levels thereafter increasing the potency of the weapon. That being said, the flexibility regarding enchantments and their scaling benefits is offset by a fatigue cool-down after use, similar to barbarian-rages. The scaling here is pretty conservative, just fyi, so even low-powered groups should be able to use this one. For high-powered groups; I'd suggest improving the enhancement-bonus granting-progression of the ritual weapon.

The second defining class feature beyond that, though, would be tataus, gained at 1st level and every even level thereafter, codified by level - and being awesome. New tataus are unlocked at 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th level and their benefits cover a wide range: Beyond the usual suspects like skill bonuses and bonus feats, there also are some unique benefits: Being able to use Stunning Fist in conjunction with the ritual weapon constitutes, for example, one such benefit. Starting with the options unlocked at 3rd level, the tataus gained also feature a drawback that often make for great roleplaying catalysts - the tatau of the goat, for example, requires that you frequently add a goat sound to the end of your sentences. Another tatau may make octopi consider you an attractive food source and draw them to you. What about gaining proficiency with all martial weapons and 3 exotic ones and being able to treat all manufactured weapons as ritual weapons? Yeah, that allows for the true master of arms playstyle...but it also makes all non-simple weapons wielded fragile... These drawbacks add a nice roleplaying component to the class and provide justifications for the spirit-suffused and superstitious cultural context. Really cool!

6th level unlocks the battle chant, which translates to +1 attack at the highest BAB as part of full-round actions and +2 to Intimidate checks, with a duration of Con-mod rounds and a swift action activation. 10th level and every 4 levels thereafter provides +1 daily use. The capstone of the class allows you to choose from up to 5 super-tataus that include a free true ressurection the first time you die each day and SR, or auto-confirming crits, for example. Pretty cool! The class comes with favored class options for the respective races featured herein, plus ifrit and merfolk.

Now, the next component of the pdf is particularly suitable for less high fantasy games and would pertain the condition introduced herein: Broken Bones, which can render the target shaken and produce penalties. As a minor formatting hiccup, two spell references are not properly italicized here. The pdf also provides a total of 6 new feats, three of which represent a new style, Kapu Kuialua, the art of bone breaking - the base feat allows you to break bones with each damage-causing attack; the follow-up extends that to weapon critical hits and the third, to grapple checks. Adding broken bones via stunning fist use expenditure to trips is also included. The final feat nets you the option to ceremoniously sacrifice a spell slot to increase your Mana-AC-bonus. There is also a "barbarian talent" (should be "rage power") and a bone-breaking antipaladin cruelty. A total of 7 mundane weapons (including two-handed martial finesse weapons) can be found as well.

The pdf sports 4 magic items: two types of tooth to call forth sharks, a hook that generates islands (in 3 levels of potency) and an enchanted surfboard. All have in common, that their spell-references are improperly formatted and lack italicization, though they otherwise are pretty cool. We conclude this pdf with 6 Hawaiian and 6 Maori deity-write-ups. These remain pretty basic, with one paragraph per deity, and unfortunately sport discrepancies in the domain selection: Kane, for example, sports 7 domains, while Ku only has 5. If that was intended to balance domains of different potency, I couldn't really make out the reasons for the choices made.

Conclusion:

Editing is pretty good on both a formal and rules-language level, but formatting is less consistent: From the presentation of races to the missing italicizations, there are a couple of avoidable glitches here. Layout adheres, apart from the 1-column intro, to a 2-column full-color standard that is pretty printer-friendly. The full color artworks are solid. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with detailed, nested bookmarks.

From the cultural notes to the concepts herein, there is a lot to love about this book. The Seafaring skill, bone breaking mechanic and class array generally are nice, with the tataued warrior being a rather cool character and the kahuna representing a powerful option indeed that has some cool crowd-control tricks. More importantly, this represents a great first step towards making your own Polynesian inspired campaign (come on, folks - write that campaign setting) - or to simply add material to a certain ethnicity that's pretty prominent in the Razor Coast. So yes, this is a good book and a fun offering I enjoyed reading.

At the same time, it could have been a tad bit more refined - the glitches that are herein make it unfortunately impossible for me to rate this as highly as I, as a person, would like to. Scott Gladstein, Dayton Johnson, Ian Sisson and Christos Gurd have, however, crafted a toolkit I can recommend for anyone looking for a great first step into Polynesian culture - even if you're just looking for ideas to scavenge, this has something to offer. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, though I cannot round up. I do encourage you to pick this up -we need to send a sign that non-WuXia, non-Tolkienesque fantasy does exist and does have fans and people that want something different.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Heroes of the Waves (A Polynesian Sourcebook)
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