Wicked Fantasy is over 300 pages, covering 10 races old and new and presenting new background information, stats, options, and stories to help bring them to life. The book covers humans, haffuns (halflings), orks, elves, dach'youn (gnolls), gnomes, gobowins (goblins), uvandir (dwarves), roddun (ratfolk), and kuba-chubisi ("noble kobolds" will get you somewhere near the mark). So let's roll right into this!
To begin with, I have some negative things to say about this book, and I want to get them out of the way up front so they're not the last thing on your mind after reading this review.
First, the mechanics and rules language are surprisingly rough for such a beautiful hardcover. There are numerous instances of typed bonuses where the type is nonstandard and undefined, references to non-existent templates for size increases, poorly constructed rules language (for example "You can do this a number of times a day for each god's blood item you are wearing"), areas where the fluff and crunch are in direct conflict (the roddun entry refers to the fact that every fight challenging for the title of King Rat is a fight to the death, then talks about Ex King Rats reclaiming their titles), entire new base classes lacking BAB entries or reference tables, the list kind of goes on. Some of these are things where a reasonably experienced player or GM can easily divine the intent and smooth the rough edges, others are bad enough that the abilities need to be thrown out or rewritten entirely to be useful.
Secondly, the races, all of which have completely rewritten stats and racial abilities, are [i]crazy freaking strong[/i], generally by a substantial and very noticeable degree. This may be exacerbated even more by the awkward rules language; for example, the human "Hometown" racial trait refers to the human gaining a bonus feat, presumably of their choice, for each of two specific skills they have at least a +4 bonus in. Considering the humans also get an additional class skill of their choice that receives a +2 bonus and 1 rank plus the class skill bonus already puts them at +4, this means every human can easily get 2 bonus feats at 1st level. They also get their choice of +2 to any one physical stat [i]and[/i] +2 to any one mental stat, an awkwardly worded ability that gives them certain advantages in their hometown (separate from the Hometown ability), a bonus to Will saves that starts at +1 and scales up to +5, a more loosely worded and thus potentially more powerful version of the Inquisitor's Solo Tactics called Improved Teamwork, and an ability that procs off of their critical hits which can provide up to their Charisma modifier as a bonus to attack and damage rolls for all allies within 30 feet. All of the other races presented are essentially as strong or stronger. Honestly, these races are so ridiculously strong that you basically [i]have[/i] to limit your players to only the races in this book if you're going to allow them to use the new racial stats, otherwise the player using these options will be at a distinct and probably game-disrupting advantage. If you do have your whole group use the options presented herein, be ready to bump the difficulty of the challenges you throw at them to compensate for their increased power.
Okay, sound a little rough so far? Wondering if that 3 star rating was a mistake, maybe a sneeze where I accidentally scrolled up a bit? It's not, and here's why:
This book is, at its heart, more about creating a kind of pseudo campaign setting, a new way to look at races some people have probably been playing with for years. Every chapter has a long description of the ecology, philosophy, and history of the race, and a short story giving you an example of how they fit into the world. Let me tell you, this stuff is gold. The world and people presented in Wicked Fantasy are exciting and interesting. My wife loves orcs, and frequently comments about how so many authors and designers "get them wrong" (I have no idea where her standard for orcs comes from, but I think it's mostly Thrall or his parents in some of the better written Warcraft novels), and she absolutely loves the orks presented here, a sentiment I share. The haffun manage to deftly weave some of the classic halfling stereotypes into a broader and darker tapestry that makes them much deeper and interesting, the roddun ratfolk as good-natured mafioso is just magical in its presentation, and every race is supported not just by a wealth of beautifully presented information, but also spectacular art. I literally sat down on the couch with my wife after buying this book at the game store and read it cover to cover in one sitting, something I don't think I've ever done before, and which I [i]know[/i] my wife hasn't. While I picked it up largely because of John Wick's gaming pedigree, the beautiful art, and the Pathfinder compatible logo, having read this I could recommend it to any fan of fantasy as an enjoyable and interesting read.
So, how do you rate something like this? I've been trying to avoid the words "fluff" and "crunch", but I think I'm going to have to use them now. The crunch of this book, sadly, fails entirely. I often found myself reading something and thinking that the author must have been playing the game long enough they don't even realize what things they are house-ruling, and in an earlier iteration of this review I questioned whether the writers ever actually picked up a Pathfinder Core Rulebook at [i]any[/i] point in the design and development process. It smacks of either laziness bred by familiarity, or enthusiasm without a firm foundation of system knowledge, and I can't always tell which. If this book's sole value was as a rules resource, I would have to give it 1 star. But it's not just a rules resource, it is a genuinely enjoyable read, a collection of short stories, a thesis on how classic fantasy races might develop and interact in a different kind of world than we are normally presented with, and in that regard it is an amazing success, 5 stars hands down. My final verdict then will be an average of the two, 3 stars, because I cannot in good faith go any higher than that given its deficiencies in the realm of balance and rules presentation/development. It is, after all, presented as being Pathfinder Roleplaying Game compatible, and I fear that is only true in the broadest sense. If that's not a complete turn-off for you though, I suggest you pick it up anyway, and enjoy it for the piece of art it is.