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Path of War
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/03/2014 04:25:38
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The final version of the first Path of War book clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 160 pages of content, so let's take a look!



A short lesson in history: Back in the 3.X-days, there was one particular book that divided the fans of D&D like few before - the "Tome of Battle", more commonly known as the "Book of 9 Swords", henceforth abbreviated Bo9S. This book took martial characters and provided choices for them - somewhat akin to spellcasting, with the target goal of making them more interesting. And the book at once succeeded and failed spectacularly. Why? Well, first of all, the respective disciplines of martial traditions were not properly balanced among each other. Secondly, the book utilized per-encounter mechanics, which broke in-game immersion and logic in ways most obtrusive. Thirdly, the mechanics, while innovative, utilized a whole array of options that could easily be broken without even trying. It happened by accident once in my game. The mechanic to regain maneuvers of two of the classes was sub-optimal to say the least. So, after some trepidation and a unanimous vote, my group banned the book.



Fast forward to 2013/14 -Dreamscarred Press releases the first supplements of Path of War, the spiritual successor to Bo9S, and after a highly controversial review, actually listens and includes improvements - but how many? Well, let's check this one out!



In case you're not familiar with the basic premise of PoW - the supernatural, extraordinary and spell-like special tricks these classes may execute, their "spells", if you will, would be called maneuvers. Each character has a so-called initiator-level, which, much like a caster-level, influences the power of many of the options herein. Maneuvers are grouped in different categories: Stances offer passive benefits and can be maintained indefinitely - unlike all the other maneuver types, which would be strikes, boosts and counters. The names of these categories are pretty self-explanatory, but for completeness' sake: Boosts provide benefits, buffs if you will. Counters can usually be initiated as immediate actions to react to foes/actions. Strikes would be the active, in your face attacks.



Maneuvers are grouped in different levels, ranging from 1 - 9, and in disciplines, which can be considered schools. Each martial class receives a certain list of available disciplines to choose their maneuvers from and has its own way of replenishing maneuvers.



In my reviews of the constituent pdfs, I have analyzed the respective 3 base classes Stalker, Warlord and Warder in detail, hence I will not go into the finer points here - also to avoid bloating the review further. As short summaries - Stalkers are the maneuver-dual-wield rogue/assassin-style class and quite focused on crit-fishing. Warlords are the fighting commanders that command amidst the troops and Warders would be the dedicated tanks that draw the foe's ire and keep their allies safe while they take the brunt of the foe's wrath.



Stalkers receive ki and have two options for the regaining of maneuvers - 1 maneuver for a standard action, or wis mod, min 2, for a full-round action - neither provokes AoOs, which is good. However, what still irks me on a design point of view - the latter option also allows the stalker to move his base speed AND receive a +4 insight bonus to AC AND add deadly strike as bonus damage to the next attack/maneuver he executes. This would be a significant bonus and imho one that would have been better off as a scaling benefit - i.e. the tying of class level to the AC-bonus granted. Why? Because playtest showed that, especially at low levels, regaining maneuvers can be used to make the stalker a rather great blocker when regaining maneuvers, when a true strategy/decision-making process behind regaining maneuvers could have provided so much more interesting decisions in combat. At higher levels, stalkers may also use ki to exchange readied maneuvers for other maneuvers, but since that one is based on a resource that is finite, I do like it.

Now I mentioned crit-fishing - that's where deadly strikes come in - each time, stalkers score a crit against a target, they deal bonus damage against said target for a limited array of rounds. Weapons with higher crit multipliers receive more deadly strike bonus damage. Ki can also be expended to activate deadly strikes, which renders especially high crit multiplier weapons powerful for the stalkers using them. The issue of stacking deadly strike durations has thankfully been cleaned up - while I'm never going to like the mechanic, it now works as intended and thus has my blessing.



The same goes for combat insight, which would be a passive tree of abilities that allows him to add wis-mod to a variety of rolls, scaling with the level. It is my joy to report that the broken regaining of expended ki that failed the kitten-test in the original stalker has been eliminated - kudos! Now if you're like me and have had some experience with multiple attributes being applied to the same roll, you'll realize that both combat insight and some stalker talents allow for some significant stacking of powers. The same fine-tuning goes with the option to regain ki via maneuvers - a daily limit with a HD-cap prevents abuse. Alas, melee strikes at range and ignoring all AoOs provoked by movement for wis-mod rounds via ki still are nasty. While I'm still not sold on the Stalker, this marks still a significant improvement over the first iteration of the class.



The Warder's regaining of maneuvers does not feature a bonus like the stalker's. Warder's marking, based on dealing damage to the target and thus forcing it to attack the warder at penalty still feels to me like it could use a saving throw - like the grand challenge, which high-level warders can execute to debuff all opponents within 30 feet as marked. It should be noted for posterity's sake that this one still feels rather strong as a free action to me. The saves of the class become rather broken at fourth level - int-mod to ref-saves, and initiative in lieu of dex-mod for ref-saves - this makes their saves better than those of the monk. That being said, I'm very glad the designers have made the extended defense ability actually work. Now one obvious glitch is still here - high-level warders may deflect blows that would reduce them below 0 hp to armor/shield, wrecking the items instead - I generally love this ability, but the lack of a caveat for indestructible items and artifacts is a bit nasty. Oh well, since the ability is resolved via the broken condition, at least the artifact can't be repaired and maintains its condition...I guess. Still, would have preferred the ability to properly specify what happens in such a case. The capstone of the class still doesn't work - "unable to die from hit point damage" still is pretty opaque - I *assume* this translates to still receiving the damage, but simply not dying, correct? But what once the ability elapses? Is a warder below 0 hp staggered? Or does the capstone grant immunity to hp-damage while in effect? The capstone, alas, still is not anywhere near operative.



The Warlord class is perhaps my favorite from the PoW-classes, mainly because I consider the maneuver-replenishment of the warlord the most interesting - it works via gambits, i.e. actions that provide a bonus upon success alongside the replenishment of maneuvers, while imposing minor penalties on a failure. The problem here with the original warlord still exists - while the gambit-system per se is cool, its fine-tuning is badly broken. A warlord charges a foe - if he hits the target with the first attack after the charge, all allies in range receive warlord's + cha-mod to damage for their next attack. It should be noted that the penalty for failing a gambit is only a -2 penalty to all d20-rolls. Conceivably, a warlord with cha 20 could grant his allies a+5 damage boost at first level - without daily limits. Shooting into melee (not hard with precise shot) can penalize the foe via another gambit by cha-mod to AC etc. Remember, that is the type of action used to regain maneuvers. I still consider the system per se damn cool, but the math and risk/reward-ratio behind the maneuver-regaining is wonky at best. Worse, the warlord can still charge kittens to grant allies damage-bonuses against actual foes or shoot kittens to grant them temporary hit points. On the plus-side, bonus-types have been cleared up and now are actually properly codified.



The warlord's presence, gained at 2nd level, is still the equivalent of a level 15 bardic performance, perhaps better. Yeah. Still broken as all hell. For a detailed comparison, please check my warlord-review. It should also be noted that the ambiguities of their effects still are here.



The new skill to identify martial maneuvers still lacks information which, if any non-PoW-classes should receive it as a class skill. Among the feats, thankfully, the utterly broken Defensive Web has died the fiery death it deserved. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for tactical rush, which allows you to 1/encounter move your movement as a swift action. Victorious Recovery still can be kitten'd as well, though these latter two feats still are within the parameters of what can be considered okay. What is not okay would be extended mark - ONE feat, no prereqs, double the duration of all the warder's armiger marks. Yeah. You'd have to be an idiot to NOT take this - it makes it highly unlikely that ANY enemy ever can stand long enough to see the mark go away.



Now I won't be redundant and blabber on about the feats, instead going ahead to the maneuvers themselves, all right? We kick off the maneuvers after an explanation of terminology etc. with a whole new discipline, the evil-alignment exclusive Black Seraph. Based on intimidate, it is an offensive, deadly discipline - that allows you to intimidate kittens to heal yourself as a supernatural ability. Remember, maneuvers can be regained infinitely. This means FREE INFINITE healing as long as any PC or kitten is around. What about negating attacks with intimidate? Doesn't sound so bad? Well, look for items, spells and class features that net bonuses to intimidate. Yeah. Here I'll go on a tangent - the mechanic to use a skill-check versus an attack roll or another skill-check is a 3.X remnant. It was broken back then, it is worse in Pathfinder - less skills, less expensive skill-boost items translate to easier buffed skills. Add to that the mathematical convention of d20-roll versus fixed value instead of 3.X's d20 vs. d20 and we have an assortment of maneuvers herein that simply do not work smoothly in actual play. It's the square-shaped chicken in a vacuum issue and an unnecessary relic of an older system that is only here as a remnant of the proverbial balance ruins on which PoW was built. I really wish the designers had just shrugged off abilities like this instead of re-introducing what never worked well back into PFRPG. Need an example? Veiled Moon is tied to Stealth, now look at the ways you can buff that through the roof. Yeah. One of the more powerful maneuvers of that one switches positions with the target if the creature fails perception versus your stealth. As an immediate action. No save. This is a nigh-guaranteed insta-kill for just about every character, especially casters, who has not maxed out perception AND is buffed to cope with it. Before breaking the skill check with items.

Back to Black Seraph: What about a level 3 boost that nets you a 10-foot movement sans AoOs and adds +2d6 damage "that ignores damage reduction" - I assume, only the bonus damage ignores ALL DR? Why not tie it to specific types of DR? It should be noted that per se, the discipline offers some nice options that combine strikes with debuffs. However, I do not get why none of the strikes receive the [pain]-descriptor - at least the debuff conditions obviously are pain effects and should not apply to those immune to it. This is especially odd since other disciplines like Veiled Moon take quite some care to apply the proper [teleportation] descriptors. Oddly, this oversight also applies to quite a few other disciplines.



The Broken Blade discipline still features a strike based on a fixed acrobatics DC of 15 that allows the initiator to move 10 ft towards or away from a foe sans provoking AoOs and attacking as well with bonus damage - why not use the existing rules to move in threatened squares with a bonus? DC 15 becomes ridiculous rather fast. Worse, more often than not, these mechanics completely ignore already existing ways to produce an effect , producing redundancy and ambiguity of the results of actions that simply wasn't necessary. Why tie the success of a trip executed by a martial artist to a ref-save instead of CMD? No, seriously. Yes, I am aware that this does not break anything. But the devil's in the details - dwarves, for example, no longer receive their stability bonus to this save, falling just as easy, perhaps easier than less stable foes. This is a harmless example, chosen intentionally to illustrate the point - PFRPG as a system features quite an array of tied mechanics and if you ignore an established way to doing things, you necessarily have to take these into account. PoW, unfortunately, often simply does not do this, instead creating its own context and thus leads to more confusion than necessary. Next time the dwarf gets tripped, he's eligible to ask whether his stability bonus does apply...and if not, WHY? And yes, I am aware of spells doing similar things. But spells are not strikes - I will get on that later on.



For now, let's just say that Path of War does not need these wonky mechanics - there are a vast plethora of examples in this very book that prove that neither the system, nor the respective disciplines needed these relics to work, which renders the maintaining of them all the more puzzling. Golden Lion would be such an example - apart from one single counter (skill vs. atk - see above) the discipline works conspicuously well without these blunders and is generally superior to the White Raven that spawned it. Iron tortoise, which renders shields actually damn cool and useful, utilizes the compared atk-rolls in counters and shield bashes, but that one's at least not as bad as skill vs. atk. The level 6 counter that negates an attack OR nets you DR 20 if you fail your counter-attempt still feels too nasty for me - its bigger brother has been nerfed down to DR 40/ on a failure, but still -even within PoW, that's massive. Where math goes into a corner to cry would be burnished shell - atk + shield bonus versus incoming targeted spell against CASTER-LEVEL Check - if you win, you negate the spell. Weapon Focus (ray)? Pff, wasted that feat, my friend. This one counter neuters all targeted spells utterly. Even within PoW's design paradigm, broken.



Primal Fury can be quoted as an example on how disciplines can work without (many) of the aforementioned relics - only one counter uses the skill-check nonsense. One particular counter deserves special mentioning here as one of my favorites - it allows the initiator to attack a weapon that has hit him - if the weapon is destroyed by the attack, the damage is mitigated. Elegant, cool, works perfectly within the established context of PFRPG-rules - why not utilize mechanics like this one more often?



Why do we instead get strikes that use e.g. sense motive to attack (against AC) AND deal double damage. The issues with Scarlet Throne persist. The second new discipline would be Silver Crane, the good equivalent to the evil Black Seraph. Conversely, Silver Crane's Blessing suffers from the same kitten-test failing infinite healing, with the restriction that practitioners of Silver Crane would require evil infernal kittens with damned souls to maintain their good alignment. If those can be arranged for, they may heal allies as well, though! Yay! Infinite healing for the whole group! -.-



On the plus-side, counters to shed negative conditions, for example, make sense to me - so kudos there! Steel Serpent still suffers from a discrepancy between poison fluff vs. poison rules, but I can live with that. Generally, Steel Serpent, Solar Wind and Thrashing Dragon exist and what I complained about in previous reviews mostly still holds true. Veiled Moon's counters still make evasion and even mettle go home to cry - stealth in lieu of saves etc.



Now this review is already long, so let's go through those archetypes on fast forward, shall we? The judges ambiguities have been cleared up; Final judgment has been moved to level 15, where it actually works. Divine Abolishment's targeted greater dispel strikes are still quite powerful, too much for me personally, but still: Kudos for cleaning this guy up! The Soul Hunter now has a kitten-caveat of nothing below 1/2 HD...but why not tie it to the soul hunter's level? This way, I'll have to take an advanced kitten with me; Still does not work. The Dervish Defender now need to actually dual-wield to use the two-weapon defense, which is neat. On a flavor-side weird would be that the archetype still does not receive the improved/greater TWF-feats for a massive hidden attribute/feat tax. Granted, this is a cosmetic gripe, but still - if the high-level ability mentions "mastery of TWF", you'd expect the archetype to know the feats. The ranged Hawkguard Warder has been cleaned of a wording issue and both Sworn protector and Zweihänder Sentinel are okay. Bannerman and Steelfist Commando for the Warlord are okay. The defensively-minded Vanguard Commander with his option to break the immediate action-limit a limited amount of times per day still feels a bit too strong for my tastes.



Now as new content, we receive two archetypes that allow psionic characters to wilder in PoW's systems - one for the psychic warrior, one for the soulknife. The Psychic Warrior Pathwalker learns up to 13 maneuvers, 7 readied, 4 stances, of up to 6th level. Each discipline receives its own psychic warrior path and...oh boy. Expend psionic focus for full attack at the end of a charge - yep, that would be free pounce. Urgh. Balancing between the respective paths is...strange, to say the least. The War Soul Soulknife receives the same amount of maneuvers and trades psychic strike and the 10th level blade skill for them. Interestingly, they have a mechanic to regain maneuvers upon the defeat of foes that actually manages, via HD and int-cap, to defeat the bag o' kitten issue - nice. The new blade skills provide the necessary mind blade customization. The option to throw mind blades and combine it with maneuvers, though, needs a heavy whack with the nerf-bat, analogue to the maneuvers that allow you to do this.



We also receive the awakened blade PrC - 10 levels, d10, 4+Int skills per level, full initiator level progression, new maneuvers known at every even level, additional maneuvers readied at 3rd, 6th and 9th level, +1 stance at 3rd and 8th level, 8/10th manifester progression and full BAB-progression, 1/2 will-progression. They also receive an omni-buff-focus, may expend the psionic focus to use an additional counter per round and at 6th level, any semblance of balance that could be achieved via action economy shambles away and whimpers, as psionic focus and maneuver regeneration become tied to another. Worse, by expending a readied action and the focus, these guys may grant themselves standard or move actions to be used as part of the counter, allowing them to add a strike, a cast, movement - you name it - to the game. This is essentially taking the one limitation of counters and throws it out the window. The capstone makes the powerful super-stance of the PrC effectively permanent. Urgh.



Okay, quick run of the PrCs - have they been repaired or are they still on the level of the supplemental content pdf? Battle Templar: Reach of the divine nerfed down to powerful, but okay - kudos!!! The same cannot be said for martial healing, which STILL nets the Battle Templar and his allies INFINITE HEALING. At this point I ragequit this PrC and move on to the next. The bladecaster's bonus damage is still untyped, the stance still broken, though a tad bit less so than before. The Dragon Fury is still nice, still fails the kitten-test. Mage Hunters have been somewhat streamlined, but still receives what boils down to evasion for all 3 saves. The capstone, which eliminates the option to cast defensively, is the other nail in the coffin for this class - Knowledge (Martial) DC 21 to realize it before hand? Nice, only casters don't get the skill as class skill, rendering that one just unfair. At least the infinite heal exploit is gone...it's now only infinite temporary hit points. The Umbral Blade would be my shining light (ironically) at the end of this PrC-tunnel - this one has been salvaged and is the one PrC I can't find it in me to complain about - indeed, the PrC serves as a nice example what can be done with the PoW-system -scaling class-specific NON-BROKEN stances, cool imagery. Two thumbs up -were the whole book like this, I'd be singing a whole different tune!



We close this pdf with 6 organizations, so-called martial traditions, to include in your game and advice for creating and adapting these traditions. I generally liked these, though I would have loved organization/fame-rules for them.



Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect -I noticed a couple of typo-level/italicization glitches. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with an additional, backgroundless, more printer-friendly version. Artwork ranges from original full color to b/w stock and does not adhere to a uniform style. The pdf comes fully bookmarked in both versions for your convenience. Production-value-wise, there is nothing to complain here.



Lead designers Chris Bennett and Andreas Rönnqvist with codesigners Jade Ripley and Sabrina Bennett have managed to write the worst emotional roller-coaster ride of my "reviewer-career." Alternation between cheers and resigned face palms to this extent has never been so frequent in a series. But how does the final book fare?



Path of War is better than the Book of 9 Swords. It is more refined, less jumbled together. Alas, it also chooses to inherit some of the worst traits of its predecessor and reintroduces them to PFRPG, when the base system purposefully got rid of them.



The explicit design intention of Path of War is to bring martials up to casters in power-level, to "give fighters nice things." I applaud that. I want that. Only problem is, PoW overshoots the target it set itself. Before you start booing and hissing, let me elaborate. We all have been there - wizards get the fireball and suddenly can clear whole groups of enemies while the fighter diddles his thumbs. DMs have seen this since the beginning of our hobby, through all iterations. When did this become a problem? Well, as soon as player-entitlement started to set in - suddenly, players started whining if they couldn't rest after every 2nd encounter to regain their nova-capacity and in a strange quirk f fate, DMs everywhere didn't tell them to plan better, to conserve their resources, but rather obliged. Thus, the 5-minute adventure day was born and with it, fighters and martials grumbled even louder. Now PoW does bring up the new martial classes up to the damage potential of casters - this is correct and should silence the whining on that front. So everyone's happy, right?

The problem is: Spells are not Maneuvers. Maneuvers are an infinite resource, whereas spells are a finite resource. Spellcasters can be bled of their resources...fast. And then they are the crappy, fragile dudes and ladies that can't do jack. The strategy of resource-conservation falls right of the edge with maneuvers - arcane pool, ki pool, rage rounds - all pales before these tricks, not necessarily by potential, but by the sheer fact that unlike all resources against which I can compare these, maneuvers are infinite. Yes, they have less AoE-oomph than spells, but their power-gain still is not limited in any way. This fundamentally changes the power-dynamics not only between classes, but of the whole game. Non-martial melee classes and their interaction with PoW receive next to no consideration apart from a paltry feat-tree, when especially the introduction of one PoW-class into a regular group quite probably will invalidate them. The high-AC fighter will never, ever even come close to the warder, the rogue (even talented + rogue glory-update) will pale terribly before the stalker and a paladin's smite turn ridiculous fast when compared to the tricks a warlord can pull off.



So is PoW balanced? Not in the traditional sense of PFRPG. If you had issues with psionics or pact magic or similar subsystems - well, this one amps the power-curve up far beyond these. Whereas usually, it requires a degree of system-mastery and tricks to produce strong, very powerful characters, the PoW-classes already have an above-average competence built into their relatively linear frameworks, even before maneuver selection.



Now this sounds awfully negative when it shouldn't - PoW's classes do many things right and offer interesting mechanics and some damn cool ideas. While personally, I don't like the stalker's crit-fishing, the warder and warlord make for interesting options. The maneuvers are stylish and breathe an aesthetic of anime martial arts and over the top fighting styles you may enjoy.



PoW is, to me, more divisive even than even the Book of 9 Swords - on the one hand, I consider the balance within the frame of PoW okay, on the other, I don't think it works well with its casting brethren or any other class. So I went ahead and tested. And know what? All of my above assertions proved to be valid... and my martial PCs had no more to do than before in any situation that was NOT a battle. Granted, their attacks were more diverse, mobility increased, foes melted like butter in the sun - but beyond combat, when spellcasters cranked out the utility and research/investigation tools...they still encountered lulls where twiddled their thumbs and grumbled about limited skills/non-combat tricks.



PoW enforces a certain playstyle that is implicit, but unfortunately, not explicit in the rules - very high fantasy. Rogues, monks, fighters, cavaliers and potentially (depending very much on your take of them, how many resources you allow, etc.) even potentially rangers, paladins and inquisitors have imho no place in a campaign with Path of War. They are utterly outclassed unless the PoW-class is in the hands of a novice and the regular martial class in the hands of an experienced player. If a campaign is on a Dragon Ball level of power (and that is NOT meant as chiding or belittling, so put away the torches and pitchforks!), Path of War will be just what the doctor ordered. Many of the abilities herein just ooze rule of cool and should provide a lot of entertainment and "did you see what I just did"-moments - I absolutely understand why PoW has fans. A part of me belongs to that camp. DMs should take heed to ensure that the casters are not overshadowed completely, though. As a DM, to enjoy PoW, you have to have no issue with the infinite maneuver regaining and the inability to bleed your PCs dry. If you are okay with that and are looking for truly high fantasy, this may just be what you want. If comet-throwing, dragon-solo high fantasy is what you're going for, then Path of War will fit the bill perfectly.



Now if you are an old-school player, enjoy the challenge of 15-point-buy and less over the top fantasy, if you like your fantasy low (or rare magic) and gritty, then avoid this like the plague -this is very much anime-style fantasy, not "A Song of Fire and Ice." or Conan



So far, both playstyles do not help finding a final verdict, though. So on to the mechanical execution - and again, things become difficult for me, though less so than I feared. On the one hand, quite a few of the very worst examples of broken %&/ have been eliminated and fixed - the content herein is superior to the one on the WiP-versions in every way. However, it has not been universally fixed - especially among the interaction with other systems like spellcasting and psionics, the horrible ways to utterly break the system can still be found. While the majority of the content herein is streamlined, aforementioned 3.X-relics taint quite a few maneuvers and if I can enhance particular attack-negating counters with massive bonuses beyond what any buffs to regular attacks would render possible, we have issues. An adept of veiled moon plus invisibility (+20/+40 to stealth...), +5 to perception for 2,5K...the buffing options of skills are simply too much, too easily gained for my tastes. Still, these, I could still chalk up to "increased power-level."

Worse, there are options for infinite healing. Multiple ones. These constitute the ultimate in design sins for me - they render all WBL-assumptions utterly ad absurdum and break in-game logic harder than a dragon crashing into a wall of force midflight. Another, though comparably minor thing the playtest did show would be that the disciplines not necessarily are balanced perfectly among themselves. While not in the realm of "useless vs. imba", damage + condition-dispersal was not always on one power-level.



"So steh' ich hier, ich armer Tor - und bin so klug als wie zuvor." I love PoW, it's ideas, some of its mechanics...more so than many, many pdfs I've read. I also loathe it for what it fails by a margin to deliver. With a tighter balancing, proper advice for non-initiator classes, a little bit of fine-tuning of classes and maneuvers, a cleaning up of relics, utility-options beyond combat and perhaps (sacrilege!) an alternate rule for maneuvers that are expended and remain expended until rest, like spells, this could have been the martial arts book everybody, me included, always wanted.



Only you, dear reader, can decide in which camp you're situated - cool or crap, it's, more than with any other book I've reviewed, a matter of perspective. One half of me want to smash this to pieces as it constitutes the worst power creep I've seen in ages with 1 star, while another parts just loves it to death and wants to slap 5 stars + seal of approval on it. In the end, I do consider multiple infinite healing tricks and options that are way too powerful even within PoW's context 2 strikes against the book, but not enough to condemn it utterly. Had this no issues beyond the relics and outclassing old martial classes, I think I would have gone 4 stars with it.



In the end, I urge fans of high fantasy that want to dive headfirst into this to check it out; I also advise fans of low (or even medium) fantasy to steer clear and avoid this like the plague. I urge any DM to carefully consider allowing this book. Read EVERYTHING very carefully and ban the broken pieces. My final verdict will clock in at a very close, borderline 3 stars - the pieces that are good, are too good to dismiss.



Over 5K words in this review alone...so many hours. I'll put the book aside for now. Unfortunately, it won't make its way into my regular game, but I may one day pick it up again for crazy one-shots, until I have some time on my hand to rebuild this from the ground up to be balanced with barbarians, paladins etc.

Thank you for reading this 10-page monstrosity of a review, whether you agree with me or not, I hope I have given an adequate impression of the series and provided enough information for you to decide whether his is for you or not.

I remain yours truly,

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War
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Psionic Bestiary
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/22/2014 05:42:59
An ENdzeitgeist.com review

This massive bestiary clocks in at 105 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 100 pages of content, so let's take a look!



First of all - this is a massive bestiary and as such, I can't go into the details of every creature herein without bloating it beyond belief. Additionally, I have reviewed the ongoing subscription (with the exception of ~2-3 installments, I think), so if in doubt, there are some reviews in the ether that are more detailed regarding the respective creatures. Finally, if you're like me and have accompanied the evolution of PFRPG's psionics, then you'll notice that Ultimate Psionics no longer featured monsters - well, that's why this book exists - handy player/DM separation by book - nice.



We begin this book with some explanations on how psionic creatures work, what to look out for etc., before 2 new feats that are used in this book are depicted - the aberration-only feat that nets you acidic blood, plus one 6-rank-prerequisite feat that allows the creature with it to avoid detection by e.g. blindsight etc. - while I get the intent behind the feat and applaud it, I do think that different abilities should add different bonuses to the perception-check for fairness's sake - after all, quite a feat creatures are very much dependant on blindsight and more often than not fail to invest ranks in perception. Now rest assured that this is a VERY minor nitpick and will not influence the verdict, but I'd urge DMs allowing this feat to take a look at eligible creatures and potentially reassign skill-ranks.



All right, got that? Neato, then let's dive head first into the array of psionic creatures presented herein - and, as per the tradition, we begin with the iconic astral constructs and all the table to customize them...but I assume you're familiar with these guys. Much cooler would be the psionic inevitables, the automata - crystalline machinery, deadly tricks, a regeneration only foiled by sonic damage...these guys are nasty and the direct foes of aberrations and similar creatures!



Classics like the crysmal, caller in darkness, folugub, psion-killer or cerebrelith can be found in these pages as well, though more often than not, I have to admit to by now simply having a higher standard for monsters - when compared to quite a few critters herein, the "classics" feel a bit conventional at times.



Now if you've followed my reviews, Hellfire aura-bearing devils, cerebremorte undead, beetles with a truly disturbing life cycle and brain parasite worms may sound familiar - and if you haven't encountered them, the phrenic hegemony, heirs to the illithids, may very well be the more disturbing (and complex) type of creature - they were awesome in the WiP-pdf and by now have more artworks - and these are simply awesome. Speaking of awesome - when I complained about the polearm masters of the Pyn-Gok race not getting any cool signature tricks via their plummage, I was heard - they now have quite a bunch of cool additional tricks! The T'artys have alas, not received a similar treatment - they still are ye' old mischief-causing fey, only with psionics. *shrugs* Their artwork ahs been upgraded, though!



A nod to Forgotten Realms' Saurians can be found in this pdf alongside some delightfully demented plant creatures -from the classic udoroot that now has some actually unique tricks to strange, mouth-studded trees, many of the artworks perfectly drive home the utter weirdness and partially alien flavor of psionics - take the humanoid plants with EYES, the Iniro. One look at their nightmareish artwork and you'll know you want to use these fellows! The Mindseed Tree is no less disturbing to me and just a fun adversary as well!



Dreamborn, colossal magical beasts adrift in the ether, the last members of a dying race, a strange array of mutated creatures that have been driven insane by a cataclysm, only to endure...how? Upon death of one , another member of their race hideously splits in two... The crystalline shackle using Dedrakons and similar hunters make for iconic magical beasts as hunters that work well in a context of a given world requiring appropriate predators.



And speaking of predators - beyond the awesomeness that is the phrenic hegemony, we also receive examples of psionic apex predators - psionic dragons. A total of 5 dragon types are provided - all of which radically different from the gem-dragon tradition: We receive the Cypher, Imagos, Keris, Lorican and Scourge dragons. Cypher dragons are travelers of the planes and do have some rather cool, unique abilities - they can disrupt patterns just like the Cryptic-class and indeed, their age-category abilities gained fall in line with this concept and remain their uniqueness.



Imago dragons do not cause fear, instead using confusion and are the wilders among dragonkind, coupling wilder-style tricks with a theme of oneiromancy etc. - cool! Now if you're like me, at one point, the color-coding of dragons annoyed you - while templates etc. by now allow for ways past that, simply introducing the energy-type changing Kerris dragons and their tricks might do the trick as well. Two thumbs up! Speaking of which - the Lorican dragon's tricks are imaginative as well - these guys can wrap essentially a pocket astral plane around themselves and exert control over this area, modifying magic affinity, gravity etc. - innovative and just incredibly cool!



Finally, the Scourge Dragons would be the dread-equivalent to the cypher dragon's cryptic-affinity -masters of fear with an affinity for the plane of shadows, they should be considered rather awesome as well. But this would not be all - beyond these trueborn dragons, there also are Ksarite dragons and drakes, partially composed of psionic force -compared to the true born dragons, though, these guys feel less impressive.



In case you're looking for templates to apply to creatures, we also receive fodder in that regard beyond aforementioned brain worm hosts - take the Marked One (CR +3) template - studded with psionic tattoos they can spread, these guys are obsessed with order and there might very well be a global agenda behind the phenomenon... narrative gold hiding here. Speaking of which - by now, you can create your own deranged trepanner-constructs -cool to see the missing crafting information showing up herein. I just wished the psychotrope drugs of a shambler variant had received similar treatment.

A massive appendix of creatures by type, by CR and by terrain makes this bestiary easy to handle for the DM - kudos!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch: At this point a shout-out to Anguish on the Paizo boards who did a massive bunch of editing for this book, checking statblocks for even the most minute of errors. My hat's off to you, sir (or madam)! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full color standard. The artworks provided for the creatures herein are universally full-color and belong to the more gorgeous, unique of artworks you'll see. While not adhering to a uniform style, the artworks are great and the less than awesome ones from the WiP have been exchanged with higher quality pieces - neat! It should also be noted that the pdf of this book comes with an additional, more printer-friendly version - nice! I can't comment on the print-version since I do not have it.



The team of designers Jeremy Smith, Andreas Rönnqvist, Michael McCarthy, Dale McCoy Jr., Michael Pixton, Jim Hunnicutt, Jade Ripley and Dean Siemsen have done a great job - the psionic bestiary offers quite an array of damn cool psionic creatures, studded with unique signature abilities, using the rules to their full extent, often significantly improving the less than superb examples among the WiP-files. Indeed, the majority of the creatures herein have something significantly cool going for them. Now if there is something to said against the pdf, it would be that there is no template to turn non-psionic creatures into psionic creatures and wilder in the class rules of the respective psionic classes. This is especially baffling to me due to the cover offering an aboleth, of which there is a distinct lack of in the book - why not provide some psionic versions of these iconic foes?



This would constitute the only thing truly missing from this book - a way to codify psionics in a massive choose-your-tricks template - other than that oversight, this book is a glorious bestiary, especially if you're looking for far-out creatures...and for fans of psionics, there's no way past this, anyways. My final verdict will hence clock in at a high recommendation of 5 stars, just shy by a tiny margin of my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionic Bestiary
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Path of War
by Skjalg K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/22/2014 15:24:16
Path of War is the second big project from Dreamscarred Press, following the success of Ultimate Psionics.
In Path of War, Dreamscarred Press have attempted to redesign the maneuver-based martial combat system first intrduced in the Dungeons & Dragons supplement Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords, a book that is at once loved and hated by the D&D community.
In my opinion, Path of War is a success. Tome of Battle was a controversial book, both in terms of it's asian-inspired aesthetic and the system itself. I have to admit that I was one of the people who really liked and appreciated ToB. To me, it finally bridged the gap between spellcasters and martial characters in D&D, not completely but satisfyingly.
Path of War does much the same for Pathfinder. Using the system in this book, any martial character can gain a little extra power by either multiclassing or taking specific feats, and the new classes introduced by Path of War are unique, interesting and well-balanced when compared to Pathfinders core classes.

The book itself has pretty good artwork, and is well-written and edited. Path of War is the first publication in a series of volumes that will eventually be collected in a tome like Ultimate Psionics was, and I can't wait to see all the new options Dreamscarred Press has planned for this system.

Path of War is an excellent sourcebook for Pathfinder, mirroring Dreamscarred Press' psionics material in quality. It is a worthwhile addition to any Pathfinder players bookshelf, and has become my go-to supplement for making martial classes and characters. I highly recommend this book!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War
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Ultimate Psionics
by Skjalg K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/22/2014 13:58:09
Ultimate Psionics by Dreamscarred Press is in my opinion an essential book to own for the Pathfinder RPG.
Presented in this book is Dreamscarred Press' take on the well known and much loved psionics magic system which originally appeared in Eldritch Wizardry in 1976 for 1st Edition D&D, and has since appeared in most editions of that game. Ultimate Psionics is based on the system introduced in the Psionics Handbook for D&D 3.0 and later revised in 3.5.

With Ultimate Psionics, Dreamscarred Press has brought psionic magic into Pathfinder astonishingly well. The level of polish in this book is remarkable, and the authors and designers of this massive tome have really outdone themselves. Most of the designers involved with this project have an extensive background with the psionics sub-system from D&D 3rd Ed, and that experience and love really shows in this book.
The system is excellently balanced, and the book is filled to the brim with options and weays to build effective, unique and entertaining characters, as well as ways of introducing psionics into every campaign-setting imaginable.

If you like psionics, and the unique flavour of the psionics system from 3rd Ed. D&D you will love Ultimate Psionics. This book is a masterpiece, and in my humble opinion should be on the shelves of every Pathfinder GM and player.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Psionics
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High Psionics: Power Displays
by Darryl J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/06/2014 17:21:24
A good collection of interesting displays. Five different categories - Auditory, Material, Mental, Olfactory, and visual. These give nice flair to the usage of any power, as there's no mechanics these can be use with any system.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
High Psionics: Power Displays
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Psionic Bestiary
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/18/2014 08:49:36
If you are running a campaign in which psionics feature, it only stands to reason that you'll want some psionic monsters to throw at the characters... and even if none of the characters are psionic, it can prove an interesting challenge to give them psionic opposition (cue evil GM chuckle).

Laid out in standard monster format, but repleate with additional information to help you adapt each one to your precise needs, this is a useful collection of critters that share the common characteristic of being psionic or at least able to wield psionic-like abilities. There are even some undead psionic entities - a mind-wrenching idea, as like all undead they are immune to mind-influencing effects even when capable of exerting them themselves!

And it's got the brain mole! Not sure quite why, but I delight in them! My players had better watch out :)

The various constructs and automata are fascinating as well. Many of the creatures are outsiders, leaving it open to you to introduce them as alien visitors to a non-psionic campaign world if that's what you run. Alternatively, you might decide that only certain creatures in your world are psionic - dragons might be a good choice, and there's plenty of material here to support such a concept.

It's a fascinating selection which should enhance any campaign in which psionics occur, however common or rare you decide that they are.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionic Bestiary
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Path of War: The Warder
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/17/2014 03:36:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Path of War-series is 45 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 42 pages of content, so let's take a look!



Okay, one thing out of the way - I assume at this point that you're familiar with the terminology of PoW, that you are aware that now per-encounter abilities have a precisely in-game defined time-frame and that PoW does NOT represent standard Pathfinder-balance - the aim of this series is to add power to martial characters, with special martial-arts style maneuvers and new classes. This means that balance, by design, is different from what you'd get in regular PFRPG. I'm not going to criticize the increased power of these characters, since that's the design-goal. Relevant for DMs would be the fact that with these guys around, war of attrition no longer works - since maneuvers can be (with some actions required to regain them) performed ad infinitum, resource-depletion as a strategy akin to dealing with spellcasters no longer works with PoW - or at least, is significantly less effective. This caveat out of the way, If you're interested in the basics, check out my previous PoW-reviews.



That out of the way, let's take a look at the difficult concept of a defensive warrior, herein exemplified by the new warder base-class. Warders get d12, 4+Int skills per level, good fort and will-saves, full BAB-progression, proficiency with all armors and all shields and start game with 5 maneuvers known, 3 readied and 1 known stance. Over the 10 levels, these expand to 16 maneuvers known, 10 readied and 6 stances. Maneuvers expended can also be regained by this class in a unique way, by entering the so-called defensive focus. First, there is a passive benefit - warders get the combat reflexes feat and use int-mod instead of dex-mod to determine AoOs per round. Recovering maneuvers as a full-round action, the warder gets an interesting ability - he sets up a defensive perimeter, threatening an additional 5 ft., + another 5ft. per 5 initiator levels (not sure whether that's intended and shouldn't be CLASS levels instead - multiclassing warder/warlord/stalker and having this one grow at full force seems excessive to me). Until the beginning of the warder's next turn, he may make AoOs against targets provoking them in this increased perimeter. The warder may still move as part of these AoO, but only up to his speed - this feels a bit powerful when compared to similar defensive builds, but I guess that's intended. Finally, the warder imposes a penalty equal to class level + int-mod to acrobatics-checks made to prevent AoOs from the warder. At 10th level, this becomes worse - the warder's threatened area becomes difficult terrain for foes and his own movements don't provoke AoOs anymore when in defensive focus.



Not provoking any AoOs by moving anymore can break A LOT of builds - which doesn't seem so bad. Want to see these get truly scary? Reach weapon + creature with reach + size-increase (the latter especially for PCs) - deadly. I'm seriously not sure whether +25 ft. reach IN ADDITION to all the reach-increasing tricks out there isn't...well...insane.



Warders also increase their ally's defenses by mere proximity, granting a +1 morale bonus to AC and will-saves to all allies within 10 ft., scaling up to +5 at 17th level and increasing range to up to 30 ft. Nothing to complain about the defensive aura here. At 2nd level, the Warder also gets an ability called Armiger's Mark -usable 1/2 class level + int-mod times per day, and no more often simultaneously than against 3+int-mod targets, as a free action, warders damaging foes may mark them to force them to attack the warder for warder's int-mod rounds at -4 (scaling up to -8) to atk and with a spell failure chance increased by 10% +1% per 2 levels. No save. Which brings me to an issue here - I GET the idea of this ability - it's intended to force a target to attack the warder (and not the healing-spamming cleric/druid/oracle). I actually applaud that! What I don't like is that there's no scaling, no success/failure-dichotomy here - personally, I think the ability would be more rewarding (and exciting and balanced), if the target got a save to negate the penalties imposed by the mark BUT NOT the ability's crux, i.e. still have to attack the target. Now at 9th level, a warder can expend two uses of this ability to impose the penalty to all creatures within 30 ft. on a failed will-save for int-mod rounds. While being limited by a save and being language-dependant (meaning unlike the mark, it does not work against animals etc.), I still think that this debuff as a free action is a bit excessive. At 16th level, warders may regain maneuvers by dropping marked foes to 0 hp.



The class also receives a bonus combat (or teamwork) feat at 3rd level and every 5th level thereafter. At fourth level, warders may use int instead of dex to calculate their ref-saves and initiative (making them essentially a 3 good save-class - which is excessive). In contrast, reducing armor check penalty by 2 over the whole class feels not that impressive. Personally, I'd nerf the former ability and improve the latter - also to allow for slightly more varied char-builds - i.e. dexterous warders instead of strong warders.



Extended defense unfortunately doesn't work - 1/day (+1/day every 3 levels) as an immediate action, warders may designate a counter readied, which the warder may then execute as a free action at will until the start of his next turn. The thing is - free actions can't be RAW performed when it's not your turn. So we have a conundrum here - also regarding the counter itself; It *could* be spammed infinitely since there is no caveat there - if one presumes a free action to work also on another's turn (which it doesn't), action economy gets all jumbled for the counters (not to start with implications for other free action tricks of other classes...). A more elegant solution would have imho be to simply allow the ability to let the warder execute the counter at will as a substitute to regular AoOs provoked by his opponents - simple, elegant and sans this action economy labyrinth the ability opens.



At 7th level, warders can expend one use of their mark to expend int-mod readied maneuvers and replace them with an equal amount of known maneuvers as a full-round action. At 15th level, a warder may make fort-saves against the atk that would reduce him to 0 hp or below and instead have an item absorb the damage, potentially getting the broken condition...per se cool. The problem is, what happens to indestructible armor/artifacts etc.? Seriously, a warder with these is a force to be reckoned with... while not 100% foolproof, at 15th level, the ability comes late enough to make me still consider okay. In direct comparison, gaining +int-mod to AC versus crit-confirmation rolls at 19th level feels rather anticlimactic. The capstone again is rather epic though, allowing the maintaining of defensive focus as a move action, while also netting aegis bonuses, immunities and preventing death from hit point damage - he is "unable to die from hit point damage" - each round consumes aegis marks, though, and at the end of this ability, he's exhausted, which can only be cured by rest. per se cool...but: The warder's immortal via hit point damage - so far, so good. Does that mean that a 200 hp dragon-flame blast hitting the warder simply does no damage or that he can't die from it if his hp are down to 49? What after the blast? Assuming the warder would die at -16 hp, would he be at -15 hp and unconscious (meaning the ability would cease immediately?)? Would said warder be stable or die the next round on a failed check? Or is the warder locked at 0 hp and staggered? Or is the warder's hp locked at 1hp for the duration of the ability? Some clarification would help make this cool capstone really awesome...



All right, next up would once again be the short primer on the Knowledge (martial) skill (still sans info which non-PoW-classes should get it as a class skill...) and new (and old) feats from the PoW. So let's see how these fare! General feats to specialize on disciplines, learning more maneuvers etc. and letting other classes wilder among the maneuvers presented as well as offering the finesse etc. feats already known from the previous installments. The feats also include one that doubles the duration of the aegis mark ability. One feat. Doubled duration. Even within PoW, this is BROKEN. Extra marks is okay - as is the option to make foes demoralized and marked flee from you (which is probably smart - two massive debuffs don't make for a good melee...) and finally, the feat that nets temporary hp in exchange for a penalty with full attacks is back; While not broken, it's also not particularly awesome - it's essentially a free array of temp hit points as long as full attacks are performed, which makes for a very strange in-game logic indeed...



Next up would be the maneuvers - Golden Lion and Primal Fury you'll know from the Warlord (covered in my review there), Broken Blade from the Stalker (ditto) - but there's also a new discipline, namely Iron Tortoise. I will ONLY cover Iron Tortoise in this review.

Iron Tortoise's associated skill is Bluff and it requires proficiency with shields. This discipline is defensive in nature - which I applaud. I also enjoy that NONE of the maneuvers uses a skill check for attack-mechanic! Yeah! One of the most powerful counters allows the initiator to make an opposed attack roll + shield bonus versus the incoming attack as an immediate action - success negates the incoming attack, while failure still nets you a DR of 50/- against it. Yeah. Ouch - but the true joke is - not that much better than the level 6 version, which does essentially the same, but "only" nets DR 20/- on a failure.

Remember that this ability can be refreshed relatively easily. See what I meant in the beginning with PoW adhering to a different power level than standard Pathfinder? Still, within PoW's frame. Another boost of the discipline allows the initiator to heap cumulative penalties against targets other than you upon foes for each successful attack you hit them with. What's fundamentally broken is burnished shell - which renders all spells requiring attacks utterly useless - by succeeding an attack against CASTER LEVEL (lol, 5? 10? Even for 20 - The discipline cannot possibly fail this one!), the maneuver negates the targeted spell. Disintegrate? Pfff! The check is the same for all spell levels! Its DC is ridiculously low at ANY level range! Oh, the maneuver is LEVEL 3. Seriously? Even in PoW's increased power-level, this is utterly, completely INSANE. Not all maneuvers have problems, though - whirlwind shield-bashing foes? Yeah - works and is cool. I also LOVE that there's a maneuver that lets you add shield-bonus to fort and ref-saves against specific attacks- simply because that's one of the iconic things that shields ought to be able to do: Fireball incoming: Hiding behind the shield may save you from being burnt to a crisp! Yeah, that one works neat! Another high-level attack I like can attack multiple foes with one shield bash and massive bonus damage, knocking foes back! an opposing attack roll including movement to negate attacks on allies also works rather neatly! In contrast the shield bash attack to negate incoming non-spell/power attack-level 1 counter once again somewhat rubs me the wrong way, though here mainly because of the d20 vs. d20 fluctuation. This is a matter of personal preference, though, and unlike the skill vs. attack complaining I did (which does have massive issues), attack vs. attack will not cause me to rate this pdf down.



I do like the stance that makes your armor count as one step lighter, shield throwing and yes, the inevitable defensive position-style stance. Overall, I have surprisingly few issues with the whole discipline and consider it perhaps the best one so far...if you can deal with one concept.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice significant glitches, though here and there ambiguities have slipped past rules-editing. Layout adheres to DSP's two-column standard and artworks are mostly thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Chris Bennett's growth as an author is quite interesting to observe - the warder feels more concise than the previous classes and makes for a very interesting take on the defensive fighter, with a lot of interesting abilities and some rather cool ideas. That being said, while it doesn't fail the kitten-test this time around, there are some rough edges in this class as well, though decidedly less than before.



The same can be said about Iron Tortoise - gone from this discipline are the 3.X-relics, all vanished in favor of more PFRPG-oriented mechanics. While personally, I'm not a fan of opposed attack rolls (why not resolve it versus opponent's CMD?), I can live with attack versus attack since they adhere to the same scaling mechanism and thus can be balanced against each other. The vast majority of the discipline works rather well and while there are some components which can use some balance-tweaking, overall, within the increased power-level of PoW, I can see it working well.



This pdf is the so far most refined Path of War installment. That being said, as written, one can create a terror-inducing tank indeed - I could hand this to one of my players and get a strong, but balanced character. Much like the other PoW-books, I could also hand this to one of my number-wizards (get it? spellcaster-analogue...Okay, I'll hit myself now and put 2 bucks in the bad-pun-jar) and they'd utterly break balance with the other classes.



So overall...Yes, there's some filing off of rough edges to still be done here - though less than before. Another note I feel I should mention would be the concept of aggro - many abilities herein force foes to attack certain targets and reward/penalize certain actions on behalf of the warder's foes. While personally, I don't necessarily mind the concept (though I'd penalize the hell out of a player not properly rping WHY s/he draws the foe's ire/how s/he interposes her/himself into attacks!), I can imagine certain DMs being annoyed by this - I'm mentioning this primarily because two of my playtesters were exceedingly annoyed by this. It should also be noted that this class is VERY linear; Not much choices class-option-wise.



How to rate this, then? I actually like the class abilities (and, even if the class isn't revised/further streamlined, will scavenge the hell out of it!), but some of them as written, require some finetuning. The same goes for the new maneuvers, some of which vastly outclass others in power/usefulness. The good news here is that these glitches, unlike previous complaints I had in the series, can be VERY EASILY fixed - they require no incision into central mechanics or the like and boil down to minor fixes, though the amount does accumulate. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 -with the caveat that if you mind neither the glitches I noted, nor the strength or the aggro-drawing concept, you should DEFINITELY round up to 4 stars instead. A moderately talented DM can smoothen the rough edges him/herself.



One final promise - I *will* revisit ALL maneuvers in the final, inevitable compilation and once again see whether this series manages to become the legendary book it sets out to be or whether the minor rough edges remain.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War: The Warder
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Psionic Bestiary: Part 9
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/28/2014 03:15:15
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 9th part of the Psionic Bestiary is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look!



We kick off this mini-bestiary with a new CR 5, tentacle-mouthed monstrous humanoid with emergent brain lobes, the Brataurus, who can emit wis-damage dealing screams and worse, they actually feed on said damage, healing themselves. Cool!



The CR 3 Dedrakon, a scaled predator that adds crystal shackles to their prey via their attacks, which increase in movement-hampering potency the more creatures are shackled with them - oh, and they can emit roars to paralyze shackled foes on a failed save - throw these in groups, add some hit and run-tactics/feats and watch them squirm. And yes, the base creature is inspiring enough for me to actually do that.



At CR2, the 3-eyes lizard-like Dulah-humanoids have a nice ability - they can barf their treasure at foes! Since my version of the dire beaver barfed splinters at foes, yes, I do like that one!



At CR 6 and 8 respectively, the Ensnared Earth Elementals and their Greater cousins are glorious - part elemental, part plant, they may strike through stone and ground those nasty fliers with psionically chargeable pulses of gravity! Awesome!



At CR 2, the somewhat ferret/cat-like Ferax have some nice minor psi-like abilities and can emit bolstering hums. Finally, at CR 3, the bat-like, winged, one-eyed Reva can manipulate objects, target foes with force damage and are superb spies indeed that can detect sentient, sapient life-forms. Nice spies for the BBeG - or your PCs, for these "builder bats" are actually LN and rather intelligent!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though I did notice minor typo-level glitches, nothing rules-problematic. The pdf adheres to DSP's 2-column full-color layout, with bookmarks being there, but broken (and unnecessary at this length) and the artworks for the creatures, all in full-color, being simply WEIRD and awesome. Add to that the lack of glaring glitches in the math - and we also get in that department, one damn impressive little bestiary!



Authors Jeremy Smith, Andreas Rönnqvist, Dale McCoy Jr. (commander in chief of Jon Brazer Enterprises) and Jade Ripley deliver a bunch of psionic creatures that are just fun - each one coming with at least one cool signature ability and production values to supplement their unique abilities as well as with the more than fair price point, this bestiary can be considered 5 star material indeed - which also reflects my final verdict, omitting my seal only by a margin.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionic Bestiary: Part 9
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Psionic Bestiary: Six Monsters
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/14/2014 09:34:49
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Psionic Bestiary-series is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction,1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages, so let's check out those beasts!



The first critter would be the Azrathid at CR 3 - a truly deadly psionic ambush predator with a truly NASTY paralysis-inducing poison - nice, in spite of being sans signature ability: The combination of psi-like abilities makes these work!



Next would be the CR 6 Brain Worm - body horror indeed: These worms try to subdue you and then, burrow into your flesh, wrap around your spine and then extend tendrils into your brain. And yes, you're essentially dead if the parasite can't be extracted, gaining the infected host template. A per se cool creature, though I wished it had some intrinsic way of actually making its prey helpless- guess host bodies and pummeling foes into submission will have to do, though bleeding out and no heal-skill to stabilize prey on the side of the worm make assuming new bodies somewhat ineffective.



At CR 5, corpse beetle-swarms may emit a drone that makes flying impossible and if swarms weren't bad enough, these critters also make you shakened on a failed save...ouch. Oh, and the, much like aforementioned worm, have a connection to a creature called Skull Thrasher (CR 7, btw.) - which is the final part of the life-cycle of this strange being - first a beetle, then a worm, then a skull with an attached spinal cord suffused by tendrils and an otherworldly intellect that can control its lesser brethren - over all, quite a cool creature array and rather disturbing in the fun, mind-flayer-way.



At CR 4, the Ghaar, monstrous-looking, psionic plants are a dying breed - bereft of their racial heart tree, these beings may have necromantic powers, they may be damaged by positive energy and yes, they can hurt themselves to inflict damage upon you - but if you get to know them sans dying, they aren't so bad...



Finally, at CR 9, there's the Mathra Tree - think essentially hang-man's tree psionic cousin and you'll get what these do - entangling vines, charm-like effect, neurotoxins - nice, if not particularly special.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to DSP's background-less two-column full-color standard and each creature herein gets a stunning, awesome piece of original full-color artwork - kudos! The pdf comes sans bookmarks, but doesn't need any at this length.

Andreas Rönnqvist, Jeremy Smith and Michael Pixton did a neat job here, offering a nice cadre of psionic creatures - I particularly liked the Gathra, surprisingly the Azrathid and the idea behind the 3 monsters connected by the life-cycle, though I'm not 100% wowed by the respective execution of them - there's nothing particularly wrong with them, but I still feel the worms and skull thrashers could have used some minor fine-tuning/unique tools of the trade. All in all, still a great little bestiary, well worth the fair asking price - final verdict? 4 stars!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Psionic Bestiary: Six Monsters
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Path of War: The Warlord
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/30/2014 03:21:05
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Path of War-series is 52 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 49 pages of content, so let's take a look...



...wait. Since my review of The Stalker was met with downright hostility by some people (but not the designers, I should add!), let me make some things clear: I have excessive experience with To9S. And while I loved the basic concepts, its flaws became abundantly clear in game. One caveat DM's ought to have in mind when using PoW is that the classes herein are INTENDED as a power boost. Multiple d6-bonus damage, attack negation etc. is beyond the capabilities of regular martial characters and since their abilities can universally be refreshed infinite times, these tricks can be pulled off more often than the spells of a caster, thus making a DM's war of attrition as a tool much less effective. So no, we're not looking at regular PFRPG-balancing here. In short: DMs should be aware that PoW increases the power-level of the party.

Path of War has established, as a spiritual successor, a superior take on the concept of To9S, one that works much more streamlined.



Why do I consider it superior? Take the refreshing of maneuvers: By allowing for actions, i.e. concisely defined time-frames, as a means to refresh maneuvers, the classes are more in line with the in-world logic. I consider per-encounter refreshing of abilities, pardon my language, stupid, since it makes no sense in-game - an encounter can span any duration from 1 round to, hypothetically, hours and is a metagame concept that makes in-game no sense.

...

Or rather: MADE. Path of War is SMART - we actually now GET a concise in-game definition of per-encounter abilities, one THAT MAKES SENSE in-game!!! Yes, you can now put away your axes.

This takes care of an unpleasant relic from the 3.X days and streamlines the whole system. Excellent. I already explained the basic system, just in case you're not familiar with it - essentially, Path of War wants to bring martial characters more in line with the casters, allowing them to use martial maneuvers, essentially supernatural martial abilities that they can use to destroy their opposition. These maneuvers have different sub-categories: Boosts tend to buff/debuff as instant effects, stances are maintained and offer bonuses as long as they're active and strikes are special attacks. Finally, there are counters, which you can usually use as a reaction to attacks etc. - many of these utilize immediate or swift actions, which means as a player, you ought to be rather familiar with these types of actions to properly plan your action economy.



Another caveat before I FINALLY start the review - the goal of Path of War is a power-upgrade for martial characters. As such, I will not reference other martial classes in direct comparison - PoW-classes, by design, are supposed to be superior, something DMs ought to bear in mind. That means, my balancing complaints, should any come up, do not refer to the power-level assumed by CORE-martial characters, but rather to potential issues within the frame of PoW. I, of course, will otherwise be the obnoxious complainer about any issues that I see. Got that? Awesome!



So let's take a look at the Warlord! The warlord gets d10, 4+Int skills per level, good fort-saves, full BAB-progression, proficiency with light and medium armor, bucklers and simple/martial weapons. They start with 1 stance, 6 maneuvers known, 4 maximum maneuvers readied and expand these to 18 maneuvers known, 11 readied and 6 stances at 20th level. Now I've already touched upon regaining maneuvers and the warlord may regain an expended maneuvers as a standard action... or the warlord may use a so-called warlord's gambit.



Each gambit can be initiated as a swift action and consists of 3 components, a risk, a rake and a reward. The gambit describes a risk, an action the warlord must undertake. If the action is successful, the reward of the gambit kicks in, thus rewarding combat behavior that is not the "I attack routine" - cool. When succeeding the gambit, the warlord regains cha-mod, min 2 maneuvers. If he fails, he only regains one maneuver. If a maneuver helps a warlord accomplish a given task, it should be noted that it can used to succeed in the gambit by initiating it. However, a gambit cannot be used to refresh a maneuver that is expended as part of the gambit, thus preventing the looping of maneuvers. Warlords start the game with 2 gambits chosen from a list of 15 and gain another one at 4th level and every 4 levels after that. Now if a warlord fails at a gambit, s/he incurs a penalty of -2 to d20 rolls for one round - which seems harsh, however, one should bear in mind that ANY d20-roll required to succeed at a gambit (be it skill, CMB/attack/whatever) gets the warlord's cha-bonus as a luck bonus, which can be quite a significant bonus - for many 1st level warlords this will probably mean at least +3, more realistically +4 or even +5 - which is more than an improved xyz-feat would grant.

Generally, I think this somewhat undermines the point behind gambits - refreshing maneuvers, especially at low levels, should not entail such significant bonuses: To compare: A paladin's smite evil would apply in a similar manner to the attack and is limited in daily use. And yes, I am aware that the smite's bonus damage is the primary benefit of the ability, but still. Gambits do have some limits, though -they can only be used once per encounter. Some gambits also provide benefits to allies within 60 feet - for example, when using dastardly gambit, a warlord tries to use dirty trick. If s/he succeeds, s/he and all allies get the warlord's cha-mod to a single attack against the target in the next round. Other gambits allow you to follow up on successful combat maneuvers initiated via gambits to follow up with an AoO against the target, usually with +cha-mod bonus damage.

Granted, the gambits do not offer AoO-free combat maneuvers, but also, their risk is often rather minor - Pinhole Gambit requires the warlord to make a ranged attack into melee, with one feat rather easy and with a decent cha-mod, it even makes precise shot not necessarily required. Additionally, the foe takes a penalty equal to the warlord's cha-mod to AC for a round if the gambit succeeds.



I LOVE gambits - their concept is downright friggin' AWESOME. How do you get players to play more risky, more diverse? Offer them actual incentive to do. Tying the whole process to maneuver replenishing is a win-win - make more interesting combat decisions and be rewarded for it by getting to do more of your favorite tricks. This mechanic rewards planning and smart playing and that is always good in book. However (I can hear the "boos" as I'm typing this), I do think the system needs some fine-tuning. Why? Because there currently is simply no reason NOT to gambit. At low levels, cha-mod as a bonus is a huge thing in itself, even before the additional benefits come into play. Let's take the pinhole gambit as an example, shall we? So, a warlord starts the gambit to shoot into melee. If the warlord doesn't have precise shot, the cha-mod of Cha 18 would completely offset the penalty for shooting into melee, if he does have the feat, we're looking at a +4 bonus to atk. If the attack hits, the target incurs a -4 penalty to AC. Furthermore, our warlord would regain 4 expended maneuvers upon hitting. This is the success criteria. The failure criteria would be to incur a -2 penalty to all d20-rolls for 1 round. Yes, this trick can only be pulled off once per encounter (thus no complaint in that regard), but it is, especially at first level, a VERY powerful trick. Still, not enough to make me yell OP...at least in the context of PoW.



What does irk me about it, would be that the system seems to somewhat deconstruct its intent - as far as I've understood, the intention of gambits would be to reward risks in certain contexts, but the penalty on failure feels like it is not in a significant relation to the rewards. Due to not scaling both benefits and drawbacks, the former start off as strong, whereas the latter become more and more insignificant over the levels. This becomes especially apparent when taking a look at acrobatic gambit, which rewards an acrobatics check through a threatened square by dealing +1d6+cha-mod damage upon a successful attack. At first level, that can be rather impressive, double damage even. At let's say, level 10, I can't imagine anyone being impressed by this -especially since CMD for acrobatics-DCs scales differently (i.e. more rapidly) than AC (as per pinhole gambit) does. Now apart from this rather different scaling (and thus, diverging utility of the gambits), I do think that right now, there is simply no reason not to use a gambit if you can...ever. After all, you only get -2 to all d20-rolls (which is unpleasant at low levels, but there are worse debuffs out there) and still regain one of your signature tricks. And this relative minor consequence for failure detracts from the potential of the whole concept - if the penalties (and benefits!) did scale and were at least a bit more severe at higher levels, their significant benefits would make enacting a gambit no less rewarding, but actually more exciting for the player - can s/he pull off the gambit and regain her arsenal or be kicked in the shins, only regaining a portion of his/her arsenal? That would be the situation where the whole group holds the breath and stares at the dice as they roll...



Another issue would be that two gambits fail the kitten-test: Brave gambit requires you to charge a foe, then nets all allies your cha-mod as bonus to their first attack. You could throw a kitten in the field, initiate a gambit against said kitten dies horribly, which emboldens your allies. Weird that here, among all gambits, the tie of the bonus to the target of the gambit has been forgotten. Second failed kitten-test: Deadeye Gambit. Initiate a called shot against a kitten. He and all allies within 60 feet gain cha-mod hit points. While this infinite AoE-healing via shooting kittens, takes long due to the definition of per-encounter in concise terms, it's probably still an oversight not intended and makes potions of healing and similar low-level healing items completely obsolete.

Another nitpick I have here would be with the bonuses granted to allies as part of successful gambits - as per the writing of this, they are universally untyped and thus stack with other sources. They probably should be labeled as luck-bonuses (like the one the warlord gets when executing a gambit) or as morale bonuses (which would make more sense to me) - in either case, they would prevent stacking with defense buffs and thus make the whole gambit-system more streamlined. To cut a long ramble short: Glorious class feature that could use some streamlining both in its system and in balance between the ranged and maneuver/melee gambits.



Beyond gambits, warlords may, at 2nd level a warlord may maintain a so-called presence as a move action (free action starting at 7th level) - there is no choice here, the progression of presences is linear. Not that you wouldn't take the second level presence: All allies within 30 feet get the Diehard-feat and + warlord's cha-mod to saves against death effects, fatigue/exhaustion and poison effects as a morale bonus. Yeah. That means, for a significant amount of effects, the allies get the equivalent (again, presuming a cha 18 warlord) the equivalent of Inspire Heroics, a level 15 bardic performance. More if the cha is higher. Okay, I can see the tighter focus on which saves this is applied to as a mitigating factor. Paladin's get their SU aura at 3rd level, after all...the aura that nets allies +4 to saves against fear. Within 10 feet. Okay, I won't compare those two, though presence is Ex and thus not subject to antimagic fields. What does irk me, beyond that would be the warlord's presence neither requiring line of sight, nor actions to maintain. nor audible or visual components - there is simply no way to negate it. RAW, the presence doesn't even stop if the warlord drops unconscious or is paralyzed. The ability also fails to specify whether allies already unconscious get to choose whether to benefit from diehard upon the warlord using the presence or upon falling to/below 0 hp. What if an ally is unconscious and the presence is initiated? Does the unconscious character get to choose whether to remain lying or start acting as per the feat or are only conscious allies eligible to receive the bonus?



At 5th level, a warlord may use rallying presence to add his cha-mod as a bonus to will-saves of allies versus fear, death or compulsion effects within 30 ft. The overlap with death effects here is a bit strange, as is the fact that this presence, though received later, can actually be interrupted. At 11th level, 2 of the presences can be maintained at the same time and at 15th level, all 3 may be maintained at the same time - bear in mind that these are morale bonuses, though and thus the overlaps between the first two don't stack.

The final presence works - starting at 9th level, the warlord and all nearby allies within 30 feet get character level + cha-mod temporary hp upon the warlord being reduced to 0 hp. at this point, the action to enter the presence is a free action. HOWEVER, as Caedwyr pointed out (yes, I did not catch that one), the reflexive nature of the presence doesn't work - free action can only be taken upon one's turn. While the ability uses the word "immediately" in the wording, it does NOT state that receiving the benefits of this presence requires any actions. As written, the presence can be adopted as a free action, but does nothing until its conditions are met. I'm not entirely sure whether the intention was to make this presence available reflexively or not - in dubio pro reo, though, so I'll assume the ability works as intended.



At 3rd level, the Warlord gets the Warleader ability, which translates to receiving a teamwork feat that the warlord, as a standard action (later as a move action and even as a swift action), can share with allies. Alternatively, the warlord can thus benefit from an ally's teamwork feat - for a total of 3+cha-mod rounds. The ability can be used 1+cha-mod times per day. The warlord also learns to add cha-mod to will-saves at 3rd level and later, when flanking foes, instead of the net +2, warlord and ally flanking a foe get +cha-mod instead of +2 to atk. The warlord also gets a bonus to atk and damage when using a weapon associated with a fighting style when in a stance of said style.



At 6th level, warlords learn to execute 2 boosts as a swift action 1/day, +1/day every 6 levels after that, use aid another for allies at range with cha-mod instead of the standard bonus. As a capstone, a warlord may enter two stances simultaneously.



After that, we are introduced to the Knowledge (martial) skill to identify maneuvers etc. - nice one, though I hope the final book will offer information on which non-PoW-classes ought to get this as a class skill. Next up would be new feats, 17, to be precise. 6 of these allow non-PoW-classes to wilder in PoW-maneuvers. Of course, expected feats can be found - for example one to learn more maneuvers/stances, one that nets you another gambit, an extra maneuver or a focus on a discipline and its weapons that increases saving DCs and weapon damage. Increased damage for unarmed attacks (significant for non-monks), entering both a style and a martial stance via the same swift action - all possible. Deadly Agility, which allows you to add dex-mod to damage instead of str-mod when using a finesse weapon also deserves mention, as does a feat that allows you to finesse double weapons. Another feat allows you to 1/day regain a maneuver as a free action. There also is essentially an improved version of quick draw and a feat called martial power. This one allows you to incur a -1 penalty to melee atk and CMB-checks to gain 2 temporary hit points. This increases by -1 and +2 temporary hit points when your BAB reaches +3 and every +2 thereafter. The temporary hit points increase by 50% if you wield a shield. You may only use this feat as part of a melee attack or when initiating a maneuver. Temp hit points only last one turn, but the feat doubles as an alternative combat expertise. All in all, solid, since its limit means it does not fail the kitten test.



Now let's get a broad overview of the maneuvers, shall we? If you have the Stalker-pdf, you'll notice that both the thrashing dragon and solar wind disciplines also are available for the warlord. They also get access to the Golden Lion, Scarlet Throne and Primal Fury disciplines. It should be noted that among these, only the scarlet throne has an equipment restriction - the maneuvers require the initiator to have a shield, buckler or ring of force shield in order to initiate the maneuvers. The Golden lion discipline can be hearkened to the White Raven of the To9S, focusing on buffing allies and charging into battle, allowing the initiator to provide additional flexibility to the respective ally. Additional 5 ft. steps and even move actions for allies resulting from your attacks are distinct possibilities for adherents of the golden lion, as is the initiative moving of allies that at my table, once was rather well-liked. Primal Fury on the other hand, surprisingly often is about destroying the weaponry of foes, coming off as a combination of martial arts and a fighting style reminiscent of savage battle skills, whereas scarlet throne is defensive, but also allows for quite some celerity while moving around the field of battle.



So...I actually have good news to report - no insta-death effects. And only a couple of the new maneuvers herein follow the "make an opposed skill-check versus attack roll"-formula. As I've mentioned before in various contexts, I consider skill-roll versus atk/AC not optimal. Skills had been easy to buff in 3.X, and they're more easily buffed in Pathfinder. Don't believe me? Look for items that net you a significant skill-bonus, note the cost and then find an item that nest the same bonus to atk or AC. Note the price of that item. Compare. Same goes for spells. Yeah, note a slight discrepancy there? Also: Note how many bonuses to said skills granted by magic items are untyped and how many different slots grant those bonuses...much more stacking potential than atk/CMB.



I can see the outrage flare up again "You hate on the key concept of To9S 1111eleven!!!" No, I don't. The basic concept is maneuvers and using them/managing them, not rolling a skill versus something that adheres to completely different scaling-mechanisms, also regarding treasure/WBL/buff-spells. "But this is required to maintain the feel of Path of War!" No, it's not - take a look at Golden Lion. A grand total of ONE counter uses diplomacy versus attack roll. ONE counter. Other than that, the discipline is completely free of the d20 versus d20-roll/skill-check using relics. Two of the primal fury maneuvers use survival. Unfortunately, scarlet throne relatively heavily relies on sense motive versus x. I'm not getting into the perception/solar wind stuff or thrashing dragon/acrobatics. I particularly object to "roll skill x to negate attack z"-maneuvers. They are essentially better evasions against more common attacks, exceedingly easily buffed through the roof with inexpensive items.

Some of the maneuvers herein could also use some minor clarification, unfortunately also sometimes tied to said skill versus X-mechanics. Take thrashing dragon's devastation roll: Here's the text:



"The martial disciple’s movements are so quick and precise, his deadly strikes are hard to evade. With a sudden twist and Acrobatics through the opponent’s defenses, the disciple strikes hard into the exposed and undefended foe. The initiator must move at least 10 ft. alongside his opponent and make a Acrobatics check equal to the target’s AC. If successful, the target is considered flat-footed until his next action due to being put off-balance from the strike, and the attack inflicts an additional 6d6 points of damage."



So...what does "alongside" mean? I *assume* it means the target moves through two squares adjacent to the target, which would mean that an acrobatics-check against the opponent's CMD per threatened square, CMD +10 when moving full speed for half speed movement. But is this acrobatics-check in addition to the one the maneuver calls for? If so, why? Why is AC the opposing value, not CMD as per the standard of moving through threatened squares? Does the maneuver's use of acrobatics incur AoOs or doesn't it? Also: Why not simply use the CMD/CMD+5-formula standard in acrobatics?



Another example for a maneuver that could use a bit (literally - just one word...) of rephrasing would be Primal Fury's Panthera on the Hunt - per se a cool strike - full round action, charge at +2 (for a total of +4) and it ignores "attacks of opportunity from moving through a threatened square." I assume this means ONE threatened square, not ALL in the charge. If so, then please specify this and also, please denote whether the initiator can freely choose which square doesn't provoke the AoO.



It should be noted, though, that the VAST MAJORITY of the maneuvers actually work sans such clunky mechanics and do a MUCH BETTER job at utilizing Pathfinder-streamlined rules...at least the new ones.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good - while I noticed a typo and relic here and there, the vast majority of the pdf is concisely-written and well-edited. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard, with original pieces of art and stock being mixed. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and with a second, printer-friendly version.



So...Path of War: The Warlord. I'll be honest. After the stalker, I did not look forward to reviewing this one. I was consigned to being "that guy who hates on PoW", in spite of actually believing in the concept and trying to help make it better. After reading this pdf, I was pleasantly surprised - I said it in my review of the stalker - Chris Bennett is a talented designer...and here it shows, even more so than with the stalker. There are reasons for this claim:



Number 1: Per encounter is concisely defined, maintaining in-game logic. Great! Number 2: "Skill vs. X"-rolls obviously aren't required for PoW - in fact, I am of the certain conviction that the system can perfectly work without them. The decrease in their prominence is a promising factor in favor of the system and its streamlining within established PFRPG-rules.



Beyond that, the warlord as a class is just...rewarding as all hell. The capable, cool commander is a neat trope and the warlord is great at fulfilling it...though it does have its rough edges. Even within the increased power-level presumed by PoW, the presence-abilities need to be knocked down a notch. As written, they are extremely powerful when compared to similar effects, both among spells and class features by casters and martials alike, not starting with them requiring no actions to maintain or somatic/visual components.



The gambit system is a stroke of brilliance, but as written above, I think that the risk/reward-ratio is off, somewhat negating what the system tries to do - instead of being a tension-inducing choice for the players to actively make, right now it feels more or less like a non-maneuver maneuver, a cooldown that's actually a defensive maneuver in disguise, if you will. Add to that the fact that the gambits vary more than a bit in strength and we have a couple of strikes against the pdf, even when assuming PoW's increased power level. Some sort of scaling instead of fixed bonuses would make these components much more useful (and balanced over the levels).



But not enough to put this pdf in the box. Overall, we have a massive improvement over the last PoW I looked at and generally, a superior book that shows A LOT of promise. I sincerely hope that some of the rough edges will be filed off prior to finishing the compilation, for this pdf actually renewed my hope in the PoW-series, making me actually want to take a look at the warder very soon.



How to rate this, then? As mentioned, I see a couple of rough edges, but the discrepancy between could be/and is-state is much less pronounced. If you don't mind the skill-check issues, minor wording hick-ups and mentioned power-level of the warlord, then I encourage you to check this out - while not perfect, I do think that fund can be had here. Since the design is much more in line with PFRPG-standards, since this time the class doesn't fail as hard the kitten test: it still fails it, twice, but is less easy to abuse than usual due to the concise definition of per-encounter.



Still, while I do see quite some potential for improvement and streamlining, I still consider this installment of PoW a big step in the right direction. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 - while I'd love to rate this 4 stars or even higher, the failed kitten-tests, minor ambiguities and rough edges do crop up, even when assuming the increased power-level of PoW. If you didn't mind the examples given in this review, then check it out - I'm fully aware that not everyone is as critical regarding these things as I am and chances are, you'll enjoy this.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War: The Warlord
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Ultimate Psionics
by Luke M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/19/2014 15:53:40
This is a fantastic addition to the world of Pathfinder. You will want to review this book carefully with your GM as many of the powers are, well, Ultimate Psioncs. That being said, it is nice to have this as an option and was missing for those of us who still remember the 2nd Ed Psioncs days.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Psionics
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Complete Control
by Jonathan A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/09/2014 18:31:45
Okay, so the writing could've used some more proofreading, but let's face it--you're buying this for the charts anyway, right? And charts this book delivers: Level progression charts detailing Experience Point costs for every aspect of your SRD character, from Domain Spell Casting to Craft: Basket Weaving. (Or is that Profession: Basket Weaver? So hard to tell...)
If you're looking for an out-of-the-box solution for bringing a true point-buy system to your SRD game and you don't mind using a calculator or spreadsheet (especially if you're planning to generate NPCs with this) to ring up your point costs, buy this now. It's fun to spend the points, the system leaves you with plenty ideas on how to advance your character after it's created ('Dang! I wish I could've afforded that second point of BAB... Time to go kill some kobolds!'), and you can replicate standard class characters without much trouble if you really want to.
Even better, with this system, getting 500 XP will actually make your players happy. Do you recognize this conversation:

DM - "Good session! Hope to see you next time."
Player 1 - "How much XP did we get?"
DM - "Everybody gets 500 XP for the session."
Player 2 - "Aw! But that only puts me 200 XP away from the next level bump! I wanna go kill that troll we saw on the road!"
Player 1 - "Yeah, me too! I've only got 195 XP to go! Okay. Player 2, you go up and start shouting at him and I'll go behind him and Sneak Attack with my Alchemist's Flame! That'll do..." [Spends time Doing The Math.] "16d6+4 fire damage. Fire damage will kill trolls, right?"
DM - "Wait. You mean the troll cleric that was selling you discount healing potions to raise money for the goblin orphanage?"
Player 2 - "Yeah, him. I never trusted trolls!"
Player 1 - "Or goblins!"
Player 3 - "Ooh! I'll bet they're 'discount' healing potions because his goblin street urchins lifted them off a real cleric!"
DM - "He was a priest of the Healer and only had one good leg!" [Throws hands up in disgust.] "Okay, fine. But he's only worth half XP for the kill. That's... 175 XP each."
Player 4 - "Hm. Wonder where that goblin orphanage was..."

--Never again!
And perhaps best of all, you can use the standard XP progression from your favorite SRD game as-is with this book. The only thing that'll be changing is how the players use their experience rewards, and this book covers that subject from top to bottom.
Now, how the author chose to handle class abilities is consistent, if a little confusing; however, he took the time to spell out how to handle all the class abilities from the standard SRD classes in a listing in the back of the book, so I can't complain. There's also a complete index of XP tables in the back, which is very nice. (Although... publisher, if you're reading this, it'd be nice if the Skill Rank Cost by Intelligence chart were in the index, too.)
One last warning: the XP costs presented in this book are rounded to the nearest multiple of 5, so your players will actually have to use The Math, rather than just winging it. If that turns you off and you're not comfortable using a spreadsheet for whatever reason, you may want to think twice about buying this product. For everybody else, fear not! The author wisely chose to tabulate the final XP costs for pretty much everything up through level 20, so most of the Strength-20 lifting has been done for you.

My overall impression is favorable. Although there's about 40 pages of solid reading the DM should invest to make the system work, it's easy to pick up and it's consistent enough that you don't have to go back and refer to the text every time you make a new character. That also makes it easier to explain to the players. The charts are all arranged in the back of the book so it's easy to print off copies or hand around an e-Reader for character creation sessions. And best of all, it's fun to make characters!
Just remember, if your player complains about how it's hard to add 36 + 45 + 100 to make his 1st level barbarian, just point out that his 1st-level barbarian can start with Cleric spells and the War domain, if he wants to. That should make him happier.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Complete Control
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Path of War: The Warder
by Nick S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/12/2014 13:23:56
Warning: I really hate the Warder, and I want to be clear it is all for reasons of personal preferences and taste, I've tried to be objective but I just can't. The warder may in fact not be an objectively bad class, and some people might like it, but I can't see it. So here is a subjective review of the warder which I hope remains informative if not as constructive as I normally try to style my reviews.

The Warder - This is the sort of class which combines all the things I like least into one little package and feels to me like it is closer to D&D 4th edition's design philosophy than Pathfinder's. I was expecting something exciting and dynamic, similar to Dreamscarred's previous armor based class the Aegis from Ultimate Psionics, instead we get the Warder. What made the Aegis work was, not only the huge list of options you have to choose from with the aegis which were phenomenal, but also your ability to adapt making the aegis fun and relevant in almost any situation. The warder sadly is as far from that as possible being static, dull and very narrowly focused.

Thematically this class is the worst, there is nothing here, it is just a meat shield in a can. I just can't imagine the epic tale of the kid who grew up to be a legendary Warder after watching her local hero take blow after blow to the face for a wizard and say "Oh man I want to be that guy, I'm going to eat, breath and live armor from now on so I can learn to be like that guy!" and mechanically it isn't any better. Let me just go down the list of things, things you might love, but I hate about the warder:

1. No options, ever ability is fixed.
2. Video game like taunt mechanics.
3. Dull technique recovery mechanic.
4. Too many passive abilities.
5. X per day mechanics.
6. Very little utility outside of defense and taunt.

I really dislike that class's taunt ability armiger's marks, just becomes another by the numbers X per day ability to be spent on various things like monk's Ki or a number of other class mechanics. This is very rarely a good class mechanic and it has been done to death so I'm really sad to see it here in Path of War. Worse none of the warder specific feats do anything to really improve this situation, which is the first time I've been unhappy with some of the feats in path of war.

Other Content - The same non-warder specific feats that were in previous Path of War PDFs are here again and they are still good with the and the feats to allow non martial classes to pick up a few techniques standing out as truly excellent and should be, along with the amateur gunslinger feats that standard for all such feats.

The mechanics governing the martial abilities are much the same as in their D&D inspiration the 3.5 Tome of Battle. If you are familiar with them you should know what to expect. The fighting styles included in this PDF include 3 styles we've previously seen Broken Blade a monk like unarmed style, Golden Lion a rally/team buff focused style and oddly for the warder Primal Fury a charge and bull rushed focused set. New to this PDF is only one style the Iron Tortoise which combines a wide array of taunt powers with captain america like shield techniques for the player who wants to double down on tanking. It is something of a pity iron tortoise includes taunt mechanics because otherwise it is a pretty decent shield based fighting style, though I have to say the high level techniques are not quiet as good as the ones introduced with the Warlord and seem like one or two might benefit from small adjustments. It is one of the few fighting styles which offers a strong mix of defense (both personal and for allies), ranges throwing attacks and a few offense options. I only wish it had more options to counter or intercept attacks on adjacent or nearby allies. If this option is available to other classes I might well run sword and shield combo and just skip the taunt techniques.

If you wanted to main a tank ala an MMORPG...well congrats you have the warder now. It does exactly what you would expect from a video game tank class. For everyone else, or least everyone else like me, I would say that on the Path of War you should skip over the Warder.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War: The Warder
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Path of War: The Warlord
by Nick S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/12/2014 12:04:10
The Warlord - The Warlord, as presented here, is a martial support class. Their abilities are very much focuses on being a front line force that can act as a force multiplier. Thematically I feel the Warlord is much stronger than the previous stalker and comes off as a bit like the barbarian's answer to the paladin, a warrior who leads from the front but also can support his party, though this is more inferred from the art, for like the stalker little flavor text is devoted to the class.

The warlord's abilities are mostly fixed and mostly focus on increasing his presence, an aura like mechanic for nearby allies and duel abilities allowing the warlord use more and more martial abilities together together. While the Warlord aura like presence I strongly dislike the "X times per day" duel abilities which clash with the free flowing nature of the martial classes which are supposed to stand out from the "X per day" Vancian inspired mechanics of other classes. Perhaps most importantly though is the classes gambits, the only area when a warlord has some choice at level up.

Gambits are actions the Warlord can take such as playing a dirty trick or making a called shot, which if successful offer a wide variety of bonuses for success such as attacks of opportunity, a small heal or leaving a foe flat footed. If they succeed they regain all their techniques AND get the bonus, while if they fail they get a small penalty next round and only recover one maneuver. I really like these gambits as a Warlord mechanic, but I hate them as a recovery mechanic. The idea of the Warlord for example playing a dirty trick and cracking a joke in combat about it to his men just fits so well, we see it from roguish leaders all the time. But I think it would go stale very quickly, particularly early when warlords have few techniques and fewer still gambits. A warlord will likely be trying the same reliable gambit every other round to try and recover techniques. Gambits seems like they could be a lot of fun and I'd love to see them expanded upon as I don't feel like there are enough right now, but making them basically mandatory seems like a mistake to me.

The other content - The feats here are the same as the ones included with the stalker. Once more they are a less than 20, so certainly room for them to add more, but all feats present are good and the feats to allow non martial classes to pick up a few techniques are excellent.

The martial arts, or Techniques and Stances to use game terms, work much the same as in D&D. This is good as fans of the previous techniques and stances will enjoy it but also bad in that it fails to update what was a rushed tail end part of D&D as much as I would like resulting in something a less refined than their take on Psionics.

The fighting styles present here include two from the stalker, the ranged focused Solar Wind and two-weapon style Thrashing Dragon but also 3 new ones Gold Lion, Primal Fury and Scarlet Throne. Golden Lion almost begs to be used with the Warlord as it focuses on teamwork and giving bonus, Primal Furry is a barbarian like fighting style while Scarlet throne is supposed to a refined dueling style but seems to lack a bit of mechanical identity compared to the other fighting styles.

Golden Lion is definitely the most utilitarian of the all the styles we've seen so far offering a number of buffs, bebuffs but also many opportunities for allies such as allowing a friend to use your initiative and act with you. Additionally it can still bring a lot of pain and doesn't lack for damage if you feel you need it. Primal Fury puts a lot of emphasis on charge attacks with almost half their moves being charge or bull rush related but otherwise has the normal mix of strikes and parries found in most styles. Scarlet Blade seems to lack a strong theme and just does a little bit of everything a few AC boost, several powerful strikes, a few counters, a few movement options and one or two utility opinions without any strong mechanical theme to tie them all together. One thing I can happily report is these new three new styles high level moves seem a bit better than the styles present in the stalker and while perhaps not perfect don't involve unwelcome mechanics like save or die.

On the whole it feels like a slight step up from the stalker, but with slightly few mechanical problems. I imagine I would probably end up house ruling Gambits and giving the Warlord a different recovery mechanic. Perhaps allowing the warlord or other players to give up move actions to "rally to the warlord" allowing him to recover a technique allowing team work to be a two way street. Once again I feel the class is a good and I feel a small step up from the stalker, but still with a few uneven spots that hold it back.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War: The Warlord
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Path of War: The Stalker
by Nick S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/12/2014 10:57:35
I'm going to break this review into two parts. One covering the Stalker itself and one covering the non-stalker specific content.

First the stalker: I've mixed feelings about the stalker. This first class in the path of war series feels far less iconic than the original Tome of Battle classes. I had a clear concept of what a sword saint was thematically while I feel the stalker is more just an amalgamation of abilities. It is clear the stalker is supposed to be some sort of fighter/rogue or assassin type but we've already got a lot of those and the stalker does little to stand out thematically. Mechanics aside there seems to be almost no difference between a rogue and a stalker and I always consider that to a negative with a new class.

Like their 3.5 predecessors the stalker enjoys a healthy mix of class abilities and martial abilities which is good as it help these classes stand out from each other. While I applaud Dreamscarred for thinking outside the box a little with these class abilities and not just giving the usual remix of other class feature, I must confess I found them to be a little hit or miss. For example the passive Deadly Strike, which leave victims of critical hits open to extra damage, isn't something I've seen before, but isn't very interesting. Fortunately, like many pathfinder classes, the stalker has "stalker arts" which allow for some customization of the class and those offer some nice options which will help mold your stalker.

So in short their is nothing wrong with the stalker, if you want a sneaky assassin type, but honestly you could have just made the stalker an alternate rogue package where they trade in some stalker arts for Techniques and stances.

Part II: The other content

I'm happy to report the feats included in this book are excellent and a real high point for the path of war. While some are better than others none of them feel like duds nor do any seem over powers. I particularly enjoyed the martial training feats allowing single class characters to pick up a few path of war techniques and stances. These are the best feats since the amateur gunslinger feats for allowing other classes to dabble in other classes. I wish ever class had well balanced feats like this to allow people to add a little crossclass flavor without level dipping.

The new martial system is very much similar to the 3.5 one and that is a mixed bag. The Tome of battle was one of the last 3.5 books and was rather rushed which is evident by great ideas but a clear lack of editing and play testing. If Path of War has a flaw it is that it follows them a little too closely in some parts. A few entries are not as clear as they could be and some powers particularly at the higher levels feature very 3.5 mechanics like save or die which I'm not a fan of.

Since Dreamscarred couldn't use the original fighting styles from the Tome of Battle they've had to make all new classes and have taken the opportunity to shake up some of the old ones as well as adding in all new ones. Broken blade is the most martial arts like and my current favorite, while solar wind goes into much welcome new territory by being a non-melee style, steel serpent becomes the new assassin style, thrashing dragon the new two handed style and finally veiled moon takes all the teleport moves which in tome of battle were bundled into the assassin style and expands them into a nightcrawler/shinobi like teleportation oriented fighting style.

One element I really enjoyed about these new styles was the attempt to add more utility to these styles while also exploring ways to keep them from being abused, something of a problem with the original fighting styles. Most of course are still all about either just dealing extra damage or avoiding damage but there are a few items here and their that show their is potential for the path of war classes to be well rounded without being broken. I'm sad to say however that at 9th level each fighting style leads to only a single typically save of die super move which isn't something I enjoyed about the original fighting styles and I like it no better with these new ones. I hope before we see "Ultimate War" that Dreamscarred finds a way to really round and these fighting styles and fix up a few of the techniques.

In the end the Stalker isn't a bad start to the path of war, but neither does it fully live up to its potential and correct all the issues from the Tome of Battle. If you enjoyed tome of battle and could look past it flaws than you simply must buy Path of War there is much fun to be had here, however I must confess this isn't nearly as polished or refined as Ultimate Psionics at least not at the time of this review.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War: The Stalker
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