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The Opened Mind
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/01/2015 02:12:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This module clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


First things first - this is intended as an intro-adventure to psionics, so went in without expecting it to produce exceedingly complex or odd storylines. 2 pages providing a total of 4 sample pregens are provided for the convenience of players and DMs alike. This module can be used in conjunction with the Third Dawn-setting, but is not limited to it.


This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.


...


..


.


All right, still here? The town of Jace's Stanchion has a colorful past - when settlers came, they befriended a race called hanoshafyr, a peaceful tribal people and subsequently discovered psionically-conductive phrenoric ore, which they mined to use in lieu of metal. Alas, as often, when one mines, one risks the danger of wakening something horrible and indeed, the evil that burst forth from a submerged complex proved to be formidable - only due to the massive power and sacrifice of Jace, the town's leader, could the tide be stemmed. Alas, as often, the wards are crumbling and require maintenance - in the form of psionically gifted individuals that now sacrifice themselves to keep the degrading containment functional. Worse, the rather nasty ruling family has started abducting outsiders, with the erstwhile peaceful hanoshafyr having been driven insane, but still maintaining a distance from psionically-endowed individuals.


This is important, for the PCs are assumed to be caravan guards and the very first encounter is a CR 6 monster - the hanoshafyr assault and slaughter the caravan's men, but only deal nonlethal damage to the psionic PCs - whether "saved" by the "good" folk of Jace Staunchion or escaped to the village out of their own strength, the PCs are stranded. From here on out, the short gazetteer provided for Jace's Staunchion and the rather detailed tables that reward legwork and investigation of town and creatures. It should be noted that the production values here are superb - not only do we get a glorious full-color map and village statblocks (and notable locations etc.), the notable NPCs herein ALL get their own full-color mugshots. This is definitely impressive.


Speaking of which - the town's dark secrets managed to elicit a sense of slowly creeping, palpable threat that hearkened, at least for me, back to slowly unearthing the rituals in the Fatal Frame/Project Zero-series of games, with ample and multiple skill-uses that can be used to glean information. Eventually, the PCs will want to investigate the local mine, where, should they pass the racist sibling guards and the alarm traps, they may start to piece together - they may free a still-living unfortunate from the pillar of phrenoric ore and witness the oblation, the strange wall of ectoplasm themselves while also linking the seeping nastiness with the madness of the hanoshafyr. Confronting the ruler about the lull-like memory modification in town and the strange things they witnessed in the mine, the PCs will have to defeat the powerful man - and decide where to go from here. The barrier, the customs, the powerful ruling house, the mad hanoshafyr - there are so many ways to spin this story, it should not be an issue to devise your own plots here.


The pdf also sports the monster-entry for the hanoshafyr and the psionic items used in this module.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and sports a HUGE amount of glorious, original full-color artworks; more than I've seen in many a 60+-page module! Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard. The cartography in full-color is also absolutely stunning, though I wished we got player-friendly versions of the maps sans those annoying numbers and legend. I hate having maps with "hotspots". The pdf comes with a printer-friendly, second version - nice!


Okay, I did NOT expect this. I expected a bland little intro-adventure; you know the kind - kill a couple of orcs, slay the shadow/ogre-boss, done. The usual intro-adventure blandness that provides handholding and is just boring. This is the rebuke and anathema to all such modules.


Author Eric Hindley with Dave Harris, Jeff Lee, Josef Shindler and Paul Gazo has crammed into the few pages herein more local color, more diversity and more excitement that I've seen in quite a while. With dangerous combats, thrilling mysteries and a great combination of challenges, from combat to social, we receive a thoroughly compelling, inspiring mystery that practically DEMANDS sequels - it's that good. With the cool gazetteer and top-notch production values, the formal criteria are awesome, but they pale before the exciting narrative. While the module is challenging, it also is not overbearing or overcomplicated and, ultimately, is triumphantly psionic. It effortlessly manages to feel different in its execution, focus and leitmotifs. The Opened Mind blew mine; I did not expect this module to not be bland, much less expected it to actually captivate me and render me this excited! If this pdf did one thing, then it made me crave more mysteries and modules from Eric Hindley and this team - this is a stellar, inspiring psionic module and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars +seal of approval. Seriously, get this - it's pretty much a by-the-numbers example of how to craft an intro-module that is NOT boring.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Opened Mind
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Lords of the Night
by Adam B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/19/2015 20:46:32

Lords of the Night is a campaign supplement made to support those who wish to play as vampires. Actually, scratch that. This book does more! Almost every player option in this book does not require the user to be a vampire, or even undead. Also, it provides an alert system that can be used for any group of creatures that desires to remain hidden, not just vampires. It gives players tools to play as vampires, and gives GMs interesting rules for running vampires as NPCs.


Chapter 1 is the “fluff” chapter. In here you will find a believable representation of what vampires in an urban setting could be like, ranging from their societal rules to what kind of lairs they like. It details their feeding habits, which is expected from a vampire book. However it does delve deeper bringing up unexpected topics such as how a vampire interacts with their previous mortal faith.


Chapter 2 covers vampiric PC creation, and details the mechanics behind feeding and city/village alertness. This chapter also contains a section on running a vampiric campaign, along with playing in one. It provides a new vampire template that is tied into the feeding mechanics detailed in this chapter, as opposed to having a vague “you drink blood or die.” This template is also a CR+1 template, so it is much less crazy to manage as a GM. The alertness system is supposed to be being reworked, so I will hold off on reviewing it for now.


Chapter 3 is very focused on player options. It contains 2 archetypes, 3 prestige classes, feats, a Martial Discipline and Martial Tradition (Path of War line), Spells, and Powers (Psionics line). It is important to note that this section is not vampire specific (Except 1 prestige class). Yes, the content benefits vampires and is purposefully written to be compatible with undead-ness, but any human, dwarf, or elf could use this chapter.


The first archetype is the Nightguard (Paladin). These paladins don’t require Good alignment, and are based around defending civilization from monsters. While losing Lay On Hands, they retain Smite Evil. Additionally, in place of mercies, they get Nemeses which act like talents. This is a very cool archetype for anyone looking for a Lawful but not necessarily good paladin.


The Frenzied Slayer is a barbarian archetype that modifies rage extensively. Instead of improving your strength, constitution, and will saves, their rage increases your strength, armor class, and reflex save, in addition to granting an extra attack. Basically, your rage make you faster instead of tougher.


Greater Vampire, the only part of this chapter that requires you to be undead, is a 5 level prestige class that also advances your original class features 2 levels. You also gain additional ability scores, mist form, and strengthen abilities gained from the vampire template presented in chapter 2.


The Lethe Adept is a psionic prestige class that advances your manifester level by 7 over its 10 level run. They target a creature's mind, dealing damage to mental ability scores. Lethe Adepts make up for their manifester level loss with powerful class abilities, such as gaining temporary hit points from dealing mental ability damage and increasing the save DC of their telepathy powers. Eventually, they can brainjack anyone who has a mental ability score reduced to 0 by their powers. This is the vampire that hypnotizes victims from the window.


Sussurratori is the initiating prestige class, and probably my favorite prestige class in this book. It makes use of Unquiet Grave, a discipline introduced in this book. Fluffwise, most Sussurratori are living and often work with Vampires. They can stealthily take out problem targets, gaining a very nifty ability to increase the perception check DC to hear the sounds of combats they take part in. Additionally, they can teleport themselves, a nearby helpless creature, or a nearby willing creature to a specially prepared coffin. This allows the Sussurratori to easily transport captured food to their vampiric allies, save a dying ally, or to escape danger themselves! Very cool. They also can deal nonlethal damage with no penalty, allowing them to more easily capture people. As they level up, they become increasingly better at stealthily capturing or disabling targets, inflicting silence, dimensional anchor, and even a 1/day force cage. I just love how versatile and fun this prestige class is. The Sussurratori can easily be a vampire’s ally, but can just as easily be played as a supernatural bounty hunter, or many other concepts.


Black Templar are the veilweaving prestige class, bringing in Dreamscarred Press’ final subsystem. These veilweavers drain living essence from their victims, gaining temporary essence and hit points in the process. As the Black Templar advances in levels, they gain stronger necromantic abilities. Creatures killed by their draining turn into zombies, and as a capstone they can actually use Create Undead on creatures they drain to death.


Feats from this book are very versatile. They can allow vampires to appear more alive, becoming harder to detect in the process, or allow bards to affect undead with their performances. They even have a feat to turn your animal companion, familiar, or dark messenger (from a Harbinger archetype) into an undead animal companion.


Alongside the new discipline, Unquiet Grave, there is a new martial tradition. Interestingly enough, this tradition, The Scales of Mourning, is about the balance of the living, positive energy, the dead, and negative energy. The discipline, Unquiet Grave, on the other hand feels strongly undead. Just as most of the content in this section, it does not require you to be undead to use. Instead, its strikes and boosts add necromantic effects, or emulate undead monster abilities. As an example, Wight’s Blow deals a negative level that lasts for the duration of combat, while Howling Banshee Strike deals additional damage temporary deafen attached. This discipline feels quite balanced, and focuses on both offense and debuffing. As an added bonus, harbingers, mystics, stalkers, and warlords all can freely trade one known discipline to gain access to Unquiet Grave, allowing a player to easily gain access to it if so desired.


The spells section is quite interesting. It brings a lot of vampire themed spells to the table, such a Hungering Blade, which allows your weapons to deal a small amount of constitution damage on each hit or Sanguine Eruption which causes someone to explode into blood (difficult terrain). Swarming Bat Surge is a personal favorite, allowing the caster to explode into bats as a swift action to escape combat. There are also anti-vampire spells, such as False Dawn, which blinds targets and causes intense damage to the undead.


The Powers section, just like the spells section, is composed of many vampire themed abilities. Myra’s Occultation is a real gem as it makes people’s memories of you very hazy or outright absent for 1 hour per level. Perfect for any psychic sleuth or vampire on the run.


Chapter 4, offers many NPCs. The town guards presented are quite different from your average town guards. The basic guard is a level 2 ranger, while their captains are bards or ranger/rogues. There are veteran guards whom are rangers with dog animal companions as well. For campaigns with a lot of time spent in town, these can be highly useful, especially considering the level range on them. Also included are military NPCs, such as a 9th level paladin and adventurer PCs who seem quite competent at hunting down an undead threat. Of course, militiamen are included too, for when you need lower level threats.


Chapter 5, the final chapter, introduces the Leatherworkers’ Guild, a complete vampiric society ready to be implemented into any sufficiently large city. This chapter includes the founding of this society, backstory on its key players, and multiple plothooks and ways to have your players interact with this society. The NPCs here are all given backstories, motivations, an even what sides they take on the power struggle that seems to grip most members of the group.


It is obvious that a lot of love and care went into this book, and that the content was heavily researched. Additionally, the book manages to not come off as vampire fanservice, but as a serious attempt to integrate a new gameplay type into Pathfinder. This product earns a 5 out of 5 due to its excellent execution, balanced rules, and open-ended player options. This book is a must buy for any group wishing to play as vampires, or any GM interested in bringing vampires into a campaign as more than just monsters to be crushed.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lords of the Night
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Bloodforge
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/17/2015 03:35:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This massive book clocks in at 101 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 97 pages of content, so let's take a look!


So, the first race herein receives +... Wait. Wait a second. My usual in-depth analysis, piece-by-piece approach doesn't work here. This is literally a huge book of races and if I go into that level of detail, we'll be here come next Christmas-season. So, I'll paint a picture in broader strokes than usual, all right? First, if you're not 100% sure what this book is - this is essentially PFRPG's update of 3.0's Bastards and Bloodlines - a book much lauded for its creative race, but also somewhat notorious as one of the many, many ones in the 3.X era that had no idea whatsoever what this "Bahlenz"-thing is.


Speaking of this dreaded concept - the pdf does one thing right from the get-go: It ignores the flawed RP-guidelines established in the ARG in favor of an individual balancing, which I applaud. Each race comes with a short guideline as per name, appearance, demeanor, background and their relations to adventurers, with a handy table explaining the crossbreed-relationships. A massive age table and its corresponding height & weight-table also can be found herein, satisfying that pet-peeve of mine. Another component of the racial design I generally can applaud would be the equilibrium of racial bonuses/penalties - most, though, alas, not all races herein receive a bonus to a physical and a mental attribute and one penalty, resulting in races that are not by their design geared towards specific career paths. It should also be noted that the pd thankfully avoids attribute-bonuses of more than +2 per the base racial traits. Another pet-peeve of mine (and many a DM out there), races that can fly at first level, also are thankfully absent here - instead, a two feat-chain that begins with slow-falling via vestigial wings and ends with proper flight, tied to HD when applicable and thus circumvents this issue. Excellent work there. I do have something I'd like to mention - the pdf always uses the phrase "X can see in the dark out to 60 feet." for Darkvision. Something in me cringes when I read this sentence. It's usually "up to." Personal nitpick, though, and will not influence the final verdict.


Bastards and Bloodlines also did not have to deal with favored class options - which this massive book thankfully provides for quite a few of the classes, notably often also for Psionic classes, Akashic classes or Path of War classes - even though some of the aforementioned classes have not yet been released in their final iteration. This makes judging the effects of such FCOs impossible for me, so be aware that changes may court issues in the future there - emphasis on "may", mind you, and no, I'm not going to fault the pdf for that, mainly because I enjoy futureproofing when handled well. As a nitpick, I did notice minor quibbles à la missing plus-signs in FCOs à la "Add 1/4 to X" - nothing grievous, though.


The races generally sport alternate racial traits for further customization (with e.g. the elf/unicorn-hybrid alicorn also coming with alternate racial traits for evil brethren...)and each race comes with full-color art - which is something to be applauded...dreaded at the same time in this case - while most of the artworks herein are evocative and nice, others felt jarring to me - the spring child's facial expression was an uncanny valley experience for me and more creepy than the tentacle-faced, gorgeous thrallspawn. Movement rate-wise, we run the gamut from slow land speed 20 ft. to 40 ft. (sometimes not adhering to the proper nomenclature for the like, but never to the extent where the intent becomes opaque) - though, on a nitpicky side, the racial write-ups do not specifically note base movement rates of 30 feet. The pdf also introduces a bunch of racial subtypes in the beginning, which generally work, though here, once again, I have a nitpick - the slimeblooded subtype refers to the type of slimes, which does not exist - it's "oozes." Small hiccups like this can be found throughout the book, including a couple plural/singular glitches here and there - not to a bad extent, but to one that feels slightly less refined than usual for Dreamscarred Press-books.


Before I go into the races: Please, read the whole review, don't just abort after a few lines. Why? Because I went very nitpicky on this one, showcasing some of the issues the races sport and you might construe that as problematic - however, there are concepts herein that warrant close scrutiny beyond the races and the flaws I'm about to point out. So, please - at least read the conclusion. Thank you.


So let's take a look at the races, shall we? Elitist and proud hybrids of elves and giant eagles, the winged aellar - here, an interesting choice can be observed: Instead of providing Fly as a class skill via a racial trait, the race can opt into it via favored class options, many of which add the skill to the list alongside a bonus - though one that does feel a slight bit odd in the wording: "Gain Fly as a class skill and a +1/2 bonus." is okay wording-wise, but could have been slightly more elegant. On the plus-side, skill-starved fighters instead receive a full +1 bonus per FCO - I applaud that! Where I get grumpy is with the option to use the fly-skill in lieu of their reflex save when flying. Skills can easily be buffed through the roof. On the nitpicky side, I do love how they deal additional damage when charging while airborne, but I do think the damage type ought to be specified and linked to the weapon employed - admittedly, again, a nitpick. A second nitpick would pertain the nice ability of raptor's gaze, which decreases the miss chance incurred by 10%. balance-wise, I have no objections here, but logically, this should only extend to sight-based miss-chances, being based on eyes and all. As written, even blinded aellar in complete darkness would receive the benefit. Again - cosmetic gripe and won't make or break the pdf. Instead of vestigial wings, some aellar receive claws, which, I assume, follow the default damage values for the type and scale up to d6 later - why "assume"? Because the ability does not specify the base damage value, nor whether they are treated as primary or secondary natural weapons - yes, one can assume the default, but from a customer's point of view the information still ought to be here, at one glance. This issue with natural weapons can be extended throughout the pdf, btw. Now all of this may have sounded pretty nasty, but on the other hand, the short fluffy write-up is inspiring and the general competence is there - literally none of the aforementioned glitches are gamebreakers or can't be easily fixed.


So let's move on to the aforementioned alicorn, the first of quite a lot of fey-themed crossbreed races herein - the signature ability here being that the alicorn can transfer damage, diseases and poisons and ability damage to herself. I have literally no idea how this ability works. "The alicorn may only transfer damage (including ability damage) up to its character level in this fashion and any ailments only last for the remainder of their duration." So, does damage and ability damage count as the same resource? What if a disease or poison has caused more damage than the alicorn can absorb? Auto-failure of the ability or not or partial absorption? If the latter, does the original afflicted character still have to save? What about damage inflicted by curses and other magical means? Is the alicorn subject to the effects like secondary saves etc. of the effects of poison, diseases, etc.? Can an alicorn assume the damage of a disease when she's immune against diseases? Does she save versus such an affliction at the unmodified save or at the one modified by the attribute damage taken, if any? Also: No daily limit. Same goes for the inverse, evil variant of the ability. Both remain essentially in dire need of some serious clarification, also since they have an ability that nets them a minor bonus to AC after using the ability, which could prompt them to prick kittens with needles (1 hp damage), absorb it and heal their poor fluffy companion. Yes, this latter example is impractical and hardly gamebreaking, but I maintain the concept could have been executed more elegantly.


Blinklings, the blink dog/halfling hybrids, on the other hand, are awesome all-around- 3/day reactive concealment as an immediate action? Yes, please! Extending their sight to the ethereal? Utterly unique and cool - and has some neat narrative potential. Seriously, I love this race and its write-up!


I'm am strictly opposed to only one thing, an alternate racial trait that nets the benefits of blur instead of the reactive concealment - whenever the blinkling moves at least half movement rate. For agile characters, this is a no-brainer and will be pretty much always active - oh, and it's EX, which means no caster level, no means of suppression. That one ought to be axed or nerfed - hard - I'd suggest at minimum character level, for the idea is too cool to leave behind, but also too strong at lower levels.


Decataurs, Elf/Centaur-hybrids sport a base speed of 45 ft., which seemed odd to me and they ignore movement and skill-check penalties caused by difficult terrain - which seems excessive to me - why not provide a scaling mechanic here instead of downright immunity? While the provided caveat versus damage-causing terrain helps, several caltrop-y magic tricks would lead to confusion here. On the plus-side, the rest of the race is pretty much the best centaur-like race I've seen in quite a while. I feel obliged to mention that as per the writing of this review, the errata has not been incorporated into this book - it does specify how decataurs use horseshoes, not shoes, but due to fairness and since I think people should not have to look for errata, said fix will not influence my final verdict. Want another thing that's awesome about the race? Available as bipeds, for all those dungeon-campaigns with many, many ladders and ropes...


The freedom-loving Dreigi, half-giants with an ancient grudge (against fey and chaotic outsiders) are flavor-wise one awesome piece of work, with an inspiring artwork etc. - but their massive scaling bonuses versus aforementioned creatures (+2 to saves, damage and atk, +1 more for every 4 levels), is too much in my book - though that one is easily scaled down, and it should be. Why? Because these guys get two damn awesome signature abilities: For one, their attacks count as cold iron; they may also create 1/day difficult cold-iron caltrop-y terrain. Secondly, they ignore the hardness of magical barriers and add their character level to damage versus them. Yes, this means they have a fighting chance versus walls of force and the like. I love this race and really would enjoy it more, had it not this one critical flaw that otherwise mars a superb example of race design - it's also unnecessary, mind you, since the theme of pro-freedom/anti-enslavement also is reflected in quite a few other racial abilities.


You may have noticed something - no Tanis-syndrome race so far. And indeed, you will not find mopey, angsty half-breeds herein - take the Grendle, combining the best of parent race and troll, these guys are hardy and charismatic - and heal as if they had rested every hour. Apart from an unnecessary and imho rather OP ability to demoralize foes at +2 as an immediate action after being hit (or first level AoE-demoralize), the grendle is stylish and works very well - though the alternate racial traits feel confused: One mentions increasing a morale bonus to Str to +4 - a morale bonus thankfully cut in this iteration of the book, thus leading me to believe that we have a remnant of a previous iteration here. On the plus-side, gaining swim speed, but requiring 1 hour submersion in water to benefit from their healing each day is a pretty cool alternate racial trait.


Half-Gnolls are glorious - powerful, but lacking any issues (apart from once being called "It", to which some gnoll-aficionados will vehemently object) - scent and claws plus pack hunting - exactly what you'd want and expect! Hunting down fleeing foes is also neat, though an ability that automatically deals bonus damage versus foes suffering from debuffs should a) be more limited and restricted to the half-gnoll and b) once again, specify the damage type as belonging to the weapon used to execute the attack. Finally, since ranged builds already are pretty adept at the whole damage-dealing, I'd restrict the ability to melee - it's called Dominance, not "I shoot you from behind my allies." ;) Still, all in all, a great race, though the alternate traits can use some finetuning.


Speaking of finetuning - the half-goblinoids, while melee-centric, all can generally considered pretty cool - though again, the alternate racial traits and what they replace does not always match power-wise: What would you take: A +2 bonus to Perception and taking 20 for 30 ft x 30 ft as a full-round action or +8 (!!!) to Stealth and +4 (!!!) to Escape Artist plus the option to squeeze through tiny-sized areas? Yeah, the fast search is awesome - I like it. But I don't see these two line up - the bonuses of the latter are too pronounced in my book; I'd cut them in half AT LEAST. Half-hobgoblins see better in the dark than their parent race (90 feet that pretty sure should be 60 instead...), but apart from that, both they and the half bugbears are pretty damn glorious! Also on the strong, but cool side, half-sahuagin may be slightly too well off on the winner's end-side regarding bonuses, at least for my tastes, but in groups that sport powerful races, the will fit in perfectly - just as long as you ignore the "I get 4 arms, but no penalties/repercussions"-alternate racial trait, that on its own would have been exceedingly strong - that's not something to trade in for 2 paltry abilities, that's a defining characteristic of a whole race. And no, the pdf does not really explain how this many arms work re feats, item activation, etc. - a sidebox providing guidance would have almost certainly be appreciated by most players. Underworld Races: Hoyrall by AAW Games handled multiple arms in a pretty balanced, cool way, btw.


The Hexbreather, heirs to the dreaded hags, have some nice hex-related abilities in the base form, yes - but Str-damage versus claws at level 1 feels a bit nasty sans limits. One alternate racial trait also refers to the cursed condition, which does not exist. The half-nymph Houri are a gorgeous example (literally) of this book's tricks - no issues, functional, versatile and unique signature abilities (debuff-beauty 1/day or friend to all animals...). The same can be said about the Kestrel - good, positive halfling/harpy-hybrids that use their powers for good- generally. The Kijin are the elf/oni crossbreeds and hit two rough spots for me - one, they have a per-encounter ability. You all know how much I love those. Secondly, they essentially cover the same niche as Rite Publishing's wyrd - and the wyrd benefit from a much more detailed and for me, compelling, cultural background courtesy of the expanded room within they can operate - full pdf versus couple of pages. I don't consider them perfect either, but in direct comparison, the wyrd won for me. The same applies for the direct comparison of Rite's take on the lurker versus the one herein, though again, I consider both to fall slightly short of what they could be.


That being said, this pdf does manage an utterly admirable job at rendering the respective halfbreeds distinct and culturally unique - to the point where some of the brief fluff-write-ups actually captivated me enough to make me consider playing the half-breeds - and that coming from a guy who went out of 3.X with a distinct oversaturation regarding fiendish/celestial creatures and half-dragons as well as a distinct dislike for mopey halfbreeds. So yeah, this pdf can be considered inspired in that regard - from the roper/dwarf bio-weapons created by the phrenic hegemony to the love-conquers-all children of merfolk and men to the inspired and monstrous ornibus, suffused with the essences of howlers, the halfbreeds manage to avoid redundancy. And, if the above exercises in racial nitpickery were not ample clue for you - over all, they tend to be almost awesome - during my analysis, I regularly found myself enjoying myself and getting ready to write a recommendation for a race, only to have some ability overextend what I consider viable. Generally, about 1 ability among the racial traits, more often among the alternate racial traits, can be considered too strong and in need of nerfing - or its balancing versus its replacement feels like it is wonky. That being said - both the ornibus and the half-satyr pipers, for example, can be considered generally well-crafted - provided you can see past the numerous small violations of rules-semantics that make the RAI apparent, but are slightly less polished than what one would like to see. If you e.g. nerf down the +10 bonus to disarm for the Rana-race that can be received per expenditure of the psionic focus, we'll actually have a great, interesting race. (Rana are btw. Ophidian/Lizardfolk hybrids that usually grow up with the less intelligent lizardfolk and thus develop interesting mannerisms...)And yes, if that and the examples above were not clue enough for you - there is yet another thing I need to address regarding the races - and it's a HUGE plus!


Know how the ARG-races tend to feel somewhat sameish? How many races are just a recombination of the same tools, again and again? Not so here - every race herein has at least one unique trick that sets it apart - a racial signature ability, if you wish. I love this general idea, if not always the execution of them. - the half-gargoyles may e.g. use their wings to take 1/2 damage of an adjacent ally - think of it as a limited, immediate action-based shield other - interesting, though the wording could be more concise. Still, it is an ability like this that really sets the race apart and makes it feel distinct - also in a mechanical way. I have mentioned the tentacle-faced obvious heir to the half-illithids, haven't I? Yeah. The woodborn, which are just the race for anyone who ever wanted to tackle playing Pinocchio? Yeah, awesome. Even better - an alternate racial trait that nets you an assassin vine symbiote that deals more damage on a grapple just oozes style. Alas, it should have a slightly more precise wording: "This vine assists them during grapples, dealing 1d6+Strength modifier damage to other creatures in the grapple every round the woodborn maintains a grapple." - so does this mean that allied creatures in the creature/aiding also receive the damage? Why not go with a more standard wording for the damage? Winterwolf/Hellhound/Worg/humanoid half-breeds also deserve two thumbs up regarding their ability-suites.


Now this pdf does have more to offer than just a metric ton of half-breed races - namely templates - for bi/quadrupedal creatures, half-doppelgängers/medusas, half-elementals (!!!), half-rakshasas and also so-called titanblooded creatures - the templates are pretty solid all-around, with ample cool ideas and tools for mad scientists/transmuters to play with - nothing greivous to complain about here. The book furthermore offers a distinct array of feats, most of which have the [heritage]-descriptor. The feats run a wide gamut: We have for example one that substitutes a mental attribute for con - which would make me yell - however, it is restricted to bonus hp, not all the saves - which does, surprisingly, work for me. The presence of the Feral Fighter-feat feels a bit odd - it nets you claws or a bite as appropriate for your creature type. Why don't some of these races use this instead of the at times redundant or unnecessary-seeming amounts of natural weapons some receive - that would also put players agenda higher on the list. On the broken-side of thing, we can list e.g. bloodsong adept -which allows you to use bardic performance only affecting your type/subtype, but does not expend rounds of bardic performance. Urgh. Enter a party with the same race and we have unlimited bardic performance-rounds. Yeah. not gonna happen in my game and even feels cheap for NPCs - this one is hardcore broken and should imho get a serious nerfing bashing. On the okay-side, there are multiple SP-granting feats and some that e.g. net grab to add to bites and tentacle attacks - not a fan of the latter, but that is personal taste. Now on the other side, there is the Mixed Blood-feat, which is made of awesome and win - with a table of one whole page (!!!), it allows you to represent just about any odd bloodline/creature-type combinations - wanna go for a lawfully-infused orcish heritage? You can do that. This feat's concept is just great - and it's well-balanced to boot! Impressive one!


There also are 4 racially-themed PrCs - the brief run-down of them would be as follows:


The Bloodsong Heritor is the herald of his people - a solid, good bardic PrC with neat mechanics and not much but exceedingly minor nitpicks to complain about - were its prerequisite not aforementioned utterly broken unlimited performance feat, I'd be even more impressed - especially since the class does net more performance rounds and nice, unique performances that also include the expenditure of multiple rounds for interrupt-style effects while still maintaining the performance. Think of it as a less complex, much more limited and racially-themed take on what Interjection Games' Composition magic does. The Kith Hunter is an okay slayer-type 5-level PrC. Seen better, seen worse. The Kithlord can be considered a solid racial champion PrC with commander-style tricks/auras and even teleports at higher levels - okay, though I'd be wary of this PrC in a uni-race group - mostly great for NPC-adversaries, imho. The 5-level mongrel has the most choices among the PrCs, offering quite an ability-array to choose from and some rather unique bonuses - including ways of getting rid of ability damage by leeching off magic - nice one.


The book also sports a small selection of new spells, which can generally be considered among the more powerful examples available - they are not bad, mind you, but the option to e.g. have earthskin and stoneskin overlap may not fit well with some groups. That being said, spells that provide minor bonuses versus e.g. kobolds and goblins will not break anyone's game. The spells are solid.


Finally, the book provides new magical items, including 4 new special abilities, one of which nets you a standard action in a surprise round for just the equivalent of +1 - which seems too cheap, considering how pricey in terms of feat/ability-investment the like usually is. A +1 enhancement that bypasses the DRs of elementals and constructs essentially renders golems utterly useless at +1 enchantment - ridiculously OP and should be torn to smithereens. On the plus-side, conjuring forth a red blade of flame via bracers is pretty cool and the traveler's backpack will be a favorite for most wilderness adventures. So, all in all, solid section with some winners and some that obviously require significant nerfing.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are not on par with what Dreamscarred press usually delivers. If you're picky about proper rules-semantics, you'll find a lot to nitpick, which I tried to showcase in my excessive and nasty picking apart of sentences in the first section of the review. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf has copious full-color artworks - as mentioned above, ranging from gorgeous to horrifying. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


You may have gotten a wrong impression from this review - I actually like this book.


No, really. I was honestly positively surprised by this pdf.


The signature abilities provided for the races, the unique, non-redundant fluff and the overall balancing of the races is great. No, really, I mean it. Alas, this book is also the very definition of flawed - almost every race had either a wording hiccup or one ability that just went beyond what would be considered balanced in all but high-powered tables. Essentially, I could play "look for the bit that's too strong" with a huge array of races I otherwise loved - races that feel more organic and viable than they have any right to, provided the limited room they each have. SO let me state this again:


This is a good book. The thing is, it could have easily been an OMG-HOW-AWESOME-IS-THAT-book. Literally all races and quite a bunch of the non-racial supplemental material borders on the awesome, only to swerve on the finishing line and get an unnecessary bent. The rules-language per se makes RAI clear in most cases, but also allows for copious misinterpretation due to being a tad bit less precise than it could be. Matt Medeiros, Jade Ripley and Andreas Rönnqvist have ultimately crafted a massive racial book that can be considered a nice addition to a given campaign - and one a moderately system-savvy DM can render utterly awesome by ironing out the rough patches. This book has all the potential you could ask for. At the same time, though, it has several supplemental components in dire need of nerfing, some races that obviously could have used some streamlining and is marred by craftsmanship that, while not bad in the traditional sense, does exhibit some flaws and deviations from the target goal.


What I'm trying to say is: I can see people hating and loving this book. If you tend to get hung up on peculiarities of rules-language, then this will provide some frustration for you. Same goes for groups seeking for a book to drop in as is - while that can be done, I'd only recommend it unsupervised for high-powered games. On the plus-side, the races do feel iconic, they can be cleaned of the problematic bits and a capable DM can adjust them with relative ease to a lower power-level. Oh, and they, and that cannot be under-emphasized, do not suffer from the sucky bloat of skill-enhancer racial traits (Get +2 to Skill A and B) that hound so many races since the ARG, instead providing something unique.


How to rate this, then? Well, honestly, I should probably go with 3 stars for this - the flaws are numerous and pronounced and then there's the inclusion of some broken pieces among the supplemental materials that are OP by any standard applied. However, at the same time, this book is much more inspired that I ever had hoped it would be. Both in its design and its concepts. And there are MANY awesome ideas, both in the fluff- and crunch-departments to be found. The downright brilliant mixed blood, the non-sucky blinkling...and so many more do not deserve a mediocre rating. And ultimately, I enjoyed this book too much for that, in spite of its flaws. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4, with an explicit caveat emptor for anyone picky about rules-language. DMs willing to do some tinkering will find a nice treasure-trove here - one that needs polish, yes, but one that can, eventually, be brought to shine.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Bloodforge
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From the Deep #3: A Dragon's Orders
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/03/2015 10:08:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review


The third installment of Dreamscarred Press' all-psionics- AP in the Third Dawn setting clocks in at 49 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 45 pages content, so let's take a look!


This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


...


..


.


Still here? All right! After a long hiatus, we're finally back in the psionic AP and we kick off with a cool particular set of changes - the choices made in Part I and II have significant consequences, altering not only the updated statblock of the city of Albril, but also sporting direct benefits that depend on the PC's choices. When the PCs are called to meet up with the most powerful people of the town, one quickly realizes that things just got real - the city of Lirasse has fallen over night. Now not only will the sudden refugee influx change the very power dynamics of their home, the PCs will have another issue at their hands sooner rather than later. They have obviously finally entered the frame for their antagonists and the conspiracy, with its in-game rules interacting with psionic means of research. Unfortunately for the PCs, this translates into a smear-campaign designed to tarnish their reputation while sowing discord - and yes, the mechanics to track this progression of strife is pretty neat and concise. That being said, this particular frame-job can be complicated significantly by object reading and the DM's interpretation of said power - the wording of the power is ambiguous enough to potentially break the narrative here, so that would be one very important thing to be aware of.


Still, doing the investigation, spiced with numerous red herrings and challenging combats, all while suspicion rises and the cult of the scaled god's fanatics rise can make for great adventuring. Defeating finally the mastermind behind the smear campaign, the PCs will also hopefully encounter multiple sabotage plans that have gone utterly unnoticed by the city's seers - which should more than raise eyebrows. So, off the PCs are - towards the ruins of Lirasse, where the survivors huddle under the cruel rule of the scaled one's servants. Infiltrating the ruins, past the numerous hill giants and similar threats, the PCs will have ample opportunity to explore what is left of the town...and hopefully find the hide-out of the fanatics behind the fall of the town. From there, a letter points the PCs towards the so-called Maw, from which the scaled god is scheduled to rise...very soon. So yes, beyond the threat of various phrenic scourges and their ilk, beyond animate dreams, the PCs will have to deal with the scaled god and further conspirators - it's dragon-slaying time, all while the timer ticks and strategies in place to delay the PCs work at full force. Let's just hope the PCs can end the dragon who has implanted to many fragments of his psyche in the various fanatical soldiers of the cabal...


The pdf ends with a mini-bestiary and a short 2-page campaign synopsis.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are pretty good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' relatively printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork is solid full-color, courtesy of Rick Hershey and Tsailanza Rayne and cartography is solid. The lack of player-friendly maps annoyed me, though.


Michael McCarthy has grown as an author - this module is testament to that in that it is significantly more streamlined, more cinematic than its predecessors and in that it sports numerous damn cool ideas that render it much more compelling than I expected it to be. The emphasis on choice and consequence, the multiple ways in which the investigation can be run (fast track, clues, red herrings) -all of that feels pretty much right and is really, really fun. So does, in fact, the way in which the conspiracy operates - the in-game-logic here is pretty smooth and I can definitely appreciate that. On the downside, this module does feel a bit lax when it comes to PC-capability - the players, at this point, will have quite an arsenal and potentially even a small army at their disposal, so some synergy with mass-combat rules would have been appreciated - or at least, some additional benefits. Don't get me wrong - the module DOES do a great job in making the players feel like their decisions matter - because they do. At the same time, though, I couldn't help but feel that the significant status, the smear-campaign against them - all of that could have had more consequences.


Which brings me to the relative "weak" point of this module - it tries a tad bit too much in one go. A more detailed murder mystery with more read-aloud text, more complex investigation tricks, preferably requiring specifically some psionic tricks, would have been awesome to see. A more detailed second act, including more escapee-tragedies, a better fleshed out city would have been a nice module of its own. And finally, the end of the module also feels like it could have stood on its own with some expansion and thus be slightly more organic. Now this does not make the module bad by any means - it is functional, exciting even - but when I ran it, I found myself doing a lot of expansion work once we dusted off our From the Deep-PCs. I'm not complaining, mind you, but I still feel like this time around, less would have potentially been more – the module works as a whole, but it feels a bit cramped. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down by a tiny margin to 4 – this definitely is the best From the Deep module so far. I'm looking forward to seeing how this AP progresses!


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
From the Deep #3: A Dragon's Orders
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Psionics Embodied
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/26/2015 05:26:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This book clocks in at 69 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 64 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


So, we've all been there - suddenly, mid-adventure, a PC bites the dust and the player has no time to make a new character for now, requiring the temporary use of an NPC. Or, more often, one sits on the DM's side of the screen and makes yet another NPC-build. I know I do that and it is an annoying bottleneck. There are certain tricks and combos one stumbles across and then re-uses them time and again. The issue becomes more pronounced if your campaign is like mine and sports a vast array of different 3pp materials. Paizo only has the CORE-classes covered with the codex and beyond that, I may point towards Rite Publishing's superb Faces of the Tarnished Souk-series, Frog god Games' Unusual Suspects and LPJr Design's Usual Suspects...and beyond these, good NPC-books become scarce, with only a couple of Legendary Games-books coming to mind. This was particularly annoying, at least for me, when it came to psionics (and some other subsystems I regularly use) - I had to make too many of these guys from scratch and at some point, tunnel-vision starts to set in.


Introducing this book, psionics now receive an array of NPCs for your perusal to insert into your campaign. The numerous characters herein are crafted with the heroic attribute-array and appropriate WBL and each character comes with 3 builds - one for level 5, one for level 10 and one for level 15. Now I am not going to go into the details for every NPC herein - for every creature herein comes with a full-blown background story as well as advice on how to use the NPC as both an ally or villain - and yes, this means that these guys and gals are full-blown, developed personalities, not just statblocks. From radiant heroes to plague-doctor elans gone full-blown insane evil, the characters herein take the base classes in different directions, with tacticians, dreads, marksmen, etc. all receiving their due. Some of the specialists of the psion-class receive no representation, though. Blues, forgeborn and similar psionic races are well-integrated into the builds within these pages.


In fact, the characters herein work exceedingly well as both allies and adversaries and, more often than not, offer some deviations from tired and true character tropes, thus coming to life in a surprising captivating manner. From the honorable, yet brash Desh to the ruthless, but well-situated Count Malbor, the diverse NPCs in this book do a nice job of running the gamut from cool allies to despicable adversaries, with the builds themselves doing a neat job of representing the particulars of the NPC and their ideology in the crunch they provide.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are very good - apart from some rare glitches like an incorrect CR and similar minor glitches, the pdf can be considered well off in that regard. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' beautiful 2-column full-color standard and each and every NPC in this book receives a gorgeous full-color artwork - kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked as well as with a more printer-friendly version with a white background.


Jeremy Smith, Andreas Rönnqvist and Matt Medeiros have crafted a damn useful NPC-collection - finally, an array of psionic NPCs, all ready for use, with just the flick of a finger. I love books like this, simply because they allow a DM to focus on cool storylines, preparing a module etc. - or simply add a spark of psionics into another-wise non-psionics module. The NPCs are diverse, their writing is neat, the builds solid - so there is not much to complain in that regard.


That being said, there are some minor nitpicks I can field against this book, the first of which would simply be scope - I would have loved this to be a NPC-Codex-sized, massive book of diverse builds, covering all psion-specialists etc. Now I can't hold the scope of the book against it, but still - a bigger book would have been awesome. Similarly, some people may have wanted scaling suggestions to bring these NPCs down to less powerful builds, but once again, I consider that not the book's fault. My only true gripe with this book would be the following - unlike the NPC Codex, this book presents rounded characters and the builds, for that, feel very much linear. While some archetype'd combos can be found, you won't find any nasty multiclass combos in this book and for named NPCs, I would have expected one or two or these. Note that this does not make the book bad in any way - it's just that making linear characters is much easier and less time-consuming than making complex, archetype'd multiclass characters.


But in the end, ladies and gentlemen, this is just me being a complaining nitpicker at a high level. The characters herein deserve to be called "characters" - they range from nice to inspired and some rather beg to be used, which is a neat accomplishment in my book - this collection is still a permanent addition to my DM-toolkit and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Psionics Embodied
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Akashic Mysteries: Vizier
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/27/2015 13:59:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review


This first installment of the Akashic Mysteries-series clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement and 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


First of all, in case you don't know - this is the PFRPG-version of "Magic of Incarnum", updated, refined and refluffed. But it's more than that. Let me elaborate - back in teh day, i liked the basic concept of Incarnum; its balancing may not always have been perfect, but it was an interesting system, one I wished had come out sooner and wish better cost/benefit ratios. I didn't enjoy the fluff, but that could be changed easily. Still, the system didn't seem to gel well with my group, until we went gestalt - in that playstyle, it excelled.


Fast-forward to this series - has it inherited the weaknesses of its parent-system? What about the flavor? We'll see!


The class introduced herein would be the vizier, who receives d6, 2+Int skills per level, proficiency with light armor, bucklers and simple weapons. The class has 1/2 BAB-progression and, uncommon for a full caster, but not unheard of, good fort and will-saves. The main schtick of the class, though, would be veilweaving, which is grouped into two categories, namely veils and essences. A 1st level vizier begins play with 2 veils and 1 essence and increases that to a total of 11 veils and 30 essences at 20th level.


Viziers receive instant access to all veils on the vizier's list, apart from those of an alignment opposing that of the vizier. When required, a veil's save DC is 10 + number of essence points invested + vizier's Intelligence modifier. A vizier may invest up to his character level in essence into a given veil or given receptacle. Here, the wording is slightly non-standard - not to a point where I'd complain about this or detract from the verdict, but still, making this one slightly more linear in its wording would help. At 3rd level, 11th and 19th, the vizier increases the maximum capacity of a receptacle by +1. DCs also increase by +1 on these levels. Re-allocating essence into veils can be done as a swift action each round. Veils are prepared much like spells each day after rest etc.


You may have noticed that the vizier, in spite of what the base frame of the class might look like, is NOT a spellcaster - however, they do treat vizier-levels as arcane caster levels for purposes of qualifying for feats and abilities. Now I mentioned that essence can be freely re-distributed between veils - well the same does NOT hold true regarding the investiture of essence into magic items with charges: Wands, staves and wondrous items can be infused with essence, gaining additional charges that last for 24 hours before dissipating. These cannot be reassigned and remain essentially locked in the item. Here, there's issue, though - (warning: nitpickery!) balance is a bit opaque, since the basic veilweaving does not specify when the essence-pool refreshes, instead stating "A vizier must have at least 8 hours rest or meditation to achieve a clear and focused state, and must meditate for one hour to shape his veils for the day." One could argue that you could theoretically invest essence twice into an item in a given 24 hour-period. Would that be smart? In most of the cases, it wouldn't be. I'd hence suggest to include a sentence that clearly states that essence invested in items does not regenerate before 24 hours have elapsed. Also, since the duration and essence capacity maximum (see waaaay down in the section on veilweaving) could cause confusion here, I'd strongly suggest rewiring the rest/essence-regain-wording.


There is another issue - an item that has essence invested in it not only gains the temporary charges, it also does never prompt UMD checks to use. While the ability can only be used to activate spells of 8th level or lower, it can still lead to problems.


What do I mean by this? Surprisingly, I'm not complaining about items with few charges being left as treasure to have some "smart bombs" here; What I'm not sold on is simply the flat-out "no UMD"-section AND the non-scaling nature of this ability. What if the players find a wand with precious few charges or a unique staff and can just flat-out use it? I am aware that these are fringe-cases, but it would theoretically allow the vizier to utilize charge-based items beyond his level's capacity (if the DM foolishly drops them into the treasure...) - and there is a pretty easy solution that prevents the issue: Just make the highest spell level of the item the governing factor for whether or not you have to UMD and make it scale with class level progression, by e.g. tying it to twice essence capacity. Now, yes, the base ability isn't broken, but I maintain that such a solution would be much more elegant and prevent fringe-case abuse.


Now there also are so-called chakra-binds - these are gained at 2nd level in a linear manner, +1 at every 2nd level, in a fixed progression from Hands, feet, head, wrist, shoulders, headband, neck, belt chest and finally, at 20th level, body. At 9th level, the vizier can bind veils in the ring slot and at 15th level, you can bind them into both ring slots. On a nitpicky-side, I don't get why the ring-slots are not wrapped in the chakra-ability, but that is purely a cosmetic gripe.


At 3rd level, viziers may reshape a veil 1/day (+1/day for every 4 levels thereafter) as a standard action that provokes AoOs into a new veil. Additionally, each time the daily uses increase, you may also shift one additional veil per ability use. The capstone allows for at-will veilshaping - and whenever the class uses the veilshaping ability, he regains 3+Int temporary essence.


Viziers also receive a kind of bloodline-ish linear ability chosen at first level - a total of 3 are provided and I hope we'll see more of those. The Path of the Crafter, Path of the Seer and Path of the Ruler.


The Path of the Crafter gain a bonus equal to 1/2 class level (rounded up or down?) on all skill-checks made as part of the crafting process. That is pretty powerful. Allies within 30 ft. that activate a magic item, treat caster level and DC of the activated item as +1. That is nasty, but will also make the vizier rather popular with his adventuring companions. Okay, where things get rather unique would be in one particular ability - transfer essence. This allows you to meditate on items and exchange their bonuses and special abilities. - Found a cool weapon, but don't have the proficiency for it? just exchange the enchantment with those on your trusty sword. I applaud the fact that you can't cherry-pick abilities. Now, on the other hand, wand/staff charges can also be exchanged if the items have the same highest spell level - a fitting restriction, but one I'd suggest to be supplemented with an analogue caster level (or lower) restriction to prevent spells that increase their potency with caster level having their charges cheaply upped by using charges from items that do not scale with CL. Once again, not a bad glitch, but rather one that can easily be fixed.


The path also grants item creation feats and a decreased craft-price at higher levels. Oh, and kudos for the intelligent item/cursed item/artifact caveat!


The path of the ruler is all about granting a will-save/sense motive debuff aura, with selective exclusion of allies. Enforcing a reroll at high levels is nice, but when compare to the Crafter's benefits, the path of the ruler feels pretty meek. The poor guy could use an upgrade for his aura.


The path of the seer increases movement of all allies within 60 ft. by +5 ft, +5 more at 9th and 17th level - neat. Now the interesting part comes next - the seer learns teamwork feats and for each point invested, the class may share ALL teamwork feats granted by this ability (1 is gained at 1st, 5th, 9th and 13th level) with an ally; additionally, veils tied to hand or feat may be shared alongside with allies. High-level seer-viziers may freely retrain the teamwork feats. See, that one is a competent, powerful commander-style path and once again, mops the floor with the relatively uninspired ruler-path.


Next up would be an array of new feats, 37 if I'm not mistaken. There are some feats for non-akashic classes to wilder in the system. Feats with the new [Akashic]-descriptor increase the essence pool by +1. The feats very much do support one aspect I loved about the original incarnum - gestalting and multiclassing. Investing essence into one school to have the school's spells at CL+1? Can see that. On the downside, these feats constitute neither veils, nor charge-bearing items, so not sure whether one can freely re-allocate essence invested via feats of this formula. Free reallocation would amount to pretty much free CL+1 for all spells of that school. While not too bad in this example, when one takes a look at the power point-reducing feat in the same line (reduce PP-cost by essence invested, thankfully with power-level based additional restrictions), it becomes apparent that free reallocation is something that needs to be addressed, otherwise, you could decrease the cost of ALL powers subsequently. This is especially puzzling since the feat that allows you to invest essence in favor of getting power points does specify the 24 hours-no-reassignment cap. This also becomes also apparent when taking a look at the otherwise interesting veilbound metamagic, which once again uses a 1/day formula.


The pdf ought to specify whether it uses the 24-hour bind-and-locked wording or whether it imposes a cap on how many times per day essence can be invested in a feat - utilizing both models quickly becomes confusing. After multiple extensive playtesting sessions, I'd suggest the former, i.e. going analogue to charge-investment, for what it's worth.


Conversely, not all feats suffer from this specific issue -akashic charge allows you to 1/day invest essence in the feat, granting a bonus to atk and damage when charging equal to the essence invested. Its missing no-reassignment clause has been addressed in the errata and I'm willing to believe that this component will feature in the next update. This type of complaint, however, can be fielded against a whole feat-class herein - I assume that to be oversights in layout/editing, since some feats clearly sport this caveat. There are a lot of feats interacting and enhancing existing feats here and math-wizards will have a field day here. I just hope that all those cool feats receive the "no reassignment for 24 hours"-caveat in the next update - as provided here, the feats that lack it can be broken pretty easily.


Essentially, the point boils down to the following scenario:


Does the feat grant a significant bonus based on essence-investment? If yes, it should have the essence bound analogue to charge items.


Does the feat instead grant a highly situational or very restricted bonus? Then essence should remain flexible to justify the feat investment.


In any case, adding the 1/day restrictions feels a bit tacked on; with just a bit of minor streamlining, this whole section can be rid of its minor issues and made more smooth.


Beyond these, I also noticed that "Essence of the Immortals" has the [Akashic]-descriptor, but has neither an essence pool as a prerequisite, nor does it grant +1 essence -the same holds true for some other feats, but I have not yet determined whether that's intentional or an oversight.


This may all have sounded terribly negative - it's not my intent to do so. It's just that this one glitch in how the whole feat-class works makes it very hard to judge whether these work as intended or not. The plus-side here is that the math underlying the feats can be considered powerful, but NOT overpowered - at least once the 24-hour lock-caveat has been implemented. To close my discussion on the feats with something positive - the massive gestalting potential of incarnum is not only maintained, it is surpassed - the feats here have something for just about everyone to utilize, which is downright awesome.


All right, so let's get to veilweaving, shall we? Every veil is associated with a chakra and can be bound to the chakra if the akashic class is powerful enough to do so, gaining more benefits. Each chakra corresponds to an equipment slot and some veils can occupy one or two or even more different slots. It is very important to note that veils bound to chakras do NOT interfere with items worn in the same slot - the biggest suckage-factor of incarnum is GONE.


Upon manifesting the veil, you can choose which slot the veil is applied to. If you remember the above discussion of the class, you'll realize that new chakras become unlocked at a fixed progression. Veils interact with spells and spell-like abilities as if they were spells. Veils, unless they modify/grant natural attacks or weapons, are subject to SR. Veils can be targeted and even sundered to temporarily suppress them. identifying veils works via Knowledge (arcana), which may seem a bit odd, seeing the usual adherence to Spellcraft for such a task...but I actually really like this decision. it adds a "different" flavor to the magic-class. Now before you all start screaming regarding how huge, highly circumstantial bonuses can be stacked up - there is a pretty conservative essence capacity limit based on character level - no more than this fixed amount can be invested in any one veil, feat, etc.


Now the veils...ooohhh, if you like customizable classes, you'll have a field day here! Fascination-auras with customizable aura size may be nice...but what if a target is freed from the effect and you have bound the veil to your wrist? Well, then you can deliver what my group called the "akashic pimp slap" with a free action ranged touch attack. Eyes of fiery death? Yup. Veils that improve starting attitude (and this one ACTUALLY manages to achieve the "disarming smile/diplomancer-trope so much better than comparable options, it's really cool) can be found herein alongside those helping with elemental affinities. Want a veil that allows you to spontaneously create zombies (or cairn wights in ring-slot-bound-form?) from the deceased? Channel-like effects of veils have thankfully daily limits imposed upon them to prevent abuse - that's how it's done.


On a nitpicky side that will not influence the final verdict, the veil that grants a draconic breath weapon could have used a short list of what dragon-colors net lines and which cones - while I know them by hard, many players will have to look that one up. As mentioned, nitpicking here and not gonna penalize the pdf for one page-skip required. Pretty awesome - by binding the aforementioned veil to the neck, you can further increase your draconic breath's power; alternatively, you can grow wings with increasing maneuverability. Now the hand cannons combined with target of Opportunity are a pretty nasty combo -especially when combined with a sniper as deadly as the one I have in my group - but come on. Hand cannons. I actually made a hand cannon in an archetype once. I'm a berserk fanboy. I can't hate on magical hand cannons. (Plus, while powerful, they're not broken.)


Want whips of light? Yup. What about binding it to make trip attempts against every enemy in range whenever the veil is triggered? Yep, that's crazy awesome to not be flooded by groups of moderately competent mooks. And yes, in playtest, a defense scenario against floods of foes actually saw the vizier shine pretty nicely.


Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are good, but not perfect - here and there, the wording's flow could be improved, especially among the feats, which feel like 2 versions of rules-language collide for a section that is more confusing than it ought to be. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes bookmarked, though not extensively so. The pdf does come in two versions, with the second being more printer-friendly.


Okay, after reading this review, I'd really love to know what you think follows next. Admittedly, the vizier, to me, has a very much WiP-feel - the wording of essence-regaining/veil-redistribution could be clearer, feats feel a bit over the place regarding the system they utilize and one of the 3 paths is not only much more boring than the other two, it is also significantly weaker. So that would be the downsides.


On the plus-side - this MOPS THE FLOOR with Magic of Incarnum! The vizier is so much cooler than the incarnate, it's not even funny anymore. Seriously, it's so much better, it's not even funny! The fluff is better. The execution is better. The math is more elegant and if the wording issues are ironed out and there's no ambiguity left (especially re item interaction), this will be a total and utter blast. I honestly did not expect to like this due to several factors:


1) Fluff. Done. Not only is the new fluff cooler, the writing actually dares to be funny once in a while in an unobtrusive manner. Take this one: "Binding this wicked veil to your Shoulders chakra makes you slightly less cuddly than a rabid dire porcupine." Win.


2) Item-slot issue. Resolved.


3) Massive combo-potential requires plenty of foresight and solid math to prevent ridiculous abuse.


Number 3...oh, how I dreaded you. I had never before read a book by author Michael Sayre. Know what? This man knows his math. The vizier turned out to be a strong class, yes, but it is not overpowered - it requires continuous resource-management, is highly customizable and manages to maintain the gestalting capacities of the original system. Bonus-types are applied consistently. Options are cool, unique and fun. I did not expect to like this pdf to this extent.


The good news here is: Michael, you are talented indeed and I'm stoked for future installments of the series, though they are a colossal pain to review. The issues this pdf has can easily and quickly be fixed and boil down to wording, flow and making mechanics more explicit by establishing a slightly more concise terminology. For example, 24-hour-essence-storage = binding essence to; otherwise: investing essence into x. Simple, easy and once established and explained, prevents a lot of confusion and allows for easy streamlining of feats etc. and may actually save space regarding word count!


So yes, this pdf has some WiP-level rough patches. But its potential is GLORIOUS and exceedingly fun. The flexibility provided is glorious (and on par with PFRPG's versatility - no two viziers need to be alike!) and the veils are fitting and unique. Combo-potential galore rules. Were it not for the glitches and rough patches I complained about, this would be a no-brainer 5 star+ seal of approval file. The glitches would usually make me harp on this harder than I did here, probably for something around the 3.5 star-area. BUT: They can easily be fixed, mostly boil down to requiring slightly more precise wording and do not reflect badly on the system provided here. After using this and analyzing it, I can't, not for the life of me, bash this as something even remotely mediocre. It's not. This pdf is fun and I am stoked for future Akashic Mysteries and a cleaning of the glitches that still haunt this. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars, with an explicit recommendation for everyone who likes complex, customizable classes (and, of course, fans of incarnum!) to check this out.


Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Akashic Mysteries: Vizier
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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!]
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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!



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[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.



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[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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