Third installment in a series is kind of a stressful position to have...I mean, by the time we have reached a third we've already seen the break out title, and the follow up. We have expectations, as consumers. The bar has been set, and we are more inclined to be critical to see if the magic will continue. That's the position 100% Crunch: Liches finds itself in.
Julian Neale has tackled that epic foe for this collection, the lich. The very mention of a lich at a game table should rightfully inspire dread and excitement amongst the players. With challenge ratings that rival the most fearsome of dragons, and an arsenal of magic at its disposal that should invoke fear and jealousy in the best of wizards, this is not a villain to take lightly. So, why do so many groups look at these BBEGs as not being all they can? Simple, the design time. Think about it, the lich, boiled down to the black and white of it is a spell battery, and a very powerful one at that. They don't tend to have spell lists filled with boring and useless filler novelty spells. No, they are designed with intelligence, picking spells through out their very long careers of study that will do one of three things, aid in combat, aid in research, aid in procuring material for research. Yes, there are more specific concepts once you get into your lich being Bob, fourth lord of Ymlstein...but until we skin the guy, the needs of a lich are pretty specific. And those needs can become very time consuming for the GM, quickly. And it is that time consuming problem that first sparked the idea of the 100% Crunch series, and led us to this collection of liches, and this review.
As is my habit, I like to give any PDF I am reviewing a virtual “flip through”, before reading anything in depth. I want to have that first impression one would get when they picked up a book in a game shop and scanned through it quickly. The eye gets drawn to artwork, tables, basic layout and such. If one thing has held true for me over the years, it is that the look and feel of a book is just as important as the material contained within. Truth be known, it is far harder to get people to spend time looking through a non visually pleasing book no matter how good one's material is. Which brings us to the reason I brought this up in the first place. One of the things that any publisher will tell you is to avoid wasted space, no matter what. It is a taboo, and a product killer. Yes, in PDF space is relative and not nearly as important as in a printed product where the real estate costs per page, and yet that idea of wasted space is still there. So my reaction upon flipping through 100% Crunch: Zombies at the immense amount of white page was understandably shocked...until I began to see the pattern. Realizing fairly quickly what Creighton had decided to do here, and how much value it actually brought to this product, I applaud what could possibly be a very brave and risky choice made on his part. The voids are a result of the layout not just running the statblocks together, making it far easier to print out a lich for a game session. Each statblock will print clean, as they were laid out to be printed separately. Could he have filled the space with art? Yes, truthfully that could have been done...but let's explore that idea for a second shall we? As consumers we all want art, lots of it...but art costs, period. There are a lot of great alternatives to high cost art out there, but this collection has 42 liches folks...that's a lot of moldy spell chuckers to account for with unique art, which would pretty much guarantee a massive raise in the product's price. So no....the route taken here was not only the better alternative, but a brilliant decision given what this product is. In the end the Crunch series is all about saving the GM time, period. Need a critter? Boom, covered. Print out page such and such, stomp your players and watch them rise to the challenge, much fun had by all.
Now, having talked for what has now felt like an entire review saying very little about the actual product itself, let's delve into this PDF, shall we?
56 pages of Lichdom make up this PDF, with the typical obligatory page count for covers, OGL, TOC and such. No, I didn't count them this time, lol. Small side note, Raging Swan puts one of what I consider the handiest things in the front of each of their products, a checklist. I love this thing, I do. It's the completist in me, but I like to see what is out there, and what I still need to get. A brilliant move on their part. OK, back to lichness.... Layout follows the standard dual column format, with the occasional piece of B&W artwork embedded within the text (as well as one full page piece of art). Editing appears to be up the standards I have come to expect from the Raging Swan camp, with no real errors jumping out and grabbing my attention. A linked TOC (always a plus in my opinion), and an extensive bookmark listing make this one extremely navigatable PDF. Creighton starts us off with his typical foreword explaining the thought behind why this product exists in the first place, and I admit, I look forward to these, as they give an insight into why certain things find their way into production. We also find here a mention of the decision to go with the layout choices for the statblocks mentioned earlier.
As has become the standard for this series, we open with a CR breakdown of what awaits us within the following pages. And again, I find myself slightly disappointed. I so desperately want this chart to be linked to the appropriate statblocks...I know, the TOC and bookmarks already handle all of this, but the inclusion of a CR breakdown acknowledges that sometimes this is the best way to organize, period. Looking over the list I can guarantee you this, there is a lich here for ANY situation...Julian has really outdone himself here in going beyond what the standard fare calls for when the term lich is brought up. Drider, serpentfolk, pukwudgie, and succubus are just a few of the not quite so standard races one expects to see when looking over a list of liches. Yes, we have the more standard concepts as well, plenty of human and elven (even a few drow and dwarven), but even these are not all what one might expect. Julian challenges us to step away from the standard Wizard/Cleric lich, and offers up Druid, Sorcerer, Bard, Oracle and Ranger liches....oh, now I have your attention huh? CR ratings start at 12, and roll all the way to 20, with 42 different, ready to terrorize your PCs liches...ohhhh, and did I mention the two different dragon liches? One green, one red. Yeah. Evilness at its best. And yes, no lich book would be complete without a nod to the demilich, and our madman at the design helm agrees, so have no fear there my friends.
As this series has shown up to this point, we are going to get more than just some well designed statblocks, we're also going to be treated to variants and templates...this time up that includes the Atrophied Lich and the Forsaken Lich. The atrophied is an interesting alternative, and presented as a plot device as opposed to a stat or template. Basically it covers the idea that those old dudes should move around from time to time, because shriveling up just might be a bad thing. The Forsaken gives us one seriously dangerous concept for a lich....yeah, think about that for a second...as if a lich wasn't already a big enough problem. The Forsaken Lich is created when things go wrong, and the lich finds himself “kind” of created into undeath, but with an extremely short amount of time to exist before the magical storms he unleashed in his failure consume not only his body, but his very soul. A lich with nothing to lose is a very very dangerous thing to unleash on a campaign world, and I can not wait to do it..
From there we get a quick look at the core Bestiary collection, and the races within with innate magical abilities that might make for an interesting variant lich. I've come to like this feature in this series, and would really like to see this expand beyond the boundaries of Paizo's official source material to include a few of the bestiaries from other 3PPs...of course depending upon which bestiaries make that list, that could become a product of its own.
Now, by now it must be nothing but statblocks right? Nope, not quite...there are three Archetypes here as well, the Unliving Bard, Druid, and Ranger. Each with a list of spells to remove from their lists, and spells to add. Out of the three, the bard has the most changes made to the core class, in that they now affect the undead as they once affected the living.
Now....a full description and breakdown of what exactly a Demilich is, and how one goes about becoming one, along with the variant Awakened version...and we arrive at the wealth of Lich statblocks. As stated previously, 42 of these uber villains waiting to be unleashed upon your PC's all in total crunch format, perfect for print and go, or to inspire a time rushed GM to design their fluff and NPC around.
This series continues to do nothing but impress me, and the addition of this PDF to the line really raises the bar, as there are some excellent builds in here, with some truly new concepts for what we consider the lich to be. Having found one whole thing to whine about, and that being the CR breakdown page not being linked, which, let's face it, that's really not an issue, just something I personally want to see...yeah, I can find nothing to fault this PDF on, at all. A well deserved and fully earned 5 star rating for an excellent product that I can guarantee will bring hours, and I do mean hours, of evilness to any table. A welcome addition to any collection, and well worth the price of admission folks.
[5 of 5 Stars!]