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    Spheres of Power
    Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
    by Robert G. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 12/06/2019 10:11:29

    Vancian magic. A magic system modeled after a series of novels called Thy Dying Earth, by Jack Vance. Gary Gygax was a fan of Vance’s writing, and when Gary designed Dungeons & Dragons, he used Vance’s depiction of magic as his default magic system. Spells are grouped by level, from weakest (1st level) to most powerful (9th level). You can study only so many spells per level per day. And you forget them once you cast them, so you have to study them again day after day after day. This magic system became such a sacred cow of D&D that it persists into the most modern versions of the game, including Pathfinder.

    Players throughout the years have commented that, despite being a genetic marker for D&D and its descendants, it’s an odd design choice. The Vancian magic system is rather restrictive in how it depicts spell casters, and doesn’t give much room for players to create magic-users from other literary traditions. Elric didn’t use Vancian magic. Gandalf didn’t either. Neither did Merlin, or Harry Potter, or any other wizard other than those in The Dying Earth series. Why are mages forced into such a narrow paradigm for magic?

    Spheres of Power by Drop Dead Studios is an attempt to answer that question. This 229-page book offers GMs and players a completely alternate magic system, replacing Vancian magic with a very versatile toolkit that allows you to create virtually any kind of magic-using character. The book begins by explaining the core concepts of Spheres of Power, and how magic works in the system. The next chapter details 20 of the eponymous spheres. Chapter 3 presents us with 11 new base classes that utilize the SoP system. Also included in this chapter are archetypes for converting core Pathfinder spellcasting classes to the Spheres of Power system, and a prestige class.

    It then moves on to discuss four advanced magic systems, listed as optional by the publisher, all of which gives ways for potent magic to be expressed in-game. Next up are Player Options, which include spellcasting traditions, casting drawbacks and boons. An entire chapter is dedicated to using magic items with Spheres of Power, and how magic items are affected by the system. We conclude the publication with a chapter on how to use the book, and discusses using concepts built around the use of magic to create thematic, evocative campaigns with magic that helps to define the campaign world in specific ways.

    What are the main differences that Spheres of Power offers us? First, it eliminates the schools of magic from Dungeons & Dragons and its iterations (abjuration, necromancy, evocation, etc.) and re-groups magic effects into twenty thematic ‘spheres’: Alteration, conjuration, creation, dark, death, destruction, divination, enchantment, fate, illusion, life, light, mind, nature, protection, telekinesis, time, war, warp and weather. Each sphere delivers what it promises on the label: Wanna call lightning from the sky? Weather sphere. Get answers to unknowable truths? Divination sphere. Dominate people’s actions? Mind sphere. Almost any spell in D&D or Pathfinder can be expressed through the use of spheres.

    Casters are classified into three groups. High casters are primary magic-users. Folks like wizards, sorcerers, clerics and druids would be considered high casters in Spheres of Power. Mid-casters are your hybrid types, who have a strong magical ability combined with other non-magic class abilities. The bard and magus would be good examples. Finally, low casters are classes that get minor magical powers, but it really just isn’t their main shtick. Folks like paladins and rangers would be examples of low casters.

    Magic is accessed by selecting a sphere. Each sphere has a basic ability or two. For example, the Time sphere grants the caster the ability the ability to use a limited version of either the haste or slow spell. Once a sphere is chosen, you may choose additional talents within that sphere as you increase in level, or you can choose another sphere, granting you the base power of that sphere as well. All casters begin with a minimum of 2 talents. Talents are used to gain access to a sphere, and then to learn talents within that sphere. Additional talents are gained at a fixed rate based upon your class’s classification of high, mid- or low caster.

    Here’s where Spheres of Power really differentiates itself as a magic system: A talent can be used as many times as you want. Until the cows come home. Ad infinitum. No more ‘fire and forget’ spells a la Vancian magic. If you want to use a Destructive Blast (base ability from the Destruction sphere) all day long, you can! Now, you may be thinking that this is unbalanced and makes magic-users far too powerful, but the system is very well designed to make base talents useful, but not overly powerful. If you want to add some oomph to your talents, Spheres of Power gives us a spell point pool. Most talents require the caster to concentrate on the effect in order to keep it persistent. But if you don’t want to concentrate on a talent, you can spend a spell point to give it a fixed duration, allowing the caster to use another talent without the first one expiring.

    Each sphere features an average of about 20 talents, each one allowing the caster to perform an additional magical effect in the sphere. This provides a very wide array of abilities for the caster to choose. The caster can choose to sample from as many spheres as they desire. You can hyper-specialize in a single sphere or two, or you can sample from a dozen different spheres, it’s all up to your concept of the character.

    The classes presented in Spheres of Power do a nice job of demonstrating the effectiveness of the system. From the Armorist, who uses Spheres to summon magical weapons and armor to amplify his combat prowess, to the Incanter, a ‘build-your-own-caster’ who receives a metric crap-ton of talents, the classes are diverse, well-balanced and thematic. 11 such classes are presented, each with its own unique use of the Spheres system.

    The Advanced Magic section is interesting in that it implies through its inclusion that the core Spheres talents really reflect the power of spells in core Pathfinder to around 5th level spells. Advanced magic offers us ways to extend the power of Spherecasting up to the traditional power of 9th level spells. This is good to know as a GM; if you want to run a low-magic game, the core Spheres of Power system would be perfect. Advanced talents simply extend the SoP system (with a minimum 10th level requirement) to include talents that emulate high-level spells in Pathfinder. Rituals give Spherecasters a way to access spells from the core game, but at a greater casting time, typically not usable in combat. Spellcrafting is a way to create new talents through the combination of different spheres and talents. Incantations are similar to rituals, but serve more as a plot device, as a way to fill gaps in the character’s abilities and as a means of flavoring the campaign world.

    The second main way that Spheres of Power differentiates itself and adds a great amount of customization for both players and GMs is the section on Casting Traditions. These are like templates that you add to the Spheres of Power system, which alters the ways that the character accesses and wields magical power. Each tradition brings a set of drawbacks and boons that constrain the application of spherecasting, giving it a particular theme. For example, the Runist tradition makes casting take longer, requires hand gestures to use a talent, and requires a successful skill check to use a talent. Thematically, think of a type of runic magic that requires the caster to inscribe a rune on a surface in order to draw forth a magical effect. I see this as a really great fit for dwarven magic users! There are 14 different traditions offered, with advice on how to create your own traditions.

    I have used Spheres of Power in my current Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign. The group has an Armorist, an Incanter focused on the Fate and Life spheres and another Incanter focused on the Dark and Fate spheres, so the system is getting a good test-run. From what I’ve seen so far through 6 levels of play, the Spheres of Power magic system is working very well. Overall, it is less powerful than the core magic system of Pathfinder, but in my mind, this is a feature, not a bug. Casters still fill an important role during combat, but don’t become so powerful that they eclipse other non-magical classes at mid- to high levels. My players seem to enjoy the openness of the system; they can realize their character’s concept more easily, and the system gives them more versatility to customize their characters to their exact specifications.

    An added bonus (a huge benefit for me) is that Hero Lab files are available for purchase for Spheres of Power. I have purchased and used these files, and they are great! I can build characters quickly, and the files comply totally to the source document. All classes, spheres, archetypes, prestige classes, feats, advanced magic rules and traditions are included in the files. Furthermore, I have received great support from the Hero Lab community when developing content that uses the SoP system. For example, I was able to successfully create an archetype for the Dragonrider class (Super Genius Games) that uses SoP; with some help from the HL community, it works great. Well done, Hero Lab editors!

    Conclusion: If I created a d20 fantasy RPG, Spheres of Power is the system I would choose as my core magic engine. The beating heart of the system is 20 spheres, each with a base power. Additional powers in each sphere can be added through talents. It’s simple, it’s elegant, it’s balanced with respect to other classes in the game, and it’s thoroughly functional. You can customize the power level of the system through advanced magic, sculpt the thematic feel of magic in your campaign world through traditions, and you can use the 11 new classes as a delivery vehicle for Sphere magic in your game.

    With Spheres of Power, I can shape magic into whatever form fits my concept of the game world. It gives me a simple set of tools and a robust engine with which to create my perfect concept of magic, whatever that might be, and effectively execute the concept in my game. This is a great book, one that changes the way that playing Pathfinder feels, in a positive way. Adam Meyers, Owen K.C. Stephens, Thomas Keene and Ryan Ricks have produced a fantastic magic system which better allows GMs to create the magic that they want in their world. The simplicity of the system, coupled with the vast customization options, make Spheres of Power a highly recommended replacement for the confining Vancian box offered by the Pathfinder RPG. My rating: 10 out of 10!

    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Spheres of Power
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    Legendary Rogues
    Publisher: Legendary Games
    by Robert G. [Verified Purchaser]
    Date Added: 11/08/2019 13:30:00

    This is my first attempt at a formal review of a roleplaying product. As with any review, my personal biases and preferences of game style will color the review, so it’s probably a good idea to identify these. As a GM, I tend to prefer products that evoke a strong flavor and mechanics which support that flavor. This goes beyond mere mechanics; I like products that offer a leitmotif that extends beyond rules, one which can also suffuse the campaign world in a narrative way. I also get jazzed by products that provide elegant solutions to otherwise complicated or ineffective rules in the Pathfinder RPG. Rules systems which unify disparate concepts into a cohesive whole, which streamline the playing experience for both GMs and players are greatly appreciated by me.

    As a player, I greatly prefer customization options and decision points that are built into the product. If it is a new character class, I like having the ability to choose from a selection of options, rather than being shoehorned into a class ability that may or may not fit my character concept. If it is a new rules subsystem, it should expand my ability to create interesting character concepts that effectively execute the concept during play, while not adding a large amount of complexity to the character management process.

    Okay, with those caveats out of the way, let’s get on to my reviewed product: Legendary Rogues by Legendary Games.

    This product offers us a complete rebuild of the rogue class; it was published in 2015, after Paizo had offered us their rebuild of the rogue in Pathfinder Unchained. Why all this rebuilding of one of the classic tropes of fantasy gaming? Well, the prevailing opinion of the rogue class as originally published in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook is that it is underpowered with respect to the other 10 base classes in the Core Rulebook. Initial complaints seemed to focus on the rogue’s opportunities to use her iconic sneak attack ability, her sub-par potential to be an effective DPR class, rogue talents being underpowered and subsequent class offerings from Paizo which rendered her skill mastery (another iconic rogue ability) second-rate. Paizo Publishing answered these criticisms with the Unchained Rogue.

    The unchained rogue attempted to bring the rogue back into the general power-level of the other base classes. They executed this design goal by introducing skill unlocks (abilities only a rogue could attempt given a specified number of skill ranks), and by granting the Weapon Finesse feat as 1st level bonus feat. This allows rogues to use DEX as their primary combat stat, reducing MAD and making them more effective combatants at early levels. Rogue talents get a few additions, but generally remain about the same.

    This is where Legendary Rogues steps in. The book launches with an unfortunate gaffe: It welcomes us to "Legendary Paladins" in the introductory page, which may cause some initial confusion for the reader. This is the only instance of this error, however, and the balance of the book does reference the correct legendary rogue class and product.

    The introduction gives us a brief summary of the product, and identifies the key concepts that will be introduced in the book, such as Skill Specialties, Avoidances, and Instincts. It goes on to discuss how many Rogue Talents are redefined to align them better with similar abilities of other core classes. The rogue in combat is mentioned, and then the Legendary Rogue ties all of these concepts into a rebuild of the rogue class.

    Skill specialties are addressed first. These are packages of skills (usually 1 skill plus a situational use of a second skill) that grant a scaling untyped bonus equal to ½ the rogue’s class level. Each skill specialty may only be selected once, and bonuses from multiple skill specialties don’t stack (nitpick: untyped bonuses in PF1 stack, so it may have been better to give these bonuses a type such as competence or insight). Athletic agility grants a bonus on Climb checks and Acrobatic checks made to traverse narrow or uneven surfaces. Imperceptible provides a bonus to stealth checks, and increases the miss chance for concealment. I like this one a lot! Information broker gives bonuses to Knowledge (local) checks and Diplomacy checks to Gather Information. There is a total of 14 skill specialties provided, giving the legendary rogue a means of diversifying or specializing while still remaining the best skills-based character class. Well done!

    The supplement goes the extra mile by discussing skill unlocks from Pathfinder Unchained next. It discusses ways that skill unlocks can be substituted for skill specialties, or how you can use both systems simultaneously, giving the player a wide variety of ways to achieve skill mastery.

    Avoidances are next, which are ways that the legendary rogue can avoid harm. Instead of the core rogue being forced to accept Trap Sense as a linear ability, the legendary rogue can choose an avoidance at 3rd level and every three levels thereafter. Avoidances include such abilities as Defensive Agility which grants a +1 Dodge bonus to AC when the rogue fights defensively or takes the Total Defense action, Elusive Moves which grants a +1 Dodge bonus to AC against attacks of opportunity and a +1 Dodge bonus to CMD to resist a Grapple combat maneuver, Missile Avoidance (+1 Dodge bonus against ranged attacks) and Poison Resistance (bonus to saves against poison, can be taken multiple times). Trap Sense is included in the Avoidances category, but is but one option among eight possible choices.

    Instincts are abilities that highlight a legendary rogue’s superb senses and instinctive awareness, modeled upon the Evasion and Uncanny Dodge abilities of the core rogue. The legendary rogue may select an instinct at 2nd and 4th level, and at every four levels thereafter. Options include the familiar Uncanny Dodge and Evasion abilities along with their improved versions, plus Instinctive Awareness (always act in a surprise round, even if unaware of attackers), Leap Aside (rogue can take a 5 foot step as an immediate reaction to an attack or AoE spell; resolution of attack is possibly affected as a result), and Celerity (roll twice for initiative, take preferred result). 10 such instincts are provided.

    The next section tackles Rogue Talents as a class ability, and attempts to bring them up to a roughly equivalent power level of other similar class abilities such as a witch’s hexes or a magus’s arcana. Several new rogue talents are listed and existing talents (such as Assault Leader) are upgraded from once per day to once per opponent. This approach makes a lot of sense narratively; after all, why would a rogue only be able to execute a talent (most are extraordinary abilities) once, and then forget how to use them?!? It makes far more sense for a rogue to use the ability on an opponent, who sees the ability and can defend against it once used, but a new opponent has no knowledge of this ability, and is vulnerable to it once as well. Rogue talents are gained at 2nd level and every two levels thereafter, for a total of 10 talents at 20th level. A massive 93 total rogue talents are offered, roughly balanced between re-worked and new talents, providing a wide array of effective options for the legendary rogue to shine.

    ‘Rogues in combat’ is the next major section of Legendary Rogues. It discusses how the core rogue tends to fall behind other martial classes in combat ability, and behind other ‘skillful’ classes such as the bard and the inquisitor in Saving Throws. It goes on to propose ways to compensate for this deficiency, making the rogue a more effective combatant. These solutions are codified into the Legendary Rogue class, which follows later in the book.

    Legendary Rogues posits that without the Sneak Attack class ability, the rogue’s attacks are essentially the same as the NPC expert class, and then enumerates the various ways that Sneak Attack can be nullified in Pathfinder. This section of the book discusses ways to make Sneak Attack more effective and applicable. Most of these solutions are included with the Legendary Rogue class, which immediately follows.

    The Legendary Rogue class gets d8 hp, 3/4 BAB progression, good Reflex saves and 8 + Int skill ranks per level. Sneak attack +1d6 is gained at 1st level, and increases by 1d6 every odd level. She gains a broad and deep group of class skills, and is proficient in all simple weapons plus the hand crossbow, longsword, rapier, sap, shortbow, short sword, and sword cane, as well as one of the following weapons: garrote, longbow, whip, or a single light or one-handed martial weapon. They are proficient with light armor and bucklers but not with other shields. Rather than enumerate each class ability (which other reviewers have done with painstaking analysis), I’ll skip this and move on to observations, thoughts and conclusions.

    This class offering does something really cool, something that I wish other publishers would pick up on: In addition to the class rebuild, the document offers numerous commentaries and sidebars about design goals and implementation. The reader gets insight not just into how the class is reworked, but also why. We get justification for the design decisions that were made for the class, giving us better insight into why this class is balanced with more current Pathfinder classes, and how it goes about doing so. This is great; I wish more publishers would include such commentary.

    I must mention one regret that I have about this product. Files for Hero Labs are not offered (as a rule, Legendary Games does not create Hero Lab content to support its products), which for me creates an additional investment of time. You see, I use Hero Labs character management software exclusively for my Pathfinder games, both as a GM and player. I find it indispensable, given the vast number of variables that can affect a character’s statistics and abilities during play. When I allow a third-party class into one of my campaigns, I insist that it is enabled for use with Hero Labs. Consequently, the Hero Lab files must either be offered by the publisher (as with Kobold Press and Drop Dead Studios), or I must create the file myself. Now, I am not a professional programmer. My job isn’t even programming-adjacent. Learning how to code in Hero Lab was purely a skill that I wanted to learn, and it has taken over two years for me to gain a basic proficiency in creating custom content through the Hero Lab Editor. I have coded all of the class abilities for the Legendary Rogue into Hero Lab and am now working my way through the rogue talents. If you are proficient in the Hero Lab editor and want to add the Legendary Rogue to your content, be aware that coding will take several dozen hours to complete, due to the sheer number of options and abilities included with the class. On a difficulty scale, I would rate this a six out of 10. The coding isn’t terribly hard, but the number of scripts is pretty large.

    Legendary Rogues delivers the rogue class that I have always been hoping for, but never got. This is the rogue that delivers on the class fantasy, giving me a robust toolkit with which I can build the kind of rogue that I envisioned, not some cobbled-together patchwork of archetypes that doesn’t quite realize my vision. Matt Goodall and Jason Nelson have created the rogue that will hereinafter be the default rogue class in all of my future campaigns. The sheer amount of customization offered by inherent skills, skill specialties, instincts and avoidances allow me to create virtually any rogue concept that I can conceive without the need to add archetypes. Their design is impressive, their goals realized, and the final product is a glory to behold. I love this book! If Hero Lab files existed for it, Legendary Rogues would get a perfect ten out of ten from me. Lacking the Hero Lab support, I still rate this at 9 out of 10, and highly recommend it as a wonderful replacement for the lackluster core rogue, and its slightly less lackluster cousin, the unchained rogue.

    Do your game a huge favor, and get this book! The rogue will no longer be the red-headed step-child of the Pathfinder RPG!

    [5 of 5 Stars!]
    Legendary Rogues
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