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Pathfinder Player Companion: Potions & Poisons (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Should be Drugs and DrinksAlchemaic —
I'm going to say right now, this book has no major game-changers for potions or poisons.
The book is titled Potions and Poisons, but unfortunately this book has very little that really changes the game for those two types of items. Potions are by far the least explored part of this book, consisting of four feats total (of which only one will probably see any use in a game), a few pretty great potable versions of spells, a fairly lackluster Alchemist archetype, and a two-page spread listing spells that already exist and can be made into potions. Instead of anything useful, there's just two pages of effectively pointless filler, and not even particularly useful filler since most people work backwards when selecting potions (choose an effect then find the appropriate spell) instead of choosing from spells on a list, a list which isn't complete and even if it was would cease to be complete the moment a new 0-3rd level spell is released.
Poisons get a somewhat better showing, though still lacking. All the poison-using feats are racial feats, as are half of the poison-using archetypes. It would be less of an issue if the races weren't uncommon races; they're tied to the Vishkanya, Nagaji, and Grippli, meaning they'll see much less use than if they were for the more common races. There's also the Toxin Codexer Investigator, which at first seems to be the big game-changer in poison use, allowing the Investigator to boost the power of poisons to a DC equal to their spell DCs. Unfortunately that archetype comes with two issues: first, the DC boosts are class-locked, so a Toxin Codexer and ONLY a Toxin Codexer gets the bonuses. It functions more similarly to the Alchemist's Toxicant or Eldritch Poisoner archetypes, except that the Toxin Codexer also gives up spell slots to function. The other issue is that the poisons also become level-locked. Arsenic is a 1st level poison for example, while Hemlock is 5th. The poisons not listed are up to GM approval, which means that some poisons (such as Tongue Twist, presented in this book) may simply be banned for use with the archetype if the GM feels that it's too useful, or may be set at such a high level that by the time it comes into use every monster is immune to ability score damage or flat immune to poisons. And it's unfortunate, because it means all future poison boosters might take that same form, or this might supplant any need to make real useful feats or abilities since everyone can now say "Want to poison things? Toxin Codexer is obviously the way to do it."
The other sections of the book though are pretty solid. The talents and abilities listed for various classes make up for the overall weak showing in archetypes, and the Scorpion Bloodline gives a nice poison-based suite of abilities (though it functions based on a special scaling DC poison granted by the bloodline). The new elixirs are fantastic and make them into something more useful than just "drinkable Wondrous Items", like the Spirit Rush elixir which gives your villain a chance to always escape certain death, and even additional fleshcrafting elixirs. The new poisons are always fun to look at, since unlike the older poisons they focus more on strange and unique effects instead of ability score damage. The additional items are also pretty good, though most of the poisoner gear seems to be focused more on adding ways to poison a target instead of boosting the poison's power, and the anti-poisoner's gear is as would be expected, a number of items that grant bonuses to Fortitude saves and generally protect the wearer from being poisoned.
However, the real stars of the book are the Tinctures and Drugs. Tinctures are a collection of weird alchemical not-potions that grant boons at some cost (in a way similar to the alchemical items from Ultimate Intrigue), but their effects are shockingly useful despite their cost and lack of real magic. Similarly the drugs are fantastic in this book, becoming items that players could see real use in and that actually give a person a reason to take them at risk of addiction. An old drug gives a minor ability bonus at the cost of ability damage and a risk of addiction. These give major really interesting bonuses at the same cost, which makes them infinitely more appealing.
tl;dr Poisons are given not much support and there are no game-changers, potions are given even less. Everything else in the book is definitely worth it though.
One Small Step for StarfinderAlchemaic —
Like the core book, this is a fairly well executed book even if it isn't perfect. Unfortunately, unlike the core book, this is absolutely required material to play Starfinder. I can't really take off points for the book coming two months after the release of the game (though I will point out Starfinder is the only system to my knowledge to do that), but it's still not good planning for potential players. That point is moot at this point though.
The book itself has a good amount of imaginative monsters, ranging from gelatinous cubes made of devouring nanobot swarms to starship-sized Devils (who can also turn into starships), and a shockingly large amount of monsters in the book are also statted as possible PC races, which is a nice surprise for any potential player who wants to be something really weird and out there, like a giant floating psychic brain. The book also has a number of quick building rules for monsters and encounters, which with a bit of practice should speed up on-the-fly adjustments for groups who need a bit more of a challenge.
Unfortunately, the book is also very, very short. It clocks in at just over 160 pages total, under half of a normal Pathfinder bestiary. And, unlike Pathfinder, Starfinder doesn't have an expansive previous system it's based on to use for encounters. I have to assume that the book is short mostly due to an unfamiliarity with the Starfinder rules on the part of the writers, but given the extra two months between the book's release date and the core rulebook's release, the book shouldn't have been anywhere near this small, especially as the only real source of encounters currently available for the game. The small size of the book may not be an issue to everyone, but it IS an issue to be aware of, especially if buying the hardcover copy.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Book of the Damned (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Seen many many times before, but never in this formatAlchemaic —
My two major points about this book are this: 1) It's almost entirely reprints, and 2) It's a campaign setting book.
So for my first point, while I say it's a reprint, at least in this case it makes some degree of sense (though $45 for it really feels like you're being cheated out of your money, the $10 price is much more acceptable). Much of the evil deity material has been stuffed away in the backs of APs or in small segments of Campaign Setting books, so having a book which is more or less complete collection of those bits of information is useful. And even then, at least there's new bits of flavor text to go along with the entries, which makes it not a complete copy+paste job like much of the Adventurer's Guide. Still though, a lot of it (like 1/4-ish of the book) is reprinted boons. There are some new ones, which is nice, but the total amount of new material (including feats, magic items, boons, rituals, and monsters) is barely enough to fill a campaign setting book.
Which brings me to my second point: that this is a campaign setting book masquerading as a core line rulebook. This I blame mostly on page limits, since I believe all the books are restricted to certain numbers of pages, and the amount contained in this book fills almost 300 pages with material. The thing is, probably 1/2 or more of that material is pure fluff. Lots of setting information about the Evil-aligned planes, tons of lore information about the various deities and demigods, and a 30 page "excerpt" from the book of the damned in hard-to-read writing font describing the lower planes again. If all the old material had been completely removed and some of the more verbose sections had been trimmed down, this would fit nicely into a campaign setting book called "Book of the Damned". Even just selling this directly as a campaign setting book would have fit perfectly, since it matches the format of things like Inner Sea Gods, but with a larger pagecount. But this book honestly is probably the least deserving of being put in the core line due to its content being almost entirely fluff. Adventurer's Guide, as much as I disliked that book, was at least full of options for players and fluff was second to that. Aquatic Adventures would be a better fit than this for a core line book.
tl;dr It's a good buy for $10 if you want a collection of Evil deity boons and a smattering of new material, don't buy for $45.
To Infinity (but not quite beyond)Alchemaic —
The review is fresh so it may take some time before the final result comes to light, but the initial reception is very positive. The Starfinder Core Rulebook is an excellent start, keeping some of the Pathfinder feel while finally breaking away from the chains that tied it to 3.5 and letting it experiment with new design and ideas. Almost everything is well-balanced, and thanks to the modular design of the classes, feats (which have finally gotten rid of massive prerequisite chains!), and equipment, new material can feasibly be added without strange interactions and long chains of requirements that make something nearly impossible to use effectively.
Not everything is perfect of course. The Envoy is the major sticking point on that matter, and while it has some interesting ideas around using its actions to give boosts and buffs to allies, those buffs might be overtuned. Unfortunately we don't have enough material to make a complete judgement, but the bonuses may range between invaluable in combat to completely negligible depending on how the math shakes out. It feels a lot like the original Rogue: keep them around for skills and the occasional help in combat, but you don't miss much if they're not present and they don't work well alone. Other sections in the book, like Feats, feel a bit lacking too, but I imagine that's more due to space restrictions than design issues. Like Pathfinder, once the game has more material out (especially more material for the Envoy) and more room to breathe it'll be fantastic, but right now it's just an excellent start.
Pathfinder Player Companion: Adventurer's Armory 2 (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Needed to be more adventurousAlchemaic —
For the most part this is a very solid book. The equipment packages are a great idea for players who want to get started fast without hunting through pages of items for the prices of cheap equipment (and are a good value to boot), I want one of those waifu body pillows for the Butchering Axe, the Poppets are a great idea as cheap, easy-to-build, handy constructs, and I absolutely adore the new equipment tricks. There are also a number of reprinted items, but at least there's enough new material that it doesn't feel as egregious as when the Adventurer's Guide did it.
However, a bunch of the stuff seems like it was toned down or otherwise weakened in the interest of playing it safe. The biggest examples of this are probably the Armor/Weapon Modifications that were included. The basic idea is great, giving some customization options to players who want to add new effects or shiny bells to their equipment, but the system needed more room to grow and display what it could do rather than two pages overall. Most of the armor modifications aren't worth the price for the modification because the effects seem almost nerfed by committee, like the modification which dazzles a creature once per day if they fail a (admittedly good) DC, or the one which has a chance of sickening a creature if they happen to be using power attack and their mother just called last night and complained about how much better their brother is doing as a monster in The Dragon's Crypt, and have they met any nice goblin girls yet? The weapon modifications are a bit better off, but most of the modifications are miniscule bonuses that could have been boiled down to some additions to the Weapon Design Rules (from Weapon Master's Handbook) and a note on how to attach those additions to already existing weapons. As much as I'd want those rules to be expanded and refined into something really worthwhile, they're most likely just going to be forgotten as a bunch of weak non-magical weapon "enchantments".
It just feels... too toned down, in a way that's kind of hard to voice properly. Like the entire book was restrained, or the writers couldn't make a bunch of cool weird items for one reason or another. The first book had the feeling of being a treasure box of items that made your mind spin with the possibilities for each one. This one feels like a store shelf, where everything's been placed out for display in a very specific way, and you're just browsing for something that you want.
tl;dr Not the best book, but it's still fairly solid and has some good ideas and new tricks.