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I sincerely wish all of you (including those among you who don't like my reviews or opinions) a wonderful time; may everyone who reads this have a great time in the circle of beloved people; may you receive wonderful presents and may, should you write, the creative juices continue to flow.
Have a great time!
See, that is why I *love* gamers and this community - I actually learned something here, not being particularly familiar with Japanese Buddhism as opposed to Shintoism, so thank you! Chalk my ignorance up to neglecting my reading lists regarding non-Kwaidan Japanese literature; The last Japanese book I've read was Osamu Dazai's Ningen Shikkaku.
Thanks for broadening my horizon, Silvercat Moonpaw & Alexander Augunas!
Part II of my review:
Kickstarter backer Alexander W. Corrin has granted us the etherfuser, a class that can generate a fusion pool by reducing the maximum EP available on a point by point basis, allowing you to essentially trade the regenerating EP for the non-regenerating FP in the form of ether jelly. This gooey stuff can be used to create etherfusions that are treated as etherspells of the highest manifestation level known with a range of 30 ft., etc., but unlike etherspells, they scale with levels in an additional way - they unlock modifiers over the levels. The fusion that nets temporary hit points on a round by round basis can thus e.g. be increased to provide more every round and/or also net minor DR. What about curing ability damage and freely diving the points cured among damaged attributes? Defense buffs? Setting targets on fire?
Well, things get better - the archetype receives a unique, FP-enhancing philosophy (accessible only via a feat, alas - the general class feature is not gained!) AND learns a variant of lay on hands powered by ether jelly AND even the option to learn mercies (and duplicate the effects of cruelties via an etherfusion...), modifying even extra mercy et al. to properly work with this unique new take on healing. Essentially, these guys are ethermancers that can spontaneously reduce their pool to provide healing for their allies - damn cool concept and glorious execution!
Next up would be the Herald of Creation, essentially a specialist of alteration and genesis etherhearts, complete with increased EP-regeneration while under the effects of alterations, 2 unique multiuniversal philosophies (one of which allows for alteration-blankets at increased costs a limited amount of times per day) and thus also two new capstones - essentially the first of what I'd call specialist-archetypes. The second would be the Herald of Madness, who receives access to gifts from beyond, with some overlap with aforementioned mad evangelist, but also quite an array of exclusive gifts that help the different playstyle - hanging on walls, better touch attacks - rather cool options, including a +2d4 initiative boost, which may see you staggered on a roll of twice the same number - rather nice gamble! The archetype receives an exclusive philosophy for more gifts, the option to lace his bestow etherspells with confusion effects, but also makes the spell mind-affecting. Then again, bestowing is so much easier with a handy tentacle growing from your body... Oh, and the capstone has a confusion-causing aura as well as an aberration apotheosis. The final Herald would be the Herald of the Void, who is a specialist of greater manifestations -but more on that system later. The interstitial philosopher then would be an ethermancer who forgoes greater blasts, aberrant physiology and aberrant form in favor of more multiuniversal philosophies and feats for massive flexibility.
The third base-class in the book would be mine, the Etherslinger, so let me explain to you the basics of the class - essentially, I noticed that gunslingers don't play particularly versatile or interesting. I love a bunch of the design decisions of the class to death, but especially in low powered campaigns and low levels, the action economy penalty, the costly ammunition, the inability to use guns with stealth - all these conspired to make the class less interesting than it should be. On a design perspective, at high levels full BAB touch at close range makes hitting ridiculously easy and the auto-granted deeds, while cool, do not allow for much customization - per default rules, there's not much variety between gunslingers. This class is designed to get rid of all of that and more. The class thus receives d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, 4+Int skills, proficiency with simple weapons and firearms and light armors and bucklers, the latter sans spell failure. Etherslingers receive class level + cha-mod EP and EP-regeneration equal to 1/3 class level, rounded up. The etherslinger's caster level is equal to 3/4 her class level. Her blasts only scale up every 4 levels, but has no etherheart at 1st level - so what does she do with the EP? Well, the class receives a linear set of base abilities called etherslinging that improves in a linear way over the levels - up to cha-mod EP can be spent per round in etherslinging abilities. These allow the etherslinger to expend EP for skill-bonuses, bonuses to her next attack...and more importantly, make the use of firearms more versatile. How?
Well, first of all, the etherslinger can repair her starting gun with ether clear as an EP-costing standard action - no more "damn, I botched, now my gun is done for the battle"-crap. (Oh, and it can be further hastened by also expending grit - more on that later!) Additionally, the etherslinger may stabilize the gun to decrease misfire rates. Now at 3rd level, the etherslinger may directly generate etherbullets and propellant in her gun - these do not cost anything! No more annoyed eye-rolling at the slinger for the expensive ammunition and bullets. These ephemeral bullets, though, at least at low levels, dissipate beyond the second range increment, thus not invalidating regular bullets. At 9th level, they increase their range and at 17th level, proper sniping with these bullets becomes possible. Better yet, the action-type required to reload them can be lessened by the expenditure of EP and grit and at higher levels, free action reloads can be executed. Have I mentioned the ability to select damage types at higher levels, including elemental damage-types starting 13th level? Additionally, the etherslinging allows you to treat your guns as if they had an increased capacity for etherbullets - capacity +1 at 5th level, +2 at 15th level.
An etherslinger also receives a grit pool of up to wis-mod points of grit that follow the usual rules, but do not apply to deeds - instead, the etherslinger, beyond the ways to expend grit via etherslinging, has several unique tricks that require at least one grit or that require the expenditure of grit. Speaking of which - while the etherslinger needs guns to cast etherspells (now that's gun-obsession for you...), the class can also gaze 1/day as an immediate action at her gun to regain 1 grit, +1/day at 10th and 20th level. So, instead of grit, etherslingers receive etherslinger talents - one at 2nd level, +1 for every 2 class level after the 2nd. These talents range from passive gains of abilities while she has a minimum amount of grit available to special, active tricks that let her combine the casting (or duration-extension) of an alteration manifestation with a ranged firearm attack. What about shooting targets with the firearm and transporting the otherwise woefully short-ranged bestow etherspells to the target? Beyond that, there are quite a few unique things this class can do: What about shooting haunts and determining their destruction conditions? Making your guns water-proof and functional for that underwater adventure you've been dreading? Wrapping allies in bestow effects while you put bullet holes into the opposition and spontaneous doppler dodges? Etherslingers can also cushion their own fall by shooting at the ground, cause misfires of opponents? I also made a couple of Lucky Luke-talents that allow the etherslinger especially fast draws of the weapon, particularly compelling for those planning a lot of ambushes.
Slightly increased damage output for blasts, using grit to temporarily boost your EP-regeneration rate provide a distinct array of options and builds. A pet-peeve of mine can also be eliminated - know how a firearm-user on board wrecks any infiltration? Well, talents for the etherslinger allow them to actually participate in scenarios like that, silencing their bullets - yes, these guys can go full-blown hitman with magical silencer! Like those movies or books, where special ammunition is prepared? Well, etherslingers can do just that - against creature types and even specific creatures, with increased damage output. The cost for stabilizing guns can also be permanently reduced by talents and causing flashes of light, ricochets and the like do sound like fun don't they? Indeed, the class can also learn to treat the target of the firearm as the origin of an etherspell (relevant for shaped blasts). But, as you may have noticed, the class is not primarily about damage output - it's about terrain control, versatility and non-crippling firearm use and both the blasts as well as the talents support that - but I have failed to mention so far the exceedingly cool option to shoot bullets into unoccupied squares, creating essentially Schrödinger's bullets - as soon as a hapless fool steps in the square, the bullet is unleashed, allowing you to generate either short-lived traps or, if you choose to select a couple of talents, energy-damage dealing minefields. In playtest, mining dungeon corridors for escape or for holding positions proved to be ample fun indeed, not to speak of the nasty ambushes you can make with these short-lived pocket-dimension bullet-mines. High-level etherslingers may also destabilize their guns, increasing misfire and critical threat range and yes, making ether facsimiles of her gun is not beyond the capacities of the etherslinger - nasty surprise for those bandits that caught and disarmed all of you...
Oh, and then there are the capstone talents...what about e.g. the one that lets the etherslinger know when an intelligent creature willingly utters here name and means her, allowing her to teleport to the target? Yeah, there are quite a few of tricks like that here...have I mentioned that the class receives access to all non-class-exclusive etherhearts? Now I know this may look very powerful on paper, but MAD, small power pool, etc. result in a balanced overall contribution - most importantly, though, one that is versatile and fun. I am extremely proud of this class and I guarantee it's playing style is much more rewarding if you prefer variety over repetition and a certain level of complexity and tinkering.
One final note for the WuXia-aficionados - yes, there is a feat in here that grants you a grit-powered ki-pool (and the option to spend that ki on spontaneous bonuses to AC), opening quite an avenue of even further tricks if you want to use books like "Heroes of the Jade Oath", "Dragon Tiger Ox", etc.
(Feel free to tell me about your etherslinger's exploits via endzeitgeist.com's contact tab - I'd love to hear how my baby is doing out there! One last piece of advice - stay out of melee...)
We also receive a whole slew of new feats, which have since the original ethermancer-pdf's inception been redesigned and vastly expanded - from vastly improved base-feats to glorious feats that allow etherslingers to gain a small time-manipulation genesis manifestation to changing voidblade damage to your etherstrike etehrspell's energy type, the vast array of feats allows for some damn cool combinations indeed - including casting a limited array of alterations as spell-like abilities a couple of times per day!
Now the manifestations - oh boy! Not only are there * a lot*, they also are exceedingly flexible, from temporary EP to energy-damage buffers to reflexive damage and even tricks to convert energy damage into ether - the amount of fine-tuned and expanded alterations is awesome to see, especially since the choices that before were sub-par for the ethermancer now definitely work well for the ethermagus and etherslinger!
It should also be noted that especially alteration and bestow have received quite an array of damn cool options, many of which could be considered exceedingly interesting - what about e.g. making the target a conduit for madness - potentially spreading confusion to those nearby? Or what about trapping a target creature in dream combat with a deadly shadow of the subject's mind's own making? What about becoming a haste-like hyperspace beacon that can extend its benefits to the closest ally? What about linking two creatures with quantum indeterminacy, allowing them to swap places? Ever wanted to enable your allies to blast foes as with batteries of comets? Yup, now you can! Or what about making your allies into laser batteries that pummel foes with potentially blinding rays of light? The heretofore rather underrepresented greater blasts by now have a whole array of unique manifestations that can only be added to them. What about e.g. bouncing blasts? Yeah - damn cool. Speaking of which - genesis has also seen quite an array of new, cool options. Take e.g. the option to generate an anti-gravity (or gravity) well or making a blade with a stored blast etherspell inside? (And yes, the well allows you to use the rope of teh well to pull buckets of gravity from it...I laughed so hard when I read that...) Or perhaps you fancy a sand-filled hourglass wristband that allows you to increase your actions, but have time take its toll thereafter - pretty cool! Speaking of which - making ephemeral copies of objects can be quite helpful when playing investigation-heavy scenarios. Or how about making a book of ether that stores your knowledge-skill for you, allowing others to benefit from it, but at the cost of not having the knowledge available for yourself? What about a short-range beacon to which to teleport back to?
The voidmeld etherheart, completely new, has a vast array of new tricks at your disposal - from fishing crits to power lesser blasts to breaking the +5 enchantment limit (and yes, the math checks out and is NOT broken) and receiving a non-kitten-able hit-healing trick are part of the deal. And you know you always wanted to hit something with the force of a black hole's event horizon...right?
Now I mentioned Greater Manifestations - these are an optional system you may elect to ignore, but in my opinion shouldn't - two options are provided: 1) An ethermancer may lose a manifestation and a multiuniversal philosophy slot to learn one of these. Option 2) opens them for all classes, including ethermagus/slinger via a feat - whether you allow limited access, full access or none - all left in your hands -and that is awesome. Greater manifestations can be cast 1/day and essentially constitute the true "OMG, did you see that?" hard insta-death, crowd-control etc. tricks - 5 feats can be taken to enhance them/learn them and yes, the aforementioned multiuniversal philosophy also comes with an apotheosis. And greater manifestations are damn powerful -reducing the next etherspell's cost to 0? Yep. Black Hole? Check. But the very cake is taken the new and advanced Clockwork Universe: You choose a sun and planets that provide varying passive and active effects as you craft a miniature galaxy - and yes, inhabited planets in this galaxy may send forth motherships to destroy your enemies whenever one other satellite in your clockwork universe is destroyed or consumed by throwing it at your foes. Oh, and, of course, desert planets (one of the various additions to this already brilliant manifestation) have especially high capacities for mother ships...Have I mentioned moon bases and their capacity to fire teeny-tiny-planet-cracker missiles at your foes? This massive greater manifestation was a beauty before - now it is just one gigantic, splendid piece of awesomeness. Insta-kills, maximized numeric effects - don't get me wrong, I love the other manifestations, but this one is just too cool. What about erasing all energy-affinity from a creature? Speaking of which: HAMSTER BALL OF DEATH. Okay, It's called Firmament, is made of crystal and protects you from just about every damage, but it also allows for particularly devastating charges, hamsterball style. I *love* it! And yes, +3 manifestations for utterly massive blasts can also be chosen, as well as granting allies a taste of ether magic and a small, temporary pool. Oh, and yes, one may even resurrect creatures thanks to the powers of white holes!
Editing and formatting were top-notch even before I went over it and by now, all potentially game-glitch issues are gone and wording should be fitting- at least I found none. Layout adheres to a damn cool, unique, 2-column b/w-standard with original b/w-character artworks and thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf is rather printer-friendly and excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Even before, ethermagic was awesome - but it suffered from being the playing ground of just one class and not all options being made for it. Then this book came. Jason Linker's Ethermagus' concept of godblades and lead designer Bradley Crouch's new and *vastly* improved ethermancer, with all their awesome ideas and tricks, their combos, their glorious fluff and crunch - these two alone would have carried this book. Well, I am admittedly biased towards my own etherslinger class - however, I have received quite a lot feedback - from both my players AND complete strangers how much they love this class. So there has got to be something going for it, right? ;)
Kidding aside - this system makes resource-management fun. It lets you blast or magic-slice...or shoot ALL DAY LONG without breaking the game. Each and every class and archetype herein is unique and has something to offer - this is literally an all killer, no filler crunch book of awesomeness and ever since I have it in my hands, it has become a permanent fixture in my games - as indispensable as psionics or pact magic. Have I mentioned that its system could easily be used for the representation of the force or similar scifi-themed power-sources by just changing fluff? Yeah. For me, this is an EZG Essential, a candidate for my top ten of 2014 and deserves a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. This is, even without anything I added, the best crunch-book I've seen in ages - innovative, fun, complex and yet, pretty easy to grasp. (And if you need explanations/advice or just want to tell me about your experiences with this book, don't hesitate to contact me via my hp's contact tab.)
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nertrek, Lou Agresta's RPGaggression and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
To satisfy the cliché:
Whatever you do, don't go down the well.
One hint: Craft-feats? VERY useful in RA.
Do you have a character with good trapfinding/disabling skills? If not...well, you should have one of these guys around before tackling the main-dungeon. So far, you're in Rappan Athuk light. The beginner's dungeon, so to speak.
Good gaming and good luck!
First of all: Thank you to Brad for drawing attention to my predicament and to everyone else commenting in this post.
I'd wish to extend my gratitude to any 3pp who has employed me in any function. You are ensuring, in the immortal words of Freddie Mercury, that the show does go on.
Now here are the harsh facts:
I'm struggling to make ends meet with my real life jobs.
How bad are things?
Well, they're at the point where I can't even afford to buy the RPG-supplements I want; that is, the ones I don't receive as complimentary copies from the publishers who value my opinion and hard feedback. The last couple of KS I managed to back have been paid for mainly by my freelancing (and selling some books) and secondly by affiliate sales, because I wanted to give something back to the community, thus rendering that particular avenue a zero-sum game - not that it would suffice for either rent, gasoline, insurance or anything like that in the first place.
Without GMS magazine and Paco's support, there quite frankly wouldn't be an endzeitgeist-hp. Without the complimentary copies I receive from OBS as a featured reviewer and the publishers who directly send them, there wouldn't be half as many reviews either - kudos especially to the latter. It takes guts to send me a product and not complain/whine/etc. about reveiws that don't end up like you wanted them to be - while I try to remain constructive and positive, I'm also aware that I'm pretty hard on you guys, so thank you for keeping the average quality infinitely higher than during even the best of 3.X's days.
I included a paypal-donation system and promptly received quite some flag for it; I *do* wish to extend my gratitude to EVERYONE who donated even a few bucks. Every time I receive a donation, I grin from ear to ear and am truly happy, feel like my reviews mean something to someone out there. You, ladies and gentlemen, make my days, you keep the spark alive.
The cold hard matter of truth is, though, that I simply do not receive many donations. It's a busy month when I receive 2. And we're not talking about hundreds of bucks.
Unfortunately, as much as I'd like to continue doing reviews in this manner and frequency, I have to face up to the growing need of setting up a full-time 9-5 job; I'm just tired of being utterly poor and not even being able to attend UK conventions or the like, much less fulfilling my dream of coming to Gencon to play with all my American friends. 2015, things need to change, one way or the other.
So yes, I talked to some people about this and, no matter how I put it, I'm honestly ashamed and not particularly content with the situation. I would love to continue doing all this work for free - because I *love* it. I really do. Alas, I don't even have a family's financial net to fall back on, meaning that I'm facing very real poverty if I don't get something done soon.
Why no KS?
The issue with a KS, which I've contemplated doing, is simply that I'd be dependent on 3pp-products donated for it and receive a one-time boost, then...nothing. And yes, I'd love to be able to go to Gencon, have wanted to go there for as long as I can remember. But the flight alone is a massive expense far beyond my current grasp. And there's the shipping issue. Patreon would allow one to set up a monthly support, which would probably help me out more and render judging how much time I can devote to reviews much easier.
So here's the result of my ruminations - I'm going to set up a patreon. I'll continue reviewing either way, but the amount of time I can devote to the process...well, that will be in the community's hands. Now I don't expect the patreon to net a lot, but my situation does demand that I re-evaluate spending x hours per week writing these reviews.If no one cares enough, I'll put them on the back burner behind real life, design, etc.
On another note, should my financial situation improve to the point where I don't have to fear for my livelihood due to a day-job that does pay enough to cover the basics such as energy, gasoline, insurance, food, etc., I'll shut down the patreon again after fulfilling any remaining commitments.
This is a long shot, I am aware of that - consider it a wild stab in the dark, one shot of capturing lightning in a bottle.
(And yes, if by some miracle enough comes together, I'll start saving for gencon and potentially go full-time reviewer - but that realistically won't happen.)
As always, I'm open to suggestions; Critique, development etc. are definite possibilities regarding higher patronage levels. We'll see.
Thank you for reading this.
Thank you for making a review I utterly dreaded a delight in the end - I really did not expect to be able to write such a positive review on the topic of the concept of PLAYING DRAGONS. I especially love how you prevented making dragons meek and feeble while still maintaining a viable PC-option. Respect and reverence, Wendall!
Part II of my review
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.
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,
P.S.: Published first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.