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Part II of my review:
The akasin may also use an essence-burn-powered raise dead, thankfully with a daily limit at 10th level - oh, and it has a no-negation caveat. 13th level provides immunity to blind and dazzled and provides a daylight aura that can be resumed or suppressed. At 16th level, I am not complaining about taking essence burn of up to class level to add as bonus damage that ignores all resistances and DRs, though factor 5 is NASTY. I think adding a daily cap would be in order here for reasons of preventing (relatively inefficient) one-strike-builds. Now this *looks* much worse than it is in game - it is spam-proof. See, that's why I playtest these classes - this one looks much more powerful than it is. So yes, I like the ability, though I believe it could be one that will sooner or later end in undeserved pointed fingers. Finally, 19th level nets at-will teleport between light sources
The sineater philosophy is somewhat problematic - it allows for the regain of essence burn via attacks of gentle touch when used against targets with an Int of 3+ . The ability also allows for the reflexive burn of essence to negate damage that would bring the guru down to below 0 hp - interesting, since the amount of damage negated is significant and would be overpowered, were it not for the restriction, thus making the guru a good candidate for last man standing. While the Int-caveat avoids failure of the kitten-test, I'm still not 100% sold here - though the rest of the philosophy is balanced against this - limited DR and limited fast healing/regeneration for essence burn make sense regarding the established, steep costs while allowing the guru to work as a functional tank. Burning essence to increase the damage dealt to evil outsiders, aberrations and undead on a 1:5-basis at 7th level is brutal and allows for damage outputs that dwarf paladin smites, but only on singular attacks. So yeah, the guru is brutal here. 10th level provides atonement and 13th level nets Grab that can be applied to larger sized creatures depending on essence invested, while also increases the grappling capacity. 16th level provides AoE unarmed attacks and 19th level nets a paralyzing attack for Stunning Fist expenditure that also restores essence burned one a failed save. It now has a hex-style caveat, which is neat.
The third philosophy would be the Vayist, who would be the agile trickster to the sineater's tanky playstyle - via 1 essence burn, they can tie themselves with aether to foes, penalizing them and gaining bonuses against them...and targets thus affected that miss him result in essence regain. He can have one aether tie in effect at any given time, +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. These ties last for Wisdom modifier rounds, which, by action economy and the power of math, makes kitten-ing the ability not a smart move. At 4th level, vayists may use essence burn to increase the range-increments of ranged weapons or blur or mirror image themselves. 7th level nets essence burn for getting back up as a free action, even when it's not his turn (nice ship around of the free action ambiguity!). 10th level nets alter winds, air walk and river of wind and is solid. 16th level features the option to make at-ranged whirlwind attacks with weapons teleporting back and 19th level provides a continuous freedom of movement. Significantly tightened concept-wise!
All in all, in every way superior to the previous iteration of the class!
Onwards to the vizier, shall we? The vizier 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 vizier's veilweaving is governed by Intelligence and follows the 10 + essence invested + Intelligence-modifier formula for save DC calculations. The vizier's levels count as arcane caster levels for the purposes of qualifying for feats, PrCs, etc. Viziers may invest essence in wands, staves or wondrous items that use charges, with the usual essence capacity limit modified by improved essence capacity (+1 at 3rd, 11th and 19th level - note that save DCs for veils also increase by the same amount at these levels) at later levels still applying. Essence thus assigned is considered to be bound and may not be redistributed, but the essence does act as charges for the item in question, though 9th level spells may not be activated with it. Items with essence invested in them do not require UMD-checks to utilize. Still not 100% sold here.
What do I mean by this? Warning: Nitpickery afoot. 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 the character's 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.
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. A vizier may invest up to character level essence in a given veil or receptacle.
Viziers receive instant access to all veils on the vizier's list. Chakra binds are gained at 2nd level in the progression of Hands, Feet, head, Wrist, Shoulders, Headband, Neck, Belt, Chest and Body. The vizier does gain access to a unique veil slot: The Ring slot, which is unlocked at 9th level; at 15th level, viziers may bind and shape up to two veils in the Ring slot. At 3rd level, viziers gain veilshaping and may use a move action that provokes AoOs 1/day to unshape and instantly reshape an existing veil, though the rehsaped one can't be bound to a chakra until the vizier has meditated for 1 hour. At every 4 levels beyond 3rd, one additional veil may be reshaped and the ability can also be used an additional time per day.
The capstone allows for at-will instant veil-reforging via aforementioned veilshaping - and whenever the class uses the veilshaping ability, he regains 3+Int temporary essence that lasts for 3 rounds and may only be used to power the veils just formed.
Viziers also receive a kind of bloodline-ish linear ability chosen at first level - a total of 3 are provided. These are called paths of mystic attunement and they very much define how the class plays.
The Path of the Crafter grants a bonus equal to 1/2 class level on all skill-checks made as part of the crafting process and may bypass crafting requirements by increasing the DC. That is *pretty* powerful. Allies within 30 ft. that activate a magic item to cast a spell, treat the 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 the 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 and really like this component. 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 ability does feature a caveat that prevents use with artifacts or cursed/intelligent weapons, though. The path also grants item creation feats and a decreased craft-price at higher levels.
The path of the ruler is all about granting a scaling 30 ft.(60 ft. at 9th)-Will-save/Sense Motive debuff aura, with selective exclusion of up to Intelligence modifier allies, who also get a bonus instead. Enforcing a reroll at high levels is nice, but when compared to the benefits granted by the other paths, the path of the ruler feels pretty bland to me.
The path of the seer increases movement of all allies within 60 ft. by +5 ft, +5 ft. 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 one ally within 60 feet. Additionally, veils tied to Hand or Feet may be shared alongside with allies, who may invest essence in them, but not benefit from veil bind in the shared veil and they neither gain the benefits of the seer's invested essence. High-level (17th) 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.
Once again, some nice revisions made here.
***End Base Class Section***
One crucial difference that sets apart Akashic Mysteries from similar alternate magic systems is the sheer wide openness as a central factor of the design - this system was made to allow for dabbling, gestalting and similar processes and as such, this book does contain a lot of options for classes beyond the 3 I have covered so far, so let us dive in and take a close look, shall we?
Okay, so the first class covered would be the psionic aegis, who gains 2 1-point, 4-point and 3-point as well as a 4-point customization: Beyond the obvious chakra bind and veil shaping, there are some cool mechanic twists here that make me really grin; contemplation, for example, lets the aegis expend power points to make receptacles or veils counted as though they were invested with essence, providing a nice game of resource management I enjoy. Making essence via the ectosuit similarly is a neat concept. Speaking of cool: The Buraq animal companion (yep, you read right!) archetype basically replaces several of the usual tricks with some veilshaping, emphasizing the instinctual and universal nature of akasha: Two thumbs up!
Barbarians looking to tap into the power of akasha will like the rageshaper, who replaces 5 of his rage power with veils and temporary essence while raging, which also makes for a great representation of the trope of the hero who can only tap into supernatural powers while raging (as seen in a gazillion anime). The resonant song bard replaces the base performances with the Hands of the Bard veil and 1/4 (min 1) class level essence. Now here is where things become interesting: At higher levels, the veil separates from the bard for a kind of spectral, externalized threat. The psionic and criminally underestimated cryptic class replaces the enhanced disruptions with veilweaving at -3 levels and a fluid realignment of altered defense tied to his veils as well as a power point/essence-interaction akin to that shown by the aegis. Once again, this makes for evocative gameplay and interesting tricks. The swarm master dread gains the pretty awesome vizier's veil-selection (at a lower progression, obviously) as well as the Pestilence Cloak veil, which, once again, he can utilize in utterly unique ways, separating from the dread and even becoming real! Oh, and swarm form at higher levels! Heck YES! The hashasheen gunslinger can cling to walls, generate akashic bullets (somewhat similar to my own etherslinger) and fire on the run - apart from the class I wrote myself, this certainly now ranks as one of my favorite gunslinger options. The akashic warrior fighter is the first archetype here I don't really like - it basically replaces bravery with an akahsa-based variant and allows the character to invest essence in armor or weapons, but ultimately, the archetype doesn't add much beyond at least some numerical flexibility. Better than the base fighter, but not as amazing as most archetypes herein.
The snake charmer magus is a whip specialist who blends arcane power and spellcasting, losing spellstrike, spell recall, etc. - however, for arcane pool points and essence invested in the whip, he can generate cool defenses - a neat take on the whip-wielding, quick magus. The adaptive gunner marksman gets the cool contemplation psionic power/essence-combo game and uses the amazing Hand Cannon veil, getting even a unique style to interact with that one, which lets him doe amazing psionics/veilweaving-combo-stuff, like combining both cannons into one when expending the psionic focus for increasingly devastating blasts. The mysterial monk once again features a complex and evocative game of resource-management that is based on the interaction of veilweaving and ki as well as featuring a neat array of veilweaving in lieu of e.g. slow fall. The yaksa caller summoner binds lesser daeva (the entities associated with the daevic) instead of eidolons - said beings have veilweaving and said yaksa may bin essence in the caller, enhancing spell slots and veil sharing is also part of the deal. Pretty neat veilweaving summoner variant. Fans of Path of War may enjoy the veiled lord warder, who regains essence when performing gambits as well as limited number of day veilsharing with allies - beings affected by this that crit, generate temporary essence. All in all, neat.
The book also contains 13 talents for rogues, investigators as well as slayers that provide a neat array of tricks to dabble in veilweaving for these characters. Note something? Like the lack of complaining about them? Yeah, the options here are damn cool! The pdf also sports 2 PrCs, the first of which would be the 10-level Amplifier, who gains 1/2 BAB- and Will-save progression, d6 HD, 2+Int skills per level as well as full spellcasting/veilweaving progression - the amplifier basically is a akasha/spells-theurge...and if you've followed my reviews, you'll note that I'm usually not too impressed by these guys. However, for one, he works with psionics as well and when spell and veil descriptor match veils, the class gets some cool benefits to choose from that scale with the levels, providing a cool game of mechanical interaction that actually makes the PrC interesting to me.
The second PrC covers 5 levels and gets 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-progression, d8 HD and 2 + Int skills as well as full veilweaving progression. These guys gain touch attacks that deal 1d8 per class level + Con-mod, which also grants temporary hit points and temporary essence. This temporary essence can, at 2nd level, be used to create debuffs zones. Thereafter, the PrC learns to render those it defeats into zombies, poison the essence of foes (unique mechanics) and finally, create undead via his tricks. Neat!
The pdf also contains new races, the first of which would be the amazing gamla you can see on the cover - yes, camel folk. Yes, they are cool. These guys get +2 Con and Wis, -2 Dex, are Large, have a speed of 30 ft., use undersized weapons (nice balance), gain desert strider, endurance, gain +1 bonus essence and a sickening spittle usable 1/minute. A powerful race, but still within the acceptable frame and one that gets a wide array of core class/akashic class and warder FCOs. The race also supports two alternates, the Alqarn (rhinofolk), who gains +2 Str and Con, -2 Wis (making them more physically lopsided than I like them), but slow and steady does somewhat diminish what would otherwise, thanks to ferocity and gore, be too close by the barb-race. Feelkha get +2 Con and Int, -2 Dex, are similarly slow and steady and gain a trunk that can be used, much like the rhinofolk's horn, in conjunction with essence more effectively.
The second race would be the reptilian sobek, who gain +2 Str and Cha, -2 Wis, slow and steady, water adaptation, +2 to Stealth in certain environments, a natural bite attack at 1d6 that can be enhanced via essence and a sweeping tail. Once again, we get FCos for the core classes and the akashic ones. The nameer and sohofaat are alternates here - the tigerfolk nameer are warmblooded, have regular movement and camouflage in other environments and the race does have essence-enhanceable claws. The solhofaat (turtlefolk) get +4 Con, -2 Dex and a shell that can be enhanced via essence, a bite that can't be invested with essence, but a shell that can be. I usually tend to hate +4 as racial modifiers, but considering the slow swimming speed as well as the fact that Con does not allow for a lot of abuse/powergaming, I'm mostly good with this and leave it with my usual "Take heed!" warning for GMs of low-powered games.
The suqur get +2 Dex and Int, -2 Con, 20 ft. land movement, low-light vision, 1 point of bonus essence and may glide. They gain talons and investing essence in the gliding wings lets them fly, which represents an investment I'm willing to give a pass; obviously, this can cause problems in low-level modules, but the totality of the race's traits is sufficiently subdued to make this work for me. Once again, we get nice FCos and the race comes with two alternatives: The Hibkha (Ibisfolk) get +4 Int, -2 Str and Con, has 30 ft. movement and ignore non-magical difficult terrain, which makes the Int-powergaming more ridiculous. Not getting anywhere near my game, this one may be the first thing in the book I actively dislike. The Nisr vulturefolk get +2 Dex and Con, -2 Cha and may fortify their iron stomachs with eseence to resist poisons and diseases and eat about anything. Age, height and weight tables are included for our convenience. Favored class options of the new classes for the core races (minus half-orc/half-elf, plus orc) can also be found.
Alright, but one of the main draws of Incarnum back in the day was the relative ease by which other characters could dabble in its tricks - a component akashic mysteries translates masterfully to PFRPG by not only aforementioned class options, but by the vast array of feats. Basically, you can learn to access chakra slots via these and, as hinted at above, feats with the Akashic-descriptor can be invested with essence for greater effect, fortifying the body, spells, enhancing charges...Building on Deadly Aim, rage, studied strike, channel energy - basically, you name the class feature and there will be some unique trick that you can enhance with these feats - the handy table covering the feats alone is 1.5 pages long. Essence-based, less boring variants of Toughness that count as Toughness for purposes of prereqs are neat. Unfortunately, there is also some problematic content here: Life Bond, for example. This lets you basically transfer hit points via touch to allies. Solid, right? Well, for each essence invested in the ability, you increase healing by +5 hit points, which means that two or more folks with this healing each other can generate infinite healing. It'll take a while and probably won't break the game in most rounds, but I know that I'll put hard cap on this feat in my game...but consider this just a tentative complaint, since otherwise, the array of options presented herein are evocative and make for a LOT of tinkering options - the chapter adds a massive tweaking strategy to everything, considering that most feats grant essence!
Now, the veils...this massive book contains basically ~20 pages of these and they are, ultimately, what makes of breaks the system...and they are amazing. No, seriously. Unlike many an alternate system, Michael Sayre has provided a significant array of unique benefits that you otherwise never get to see - like vorpal-immunity. I also mentioned the friggin' handcannons, right? What I can't really possibly hope to convey is the nature of these: Take a veil that grants you a tail slap - so far, so boring, right? Well, for essence, it also nets swim speed and for chakra bind, we gain 5 ft. AoE-trip as a unique attack! Even relatively conservative skill-boosters get such unique tricks, with one providing very high-level viziers a means to become truly frightening rulers, commanding up to 100 HD of creatures...Dr and Ac-granting defenses, temporary hit points that slowly regenerate, gauntlets that deal "electric" (should be electricity), sonic and cold damage, miss chances, spell-interactions for chakra-bound veils, mantles of insects. A nice touch: even the veils that employ veilweaving level instead of BAB have a rationale for how viziers and daevics can end up at the same potency when using the veil -it may not be much, but it is these nice little touches that show how much the authors care about a sense of in-game coherence. Oh, have I mentioned the Spiderman-style spinnerets? Now, personally, I'll add a cooldown to the dragon-like breath-weapon-granting veil, since I really don't consider infinite AoE-damage, even in small cones, to be something I like, but this is, again, a rules-aesthetic decision, not one based on me considering the veil OP. Oh, want veils rather by slot than alphabetically? Guess what: Second table included. Breaking each of these down in their components would exceed the frame of this review, considering that I already talked about quite a few of them in my review of the previous books; just note that no infinite healing exploits sprang right at me, though healing options are included.
A total of 3 weapon special abilities, akasha-enhancing catalysts, blood chakra-interactions...these items generally work well...but are only half the deal. You see, the mirrored property I mentioned before? It's included herein. As are a selection of spells and material that act as reference material to avoid annoying book switching. Kudos and thank you for that.
Where was I, oh yes, beyond the items, we get two new monster subtypes, the akashic and daeva...and new monsters, including a new akashic dragon! The monsters sport amazing artworks and, as many are daeva, provide gorgeous, original artworks that evoke unique twists on Hindu-deities and other, lesser-known mythological creatures, like the Yaksha. These monster builds can generally be called "challenging" and range from CR 5 to 22, sporting unique tricks even before the whole veilweaving thing comes into place. This brief bestiary, if anything, made me want a whole bestiary of such creatures and should be considered a worthy closer to this book.
Editing and formatting are a bit hard to talk about here; you see, this review is not based on the "this will go to print version" of the book, but rather on the pdf-version prior to that. The positives first: Considering the length and density of the material herein, I am pretty excited to note the precision of the rules-language. Formal glitches are also pretty few and far in between, with e.g. the first "Alignment"-line in the book being one of the exceptions. One of the most prevalent issues would be that, unlike all "finished" Dreamscarred Press titles, I noticed quite a few formatting hiccups, like non-italicized spells and minor internal incongruencies regarding some of the material. These are universally not game-breakers, though. Dreamscarred Press has a history of cleaning up their books before going print, so I'm willing to give the company a pass on that for now; it's just something to bear in mind when you're expecting to dive right i. In my usual qualification, this would be situated between good and okay in that regard. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, printer-friendly version - kudos for providing that! Artworks are a mix of stock art and original art in full-color and particularly the original art deserves being mentioned as high-quality and amazing. Srsly, making the camelfolk look cool is truly great! The pdfs come with excessive, nested bookmarks that render the use on electronic devices very easy.
Lead designer Michael Sayre, with assistance from Andreas Rönnqvist, Andrew Stoeckle and Jacob Karpel has created a monument here. Yeah, I know, sounds like hyperbole? I'm not kidding, though. When I think "alternate magic for PFRPG", akashic mysteries is now right up there with psionics, pact magic and the numerous systems crafted by Interjection games' Bradley Crouch. The overhaul the classes got in comparison to the previous releases shows a quickly improving grasp of mechanics of top-tier complexity and the ability to sift through feedback to garner the gems amidst the complaints and invalid bickering - the final book presented here blows its WIP-components straight out of the water. The beauty of the mechanical tweaking and math underlying the system is impressive and the reason I adore this book more than quite a few options out there: It doesn't matter if you're playing a low-powered 15-pt-buy or nigh-superhero 25-pt-buy; it doesn't matter if you're going for low/rare or high magic - the akashic system supports a vast selection of playstyles and is ingenious, smart and just rewarding.
Beyond that, it may be one massive array of exceedingly dense crunch, but it is one that doesn't leave other classes behind. Finally, the system actually manages to evoke, in spite f the scarcity of fluff, a unique thematic identity that you may easily reskin/eliminate, yes - but you can also roll with it. The number of components I'd consider problematic herein are TINY considering the density and size of this book. Oh, one more thing: I *HATED* the fluff of Incarnum. I *hated* its execution and only used it for gestalting back in the day; this one, I love. It is refined, strong but still balanced and one gigantic beast of evocative material. This will become a staple in my games for years to come and establishes Michael Sayre as one crunch-designer to *really* watch, as one in the highest echelon.
If anything, I want the expanded and augmented sequel book now and a full-blown bestiary and NPC book to boot. Yes, I actually like this that much. The fact that the system, in spite of the vast amount of moving parts, doesn't crumble under its own weight is impressive indeed. I'm rambling. What I'm saying is: Get this, you won't be disappointed! It's not (yet) perfect, but it is one of the most inspired crunch-books to land before me in the last couple of years. My final verdict will clock in at unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval and denote this, even sans improvements, as a candidate for my Top ten of 2016 and an EZG Essential. Now excuse me, I have *a lot* of tinkering to do...
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted on OBS, here, etc.