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Part II of my review:
The next one would be the Supplementum. Instead of mutagens, these alchemists learn to create enhancers. These can be mixed with alchemical items, extracts, bombs, etc. and only one can be in effect at a given time. The effects of an enhancer last 10 minutes per class level. Alas, the respective entries for the enhancer's application are not always clear: When applied to alchemical items, for example, one of the applications can "increase a bonus from an alchemical item by 1/2" - while I *know* what's meant here, I do think this could have been phrased better. While I'm engaging in pedantry, doubling listed durations of items should have a non-instantaneous caveat. The bomb enhancements are broken: Considering all splashed targets direct hits? OUCH. I'd be extremely cautious when allowing these... Methods of application for potions and oils and metamagic added to extracts can be found, though we do not get the information whether the supplementum needs to know the metamagic feats in question. Using enhancers to double one bomb, extract etc. can also be accomplished and while the respective wording remains pretty concise, I could pick apart each component, though in all cases, they can be fixed by a capable GM. The supplementum also allows for poison-combination, but fails to specify which save or if both apply upon being subjected to the combined poison.
Speaking of poisons - next up would be the Venom Bomber - these guys deal 1d6 +Int mod "poison damage" - not a big fan of that term here, but at the same time, the mechanics for frequency etc. of the poison works pretty well. Now you may be aware that a lot of creatures are immune to poisons -well, here the point-based modification of the archetype comes into play - whether oozes or plants and yes, even undead and golems - the right tool's here and even nonlethal damage, delayed onsets and more consecutive saves required to end it can be found here. Converting venom bomb poison into regular poison can also be achieved (thankfully with a caveat that prevents infinite money from selling poisons) - a well-crafted, cool archetype. Like it!
The Viscous Arcanist is interesting - they create tiny oozes that move and follow a specific programming - allowing for a kind of oozy mine-field of strange creatures that can trigger effects - granted, the arcanist, with a slightly expanded spell-list, can also consume the gels, but seriously, oozes are so much cuter! And yes, they have limited lifespans and the same goes for the explosive oozes the viscous arcanist can generate. While here and there, I could nitpick about a minor component of wording not being perfect, the overall concept and execution are pretty awesome - love it!
Banechemists would be the first PrC -at 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort and Ref-saves, d8, 7(/10th extract-progression and 4+Int skills per level and 1/2 bomb-progression, this one is a combo-PrC for alchemists and rangers, including hunter's bond and 2 favored enemies. Favored enemy-bonuses are also applied to bomb damage and at every 2v2n level, the PrC receives an adaption that helps synergy between ranger and alchemist components. Partially ignoring resistances, sharing mutagens with companions, increased damage output versus the specific creatures all are nice and the exceedingly powerful capstones are nasty - what about ignoring all resistances and immunities of favored enemies with your bombs, for example? Why plural? Because you can choose which to take.
The Exochymist PrC gets 4+Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort and Will-progression, 9 levels of extract-progression, 3 levels of bomb-damage progression and lacks information on which HD it's supposed to use - a glaring glitch. This one can be considered a theurge between summoner and alchemist, stacking PrC levels for purposes of discovery requirements, bomb uses per day, DC and mutagen-duration as well as for eidolon evolutions. Additionally, eidolons may use mutagens and extracts. The added extracts also mirror this theme, though, like the table, it does show a typo. Eidolons consuming a mutagen can get more evolution points, which can become pretty nasty. The linking and hit point exchange between eidolon and exochymist is also strengthened by the PrC. Per se solid, though the glitches render it more opaque than it should be.
The pdf also provides new discoveries and are interesting - using e.g. alchemical ooze companions (yup, also found herein - and the ooze can be swallowed by the alchemist, granting immunity to poisons while it's in there...) to reanimate corpses is rather...gross, but also awesome. Making some offensive contaminants selected from limited lists and combining bomb-modifying discoveries make for unique tricks, though the latter needs to be handled carefully. Thankfully, it does specify e.g. the effects of multiple damage-type modifications and the like. Curing conditions and granting temporary immunity to them also falls into this range - since some abilities use them as a downside, this could potentially cause a bit of havoc. What about making tiny wasps to deliver poisons instead of making bombs? The latter is awesome, though it ought to specify the wasp's stats if it's supposed to be a creature and whether it requires a means to reach the target/whether it requires line of sight/effect -as written, it is implied the wasp executes a melee attack, which obviously means that one could ready a means of shooting it down. Making potions of higher level spells and adding flexibility to poison bombs (not to be confused with venom bombs!) can be found herein -and yes, there are plenty of new tricks here, including ones for the new archetypes. It should be noted that with some of the tricks herein, viscous arcanists may become a bit strong for my tastes.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level. On a rules-level, there are some instances where the wording would have needed a tighter frame. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with solid, thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf comes bookmarked for your convenience, though not with nested bookmarks.
Frank Gori, Jeff Harris, Taylor Hubbler, Jacob Michaels, Dylan Brooks, Kiel Howell, Richard Litzkow, Mikko Kallio, Mark Nordheim - dear authors, you have probably created the most ambitious Into the Breach-book so far. This one is much, much more complex than the others I've read so far - there imho is no cookie-cutter design within these pages and even simple modifications end up being significantly more complex in their interactions than one would assume at first glance.
Now this installment is bound to be more divisive than most reviews for the series I've written. The positive first: The rules-language herein is pretty precise when tackling even the rather complex concepts that the respective pieces of crunch touch upon. Going literally where no book has gone before, I consider this one of the most interesting archetype-collections I've read in a while, with not one archetype falling to the cardinal sin of design - being boring. Instead, just about all options herein are definitely on the high concept side of things both in theme and execution and I love that. At the same time, there are quite a few balance-screws that need a bit of adjustment, quite a few options that can turn out to be problematic.
At the same time, though, often exactly said options can end up being utterly evocative, perfect fits for certain groups. I do consider some of the options and combinations thereof problematic and in need of fixing, yes; but at the same time, I found myself really enjoying a lot of the options herein for their respective niches and concepts. In fact, surprisingly, there are concepts herein that go beyond what anything has done before - the natural transmuter, with the odd non-definition of transmutations that is supplemented by just about the right level of details and definition to avoid abuse, can probably be considered to be one of the most interesting archetypes I've seen in quite a while. The modular poison-crafting of the venom bomber also should indeed be pointed out as positive and while I will slightly nerf the viscous arcanist, I damn sure will use it in my games.
This installment of "Into the Breach" is not the most precise one in the series regarding mechanics. But it *is* the one that inspired me the most. With a plethora of options I will use in certain campaigns, this book has been fun to read. Would I allow it flat-out? No. The Kiln-Crafter imho requires a situative context to work properly; the humoralist is pretty broken and the botanist can use a nerfing; but the frames are solid. You can tinker with these and the results will be awesome and have the potential to be defining components for characters and even potentially the mechanics on how a world works. This pdf may not be perfect, but it does qualify as being inspired, as being innovative. And honestly, I'd rather take that over something perfect, but bland or boring. While ultimately, I *should* rate this down to 3 stars due to its glitches, partially massive balance-concerns etc., I can't bring myself to doing so, since the devil here, unanimously, is in the details and there alone...and in most cases, you can modify the pieces and turn those nerfing screws yourself.
You should consider it a testament to how much I like several of the options herein that I instead will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. If you like high-concepts and are willing to tinker with them, go for it. If you want a fire-and-forget "I allow everything herein"-experience, though, I'd advise you to steer clear - the concepts herein require a case-by-case examination for a given group and its conventions, campaign settings and assumptions.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
This massive book clocks in at 201 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front-cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC,1 blank page at the end, leaving us with 195 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
This massive core-book for the revised edition of Eldritch Roleplaying (ERP) begins with an introduction that sums up several of the virtues of this system - adequately so, I should mention. At the same time, though, personally, I felt this component to be somewhat overblown, much like a sales-pitch when the very presence of the book clearly does not necessitate this component - this may be a personal pet-peeve of mine, but I do not think games should try to tell their readers how awesome they are and instead stand on the virtue of their own merits - but let's see whether this works, shall we?
The default assumption of this system is a world of fantasy, obviously. We begin with a glossary of terms and what they mean - since the following review will make excessive use of them, I'll give you the brief run-down:
-Ability: This specifies a skill or innate capacity.
-Ability Branch: A single component of an ability tree, specifying Specialties and Masteries. An ability check is made via such a branch, with no more than one roll of the basic tier, plus one specialty, plus one mastery.
-Ability Check: Each such check involves one ability branch, rolling up to 3 dice to beat the target number.
-Ability Tree: Base ability + all branches. Tier 1 denotes base abilities, tier 2 denotes specialties and each specialty further branches off into different masteries, which constitute tier 3.
-Base Tier: First tier, always has a single die (from d4 to d12)
-Branch Rank: Term used to establish general competence in an ability branch. Just add max values and check the table.
-Character Points: Point-buy for abilities.
-Damage Reduction: Reduce threat points before the active defense pool.
-Defense Pool: Number of points used to mitigate or cancel threats
-Defense, Active: Using active DP to mitigate one attack via the corresponding ability.
-Defense, Passive: One passive defense pool or fortitude.
-Die-rank: Value of any creature's single die of an ability tree tier; ranges from d3 to d20 and includes d14, d16 and d18.
-Max Value (MV): Highest die-result possible with a given die or die combination.
-Needed Number (NN): Measure for spellcasting difficulty.
-Restricted/unrestricted Ability: Restricted abilities can't be used without having at least a certain die-rank, most of the time, a d4. Consider this the ability to only use certain abilities when "trained" in them.
-Special maneuvers: Combat maneuvers, essentially.
-Threat Points: Measurement of the potential harm from a specific ability branch - the damage potential from which active defenses etc. are detracted to determine the actually inflicted harm.
So, to sum it up - we have a system that is very much skill-based, using a combination of dice over specializations and pitting rolls vs. rolls, with minor fixed value modifications, kind of like a variant of Shadowrun that utilizes more die-types over increasing numbers of d6s.
Character creation is simple: You have 30 character points. Assigning age and sex is free and you can modify the value by taking advantages (at cost) or disadvantages (increasing your character points). It should be noted that adolescence is considered to take for all races to reach - while I get the streamlining rationale, such a factor inherently makes me wonder how the "better" races have not yet developed a more stable population
Each race MUST buy the minimum ranks in certain abilities associated with them, which range from 15 (dwarves) to 4 (humans) and racial advantages, if appropriate - all dwarves must expend the 3 character points for night vision, for example. While the individual abilities and costs are provided, a quick glance also shows you the total value, including the modifications of the compulsory advantages/disadvantages hard-coded into the race. Over all, the ability-package as presented makes the races work pretty well and choosing them rather simple - at the same time, the restrictions imposed here by a lack of racial customization directly contradicts the assertion of supreme control over character concepts claimed in the slightly overblown introduction, but that just as a snarky side-note to emphasize why I consider intros like that undue.
The advantages and disadvantages provided run a pretty broad gamut of abilities, again, bringing Shadowrun to mind, just instead of the modification of dice-pool sizes, we have the die-step improvements. This allows for e.g. magical defense that allows a caster to extend it to physical attacks in two steps, with the more costly version also applying to ranged attacks. Subtle casting, attractiveness and similar benefits can be gained as well. Personally, I really enjoyed and loathed one particular advantage at the same time: Literacy. It always galls me in any fantasy setting, when the default assumption is that people can read - it's an obvious anachronism not supported by the infrastructure in most areas. So yes, kudos for including that.
Being able to read and write ALL languages for one meager character point more, though, actually sabotages quite a few narratives - from strange languages to deciphering ancient tongues, this advantage counters quite a few potential plots, thus rendering its upgrade problematic. Now here would be as good a place as any to mention the easy customization capacities of this system - are you like me and utterly loathe this concept? Just modify the advantage to instead apply on a point per language basis. Want discrepancies in fluency and capacity? Build your own ability-tree. The system is ridiculously easy to modify in these finer components without breaking it, a huge plus when it comes to modifying it to apply to different settings, something you will want to do -but more on that later.
From darkvision (here called Night Vision) to underworld contacts, the advantages are generally solid. Among the disadvantages, one can find addictions, compulsions, missing limbs - you get the idea.
Abilities, as mentioned above, are governed by the size of the die: Unrestricted abilities begin at d4 and cost a cumulative +2 character points to increase. Restricted abilities cost 2 character points to get to d4-size and subsequent costs of die-size minus two for the respective rank. (D12 costs 10 character points, for example.)
On a didactic side, the presentation of the values of character points it takes to rank up is pretty much more opaque than it should be: As presented, one can read the process as the cost depicted representing the total cost of character points or as the cost to increase from the previous rank - while one can deduce the correct way from the examples provided in the book, I had exactly that issue come up during character generation for playtesting, with different players having different opinions. Abilities are noted as P (Primary), S (Support), R (Restricted) and U (Unrestricted). While we get a short list, I can't help but feel that a proper table would have been preferable here.
Magic items, buffs etc. that sport a +1 to a given ability increase the die-size by +1. In a nice idea, characters can also pursue occupations as an optional general orientation that codifies the character as being, more or less aligned with the role of a given "class." It should be noted that this is more of a cosmetic accumulation of traditional nomenclature than a description of the capabilities of the character as a whole deal package.
Next up would be the calculation of the character's defense pools, of which there are two: Active Defense and Passive Defense. Active Defense includes parrying, dodging, agility and unarmed combat and can incorporate static DR via shields. Passive Defense is determined by Fortitude and includes DR via armor, if applicable. The Defense Pool calculations are dead simple - add up the maximum values of the ability tree, including all specialties and masteries. Once again, the basic explanation of the features, alas, could have been more concise - as presented, the basic step leaves you wondering whether active defense accumulates and adds parrying etc. or not - only by delving deeper into the grit of the system does this opacity become resolved, which, once again, presents a thoroughly unnecessary confusion-barrier for novices to the rules that could have been rectified by one simple sentence providing clearer rules language.
Starting equipment and character concept are determined in conjunction with the GM, with suggestions for general, broad roles provided for the individual character roles - melee types for example receive a weapon, armor, shield and steed, whereas rogues get thieves' tools, light armor and a weapon. Currency substitutes "crowns" for "Dollars" or "Euros." Equipment, especially mundane equipment, is pretty much glossed over by the system, claiming it does not require the level of detail etc. - we will return to this claim later.
First, we'll now take a look at the action resolution system: This is actually as simple as opposing rolls get - you roll the dice and if there is active opponent, both applicable rolls are compared, with specialties and masteries adding their die-sizes to the fray if applicable: Let's say you have someone specialized in Stealth, a subcategory of Skullduggery, with a Mastery in Urban environments - he'd add all 3 to an ability check when sneaking around in an urban environment, but as soon as the character would seek to apply his skillset in the wilderness, he'd only receive the dice from basic Skullduggery and Stealth, but not the bonus for Urban Mastery.
On a downside, I do believe the example provided, which I have here consciously quoted, would have benefited from actually stating that it is opposed by Perception - while pretty much self-evident, clear opposition-structures, especially when explaining the base system, do help. At the same time, the way in which whether a specialty or mastery applies is explained can be considered exceedingly concise, so kudos there. Challenges imposed by the GM follow a similar structure - the GM selects a set of dice to describe the general difficulty, rolls them and compares them to the player's roll. Here, I have a slight issue with the game - the good-roll-makes-possible-syndrome. it is a matter of taste, but the most difficult tasks are set at 3d12 -and yes, these can be nigh impossible. At the same time, though, a character who is lucky can achieve things the GM considered beyond him.
While, once again, easily modifiable via static DCs or GM-fiat, the general inclination of this swingy assumption of dice vs. dice means that you'll have a relatively pronounced luck-factor when tackling such challenges - theoretically, you may beat the set-up with a paltry d4. Yes, the chance of this happening is pretty paltry (as anyone with even a cursory understanding of math should know, but I *have* seen rolls like that - more than one...) - so ultimately, whether you consider this a bug or a feature ultimately depends on your personal inclinations. The undeniable benefit of this would obviously be something that works its way through the whole system - namely that you never become truly invincible to paltry/low-level threats. Yes, it becomes increasingly unlikely that you fall to them, but the chance still exists, which is a component that personally appeals as much to me as the swingy distribution does not.
What very much appeals to me and tends to find its way into all of my games in one way or another, would be the pretty concise and easy to use degrees of success and failure that further enhance the randomness factor and reward/punish the respective rolls. Oh, since I failed to mention this - if in doubt, resolutions tend to favor the defender, which is an interesting component that makes generally defensively-inclined characters work better than in similar systems of e.g. the d20-basis.
In case you wondered, btw. - weapons and equipment and fighting also follow all of these rules, with the ability melee weapons leading into very broad weapon groups specialties and particular weapon type masteries, which, in practice, makes surprising amounts of sense. Speaking of combat, let's take a closer look, all right?
I already mentioned the different defense pools available (and should note that this system makes shields actually relevant and mechanically distinct, which I do enjoy immensely!), so how does initiative work? A round is 15 second long, with a descending order of battle phases, scaling via Agility's ability down from d12 to d4 in 5 phases, with each phase taking 3 seconds. Creatures with an even higher or lower Agility take their corresponding place in the initiative order and act before (or after, in the latter case) the others. A creature gets exactly one action per round, which can be used to take actions, cast spells, activate magic items or use special abilities. Initiative is governed by the ability tree of Agility, Reflexes and Reaction Time, with equipment further potentially modifying this value. But what if creatures act in the same phase? Here, envision my smile evaporating - fixed order: PC, exceptional creatures, standard creatures, minor creatures. This suggestion allows you to metagame the "named" NPCs out of a crowd and makes no sense within the world - and as such, I loathe it, in spite of the inclusion of NPCs/special creatures having the option to be treated as PCs. Ties between foes and PCs are always won by the PC, another component I'd personally switch on its head, but that ultimately remains my forte because I'm a mean, mean GM Thankfully, a GM can easily, once again, devise a modification of the suggested system to remedy just about every component of the system as presented herein.
But what about surprise? There is a distinction between simple and total surprise, with the latter locking the defending characters out of their active pool defense pools -OUCH. Simple surprise only takes away your action in the surprise round. A character may move 18 yards + MV Agility per round, more if the character incurs a penalty, with masteries further enhancing this. Oddly, the penalty incurred by faster movement makes surprising sense in in-game dramaturgy. Interesting here - the actual feasibility of defensive characters. The D-pools a character has deplete over the course of a combat and simulate fatigue, much like the ones in the classic German old-school RPG Midgard - once they are depleted, you take damage to fortitude, so there's a difference to Midgard here. At 0 fortitude you drop unconscious, at minus MV fortitude, you die. So that's how you die. But how do you make creatures die?
I already mentioned the threat pool: This is weapon/magic pillar + weapon group (and bonuses)/spell type + specific weapon/spell mastery. Note that some spells may bypass specific defenses fielded against them, increasing the required roll. It should be noted that no two defense pools can be combined - you either try to dodge or parry, for example - not both. Willpower is used to resist non-physical threats. Dual-wielding characters incur a battle phase penalty and yes, there are simple rules for attacks of opportunity, here called opportune attacks. Interesting here: A character may sacrifice a specialty or mastery to add its MV to the associated defense pool. While not engaged in hand-to-hand or melee, a character may revitalize, regaining 20% of all D-pools. D-pools are tied to encounters, which I LOATHE - you're all by now aware of why "per-encounter" anything ultimate lands on my "oh why"-list; they make no sense. At the same time, though, the system presented here does have the easy option for the GM to customize this limit away and replace it with a fixed duration of rest etc. - in fact, I'd suggest such a system for pretty much any strenuous activity beyond combat, but again - that's my preference and not something that impacts the review.
Magic in the system is separated into 7 so-called pillars: Alteration, Arcanum, Conjuration, Elementalism, Illusion, Invocation and Psychogenics. Failure to roll the needed number of the spell to be cast may incur unpleasant effects for the caster, so there is a certain sense of unpredictability inherent in the system, one further enhanced by the basic set-up of swinging distribution of the dice-results inherent in the system. Saving throws are either based directly on willpower and its follow-ups or directly on fortitude. It should also be noted that quite a few spells have essentially built-in metamagic, with modifications to the NN. It should also be noted that aforementioned degrees of failure-philosophy also applies to the general rules of spellcasting. In order to allow for a broad array of customization and homebrewing, what amounts to a DIY-spell-building kit with sample effects and NNs provide a surprisingly concise amount of guidance for the GM and trigger summonings, casting spells as rituals etc. all can be found among the options presented here. It should be noted that, while each pillar receives its array of spells, the focus here lies on the toolkit.
I've been talking quite a bit about "GM this and GM that" -well, instead of XP as another resource to track, ERP directly awards character points, cutting out the middleman, so to speak. An elegant solution within the confines of this system. Traps and creature development are also covered with concise rules and plenty of examples for the GM to choose from, alongside tables of generic treasure. Much like 13th Age, monsters are provided in a plentiful array and sport very simple statblocks that do not feature much beyond type, threat dice, extra attacks, DR, HP, Saves and Agility ranks - a minimalistic approach, though at the other side of things. Where monsters in 13th Age derived their rules-symmetry from the lack of swinging dice, the beasts in ERP derive their rules-symmetry from the fact that they swing just as much as PCs do. From classic horses to Lilith herself, the section covers quite some ground, though ultimately, you should not expect too much from the variety of the monsters themselves - vampires may have vampiric bite or hypnotic gaze, yes, but that is all that remains codified - the rest is left to the GM.
Also, much like 13th Age, ERP does feature a kind of primer of a sample campaign setting, with the default world of Ainerêve, whose morphological nomenclature I enjoyed as much as the Tennyson-reference leading into the chapter. And indeed, the somewhat linguistically-versed GM will not be surprised by a rather interesting component of this setting: For one, the world coexists undetectably with ours, as a kind of shadow. More importantly, the dream-connotation is further enhanced by a presumed mutability of lands - folk beliefs, convictions and ideologies transform the world and have significant power, with proximity in establishment being governed by conceptual and ideological nearness. This is at once brilliant, but at the same time also somewhat reductive in that it organizes the world in a fashion that is easier to structure - over all, the world still manages to feel pretty concise in its make-up and depiction, with sample NPCs, information on local law etc. being sported for many in ample details, going so far as to produce a pronunciation guide, nomenclature etc., with ample random name-generators. As awesome as the world is as a conception and as strongly as it might resonate with me and the themes of real world mythology, I still felt myself slogging through the campaign world's information - this is not a bad world and its premise is utterly AWESOME - but what was crafted from the premise pretty much disappointed me as a rather vanilla fantasy world - hence my assertion in the beginning that you'll want to apply your own modifications regarding the campaign setting.
The book also sports handy GM two-page cheat-sheets and 2 page character-sheets, which are horizontally aligned.
Now before I jump to the conclusion, what is missing here? 1) Encumbrance. The stance here is "encumbrance is not fun", meaning you can carry tons of stuff around/potentially generating the Christmas Tree syndrome. Sample poisons/diseases - while provided as hazards, some examples would have been nice and virulence tec. does not feature - the two components exist pretty much in a half-defined limbo that leaves much in the GM's hands, in spite of plenty of interaction with spells and abilities. I also think the system does require non-battle fatigue systems for weather/exposure etc. - once again, yes, they can be devised by the GM, but I still feel they deserve more focus.
Editing and formatting are okay, though not perfect - I noticed a couple of glitches herein. Especially formatting, quite honestly, annoyed me. Obvious bullet-point lists are simple lists, which detracts from the readability. And personally, my eyes glaze over when I read the statblocks. Why? Because of the overabundance of ">." You see, "Ability > Specialty > Mastery" is the format and whenever I looked at such a sign, I felt the layout-need to actually insert an arrow-graphic. It may just be me, though. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard that still retains a pretty printer-friendly basis, so that's nice. The artwork...well. It exists. It neither adheres to a uniform standard or style, nor did I consider the pieces particularly nice. It doesn't get better than the cover, so art-fanatics may not want to get this for the aesthetic values.
Dan Cross and Randall Petras have crafted an interesting system here - one that is governed by chaos and swinging results, yes, but also one that is pretty transparent in its rules. In fact, ERP is ridiculously easy to learn once you have someone explain it to you - or are an experienced roleplayer. The book, alas, is pretty much as "eldritch" in the beginning as its name implies - the first explanations and sequence of rules-presentations is NOT simple, nor didactically well-chosen in all occasions, which made running this more frustrating that it really should be - for it's actually easy! When I read the book for the first time, I saw the claim of "easy character generation" and thought "Yeah right! I have no idea what's going on!" - the key-word here is patience. The sequence of rules-presentation is not particularly well-chosen, so if you don't let that frustrate you, ERP actually *IS* so easy to grasp and run - you just have to get past the annoying introduction and to the point where all the pools are actually concisely explained.
Now if the above review wasn't ample clue - I intensely dislike a plethora of design-decisions, not from a reviewer's perspective, but from a personal one, so no, I am not going to bash the system for it. This dislike never extends to the base mechanics, mind you, but rather to many of the details - and here, the genius component of this roleplaying system shine: This is perhaps one of the most easily customizable systems I've seen in quite a while. Don't like terrain-rules being swingy? Replace with fixed values. Don't enjoy the tilting of the scales in favor of the PCs to give them a slight mathematical edge in the game of swinging dice vs. swinging dice? Eliminate it in favor of more lethality. This system is extremely customizable and makes defense worthwhile while providing a combat that is streamlined. In my experience, it is NOT necessarily faster than other systems, though - why? Because rolling competing throws of the dice does take up time that cannot be reduced. (Ask anyone who's ever played a game featuring them...) Yes, you will not be flipping rule-books much and look for obscure rule xyz, but still - obscure rules can be learned, whereas the rolling of the dice versus another always takes the same time.
In fact, this is my second attempt at writing a conclusion, since my first was focused on demolishing the introductory text - and the game does not deserve this. As much as many design decisions rub me the wrong way, as much as I consider the setting's potential unrealized and as much as I dislike the simple monsters, all of that ultimately does not matter that much. Why? Because anyone halfway versed in crunch-design or houseruling material can customize the hell out of this system, which ultimately is the huge strength of what is presented here - the mathematical elegance of chance and the simplicity of the system's swinging numbers translate to a game that transcends the limitations of its imho subpar presentation and slight didactic hiccups.
Know what I honestly did not expect, especially considering how much I do not like the setting? I actually found myself enjoying this system - it feels like a great framework. one that can use expansions, polish and a nicer "coat" (layout + art), one that can use expansions to deal with detailed alchemy, necromancy etc. While not absent from this book, the traditions of the like imho can certainly use a more refined and explicit depiction in future publications. Now I won't use this all the time - the swinginess of results, while endearing for some narratives and stories, ends up annoying me as much as permanently running the cruise-control monsters of 13th Age. But I will return to ERP in the future. It is an interesting system and, if what I wrote, if the customization, is what you're looking for, then be sure to take a look at this. My final verdict, in spite of gripes and some opacity in the presentation, will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. Why? Because to me, l good content and basic structure trumps a nice polish and because I thoroughly appreciate the versatility of this system.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
Part II of my review:
The Shattered Mirror lets you do something interesting - utilize, for example, the atk of the last attack of the foe, dealing nasty damage to the target. Know another thing? The Skill/attack-material here is intriguing - using a skill IN ADDITION to attack rolls to add benefits to strikes? Now that a) makes sense to me and b) is elegant and avoids the easy stacking of bonuses on skills - kudos! A very powerful maneuver would be Equivocate - choose a target: When said target is subject to a power, psi-like ability, spell or spell-like ability, you also receive the benefits - and vice versa. While VERY powerful, this also allows for a vast array of exciting tactics. That being said, it is WIDE OPEN for abuse. You can elect to fail saves, so this one ability makes dragon-slaying pretty easy - establish this one, no save, eat harm and watch the colossus eat it as well - have I mentioned that the effects apply to single target spells and so on, even mitigating invalid ranges. OUCH. This needs some serious nerfing in my book. I'm not a fan of using a craft-check in lieu of a save, but that one will not break the game. Doubling strikes and setting the range at close is powerful - as is a strike that curses a target to receive damage equal to what it inflicts - thankfully of the same type. Still - nasty and also open for abuse, though to a lesser extent. Imho, such a maneuver should have a caveat that precludes AoE-damage from being reflected multiple times. The capstone covers a save-or-suck strike that imprisons the target's soul - yeah, ouch. Cool imagery, though. Shattered Mirror is an odd discipline in that it imposes, much like Blue Mage/Mimic-style-classes, a task on the GM - namely one that should be *very* aware of the potential of NPC/Monster abilities being hijacked. This does not need to be an issue, but it could be one since that type of foresight usually is not required - and yes, I can see a GM walk face first into a brick wall here.
I maintain, though, that integrating a scaling-mechanism into the ability-hijacks would help maintain a balance for less experienced GMs.
Much like Cursed Razor, I really like this discipline - though, once again, there are some maneuvers herein that can, even in Path of War's context need a serious whack with the nerf-bat and restrictions - still, very much more refined and versatile than what I've seen so far and, especially regarding the design-aesthetics, closer to the conventions of PFRPG. This does feel more like an offering belonging to PFRPG for me.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant formal glitches. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' full-color two-column standard and the pdf comes with nice artworks (partially stock) and is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes in two versions, with a second one being more printer-friendly.
So, I was not looking forward to reviewing this. Path of War was a colossal amount of work and ended up, in spite of me trying to be very clear regarding my gripes and issues with the system, a controversial review. I honestly wondered whether I should review Path of War Expanded at all since the fans seemed to, at least partially, not want any criticism of the system and since the detractors just wanted me to bash it - neither of which ultimately was my intent. In the end, when Dreamscarred Press sent me the file, I admired the company's integrity and figured "What the hell."
I pulled out my copy and scheduled playtests for the material herein. Granted, playtests whose announcement did not elicit much excitement from my players, but when I actually read and ran this one, it turned out to be a thoroughly interesting class - my favorite in the whole series, in fact. The harbinger feels distinct, very distinct - more so than the original Path of War-classes. It is also, thankfully, bereft of any infinite-healing exploits ( with the exception of the Crimson Countess, who can be kitten'd and does get fast healing in blood pool form, but only late in the game), streamlines obsolete mechanics away and instead incorporates the heritage, including mechanics, in a frame that fits more organically with the PFRPG-rules. Chris Bennett and Jade Ripley have, on a formal level, created so far the best Path of War-class out there that has the most refined design-aesthetics. No make-believe damage types, no easy +20 atk.-exploits...nice.
That being said, purists may want to be aware of the very much annoying need to still specify what is "cursed" - which, ultimately, alas, could devolve in the final book into yet another inorganic make-believe term that requires massive revision on part of the GM like the loathsome '*&%§$ that is holy/unholy damage. Let's hope the definition does not go this route. EDIT, since two people have made this observation: Yes, I am aware of Cursed Razor specifying what "cursed" is in the intro-text of the discipline. Alas, there are a couple of issues with that: The cursed condition has no direct effects, which is a violation of how conditions work. Secondly, the term "cursed" is already heavily used in Pathfinder in a context where it does NOT pertain to effects of Cursed Razor, rendering the referring to the "condition" somewhat problematic. In order to future-proof this beast and render it less ambiguous, I'd strongly suggest a fixed definition of the condition set apart from the discipline as well as a new name for the condition that is not already assigned to a plethora of contexts. Or at least very specific referrals towards the condition as specified, as opposed to the other meanings of the word.When e.g. a boost refers to "when you initiate this boost you gain a +1 luck bonus to AC for each cursed opponent within medium range (100 feet + 10 feet per level), up to a maximum bonus of +5." there is no mention of the cursed condition, which creates a gaping loophole.
And yes, much like previous Path of War classes, the optimization threshold for the classes is pretty much non-existent - you *will* get a *very* efficient character out of this without needs to optimize; If you do, you'll get a beast, which also remains one of the reasons I am pretty much convinced that, as much as I like this class, the harbinger will not fit into low-powered games.
The harbinger is a fun glass cannon/controller/skirmisher-hybrid that plays very much like a magus on steroids that specializes in actually effective skirmishing tactics over move-into-melee and kill, something the PFRPG-rules usually discourage. Now yes, the class does have some balance-streamlining issues - the escalated save DCs are NASTY and blow the saves against the maneuvers to a point that is beyond what I'm comfortable with, even in a Path of War context. So yes, I do believe that there is some streamlining to be done here. At the same, I have to applaud that the archetypes actually radically change the playing experience. This pdf, essentially, constitutes very much what I hoped to see from the get-go from the series. Would I allow the class in a regular power-level game? No! The harbinger is a debuff monster that can be very nasty and its overall optimization-requirements are very, very low. But I actually *will* do the work to nerf it for use in my game. Why?
Because I genuinely like the concept of the class and because the new disciplines have some pretty unique tricks I will use for monster special abilities etc. and to make some REALLY nasty adversaries. Plus, I am actually going to use this class in more high-powered games for adversaries, since none of the design-decisions create a frame I can't fix or modify to suit my needs. So yes, this can be considered a good class, one that borders, in the context of Path of War, on the edge of greatness. And as a reviewer, I absolutely applaud what this pdf represents!
At the same time, I still am very much conscious of this class being not for every group - if what you observed in Path of War galled you to no end in components that pertained to balance as opposed to those related to design-aesthetics, then this will still not be made for you.
Now if the minor hiccups are cleaned up and with minor filing off of rough patches to streamline some unbalanced components, this has the potential to be glorious. My final verdict, after much deliberation, clocks in at 4 stars, mainly due to the balance-concerns I still have, even in a Path of War context. Note that, much like the original Path of War, this amps up the power-curve of your game and if you're conservative regarding PC-balance and interaction with established concepts (or if you're playing gritty low fantasy etc.), you should detract a star, though all herein is more refined than the first book. Consider my interest for the series reignited!
Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Also: Thanks for the linkage, Insain! :)
I would have to look it up; if you're *very* interested, I'll do so. If not, I#ll just leave it be. I *think* at least one iteration was in GR's "Jade Dragon & Hungry Ghosts", with another featuring in L5R, but I don't remember the book.
Re JGray: Nice job regarding the ladder - I figured you were take classic Jackie Chan as inspiration. :)
This expansion for the tinker clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!
As the pdf observes, this pdf offers options for lower levels tinkers - though this time around, a minimum of 3rd level to get properly started. It should also be mentioned that this pdf links up with rules in the SUPERB tinker-expansion Happy Little Automatons, which every fan of the class should have.
We have three new invention types herein - compartments and fireworks. Compartment inventions are introduced to streamline the compartment-questions provided in previous installments that featured some sort of fuel/etc. Fireworks-inventions are special inventions that occupy space in a given compartment as though they were goods - they thus need compartment space and may, important, NOT be launched by hand, only by the respective invention. Fireworks have a range of 30 ft., max 150 ft. and they are executed against grid intersections (AC 5) and may target occupied and unoccupied intersections, thus deviating from splash weapons, though occupied intersections are treated as ranged fire into melee, including potential for penalty negation via Precise Shot. Intersections sans walls etc. also have their AC increased. On a miss, we determine how it missed, also providing concise rules for determining z-axis issues when shot into the air (or into a pit).
Finally, there would be propellant inventions, which modify all fireworks in a given compartment at the time of deployment; only one propellant can be added per compartment.
All right, got that? We thus gain 3 new innovations: One that negates the chance of fireworks exploding when going unlaunched, one that increases capacity of all compartments by +1 as though they were improved compartments for the purpose of holding different substances and one that lets you break the "only one propellant"-rule and allows you to add 2 in a single compartment.
And then, we have inventions - and at this point, anyone who has ever made a tinker starts cackling with glee, mainly because the by now beautifully customizable system benefits from the expansions made so far: Take e.g. Alphas that contains vast amounts of fireworks that furthermore has an increased propellant capacity, increasing the value of the fireworks stored by the alpha.
The base for fireworks would be firework tubes or hot pockets, reloading from a chosen compartment as a move action, launching them as a directed attack, with potential options to fire multiple fireworks and synergy with Rapid Reload and Rapid Shot. Hot Pockets may be used to prime fireworks and fire them all at once as a directed attack, though primed fireworks continuously decrease their maximum range and may even explode in the automaton if the tinker fails to direct the attack, making the base system work essentially like a pretty interesting game of action-economy conversion and set-ups. And yes, e.g. The Late Bloomer can be used to increase the radius of launched fireworks, while a propellant may be added to increase the range of fireworks - a potential synergy with another range-increasing tube-modification.
Even general fireworks end up having something interesting going for them, with AC-penalizing caustic fireworks, propellants that may dazzle those adjacent to the flight or fireworks that contains hundreds of angry spiders (!!!)?
Want something cooler? What about a propellant that makes it hard for undead to cross the exhaust-line left by a rocket for smart terrain control? Or ones that contain entangling good? What about a glitterdust-y emission of tracer particles? Have I mention condition stacking, damage to adjacent creatures in the flight path? Oh yeah!
Oh, and btw. - yes, the pdf has a list of which inventions get the compartment-subtype. Kudos!
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' two-column b/w-standard and sports thematically fitting b/w-artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks and does not necessarily require them at this length.
The last Remedial tinkering-expansion by Bradley Crouch was absolutely AWESOME in that it not only provided great low-level tricks, its combo-set-up potential was thoroughly inspired. Now, one can say pretty much the same for the content herein, with one minor gripe on my end: It quite frankly took me longer than I would have liked to piece together how exactly fireworks are launched - a slightly more concise explanation in the beginning would have certainly helped here.
That being said, not only do the fireworks here work how they should and in a mechanically distinct way, they also sport a damn cool array of combo potentials. Now I might grumble a bit here, but then there's one more thing to consider: This is FREE. It costs zilch, zero, nada, nothing - and who am I to nitpick on a quality, fun and simply interesting expansion that is free to boot? All in all, I'm glad I can now add this cool array of options to my tinkers, though I certainly wished that a) this was longer and b), it explained the process of launching fireworks in a slightly more concise manner. That being said, this is still a great expansion and one that requires literally zero investment from you - well worth a final verdict of 5 stars +seal of approval.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This pdf clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let's take a look!
So, in case you're not 100% sure - yes, this is an April's Fools product. And yes, I'm reviewing it in August. Sad, but better late than never, right? So this begins with a basic, humorous introduction of poles - both in the game worlds and in real life. Let me go on a slight tangent here: If you do not know 10-foot-poles, they are perhaps the source of more anecdotes and prevented PC-death in old-school gaming than any other item. They also are the punch-line of more dirty jokes than rods of lordly might - and in case you're new school and never got see their awesomeness in action, take a look at 2 pages of long (and surprisingly viable!) suggestions on how to use these poles and potentially prevent your character's death - you'll never want to leave your home without your trusty pole.
I'm sorry. I'll put a buck in the groaner joke jar. So, during the years, 10-foot poles, their usefulness undisputed and tried and tested by more adventurers in varying degrees of success, have obviously spawned an array of variants, many of which can be found herein - from butterfly nets with which you can capture those annoying pixies to balancing poles, there are quite a few nice variants to be found - of course, including the 11-foot pole for the customer who goes one step beyond. This also includes folding poles and the combat ladder - an exotic weapon with the brace, blocking, disarm, grapple, monk, performance, reach and trip qualities. Overpowered? Perhaps. But -6 to atk and CMB when using it sober are at least some nice drawbacks. I just wished the basic drunkeness rules of PFRPG were better. If you actually plan on using this weapon, I'd strongly suggest using it with Raging Swan Press' rules for barroom brawls and tie it to the hammered condition featured in that book. Technology Guide-based hydraulic poles, vermin attracting giant toothpicks, stilts - the mundane objects herein, while not always perfectly balanced, generally fall within the purview of being rather well-crafted indeed.
Of course, some poles are magical, they grow when... Ouch. Yes, I'll stop. Sorry. Must be the summer heat BBQing my brain. *puts another dime in the groaner jar* Here, we can find bandolier containing toothpicks that can extend to proper poles; Decoy poles with hats etc. on top that act as protection from arrows. Poles with continuous flames on top; those that behave like a compass needle pr one that can be transformed in a cat with a limited movement radius. No, this pun was not one of my creation! What about a robe containing multiple useful poles? Hej, my clothes...OUCH. Yes, I'll stop.
One step beyond these, there also are cursed poles - petulant ones that refuse to properly modify; magnetic ones...or what about the pole-ka, which is best combined with playing Weird Al instrumentals irl? Yes, the poles here are genuinely funny. What about an intelligent limbo pole that acts as a one-way portal through walls...if you can limbo under it, becoming progressively harder? There even are mythic poles herein, and I'm not talking about...Ouch. *puts another one in the jar*
What about the Staff of Sun Wukong (aka Son Goku?) Yes, cool. The giant stick bug, which may also act as a familiar, makes for a nice additional creature, before we dive into the new bard archetype, the pole dancer. Pole dancers replace bardic knowledge with a battle dance - with the effects only affecting the pole dancer and initiation actions required scaling. They also are masters of fighting with ten-foot poles, gaining dex to atk and damage with them and allowing them to treat the weapons as other types regarding damage. The overall slight decrease in power is offset by an increased capacity to use alluring abilities and the ability to substitute Perform (Dance) for Acrobatics, making them save that skill-investment.
At higher levels, battle dancing pole dancers are treated as hasted and in an interesting way, they may quicken spells by expending move actions while casting spells. Powerful defensive dances that heal damage and moving while making attacks and the capstone nets an attack versus all foes in range during any point of a move. The pole dancer is an interesting archetype I very much like concept-wise. At the same time, it suffers from some issues - it is not clear whether battle dance is gained in addition to bardic performance or replaces it - I assume the latter, since the former would be pretty OP. Conversely, I assume the battle dances have a round-cap akin to performance, but the ability doesn't specify it, which is a pity. Some of the other abilities also sport minor ambiguities that can be problematic, the most glaring component here would be the absence of weapon statistics for the 10-foot pole. I assume an improvised large weapon, but I'm not sure. On a nitpicky side, the archetype also switches genders mid-sentence, which I consider supremely annoying.
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - some entries sport font-changes and there are some minor hiccups in the rules-language here and there. Layout adheres to a beautiful full-color two-column standard with nice, stock artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a detriment regarding the convenient use of this pdf in my book.
Quite a team has worked on this one: Ismael Alvarez, Jeff Gomez, J. Gray, garrett Guilotte, Kiel Woeell, Taylor Hubler, Lucus Palosaari, Matt Roth, Jessie Staffler, Jeffrey Swank - surprisingly, now, this does not translate to a feeling of disparate voices.
I did not expect much from this book and was positively surprised - yes, this is a joke offering; and yes, not all content herein may be perfect. But this book actually manages to be something only a few roleplaying books achieve - genuinely funny. Beyond this rare achievement, portal limbo poles are a stroke of genius and quite a few other ideas herein a delightful, playful and, best of all - feel magical. Whimsical even. While, alas, due to aforementioned glitches and minor hiccups, I can't rate this among the highest echelons of my rating system, this still very much is a good, and more importantly, fun offering and thus well worth a final verdict of 4 stars - oh, and you can get it as a "Pay what you want"-book, so no reason not to check this out!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
All very good suggestions I'd also wholeheartedly recommend - especially the Book of Monster Templates sees use all the time in my game! There is also no way past Beasts of the Boundless Blue regarding aquatic foes.
- 20 Variant Wordgs & 20 Variant Red Dragons by Rite Publishing
If you're going for a Japanese-inspired setting and want to add some horror, I also strongly suggest you check out Rite Publishing's Kaidan product line. It's pretty much glorious. The #30 Haunts...-series also pretty much still is my reference for haunts.