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Conclusion of my review:
Editing and formatting are good - though not as tight as I'm used to by Interjection Games: For once, the header spells "Gadgeeer"[sic!], missing a "t" on each and every page's central box - which made me exceedingly neurotic during the reading of this. Beyond that, quite a few entries read "Gadget points" instead of "Structure Points", which was the beta's terminology and could result in some confusion. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' 2-column b/w-standard and artwork is thematically fitting stock art. The pdf comes with rudimentary bookmarks - but not truly extensive ones. Individual accessories, for example, get no individual bookmark, which makes navigation slightly less comfortable than I would have liked.
Ahhh, Interjection Games classes - there are none quite like them out there. With the notable exception of Morgan Boehringer's superb Direlock, none take me as long to review as mastermind Bradley Crouch's beasts (looking especially at you, Ethermancer and Mechgineer!), and there's a reason for that - they have a lot of customization-options, are complex and never simple in their math. That being said, my primary gripes with them tend to be minor instances where things are handled slightly differently than in comparable spells/maneuvers etc. Then I started looking in-depth at this one...and was honestly surprised.
Why? Well, most classes are centered on combat. This one is not. Yes, it has combat capabilities, yes, fiddling with one's customized weapons is fun. But honestly, the class is simply not that awesome in combat and after Tinker, Herbalist and especially Ethermancer, I somewhat expected another class with such a focus. Still, the spark did not really ignite me - the weapon customizations are nice, yes, but the gadgeteer is generally is decidedly not about inflicting max damage.
It's not intended to. Its only restrictions to what it can do are the skill ranks/levels required, which means each gadgeteer has an incredible amount of things to do/jury-rig - and these, especially the accessories, can be summed up as "Batman's Rogue's Gallery's Gadgets - the Class" - which honestly hits a VERY soft spot of mine. I'm a total Batman fanboy and from cigar-parabols to buzzers, the gadgeteer makes for a superb gimmick-based agent-type character. Will the gadgeteer shine in every campaign/environment? No. While not a bad choice in dungeon-crawls, the class is simply not that geared towards hacking and slashing everything apart, instead providing ample thoroughly unique options that have been lacking in the game so far. In short, it does something defiantly new in its focus on the ROLEplaying, with multiple options requiring smarts of not only the character, but also the player. If you're into espionage/investigation-modules, this should be considered a required purchase. The gadgeteer makes for a great support character that has its best moments to shine beyond the tawdry concerns of combat - and it is, at least in my opinion, that is what makes it great.
That being said, I also think that the gadgeteer, more so than other Interjection Games base classes, would benefit extremely from expansions, so here's to hoping we'll see some - the agent's toolbox still has quite a few options the class could emulate beyond its already impressive arsenal and an Innovator-like monster-weapon with even further enhancements to weapons might turn out to make the class also more interesting in combat. What about customizing armor? Bluffing magical means of detection/discerning truth? Expansion potential galore that unfortunately also shows that teh base-class, while good, could use some further fuel to widen its focus.
That being said, there are some minor glitches here as well - take e.g. the custom weapon modifications: Do e.g. penalties also apply when not wielding the weapon? Why can certain acids not be applied against constructs? There are a few of these instances, and while not enough to drag this class down, they remain minor blemishes.
The gadgeteer is not a min-maxer's class, but it's a great class for anyone who wants to go secret agent/MacGuyver and aforementioned complaints should not deter you from taking a look. As written, due to the glitches and minor oversights, though, I have to rate this down to 4 stars - in spite of really, really loving what the class does.
Reviewed first on Endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Reviewed first on Endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here on OBs and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Also note that designer Owen K.C. Stephens has written a reply concerning some of my criticisms on Endzeitgeist.com - read it for further information whether this is for you. He *does* have valid points.
Thanks for your attention, Endzeitgeist out.
This book is 188 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with182 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
Full Disclosure: This review is mostly based on the Hardcover of the book, which I got for backing the Kickstarter. With just a minimum delay and communication throughout the process, I might add. I was in no way affiliated with the production of this book.
That out of the way... Before you click on another page due to the book's price: WAIT. Just a second, okay? Please read on, I guarantee you won't regret it. This book is filled to the brim with crunch and in order to avoid bloating this review unduly, I promise I'll try to be as brief as possible, given the matter at hand. Let me ask you a question to begin:
Have you ever wanted to run an aerial chase, dogfights on dragons, with manticores, chimera and giant eagles crashing into one another, while their riders duke it out in free fall as their mounts try to rip each other asunder? Have you ever wanted to blast after a dragon-riding villain and perhaps even ride your own dragon to face the tyrant as your army and the forces of darkness clash below you? Have you ever wanted to jump from the highest window of the sapphire tower, jewel of Hashk-Kanep in hand, only to land on the back of your trusty Pegasus, while the sultan's enraged men cover the sky with hundreds, nay, thousands of arrows and bolts? If you have ever wanted to do something like that, then by all means, read on.
Do you know what all of these scenarios have in common? They don't work properly in PFRPG.
But more on that in a very short bit - after all, this book is about helped, personal flight - from the means to achieve it, broken down by class and taking various archetypes into account, this pdf leaves, from the very first page, no doubt on how serious it handles the topic: If you have ever had a flying PC or taken any amount of time to concoct a story-line featuring the lofty skies, you'll realize one thing as soon as you take a look at PFRPG's flight-rules. They're there. Somewhere.
This pdf organizes them in a way that actually make them USABLE. Don't believe me that the basic rules are just not that well-organized? What about encumbrance for flying creatures that are quadrupeds? Why is this relevant? Flying mounts can't fly in medium or heavy barding - which doubles as counting as medium/heavy-load equivalent. Which means only light load, otherwise no dice for your flying mount to carry you aloft. I just wished I had this book prior to having to pierce this together from sentences throughout the core rule book. Now different playstyles have different preferences and hence, just about EVERY set of rules has three options - a simulation-style approach, a hybrid approach and a cinematic approach that is more focused on what's cool. Tables of mount sizes and rider sizes in comparison to show how many passengers they can carry, negotiation with intelligent mounts -all of that is concisely broken down and explained in a clarity that would have spared me about 2 weeks of frustration, book-switching and browsing through boards. Yeah, go figure.
We get three classes in here - the magical beast rider (a cavalier archetype),who can teach his/her mount arcane talents and choose from selections as exotic as the winged cat & dog Bixie and Hainu to Griffons and Spider-Eaters. The airshaping sky pilgrim alternate monk, in the meanwhile, feels like an expertly-executed nod towards "The Last Airbender", gaining the option to shape winds, fly etc. and, in fact, working much better than the rather lame monk base-class. (Hint for Owen K.C. Stephens should he read this - I'd love to see this made "talented"...). Now speaking of former Super Genius, now Rogue Genius Games - their Dragon Rider base-class is powerful, but many people don't particularly like the amount of actions they eat. For those of you looking for an alternate take, herein is the Wyrm Rider, an alternate cavalier that rides on a domesticated, less dangerous species of dragon, which, while not as powerful as a regular dragon, also doesn't eat your actions for a different playing experience.
This book being about flying companions, we get concise lists of animal companions that can fly, with entries on being ground-suitable, aerial trip CMDs, options to carry things (and people), full companion stats etc. - there is a LOT of work in these tables and they cover regular dragon cohorts gained via leadership and also faithful companions: The latter are rather ingenious options for characters in aerial-heavy campaigns that want a flying mount, but don't have the suitable class - faithful companions can be rescued, raised etc. and, while not as efficient as animal companions, make for awesome pets. The rules here are once again an example for concise, easy to grasp material.
New race-wise, we get the Half-Fey - which comes with 6 variants that feature an ARG race-point break-down for each and range from their point values from 1 at 10 points to 4 11-point builds to 1 20 point-build for higher fantasy campaigns. Aforementioned Bixie and Hainu also get full statblocks/bestiary-style entries, as do so-called lesser chimera, which essentially are flying animals that have a rather simple template added. oh, and we get a one-page easy-to-grasp overview over flying constructs with a streamlined single look, you have all information handy on one page.
At this place in time while writing this review, I was honestly feeling like I was failing - why? Because I just can't mention everything this book does, the level of detail it provides - take weapons - not only do we get new ones, this book also deals with the question what happens when flight is common in a setting: The importance of ranged combat and the proficiency thus required, a whole page of bardings, signaling kites, slow-burning smokesticks, aeronautic balloons - and all of these even before brooms of flying or even Thunnorad, Thor's chariot (WITH properly spelled names for the two rams - the scholar of Scandinavian literature rejoices!) or flying Vardos enter the fray with concisely-worded and at the same time iconic rules. Oh each, OF COURSE, also are all collated in tables with appropriate NPC levels / PC levels to have them, gp value etc. - If only the regular rules were that well organized!
Now if you've been following my reviews, you'll know that I consider vehicles to be underdeveloped and this book also has some ideas here - first of all, it proposes a less insane driving-DC (which I've house-ruled ages ago); secondly, from balloons to alchemical skiffs and air barges to batman-style kite-gliders, we get some cool additional vehicles. Yay! Suffice to say, once again, the rules are almost painfully concise and easy to grasp in their presentations.
Now remember the example at the beginning, with the sultan's archers? Want to fly over an enemy army and rain death on them? enter missile mooks! By providing concise rules for volley-shots of large quantities of archers/crossbowmen and no less than 4 (!!!) pages of tables that include perception, CRs, XP-values, ACs, atks and damage, we get mooks for literally EVERY situation, spanning the Crs from 1/3 to 18! This chapter will get a tremendous amount of use, not only by me.
Have I mentioned concise lists of flying mounts by their terrain that cover the first 3 bestiaries 8the 4th hadn't been released yet...), the extensive rules on creating storms with wind-speeds, rain, climate, clouds, max visibility and special occurrences like lightning, hail and turbulences? Oh, for EACH SEASON and THREE CLIMATES? a concise system to create weather hazards on the fly?
What comes up, must come down, as the saying goes, and falling-rules, from simulation-style half-rounds to cinematic style options to ground-catch or mid-air catch targets are not only explained, their pros and cons are weighed and individual systems are provided for your preference. so yeah, if you always thought that Superman's arms should have sliced Lois Lane clean in three parts - here are rules for that as well as one-glance tables that show you the amount of damage caused. And yes, unconsciousness, the diehard feat, ferocity, being big and rings of feather falling - all in here, all taken into account.
Now how to handle this grid-wise? The book actually also has various ways for you to handle this, with sidescroll, top-down, full-blown 3d via two maps and tables of vertical reach summed up cleanly for you. If you don't want to go full-blown simulation, there are varying and all feasible abstract grid-options with corresponding rules to be found in here as well, including abstract ranges, movement etc. The Fly-skill's maneuvers, including u-turns of varying degrees on a more simulationalist grid are also perfectly explained and detailed alongside ascending/descending. And yes, they are expanded from the basis provided to include e.g. 135°-turns, the concept of expanded flight and different ways of dealing with the problem of the face of creatures -whether you want to keep it or get rid of it - this book has you covered. Have I mentioned strong winds, flying through canopies etc.?
Gamemasters aren't left hanging in the cold stratosphere either - this pdf literally has thought EVERYTHING through: The repercussions of common flight, from preferred weapons to the role of small folk like halflings and gnomes, the costs of maintaining herbivore/carnivore armadas of flying creatures, trade winds, guild-systems, flags & pennants, politics, ley lines, artforms (GEOGLYPHS!), strategic cliff-dwellings, food pyramids, overland travel via fly-speed distances (again, in 3 different forms) - this chapter is a world-builder's dream and perfectly summarizes key question of what would change in a world if flying was really common.
That is not where this book stops, though - Fly maneuverability templates and companion/cohort-sheets for just about EVERY CREATURE as well as token galore for the creatures, a missile mook sheet, a rules-checklist (so you can recall which of the various options you and your players settled on - e.g. a world with trade winds, but no organized sky guilds?) and finally, a concise summary of fly, ride and handle animal-skills -all of these can be found in here as well.
Editing and formatting are SUPERB - I only noticed two minor typos, one of which was my nick in the backer-list, but who cares - at this length an impressive achievement. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly, easy-to-read 2-column b/w-standard that makes the tables herein (and there are A LOT) easy on the eyes. The b/w-artwork, of which we get a LOT is rather cartoonish/very old-school in many places, whereas some pieces are downright awesome. It took me some time to get used to it, but it does have its charm. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and if you can track one down, get the hardcover - it is solidly and very professionally produced. I'm not 100% sure whether all the creature-sheets of the KS are included with this book on non-KS-venues, so I can't include those in my final verdict.
This book left me utterly, completely flabbergasted. I backed this when I wasn't as dirt-poor as I'm right now on a whim and honestly didn't expect to ever see it. One company that never released a supplement prior to this one, what can one expect? I had honestly forgotten about this book when it found its way into my mail-box - not due to excessive delay, but simply due to much on my plate. In an age where kickstarters by established RPG-companies sometimes are overdue by more than 2 years and often lack anything resembling regular communications, this was one surprise. It went promptly on my shelf in favor of daily reviewing and only after some time found its way into my hands. I read it and my jaw just dropped, smashed through the floor and hit the floor of the cellar.
I'm living on the 8th floor.
This is a once-in-a-blue-moon-book that is not only a testimony to Neil Carr's dedication and passion to the topic of flight, but also to his work ethics: To think that ONE designer made this is mind-boggling.
Let me spell it out: This book belongs into the library of every PFRPG-DM. No exceptions. Ne leeway. This is the Cerulean Seas of the sky and does what Cerulean Seas did for underwater adventuring (albeit aesthetically slightly less appealing) for flying, aerial combat, aerial campaigns etc. I'm going a step further: Players wanting to play flying characters should get this and get their DM a copy. This book is a milestone, a glorious beast that came from nowhere and that shows that having no track-record is never an excuse for faulty rules-language: This is as tightly worded, as concisely phrased as any book by Paizo, perhaps even beyond it. It covers all topics, intelligently and in varied ways and manages to deliver something for ALL playstyles, with huge amounts of customization-options. This is a RULE-book to judge all rule-books, a supplement that ups the ante, a book that is a superb example on what kickstarter can deliver - "Companions of the Firmament" is as important for PFRPG as Cerulean Seas, as the APG or Psionics Expanded; This is a Rulebook of the highest caliber that will be used all the time - you have no excuses; Unless you don't want to cover flight at all (then why are you reading this?), this book should be considered one of the best possible investments into rules one can currently make. This is revolutionary in much the same way as Ultimate Campaign is when combined with Legendary Games' stellar supplements to actually make the system work.
Unless you're very focused on artwork/layout, this pdf, and that I can guarantee, will NOT disappoint you - the sheer amount of useful rules, options etc. herein mean that there is no way I could rate this any other way that offer the highest praises. If there were ten stars, this would be 10/10. If there were 6, this would be 6/6 - by any scale I apply, this ranks among the apex-books in its usefulness, coolness, level of detail it covers and foresight. This must be a 5 star +seal of approval, a hot contender for the no. 1 spot of my Top Ten of 2013 and the most furious, impressive first product I've seen any 3pp produce in ages. Miss this at your own peril.
Posted first on Endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on d20pfsrd.com's shop. Couldn't post it on OBS due to not having a coupon and it seems to not be sold here on Paizo - something I hope GIC will remedy.
@Gondolin: Yes, it's available in print.
@Tom Philips: I *hope* I managed to convey why it's awesome, but also why it has some weaknesses. I consider it a great buy still and DEFINITELY look forward to the 3-parter you mentioned (and also to teh collaboration with Richard!)! If I may: Some social scenes/investigations/non-combat scenes would also have benefited the module - other than that: RIGHT up my alley! Your writing slowly but steadily has made you one of the authors I look forward to reading.
I actually LIKE Wildcard-feats/feat-chains as an idea - in fact, since my home-game uses different racial stats for different ethnicities, I actually have quite an array of experiences with one-wildcard-feat-characters. I don't object to the idea of a wildcard-feat, but rather to the potential to modify whole feat-chains. And yes, I see the same issue with Ultimate Versatility in MA. I just think that the idea eclipses the others by quite a stretch, offering essentially a fighter's ultimate versatility. While I consider both exceedingly powerful, I don't think they eclipse one another, though their synergy is the stuff of nightmares I do think, however, that both ought to perhaps be a higher tier. That being said, I probably should have made that clearer in the review. Had the other abilities been more interesting/versatile, I would have rated this much, much higher.
And yes, other Mythic Minis have fared better. (I do have some drafts done!)
Yes, especially as the master spy behind e.g. dissenters, traitors etc. - if you have the army haunted constantly by sabotages, obvious actions being leaked etc. - yes, Zurinei would make a very neat subplot there - a bit of investigation, if you're up to it, some conspiracy-ferreting...a good Dm can use her and her servants easily to expand WotR.
Part II of my review:
Ethermancers may also create a type of vortex - whenever he is dealt damage from a chosen type of energy, the ethermancer gains a charge, which, upon the third charge, he may as an immediate action manifest a blast sans manifestations as the etherspell disperses. Boosting and penalizing saves, granting allies DR and transforming the damage-type they deal to e.g. bludgeoning, dealing damage only to a specific creature race/type, increased range, the duplication of a haste-like effect by touching hyperspace, sending foes to a catatonic state in which they need to defeat a shadowy figment to return to reality (and not die to the shadow's tender assaults), increased mental stats or object hardness, improved movement, handholds ex nihilo, making etherspells illuminate the darkness (and even glow to dazzle foes) and even standing in midair -all possible. Ethermancers may also conjure blasts and have them wait for the next spell/spell-like ability/item activation - whomever the unlucky being, whether friend or foe, is attacked by the blast.
Quantum Indeterminacy deserves special mention, as it allows you and the touched willing creature to exchange places as long as you're not too far apart - these switcheroo-effects tend to be a lot of fun and useful for creative players. Turning into antimatter, essentially teleporting and damaging all in a line and reconstituting you via Quantum Leap also is rather cool - it does a decent amount of damage, has a cool effect for the strain on your body (temporarily lowering your EP-cap). We also get penetrating SR (optionally, also automatically, but at only half damage), inflicting a variety of temporary negative conditions, having a blast emit essentially a trail of magical tripping marbles (and their spiked cousins)- the effects are rather versatile.
Emitting a Scream from Beyond is fluff-wise right up my alley - imbuing the target with the option to scream and cause confusion (including the screamer!) feels just awesome and cool - and perfectly in line with the theme. This one is also now short of a minor ramble - it now can be countered by bards.
Oh, by the way, ethermancers can also look through solid matter, should they learn the appropriate manifestation or create sentries charged with blasts that hurl these at any non-friendly target the ethermancer specified at the time of the casting. Unfortunately, the etherspell does not specify the respective saves for these very fleeting guardians, though I assume e.g. auto-failure for ref-saves due to being immobile.
Have I mentioned the option to emit vampiric blasts and similar effects or the one to turn invisible by Ultraviolet Shift?
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice significant glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' 2-column b/w-standard and comes with thematically fitting stock-art. The pdf comes bookmarked, but only in a very rudimentary sense - one bookmark for feats, one for all manifestations. Looking for a particular manifestation is not really comfortable/possible with them - problematic.
So...the Ethermancer. The big heir to the blasting classes of the 3.X days of old. Let me go on a short tangent here - unlimited spellcasting was one of the reasons I turned my back on 4th edition. I'm a difficult audience when it comes to the very concept. That being said: I love the fluff of this complex class. I love its modularity and how it actually makes a regenerating spellcasting pool work. What leaves with a bit of a belly-ache is the relative potency of the blasts - 1d3 for lesser blasts at level 1 may not be that impressive, but add cha-mod to the equation and things get nasty with high-cha races/builds: 1d3+5 ranged touch attacks are a tad bit too strong for first level for my tastes. Why am I not bashing on this, then?
Simple: A combination of requiring a touch attack and having a sucky BAB. At 1/2 BAB, the ethermancer is simply not that accurate, which meant that in playtesting, it did not outshine ranged fighters etc. unless used against heavily armored targets. In contrast to older takes on the blaster-caster, the ethermancer is not doomed to fiddle his/her thumbs when not in battle and also has an array (though admittedly not that many) things s/he may do when not pulverizing adversaries. So yes, per se, I do consider the class well-crafted and once you get behind how it works, actually rather intuitive - just bear in mind the limits of manifestations and you're good to go.
Now that being said, while I'd love to praise this class unanimously, it does come with its flaws - the stacking of alteration-effects via manifestations and feat could have used some explicit clarification.
Another issue would lie in the etherspells universally counting as evocation - since they clearly include effects one would consider conjurations (and ones that would be closer to other schools), regular spellcasting defenses, conjuration-prohibiting effects simply don't work against them - which becomes relevant as soon as a teleportation-hampering effect is on an area - one that the Ethermancer could, RAW, simply ignore since it does not have the teleportation-descriptor. And yes, while just designating teleportation redirects etc. to work for Quantum Leap etc. would well be in the providence and capability of just about any DM, RAW that would be cheating the player. This lack of distinction re spell-schools and exclusive focus on evocation is perhaps the one halfway significant flaw of the class and it is one that could be easily handled by the DM.
So, how to rate the Ethermancer, then? Generally, I do love its complexity, its fluff, variety and its chutzpa in attempting to create a blaster-class that is balanced, but doesn't run out of juice. It may not be a class for every power-level out there, but it does work.
Then again, I don't feel justified in consigning this class to the netherworlds of mediocrity, since it clearly doesn't belong there - especially since it has been rid of the most grievous glitches I complained about in my first drafts of this review. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars for the purpose of this platform, just shy of my seal of approval, with the caveat that DMs should take a good look and understand the class before allowing it - the implications of ethermancers in a setting can change the dynamics of warfare (and "forbidden" magic) in rather interesting ways.
Reviewed first on Endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop. Cheers.
Honestly, at this point I'm mostly concerned about Gary's well-being. I don't *think* he ran, but rather that something other is up. Perhaps some kind of physical or mental health issue... these days it seems like a lot of great, creative personalities are suffering and with the negativity associated (understandably) with the communications-issues, that would be an explanation for his silence...
Expect MUCH more playtime from ST than from e.g. a Paizo-AP. It's huge.
Now as to your question - it's a matter of preference. Rappan Athuk is very much a dungeon crawl, ST is not, at least not exclusively: There is a lot going on in the wilderness and temple-city, including boss monster, many small tragedies and small stories to find, much wonder to be unearthed. That being said, it is very much player-driven.
What does this mean? One of the downsides of APs is that their story is rather railroady - which is great and keeps them exciting, but can also stifle player-desires to e.g. expand settlements. Think about Part #4 and #5 of CotCT or the amount of groups that didn't want to leave Cauldron, Diamond Lake or Sandpoint. Slumbering Tsar is the opposite - it's very much up to your players to decide what to do and when to do it. While there is a general 3-part structure, within the parts themselves, they are rather flexible. This means that it offers a lot of freedom - for better and worse. Without players acting on their own and curiously engaging in the environment, you'll have issues.
Perhaps an easier analogue would be the Dark Souls/Demon Souls-games - subdued storytelling by showing, by small tones, by hints - Slumbering Tsar is, to me, the equivalent of Dark Souls - no holding hands, lethal as all hell, but also full of terror and wonder. Players have to get into that kind of storytelling and if they do, ST will work for you. If they want their story spelled out to them, then ST will probably disappoint you, though its story is in my opinion more concise than Rappan Athuk's: There simply is more variety in exploring the setting than just going down more levels.
If you require further guidance, drop me a line via my hp Endzeitgeist.com and I'll do my best to help you. :)
Thank you for the civil discussion regarding my points of criticism!
To reiterate some of my complaints - I did not object to the lack of a skill-tax, but to the impossibility to specialize in the system by expending resources (like skills). I wholeheartedly concur in the point that tying command to diplomacy and intimidate/bluff wouldn't have worked.
As to the ad-hoc-ing of magical rituals: I am not opposed to the concept per se, but when tied to a campaign/provided in such a context, they require precise ways to being offset. Why not provide a magical commander's post for the ship's wizard, for example, to extend spells (like ones that grant resistance to fire etc.) over a clearly defined area? In a module, I'd not mind "winging it" - in a crunch-supplement intended for varying campaigns/system though...yeah, not there.
As to why I mentioned that it works better for 4th edition - its design-paradigm is closer to it; No CMB/CMDs, no vehicle-rules, special, context-dependent actions - all things rarely seen in Pathfinder, though the latter actually are some of the components I enjoy about 4th edition.
As to ship AC: What about special materials, adamantine hulls, defensive enchantments? The true issue here, as you've acknowledged, would be dealing enough damage. And you're right, damaging spells are good candidates here. But take a look at item hp/hardness and their rules - you'll be hard-pressed at demolishing a ship at 800 feet away, at least sans batteries of fireball-slinging apprentices.
Which also brings me to another issue - I *get* the design-intent here and in certain contexts, it works, yes - but as soon as you enter magic in the fray, the required level of detail suddenly rises: What if frostballs are thrown at the ship? Plate-defense? Cloudkill? What about lightning bolts?
By opting out of the systems in favor of the 3 strikes and the magical defense abstractions, you've essentially deprived the system of any chance of working in a meaningful way as soon as magic enters the fray, because the spare information given simply does not cover enough to make its substitution system work with the myriad options available.
Add to that the aforementioned logic gripes resulting from the implementation of a separate system and its options (which could be explained as rituals in 4th ed., but not in Pathfinder) and the implications to the overall world and we have some grievous issues here.
That being said, I'm still a huge fan of your modules and consider you a talented designer, so thank you for elaborating your design decisions in a civilized manner! Looking forward to reading more from you!
All my Ravenloft-campaigns work essentially in that way re the meta-plot. So yeah, all in all 10+ years of horror-conspiracies. I have a lot of ideas in that vein and have done A LOT. So yeah, at least I'm interested. Especially from what I've skimmed over in OA so far, toolkits in that regard could be useful.
Then again, Pelgrane Press' Night's Black Agents/ToC do conspiracy-games very well...there might some ideas re structure there...
Part II of my review:
Still here? All right! The first mission is all about two cults warring on Altair, both of which have purchased a biological weapon that now kills the primitive inhabitants. In order to stop the plague, the PCs have to unearth the origin of the plague, its design-specifics from a cell-phone, and request help from Hazioth. In the next mission, they are to follow up on this issue and thus defeat lizardfolk, kobold tinkers' berserk reverse engineered Cyborgs and finally defeat the Kurion spy and his evil druid assistant. The next mission sees the PCs stranded on Tajano, a Kurion-controlled planet, where they'll have to survive in the wasteland, deal in trading bunkers and scavenge in hostile terrain featuring both living machines and marauders - fully mapped, btw.! Finally, the PCs will need to travel to the city of Lixian, where they'll have chances to interact with a living machine nursery and even infiltrate a military base before finally repairing the ship and escaping first the world, and then the system- I would have LOVED this mission being depicted in full-blown mega-adventure-detail - it is rather fun, but due to its format also requires severe work on behalf of the DM to flesh out. The next mission is more straight-forward and has the PCs hired to deal with pirates attacking a particular asteroid-colony -when properly played up, this one may become VERY creepy. Neato. The next mission has an uncommon target - the PCs are to crash a Kurion series and prevent psionic rift drive components from falling into the hands of either competing Kurion nobles. This, of course, is harder than it seems at first and includes infiltration and finally entering a huge ice-lump in space (with ship to steal the prize. Again, neat!
The appendix includes fluff-only write-ups of sample NPCs, random encounters (CR 6 - 15) and an example for ship to ship combat to help you get how the rules work.
Editing and formatting are still ok - I noticed a couple of instances where the font-size changed, where information was not put in item-boxes or minor formatting issues and here and there some clunky wordings/mistakes. Nothing too serious, though. Layout adheres to a per se nice 2-column full-color standard and the background is essentially a leather-like skin spanned over dark techy engines and the pdf comes with quite an array of relatively neat full color artworks that lend the product its own distinct identity. Some pages are black with white ink. The pdf has been updated to include a printer-friendly version and now also sports bookmarks, making navigation much more comfortable -awesome!
Benjamin Martinali's "Between Chains & Starlight" is an extremely ambitious setting - planar and stellar travel, ship-to-ship combat, magic & technology - that's A LOT to cover and indeed, in spite of this book's massive size, I fear cramming all inside one book may have been over-ambitious. Why? Because magic and technology and their interaction is NOT that simple: What about divination-communication? How do humans treat other humanoids? The introduction of ONE such component creates a vast panorama of changes that can make for intriguing material indeed - and this book skirts the premise, but only grazes it. The introduction of two such components then would massively change the whole dynamics of how societies work - why not teleport/assassinate into Kurion palaces, for example? As much as I'm loathe to say it, "Amethyst Renaissance" has covered the results of magic/technology (though there in opposition to one another) in a more concise, mature way - in "Between Chains and Starlight", the resulting blend essentially makes technology just an extension of magic - since it can be enchanted, the "real" component, the rationality implicit in technology, is lost. The fact that AIs don't work, but Cyborgs and Living Machines are out there also feels a bit like a cop-out - Dan Simmon's TechnoCore or similar scenarios show easily how such a concept can be included sans breaking humanity. Now I do love some of the ideas, but the web is also rather ill-defined and sketchy, while the factions are a tad bit one-dimensional, which also doesn't fit with the more shades-of-grey mentality that accompanies most sci-fi settings - and the fact that this setting screams "Firefly with magic" to me. That is a good thing, for I'm a huge sucker for said series. Essentially, the book stretches itself too thin to provide anything but sketchy outlines of the factions and thus make them less believable than e.g. "Amethyst Renaissance"'s cultures. Which sucks, for both some of the mission-outlines and the crunchy bits indeed do show promise, but could have used some expansion as well.
Unlike Necropunk, we don't get proper Zero-G- (or phase-)combat rules and overall, this book feels like its respective cultures, as unfortunate as that may seem, make no sense to me. They are too stereotypical and they are most certainly not what I'd label "dark" - in fact, as an over-the-top fun space-opera setting where anything goes and hard science has no place, this setting probably works best and is thus, at least imho, misnamed. While we have two dystopias, there is more to being "dark" than having "Evil Places" - in order to be "dark" and memorable, one has to ask questions - transhumanism, relative morality and the choice of lesser and greater evils, survival - all these resonate and are NOT the focus here; instead we get a mostly b/w-morality that tells us plainly: "Here there be culture clash, here there be evil, here there be good, here there be more evil." What about deities? Can they leave their planets? Demons etc. exist -can outsiders survive in space? Can planar gates be used to jump from planet to planet via the planes? By not limiting magic in any way, there are more question here than this book could ever have hoped to answer. And that's before getting into the issues with technology/interaction. Magic weapons vs. rifles, breast-plates versus plasma guns etc. - nothing covered, though even per the regular firearm rules, old blackpowder weapons can shoot past armor like that.
As a setting, I can't really get behind this book - it feels too undetailed, too black and white, too anything-goes and not logical enough to make proper use of its premise. Now does that make it a bad book? The answer would be a resounding NO. In fact, both the equipment and ship-rules are rather interesting and cool and really neat - seeing how "Sailing the Starlit Seas" was cancelled, this is, with reskinning, probably as close to space travel we'll get in a while and these rules are actually rather fun. I'd also complement the monsters - idea- and style-wise, the cyborgs, living machines etc. are AWESOME. However, they also suffer from various instances where they simply don't utilize rules as per PFRPG's design-standards. Also: Don't expect any support for non-core classes herein, vehicle rules, firearm rules in line with Paizo's or the like.
This book oozes heart's blood and passion and contrary to my nagging, I actually enjoyed several section in here, the irreverent tone of some spells/rules and several ideas just filled my heart with joy - in fact, this book should be considered a monumental achievement for such a small newcomer company. Benjamin Martinali can definitely be proud. That being said, the nitpicks accumulate. As a book for space ship-to-ship combat/ weapons/idea-mine via missions, as a scavenging ground, this book works well. As a believable setting, it fails due to too many unanswered questions and often one-dimensional depictions, at least for me.
And I probably would give this more leeway, were it not for how more mature both "Amethyst Renaissance" and "Necropunk" have handled the sci-fi/magic-technology/dark-themes. "Between Chains and Starlight" is by no means bad, but it also has MUCH room for improvement - for every nitpick there's a cool idea and every neat idea offers one or more particular instances where additional information can be developed. I think that by splitting this in a proper setting-fluff and a proper crunch-book and developing both, this could have indeed reached a high pinnacle and cover all the things it missed. And I've only scraped the ice-berg. Now I've haggled a lot with myself, since the at times non-standard rules are massive detriments I have to take into account as a reviewer. Still, there is enjoyment galore to be found here, cool ideas, working rules - but within the context of all other books I've reviewed, I can't ignore the issues that are here.
In the end, I'm settling on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform - the components that work in here are glorious, just don't expect to have your work cut out for you or a truly dark setting as advertized. Instead, consider this as an anything-goes book that requires some development to work as a setting, but also offers some awesome ideas and for scavenging purposes, makes for a nice offering. Feel free to add +0.5 stars to the rating when getting this only as an idea-mine.
Reviewed first on Endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and then posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
@Ken Pawlik: Ultimate Psionics is fully PFRPG-compatible, in spirit and design. I have the pdf and all component books and while I might take a bit to get the review done, I have seen no design anachronisms. Also: Thank you for putting more eloquently to paper what I wanted to reply re CMB/CMD.
Also: I have not written PoW off - as always, should there be revisions, I'll update my review to reflect the changes made.
Thank you for your kind words!
Allow me to clarify some points:
I did not wish to insinuate that the WHOLE Stalker-class is OP - as I've mentioned in my review, it is stronger than melee core classes, but that's the design maxim and not something I rated the pdf down for. My criticism regarding the class is based mostly on failing the kitten-test twice and getting ranged melee attacks too soon/easily, thus outclassing its own capstone. I never called the whole class OP.
Of course, you may take issue with "Weasel words" like "widely considered" - to reiterate: Look at what options are used in insane min-max builds and how easily you can min-max skills in PFRPG. It was easy in 3.X, it's perhaps even easier now. There are quite a few threads out there regarding feat/skill maximizing I assume you may have seen - plus, there are a lot of items that provide significant bonuses to skills; bonuses which would be much harder to achieve for any other rules component. There is also the luck-component of competing d20 attack-rolls; You get a different curve than from one roll versus fixed value - you get a much higher fluctuation. Hence also: Different design-tenet.
I respect your opinion that this is a non-issue FOR YOU. I have to take various campaigns into account when writing a review and campaigns where skill-buffing items are not limited in some way may be influenced in a detrimental way by these mechanics.
Regarding deviations from traditional pathfinder-tenets: My point is that the pdf doesn't need them - it could just as easily work WITH the system instead of using its own subsystem of rules-syntax/establishing how things are done. Think about it - wouldn't you be confused if a new class threw a fireball at you and you wouldn't save with a ref-save, but an acrobatics-check? Good design breaks the system/expands it when it's flawed/not enough for a component, but tries to otherwise adhere to the language and conventions of the rules. Death effects are just one obvious, little example. Skill vs. AC is the most prevalent of these cases.
That being said, I REALLY want this to work - I like PoW and want it to work. I don't consider the class too "advanced" or complex. In fact, as I've tried to show in my review, I really, really like the system - the basic system WORKS - awesomely so. But the accumulation of non-standard design-decisions means that I *had* to address this or lose my integrity: I've always called issues like these out, it just happens that here, they are part of a much beloved system. These *might* be considered massive problems - not for everyone, but for a significant amount of persons they are.
I honestly dreaded the fallout of this review; I know that a lot of people love this - a group to which I'd love to belong. As written, it is my opinion that the system is flawed an won't work for every group that likes the idea, mainly due to aforementioned anachronistic design-decisions. As a reviewer, it is kind of "my job" (haha, if only...) to point stuff like that out. I've done so in the past and I will continue to do so.
That being said, I never considered my opinion the only valid one - it is, in the end, just that - an opinion. I'm looking forward to reading your review!
Since you have the "breaking apart of space"-component covered, what about a race that can phase through space/time, being slightly asynchronous. Would also make for a great PrC/racial paragon-class/Time Thief-support. And THINGS could haunt them...
Thinking about it, feels more like a racial template à la Raijin...
My point with the maneuvers was that they adhere to a 3.X design more often than not, when in PFRPG they are done differently.
You can still work WITH the system to do ALL the things the maneuvers do - whether by bonuses to CMD/CMB, bonuses to skill-checks (which are made as part of the attack against CMD) etc. - you know, adhering to the central tenets of how design for Pathfinder works instead of creating a throwback complex of abilities that do what can already be done via established rules, but suddenly via wildly different means. And I think no fan of the Bo9S would complain about not rolling competing skill-checks as part of attacks and instead rolling them against e.g. CMD + level or a fixed value like demoralize-DCs or something like that.
It's a fact that skills can be easily buffed to kingdom come, that 2 competing 20s via skills (or attacks) have more variability than 1d20 versus fixed value and that the former is not how things are done in Pathfinder.
Currently, the system purports to be for Pathfinder, when it essentially is still adhering to design-conventions of 3.X in many crucial points.
In case that got drowned out due to the length of the review - I WANT Path of War to succeed. I think it can succeed at its task of bringing Bo9S-style combat to Pathfinder. But I also think that beyond the issues of the stalker-class, many of the maneuvers need a thorough redesign before being considered truly PFRPG-compatible.