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First of all: Thank you to Brad for drawing attention to my predicament and to everyone else commenting in this post.
I'd wish to extend my gratitude to any 3pp who has employed me in any function. You are ensuring, in the immortal words of Freddie Mercury, that the show does go on.
Now here are the harsh facts:
I'm struggling to make ends meet with my real life jobs.
How bad are things?
Well, they're at the point where I can't even afford to buy the RPG-supplements I want; that is, the ones I don't receive as complimentary copies from the publishers who value my opinion and hard feedback. The last couple of KS I managed to back have been paid for mainly by my freelancing (and selling some books) and secondly by affiliate sales, because I wanted to give something back to the community, thus rendering that particular avenue a zero-sum game - not that it would suffice for either rent, gasoline, insurance or anything like that in the first place.
Without GMS magazine and Paco's support, there quite frankly wouldn't be an endzeitgeist-hp. Without the complimentary copies I receive from OBS as a featured reviewer and the publishers who directly send them, there wouldn't be half as many reviews either - kudos especially to the latter. It takes guts to send me a product and not complain/whine/etc. about reveiws that don't end up like you wanted them to be - while I try to remain constructive and positive, I'm also aware that I'm pretty hard on you guys, so thank you for keeping the average quality infinitely higher than during even the best of 3.X's days.
I included a paypal-donation system and promptly received quite some flag for it; I *do* wish to extend my gratitude to EVERYONE who donated even a few bucks. Every time I receive a donation, I grin from ear to ear and am truly happy, feel like my reviews mean something to someone out there. You, ladies and gentlemen, make my days, you keep the spark alive.
The cold hard matter of truth is, though, that I simply do not receive many donations. It's a busy month when I receive 2. And we're not talking about hundreds of bucks.
Unfortunately, as much as I'd like to continue doing reviews in this manner and frequency, I have to face up to the growing need of setting up a full-time 9-5 job; I'm just tired of being utterly poor and not even being able to attend UK conventions or the like, much less fulfilling my dream of coming to Gencon to play with all my American friends. 2015, things need to change, one way or the other.
So yes, I talked to some people about this and, no matter how I put it, I'm honestly ashamed and not particularly content with the situation. I would love to continue doing all this work for free - because I *love* it. I really do. Alas, I don't even have a family's financial net to fall back on, meaning that I'm facing very real poverty if I don't get something done soon.
Why no KS?
The issue with a KS, which I've contemplated doing, is simply that I'd be dependent on 3pp-products donated for it and receive a one-time boost, then...nothing. And yes, I'd love to be able to go to Gencon, have wanted to go there for as long as I can remember. But the flight alone is a massive expense far beyond my current grasp. And there's the shipping issue. Patreon would allow one to set up a monthly support, which would probably help me out more and render judging how much time I can devote to reviews much easier.
So here's the result of my ruminations - I'm going to set up a patreon. I'll continue reviewing either way, but the amount of time I can devote to the process...well, that will be in the community's hands. Now I don't expect the patreon to net a lot, but my situation does demand that I re-evaluate spending x hours per week writing these reviews.If no one cares enough, I'll put them on the back burner behind real life, design, etc.
On another note, should my financial situation improve to the point where I don't have to fear for my livelihood due to a day-job that does pay enough to cover the basics such as energy, gasoline, insurance, food, etc., I'll shut down the patreon again after fulfilling any remaining commitments.
This is a long shot, I am aware of that - consider it a wild stab in the dark, one shot of capturing lightning in a bottle.
(And yes, if by some miracle enough comes together, I'll start saving for gencon and potentially go full-time reviewer - but that realistically won't happen.)
As always, I'm open to suggestions; Critique, development etc. are definite possibilities regarding higher patronage levels. We'll see.
Thank you for reading this.
Thank you for making a review I utterly dreaded a delight in the end - I really did not expect to be able to write such a positive review on the topic of the concept of PLAYING DRAGONS. I especially love how you prevented making dragons meek and feeble while still maintaining a viable PC-option. Respect and reverence, Wendall!
Part II of my review
On the plus-side, counters to shed negative conditions, for example, make sense to me - so kudos there! Steel Serpent still suffers from a discrepancy between poison fluff vs. poison rules, but I can live with that. Generally, Steel Serpent, Solar Wind and Thrashing Dragon exist and what I complained about in previous reviews mostly still holds true. Veiled Moon's counters still make evasion and even mettle go home to cry - stealth in lieu of saves etc.
Now this review is already long, so let's go through those archetypes on fast forward, shall we? The judges ambiguities have been cleared up; Final judgment has been moved to level 15, where it actually works. Divine Abolishment's targeted greater dispel strikes are still quite powerful, too much for me personally, but still: Kudos for cleaning this guy up! The Soul Hunter now has a kitten-caveat of nothing below 1/2 HD...but why not tie it to the soul hunter's level? This way, I'll have to take an advanced kitten with me; Still does not work. The Dervish Defender now need to actually dual-wield to use the two-weapon defense, which is neat. On a flavor-side weird would be that the archetype still does not receive the improved/greater TWF-feats for a massive hidden attribute/feat tax. Granted, this is a cosmetic gripe, but still - if the high-level ability mentions "mastery of TWF", you'd expect the archetype to know the feats. The ranged Hawkguard Warder has been cleaned of a wording issue and both Sworn protector and Zweihänder Sentinel are okay. Bannerman and Steelfist Commando for the Warlord are okay. The defensively-minded Vanguard Commander with his option to break the immediate action-limit a limited amount of times per day still feels a bit too strong for my tastes.
Now as new content, we receive two archetypes that allow psionic characters to wilder in PoW's systems - one for the psychic warrior, one for the soulknife. The Psychic Warrior Pathwalker learns up to 13 maneuvers, 7 readied, 4 stances, of up to 6th level. Each discipline receives its own psychic warrior path and...oh boy. Expend psionic focus for full attack at the end of a charge - yep, that would be free pounce. Urgh. Balancing between the respective paths is...strange, to say the least. The War Soul Soulknife receives the same amount of maneuvers and trades psychic strike and the 10th level blade skill for them. Interestingly, they have a mechanic to regain maneuvers upon the defeat of foes that actually manages, via HD and int-cap, to defeat the bag o' kitten issue - nice. The new blade skills provide the necessary mind blade customization. The option to throw mind blades and combine it with maneuvers, though, needs a heavy whack with the nerf-bat, analogue to the maneuvers that allow you to do this.
We also receive the awakened blade PrC - 10 levels, d10, 4+Int skills per level, full initiator level progression, new maneuvers known at every even level, additional maneuvers readied at 3rd, 6th and 9th level, +1 stance at 3rd and 8th level, 8/10th manifester progression and full BAB-progression, 1/2 will-progression. They also receive an omni-buff-focus, may expend the psionic focus to use an additional counter per round and at 6th level, any semblance of balance that could be achieved via action economy shambles away and whimpers, as psionic focus and maneuver regeneration become tied to another. Worse, by expending a readied action and the focus, these guys may grant themselves standard or move actions to be used as part of the counter, allowing them to add a strike, a cast, movement - you name it - to the game. This is essentially taking the one limitation of counters and throws it out the window. The capstone makes the powerful super-stance of the PrC effectively permanent. Urgh.
Okay, quick run of the PrCs - have they been repaired or are they still on the level of the supplemental content pdf? Battle Templar: Reach of the divine nerfed down to powerful, but okay - kudos!!! The same cannot be said for martial healing, which STILL nets the Battle Templar and his allies INFINITE HEALING. At this point I ragequit this PrC and move on to the next. The bladecaster's bonus damage is still untyped, the stance still broken, though a tad bit less so than before. The Dragon Fury is still nice, still fails the kitten-test. Mage Hunters have been somewhat streamlined, but still receives what boils down to evasion for all 3 saves. The capstone, which eliminates the option to cast defensively, is the other nail in the coffin for this class - Knowledge (Martial) DC 21 to realize it before hand? Nice, only casters don't get the skill as class skill, rendering that one just unfair. At least the infinite heal exploit is gone...it's now only infinite temporary hit points. The Umbral Blade would be my shining light (ironically) at the end of this PrC-tunnel - this one has been salvaged and is the one PrC I can't find it in me to complain about - indeed, the PrC serves as a nice example what can be done with the PoW-system -scaling class-specific NON-BROKEN stances, cool imagery. Two thumbs up -were the whole book like this, I'd be singing a whole different tune!
We close this pdf with 6 organizations, so-called martial traditions, to include in your game and advice for creating and adapting these traditions. I generally liked these, though I would have loved organization/fame-rules for them.
Lead designers Chris Bennett and Andreas Rönnqvist with codesigners Jade Ripley and Sabrina Bennett have managed to write the worst emotional roller-coaster ride of my "reviewer-career." Alternation between cheers and resigned face palms to this extent has never been so frequent in a series. But how does the final book fare?
Path of War is better than the Book of 9 Swords. It is more refined, less jumbled together. Alas, it also chooses to inherit some of the worst traits of its predecessor and reintroduces them to PFRPG, when the base system purposefully got rid of them.
The explicit design intention of Path of War is to bring martials up to casters in power-level, to "give fighters nice things." I applaud that. I want that. Only problem is, PoW overshoots the target it set itself. Before you start booing and hissing, let me elaborate. We all have been there - wizards get the fireball and suddenly can clear whole groups of enemies while the fighter diddles his thumbs. DMs have seen this since the beginning of our hobby, through all iterations. When did this become a problem? Well, as soon as player-entitlement started to set in - suddenly, players started whining if they couldn't rest after every 2nd encounter to regain their nova-capacity and in a strange quirk f fate, DMs everywhere didn't tell them to plan better, to conserve their resources, but rather obliged. Thus, the 5-minute adventure day was born and with it, fighters and martials grumbled even louder. Now PoW does bring up the new martial classes up to the damage potential of casters - this is correct and should silence the whining on that front. So everyone's happy, right?
The problem is: Spells are not Maneuvers. Maneuvers are an infinite resource, whereas spells are a finite resource. Spellcasters can be bled of their resources...fast. And then they are the crappy, fragile dudes and ladies that can't do jack. The strategy of resource-conservation falls right of the edge with maneuvers - arcane pool, ki pool, rage rounds - all pales before these tricks, not necessarily by potential, but by the sheer fact that unlike all resources against which I can compare these, maneuvers are infinite. Yes, they have less AoE-oomph than spells, but their power-gain still is not limited in any way. This fundamentally changes the power-dynamics not only between classes, but of the whole game. Non-martial melee classes and their interaction with PoW receive next to no consideration apart from a paltry feat-tree, when especially the introduction of one PoW-class into a regular group quite probably will invalidate them. The high-AC fighter will never, ever even come close to the warder, the rogue (even talented + rogue glory-update) will pale terribly before the stalker and a paladin's smite turn ridiculous fast when compared to the tricks a warlord can pull off.
So is PoW balanced? Not in the traditional sense of PFRPG. If you had issues with psionics or pact magic or similar subsystems - well, this one amps the power-curve up far beyond these. Whereas usually, it requires a degree of system-mastery and tricks to produce strong, very powerful characters, the PoW-classes already have an above-average competence built into their relatively linear frameworks, even before maneuver selection.
Now this sounds awfully negative when it shouldn't - PoW's classes do many things right and offer interesting mechanics and some damn cool ideas. While personally, I don't like the stalker's crit-fishing, the warder and warlord make for interesting options. The maneuvers are stylish and breathe an aesthetic of anime martial arts and over the top fighting styles you may enjoy.
PoW is, to me, more divisive even than even the Book of 9 Swords - on the one hand, I consider the balance within the frame of PoW okay, on the other, I don't think it works well with its casting brethren or any other class. So I went ahead and tested. And know what? All of my above assertions proved to be valid... and my martial PCs had no more to do than before in any situation that was NOT a battle. Granted, their attacks were more diverse, mobility increased, foes melted like butter in the sun - but beyond combat, when spellcasters cranked out the utility and research/investigation tools...they still encountered lulls where twiddled their thumbs and grumbled about limited skills/non-combat tricks.
PoW enforces a certain playstyle that is implicit, but unfortunately, not explicit in the rules - very high fantasy. Rogues, monks, fighters, cavaliers and potentially (depending very much on your take of them, how many resources you allow, etc.) even potentially rangers, paladins and inquisitors have imho no place in a campaign with Path of War. They are utterly outclassed unless the PoW-class is in the hands of a novice and the regular martial class in the hands of an experienced player. If a campaign is on a Dragon Ball level of power (and that is NOT meant as chiding or belittling, so put away the torches and pitchforks!), Path of War will be just what the doctor ordered. Many of the abilities herein just ooze rule of cool and should provide a lot of entertainment and "did you see what I just did"-moments - I absolutely understand why PoW has fans. A part of me belongs to that camp. DMs should take heed to ensure that the casters are not overshadowed completely, though. As a DM, to enjoy PoW, you have to have no issue with the infinite maneuver regaining and the inability to bleed your PCs dry. If you are okay with that and are looking for truly high fantasy, this may just be what you want. If comet-throwing, dragon-solo high fantasy is what you're going for, then Path of War will fit the bill perfectly.
Now if you are an old-school player, enjoy the challenge of 15-point-buy and less over the top fantasy, if you like your fantasy low (or rare magic) and gritty, then avoid this like the plague -this is very much anime-style fantasy, not "A Song of Fire and Ice." or Conan
So far, both playstyles do not help finding a final verdict, though. So on to the mechanical execution - and again, things become difficult for me, though less so than I feared. On the one hand, quite a few of the very worst examples of broken %&/ have been eliminated and fixed - the content herein is superior to the one on the WiP-versions in every way. However, it has not been universally fixed - especially among the interaction with other systems like spellcasting and psionics, the horrible ways to utterly break the system can still be found. While the majority of the content herein is streamlined, aforementioned 3.X-relics taint quite a few maneuvers and if I can enhance particular attack-negating counters with massive bonuses beyond what any buffs to regular attacks would render possible, we have issues. An adept of veiled moon plus invisibility (+20/+40 to stealth...), +5 to perception for 2,5K...the buffing options of skills are simply too much, too easily gained for my tastes. Still, these, I could still chalk up to "increased power-level."
Worse, there are options for infinite healing. Multiple ones. These constitute the ultimate in design sins for me - they render all WBL-assumptions utterly ad absurdum and break in-game logic harder than a dragon crashing into a wall of force midflight. Another, though comparably minor thing the playtest did show would be that the disciplines not necessarily are balanced perfectly among themselves. While not in the realm of "useless vs. imba", damage + condition-dispersal was not always on one power-level.
"So steh' ich hier, ich armer Tor - und bin so klug als wie zuvor." I love PoW, it's ideas, some of its mechanics...more so than many, many pdfs I've read. I also loathe it for what it fails by a margin to deliver. With a tighter balancing, proper advice for non-initiator classes, a little bit of fine-tuning of classes and maneuvers, a cleaning up of relics, utility-options beyond combat and perhaps (sacrilege!) an alternate rule for maneuvers that are expended and remain expended until rest, like spells, this could have been the martial arts book everybody, me included, always wanted.
Only you, dear reader, can decide in which camp you're situated - cool or crap, it's, more than with any other book I've reviewed, a matter of perspective. One half of me want to smash this to pieces as it constitutes the worst power creep I've seen in ages with 1 star, while another parts just loves it to death and wants to slap 5 stars + seal of approval on it. In the end, I do consider multiple infinite healing tricks and options that are way too powerful even within PoW's context 2 strikes against the book, but not enough to condemn it utterly. Had this no issues beyond the relics and outclassing old martial classes, I think I would have gone 4 stars with it.
In the end, I urge fans of high fantasy that want to dive headfirst into this to check it out; I also advise fans of low (or even medium) fantasy to steer clear and avoid this like the plague. I urge any DM to carefully consider allowing this book. Read EVERYTHING very carefully and ban the broken pieces. My final verdict will clock in at a very close, borderline 3 stars - the pieces that are good, are too good to dismiss.
Over 5K words in this review alone...so many hours. I'll put the book aside for now. Unfortunately, it won't make its way into my regular game, but I may one day pick it up again for crazy one-shots, until I have some time on my hand to rebuild this from the ground up to be balanced with barbarians, paladins etc.
Thank you for reading this 10-page monstrosity of a review, whether you agree with me or not, I hope I have given an adequate impression of the series and provided enough information for you to decide whether his is for you or not.
I remain yours truly,
P.S.: Published first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
No, wraithstrike - the first part of the book is essentially a massive terrain/setting sourcebook: climate, hazards, monsters, deities - the whole deal. Then, we receive aforementioned 3 reviews.
However, this is a book in a kind of loose series of terrain books (that are stand-alone), but which can be tied to form an AP-like progression from level 1-12. Next would be the book on plains and after that, mountains.
Thank you, everyone, for the kind words and encouragement - you don't know how much all of this means to me.
@Thanael: Daniel J. Bishop has written some SUPERB dark fantasy/weird fiction/pulp-style modules for the DCC-ruleset. They rank among the few modules I actually convert to other systems. They're too good to pass up.
His Faerie Tales from Unlit Shores ("Prince Charming, Reanimator", for example) and e.g. "Silent Nightfall" or "The Folk of Osmon" are BEAUTIFUL.
Oh, and ladies and gentlemen, while I have your attention - it is thanks to Thanael you'll see a Deep Magic review. I was utterly broke when the KS ran and he jumped in and pledged for me until I could scrounge the bucks together. *bows*
My dear readers,
while I am no American, I do think that Thanksgiving is a wonderful idea - so here we go; I hope you excuse my indulgence in hijacking this tradition, so here we go:
I am thankful to the following 3pps:
-Rite Publishing: Steve, you gave me my first complimentary copy. I probably wouldn't be reviewing without you and most Rite Publishing books still tend to land on my "must play"-pile. Love your work both as a publisher and writer. Also: Thank you for the spot in Pathways!
-Rogue Genius Games: Owen's company taught me *A LOT* about good crunch, ingenious design, etc. I have no other 3pp that has so many allowed PC-classes in my main campaign. That and talented classes rock my world. Also: Owen, thank you for your professionalism.
-Frog God Games: You people are not only professional and nice, you keep on creating the awesome, big and gorgeous mega-tomes I want. It goes without saying that I'm extremely happy about all of them. When I read the "thank you"-shout out in Slumbering Tsar back in the day, I teared up a little. Also: YOU MADE RAZOR COAST HAPPEN. Thank you.
-Raging Swan Press: When I'm burned out on crunch, when I don't want to read another module, I turn to Raging Swan Press - no other 3pp has made my DMing so much better and easier. Although I still have to translate the tables, villages etc. on the fly, the go-play aspect of your stuff is awesome. The Dressing-books changed my whole DM-style for the better. I salute you folks.
-AAW Games: Thank you for allowing me to be a part of Rise of the Drow, a Pathmaster-judge and for the support ad continued friendship - you are class acts! (Especially considering how I bashed your earlier, less refined modules!)
-TPK Games: Thank you for providing the crit-system I know and love as well as gritty, dark fantasy goodness. I'd also like to thank you guys for allowing my insane designs within your book.
-Interjection Games: Thank you for making some of the most beloved base classes at my table - without them, our game would be poorer. Also: Thank you for making me a part of the design-team for Strange Magic from the get-go. I learned *a lot* about complex class design and work has been an awesome experience.
-Purple Duck Games: Thank you for making some of the coolest, most underrated classes and supplements out there and for making legendary items work properly. Also: Thank you so much for introducing me to Daniel J. Bishop's superb work!
-Legendary Games: Thank you for all the great plug-ins, for making mass combat as deep and rewarding as it is and for providing all the mythic rules I need!
-Dreamscarred Press: Thank you for psionics and being class acts, even in the face of diverging opinions. I look forward to seeing what you create in the future!
-Radiance House/Everyman Gaming: Thank you for Pact Magic - without it, my games would be so much poorer.
-Kobold Press: Thank you for making Midgard and providing source-books that breathe this tangible spirit of the fantastic!
-LPJr Design: Thank you for making gorgeous, inspired and downright weird pdfs; I find my campaigns enriched by the cool ideas you bring to the game.
-Little Red Goblin Games: Thank you for providing my "And now for something completely different"-setting, Necropunk. I love what you have done and achieved there!
-Forest Guardian Press: Morgan, thank you for the Direlock - it's my favorite gish-class and sees *A LOT* of use at my table! Your Savage will join ranks here, I presume.
-Misfit Studios: Thank you for making me a part of Bite Me! back in the day!
-Mór Studios: Thank you for making a surprisingly captivating saga so far; I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes!
I'd also like to thank Abandoned Arts, ICOSA Entertainment, Fat Goblin Games, Zombie Sky Press, Storm Bunny Studios and every other 3pp I have forgotten who has sent me complimentary copies of pdfs at one time or another and taken my criticism to heart without being rude! Thank you for your patience! (I know, I'm slow...but catching up!)
I'd especially want to thank those 3pps who went the extra mile and sent me a physical copy at one point or another - you guys rock! (Even though sometimes, I wished I could have rewarded that with a better rating, I know you value integrity and sent the books nevertheless. And that is just awesome.)
But most of all, more so even than to thank all the authors and publishers, many of whom I'd call friends, I want to thank YOU. Yes, you. The person sitting in front of a screen, clicking on reviews. The guys and gals who read my ramblings. I want to thank all of you who dropped me a comment at one time or another, telling me I made a difference. You can't fathom how much that means to me, how often it has elevated me from a place of doubt back to high spirits. And when the rare complete stranger surprises me with a random act of kindness with a donation of a file, a book, or just plain money, that is when I realize I have much to be thankful for - and it is all due to you.
I also want to thank everyone who has corrected one of my mistakes in the past - I'm not perfect, but you ladies and gentlemen help me on my continuous quest of self-improvement. So thank you. As per the writing of this post, my official review-counter stands at 1750 reviews. To anyone who has ever read even ONE of them, even if you disagreed with me and/or consider me a dumb, annoying doucheback - thank you for your time.
Have a wonderful day and see you, hopefully, tomorrow, with 3 new reviews!