Prepare yourself to return to the Forge. Called back by the seven watchers of the Black Flock, you will face new challenges and new enemies in an ever-more-unstable world of political intrigue, powerful warlords, and ancient secrets.
Seven years have passed since last the Domains of the Forge were documented, and in that time much has changed. Bloodlords have fallen, the Queen no longer reigns, and the once proud city of Penance has been reduced to a war zone. Millions have been displaced, seeking solace in the empty wastes of the red desert or shaky shelter in the eternal darkness at the top of the world.
Oathbound Seven is the new core rulebook for Oathbound under the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game system. It contains everything you need to run an Oathbound campaign. This is not a simple reprinting of Domains of the Forge, but a careful compilation of all six preceding Oathbound books, reworked, expanded, and enhanced, with plenty of new material for returning Oathbound fans. Oathbound Seven picks up the story of the Forge seven years from where it was left off, revealing a period of intense strife and chaos that has seen marked changes in the character and order of the world.
An overview of the Forge and the seven domains
Seven years of new history, new alliances, and new surprises
New races and classes for player characters
Evolutions: A new system for prestige races
Equipment and materials for rashers of all stripes
Gifts, skills, feats, spells, and magical items
Religions, critters, and societies of the Forge
15 Player Character Races
12 Prestige Classes
2 Core Classes
100 Arrival Gifts
11 Earned Gifts
80 Magic Items
5 New Skills
33 New Feats
29 New Weapons
12 New Armor/Shield Types
Over 50 New Items and Substances
While this project started out as a mere compilation of past work, it gradually evolved into something entirely new: a re-envisioning of the setting, a massive amount of new material, and an improvement across-the board on the original products, streamlined by the new Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules. New material has been worked into every element of Oathbound, and some chapters have been written entirely from scratch with all new content.
Even Pathfinder Roleplaying Game players who don't intend to play Oathbound will find this material indispensable for their games. We have done several rounds of playtesting, so this is the largest, most-tested, most-balanced, and best-proofed Oathbound product ever.
Oathbound Seven is a massive tome of 496 pages, 2 pages editorial, 2 pages ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with an epic of 493 pages of content, so let's check this out!
Before I go into the details of this review, I'll tell you a bit about how I came to finally review this. Remember the 3.X days of old when just about every one cranked out supplement after supplement, book after book and the glut stared growing? Much like other people, for me, this was an age of uncontrolled spending - each visit to my FLGS yielded a precious new slew of books and while there admittedly were many that plain and true sucked, there were gems to be found. Now, some years after the bubble burst, I'm looking back at the time and honestly can't find much merit in many publications, the amount of worthwhile settings in particular being only a fraction of what was published. I have fond memories of the L5R-adaptions to d20 (though I prefer the original rules) and in my honest opinion, Arthouse's take on Ravenloft remains the most superior iteration of my very favorite setting; Its gazetteers, VR-Guide to the shadow fey and dark tales and disturbing legends in particular rank among my all-time favorite RPG-products ever. WotC should have never taken the license away from these extremely talented, dedicated people - but that's just my opinion. If you can track the books down, do yourself a favor and do so - they are stellar, even if mined only for ideas. Among the other settings I consider truly brilliant, we have Midnight - a truly dark setting if there ever was one and one I'd also consider a must-have, if only to read its fluff and ideas. There also were the Scarred Lands, which, although marred by horribly unbalanced crunch influence my campaigns to this day and, would my players know about it, they'd see nods galore that bow to the excellent ideas of the setting. Well and then there was a small but fierce (pardon the theft of the catchphrase Wolfgang!) 3pp called Bastion Press. Their books caught my eyes by being full color, lavishly illustrated affairs and thus, I got myself some. And boy. I'll never forget reading their compilation of lovingly crafted villains. Now Bastion was known for hardcore products indeed - to give you an idea, just let me tell you that I didn't have to make their villains stronger by completely redoing them from scratch in order to challenge my players.
Why am I rambling on about them? Well, they released a setting called Oathbound: Domains of the Forge and it fit perfectly with their style and ambition. If I had to describe Oathbound in one sentence, it would be "Planescape meets Ravenloft" - without flinching one bit. If you know about my love for both of these settings, you'll realize that for someone revering them with what borders n religious fervor, this is high praise indeed. But let me elaborate what I mean by this: Oathbound details the World of the Forge, a vast planet that touches upon vast slews of planes settings (and can thus easily call any group of heroes to the setting), but which can't be left. Known as the Forge of Heroes, the world draws the best, brightest, most malevolent and darkest and pushes them to their very limits - all in the Forge is more vibrant more extreme, grander than in most worlds, making few want to find a way to escape the winding clauses of the oath that defines this planar prison, in which the very creator of all things was imprisoned and lies sleeping, bound by the magic of thousands of gods from vastly differing worlds, the prison being guarded by the 7, once against of the creator made jailer and masters of the domain. Much like Sigil, no gods may enter the Forge and thus the 7 of the Feathered Fowl reign supreme, but more on that later.
Much like the mists of Ravenloft given faces and identity, the 7 are essentially powers-that-be, longing for freedom from their eternal vigil, as they themselves are bound by their very own oaths, thus seeking to create heroes in this larger than life environment, while at the same time being compelled to destroy those unearthing too much of the secrets and oaths governing the unique world. Speaking of unique and larger than life, newcomers to the world, so-called seeds, get a gift by the latent powers of the creator, ranging from luck bonuses to charms and abilities like chameleon skin to give the seeds an edge in an environment that has bred the finest of unimaginable many worlds via conflicts and selection to the point where its inhabitants would be seen as paragons in other worlds. Speaking of uncommon - the Forge boasts two suns and to moons, which govern the year and attention and explanations are given for the hours of the day, festivities, months etc., providing the reader with a first glimpse at the painstaking and loving detail with which this setting was crafted. But before I go further, why Oathbound Seven? Is it a remake? Yes and no - it is a compilation of material from the books released so far, yes, but it is also a revisit: The Forge is not static and 7 years have passed since we last took a look at it when it was headed by Bastion Press and much has changed in the intervening time: For example Penance, one crossroads and capital of the world, has seen a change in rulership when Belus managed to succeed at a coup d'état vs. the city's queen Israfel, thus sending waves of changes and its not yet fathomable repercussions for the Forge. Now, while Bloodwar-ravaged Penance is providing potential for adventures galore, the area is not the only one introduced to us: Take the red deserts of Arena, where endless war is waged between feuding warlord and clashing armies under the watchful auspice of Barbello to the legendary Wildwood, primal prototype of all types of forests, spanning all imaginable types of wood and being home to all kinds of wild and dangerous predators under the command of Haiel, the grand hunter an master of this untamed wilderness. And that are only the ones that have been detailed in the Bastion Press books... for the sake of not escalating this review beyond any readability, I'll refrain from commenting on the other areas and instead point you towards the book detailing the latest domain, also by Epidemic books, Eclipse. (And I swear it won't take me this long to review that one!) Just let it be known that cities of vampires (including publicity campaigns!), lands of eternal night (eclipse..d'unhh!) and things like living glaciers all can be found, remaining true to the truism of being a world concise, yet decidedly fantastical in every possible meaning of the word. If you're like me, you'll be once again deeply entrenched in the lore of the forge by the time you read page 119, where recent events, already hinted at in the tantalizing power-shifts, are recorded.
After more than 20 pages of extremely well-written chronicles of the bloodwars, we start to get into the mechanic details of the races that inhabit the Forge - and from the entry on humans, we quickly gather a peculiarity of the Forge: Its power level. Humans gain an additional gift and a discount on evolutions, but more on that later. The other races herein are no less powerful - take for example the horned, tiger-like winged humanoids Asherakes who may choose from racial feats to enhance their flight or scent, the jellyfish-like, telekinetic amphibious Ceptu, the small draconic-looking Cromithians, the canine humanoids called Dovers, the sly and crafty (and almost demonic looking) Fausts, the bipedal cat-beings called Frey and their larger wildcat-like brethren, the telepathic and sightless weird yet loyal Haze, the lazy reptilian Nightlings, reptilian gypsy-like beings called Picker, the organic metal beings named Silver, plantlike Thorns to the goatlike race of bandits called Valco ad their larger, more deadly war-like brethren, we are introduced to an array of highly unusual races that have in common that they are many tings - but not balanced with the core-races. Since the Forge thrives on competitiveness, the races herein are significantly more powerful than one would expect, coming with multiple abilities and often extra senses, movement modes etc. - it is for the sake of brevity as well as for the internal setting's balance that I will refrain from listing their racial traits. Suffice to say that the respective races run a vast gamut and that the introduction of new species should be simple given the setting's background. Would I allow any of the races in a standard PFRPG-game? Hell no! I don't even allow drow or all variants of tieflings in my home game! Much like in my review of Amethyst Renaissance, though, I'm rather sure that within the context of the setting and its assumptions the aces work as intended, lacking utter game-breakers. While powerful, the races do work in the internal context of the setting - or they could. Potentially. When in fact, as much as it pains me to say, they are unbalanced and range in powers from PFRPG-ARG to ECL +3 and more. Now Oathbound's crunch was never good, but I really hoped they'd get it right this time. Nope.
In the next chapter we are introduced to Forge-specific application of skills like the crafting of blood glass and flesh, the knowledge about the strange anatomies of its denizens, knowledge (warfare) and (earth) and similar skills help the seeds survive. On the mechanical side I have a minor gripe here: Some of the skills mention synergy-bonuses, which are not part of PFRPG design-standards. If they'd adhere to the excellent system introduced by Misfit Studios' "Superior Fantasy Synergy" I'd probably be less inclined to complain, but as presented, they feel like a design-remnant from the 3.X days of old. Speaking f not conforming to standards - the feats, of which we get a wide variety, put feat-names and skill-names in the prerequisites in italics. While no big problem, is a peculiarity I felt the need to mention, as italics usually are reserved for spell names. The feats themselves deal with improved racial capabilities as well as e.g. improved ranged combat prowess in storms etc The feats are solid and some of them tap into the concept of the Forge's inherent magical nature and expanded class abilities, but more on that later. For the same sake of brevity mentioned above, I'll also refrain from going into the mechanic details of the 8 PrCs presented herein, which range from Zealots and Hunters to Demagogues - and surprisingly, it is these classes that could be easily scavenged into a regular setting - depending on the power level of your own, you may wish to add a requirement here or there if used outside the Forge, but overall, they are well-balanced, smart and adhere o the respective design standards and thankfully lack the dreaded "dead" levels of 3.X-design. Special mention deserves the demagogue and its nice execution of a truly legendary master of rhetoric that could be a blast to play.
Of course, where there are PrCs, one can also find core classes and two new ones are introduced: The feral warriors (d12, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, good fort- and ref-saves as well as improving natural weaponry that gains monk-like powers to pass DR but who can't use armors and don't gain weapon proficiencies) and the Rafters, treasure hunters not unlike Pathfinders that gain d8, 8+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB, good ref-saves, proficiency with martial weapons and whips and a plethora of powers that make them suitable for scouting, exploration and masters of the whip, their weapon of choice. The class feels like a nice blending of scholar, explorer and scout, though it and its feral warrior brethren suffer from one crucial flaw in design - they are linear. If PFRPG has shown us something, it's that choices are simply more fun and that every class should have a toolkit of options to choose from - whether it be rage powers, ways to invest Ki etc. Unfortunately both per se nicely designed classes lack such choices, which is a pity indeed - personally, I'd think about rage powers for the feral and roguish talents for the rafter, but I'm currently too thinly stretched time-wise to properly balance them and can thus only remain with this suggestion.
Beyond what one could consider normal PrC, there are also 4 so-called channeling PrCs that harness the inherent divine creative powers of the Forge. Channeling can be considered a separate magic system that allows its practitioners to weave raw magic int so-called patterns, with unique effects depending on the PrC chosen. Unlike traditional spellcasters, channelers may weave multiple patterns in rapid succession, enhance patterns by spending more energy on them (somewhat akin to how Psionic Power Points can augment powers, but less restrictive; Artficers and Spellwardens have no stacking limit for their powers while disjoiners and ravagers do.) etc. Channeling may be done defensively and can be interrupted like casting, though it does not require somatic, verbal or material components. Each channeler has a basic assortment of Mana Points of Con-bonus times character level and once that is used up, channelers may still cast on, but at a price - the raw magic starts to burn through their bodies and damage the respective key-attribute of the channeling class. Artificers are mainly concerned with conjuring things and even life out of thin air, while their disjoiner foils are all about undoing and unravelling things. Spellwardens can be considered defensive channelers that are supremely suited to foil casting classes, while the warlike ravager essentially are a combination of warlike powers and e.g. force-field like telekinetic blasts - if you ever wanted to go Dragon Ball Z on your foes, this one does the trick (though, of course, not in such a ludicrous proportion as in the series). I really enjoyed the respective PrCs and their abilities, though I once again have a gripe with their linearity - while cool in and of themselves, I think the PrCs would have vastly benefited from actual choices of patterns available instead of clinging to a linear progression which, while offering VERY cool options, nonetheless remains linear.
Now, I've mentioned gifts that the Forge bestows upon its seeds and 100 different arrival gifts are detailed in here, ranging from scentlessness to attribute- and skill-bonuses and even an empathic power that allows you to determine the emotional state of others. Beyond this massive list, we also are introduced to earned gifts, which are bestowed upon the people of the Forge for special deeds and actions: Ethereal Sight, mind-reading and the ability to invade dreams are just some of the examples. And then there are evolutions which I mentioned in the discussion on the modification of the basic human race. Essentially, evolutions are AWESOME ways to further customize your character. First, you take the "Evolve"-feat and after that, you choose a focus (a kind of evolutionary path). The evolution costs XP and can be progressed further if you choose to do so at higher levels. Furthermore, there is a ritualistic component which also needs to be completed, making evolutions not only sound crunch-wise, but also a great seed for potential adventures. Some also require focus items and to make matters more exiting, you can also choose from mutations, which essentially are the smaller brothers of full-fledged evolutions. Evolutions also have restrictions and run the gamut from additional limbs, web-spinnerets, gills, resistance to energy drain, improved attributes, spines, quills, an aura of anonymity, fertility with all races to becoming a living prism or functioning in vacuum - these evolutions rock and a DM looking for interesting (and potentially double-edged) ways of rewarding his/her players should definitely check this chapter out, even when not running an Oathbound-campaign.
Part 2 of my review in the product discussion (or on Lou Agresta's RPGaggression, GMS magazine or Nerdtrek).
I've been a long time fan of the Oathbound Campaign Setting and I was excited to see it coming back in Pathfinder, and while Eclipse was released before this, it was not available as a pdf until after this was released and so this was my first re-entry to the world of the Forge. I was both delighted and saddened at my return.
The forge is an artificially created world designed to forge mortals into the absolute most powerful beings they can be. It is a wondrous world, and if you're looking for a high level campaign setting that has opportunities a plenty for the pcs to make differences and play exotic concepts, the Forge is definitely for you. (Pcs can be literally anything the DM allows thanks to the pull, which takes mortals (and plenty of other things) from other worlds and deposits them on the Forge.)
Also, the size of this book is huge. It comes in at almost 500 pages, making it come out to around 2 cents per page. You can't get a better value than that.
To me, the fluff of the world, the changes that have happened in the past seven years, and the world's potential as a campaign setting is all firmly 5 star material. However. . .
The crunch, it is bad. Very bad. Like it would be easier to say what isn't horrible than what is. Unfortunately this interferes significantly with the fluff of the world as the races are as far out of balance as the rest of the book. Even if one plays on the world of the Oathbound I would still suggest that the entire book be off limits to pcs. (Fortunately, that can be done, but it does subtract a significant amount of flavor from the setting.)
The art work. I know art is very subjective and all that, but the art is well, informative at best. You can get an idea of what something looks like through the art, but no pc is ever going to hold up the book and go "This is what my character looks like. Its so cool."
So why 3 stars? There's good material here and bad material here, to give this a higher rating would be a disservice to the products that are good (or at least ok) throughout, but to give it a poorer rating would be a disservice to what good material is here so after much deliberation I settled on three stars.