Pact Magic Unbound, Vol. 1 (PFRPG) (based on
Immerse yourself in the intricate rituals and legends of Goetian magic. Grab thick chalk, inscribe a geometric seal around yourself, and invoke the name of a terrible spirit to aid your quest. Behold! With a final intonation you seal a bargain with the spirit and a quivering surge of power emanates from deep within. Are you ready? Embark on your journey with the spirit of a shivering demon, martyred titan, lost mortal, chastised god, or stranger being still. The vestiges of thirty-two sundered souls lie at your fingertips, yours to command if you dare.
You will discover...
An introduction to fantasy pact-making for your campaign.
A new base class, the occultist, as well as an occultist archetype.
Archetypes for the 11 core classes.
Add-ons: a new cleric domain, barbarian rage powers, rogue talents, an oathbound paladin oath, and more!
A new type of feat to modify your pact magic, known as occult feats.
Binder Secrets, which are special abilities that an occultist can take in place of a feat.
Constellation aspects, which are like 0-level spirit powers that allow you to increase the binding DC of a spirit in order to gain an additional granted ability.
The first book converting pact-magic to PFRPG is 86 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 81 pages of content, so let's check this out, but only after a short glance back:
When I bought the "Tome of Magic" for D&D 3.5, I immediately fell in love with Pact Magic - I loved the concept, the great fluff...but power-wise, it came apart. With the notable exception of some minor supplemental material in certain Dragon-APs by Paizo, I never saw any supplemental material and if you're like me and have a LOT of books, that's a big drawback. And then, when the now deceased Kobold Quarterly magazine featured a pact magic ad, I clicked on it and ordered the books in blind faith. And if there was ONE defining experience that still makes me check out unknown 3pps, it was this one: I got gorgeously-crafted, beautiful hardcover books for a very low price and they've seen a lot of use in my subsequent campaigns.
With PFRPG, we now FINALLY get the update of my favorite magic system and it's more than just a cut-copy-paste-job - in fact, we get a completely new base-class, but for those of you not familiar with the concept, here's the spin: First, binding a spirit requires drawing a seal on a free 5-foot square - depending on the spirit, you'll have to draw the seal e.g. in darkness, with blood, etc. After drawing this symbol, you perform a ceremony, which is unique for each spirit and might range from the weird to the creepy. After witnessing the manifestation of the spirit, the binder barters with it: Each spirit comes with a binding DC that is compared to a binder's binding-check. Said check is d20+ 1/2 binder's level+cha-mod. You enter a pact with the spirit regardless of whether you succeed the check, but it does have consequences: For 24 hours, the binder shares soul and body with the entity and the check determines the amount of influence the spirit exercises over the binder. Successful checks indicate e.g. that the binder can suppress potentially weird physical signs that accompany entering a pact with a spirit. Also, the spirit's personality affects your behavior and you may ignore the spirit's restrictions like "not lying", gold as a top priority, short tempers etc. Now this system thus does not only provide a magic-system, it also provides a GLORIOUS role-playing catalyst.
That out of the way, Pact Magic, fluff-wise, is also a somewhat scorned upon practice that brings out the fanatics in e.g. some clerics and has always carried the allure of the forbidden - after all, the practitioners channel spirits that are beyond mortality and often, the range of the gods. Thus, rules provided for hiding the physical signs etc. are provided. Since the forbidden aspect is partially based on an availability, other classes can wilder in the territory of Pact Magic - especially interesting for paladins, who can now vow oaths against spirits or become Templars of Spirits, who may smite those bound as well as evil and perform exorcisms.
Clerics may become occult priests, take the occult domain and even worship spirits now - though whether sanctioned or as a heresy depends on your world. Oh, detecting heretics is supplemented by 3 new spells. Pactsworn Pagan-druids modify their shape to be more pleasing to the spirit and pay for their binding with diminished spellcasting, while the monks of the empyrean friar blends martial arts with being possessed by spirits and their supernatural abilities - I had a similar character in one of my campaigns once and it rocked, so cool concept! And yes, even fighter may opt to become so-called warshades and benefit from pact magic.
Rangers get a new archetype to gain some limited pact magic-associated abilities, while rogues may select new talents to hide supernatural aspects, improve capabilities of spirits or play an untouchable, who always gets the short end of the stick, bargain-wise, but apply a skill-bonus to a whole attribute's array.
Sorcerors may chose the Ergon bloodline that has tumor-like, eye-resembling growths spawn on the body and work as eyes as well as the power to devour magic and transcend into a half-construct as per the ARG. The second bloodline, the ravaged, is closer to a more conventional pact magic/sorceror blending. Wizards may opt to take the new soul weaver archetype, who have their spellcasting prowess diminished and forsake 3 schools, but may in turn fuse pact magic and regular magic by e.g. sacrificing prepared spells into granted abilities for more flexibility. Barbarians may become totemic sages (and also get 2 rage powers) and bards soul muses. Bards also benefit from a new masterpiece to daze foes.
You may have noticed some confusing terms here, so let me elaborate: A spirit's write-up takes up at least 1 page and not for no reason - each spirit has totems, mementos that remind him/her/it of its former life that grant the binding character a +2 insight bonus on binding checks when present, +4 when all are present - researching these can, again, be a great roleplaying opportunity.
The aforementioned ceremonies can be rushed, but that makes the result be more prone to being unfavorable for the binder. Binding spirits has multiple benefits: First of which would be minor benefits - and plural is appropriate indeed - for each spirit has at least a couple of these benefits. They range from permanent boons while being bound to the spirit to abilities that can be used 1/character level to some that have a cool-down of a couple of rounds, but no other restriction. Major abilities are simply the stronger ones granted by the spirit. Beyond these, each spirit has a capstone empowerment, which only becomes available to the binder if he/she succeeds at the binding check by 10 or more, making even low-level spirits bring something new to the table. All spirits also are aligned to one of 13 eldritch constellations and almost all of aforementioned archetypes are limited in their constellation choices. Each spirit has a favored enemy and ally constellation (sometimes multiple) that can be further enhanced by feats and makes binding spirits to allied races easier/harder, respectively. Furthermore, each constellation has 4 different potential constellation benefits. Now, the binders may also opt to forego a minor ability to instead gain the service of a so-called vestigial companion (after vestiges, the name originally applied to the spirits). The spirits also are grouped by levels from 1st to 9th, following in that regard the traditional presentation.
Now, it should come as no surprise that we also get a full binding class, the Occultist, who gets 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, 4+Int skills per level, and bind multiple aspects and squeeze augmentation bonuses out of their spirits.
But what are these spirits? Well, for example, you could bind Cave Mother, she who discovered fire, General Hessant, the Patron of Lost Soldiers, a tall story come to life by enough people believing in it, N'alyia, the First Vampire, the first of the otyughs, a living curse, Loh'Moi the geometer that sought to think 4-dimensional by teleporting into his brain, ultimately to turn back time, famed Dagon (Yes, mythos-aficionados - one constellation is called Dark beyond...), a psychotic elven princess turned black unicorn, a king betrayed by any and all as well as the sworn enemy of time. And no, that were not all contained herein.
A total of 20 feats are also part of the deal to expand the options of your pact magic-casters. Interesting is also that multiple models of spirits-known are presented for the DM, putting control essentially in your hands while featuring guidelines that help maintaining balance easy.
Editing and formatting are very good, though I noticed some minor typo-style glitches, I encountered very few and far-between, so nothing to truly complain about here. Layout adheres to a b/w-2-column standard with many of the artworks of the 3.5-version and one artwork for each seal. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but sans nested bookmarks.
Pact Magic Unbound Vol.1 is a great streamlined version of the Pact Magic-rules I've come to love and enjoy in my home-games. The thing is... I have both 3.5 hardcovers, which are now out of stock everywhere I look. And I realize these two probably have been produced at a loss - at least that would explain the stitch-binding and top-quality paper. In direct comparison, this one still just feels so...incomplete to me. While there are quite a bunch of cool spirits in here, there's a factor that made me LOVE, ADORE the original book, which is only partially present herein:
In the original, EVERY spirit had a legend, an expertly-written, sometimes, creepy, sometimes tragic, sometimes philosophic, but never boring history spanning a whole page as well as a cliff-notes version for the DM. While multiple of the spirits have retained their legends in this book, there also are several that have been omitted - for example the disturbing legend of evening star. The PFRPG-mechanics are awesome (and I hope, we'll get APG, UM and UC-support in Vol. II), the omission of the legends/cutting them down to mere paragraphs may conserve page-count, but it also detracts from what made pact magic stand out in my mind - not necessarily the mechanics, but the storytelling. The AWESOME flavor that made Pact Magic feel much more magical than regular magic.
Don't get me wrong - this is still a great offering. Its crunch is actually better, getting rid of alignment-changes etc. On the fluff-side, though, it just isn't as brilliant, as mind-boggling in its fluff as its previous incarnation and I really hope Vol. II will come with ALL legends - for more than anything else, more than the solid mechanics, it's always been the stories that, for me, defined Pact Magic.
Due to this factor, I will settle for a final verdict of 4 stars + seal of approval, for the rules are awesome - but the cut legends and the useful cliff-notes make this pdf suffer a bit. If you can, somehow hunt down the 3.5-books as well - they are worth every cent and having legends for ALL spirits makes them so much cooler.
Yasha gave a more fully detailed review outlining what's in this book, and I generally agree with it.
Here’s my thoughts on volume 1, hopefully to guide your thoughts on volume 2:
I would love to give it 5/5, but I can’t. I can’t give it 3/5, either; that would be too mean IMO, so it gets a 4/5 from me.
I should note that I thought the introduction of binders in 3.5 TOM was great. However, that had its flaws, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Things missing from volume 1:
No feat table.
No table providing a summary of what each spirit does.
Considering that there were four blank pages at the back, I thought it a shame that the above weren’t there! Such items would have been very useful!
The thing I loathed about the 3.5 TOM binder was the class fluff. The TOM introduced this amazing class, but the fluff said “everyone hates you”. Which I thought was total B.S. What makes binders so bad that everyone hates them? An evil binder is no worse than an evil sorcerer, evil cleric, and so on. A good binder isn’t evil, yet people still hated them. I loathed that fluff.
To a large extent, PMU volume 1 got rid of that rubbish, but not entirely. :-( For instance, there is no way I’d ever allow the paladin archetype, and the rogue archetype is pretty questionable to me, too.
Later on in volume 1, it talks about the level of availability of pact magic, but even at the “Pact Magic is Prominent” level, it still has the “everyone hates you” crap. What I would have preferred is that the binders (occultist etc) are treated just like any other class. You could then have had a sidebar saying something along the lines of “Pact magic is based on a theory developed in the real world Renaissance, and as such the Catholic Church was strongly against it. If you wish to introduce a flavour that binders, sorcerers, witches, etc are hunted by strong churches in particular lands, then feel free to do so. [These archetypes] are recommended if you want to use such a background, otherwise it is recommended that you do not use them if will not enhance the fun of the game.” Or better yet, Radiance House releases a compiled hardback, please have a chapter with the “everyone hates you” stuff that is optional, and take the view that the rest of the stuff is just treated normally!
The spirits. My favourites are Tyrant Cromwell, Ubro, and Serapith. It’d be good if the spirits in future books have just as much “oomph” as those. Some of the spirits just seem a bit random!!
It occurs to me, that with nine levels of spirits and thirteen constellations, there should eventually be at least 117 spirits. I’m sure it’ll be a while before we see that many, though!
Overall, I really like this book- don’t think otherwise. I just wanted to make the above points and hope that you’ll take them into consideration!
Alright, Pact Magic! Being a longtime fan of the Binder from the Tome of Magic, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the Print/PDF Bundle. Here goes.
Lets start with the "Binder" class, the Occultist. The Occultist is a solid conversion and update of the ToM Binder Class. There are a few small gripes though. It has lost the Soul Guardian tree of abilities, likely that Occultists can bind a variety of Spirits in order to get similar abilities instead. While I understand while those abilities didn't make it into the finished class, I still miss them.
The ultimate and penultimate abilities of the class are new, interesting and have a lot of potential for fun usage. All while being totally unique to the Occultist.
One thing that did strike me as odd is this; the level at which you max out the number of spirits you can bind. It seems arbitrary, it also essentially spells out that Occultists of level 21+ don't gain any additional spirits either. While I understand most folks don't play much past 15th level, I find this limits options a bit (especially since I am running an epic game right now).
The archetypes: interesting and a good way to introduce spirit binding into your campaign. One that does seem a bit unclear and I imagine will cause some confusion is that the Bind Spirit features don't specifically mention if the number of spirits you can bind increases or not. If it doesn't (as I read it) thats good and will keep these archetypes balanced against others. If it does (which the lack of Bind Additional Spirits as a class feature makes me think it doesn't), then these archetypes are looking overpowered. Clarity on this will likely stop arguments at the table. If the archetypes work the way I think they do, then they would be a welcome addition to the repertoire of the various PFRPG classes, at least at my table.
Constellations: This is an interesting little mechanic. Think of them as Occultist cantrips. They are customizable (always good) on which ones you select, there is a wide range of choices, and with multiple spirits bound you could end up with a wide range of little abilities that help out. Also, its optional to even try for a constellation ability while binding a spirit, so its up to the player whether to worry about it or not (also good).
Feats: The feats seem nice and balanced (nothing randomly OP) and fit with the flavor of the class. Reminiscent of the ToM feats but also some totally new and good stuff in there too.
Chapter Fiction: There is a reason this is a section! I like having chapter fiction/samples of characters like this. Its a little short story that lets you hear a narrative about a character like the one you are likely creating. Oddly though the "Pact Magic in Action" one lists someone using Spirits that aren't in the book at all. After reading it, I wanted to look those spirits up. Hopefully they make the next volume.
Spirits: I still need to look at them more in depth, but my general impression is of a job well done. They seem more comparable to other vestiges of the same level than the ToM ones did. At any given level, its more situation and circumstance that will determine which vestiges are best, not one just being flat out better. Great job on this section folks! I really like that you can increase the binding DC to get an empowerment on the main ability of the vestige. It actually will encourage players to try for them and hopefully make bad pacts (which is fun). I only saw one spirit that really gave much in the way of resistances or immunities though, and it is 9th level. Overall there are a lot of attack abilities and what seems like fewer defensive ones. I'd have to really give various selections of spirits trials in game to give a better opinion, that is just my initial impression.
Final Impression: Overall (despite a few little gripes), I love this book. Obviously, the developers knew what they were doing and actually liked the old ToM Binder class. They did the spirit of the class justice and brought it into the PFRPG system with style.
Back around the time the Pathfinder RPG first came out, I saw some posts about a 3rd party version of Wizards of the Coast's Binder from Tome of Magic. I'd seen a number of people say that the Binder had some good ideas, but had some mechanical problems. The general consensus was that this 3rd party publication "Secrets of Pact Magic" was 'the binder, done right'.
Now, the authors of Secrets of Pact Magic have updated their book to the Pathfinder RPG. This isn't just a quick and dirty conversion, the authors have taken advantage of the innovations introduced by PFRPG to make their Pact Magic book blend seamlessly with the overall system. It's a very elegant and professionally put together system and there is something in here for pretty much every game whether or not you decide to use the new class added by this book or if you want to use an archetype for an existing class.
Bottom line, this comes highly recommended and I hope to see more such material from Radiance House.