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Mysteries of the Dead Side: Sacred Necromancer (PFRPG) PDF

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All death, all the time!

Pure necromancy. This new class epitomizes what it means to cast the spells of death.

  • Play as one of 6 types: the flesh-crafting chirurgeon, the pact-making exorcist, the energy-wielding journeyman of the pale path or of the vibrant path, the ghost-talking psychopomp,and the undead revenant
  • Expand your deathly focus by delving into other fields: animist, eater of the dead, self-experimenter, and thaumaturgist
  • Consult the handy—and TERRIFYING!—necromancy spell list
  • Add to your use of The Faerie Ring with the fully statted iconic exorcist Ren, daughter of Red Jack
  • And wrap it all up with a handful of feats (and even a simple template for Ren, the fox-blooded!)

DYING to play an oracle-like spellcaster that casts only necromancy spells and thinks always of the dead? Then, bring the doom with your own sacred necromancer.

Mysteries of the Dead Side is the culmination of Zombie Sky Press's very first Kickstarter campaign. It was only with the ideas and collaboration of its patrons that it has succeeded.

This is a high quality, full-color, web-optimized PDF from Zombie Sky Press with convenient links to d20PFSRD.com for common gaming terms. It uses the Open Game License and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility License and is compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and standard 3.5E fantasy RPGs.

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Would be 5 stars - but has a broken component and minor glitches - 3.5 stars

***( )( )

This pdf is 19 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1/3 page editorial, 1 page SRD/blank space apart from a couple of lines, leaving ~ 17 2/3 pages of content, so let's check this out!

The second installment of the "Mysteries"-series was funded via a mini-kickstarter some time ago and introduces us to the Sacred Necromancer, who gets d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, 4+ Int skills per level, good fort-saves (uncommon for a primary caster) and spellcasting access of up to 9th level, with a maximum of 6 slots per level. Spellcasting is interesting in that it works via Charisma and spontaneous, but is limited similar to the spellcasting of the Yamabushi: The class gets access to all spells of the necromancy-school, be they divine or arcane, but must choose each day which spells they "know" this day. Additionally, the Sacred Necromancers get proficiency with light armors and don't incur a spell-failure when casting in light armor. Sacred Necromancers don't need a divine focus to cast divine spells, his spells are considered both arcane and divine and they cast as if using the eschew materials feat and gain up to +9d6 channel energy, with its use for damage or healing being prescribed by the respective calling of the class.

"Calling"? Yes. Essentially a sub-class that is chosen at first level and grants access to a certain variety of abilities specific to the calling - if you're familiar with them, the callings essentially work like the archetypes in Super Genius Games' anachronistic adventurers-line. (Not to be confused with common archetypes). Each calling thus has a connection to the forces of life and death and may chose whispers (essentially talents) based on the callings. Additionally, there are fields to further customize the character.

So what are the callings? The first would be the Chirurgeon, who can channel negative energy and use it only to heal his undead creations. They can choose from 6 whispers, which allow him to create neutral mindless undead (VIA SCIENCE!) and enhance them via construction points when performing a ritual on them. They may also buff allies (or foes) with a risky field experimentation (roll 3d4, 1 on a 1d4 is a penalty, the other 3 being bonuses, each die-roll influencing a physical attribute), treat "cure"-spells as necromancy-spells (i.e. add them to their spell-list), temporarily return creatures to life (who act as if confused, but may be guided via Cha-checks), spread sickness and contagion and gain a monster companion, which you can evolve à la Frankenstein. You also get a whisper that deals electricity damage via touch, but heals your monstrous companion. The Chirurgeon's capstone is granting full-blown sentience to their creature and created undead.

The second calling is the exorcist, who can only channel positive energy and use it for damage. Suited for combat versus outsiders and undead, they get improving protection and opt to halve their channel energy to harm undead and heal allies at higher levels. Furthermore, they may choose from 9 whispers dealing with matters of possession and breaking free of mental control, damaging outsiders via channeling and the effect to temporarily make areas and rooms safe from outsiders and undead and their magical prowess by erecting a sacred barrier via channel energy. The capstone allows you to use imprisonment and up to 20 rounds of freedom of movement per day.
The Journeyman of the Pale Path can channel negative energy and either heal or harm with it and even combine healing undead with damaging the living. They may choose from 7 specific whispers dealing with some rather cool options: The dampening of healing spells, for example, is a really deadly affair, as is adding bleed to channel damage, erect walls of negative energy, cause your minions to explode, cadaverous explosion-style and instill frenzy or tactics into your undead. The capstone makes you a lich. The calling also comes with its reverse version, the Journeyman of the Vibrant Path and a formatting peculiarity: The bracketed text that comments on the reversed powers of the Vibrant Path is of a different font and font-size, leading to a strangely disjointed look and being an obvious formatting glitch that definitely should have been caught.

Next up is the Psychopomp, who channels positive energy exclusively for healing and deals with the spiritual side of the topics, choosing from a total of 7 whispers. It should be noted that Psychopomps gain additional powers over the levels that increases your spellcasting prowess via the powers of the ancients. From gaining access to an oracle mystery, 1/month breath of life yourself as an immediate action and gaining bonuses due to your communion with spirits. At 20th level, you become indestructible by all but a god - reforming in a place of your choice after 1d4+1 days in a location at least 10 miles away from the site of death. Epic!

The Revenant channels negative energy for purposes of dealing damage, can choose from 9 whispers and...well. Are Undead. And gain all the undead immunities apart from the one to mind-influencing effects. Not gonna happen in my game. ever. While PFRPG has made undead less op, they still are stronger than regular characters - by quite a stretch. And the slightly weaker whispers in no way are enough to balance out the insane power-gain the undead subtype grants the character. Broken in my book and desperately needs a balancing factor like the classic revenants single-minded focus on revenge, undead weaknesses etc..
We also get 4 different fields to customize your sacred necromancers. The first being the Animist with 7 more whispers that rock: When some creature with a soul dies, you can delay its ascension and harness the soul to heal allies by reflecting on its joy in life or increase your spellcasting prowess or buff allies. Nice. Eaters of the Dead gain 6 whispers and can craft bone talismans from vanquished foes (possibly scavenging-potential here with SGG's Death Knight and Death Mage) as well as the power to devour essences to gain fast healing . Really disturbing and iconic: Eat the flesh of a foe to take said foe's appearance! Yes! And by eating foes, you can even detect their thoughts! Grisly, creepy, awesome! For the adherents of the old 3.5 Pale Master-class, we also get a self-experimenting field with 4 new whispers that allow you to augment your eyes and gain access to alchemist discoveries via your body-grafting. The final field deals with Thaumaturgy and ROCKS. The ability to damage yourself and deal twice the amount to foes via touch attacks by Blood Oath is incredibly cool (think of the cool, desperate gambits you could do), gain bonuses to social skills, the option to geas foes and the option to dismiss outsiders whose names you know - great way of implementing the good ol' arcane feeling of mysticism into a useful ability.

Now, beyond the class, we also are introduced to Mokuren "Ren" Kamura (whom you may recall from the "Red Jack"-pdf) in all her foxblooded rogue 3/Sacred Necromancer 10-splendor, fully statted with a beautiful artwork. Beyond this neat bonus-character, we also get 3 new feats:
-Extra Fox Tail: Choose a fox magic feat and an additional fox tail to enhance your foxblooded powers.
-Extra Whisper: Self-explanatory.
-Turn Living: Turns living like Turn Undead turns undead.
The pdf closes with the fox-blooded simple template and it should be noted that there is also a spell-list precompiled for the Sacred Necromancer, which is nice to start, but depending on the number of books you use, might need massive additions.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are the weak-points of this pdf: I noticed some obvious glitches in formatting, which, while not detracting from my understanding of the product, detracted from its otherwise very professional look. Layout adheres to ZSP's 3-column landscape format and the full-color artworks herein are awesome and deserve praise. The pdf is backgroundless and printer-friendly and comes with a massive array of bookmarks to help you navigate the file. Super Genius Games, take heed - class-pdfs with bookmarks are just easier to use.

Honestly, I wasn't looking forward to either reading or reviewing this. Why? Because I don't like necromancers to be kindhearted. I want them garish, gritty, dirty and creepy - and "sacred" didn't really point me in that direction. Furthermore, there already is Marc Radle's rather well-designed White Necromancer from KQ (and possibly soon, Open Design's New Paths-line). So yeah, I was looking forward to at best seeing a repetitive design. And instead, we actually get a very clever class: The combination of fields, callings and whispers with scaling bonuses and versatile abilities mixed in allows for supreme customization and makes the design-choices feel exciting, balanced and iconic.

HOWEVER. And, unfortunately, it's a big however, the pdf also suffers from a problem that already plagued the Yamabushi: The total access to all spells of the necromancy-school means that, depending on the amount of spell-publications you use, the class experiences massive power gains. Presume e.g. Rite Publishing's "1001 Spells", Necromancer of the Northwest's "Advanced Arcana"-pdfs, Dreadfox Games' Grimoire Mortalitas and BAM - instant power-up! Wizards have to find and learn the spells, sorcerors have a limited selection. Sacred Necromancers? Nothing. No advice is given for the DM on how to properly handle this versatility and deal with the new options, which is a problem inherent in the design-choice and the one thing that can potentially utterly break the class-balance. Secondly, there is the Revenant. What a cool concept. What an utetrly amateurish execution. Undead PCs are mostly bad ideas balance-wise- (And yes, speaking from experience - I had a character that once was pure and good fall to becoming a fanatic that willingly turned into a vampire to prolong her life and establish a vampiric theocracy based on her twisted vision of her once RG-faith after inciting a holy war...and succeed.). Undead, even in Pathfinder, are MUCH STRONGER THAN LIVING CHARACTERS. They need balancing factors. And the Revenant HAS NONE. Diddly-squat. How can such a blunder happen? Need I recite the list of immunities? And don't come with the "fluff-penalty"-non-argument of ostracism. That can be solved via disguise, magic etc. This NEEDS balancing factors. Desperately.

Now, how to rate this? Until I got to the Revenant, I was looking forward to all-out recommending this pdf. However, the flaws conspire to drag down a pdf that could easily have been 5 star+ seal of approval material. With just a bit more editing to get rid of the obvious glitches. With just a few paragraphs (there's enough blank space on the last page!) on handling expanded spell-selections via other 3pp-publications and future paizo-books. And this needs a solid redesign of the revenant-calling (The drawbacks are what defines the undead that gives this the name!!!!) - as written, the calling is broken as all hell.
Damn, this one is so hard to rate: The good parts are 5 star + seal material, but damn, damn, damn - the minor glitches, the spell-list issue and most of all, the revenant that needs massive redesign are factors I cannot ignore when issuing my final verdict. As much as it pains me and wrenches my heart, I can in no good conscience rate this otherwise stellar pdf as high as I want to - it just feels like it was rushed out in the end and would have needed another week. My final verdict will be a 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 with an encouragement to check this out nevertheless. If the revenant is fixed/you don't take that calling into account, this would score a whole star more. I hope I may update my verdict of the pdf soon to the rating the class deserves.

Endzeitgeist out.


Making death much more exciting

*****

Necromancy is one of those areas where a lot of people want to play one, but it’s always something of an awkward fit. Under the basic Pathfinder rules, the basic aspects of necromancy tend towards undead- and evil-focused material enough that you’re either not evil and doing it wrong, or doing it right but are evil as a consequence. It is, quite simply, hard to reconcile those two extremes.

No more! Zombie Sky Press’s Mysteries of the Dead Side: Sacred Necromancer threads the difficult strands between offering necromantic powers without (necessarily) being a servant of darkness. Let’s take a closer look and see how it pulls it off.

The book conforms to the minimum material necessary for a quality PDF product: copy-and-paste is enabled, and full nested bookmarks are present. No printer-friendly version is presented, but that’s not really a concern because (save for the front cover) there’s very little artwork here; just three color pieces.

The book opens with its new base class, the sacred necromancer. On its face, this class looks a lot like an oracle – same BAB and Hit Dice, same skill points per level – but the differences quickly become clear. While the sacred necromancer is a spontaneous spellcaster, each day it gets to change what spells are on its Spells Known list, but with a catch – they can only choose necromancy spells, off of any list (with a necessary exception for 0-level spells). Further, their spells are considered both divine and arcane at the same time; the sacred necromancer’s study of death crosses conventional limitations. Being able to channel energy is also a valuable ability, but in this case it’s limited by the sacred necromancer’s calling.

A calling is similar to an oracle’s mystery, in that it’s a theme that grants some basic powers, and then presents a suite of abilities, of which you choose one every so many levels. In this case, a calling decides what sort of channel energy you can use and how you use it (e.g. channel negative energy, only for harming the living), has a “connection” (a signature ability that is automatically gained), and a set of whispers to choose from.

There are six callings presented (counting the Journeyman as two). The chirurgeon is obsessed with the physical aspects of death. Like Doctor Frankenstein, he can construct a golem-like “monster” that’s somewhere between an animal companion and an eidolon. More interesting, at least to me, was his whisper that lets him remove the “evil” descriptor from spells that raise the undead – I know so many players who will want this just for that.

The Exorcist is focused around trapping, dispelling, and otherwise countering the effects of outsiders and undead. There are a lot of abilities here that are defensive in nature, as well as some battlefield-control ones (e.g. seal an outsider in a protected area for a short time). The Journeyman of the Pale Path, by contrast, is simply an expert at manipulating negative energy, to the tune of things like taking an immediate action to reduce healing with a tightly-focused channel energy, or create undead that share teamwork feats. Nicely, there’s a sidebar that talks about reversing this class to be positive-energy focused instead, and each ability has a short section saying how it would work in reverse.

The Psychopomp is concerned with the state of the soul. It struck me as the weakest of the themes here, but it still had several interesting abilities, such as summoning a spirit to be able to be the focus point of channeling energy, or being able to summon ancient spirits of great heroes into your allies to boost their abilities. The final calling, the Revenant, is much more fun – you get to play an undead creature! Limited only in that you’re not flatly immune to mind-affecting effects, this calling has some fairly tightly-focused powers relating to your former life, such as focusing your hatred against certain kinds of creatures (presumably the same sort that killed you) or even against specific individuals.

Beyond these callings, sacred necromancers also gain “fields.” Fields are like mini-callings, adding additional thematic flavor to what your sacred necromancer can do. Most don’t inherently grant any powers, but rather expand what whispers you can take. For example, the self-experimentation field allows access to four whispers based around augmenting your body to gain.

There’s also a brief sidebar which says it lists “all necromancy spells for the Pathfinder role-playing game.” That’s great, particularly since most (though it seems like it should be all) of them are linked to the d20 PF SRD, but I do wish that those spells not from the Core Rulebook were tagged with an indicator to show what book they are from.

Nearing its end, the book presents a sample sacred necromancer named Ren. Ren, who is a shout-out to a previous ZSP book, has a full stat block, but has no flavor or expository text of any kind, which is a shame considering her background. She’s also fox-blooded, which is a new +0 CR simple template, which denotes that you have kitsune ancestry – I liked this, even if it was slightly out of place in the book, because it lets you delve into taking kitsune-specific abilities. Speaking of which, the book has three new feats, one of which allows you to have an extra fox tail. The other two are more necromantic in focus, granting an extra whisper or allowing you to turn the living (a la turn undead).

One thing I haven’t mentioned up until now are the book’s weaknesses. Remember how I noted that the spell list was linked to d20pfsrd.com? So are lots of other parts in the book…but there’s no visual indicator of what words are links and which aren’t. While this does make for a more consistent (and prettier) visual display, it can be surprising when you click to scroll the PDF and find that you’ve clicked on a link to open something on d20pfsrd.

There’s also the occasionally-unclear ability. A high-level exorcist, for example, is protected from bodily contact with outsiders and the undead as a supernatural ability…unless they have spell resistance. So he has to make a caster level check with a supernatural ability against their SR? What bonus does he have for that? Presumably it’s equal to his character level, but it’s unclear. There are a few instances of that kind of uncertainty throughout the book, though only a few (e.g. is Extra Whisper limited to just whispers you can take, or any whisper in any calling or field?).

Overall though, I think the book was not only mechanically sound in what it prevented, but highly evocative as well. This is the sort of book where, as you read it, you can’t help but think about how much fun it would be to play this class. To me, that’s really the best mark of quality an RPG supplement can have. Delving into death was never so much fun as the sacred necromancer makes it.


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