Masterpieces are special performances for bards that represent the abilities of a grand master in a given bardic talent, and were first introduced in Ultimate Magic. Generally taken in place of a feat or spell known, masterpieces serve two useful functions for bard players. First, they give bards some flavor that makes them different than just “banjoplaying sorcerers with a lot of skill points,” and second, they increase a bard’s overall flexibility. GMs can gain similar benefits from adding masterpieces to a campaign or creating brand new masterpieces. Perhaps only the Choirsters of the Church of the Celestial Music have access to The Lullaby of Ember the Ancient, or the minotaur-dancers of Tarse are famed for their defensive cape dance the GM creates as a cultural option.
Of course, the ability to use a new option either for increased flexibility or as a backgroundappropriate flavor element is limited by how many examples of that option exist. Since Ultimate Magic had to cover all the spellcasting classes, it had only limited space to explore the idea of bardic masterpieces. It did give guidelines for GMs to create their own but that often takes time a GM may not have, and with only a few examples a GM might not be sure what kinds of things make good masterpieces.
To help expand the options available to bard players and GMs, Ultimate Options: Bardic Masterpieces presents a selection of new masterpiece options. At least a few options are given that will work for each of the Perform skills, and a few are listed that can be used by a bard focused on any type of Perform. In addition to typical performance masterpieces, there are several masterpieces for social skills—things learned as the pinnacle of a bard’s ability to understand, communicate with, and manipulate people. Although these masterpieces are often extraordinary abilities rather than supernatural (and carefully state this when it is the case) and represent a different kind of advanced bardic skill, they otherwise follow the normal rules for masterpieces.
This pdf is 15 pages long, 1 page front cover/ToC, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's check this out!
I love bardic masterpieces. For a feat or spell, they grant the bard something unique, something distinct from all the other classes, marrying uniqueness in benefits with nice fluff and I always wondered why there have not been more 3pps adding to the concept. However, they are hard to balance and live from more than just their crunch, they also need some fluff. So let's check out what these masterpieces do, shall we?
But before we do, I feel the need to tell you about a particular thing I REALLY liked about this pdf: This is actually one of the rare SGG-books with fluff! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we actually get aptly-written prose for each of the masterpieces, which is something I'd love to see for all of the more complex options SGG presents, but I digress.
These are the masterpieces:
-Call of the Crossroads: Call planar allies at crossroads. YEAH! Iconic, cool, mystic and makes the masterpiece feel MAGICAL, drawing on a lengthy tradition of folklore. Two thumbs up!
-Drums of War: Burn spells to grant allies access to teamwork-feats other allies in range have. Iconic, WIN!
-Divine Glorification: Add level 1-6 spells of a domain of your patron deity to your spell-roster.
-Galliard of Blades: Spend massive amounts of bardic performance for +4 to Str, Dex, Con and AC, +5 to ref-saves as well as the ability to add your dex-mod to damage with light weapons and full BAB, but at the cost of spellcasting while performing the masterpiece. A musical Tenser's Transformation-style effect? Yes, please!
-Genre Genesis: +4 to cha-based skill-checks against anyone with perform-ranks and allows you to use perform instead of another skill from a list. I'm usually not into skill-substitution, but this one does it for me. Nice!
-Heartbeat of the Wild: Gain an animal companion. Ok, I guess, but the first one I wasn't blown away by.
-Inhuman Harmony: Select a creature-type. You may affect said creature-type with bard spells that could usually not effect it.
-Irresistible Dirge: Play for the Dead to ask them questions. Rules-wise perhaps not too exciting, but the imagery is AWESOME.
-Lexicon of Expressions: Allows you to send messages via bluff sans skill-checks and bluff via expression alone, sans relying on audio. Could be VERY cool and I already know how I'd use it.
-Lament's Furious Refrain: Affected characters are prohibited from using some skills, but may reroll vs. emotion-effects and gets a bonus against new effects like that imposed on them. Cool one indeed - I have Antimatter's "Leaving Eden" in my head right now.
-Maestro of Cultures: Allows you to save escalating situations and make fast diplomacy with otherwise unhelpful or even hostile characters and creatures.
-Maestro of Faces: Allows you to determine starting attitude, law/chaos and good/evil-axis of an other by observation. Not a big fan of abilities like that, but the DM rolling this in secret saves it for me.
-Satire of Unrelenting Truths: Use Horace's concept of a satire to grant atonement to teh satirized target. Genius!
-Undulation of Enticements: Strike a deal via the promise of applied seduction.
-Unearthly Aria: Grant allies access to a class feature one level above their current one or +4 on caster level checks. This buff effin' rules!
-Writ of Bardic Immunity: Diplomatic Immunity! À la Dandelion in the Witcher-books, only better! HELL. EFFIN. YEAH!
Better yet, the pdf suggests using the luminary's abilities as masterpieces as well and provides basic guidelines in a box.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice a single glitch. Layout adheres to SGG's 3-column landscape presentation and especially the ToC is a nice addition I hope to see in all future guides. The pdf's bookmarks are also something I've been hoping for and make using it even easier.
Ok. Let me spell this out now. Does your campaign have bards? Any bards? Player characters or NPCs? Yes? Then you have to buy this! Expertly-written fluff. Iconic masterpieces, not a single one of which I'd consider problematic. Not gripes, no glitches and actually actively excited about the offering - that's not something that happens too often anymore and I'll savor it while I can. Pdfs like this are what made Owen K.C. Stephens the crunch-legend he is and the nice narrations add more value to this excellent offering. Final verdict? 5 stars and seal of approval. This is a clear must-buy-file.