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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Occult Adventures (OGL)

****½ (based on 21 ratings)
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Occult Adventures (OGL)
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There is an unseen world all around you. On the streets and in the halls of power, in your dreams and across the bizarre planes of the multiverse, there are those who walk among us like giants among ants, twisting reality to their wills in their search for ancient knowledge. Now pull back the curtain of the mundane world and learn the secrets of these occult masters—if you dare!

Pathfinder RPG Occult Adventures is an indispensable companion to the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. This imaginative tabletop game builds upon over 15 years of system development and an Open Playtest featuring more than 50,000 gamers to create a cutting-edge RPG experience that brings the all-time best-selling set of fantasy rules into a new era.

Pathfinder RPG Occult Adventures includes:

  • Six new occult base classes—the energy-shaping kineticist, the spirit-calling medium, the deceptive mesmerist, the mind-bending psychic, the uncanny occultist, and the phantom-binding spiritualist.
  • Archetypes for all of the new classes, as well as a broad selection of strange and mysterious archetypes and class options for existing characters.
  • New feats to flesh out your occult character, plus a whole new way to use existing skills to become a master of faith healing, hypnotism, psychometry, and more!
  • More than 100 spells using the all-new psychic magic system, plus rituals that grant even non-spellcasting characters occult power! Explore worlds beyond imagining with dream voyage, or defend yourself from mental threats with tower of iron will!
  • Rules and advice to help you steep your game in the occult, from chakras and deadly mindscapes to possession, psychic duels, and the Esoteric Planes.
  • A wide variety of new magic items, such as the eerie spirit mirror and the peculiar tin cap, plus new cursed items and powerful artifacts.
  • ... and much, much more!

ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-762-8

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****½ (based on 21 ratings)

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An review


This massive hardcover clocks in at a whopping 271 pages, though 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC and 1/3rd of a page decrease that down to 267 2/3 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Well, before we do, let me deal with the confusion for a second that this review undoubtedly will cause. Yes, I usually only do 3pp material. This has several reasons: For one, I want to showcase the fringe of gaming, the evocative books that push the envelope. Secondly, I'm not particularly affluent, to say the least and want to reward the publishers that do send me their books. Well, I obviously *HAVE* to get the Paizo books anyways, but for the most part nowadays, that means pdf or waiting until they're open sourced - I just can't afford them all. Then again, I do have a policy of covering all books I receive...and I got this book on gencon.

That would be the justification I provide from an intellectual point of view. There is another reason. I *WANT* to write this review and, since I have the hardcover now, have absolutely no reason not to.

Now usually, I provide the respective breakdowns of classes and crunch, but frankly, there are whole guides devoted to that out there, which is why I have elected to pursue a different path this time around. (Different path...that'll be a leitmotif, as you'll see...) In order to properly be able to contextualize my take on this book, I will have to embark on a little recap of Paizo's hardcovers and my history with them, so if you're not interested in that, please skip ahead.

When I got my hands on the core rules hardcover for Pathfinder, I was generally positively surprised - it represents a tightening of 3.X's engine and some sensible, smart tweaks to the mechanics. Still, it didn't manage to elicit cheers or particular excitement at my table - that only came with the APG. The Advanced Player's Guide, in spite of its minor flaws, would represent, at least to me, the truly identity-constituting moment of Pathfinder. It is here, with the alchemist, witch, oracle, etc. that the game set out to truly distinguish itself from its roots and transcend basically anything 3.X ever offered. To this day, the APG classes rank among the favorites at my table, which only bespeaks their staying power and coolness. Next up were Ultimate Magic and Combat and with them, alas, came the power creep.

While, much like many out there, I did enjoy the magus, not much else from Ultimate Magic sees regular use in my games and I went through the book with a fine-toothed comb and ban-hammered/restricted material. Ultimate Combat is a more complex story - on one hand, I did like the new classes and e.g. the emphasis on the narrative aspect the gunslinger entailed; alas, for said class, player agenda suffered and mathematically, it would have been served better with a slightly different chassis. So while I like what it represents and quite a few pieces of UC's options, many aren't used in my games. Mythic Adventures is peculiar - I like mythic gameplay, but only when supported by the ton of Legendary Games material I own - I tried running vanilla WotR and it was PCs curbstomping through everything. Still, I do like this book - just not as a stand-alone. I adore Ultimate Campaign. Its downtime and kingdom building make sense to me, are used a lot at my table and story feats are a good idea as well - there's nothing I don't like about that book and what it has brought to my table.

Well, and the less I say about the ARG and ACG, the better. My stance on both books is well known. (Hint: To say I don't like them would be a gross understatement.)

Fast forward to Occult Adventures. For one, this book's class design represents an organic development that benefits the game. An easy way to look at a class would be to examine it regarding player agenda and character agenda. Character agenda, in this instance, would pertain the ability to contribute meaningfully to various situations. It's why I think that skill unlocks are a good idea and 2 + Int skills for all but Int-based casters, generally, is not a good idea. It's just not as fun to play a fighter who can only kill things and excels at one non-combat thing...unless, of course, that's how you roll, but in general, I have observed players gravitate to classes that provide more skill-use and versatility. Player agenda would be just as important: Can the player make meaningful choices that alter the playstyle? The higher the player agenda is, the more rules-knowledge is required; true. But at the same time, it does help immensely in the long run to generate a unique being from a mechanics point of view - if you don't get to choose, you'll sooner, rather than later, run into a character on distinguished from you by his skills, equipment and feats. Pathfinder, as a system, has covered the base classes for a while; it has advanced players that demand unique concepts. As such and at this point in the system's life, the occult classes with their plethora of meaningful choices are very much appreciated - and if you need some proof of players loving choices, look no further than the modularity of the "Talented" classes invented by Owen K.C. Stephens.

Speaking of classes - let us talk a bit about them and begin with the least "occult" class herein and the most popular one. That would, obviously, be the kineticist...and while I kinda like Avatar, I'm not a rabid fan of this franchise, though I get its appeal. This does not change the fact that the class, as presented, is very niche in focus. Then again, thankfully the 3pp-circuit has since expanded the kineticist's appeal far beyond its thematic confines. (A cheers to N. Jolly for that, even if I don't always agree with all balancing...) So, flavor-wise and regarding base-options, I am not the biggest fan of this class...but at the same time, I absolutely ADORE it. Why? Because it is an engine that would be daring for a small publisher, much more so for Paizo as the industry leader. The rules-engine employed by the kineticist is inspiring and complex and its success is well warranted. Were I to nitpick this class, then my complaints would pertain the fact that its power-curve could be a little better distributed; 17th level plus in particular can be an issue...but that extends to more than just this class and is, to an extent, system-inherent. That being said, I still love this class, though for completely different reasons than probably 99% of its fans and players. It remains a great addition to the class roster and I'm glad it exists.

Now, let us talk a bit about the classes that are designated as occult not only by inclusion in the book, but also by their themes...but for that, we need to talk a bit about genre conventions. It is a general truism that Pathfinder, as a game, is indebted by proxy of D&D to Tolkienesque fantasy and a society structured very much akin to the Early Modern period in history due to the advances of magic. Kobold Press' Midgard is closer to the beginning of the Early Modern period and features a more feudal, medieval flair. Golarion and Pathfinder's default, due to the influences of the weird that made me enjoy the setting in the first place, can be roughly situated at the end of the Early Modern period, with overlaps with the Edwardian and Victorian age - once China Miéville (one of my favorite authors - read the Bas-Lag books!!!)-like aesthetics come into play, you're definitely looking at a society that is bordering a magical industrial revolution. This suits me well, for I come from a Ravenloft background (don't ever get me started on 4th and 5th edition Ravenloft and what I think of those...for all of our sakes...) as such, have always been in love with the fantastic aesthetics of Penny Dreadfuls, early weird fiction, Sword & Sorcery, Sword & get the idea. I enjoy these somewhat less standardized, less covered aspects that have been an organic part of the old school aesthetic back in the day, but fell by the wayside somewhere along the lines. Anyways, the classes herein very much support this slightly advanced aesthetic; they resonate well with both the ancient and the more modern themes evoked in their resurgence in aforementioned timeframes. The more subtle magic psychic magic represents and the emotional component inherent in the variant spell system works well in the context of more magic-hostile environments as well as in less fantastic settings with more subdued themes than all out fireball-slinging. The marriage of the aesthetics associated with occultism and their relevant mechanical representations are what makes the classes interesting for me.

Take the medium - while I prefer spirits with names and unique identities, the need to offer the general mechanical framework for the defining spirits of the medium is obvious for such a book and in this context, employing the nomenclature of the mythic paths does make sense and can generate some pretty fun tricks. Had a mythic campaign? Use the PC-names when acting as a vessel for the respective spirit - it's simple, but incredibly rewarding. The general notion of taboos and the influence mechanic similarly can make for some great roleplaying. The mesmerist class tends to be called unfocused by some reviews I've read...and frankly, I have no idea why. The mesmerist, from the cool concept to the execution, makes for a very rewarding playing experience and has some serious optimization potential to boot -the implanting of tricks, the skill-array...both from the perspective of the stories you can tell with this class and the options available for the enterprising player, this class is absolutely amazing and allows for some neat, diverse characters. The stare-mechanic is also something that can be employed to rather great effect. The occultist is a similarly evocative concept - the focus on implements and fact that each can make for an unique item on its own is a lot of roleplaying potential and the respective focus powers provide a similarly interesting playing experience. The psychic, as the full caster, ranks as one of the more intriguing full casters in my book, with magical amplification and disciplines providing a nice array of diverse builds. The spiritualist, finally, would basically be a balanced take on the summoner with a fluff that I consider amazing.

This would bring me to what sets the classes apart more so than their mechanical validity - the fact that, to me, they represent, universally a great blending of providing player and character agenda, but this also means that they have things they can do beyond the confines of combat - there is a significant emphasis on the ROLEplaying aspect of the game we all know and love, with a wide variety of diverse tricks associated with actual roleplaying; the classes have means of depicting interesting characters; a player can really make each class its own: The implements, phantoms and all the components of the classes and their structure almost demand, organically, to be used by the player to make something that exceeds the totality of the mathematical components. In short, as far I'm concerned, these are the best player-focused options since the APG and as a whole, I consider the roster to be superior to even that gem of a book.

However, the customization options similarly provide some seriously cool tricks: Want to play Scarecrow from Batman? Yup. Cultist leader? Yep. Eat books and draw strength from it? Yeah. Amnesiac psychic? Yup. As a whole, covering archetypes and feats would obviously bloat the book beyond compare - but one crucial point as opposed to most books of this size lies in the big C-word - consistency. There are no overpowered options here...and neither are there options that you'd consider to be subpar traps sans value - there is some character concept, some specific thing that makes sense from a build and/or flavor perspective. (The options that I won't use will be the onmyoji, elemental annihilator, psychic duelist and kami medium - the Eastern-themed ones mainly since I prefer Interjection Games' take on the Onmyoji and its themes; the psychic duelist is a nice specialist, but doesn't blow me away. Finally, the annihilator...well, I have 3pp options that are more versatile.) - notice something? My criticism here pertains mostly taste.

Now this alone does make the book shine very much for me; at the same time, I wouldn't be me if I didn't have complaints, right? So there we go: The book contains various pieces of advice and alternate rules/subsystems of the material and one would by psychic duels...which are generally an awesome idea and provide for cool, creative minigames when handled right. Alas, the spell used to start them, instigate psychic duel, pretty much is a save-or-suck option, since the affected target has the save...and while the duel is in process, the target cannot move...which allows allies to stab the foe to bits. Oddly, the instigator of such a duel can end it via a Will-save as per the spell, when the psychic duel-rules do not mention such an option for the affected character - this is intended, undoubtedly, since those caught in a duel can be shaken out of it. At the same time, I think that pretty basic modifications could have prevented that little lockdown-aspect: For example, taking a penalty on MP to be capable of at least utilizing a fraction of the action array know, moving slowly towards the instigator while battling him in the duel, maintaining at least defenses...the like. Granted, the system is optional and can be modified rather easily, but I'm still somewhat astonished that this very basic strategy was not used, particularly after the complaints the slumber hex etc. received. Still, this represents a relatively minor issue when seen in relation to the number of things that *do* work pretty perfectly...and the fact that psychic duels work infinitely better than 3.X's mindscapes and similar tricks.

Once again, the storytelling potential is what sells this on me. Beyond the copious GM-advice, the book contains some information on esoteric planes like the akashic record, the positive/negative energy plane and the like - which I generally enjoyed. At the same time, I did feel like the book could have done a little bit more with unique planar features for some of them, since not all receive this component in detail. Of course gear, both mundane and magical, can be found in this tome - from the phrenologist's kit (phrenology being the by now debunked belief that the size and shape of the skull influences personality etc. - and yes, there's a feat inspired by it here!) to the Dorian Gray-ish pictures, we notice one thing - the items, much like a ton of material herein, is steeped in a sense of the real, in the occult traditions and pseudo-science of days gone by.

What do I mean by this? Take alchemy, an established concept in our fantasy games. If you have the stamina to power through them, I'd sincerely suggest getting a copy of the writings of real world alchemists, sit down with the cool alchemy recipes and start - I guarantee you'll come up with new and evocative material. A similar observation can be made here - the tying into concepts and ideas established in our world generates basically the largest hand-out you could fathom and some research will almost assuredly provide a vast selection of truly evocative concepts to represent, while also teaching something new along the way. You do not have to be interested in masons, OTO, etc. to enjoy this book - but you can draw upon esoteric and occult knowledge to enrich the game tremendously. Heck, I'm pretty much a nihilistic atheist and my fascination with the subject matter stems from a purely intellectual point of view, but I still appreciate all the ideas and their impact on the genesis of our mode of thought. Similarly, the idea of locus spirits, of tapping into ley lines and similar high-concept tricks complement an implied world-building and -conception that goes beyond the surface, that extends into a level of depth beyond the superficial pushing of numbers.

Part II of my review can be found here!

Fun, but a bit esoteric

***( )( )

Don't take it the wrong way. You can have tons of fun with this book in other games. I played a mesmerist and it was hilarious, had a whole Doctor Orpheus thing going on. The Kineticist can be flavored a little and it basically becomes a bender from Avatar! How freaking cool is that?!
There are quite a few spells and special abilities that feel like they can only come in handy in very specific ways though. All the mindscape things would almost never come up in a regular game. This feels very much like a book that would be a lot more fun if all your players HAD to take a class from this book, which is a terrible premise for a core book.
On a personal note, almost none of these classes work with Mythic Adventures...

Solid Product

****( )

Really, nothing in this book is bad overall, and while there's a few mechanics that I would like to change, it's not enough to change my thoughts. The psychic casters are interesting with different mechanics that still feel familiar, and everything else works very well. I'd say it's worth picking up.

Finally psychic powers makes it's way to Pathfinder


I have been waiting for psychic related rules for Pathfinder for a long time and I am happy for what I see.
Kineticist- This one has become one of my favorite classes with it's all day blasting and at will/always active spell powers and supernatural abilities. I would love to see more classes that focuses on spell powers and supernatural abilities then just spellcasters, martials, and skill monkeys.
Medium- While I am not big on this one, it does have some interesting flavor and good story ideas. My only problem is it is one of the more complex classes.
Mesmerist- I like this one, it is a debuffer counter part to the bard and also makes a great villain. It is also a good spiritual successor for the Beguiler class.
Occultist- As with the Medium interesting flavor and good story value but complex mechanically. Not one my favorites but like all classes in this book, it fills a niche.
Psychic- Interesting class and fills the 9th caster for psychic magic but lacks in the flavor/story department compared to the other 5 classes. Still a solid class with some interesting abilities.
Spiritualist- One of my favorite classes has good flavor/story value and is not as complicated to use as the Medium and Occultist. A great class when dealing with incorporeal creatures especially undead.
These classes are just the tip of the iceberg, we get rules for auras, chakras, psychic duels, possession, occult rituals, occult skill unlocks, loci spirits, ley lines, mindscapes, and more. This one is as useful as the APG and the ARG.

A great addition to the game


Read my full review on Of Dice and Pen.

Occult Adventures is a great addition to the Pathfinder game. It does more than just introduce a bunch of new classes and create Pathfinder's version of psionics. It adds a whole new flavour and style of campaign with new rules options that back that flavour up. I eagerly look forward to trying out some of its ideas in a future campaign.

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