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The Master of Forms—Expanded: Shadow and Darkness (PFRPG) PDF

***** (based on 2 ratings)

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"Bending" elements meets contracts with nebulous outsiders from alternate realities.

Funded by Patreon "Sugar Daddy" tier backer Alex Ross, and Endzeitgeist's Top 10 of 2015 nominee, The Master of Forms adds a plethora of brand new archetypes and the new shadow element to what was already acclaimed as a "flawless victory of a martial base class."

The Shadow Element
In The Master of Forms elemental cosmology, shadow is both stealthy (as one would expect), but also the glue that holds everything else together. The practitioner of shadow forms knows when to fade into the background, and when to obscure his very elemental lineage by tapping into whatever seems useful from the other elements. Slipping into shadow-based stances merely enables rapid shifting to another stance; in short, shadow's identity is that of no identity. To obscure all and to embrace all are the two paradoxical tenets of its followers.

Archetypes

  • Drifting One: Understanding the nature of the world is critical for Masters of Forms, for it is a deep understanding with the elements that allows for the powerful forms that make up the greatest of his repertoire. A combination of martial artist and cosmological politician, the drifting one affects a manner that attracts the elements, but never stays in one place long enough for the shallowness of his understanding to become fully known. The drifting one constantly shifts from element to element, constantly one step ahead of the primal forces that would disown him were they ever to reveal the nature of his game.
  • Elemental Partisan: Though the elements exist in harmony, those who seek to understand them may believe one to be superior. The elemental partisan locks out one element in order to grant a small subset of new forms to another element, allowing for deeper character customization.
  • Unbalanced Master: Similar to the elemental partisan, the unbalanced master finds one particular element easier to understand. No element is completely turned away, for the unbalanced master still attempts to embrace all, but the greatest powers among the other elements are permanently shut out to him. In recompense, the deeper understanding afforded to his favored element grants a unique pool ability based on the favored element chosen.
  • Vessel of Darkness - It is said that a system is only defined when it is observed. Who, or what, observes when nobody is around? The Darkness does. It lurks in the far corner beneath your bed, in the deepest of the ocean's depths, and within the void of interstellar space. It is the unknown personified, an entity so alien that it flees before mere baryonic observation, let along direct opposition. It is not good or evil. It is the eye of Elsewhere, and, for purposes unknown, it seeks to understand its neighbors.

Masters of Forms count Darkness as one of the primal powers of the universe, equal in import to fire, ice, and their peers, but the nature of the Darkness ensures it stays at arm's length, and a true understanding eludes most. Rarely, however, Elsewhere reaches out to specific baryonic entities, and if an accord is met, when the baryonic looks into the Darkness, the Darkness, unblinking, always observing, can look back.

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Product Reviews (2)

Average product rating:

***** (based on 2 ratings)

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, silent as shadow...

*****

This book is the awesome follow-up for The Master of Forms for Pathfinder by Interjection Games. It includes a fully supported 6th element (and kind of a 7th), pluse four archetypes. (even my review's title is the follow-up of the previus book's review's title)

What’s inside?
15 pages of content for 4 1/2 bucks, which include:

-The Shadow Element: This 6th element for the master of forms is special. While the other five elements are described as the building blocks of the cosmos, the shadow would be what binds the others together. It includes a shadow stance that makes it easier to shift to other elemental stances. Like the other elements, shadow has 2 secret arts, one that wild cards 3 other elemental forms, and another that impedes supernatural powers (think pressure points). Finally, shadow has 16 forms to choose from (one more than the other 5 elements, who does he think he is?). Like in my past review, I will choose two at random. Imitation is an advanced form that requires the full four Focus points to use and it uses all 4; in exchange, you can activate any form that you meet the requirements for, even if you don’t know it. This form has a duration of one round, but you can perform an extra form (meaning you use the extra form to use the temporary one). Reckless Retaliation can be performed in response to an attack of opportunity, giving you damage reduction equal to half your level against it. If you are damaged anyway, the attacker provokes an attack of opportunity from you.

-4 Archetypes: While not really missed from the original, more options are always good.

Drifting Ones are masters that avoid focusing on one element. They in fact don’t gain stances, since repeated use of same element forms makes them lose focus. Instead, they get a Drifting Stance that comes into play after activating 3 forms but of different elements. They also can’t learn Secret Arts, since they can only be activated during an elemental stance. Instead of them, they get unique abilities that let them imitate or manipulate other elements, even able to enter a stance momentarily and at high level even perform any Secret Art once per day! They are not thematically compatible with the other archetypes, but you CAN be a drifting one and a Partisan and/or Unbalanced Master.

Elemental Partisans focus on one of the 5 elements (not shadow) and eschew another specific element. Unlike Greek, they are not diametrically opposed to another element, instead following a kind of circle. They can’t learn forms or Secret Arts from their opposed element, which bars them from entering that element’s stance and activating its Secret Arts. To make up for the lost element, Partisans get access to three elemental forms unique to their specialization, upping the available forms to 18 per element (take that shadow!).

Unbalanced Masters similarly specialize in one of the 6 elements (shadow gets some love). However, instead of locking out one element, they can’t access the most powerful forms of all the other elements (those that require -4 Focus change), and the +1 Focus change forms of other elements don’t work after having 2 Focus. In exchange, they get a pool of points equal to their level, which functions differently according to the elemental specialization. Earth, Fire and Cold (should have been Earth, Wind and Fire but oh well) can use these points to pay for the costs of their forms under certain circumstances, allowing them to get out the big guns without too much preparation. The other three elements can use their points for especial, thematically fitting abilities.

The last archetype, Vessel of Darkness, can be considered a variant class since it changes the base class so much. They can be thought as specialist on Darkness, which would be the anti-element and they are kind of possessed by a dark being called an “Observer” from “Elsewhere” (both TM). They can’t learn standard forms, which bars them from entering Stances and thus activating Secret Arts. Instead of Secret Arts, they get a Gift from Elsewhere at 2nd, 7th and every 5 levels thereafter, which are strange darkness based abilities (17 in total). Choosing at random, Baleful Observation gives them a damaging gaze attack, while Fortified Vessel, a high level ability with another gift as prerequisite, gives the Vessel medium fortification. They get a Darkness/Escalation pool (it is called both ways in the text; I would use another name since I THINK they share a name with pools from another class by the same author) that is used by some of the forms that can be escalated. They also loose Purity of Body and Diamond Body in exchange for having their Observer exert some influence and giving more power to the Vessel, similar to an intelligent item.

Walker in Darkness forms (shouldn’t it be vessel? The author sure juggles with his own creations) are similar to other elemental forms, but some have an escalation cost that is paid with the previously mention escalation pool. There are 25 darkness forms, which makes even shadow jealous. Again peering at random, Dust to Dust starts to disintegrate its target (!), dealing ongoing damage for 3 rounds, and 6 more when escalated under certain circumstances. Groin Shot (ROFL) staggers the target if he has external genital, but even if not, it can be staggered via escalation (kick that ooze's… no, not nuts, jellybeans?).

Of Note: The addition of the shadow element may make some players crazy at character creation but is a welcome addition to the Master of Forms repertory. The archetypes make for very interesting player experiences, even when we have 2 specialist archetypes. The Vessel of Darkness is basically the antipaladin of the Master of Forms, a distorted, bizarre mirror image of sorts. Also, there are two character images that look from Al-Qadim books' artist Karl Waller, who is amazing, but I'm not really sure.

Anything wrong?: The few erroneous names irk me because the rest of the book is so amazing, and the again, I don’t like the Vessel of Darkness name, especially since I use the Vessel class from Everyman Games. I ALSO don't like the names of the new elements, since they overlap with the Antipodism magic system (taking inspiration from Eastern elements, I will call them Ether and Void). Also, the feat Overflowing Elements from the last book, what type of damage does it do when in a shadow stand?. Apart from that, all is well.

What I want: This is the kind of support I like. While magical items and monsters would be cool, there is enough material already to play. I would like some crossover action between Interjection Games classes, like an archetype for the Edgeblade that gives access to some forms, or the other way around.

What cool things did this inspire?: Vessels can be the perfect boogieman in a wuxia campaign. You could also rule that Elsewhere Observers are actual outsiders, maybe Aeons, Psychopomps or even Sakhils! What about kami or genies with access to forms? Or better yet, reimagine genies to have 7 races based on the Master of Forms’ elements? Finally, in a full bender/wuxia campaign, using both specialist archetypes could work to make 5 npc’s that are each a master of one element, plus a drifting one secret master that abused the extra form feat to know many, many forms and with a high level ability to mimic any secret art, which could be roleplaying gold (oh noes! The fire master died and I’m his successors, but I went remedial on secret arts! Fret not, search for the legendary master of shadow who can teach you any secret art LOL)

Do I recommend it?: If the base rules of the Master of Forms were reprinted, I would recommend it as a standalone jus for the Vessel of Darkness. However, if you are already shelling those 5.50 for the original, shell the 10 bucks for the whole package of martial arts goodness. I assure you you won’t regret it!


An Endzeitgeist.com review

*****

This expansion for the absolutely AWESOME Master of Forms base class clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The master of forms class is a genius elemental martial arts system that provides diverging tricks, with each element playing differently...so, how does the new element shadow fare? Well, for one, the master of forms in the shadow stance immediately enters an element's stance when performing a non-shadow form, allowing for the flexible transition from shadow to another element. The pdf contains two secret arts associated with shadow: All-encompassing shadows lets him choose three wild card forms for which he meets prerequisites and perform them as though he knew them. Withdrawing shadows lets the master steal the shadow of a creature within 60 feet, requiring Will-saves to perform supernatural abilities or cast spells - on a failure, the target loses its action! Damn cool!

Beyond that, obviously, the pdf does feature a selection of shadow forms: Blinding dust to be used in lieu of attacks, tentacles of cold-damage dealing shadows that entangle creatures attacking you in melee... pretty interesting. Cobra Strike, as 0 focus required, +1 focus change, is interesting, allowing you to perform an attack that only deals base weapon damage as a swift action, but prevents you from otherwise attacking the target. Form of the Spider enables you to work more efficiently when flanking a foe, but penalizes your attacks against foes you do not flank...and, you may expend focus to perform an attack against a flanked creature as a free action. There also are forms that allow you to copy other forms (at -4 focus change for the bigger one, at +1 for the smaller form, but with a more limited scope, obviously). A form that grants benefits when studying a foe before striking is nice...and there would be a cool gambit form, which makes the next AoO against you automatically hit, but grants you DR equal to half your class level against it...and allows you to retaliate with an AoO if you do take damage...and it does this while increasing focus by +1.

Balanced, short-range teleportation (but only into flanking position!) and freeing your shadow to set up flanking position with you would be another interesting combo move and there is a -1/0 focus change form that allows you to flank a target even if you aren't - it costs 0 focus, obviously, when you're already flanking, but does allow for focus maintenance in such cases. Kudos for getting this one! There also would be a -4 focus change ability that lets you set-up a short-range teleport that automatically causes an attack to miss. this one is pretty complex, but cool and works well indeed. Also interesting in that I have not seen it done before: Repeating an attack that previously missed with all previous modifiers and buffs...which is gold for the instances where you have to hit...and then rolled that stupid natural 1.

The pdf also does provide archetypes, the first of which would be the drifting one: When he performs two consecutive forms of the same element within 1 minute, he loses 1 point of focus, but when he does perform 3 of them within the time frame, his maximum focus increases by +1, with universal forms being treated as their own element. He does pay for this flexibility with stances, though. At 5th level, he may expend 2 focus to gain the benefits of an elemental stance for 1 round, though...and no, he can't be in more than one at a given time. 9th level is truly interesting, allowing the drifting one to change a form's element for 1 focus, replacing the secret art gained there. 13th level nets improved evasion, while 17th level unlocks an element's secret arts while the maximum focus is increased and 20th level provides 1 focus regeneration at the beginning of his turn whenever the archetype's focus is 0. This archetype plays surprisingly different when compared to the base class. Cool!

Elemental Partisans can also be, via a special caveat, be unbalanced masters and chooses an element at first level - though shadow is excluded from the list due to being the unopposed, connecting factor. Elemental partisans may not learn forms or secret arts of the element opposing his own element chosen...but for the exclusion of this one element, they do gain access to a selection of 3 special forms per element: Earth lets you instantly grow a tree (!!), get barkskin or leave entangling brambles in your wake.Fire lets you damage adjacent creatures to your target with fire damage (including a means to bypass resistance for focus expenditure), leave a comet-like trail of blazing fire that damages those nearby or add free 5-foot movements to all your focus expenditure, mimicking the chaotic dance of the wildfire.

Ice lets you name a spell or supernatural ability and hamper a target trying to employ it, end all ice forms in a burst of cold...and the final one is pretty cool: Ice needs a bit of set-up, but when it does hit, it gets brutal: Cause bonus damage on successful saves and render those that critically save shaken? Yeah, that *feels* like ice, all right. Lightning lets you enhance your defense and generate static electricity...and it gets the awesome grounded ability: Designate a square within 120 ft. as the "ground" - when you move towards it, your base land speed doubles, but upon reaching it, you can't move from it until the beginning of your next turn. Volatile, fast and risky - cool! And yes, you can fire a blast of electricity. Wind, finally, lets you fire unarmed attacks at range, AoE-trip foes via cyclonic air...and there is a form that lets you expand the reach of non-AoO-unarmed attacks by +20 feet.

Now, I already mentioned the unbalanced master: These guys can only learn forms with a focus change of -4 of their primary element, which is chosen at 1st level and all forms with a focus change of +1 of an element other than the designated primary element are treated as though they only had a focus change of 0. However, depending on the primary element chosen, these guys do get a pool dependant on the chosen element and they contain a number of points equal to the class level of the unbalanced master. These points have vastly diverging uses that fit with the themes of the element - earth can, for example, substitute these points for focus points when dealing with -2, -3 or -4 focus change earth forms, but only when below 1/2 maximum health. Fire can utilize the points to pay for secondary effects of forms, etc. - basically, these are modifications of the resource management of the class that depend on the respective element. Very cool!

Walkers in darkness would be up next and while there is a slight formatting glitch with one ability not properly bolded, the archetype is very intriguing. Walkers in darkness are vessels for so-called observers from Elsewhere and these entities tend to change the character - at 2nd level and every 5 levels thereafter, the walker gains a gift from elsewhere, basically one type of new talent the archetype receives - these can range from extraordinary to supernatural and cover both active and passive abilities. Among the passive ones, increase base land speed, rerolls when confused and the like can be found, while the active ones are somewhat different. The walker in darkness begins play with an escalation pool equal to his class level and whenever the walker performs a darkness form that can escalate, the form's escalation score may be paid from this pool. In a unique twist, the pool may be increased: A walker can choose, upon replenishing the pool via resting, to accept a -1 penalty to one saving throw; for each penalty thus accepted (maximum equal to 1/4 class level, minimum 1) he gains a temporary darkness point that stacks and is added to the pool. This replaces stances and stance savant. These points, just fyi, also represent the fuel for some of the active abilities the archetype has, including a damaging gaze...and yes the gifts can also be used to increase pool-size and 17 of them are included in the deal.

Here's the thing, though - this is no mere simple standard archetype - instead, this one comes with a whole array of specific forms exclusive to the walker. For example, the guys can vomit forth acidic darkness with a save to negate...or to halve, when the escalation cost is paid. Basically, the escalation cost is somewhat akin to psionic augments or at higher levels-options in 5e in that they provide further flexibility to the respective forms, which pretty much...well, awesome. What about a form that makes any attack that is successful against you provoke an AoO? Entering a foe's square for +10 bonus to atk in a desperate offense, adding scaling bleed damage to combat maneuvers, staggering foes (with minor, untyped damage) and a save to negate the stagger, temporary hit points, bursts of energy that strike secondary targets...nasty. Have I mentioned gouging a creature's eyes out? Complete with a "takes more uses versus creatures with more eyes"-caveat? Yeah, pretty visceral. Okay, and then there is Mutually Assured Destruction. Not a death effect...but if a creature kills you...well, it is shunted to the nastiest part of elsewhere, obliterated from existence. Oh, and guess what? If you pay escalation and the creature doesn't have enough hp...it doesn't even get a save, but if you do pay this cost, you're erased as well. That's pretty awesome for both villains and anti-heroes. Claws of darkness that slowly degrade are also possible...with escalation, they may even detonate! Corrupting items...what about attacking versus touch AC or getting SR? Yeah, pretty damn cool and flavorful!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent on both a rules and formal level, with one bolding oversight as a cosmetic glitch being my only true complaint. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' clean and easy to read, printer-friendly b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment...then again, I'd suggest printing this out anyways. The book, beyond abstract swirly-like graphics, also features several flavorful b/w-artworks I haven't seen before - nice!

Bradley Crouch's Master of Forms is one of my favorite classes. It's appropriate for any type of game, from high to low fantasy; its elements play differently, with each having a unique feeling, a unique experience and their combinations and customizations make the class extremely rewarding to play. Well, this book not only introduces a very skirmish-y ninja-ish style of gameplay that is very unique, even in the well-trodden arena of shadow-themed classes, it also enhances the customization options of the base class via unique and intriguing archetypes that radically change the manner in which the master of forms plays; better yet, the damn cool walker's escalation system addition may have covered a LOT of ground with the significant amount of cool forms provided, but it's nowhere near tapped out yet and once again, plays differently from a regular master of forms. What you do and don't do, what your forms allow you to pull off, here as much as in the base class, define very much the playing experience; with cool combos, unique stunts and a general feeling of...well, being awesome, suffusing this pdf as much as its parent book.

I am very happy for this book to have seen the light of day, for the system is rewarding and the cool system of the class with its focus-changes, planning and combo-tricks very much feels like playing a balanced version of friggin' Mortal Kombat: Supernatural martial arts that still feel believable in the context of a fantasy world, that have, in spite of being fantastic, a certain grounding. (Meta-pun re grounding form! I'll punch myself later...) Suffice to say, if anything, this book is a shining example of how great such an expansion can be. I absolutely adore it. My final verdict will, unsurprisingly, clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this one gets a nomination for my Top Ten of 2016...excuse me, I have to plan a walker villain for my next game...

Endzeitgeist out.


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