“Men ought either to be indulged or utterly destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate, so that the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared.“—Niccolo Machiavelli
Some individuals possess an intangible quality that not only inspires confidence, but makes those around them feel special simply through acknowledgement. The highly charismatic know when to lay on the charm not only to inspire, negotiate, and perform, but also to erect a pleasant veneer to hide an ugly core. They keep their inner personalities well guarded, and for good reason – people would dislike and even fear the person that lies beneath the pleasing exterior. It is normal for people to keep elements of their personalities hidden from others, but there is a deadly deception that occurs when people intentionally mislead others into believing that they are driven by altruism when they in fact live according to their baser, self interested motivations.
Phosonith, one of Hell’s most promising princes, revels in the pleasant façade he projects, only dropping it in the privacy of his beautiful but twisted towers in Stygia’s city of Ess. He is a crafty administrator with a reputation for implementing beneficial changes for his city, though he hides angry, cruel, and violent tendencies. Behind closed doors, Phosonith violently lashes out at any who disappoint him or thwart his ambitions. All the while, he impresses Asmodeus with his ability to tempt some of the most noteworthy mortals with the notion that with enough wealth, power, and renown, they may succeed through charm and the appearance of compassion, while they are in practice condescending, cruel, and abusive to those around them.
This pdf is 9 pages long, 2/3 of a page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, leaving 7 2/3 pages of content for Phosonith, so let's check out SGG's latest series!
Phosonith the cruel Charmer is an arch-devil, and one that epitomizes the duplicity in men - essentially, Phosonith encourages duplicitous behavior and hypocrisy: Lying about empathy and putting on a charming façade to hide a cruel and selfish heart - subtle and cunning evil is embodied by this particular lord of hell. Phosonith's background history and his rise to power among the cruel and unforgiving hierarchies of hell are detailed extensively and a new domain, the duplicity domain, is included for his cultists. Advice is also provided for the DM to portray beautiful and deadly Phosonith and extensive information on how to rp the archfiend is included in the deal as well as his beautiful CR 22 statblock, which includes thankfully signature attacks and abilities and 2 pages of information on his hellish and surprisingly tolerant trade hub, the city of Ess. Twelve sample locations are given for the city and most of them might make for at least an interesting sight, if not an adventure hook in and of themselves.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to SGG's full color 3-column standard and the cover-artwork is BEAUTIFUL. It's a pity we don't get a one-page version to print out and show to your players! The pdf has no bookmarks, but at this length needs none. Phosonith is a great archfiend in the tradition of KQ's archdevils or the by-now classic Demonomicon-articles, but nevertheless, this pdf unfortunately feels like it lacks focus: The background story of Phosonith is great, but no information is given on how to treat him in combat. While information on his cults and worshippers are given and the new domain rocks, the section nevertheless feels underdeveloped and lacks e.g. ways to identify worshippers, methods or a sample cultist. The same lack of focus can be seen in his city: Ess features some nice statues, I get that, but we don't get a map of the city and have no idea on the general layout of the city or how the non-evil populace and the devils interact or why e.g. good-aligned people would willingly go to this hellish trade-hub. All in all, Phosonith brims with great ideas, provides a cool archfiend, but fails to deliver the utter sense of awe I encountered while reading the comparable write-up of Morithal by Clockwork Gnome Publishing. Were it not for the latter, I would probably be more lenient with Phosonith, but seeing how high the standard has been set for comparable books and the way in which dark cults and their leaders can be portrayed, I'll settle for a rating of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3. Mind you, this is still a good buy - it could have easily be excellent, though.
There’s just something about evil outsiders that makes them perfect for an individual spotlight. As the strongest among them have not only a unique form and powers, but also influence on the mortal world, makes them easy to customize in terms of what they can do and what influence they have on your campaign. Hence, it’s no surprise that Super Genius Games has started a new series of products based around them: the Annals of the Archfiends.
The opening product in this line gives us Phosonith the Cruel Charmer, a devil prince.
A relatively short product at just under ten pages, the book opens with a quick overview of Phosonith’s personality – beneficent in public and wrathful in private – before delving into his history. This was somewhat more expansive than I’d expected, as it took two pages to describe Phosonith’s genesis and rise to power to rule the Stygian city of Ess, along with his current sketch. I suspect I’m in the minority in thinking that what was here was a bit much; while I appreciate back-story as much as anyone, this felt somewhat excessive in how much of Phosonith’s history we’re given. This is particularly true as there were other sections I wish were expanded.
Speaking of which, the next section covers some of the influence that Phosonith has. This opens with a section regarding Phosonith in the real world, which cogently notes that he has no real-world equivalent, but rather was inspired by several duplicitous men in real life (though I confess I was rather irked by its noting of Machiavelli’s The Prince as a source – apparently the author, like most people, didn’t realize that that entire work was sarcastic on Machiavelli’s part, and not meant to be taken quite so literally).
Ahem. The book then covers Phosonith’s cult, including the new Duplicity domain, and is a good example of where the book doesn’t nearly go far enough in what it offers. Let’s leave aside the fact that at no point are we told what other domains (or holy symbol, favored weapon, etc.) you receive for worshipping Phosonith, the information on his cult is quite sparse. We’re given a quick overview of the sorts of people who make up his cult, and paragraph of what they do and don’t do, and that’s it. There’s nothing about their tactics, their current plots, not even an abbreviated stat block for a single example cultist that your PCs can interact with. There’s just very little here, and it’s disappointing.
A page is given to how to portray Phosonith personally, and it does a good job in outlining his appearance and methodology, except in combat. True, a character that focuses on a benign façade shouldn’t get into combat very much, but throw the PCs into the mix and it’s likely to happen, so it would have been nice if the author had talked about how to run Phosonith in the event of a fight. As it is, his stat block is fairly impressive (though his SR should be a few points higher), but I was disappointed that the deception-based powers of the Duplicity domain, which help you negate truth- and alignment-based effects, weren’t mirrored in his stat block. It’s hard to believe the flavor text about how Phosonith goes to great lengths to hide that he’s evil when he can’t even defeat a simple detect evil spell.
The book closes out with an overview of the city of Ess, describing twelve locations within its locale. The locations are fairly interesting, but that they’re numbered is a reminder of the fact that there’s no map of the city itself, which is a shame. I can see the practical reason for this, as a custom map costs money, but it’s still a shame. Equally so is the lack of a city stat block (a la the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide) which would be very helpful here as Ess is supposed to be a planar trade town where all sorts of creatures of all alignments are welcome in Hell. There really should be some city stats here, and the lack of them is a weakness in the product.
Overall, the first book in the Annals of the Archfiends line makes some stumbles out of the gate. Having too much material in some areas and not enough in others, this first book shows that it has potential but needs to realign its focus somewhat. There’s some good material here, which makes it easy to see how it could have been great with a bit more tweaking in some areas. Phosonith the Cruel Charmer presents a nice façade, but an ultimately imperfect one.