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Unchained Cunning Review

4/5

Having covered the unchained barbarian and skald, Everyman Games now takes on the rogue, ninja, and slayer in this PDF. The PDF is sixteen pages long, with one for the cover, one for the title page, one for table of contents, and one for the OGL. That leaves twelve pages for the new material, so here we go!

It starts with the Unchained Ninja. Their main changes are rather like the Unchained Rogue's; they get finesse training, along with improved bonuses to hit when flanking or when an enemy is denied their Dex bonus. They also get style strikes like the Unchained monk. Those new touches aside they're in many ways like the old ninja. Nothing too amazing here, but still nice to have them changed to fit in with the new rogue.

Next are some new archetypes, with the ninja coming first. The Goto is a stealth expert, the Kishu is an expert at terrorizing their enemies, and the Konran uses psychological warfare (and the rules from Ultimate Charisma, also from Everyman Games) to defeat their targets. The Oniwaban is a master spy and the Star Master is a shuriken expert. All fine work but nothing too amazing.

Then we get the Hoka-han. A truly original archetype, they use the kineticist rules from Occult Adventures to become a magical ninja arsonist, one that spends ki points to add infusions to their blasts rather than burn. It has a very 'weird menace' tone from the old pulps, and just feels like something people would accuse ninja of being capable of. Really a great idea!

Rogue archetypes follow. Another highly original idea is the Arcane Charlatan, who loses finesse training but gains the Minor and Major Magic talents in exchange. They can also use them more often than the normal rogue, and can 'exchange' uses of them to cast other spells from the sorcerer/wizard list that they haven't chosen as spell-like abilities. Also, they can use a dampening strike that can really weaken opponents' saves against their magic -- and if they choose the right talent (thoughtfully included), those worsened saves apply against all arcane spells. I think the party arcanists have just found a new best friend.

The other two archetypes are the Contender, who gains some bare-handed fighting abilities and Combat Expertise as a bonus feat regardless of their Intelligence score. Rather nice though I wonder if the Brawler can't do it better. We also get a strength-based rogue in the Bruiser, who can add their strength bonus on fortitude saves and gets some strength-based combat feats in place of finesse training.

Some new talents for Investigators, Rogues, and Slayers are included. The ones for rogues cover a wide range of ground, allowing for improved use of combat maneuvers against a flanked or denied their Dex bonus foe and much greater skill as a poisoner. I'd say those talents are almost a requirement for anyone who wants to play a poison-wielding rogue. The Slayer talents are okay with the ones allowing you to use your Studied target bonus defensively the best of them all. They're really something that belongs with the class and it's good to see that someone made them. Another allows the Slayer to more easily inflict non-lethal damage on a studied target, and even to perform a non-lethal coup de grace. Really a great option if you're a slayer of the 'bring em back alive' school.

And that's it. It isn't perfect, and nothing here screams 'You need me!', but for the price you get a lot of neat ideas and new character options for the rogues and their related classes. Four stars and worth getting.


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Defenders, healers, champions, heroes

4/5

With twenty-eight pages of material, Legendary Paladins provides some wonderful new class abilities, archetypes, magic items and spells, and even a prestige class for would-be shining knights.

It starts with some new alternatives to the usual paladin class abilities. Repel Evil replaces Smite Evil for paladins who want to be defenders, allowing them to grant themselves and one ally bonuses on AC, saves, and stackable DR against one evil enemy. On the other hand if you prefer serving good by punching evil in the face, Scourges replace Mercies. Activated on a critical hit when using Smite Evil, or by using Lay On Hands, or Channel Smite, they inflict negative conditions on your opponent or help protect allies by granting them bonuses to things like AC, saves, and so on. The PDF suggests allowing a paladin to use both mercies and scourges; given the protective nature of several scourges, they could work very well together.

Next is a brief section on taking monk's vows for charity, poverty, austerity (a sort of watered down vow of poverty), which grant extra uses of Lay On Hands rather than Ki points. Given the inspirations for the paladin as well as how these characters ought to be played, these are some good ideas.

Then comes the new Paraclete prestige class. Te defensive paladin supreme, this class can also be taken by non-paladins will to take vows of charity and austerity. Basically a way to become a paladin without having to be Lawful Good, the paraclete works as a defender, adding extra attacks of opportunity per round just for certain class abilities as well as for the Bodyguard feat (a requirement for entering the PrC). She also gets to add half her class level on the AC bonus from Bodyguard if defending against evil enemies. They interestingly also get a celestial familiar that grants them access to spells from a handful of witch patrons. Rather a neat class but it might work better in some groups for a cohort, defending their PC ally. Unless of course you would be perfectly happy to play the hero who holds the enemy off again and again to protect your friends, which really is a great way to play a paladin!

New archetypes follow. Many of these are for the paladin, like the Northern Lights-venerating Auroran, who get some new light-based spells on their list, and can rad the night sky for portents as well as get some spell resistance in place of divine grace. It's okay but it didn't wow me.

The Celestial Centurion is another story. It's another 'commander' archetype, with the ability to grant either bonuses to various rolls or teamwork feats in place of Smite Evil. The bonuses are equal to half the paladin's level (up to their Charisma bonus) for more specific rolls like AC against attacks of opportunity, damage rolls when charging or flanking, saves versus fear/evil spells, etc. And a quarter their level for more general ones like all damage or attack rolls, all saves, or increased speed among others. Inspiring Word replaces Divine Grace, allowing them to use Lay On Hands to provide additional move actions or a bonus on their next saving throw. At higher levels they can give allies saves against effects that exhaust, frighten, or inflict harmful emotion effects, and they can provide a bonus to the weapons wielded by said allies as well. It's weaker than the normal divine bond but it's still very useful! They also gain a banner in place of some mercies, grant the Celestial template to weaker allies, and for their capstone ability they can summon celestials! A very fine archetype indeed!

The Cottager is a friend of the poor, and can use their powers to provide sanctuary to a number of allies at once. They can also provide healing through a stew they make, which takes longer to benefit from than normal (you have to eat the stew after all), but provides more healing. It also counts as a meal and eliminates fatigue. No word if it allows for use of mercies at the same time as well or we might learn if chicken soup really can cure everything.

The Dragon Knight gets some extra spells, can use the breath weapons of Lawful Good dragons, and gets a young dragon for first an ally and then a steed. Heavenly Hunters get special abilities to track down evil outsiders and prevent them from escaping via teleportation. Holy Questioners get some inquisitor-like spells and abilities such as a limited array of judgements in place of smite evil and can channel energy to hurt enemies of the faith. Verdant Knights are defenders of the jungle and its people, and have increased abilities against poisons and can get favored terrain (jungle) as well as fire resistance 20 and endure elements at 11th level, which seems kind of high for what you get. You can also get a lion to ride around on; great class for anyone who wants to play an Iomedean in Sargava. Winter Knights are their counterpart for the frozen lands. They can launch fiery strikes against their enemies and can end up with a winter wolf or polar bear for a mount!

We also get two non-paladin archetypes. The Angel of Wrath for celestial bloodline Bloodragers get a weaker smite evil that they can use whenever they bloodrage in exchange for burning through their rage faster. They replace damage reduction with paladin auras, can use paladin spells as bloodrager spells, and eventually get frightful presence. Also, you have to be good but not Lawful Good for this one. Sounds like a great idea for an angel-heritage aasimar.

The Spell Saint is a magus archetype. You get some paladin and cleric spells to the magus spell list and can take lay on hands and mercies as magus arcana. Good piece of work but not as great to me as the Angel of Wrath.

Some new paladin spells are included. Most of them are defensive in nature or aid your mount, like cooperative companion that allows you to pick a teamwork feat when cast and share it for the duration with your steed, as well as use lay on hands as a swift action and aid another as a free action when aiding your steed. Intercessory Martyr lets you give temporary HP to an ally in exchange for taking damage yourself. Ravaging Remorse releases the horrors evildoers have dealt to others on themselves. Sacrificial Strike increases damage dealt to a foe while hurting you as well. The spells are few but well done; they feel very 'paladin'.

The PDF ends with several magic items, half of them non-longsword variants on the holy avenger with some rather clever ideas. The other half are non weapons but they still have the right kind of feel to them for something paladins might use.

This is a very fine PDF for anyone who wants some new ideas for paladins in their campaign. It's not quite as magnificent as Legendary Games' similar PDFs for rogues and swashbucklers, but it's more than worth the asking price and provides material for both traditional and non-traditional takes on the paladin class.


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Bare your blades!

5/5

Done for one of the newest yet most enjoyed classes of Pathfinder, Legendary Swashbucklers is a PDF consisting of forty-four pages, with one for the cover, front piece, credits, one for legal information and web references, table of contents, one page explaining the point of the Legendary Heroes line, another explaining what we can look for in the PDF, a back cover and the front piece of art used again, two pages plugging Legendary Games, one page detailing their Legendary Planet swords-and-planet AP, and one for the OGL (whew!). This leaves thirty-one pages for the PDF proper, and they are well used.

As said, the swashbuckler was a boon to everyone who wanted a melee combatant that depended on agility and cunning, but as a look at some threads on Paizo's site will show you, some folks had complaints. Legendary Swashbucklers is intended to handle these complaints and provide more cool toys for use with the class.

It stars off with a re-do of the class proper. The main difference is that it gets less deeds per level, but in turn gets something new called a 'personage' that grants nee abilities and deed centered around a theme based on the character's personality. This is a rather novel idea, but how well do they handle it?

The class proper is much the same as in the Advanced Class Guide, though Charmed Life seems oddly worded. It says:

Charmed Life (Ex): At 3rd level, while the swashbuckler has
at least 1 panache point as an immediate action before
attempting a saving throw to add her Charisma modifier to
the result of the save. She must choose to do this before the
roll is made.

I imagine it means that the swashbuckler can apply their Charisma modifier if positive to a saving throw, but I'm not sure if it still has a limited number of uses per day or not.

Also, you can no longer use your Charisma in place of Intelligence to qualify for Combat feats. That and you pick one fighter weapon group of any sort at first level and you can apply Weapon Finesse to all melee weapons in the group. So if you want that light pick/hand axe wielding dwarf you can do it from first level now. The Precise Strike deed can also be used with weapons held in both hands or the off hand, but at only half the usual effectiveness. And you can apply your Dexterity modifier to your weapon damage with any one weapon you picked for your Swashbuckler Weapon Training at third level, and eventually apply it to as many as five weapons. That will definitely please some people.

Then there are the Personages. They all get some bonus, either a feat or a bonus on certain skills, or both, at first level. All of them receive five new feats and some class abilities at levels two, ten, and eighteen. The Braggart uses the rules from Everyman Games Psychological Combat (and I suppose Ultimate Charisma) to demoralize and antagonize enemies and getting bonuses to fight them. They also give alternate rules from the core rulebook and online sources if you lack those two PDFs. The Dandy is a deadly aristocratic fop with panache-powered people skills. The Daredevil gets feats and deeds that let them race and tumble all about a battlefield like Errol Flynn. The reckless Madcap relies on their sheer fearlessness to defeat their enemies.

Then we get a really fun one, the Phantom for everyone who wants to embrace their inner Zorro or Batman. Its feats and deeds let you create a character who has a fearsome personality as well as a more milquetoast one. They are so separate they seem to even have different alignments; indeed, if you ever use your swashbuckler abilities where non-allies can see them, you risk blowing your cover! Using this personage will make you the terror of the wicked and unjust in no time.

The seagoing Raider gets tougher when they drink and relies on their fearsome swagger to demoralize foes. It also has deeds that allow you to fight in the rigging and drive enemies over the wide of your ship.

Lastly is the roguish Vagabond with their expertise with dirty tricks. Really, the PDF manages to cover the major swashbuckler personality types from TV, film, and literature, giving them all a flavor of their own. If you want to recreate your favorite swashbuckling hero, be they Captain Blood or D'Artagnan or even the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh you'll be halfway there with these alone.

The other half of the way comes from the archetypes included with the PDF. They're a combination of old and new. The Daring Infiltrator gains feats and abilities to help you gain the confidence of even the most suspicious foes. The ]Dashing Commander is a real leader of heroes, gaining an improved over levels version of the Battle Cry feat from ACG. The Flying Blade is an expert with thrown weapons. The Gallivant is a mounted swashbuckler, whose wild riding helps refuel their panache as well as protect their steed.

A very new idea is the Heightened Blade. This is basically an oracle's curse re-worked for a martial character It even includes being a dwarf (as in smaller than normal for your race, not the existing race) among the disabilities. Like normal oracle curses they cause drawbacks but also provide benefits over time. Really this feels like it can be easily re-worked for almost any non-spellcasting class, and it's simple to use it in combination with other archetypes as well. I really hope we see more of this in future releases in this line.

The Inspired Blade relies on a keen mind as well as force of personality for their panache. The diminutive Mouser can get right underfoot to steal from their enemies and pull dirty tricks on them. The Musketeer gets to use firearms as well as blades, and improves their use of the musket alongside the blade as the rise in level. This feels like how the archetype should have been done in the first place. I actually feel like playing one of these guys now.

Mysterious Avengers are an archetype that vastly complements the Phantom personage, as they get skilled with a whip along with other weapons and they can study a target much like the slayer. They also have a secret identity and are so determined to keep it safe they can resist even magical prying!

The pistol-packing Picaroon uses one handed firearms alongside their blade and gain many of the benefits of the Musketeer as well as some different ones. Rapscallions cut you down with dirty tricks and a sneak attack, and the Ronin is the classic landless and lordless swordsman who lives by his honor and gains samurai class abilities as well. The leaping Tumbler not only moves around the battlefield like greased lightning, they also gain use of the Vital Strike feat chain with their weapons training weapons.

The Two-Weapon Duelist specializes in, well, fighting with two weapons, be they rapiers or hand-axes or whatever. The Vainglorious swashbuckler can take fighter feats in place of deeds. And the Whirling Dervish is a mobile master of the scimitar.

I'll add too that it quickly becomes obvious just which archetypes and personages work best together. Though you don't need to use the archetypes, it's amazing to see what a Phantom-Mysterious Avenger or Raider-Picaroon can do!

The PDF also has a new Prestige Class, the Dervish Darter, a specialist in mobile combat, using speed and skill to defeat their foes. If you want to play a swordsman racing about the battlefield and cutting enemies down left and right this is the PrC for you.

The PDF concludes with some new magic items and weapon properties. Especially fun is the blackout blade that clouds men's minds, along with the caped cowl and tracking bug for everyone who wants to satisfy their Batman itch. The other times are good as well, ranging from a fighting staff that can break apart into two smaller weapons and be used with all sort of clever fighting maneuvers, and a lady's (or gentleman's) favor for their champion, that also works as a way of bending their minds.

In the end, some typos aside, this is an amazing piece of work for anyone who wants to play a swashbuckler or use one as an NPC. Combining the personages and archetypes can produce a near endless array of characters, all of them distinct. This is perfect for everyone who complains about martial characters never getting the fun stuff.

I can only give it five stars and say that I hope Legendary Games and Misters Augunas and Nelson do more of these to cover classes like the fighter and cavalier.

If you like swashbucklers, you want this and you need it.


Running from the Bulls

5/5

Clan of the Ox is the latest entry in the Animal Races series, consisting of thirteen pages. Two make up the cover and back cover, two handle the OGL and copyrights, one for the title page, leaving eight for the contents.

Like several of the other Animal Races PDFs, this one handles making a 'monstrous' race into a PC race. In this case it's the minotaurs and how they relate to the larger world. They basically serve as guards and inquisitors, protecting and preserving the societies they live in, which helps to explain in the brief opening description why some people hate them so badly. They adventure to support greater causes then themselves ad are very lawful in alignment, which is a bit different from the usual raging maniacs minotaurs are presented as.

We get the usual player information like starting ages and height and weight. I feel like I should add that the weights given for medium characters are very low, unless these are very scrawny oxen. They are also immune to the maze spell and possess a gore attack, rather fitting for minotaurs.

There are also the usual clans with differing societies and ability score bonuses and penalties. The Bison are nomads with a deep respect for nature who can use ranger combat feats to buy the Ox Clan Heritage feat. Buffalo are willful and surly barbarians with foul tempers, Ox Clan are steady and patient inquisitors, the Water Buffalo are hardy farm-folk, and the Yaks are friendly fellows who build mountaintop shrines and temples. They also have a purely social 'clan, the Sacred Cows, who are oxen that were adopted into religious orders and temples at an early age and often get trained as paladins.

We also get the usual feats that allow you to gain additional racial traits. The Ox Clan Heritage feat, as well as the more specific Ox Clan Mountaineer for the Yaks and the Ox Clan Rice Farmer for the Water Buffalo.

Next comes the genealogy tables to show how the Oxen relate to the other animal clans; I really do hope we get to see the Antelope, Horse, and Elephant clans soon. And a section on folklore that I always love in these releases, giving us some minor variants on old monsters and showing us how they fit into the mythology and beliefs of the Ox Clan. The rarely-used Divs get some play here, with the aghashes, dorus, and sepid divs all being among the standard outsiders who seek to ruin everything the Ox Clan defend. There's also a nod to Scandinavan myth with the note that some huldras have ox tails and occasionally marry Ox Clan heroes.

A description of the minor goddess Athor and her faith follows. A minor grumble is that she has only one domain; you'd think that even a minor deity would have more. There is a suggestion that she often gets worshipped alongside other deities, which leaves me wishing there'd been a way to combine serving her with other gods as well and maybe get some access to more domains, but it's still okay.

Next is Ox Clan heraldry with the usual free feat in exchange for a save penalty. Some might grumble about the use of some teamwork feats but I think it makes sense given that the oxen are so group-oriented.

There's a section on slightly alternate magical items, and how their appearance changes when made by and for the Ox Clan. I like stuff such as this; why does every race in the game make, say, a ring of protection to be used the exact same way as everyone else?

It ends with a brief section on sports and games of a rather roughneck nature. Like Aurochs, which alternates drinking very potent beer with trading shots to the face; or the Corrida, which can be either a straightforward fight of Oxen versus non-Oxen, probably not to the death in these more enlightened times, or a unique variant where a team of non-Oxen acrobats tries to dodge the minotaurs while snatching garlands of flowers from round their necks. The latter sounds especially great, giving you a 'gladiatorial' contest which depends more on skill and cunning than simple mayhem. Last is the Encierro, both entertainment and a kind of execution where condemned criminals are chased through a maze formed of the streets by minotaurs; but if you can escape via the exit, you're free and forgiven.

And I have to add, I like the pun with using the minotaurs as a race of guards.

This PDF combines a new race with a good amount of cultural background and myth, and it looks balanced to me, no chances of flight at first level or the like. Very well done and I give it five stars.


Everyman's new skills option

5/5

Everyman Games has already done several PDFs covering the new information and options given in Pathfinder Unchained. This time around they cover a new skills system based on the work done in Unchained. The PDF itself consists of 17 pages, with one for the credits, the cover, the title page, and the author's preface and table of contents. This leaves room for thirteen pages of material, and it's definitely not an unlucky number here!

The first section covers a new way of handling skills. It combines the old number of skills per class level (except that in this system fighters get 4 points per level), but includes skill groups. You get one at first level, the Background Skill Group. You then get a new Skill Group at level 2, and one more every four levels after that. You get four more skill points every level that can be spent on skills in your Skill Groups, with the limitation that you can only spend as many points on such skills as you have groups they're included in. You can also only pick a Skill Group if you have skill ranks in any one of the included group skills greater than half your character level.

Intelligence doesn't affect how many Group Skill Points you can get. And favored skills still get the +3 bonus they do in normal Pathfinder.

The list of Skill Groups seems fairly exhaustive with enough crossover that you can get any skill by at least three ways. If you like skilled characters who aren't rogues, you will like this idea. Of course, if you're getting all those new skill points, what do you do with the old '+1 skill point per level' advance?

The next section consists of new Favored Class bonuses for every class published up to the point of Occult Adventures, along with four 3rd party classes -- the Dragon Paragon from the Dragon Companion Handbook, the Mystic from the Liber Influxus Communis, Pact Magic Unbound's Occultist, and the Age Of Electrotech's Technician. These lists of options are much more expansive than the older ones -- practically everything that scales by character level in the game can be increased. You can advance and individualize your character in a multitude of ways.

It also offers companion options if you want to enhance your animal companion, eidolon, or familiar. More hit points, more skill points, better natural armor, more feats, and even DR/magic can all be gained.

We get racial options too, allowing you to improve various racial traits or to increase certain ability scores which vary by race at a rate of 1/6. As I said before, you get a LOT of options here for how to customize your character over time. The racial options include every race from the Advanced Race Guide, some creatures from the Monster Codex, and three 3rd party races, the Dragon Companion Handbook's dragons and the Mutamorphs and Nashi from Age of Electrotech.

Next comes universal options with new choices like bonuses on saves, bonus feats, removing the nonproficiency penalty for weapons, improved racial traits and more uses of racial spell-like abilities, and improved energy resistances for characters that already possess them.

Some altered feats are included as well -- Multiple Companion Training gives multiple companions, eidolons, or familiars your favored class bonuses; Eclectic for more than one favored class; Fast Learner provides extra favored class bonuses for human characters; and the Nemesis story feat provides an extra favored class benefit per level, while also granting your enemy a +2 on to hit and damage rolls made against you.

Finally comes new variant multiclassing using the Pathfinder Unchained rules for the 3rd party classes of the Dragoon Paragon, the Mystic, the Occultist, and the Technician.

Really for the asking price you get a tremendous amount of material here. I saw few or no typos and the organization is simple and straightforward. If you want more skilled characters as well as more options for character advancement you could easily do far worse and really no better than to buy this PDF. I'm going with five stars.


Everyman covers the Skald

4/5

Everyman Archetypes:Skald is a ten-page PDF covering new rules and archetypes for the Skald. It consists of one page for cover, credits, OGL, preface and table of contents. This leaves six pages of crunchable content, and here it is.

We get seven new archetypes. First is the Blood Singer, who gets the Skald's Vigor feat at first level and later gets regeneration in place of DR. Nice and simple and different enough to work.

Next is my personal favorite, the Cavalier-focused Chivalric Harbinger. They get a Cavalier order and order abilities, as well as a new raging song, Call to Unity, that allows the harbinger to share their bonuses from their order's challenge with their allies. It also allows anyone with the tactician ability to share their feats with everyone affected by the song. The harbinger also gets teamwork feats in place of rage powers that they can grant with the Call to Unity --- very nice! Great archetype for anyone who wants to play a commander type who rallies and inspires troops without turning them into berserkers.

Next is the Jarl Extoller, who can provide improved Aid Another bonuses as well as singing 'Extolling Songs'. The latter work for only one ally but they provide increased bonuses beyond the normal raging songs. As a nice bonus we also get a version of this archetype for the Unchained skald.

The Rage Baiter uses rules from Everyman Games' Psychological Combat PDF. It basically turns your skald into one of those comedians, an annoying jerk that can needle and mock an opponent into a rage centered on the skald. You give an opponent your inspired rage bonuses and in turn they zero in on you. This one is great for anyone who likes manipulating their enemies. Just try not to get hit.

Another amazing archetype is the Showboat. Basically what a gladiator should be, they are specialists in performance combat. They also gain performance combat feats and a few others in place of rage powers and can provide a bonus on performance combat checks equal to the strength bonus from their inspired rage. Very nice! It should really place the crowds at Tymon.

The Unarmored Cantor is an expert with the drum that also gets increasing dodge bonuses so long as they don't wear armor. They also get increased speed and can share it with their allies, as well as bonuses on saves against nonlethal damage from hunger, thirst, heat, and cold.

Next is the Equipment Trick feat with some ideas for how it can be used with the instruments a skald tends to play. You can learn how to make your opponent's armor or helmet ring like a bell; beat out a drum tune on shield or the like; increase the morale bonus of an army you command in mass combat; or use your horn to blow a splash weapon over every enemy in a 10-foot cone.

All that and much, much more!

It ends with two new traits. One allows for improved Perform skill along with the ability to select the Equipment Trick feat at first level. The other, War Dancer, improves Perform (dance) and allows you to use it with versatile performance if you have that class feature.

This is a very fine collection of character tools for anyone who wants to play a skald. The Chivalric Harbinger especially strikes me as a great idea for anyone who wants to do something other than the 'barbaric' skald. For $1.99 it's an amazing buy, but mostly of use to skald characters. I'll go with four stars, five if you're playing a skald.


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Ultimate Commander Review

5/5

The latest in the Ultimate series from Legendary Games, Ultimate Commander is a step in a new direction from the previous entries, which mainly expanded on the kingdom-building and mass combat rules presented in Paizo's Ultimate Campaign. The PDF and book proper is 42 pages long, with 28 of those pages devoted to the 'meat' and the rest the OGL, credits, table of contents, etc. However, we get quite a bit in those 28 pages.

Ultimate Commander introduces us to a new class, the General. This is a class that attempts something that has not been previously done in Pathfinder, creating a character whose main ability is the control and command of a troop. Troops were introduced a few years back in Adventure Path #71 as a way of keeping low-level opponents a threat to high level characters by having them fight as a unit. In effect, it's a swarm for non-vermin. It was a strikingly original idea but little has been done with it since.

Until now. Starting from 1st level the General gets to command their own troop, called the squad here. They are treated as a single creature, much like an animal companion, for purpose of feats and hit dice and damage inflicted, though they get better at all three as the General rises in level. From the start they can use shields to increase their AC or use their squad weapon in both hands to increase damage.

They're also immune to single-target spells and can't be flanked, though they can take critical hits and be sneak attacked. Spells that affect an area or more than one person can hurt the squad badly. And if it takes enough damage it disperses, making it very difficult for the General to turn them into a useful fighting group again. Squad damage is divided into casualties and morale, and you can't treat them both the same. The usual kinds of healing work for casualties, but for morale (which is the bigger part of damage) the General has to give a motivating speech, one of the class features. If things get bad enough the General has to go recruiting to repair the damage done to his squad, and tables and DCs are thoughtfully provided for all of this.

The squad is very useful even from the start, but it has to be carefully managed and treated to make sure it stays useful. And much of thus is on the General. It's like an animal companion or eidolon, though differing from both -- the other characters can help, but in the end it's up to the General to make sure the squad stays functional and helpful.

Getting on to the General, they start with some simple commands, mainly for the squad to attack. The General also learns new commands time goes on, enabling the squad to swarm attack more than one enemy, assist him or other allies in flank attacks, and to aid the general in her own attacks. The General also gets special tactics they can use with the squad, allowing it to do things like learn to use crossbows and volley fire them, learn to use pikes, develop guerrilla tactics, shield-breaking, skirmishing, siege tactics, how to hit harder and more accurately, etc. It's not quite everything (some mounted combat tactics would have been welcome), but you get a LOT of options over time for how to use the squad. Eventually the General can have members of the squad sacrifice themselves to save her or fight to the bitter end. And she can share any magical bonuses and special abilities she gets from her weapons with theirs.

The General also gets certain stratagems she can use with her fellow adventurers, allowing for bonuses on saves, attacks, damage, etc. You can also learn things like how to enable an ally to strike for nonlethal damage or share teamwork feats. I have to say that the list seems kind of short and the bonuses don't scale with level, which feels odd for these sort of class abilities, but they're all good. A few more genius stratagems would have been good, though, as if you stick to the General class all the way to the end you'll run through the whole list.

The General develops several abilities that play more into the kingdom building rules, especially the expanded version we got in the other Ultimate books. For example, if the General is the kingdom's general, they allow for more armies and elites to be raised (as seen in Ultimate Battle) and for the troops to cost less consumption, and be trained faster. They also provide a better bonus to the Loyalty score. Over time they get even better at this, becoming a near-legend and making the armies under their command even more dangerous and skilled. They also get bonuses on the Leadership feat if taken, together with a small section in the back explaining how this can be especially useful to a multi-class General.

The General also gets additional bonuses to their Profession (soldier) skill over time, which they use for many of their class abilities like recruiting soldiers and commanding in battle. They also learn how to use it to develop contacts, and get better at using social skills to cultivate those contacts and other allies as well.

So that's the General and the squad. There are several archetypes in the book as well, with standouts like the criminal Kingpin who rules a nation's underworld, the malicious Mindbender who uses charm and dominate spells to control their flunkies, the intellectual Tactician who depends more on brains than charisma to win battles (hello, Grand Admiral Thrawn), and the brutal Tyrant and Warmonger, depending respectively on fear and bloodlust to inspire the troops.

Few of them can match the alternate class Hordelord for sheer creepiness, however.

Who? Oh, well, remember those zombie apocalypse movies? The Hordelord is a living person who controls their very own zombie horde. Most of what was said above about the General applies here, with the exception that the horde consists of undead and the Hordelord gets less people-motivating abilities and develops necromantic magic instead. They can also choose one of three Paths of Depravity, each of which provides its own unique slant on just why you'd be running around with a horde of zombies in the first place. The Master with his even bigger zombie horde; the Path of Night with its focus on necromancy; and the Path of the Reaper that feeds on souls -- all of them very great and so very vile! And the capstone ability turns the Hordelord into an undead of their choice. Even better!

At the end of the book we get some new feats and one repeat from the Inner Sea World Guide, the Flagbearer feat. It seems to be either misprinted or altered, with bonuses that once applied to all attacks now limited to attacks of opportunity. However it's still effective and the new feats expand on the General's abilities and allow some new options.

So there you have the General. The class seems best used in campaigns where kingdom-building and mas combat as the focus, but it has more than enough flexibility to be useful elsewhere. It allows for you to make a character who brings their own huscarls or landsknecht or retainers along on their adventuring career, and yet who will not dominate campaign time with their gang of NPC characters. And the Hordelord could make for a whole campaign of heroic PCs confronting hordes of ravaging undead and their mortal masters. I'm going with five stars and a recommendation for one of the best RPG books I've seen all year!


Unchained Rage

5/5

This is another PDF from Everyman Games expanding on the material presented in Pathfinder Unchained, this time covering what changes can be made in the classes that use barbarian rage. It covers the Bloodrager and Skald classes, several archetypes, includes some new and reworked old feats, and finishes off with the Rage Prophet and Stalwart Defender PrCs. All this in twenty-one pages, and here we go for some more detail on all that.

The Bloodrager comes first, and it's mostly the same as the class from the ACG with the difference that the rage bonuses are now in line with the Unchained barbarian. We also get two of their bloodlines redone as well, the Abyssal and the Kyton, because both of them had improved bonuses to strength when in bloodrage. Simple work but very solid and it's always nice to have someone else take the time to figure some of this stuff out.

The Skald is next and again, the class is still pretty much what it was in Unchained save for the bonuses from raging song which now match those of the Unchained barbarian. I do note that the skald gets Perform (wind) listed under the 'Versatile Performance' class feature but he doesn't get Perform (wind) in the class skill list! I seem to recall this was the accidental case in the ACG as well, and it's not hard to include it among the class skills after all, but it seemed odd. Once again, very solid, kept simple like the Unchained barbarian for people who don't want to keep track of a million things during the game, and it works.

Next come several archetypes. First is the Savage Technologist, which allows you to use your thrown weapon damage bonus with your laser pistols and other one-handed firearms when you rage. Else it's still the same archetype we know and love from Numeria. Next is the Primal Hunter from the Ranged Tactics Handbook, one of my favorites. Basically the same as in its original version save that you can add your bonus to hit from rage for melee combat to ranged combat as well.

Then comes the Urban Barbarian, which is a little different. When you rage now with the Unchained rules, you can choose between two of several benefits -- to hit with melee and thrown weapons, damage with melee and thrown weapons, bonuses on certain saves and to armor class, and extra hit points. You can pick more bonuses when you get to greater and mighty rage, and they stack. The Unchained Urban Barbarian works very well to me and seems great for someone who wants raging berserks with some self control and better defenses.

Last archetype is the Viking from People of the North. It feels like an odd man out. Nothing wrong with it at all, but there's practically nothing changed from its original publication. It's good, but given how little work it needed, it feels like it could have been passed over.

Next we get some new and reworked old feats. Most are older feats that have been brought into line with the new mechanic. However, they have three feats that feel like they should have been in the Unchained book. Brutal Blow increases the damage you do when raging if you use a two-handed weapon; Brutal Maneuvers lets you use your damage bonus on combat maneuver checks (part of me wonders why they didn't limit it to maneuvers with Power Attack as a prerequisite, but simplicity is better, and it's very easy to use); and Brutal Throw which allows you to use your normal rage damage and melee attack bonus on thrown weapon attack rolls. Very nice work all three and it fills in some minor oversights from Unchained, which is one of the things 3rd party material ought to do.

Lastly comes the updated PrCs. The Rage Prophet needed something to replace the clarity of mind rage power which the unchained barbarian no longer can get. They do in the form of Clarity of Rage, which allows them to deactivate and reactivate the calm stance rage power as a free action. Otherwise they're mostly what they always were, though some of the class features have been slightly tinkered with to make them more balanced, like allowing them to sacrifice spell slots to add a few more rounds of rage or using Spirit Guardian and Spirit Warrior to now add ghost touch to armor and weapons for the cost of some rage. Looks good to me and still has the feel of the original PrC.

Next is the Stalwart Defender, who has been changed rather more. The entry requirements have been lowered; it gets new defensive powers; and it gets some new class features at lower levels. For instance, now the defender can add their level to their constitution score to determine how low their negative hit points have to get before dying, and when in a defensive stance they add its bonus on Will saves to that total as well. So it becomes not just a matter of physical fortitude but sheer willpower defying death as well -- very iconic!

Also, some of the new defensive powers allow the stalwart defender to move around the battlefield (slowly), mostly to keep driving enemies away from their allies, take a few hits to protect their friends, and even make a charge once per defensive stance. They also get Diehard, and it becomes stronger as they advance in levels. The class feels a lot better now than it used to, and the new class features really give it the tone of being the very best defensive warrior you can find.

All in all, this is a very find PDF and more than worth its asking price for anyone who likes the new barbarian, the Unchained rage mechanic, and who wants to use it with the other classes that depend on it. Five stars and recommended to anyone who likes their barbarians.


Everyman Unchained Monk Archetypes

4/5

While the monk has been a Pathfinder class from the start and has a large number of archetypes available, it was recently reworked in Pathfinder Unchained. There are several differences between the old class and the new, some small (a few class abilities are now available at different levels) and some big, like the new ki powers and the reworked flurry of blows. All very fine unless you were using one of the old monk archetypes and trying to figure out how to handle your character now. This PDF by Everyman Games founder Alexander Augunas tries to rework them, and let's see how they work.

The PDF itself is nineteen [ages long with one for a gorgeous full-color cover, one for the title page, one for contents, and one for the OGL, leaving fifteen pages of content. They also mention that they don't cover everything -- only archetypes from the Advanced Player's Guide. the Advanced Race Guide, Ultimate Combat, and Ultimate Magic[i] are included (so much for my personal favorite, the [i]Ranged Tactics Toolbox's Far Strike monk). However, Mister Augunas also lists how he wet about making the changes here which makes it rather easy to use them yourself on non-listed archetypes. Thank you for that, sir.

The archetypes themselves still have the feel of the originals, with a few exceptions due to changes such as flurry of blows. The Martial Artist, for example, now gains over time and levels immunities to things like fatigue, exhaustion, and energy drain, as well as decreased effects from ability damage and drain, The Master of Many Styles uses their style strikes differently than the normal monk, using them whenever he makes a full attack while having one of more style stances (from the Style feats introduced in Ultimate Combat) active.

The Sensei archetype gets a fun idea, they can use something like bardic inspiration on their allies, allowing them to inspire courage, competence, and greatness, and eventually to let their lessons linger in the minds of their students for a few rounds extra. They also get bardic masterpieces rather than style strikes and allow their allies to use the Sensei's class abilities while they call encouragement. Do you understand, Grasshopper?

The wrestling Tetori becomes even better at grappling. Much, much better; they can eventually make their grips imitate the effects of dimensional anchor, ghost touch, and even negate polymorph effects by touch! Let's see those incorporeal undead, angry outsiders, and showoff shapeshifters get away now!

The brawling Wildcat gets even better at using dirty tricks and improvised weapons in a fight, and can use their knockout ability earlier and more often as well.

The Zen Archer is the last of the archetypes with major changes. Their big one is that they can only use flurry of blows with bows, and that at 5th level they replace style strikes with the ability to do certain combat maneuvers at range. This feels like a good trade-off, as the Zen Archer loses something they could only use in melee combat but gains something useful but not too powerful for ranged combat.

This PDF doesn't cover every monk archetype but it covers the lion's share of them. And the author includes the information for the reader to rework other archetypes to keep them in line with the ones included here. This is a very good PDF for anyone who wants to convert an old monk archetype to the new class listed in Unchained. That said, if you don't use it they're not going to be very helpful, unless of course you decide to pick up the book after reading the PDF.

I'm going with four stars, mostly because it's only going to be useful to some fans, but to those fans it will be a five-star necessity.


Kitsune come into their own

5/5

This is one of those 3rd party PDFs that justifies the very idea of the OGL with incredible ease. It covers the kitsune race, vulpine shapeshifters who can assume human form and who have a talent for trickery and enchantment magic. This PDF answers the 'and what else' questions, and does an amazing job of it.

Once again, this has been covered in grand style by the other reviewers, so I'll just touch on some high points. We get a history and origin of the race, along with the god Inari and how kitsune interact with humans and other races. Along with the fluff we get crunch that shows how all of this affects them in-game, like new bardic masterpieces and different kitsune 'ethnicities' and subraces.

There are several different paths on how kitsune can become nine-tailed and what they mean in game terms for a character. We get new martial archetypes and class features. There's information on kitsune witchcraft, sorcery both benevolent and baleful, and even a kitsune bloodrager bloodline that allows you to turn into a giant heart-ripping fox. That last one is really original!

It also lists alternate favored class options for every Pathfinder class that wasn't originally covered, as well as a few third party ones. And of course feats and traits.

All I can say is that if you want to play a kitsune in Pathfinder you won't find anything better than this.


Leadership for everyone

5/5

That's the solution given to the 'Leadership problem' in this amazing PDF. It's been covered far more extensively by far more capable reviewers, but I'll still add a few words of my own here.

This PDF turns Leadership into a sort of 'seventh characteristic', making it something that everyone can have and profit by, even if they don't want to be leading a horde of followers around. That said they also make it useful for people who do want to be leading a large group of people.

Mostly it's been made to work with the downtime/kingdom building/army leadership rules in Ultimate Campaign. This is done with the addition of 'perks' available very second level, that can affect things like how well known you are, what boons you can give a unit of soldiers, or even if you want to be left alone. They're very clever and add lots of flavor to Leadership.

If you want to do better at running your business, or leading your kingdom, or handling troops, you WILL want this PDF.


The Dragon Disciple

4/5

This PDF has already been covered to the usual high standard by Endzeitgeist, so I'll limit myself to a few comments here in praise.

This class is basically taking the Dragon Disciple PrC from the Pathfinder rulebook and turning it into a Charisma-based version of the magus from Ultimate Magic, with the big difference being that in this class you slowly transform into a sorta-dragon. I.e., you get scales, claws, fangs, a breath weapon, wings (at 15th level) all combined with a very decent BAB and saves. You also get spellcasting u to 6th level spells.

Really, this is for everyone who wants to start scaling up (sorry) from 1st level rather than take five levels of a spontaneous spellcaster class first.

I like it mostly because I've always been big on 'monstrous' PCs. I like alchemists with their mutagens, inhuman looking tieflings, and other oddities -- like dragon-people PCs. That said the math of the class works out well and I'd call it balanced for the sort of games I like to play, though it may be a bit tough for lower-powered ones.

You also get a sample character statted out at 1st, 10th, and 15th levels if you want to get an idea of one way to make the character.

I'd say this class and PDF is definitely worth the price.


Get your dragons here!

5/5

The Dragon Companion Handbook is one of the best PDFs I've seen in a long time. The intent of it is to allow PCs to get dragons as cohorts/companions or even as PCs if they want. They do point out that these rather powerful dragons are meant more for use as cohorts and companions, and list Rite Publishing's In the Company of Dragons as am alternative source for draconic PCs. That said I'd say they do a good job of it!

The PDF proper is 36 pages lone, with one page for the cover, one for credits, one for the contents and preface, and one for the OGL. This leaves 32 pages for the dragons themselves, and they are pages well used.

The first section briefly covers the dragon 'race', both the crunch elements of stats and abilities and the fluff of how their society works as well as why a dragon would work with puny mortals anyway. The answer is, because that way they can try to develop their powers and abilities much more swiftly then if they took the more common route of 'a year active, ten years snoring on the hoard'. It allows younger and more ambitious dragons to try and outmaneuver the older and more potent dragons. A good reason and one that opens the way for many roleplaying opportunities -- what do you do when a group of angry elder wyrms comes after your cohort to teach them a lesson in respect for 'degrading the race' by associating with noxious bipeds (not to mention, trying to get one up on them)? I feel that cohorts and intelligent companions should have reasons for working with PCs beyond 'I just like you', and that reason is a doozy.

The dragons also get differing racial traits depending on which sept they belong to. This can be any of the main 'types' like red, black, silver, gold, etc., or any of the dragon kinds found in other Bestiaries. There is a total of 25 different septs, covering every breed of true dragon in the game, so you should be able to find something you like here. They also provide favored class options for every class in the game and some 3rd party ones as well like the Occultist and Technician. You can't say that you don't get options here.

We also get brief sections covering how to use these dragons as PCs if you must and how to balance them out with other starting PCs of more mundane races. We also get guidelines on how to use them as cohorts, both with the usual Pathfinder leadership feat and the versions given in the also-excellent Leadership Handbook.

The following section covers the new base class of Dragon Paragon, a class for dragons -- and kobolds, if you want to give the 'little dragons' something new. Be warned, this is a potent class -- you get d12 for hit points, full BAB, stat bonuses, limited spellcasting, and other special powers as you or your dragon rise in level. Then again, it's meant for dragons only. You've been warned.

You also get powers and bonus spells depending on your heritage -- black dragons get ones that revolves around acid, their swampy homes, control of reptiles, etc. It's the same for the other two dozen heritages/septs included.

The next section covers draconic companions. You need to take feats for this. One for the basic scaly buddy, and another for 'mastery' that makes your draconic ally bigger, stronger, grants new movement types, and gives some ability like frightful presence. Again, these are strong companions to have, but it seems to scale in such a way that they won't be stronger than the rest of the group.

Oh, and there's also a list of how your dragon companion improves for all 20 levels, which is appreciated.

At the end is a list of new draconic feats. Two of them (Draconic Companion and Draconic Companion Mastery) are meant for non-dragons who want to use the rules listed in part three. The rest are for dragons who want to improve their racial abilities, expand their arsenal with wing buffets, or gain some of the unique traits of their sept. They seem to cover it all here, and provide an embarrassment of riches to choose from.

It has to be stated, this isn't a PDF for anyone who wants to make a dragon their PC, that's the Rite Games PDF listed above, or start playing with one as a sidekick. That's Genius Guide to the Dragonrider from Rogue Genius Games, also mentioned in the PDF. This is for making some VERY powerful allies for your players, and it might not be for everyone. That said if you don't mind high-powered gaming (though these dragons will by no means make PC victories certain) and if you just have to have a dragon for a cohort or companion, you could do a lot worse than to use this PDF.


Become a Drow Noble the Easy Way

5/5

That's basically the whole point of Everyman Games' latest PDF, the Noble Aspirant. It consists of seven pages, of which three are the crunchy parts (with a brief well-done bit of fiction to help establish the mood). It covers a prestige class that enables you to make your drow commoner into a full-fledged noble, meaning they get the feat chain that grants all the nifty noble abilities from the Advanced Race Guide.

The thing is, at the same time it allows you to improve your original class. Think like the Dragon Disciple from the main Pathfinder book, or the Evangelist from the Inner Sea Gods book. You do 'lose' three levels from your original class so there is a price to pay for attaining nobility among the drow.

The class proper is ten levels, and you have to be a full-blooded drow elf to enter it, have the Drow Nobility feat from the ARG, and be roughly fifth level. You can also increase the level-dependent effects of your old class at certain levels. This means things like how long you can rage, use bardic performance, or your caster level. You do NOT get things like more spells per day, extra sneak attack damage dice, or better armor and weapons training for a fighter.

In exchange you get a limited by level pool of energy that allows you to regain some of your racial and feat-gained spell-like abilities. You can also pick talents that allow you to pick extra racial traits and feats, and to use metamagic on your spell-like abilities, to make you a better poisoner (very drow-like!), or to become better with certain drow weapons, including you to stack your noble aspirant levels with fighter to qualify for feats like weapon specialization.

I have to say it seems that this class is better for non-spellcasters than arcane or divine casters.

The would-be noble also gets better with their racial spell-like abilities and at the end, becomes a full noble and gets a few other little benefits besides. Suffice to say that it'll be worth the time it takes to get there.

Well, in the end this PDF promises a way to make any drow character into a noble, and it does just that. Part of me wishes it could have worked as well with spellcasters, but given how many evil drow mages and clerics are out there it's probably for the best that we get a PrC that focuses on the less favored dark elves.

Of course the big problem is that you'll almost certainly have to play a malicious member of a very powerful race to get all of this, but in some campaigns it'll fit in perfectly. Like Fire Mountain Games 'Throne of Night' AP that's being released right now.

Be warned, you'll find the Advanced racial Guide very, VERY helpful in using this PDF, though the feats it talks about are probably all online by now anyway.

It promises what it delivers and does so very well. Five stars and recommended for any any ambitious commoner drow out there.


Something new for the Swashbuckler

4/5

Everyman Archetypes: Swashbuckler is another PDF from Everyman Games, this one providing some new character options and feats for the new swashbuckler class from the ACG. It's ten pages long, with one for the cover, one for credits, the table of contents, and the OGL, leaving six pages of new goodies for the players.

We get a list of design goals for the new material on the ToC page. Basically, they want to make swashbucklers more mobile, a little more like the fighter, and give more options then the basic rapier-and-free hand style. How well do they do? Let's see.

First come the new archetypes, with the Daredevil appropriately leading the charge. They get the ability to use attacks of opportunity and panache to dodge attacks by using Acrobatics. If it works, the swashbuckler can move up to her speed so long as she stays within the threatened area of the creature who attacked her. She can also do a better high jump and can make a dashing attack, which means she can move her full speed and make an attack without provoking AoO. She can also use it in connection with any feat or ability that works with the attack action like Vita Strike. Which is a good thing, as she gets the Vital Strike feat chain with light and piercing weapons along with bonuses on hit and damage rolls. This sounds like one solid archetype to me, for someone who's going to be running all over the battlefield and cutting down opponents left and right like some character from a chanbara samurai movie.

The Dashing Commander gets the Battle Cry feat, and the commander can use panache to add her Charisma bonus to the rerolled save permitted by the feat. And she becomes immune to fear while under its effects. And she grants a damage bonus to anyone affected by the feat inclyding herself in place of swashbuckler weapon training.

The Opuggnant Duelist fills the role of the obnoxious swordsman who verbally abuses and taunts his opponent into making a rash mistake. It relies on the rules given in Everyman Games Psychological Combat PDF, which is a worthy buy itself, but without that may be of limited use. Basically it allows you to use panache do even better with several interpersonal skills and to be able to antagonize, demoralize, or feint someone after striking them. You can also use several maneuvers with greater ease on someone you've rattled as well, which feels very right for this sort of character.

The Rapscallion can do better with dirty tricks in exchange for losing menacing swordplay and gets rogue talents along with the usual bonus feats. They also get sneak attacks instead of precise strike. Very fine for anyone looking to play a swashbuckling rogue.

The Two-Weapon Duelist is for anyone who wants to fight Florentine, granting Two-Weapon Fighting and Weapon Finesse feats at first level, and changing some maneuvers to improve them over time.

The Vainglory Swashbuckler gets to exchange their normal deeds for combat feats. They don't need the usual prerequisites for these new deeds, but they will need some panache to use them. We also get some advice on how this very loose archetype works with the others listed here and elsewhere, which is appreciated.

The new feats come next. Graceful Precisionallows you to use your Dexterity rather than Strength to determine weapon damage when using any light melee weapon one-handed, as well as getting a bonus on confirming critical hits. Feral Grace lets you treat any one natural weapon like a one-handed piercing weapon for all feats and abilities meant to work with such a weapon. You can also add your Dexterity modifier to the damage roll.

Maneuver Bravado allows you to regain panache with a natural 20 on the check for any one combat maneuver as well as the ability to use panache to make the maneuver roll twice and take the better result. Redirect Force makes it easier to parry attacks from larger foes and gives a bonus on the counterattack. Shielded Panache allows you to use a small or large shield together with any swashbuckler ability that normally only allows for a buckler.

Anyway, this PDF was meant to offer new options for the swashbuckler, and it does so in very fine fashion save for one or two little hiccups. It certainly made me think about playing a swashbuckler character, which is a good trick given that the class didn't appeal to me much before. I'm going with four stars, and I'd say five for anyone who wants to play the swashbuckler class in Pathfinder.


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Nature in the Raw

4/5

Is not a nice or pleasant place, as we discover in 'Dark Druids', a PDF and book from Legendary Games for their Kingdom Building line. The PDF/book itself consists of 26 pages, of which 17 are the actual content wit the rest being full-page art, credits, contents, OGL etc. But they are seventeen very-full pages.

It starts with some ideas on what makes villainous druids different from more heroic versions, as well as other villains -- their rejection of reason, instinct, and the tools humans use to control their environment. It also mentions a feat that isn't listed within but is used very often, Shade of the Uskwood ('Shade of the Woodlands' here) from the Inner Sea World Guide and several online sites for the Kuthite druids of Nidal. We also get some ideas about the spiritual homeland of these dark druids, the Umbral Woods. The Umbrae-tokens required by the former feat are used by the Dark Druids as their unholy symbols and we get several ideas on how to describe them to players in ways designed to unnerve and frighten. Very well done.

Next are two archetypes. My favorite is the Darkwolf, basically a druid infected with lycanthropy who decides to embrace their new lupine nature. Basically they do better with wolves than other animals, can summon advanced and giant wolves, dire wolves, and werewolves. And they can wild shape into the by-now classic 'wolfman' form as well. In exchange the full moon makes them a little -- touchy, and silver can dazzle or even sicken them if used as a weapon.

Then is the Unseelie Ovate, a malicious version of the Seelie Ovate druid from an earlier release of theirs. They get some new skills, a whole list of nasty spells they can cast in place of summon nature's ally, heightened resistance to mind-affecting magic, and they can wild shape into both fey and magical beasts. Both archetypes have a nice creepy feel to them. They also don't require evil alignments, so anyone who wants to make a druid anti-hero with these two can go right ahead.

Next are a list of feats, nearly all of which require the Shade of the Uskwood feat to be used. This seems to limit them to druids of Zon-Kuthon in stricter games, though the PDF tells you right out that you can change any of this as you need to or please.

That stated, if you do like the idea of expanded Kuthite druids you've got a smorgasbord of ideas here. There are feats allowing the druid to use fire spells (normally forbidden if you take 'Uskwood') at the price of being weakened and going light-blind. One grants additional cold spells and makes them more powerful, another allows the druid to summon shadows and kytons as well as providing proficiency with the spiked chain (again, at the cost of weakening them an making them blind in the light). You can gain an evolution pool for your animal companion and certain summoner abilities with them; can learn how to hide the... evidence of your devotion to [strike}Zon-Kuthon[/strike] the Dark Prince of Pain and more easily fool unbelievers, deal piercing unarmed strikes with the thorns piercing your flesh, and much more. And in best Kuthite fashion, almost every one of these dark gifts costs the user in terms of either pain or other permanent nasty but not crippling conditions.

The non-'Uskwood' feats are just as good. You can turn your animal companion into a feral, rabid beast -- they get stronger and fiercer, and can infect bitten opponents with rabies as well. The druid can get a feat that allows them to change to any evil alignment but still retain their druid powers. And if they multi-class into anti-paladin, they can use touch of corruption to empower their metamagic. And you can gain the ability to ignore ongoing or repeating damage if it is about to kill you, though not easily.

Really, the list of feats alone makes me want to bring a group of Kuthite druids into 'Kingmaker' as enemies of the rulers just so I can use some of those wild ideas.

The last part of the book are new spells. They have spells for assuming fey forms, and for conjuring woodland beings (like planar ally, but with animals, fey, plants, and magical beasts). You can summon algal blooms that have the powers of green slime or oozes and that can infect you with hideous illnesses. Droughts can be laid upon a wide stretch of land, bat swarms can be called up, and stunning and deafening blasts of thunder are hurled on your enemies.

My favorite, however, is fey crossroads. It allows the caster to use a crossroads to make a temporary gateway into the realms of the fey; if no crossroads is handy, you can still cast the spell by making your own crossroads in the dirt but it takes a lot longer. Also, upon returning, there's a chance you might be weakened and shaken by what you've seen in the fey realms; better hope no enemies are waiting for you when you leave.

But best of all, you can remove the material components of the spell if you or someone you take with you create a performance for the fey first. Yes, if you can entertain the fey they'll make the spell easier for you to cast. This feels very folkloric and to me, it's how fey magic ought to feel.

While most of this PDF is meant for villains, there's enough here that can be used by non-evil druids and other classes that it can be handy for them too. I admit that I wish they'd give us some more feats or spells specifically for the darkwolf, but no one can have everything. They also list a few feats at one point that you have to go searching online for (but they include the links in the PDF). I'm going with four stars for this one -- and all the way up to five if you like Zon-Kuthon and want more information on his druids.


Time to get tiny!

5/5

One oddly overlooked bit of fantasy in Pathfinder is the story or adventure where the heroes get small. Really, really small. It happens many times, including one of the classics of the genre (Fritz Leiber's <i>Swords of Lankhmar</i>) but it tends to be rare in games, mostly due to the need to rework everyone's stats. What was needed was a quick and relatively simple way of doing this.

In Microsized Adventures, that's what we get -- along with ideas for adventures and even campaigns, new feats, combat rules, magic items, and even some archetypes that can work very well in non-microsized adventures.

The PDF proper is thirty pages long, with one for the cover, one for credits, the OGL, and a preface and contents. First section covers diminishing the characters and gives us a size bonus or penalty on attack rolls, AC, combat maneuvers, CMD, Fly and Intimidate and Stealth skill checks, and more which all come from basic Pathfinder. It's still useful to have this information here, though.

We also get the new Special Size Modifier to be applied to a shrunk character's Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and natural armor. It's one simple number quickly applied. I.e. if a Medium character gets reduced to ant size (Fine) she takes a Special Size Modifier of -10 for all affected stats and natural armor bonuses. It also applies to all damage by weapons and from spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural powers. It lists numbers for up to eight reductions in size in you're shrinking ancient dragons and giants, or if you want to REALLY reduce your PCs.

The same number above is also given as a bonus to whatever creatures you face that are now bigger than you on their AC, CMD, combat maneuver checks, attacks, and damage rolls. This can make even minor threats into real menaces fast, which is one of the big elements in microsized stories in the first place -- remember the Incredible Shrinking Man and that spider? So if your currently-Fine sized PCs meet a normal badger, it gets a +10 to all the rolls listed above! It also gets bonuses to its saves and Save DCs as well as bonus hit points due to its relative newfound toughness. There are guidelines on how to reckon the new CRs of these tiny terrors as well as how to rework swarms -- and hey, if you thought they were *bad* for normal-sized PCs!...

There are rules on how to adjust the combat grid, movement, and weapon ranges for smaller characters, as well as two new maneuvers that would work very well in the current Giantkiller AP, Crush (step on the little pests!) and Scale (climb the big bully and show him who's boss!). Both are detailed and kept at the same level of complexity as maneuvers in the basic game.

There's also a damage-by-size table for weapons ranging from up to 8 sizes smaller/bigger than normal. Some people might consider buying the PDF for that alone. Let's just say that you don't want to confront a Medium dagger when you're Fine in size... There are also quick rules for making makeshift armor and shields.

In the campaigns section we get several ideas on just who would do this to your poor PCs and why, as well as how such an adventure could be run and finished. There are also hints on how to handle the terrain and denizens. And the effect of high winds on shrunk characters and ranged weapons.

There are also some suggestions for potential artifacts that can be used to shrink characters. Sure, they're kind of unpredictable and may not work the way you want them to, but that's all part of the fun, right?

There are archetypes for the barbarian (the never-unarmed frothing pugilist), gunslinger (crack-shot slinger, using thrown weapons rather than guns), investigator (monster eidetic, a thinking man's monster hunter), and two for the rogue (the scaling striker who fearlessly clambers up monsters to strike down the mightiest foes, and the scrapper who can always find a weapon). They work great for microsized adventures and in more mundane campaigns too, especially when facing Large and bigger opponents.

It rounds out with some new feats, many revolving around the new maneuvers (Improved and Greater Crush and Scale). You can get better with improvised armor and shields, or you can climb an enemy sneakily, help a friend to stomp on the little annoyances (I have this mental image of a gang of giants loudly stamping on meddlesome PCs), and even pinning someone under your mighty heel.

This is simply a great piece of work. It shows how to do shrunken characters and their opponents in an adventure in a way that captures the feel of the danger they should be in, while at the same time never overwhelming them. The rules are simple and straightforward and the tables included are easily used.

If you want to shrink your PCs and teach them some sympathy for the 'little guy', or if you want to make your giants and other massive monsters even meaner, then you will want to buy this PDF.

Five stars and my fond hope that you give Microsized Adventures a try!


Psychological Combat: the Review

5/5

As this one has already been covered by Endzeitgeist, I'm not even going to try and retread ground so ably covered by him in his work. Rather I'll just point the elements of this short yet oh so wonderful PDF that I love the best.

First of all the fact that it standardizes, improves on, and expands on the rules to demoralize, feint, and antagonize your opponents in combat. This is a part of real-life fighting, and here these under-supported tactics get the help they need. And it works. We get a new condition (Antagonized) and its made to stand beside Demoralized and Feint. The rules are clear and simple, which is always a plus, and they make trying to outwit or frighten opponents viable tactics for a fight.

The examples of play and how it 'looks' as prose are very well done and to the point.

We get class options for how to use these revised rules with the current classes, and it covers the ones from basic Pathfinder, the APG, and the ACG. Best of all to me is the coverage given the cavalier, who gets a new Order and two archetypes that work very well with these new rules. The Order of the Dazzling Lotus is for the bright shining hero, the champion of his people who seeks to defend and inspire them. The Braggart archetype treats every battle as a grand performance and uses the real or imagined cheers of the crowd to drive himself forward, and the Challenger simply verbally abuses his enemies so badly they throw all caution to the wind as they charge in to rip him apart!

Rogues and Slayers also get some very good options that make them better at both psychological combat and at maneuvers and teamwork in general.

Next are feats that improve abilities to antagonize and demoralize. Nice work, and you get mythic variants as well. One oddity here is that the Tandem Psyche Out feat seems to be a Teamwork feat but isn't listed as such. But that's a minor point.

Last is a series of traits that work very well with the rest of the options in the PDF, including ones that make it easier to use these tricks on both children and animals.

Before this I never much thought about feints or frightening enemies in a fight; now I find myself looking at these options and thinking of all the characters that can be made with them. I give it five stars.


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Into the Breach: The Cavalier

4/5

This PDF covers the oddly-ignored cavalier class. It has 31 pages, of which 26 are devoted to the crunch, so here goes. It is primarily a collection of new archetypes, alternate classes, and prestige classes for the cavalier, and it certainly does provide on that score, with eleven archetypes, one alternate class, three prestige classes, some new orders, and some new magical item properties and mundane gear.

Please do note that I was given a free copy of the PDF in exchange for a review that is, I hope, both honest and useful to other potential buyers.

First of the new archetypes is the Airborne Knight, whose main change is getting a flying mount in exchange for some armor proficiencies, the normal mount and all tactician abilities. You can choose from several creatures, ranging from the 'normal' hippogriff, pegasus, and wyvern, to oddities like the giant wasp and roc. Stats and their by-level improvements are listed for all mounts save the giant wasp, pteranodon, and roc. I admit, I've always been iffy about flying mounts. That and to me, the cavalier works best as an armored melee fighter and leader. That said the archetype seems rather balanced and folks who just have to have a flying mount from first level on will be delighted.

Next is the rather odd Briar Knight, who gives up their mount in exchange for living plant armor(!). Said armor gets better over time, becoming able to reach 15 feet with vines for trip and disarm attacks, hurl razor-sharp thorns, and advance as the crawling vine plant companion from ]i]Ultimate Magic[/i]. The Briar Knight can also gain photosynthesis for fast healing, root fast to the ground, and eventually become of the plant type. Let me say, this one is bizarre and strikingly different from the usual cavalier, but at the same time very flavorful. I love it just for its weirdness. My main concern is that the plant armor starts off providing +5 armor and then adds +2 every three levels. That seems like it might be an awful high armor class at the higher levels. But still -- you're a knight wearing armor made from a living plant that can go crawling off to attack your enemies! This is a wild idea like the ones that turned me on to fantasy RPGs way back when in the first place, and I really like it.

Next is the Charioteer, who gives up a mount but gets, well, a chariot as well as a new trick to work with it every level to make it more useful. Maybe it's the weirdness preceding and following it, but this one just seems kind of blah to me. Then again players running a Bronze Age campaign would love it.

Next is the Clockwork Knight, which is almost as wild as the Briar Knight. This guy gets to make their very own clockwork steed, and to upgrade it over time. They have some very cool ideas for this, involving everything from making it bigger to granting it intelligence to rebuilding its body from darkwood, mithral, or adamantine. Truly an awesome idea, and it would fit in well in any steampunk campaign, or one set near a fallen spaceship or the like.

The Crudus Domitor is a dark knight of evil who can terrify enemies and gain strength from their fear, literally, as well as get a mount that once it has been offered a blood sacrifice become more potent over time and eventually turns undead. He also can create ever-worse states of fear in enemies and inflict more damage on them. And he can chase fleeing and frightened enemies down as well as use fallen foes to heighten his defenses. Nasty piece of work, but might go best as an NPC enemy.

The Formation Rider sacrifices his Tactician abilities in exchange for making better charges when leading a group of cavalry. Again, this seems like an archetype better suited to NPCs unless you're running a mass combat heavy campaign. But in that it would work very well.

The Lord (or Lady) in Burlap is basically a peasant knight, using simple weapons, especially the staff, and farm animals to defeat high and mighty enemies. Rather a potent archetype and well suited to anyone who wants to play a peasant hero of legend and folklore.

Mounted Brigands are robber knights, getting some rogue talents and a sneak attack that they can use in a mounted charge against the target of the challenge. They also get their normal Order abilities at a slower rate than more honest cavaliers. Oath-Bound Protectors take an oath to defend one particular being and in exchange get a modified version of their Orders normal challenge (and yes, they list this information for EVERY Order in official Pathfinder material as well as this PDF).

Shieldmaidens can gain the power to use deathwatch and heightened skill with their shield and lose their mount. She can eventually block any one attack per round, use the shield's base bonus on her saves, and gains other talents with it. The Spirit Rider learns how to enchant his weapon temporarily and can summon a ghostly steed that can eventually walk on water, air, and fly. Steadfast Challengers refuse to let anything get between them and their challenged enemy, and will plow across a battlefield after him with improved movement, a better chance of avoiding attacks, and more.

After this we move on to the new alternate base class, the Sword Sworn Troubadour. This is basically a Cavalier/Bard who's more of a fighter when compared to the Barbarian/Bard Skald. He also doesn't get bardic performance but rather Battle Hymns that can provide any of a number of advantages to allies. To me it seems lacking when compared to the ACG's Skald, but if you want a warrior-bard that's more of a fighter and not a spellcaster, you'll love this. It also provides for a lot of teamwork feats. That said unlike the base cavalier it gives no way to share these with others even briefly, so better make sure the other PCs take a few of the feats.

The Fey Warden is the first Prestige Class. It looks to be best suited to multi-class Cavalier/Druids or Cavalier/Hunters, as it requires spellcasting abilities along with an Order and wild empathy. In exchange you get a new order, the Order of the Fey, learn fey magic over time, and can even sprout butterfly wings (but the barbarian will be laughing at you). You also get Unearthly Grace and can add your Charisma modifier on your saves and your AC, which can be rather potent. Really a great PrC for Faerie Knights, though.

If the elves and fey get their knights then it's only fair for the dwarfs to get one, and they do in the Obsidian Knight. Mainly multi-class cavalier/clerics, they can literally control the ground under their opponents' feet. Dwarf fans may like this one. That said, none of the usual cavalier class abilities (mount, challenge, order, or tactician) are aided at all here as compared to the Fey Warden. It might work as well as a straight divine PrC.

The Rime Reaver requires a multi-class cavalier/boreal bloodline sorcerer. It allows you to take a polar bear as a mount (thus we finally get that Large bear animal companion) and increases the powers of your Boreal bloodline much like the Dragon Disciple. It also allows you to make weapons of ice as hard as adamantine and that can entangle with frozen rime. Lastly at tenth level your mount/companion gets the Mythical Animal template, and I'd like to know just what and where it is.

The new Order of the Bow makes your cavalier into a better mounted archer. The Pummeling magical weapon property makes bludgeoning weapons and shields better at trip and sunder maneuvers. They're both okay. Last comes a few bits of gear like an alchemical weapon to frighten mounts and special tip for jousting lances that makes them do nonlethal damage, among other things.

There's a lot in this PDF, and it's hard to see how you can't find something you can use and even love (like the Briar Knight and Clockwork Knight, at least for me). And even those who don't will probably be happy to see so much attention given to the cavalier class. I'll go with four stars and a recommendation just for the wonderfully weird Briar and Clockwork Knight archetypes.


Clan of the Raptor

4/5

This is another of the very affordable and well-done PDFs in the Animal Races series. Clan of the Raptor is thirteen pages long, with eight of them devoted to the actual information for the race.

We get the normal for this series background information up front. Raptors are of a group of races called the saurians, and they resemble, well, raptors -- eagles, hawks, owls, and vultures. Oddly, they have birdlike heads but humanlike bodies; they can flu, but have to shapeshift to do so. We get more on their common alignments, adventuring, and so forth. It's all done with the usual precise economy of the series, giving you good idea of what these people are like without overwhelming with detail. We also get the usual age, height, and weight tables, which are always appreciated when working with new PC races and that so often seem to be forgotten.

Then it's the crunch. We get the normal choice of medium or small size for the raptors (though oddly the ability core modifiers are the same for both sizes), the different heritages and the way each changes the basic race -- you can play a chaotic good eagle paladin, for instance.

Raptors also get the ability to change shape once/day into a bird the same size as their normal form, gaining wings. A lot of folks' alarm bells might go off right now at the idea of first-level characters that can fly, but there are limits. You can't use weapons, for instance, only beak, talon, and wing buffets; and it only lasts for a minute per character level. It may be a problem in some campaigns but it's no game breaker, while still being useful for characters. I like how they handled it here.

There is also the normal list of extra racial traits you can take with feats. They include improved shapeshifting (use 3/day and last 1 hour per level) and true shapeshifting (change as often and as many times as you like). The traits are set up in such a way that the latter can't be taken until after the point when every caster in the party (and some non-casters) can do things just as cool, so I'd call it balanced. You can also get a better beak for biting, improved flight, and more.

There's also the geneaology table to show where the raptors fit in with their fellow saurians, as well as teasing us with ideas of new clans to come like the crocodile, lizard, and swan clans. We get information on various monsters and how they can be fit into raptor folklore.

There's a new god, Horus the Avenger, mostly of interest to me for the list of ther deities mentioned with him for the other clans. But still, it's okay.

Heraldry comes next and then comes a new section for ceremonial dances. They list the skills and DCs needed to perform them properly, and warn that if you seek raptors or more powerful allied creatures as allies, you may be required to join in one of these dances. There's a ghost dance (that can be used for an exorcism; very flavorful!), a medicine dance that can replace the price cost for raise dead, and a rain dance that protects against weather-control magic.

I have to say that the raptors don't fascinate me as much as some of the other clans, mainly because I'm not much of a bird fan. That said there is quite a bit in here for anyone willing to allow shapeshifting bird people into their campaign. And the ideas on how to organize and show a nonhuman race and its culture without going into very heavy detail are very well done. I'm giving it four stars and a recommendation to check it out. For this much information at the price listed you won't go wrong.


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Treasures fit for a King

4/5

Treasury of the Kingdom is Legendary Games' latest PDF release in their 'Kingdom Building' collection. It's 20 pages long, with one page for the cover, one for writer and artist credits, one for the legalese, table of contents, one for the introduction/explanation, what you'll find inside, and one for the back cover and one plugging Ultimate Plug-Ins. This leaves a dozen pages for roughly 40 magical items of all levels of power, so here goes.

It becomes obvious upon reading that these are magic items intended mainly for the first few books in the Kingmaker AP, though several are potent enough to come in later. It's usually fairly plain to see where and how they ought to be used. This I appreciate, it's always good to have a few extra surprises for reckless heroes.

It starts with weapons and armor. We get things like the burning skull mace (mace made from the burning skull of a troll, when you fight it comes to life and attacks enemies with its burning bite; also makes a wielder with regeneration harder to kill provided they use it to kill someone who can regenerate) and the war trident of the lizard king that can be used to send its wielder into a blood rage. There's a greatsword that can take the life of potent enemies (as many HD/class levels as you) and use it to terrify opponents, arrows that can find fresh water, a shield that's covered in vines that can deflect arrows and disguise you as a tree -- all great and very much in-tune with the themes of the Kingmaker campaign.

There's a feareating ring that grants temporary HP when you damage frightened opponents. Also, if you get scared, it gives you fast healing. The more scared you are, the better the healing.

The Scepter of Forgotten Time can warp time, slowing or speeding yourself and others. It can also send beings forward in time for a few moments, removing them from the real world for the duration. {b}Beast talismans[/b] grant shapeshifting for one specific type of creature and improved wild empathy. Bottles of will-o'-the-wisp essence can aid in frightening others, and carpets formed from black dragon breath are favored kobold toys to use on unwanted guests. A dragon idol that can be covered in the blood of sentients for one-use morale boosts (remember that "god" the Sootscales want returned in Stolen Land?). Flutes that can call a swarm of angry fey and necklaces made from mummified rats that let you steal the ability to breath water from others (hello, Hanspur!); hag eyes that let you give those potions an extra, nasty, and unexpected kick, wolfsbane tonic to help cure unhappy werewolves -- a very well chosen selection of items that would all work wonderfully with the Kingmaker books.

However the best of the lot to me are the items that can help in the exploring and running of kingdoms. The kingdom-building and running rules, as well as mass combat, seem to be getting little "official" attention from Pathfinder. It's a joy to see 3rd party publishers taking up the gauntlet with items such as described here.

The Battle Standard of the Fallen allows you to call forth an army of spirits to fight one battle and one battle only for you. We get all the stats for them, which is very good as some of the rules from Legendary Games' Ultimate Battle are used with them.

The very potent Crown of Affirmation is a must-have for the serious(ly touchy) ruler, providing as it does bonuses on diplomacy and bluff, as well as mindbending magic and the ability to silence anyone who wants to disagree with you. The best part however is that it improved Loyalty rolls for your kingdom and allows you to take a tour of your lands in return for reducing Unrest. It can be annoying as all heck in the hands of that rival ruler who invites you to his throne room just so he can magically compel you into agreeing with everything he demands, however!

The instant signal towers are a pair of, well, model signal towers that can be made to light up in red or blue flames at a command. They can be used to help communicate news about harmful kingdom-affecting events. They're simple but they feel right to me; this seems like the kind of thing rulers in a magical world would really have.

The map of the trailblazer can magically expand to become as big as you need it to be when exploring uncharted territory. And when you mark locations on the map, the map provides benefits when you're in that location. The plow of abundant harvest produces more food on cultivated land when used, something of vast importance in an agricultural society. A scout's spyglass can either be used to help see through illusions as well as like a normal spyglass, or it can aid any explorers sent out on an exploration edict.

This PDF contains some great magic items for any campaign that revolves around kingdom-building and exploration. The ones that modify and aid in the running of kingdoms are especially good to me -- in worlds with magic, rulers would be using their powers to aid their subjects, even if only to keep them from taking up their time with complaints while the rulers work on 'loftier' goals.

That said if you don't use those rules there's plenty here for campaigns set elsewhere and with other goals. And while these are very, very well-suited to the Kingmaker AP they can easily be transplanted anywhere else.

I'm going with 4.5 stars rounded down to 4 and 'very recommended for kingdom builders/KingmakerAP gamers' for this mainly because I do wish we'd gotten some more magic items affecting actions outside of combat and the usual adventuring skullduggery; but the ones we did get are amazing enough to make me hope that either Legendary Games or some other publishers tries making some.


Samsaran Compendium review

5/5

The Samsaran Compendium is a PDF from Everyman Games, 31 pages long, one for the cover, credits, table of contents and basic racial information on samsarans, and one for the OGL. This leaves us with 26 pages of all-new information, and here we go.

The Samsarans are one of the lesser-known races introduced in the Tian Xia material for Pathfinder. Until now there's been very, very little about them aside from a handful of material here and there. Basically reincarnated humans, we got almost nothing else about these people. This leaves a writer with considerable freedom on how to develop them, and that is what this PDF does, and very well too.

The PDF starts with some basic facts about samsaran psychology and what everyone in setting knows about them. It's well handled, short but it gets the point across that samsarans are understood to be reincarnated humans by other races. Like normal people but different in some uncanny ways.

Next is a section on samsaran life, their physiology, life spans, and some new alternate racial traits. Most of them play off of the many incarnations the samsarans have had, allowing them to use memories of past lives to aid with problems in this one, but some involve their strong conection to the Positive Energy Plane. Suffice to say that there's something here for practically any class you might want to play your samsaran as, and they're done in a way that works very well with their unique viewpoint.

Next we get information on samsaran culture. It covers just about everything from dress, food, architecture, personal relationships, and includes samsaran attitudes about the more common races. Suffice to say that their unique existence as reincarnated beings 'born' as adolescents with knowledge of their past lives, but dreamy enough that they can't use old class abilities -- unless they take some of the new feats uncluded -- makes them seem very odd to outsiders who try getting to know them.

There's a section on samsaran origin legends, in which we discover that their greatest foes are the rakshasa. It makes sense. Samsarans reincarnate to become wiser and more enlightened, to escape the bonds of material life, while in Pathfinder rakshasas see reincarnation as an endless merry-go-round so they can indulge their twisted appetites for all eternity. I personally like this one. And oh yes, the chapter also gives us three bardic masterpieces that can preserve corpses, reincarnate someone, or even raise them from the dead. They seem balanced to me given just how difficult the latter two are to perform, and they work very well with the legends given.

We get information on samsaran religion, which seems to be basically a sort of Buddhism. We get a list of how this faith/philosophy works on a day to day level for the samsarans, as well as domains and subdomains for the followers. Including one new subdomain, Reincarnation, which allows for some control of the form a reincarnation spell will leave someone in.

Next is a section on slumbering samsarans? And they are? Samasarans who have yet to become enlghtened enough to become 'true' samsarans. As members of the race journey through hundreds of lives on their way to becoming true samsarans, these are samsarans-to-be who have some of the racial traits of their birth race and some samsaran traits. This section includes a pair of alternate racial traits allowing you to make a samsaran who still wears the form of a dwarf or half-orc or kitsune as well as any of the other major 'normal' Pathfinder races or Tian Xia ones. I admit, this is something I really like; if they reincarnate, why DON'T some samsarans 'come back' as members of other races? Well, now they can!

A section on reincarnation follows, with some hints on how to handle this for non-samsarans who reincarnate. We also get the utterly awesome Reincarnation mystery for the oracle class. It focuses around understanding your prior lives, allwoing for everything from use of skills in prior incarnations, to taking their forms, to improved healing from your connection to the Positive Energy Plane and even a way to handle raise dead, reincarnate, and resurrection without paying a fortune for it. You trade class levels instead, which maks this a somewhat risky way to go restoring someone to life (they come back in 24 hours but nothing can hurry this). Have I said before that I love the way this PDF is handling reincarnation?

Then we get a section on martial combat that includes new archetypes for the Hunter (Reincarnated Hunter), the Monk (Monk of a Million Lives), and a samurai-like paladin, the Seinaru. All three are wonderful to me. The Reincarnated Hunter doesn't call on animals for their focus, but their past lives, gaining class abilities from them. You also gain the ability to reincarnate if killed at 8th level, with the ability to locate your old body for seven days and probably leading you to whoever killed you in the first place. Oh yes, if killed during that 7 day period, you die forever.

The Monk archetype gets several neat abilities, not least of them a Zen Trance that acts like a more focused version of barbarian rage, as well as at later levels the ability to reincarnate both yourself and others, though not easily.

The Seinaru is a paladin archetype that gets some of the samurai's weapon proficiencies, along with replacing the normal paladin auras with an increasingly-powerful samurai banner that can also be a focus for channeled energy. The chapter ends with a list of ninja tricks and rogue talents that allow you to replicate even more class abilities. It fits with the feel of the PDF and race, but for some reason doesn't wow me nearly as much as some of the other new material.

Next is samsaran magic. We get a cleric archetype, the guru, who focuses on the Knowledge domain. There are archetypes for a shapeshifter-hunting inquisitor, which sounds right up their alley, one for shamans, ans one for sorcerers which mainly replaces the normal bloodline with an oracle mystery and curse. Then comes what I really love here, new witch hexes that allow for shapeshifting yourself or someone else into a prior incarnation's form. A new witch patron, Reincarnation, is included.

Then it's some new spells as well as the samsarans' in-setting attitudes about the various schools. I especially like the rebirth spell which allows for someone to be voluntarily reincarnated.

Next come some new feats. They again play off the reincarnation angle, permitting the samsaran to change around some spells from other feats like Expanded Arcana, new fighting styles for monks (and some specifically for the qinggong monk archetype) ad a list of new favored class options for all the main rulebook, APG, and ACG classes. Last but not least are some new samsaran traits along with a drawback.

This is a very good buy for the price asked, and it does a magnificent job of expanding on the samsaran race as presented in the game. It also is broad enough to be useful to non-samsaran characters. I'd go with five stars for anyone who wants to use or play a samsaran character as well as a 'You need this', and four for anyone else, rounding off to five stars simply because someone wrote up this odd race and made them so very playable.

Oh yes, there's a hint that we'll see more such publications covering the other nonhuman Tian races. Here's hoping!


The Turtles Come Out Of Their Shell

4/5

Another entry in the Animal Races series, like the rest this is a short but information packed PDF. It's rather different in several ways, not least for being the first non-mammalian race in the series. We get some wonderful background information about the other non-mammalian Clans and their collective origin.

They differ in another way, too, in that every Turtle (save for the mutant turtles) has their own suit of armor in the form of their shell. They can get it megically enhanced like any set of masterwork scale armor, and they have a natural armor bonus on top of it. The Turtles can also take the Stalwart Defender PrC from first level, as they can ignore the normal prerequisites for it, which feels odd to me. You can also take racial heritage feats that improve the shell and the natural armor bonus even more. The Turtle Clan Mutants get some feats that can change your shell so it still protects but doesn't interfere with class abilities that depend on not wearing armor (monk and ninja abilities). This may all be a bit much for some campaigns.

Then comes the usual well-done folklore about Turtle clan monsters, and a new god who bears an odd resemblance to a certain villain TMNT fans will be familiar with. We also get the Heraldic traits -- which here are not of various animals or the like, but of simple colors painted onto a Turtle's shell. Nice change and a cool bit of differentiation from the other Animal Clans!

Even with minor qualms about the whole shell thing, I'll give this one four stars and a recommendation that it's very worth the price.


Nanananana, Bat Clan!

4/5

This is another entry in the wonderful Animal Races series that presents new animal-based races for use. This one covers the bats, presenting them with a somewhat Mayan/Aztec feel. It does tend to be vampire heavy, though oddly enough the individual bats are usually good though their society (due to being ruled by vampires; no word on whether these are human or Bat Clan vampires) tends to be very evil. That's rather a unique twist, having mostly good people living in an evil society.

It also contains rules for the Lesser Vampire template (a very weak version of the usual vampire), as well as options for your Bat to be descended from Jiang-shi and Nosferatu as well as the more usual Bats. I confess to some dismay here, as I wish they could have gone for some of the real-world differences between bats (fox-faced fruit bats?), but this will delight anyone who ants to get their bloodsucker mojo on. There are also feats that allow you to make your bat more, well, batty with new racial traits as well as somewhat vampiric, gaining several of the resistances and immunities undead possess. The latter can betaken from first level on, and while they can't be taken every level and the weaker immunities come first, it might be a bit much for some campaigns.

The Bat Clan also has the Dhampir subtype, so feats and traits meant to work with them will go fine with the Bats as well.

We also get the usual heraldic traits along with the Bat God, Camazotz, and differences in the way Bat mythology views some monsters. It's always a delight to read the world-building that goes into these Clan books. It ends with a brief description of the vampiric rulers of at society, and how they differ from their subjects as well as mortals in general. Very nice entry in the series, especially for vampire fans. Folks who wanted non-bloodsucking bats might be a little disappointed, though. Four stars and very worth the price!


Real orcs have tusks!

4/5

Clan of the Pig is one of the releases in publisher Eric Morton's line of animal-based races. Like most of the rest it consists of eleven pages -- a cover page, title page, back cover, and two for the Open Game License. This leaves six pages to cover the Pig-clan therians, and they are pages well spent.

We get first a short bit of fiction establishing the unsavory reputation of pig therians. They are basically the Orcs of the therian clans, with all the nastiness that implies. That stated it's made obvious in the story that pigs can be something different if they want to be.

Next comes the basic information on their appearance, basics on their society and relations with others, height and weight and aging tables are all included. We also discover that the pigs have two water-going tribes, the hippos and orcas (killer whales). I really don't think I've ever seen anthropomorphized versions of either of those species before. Kudes to Mister Morton for being very original!

Then comes the crunch. Pigs can be both small and medium in size with different modifiers for each. They also get different modifiers based on which kind of pig they are. Orcas and hippos are strong, while boars (meaning feral pigs, I assume?) and warthogs are tough. They also have the Orc subtype and oddly enough given the reputations of both orcs and pigs get a bonus to Charisma.

Like with the other therian clans you get an option to choose more
piggish traits as their characetr develops. The various subraces also have the option to take this feat in place of various bonus feats a particular class would grant them, which I think is a clever idea. You can also take a feat that makes you big and fat and effectively one size larger for the purpose of combat maneuvers based on size. There are also feats that allow you to take on tiefling racial traits as well as one that allows a witch, be they pig therian or orc or half-orc, to take the Infernal sorceror bloodline spells as bonus spells along with the normal patron spells. Sounds like an appropriate gift for a malevolent witch's patron!

We next get some pig racial genealogy, and then some notes on pig folklore and how some monsters will be and look different when seen through their eyes. This includes a brief section on half-orcs (half-hogs?) of human-pig clan descent. Nice to see some of these races be looked at from a PC-playable take on Chaotic Evil.

Next is a section on the pig deity Triath, a vain and savage deity. His links with the Wild Hunt are played up as are his links to other related deities of the other therian clans.

Lastly comes a section with various heraldic symbols that can be taken as traits, providing a feat in exchange for a penalty of some sort to usually either saves or initiative. It's rather a new way to handle traits in-game, and it seems to be a good one.

My sole real criticism of this and the other entries in the series is the lack of racial favored class options, but this PDF gives so much that's a minor flaw at best. I'll go with four stars and definitely a worthwhile purchase at the price.


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