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Solid, But Not PerfectMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I'll be going through this book section by section with an individual rating for each piece to allow the reader to decide if there's any particular section that they would weight more heavily.
Chapter 1: Wilderness Races (3/5)
The first section of Ultimate Wilderness features wilderness races. These are largely familiar faces, though with more support than seen in their earlier entries.
The second race presented in UW are the ghoran. The ghoran have appeared in a couple previous publications, both Inner Sea Bestiary and Bestiary 5, but we get a more complete write-up here than we've seen previously, including alternate racial traits (the Martial Recollection ability alongside the base Seed ability makes for an interesting option for relatively quick and cheap rebuilds of martial characters, though it has some unique risks until you have ready access to restoration), favored class options, and archetypes. The ghoran are another powerful race, gaining +2 Con, +2 Cha, -2 Int, +2 natural armor, the plant type (though with immunities removed, which appears to be a balancing change from previous versions), the Delicious drawback which imposes a penalty against escaping grabs made as part of a bite attack, detect poison, goodberry, and purify food and drink as 1/day spell-like abilities, the Seed ability, which allows them to expel a seed which grows into a new version of them 2d6 days later in exchange for taking a negative level, the Light Dependent drawback requiring them to be exposed to sunlight at least 1/day or take Con damage, and Past-Life Knowledge which lets them treat all Knowledge skills as class skills. I should call out the Seed ability as being particularly problematic, if thematically cool; while the ability can be used to retrain all skill points (and combat feats with the Martial Recollection alternate racial trait), it's also adventuring immortality in any situation where you have some control over your adventures, especially big sandbox games like the Kingmaker AP. Once you can cast restoration on yourself there doesn't appear to be much reason not to plant a seed before each outing to ensure that you're safely protected against the negative consequences of things like death, ability drain, etc. This gets doubled down on with the propogation pod magic item, which automatically eliminates the negative level and keeps the spare body in stasis until you actually die. Playing a functionally immortal plant creature who can shed essentially all negative conditions with just a smidge of planning while simultaneously retraining skills and feats could be a difficult mechanic for many campaigns to deal with. In addition to the various other spells, feats, and items, the ghoran gets archetypes for the bloodrager, mesmerist, and shifter classes. The shifter archetype gets a negative note for replacing all of the shifter's minor forms, but not addressing the shifter's final aspect capstone which interacts with the minor forms. All in all a powerful and flavorful race that greatly rewards thought and planning.
The last player race presented here are the vine leshys. While leshys are a long-standing fixture of Pathfinder and D&D, I believe this is the first time we've seen this particular iteration. Vine leshys get +2 Con, +2 Wis, -2 Int, the plant type with immunities removed like the ghoran, small size, slow speed, darkvision, low-light vision, pass without trace as a constant spell-like ability, the ability to change shape into or back from a Small vine as a swift action, the ability to speek with vines as though under a constant speak with plants spell, the verdant burst ability which heals plant creatures and cause wild growth of plants leading to difficult terrain, a +4 racial bonus to Stealth, and a +2 racial bonus to Climb. The alternate racial traits presented for the vine leshy offer some significant options for modifying them and optimizing them, including allowing them to gain a Dex bonus instead of Con, swift action poison instead of plant speech and change shape, swap their climb bonus for a swim bonus, or swap pass without trace for goodberry. In addition to the standard complement of magic items, feats, and spells, the vine leshy gains archetypes for the alchemist, bard, kineticist, and the leshy subdomain, a surprisingly versatile and useful modification of the Plant domain. While still a very powerful race, the leshy feel a little less blatantly powerful compared to the other two races; they'll certainly have some strong options, and being able to stack up +8 in Stealth bonuses alongside a Dex bonus is something that used to be relatively unique to the weaker goblin race up to this point, but they lack the "big" game-changers like the gathlain's 40 foot fly speed or the ghoran's immortality, and thus feel like the most balanced race presented here.
Overall the races presented in Ultimate Wilderness are definitely on the more powerful side of the spectrum, with two of the three distinctly more powerful than options like the aasimar and tiefling that were already considered to be on the stronger side for many tables. The flavor and options are generally spot on with a couple outliers that have issues ranging from minor to significant but unlikely to come up often, so I'm calling this section a 3/5.
Section 2: The Shifter 4/5
Since the shifter is made or broken on its class abilities, I'll be discussing each of those in turn-
Shifter Aspect: The first of the shifter's unique class features, Shifter Aspect can be used for a number of minutes per day equal to 3+ her class level, spent in one minute increments. When the shifter first gains this ability, she must choose an animal type from the following list- Bat, Bear, Bull, Deinonychus, Falcon, Frog, Lizard, Monkey, Mouse, Owl, Snake, Stag, Tiger, Wolf, or Wolverine. For the first 3 levels of the class this is basically the same as the Hunter's animal focus when used on the hunter, though with an extra 3 minutes added to the duration. The shifter gains an additional animal aspect she can emulate at 5th, 10th, and 15th level. The aspect the shifter chooses will have a lot of impact on her future class abilities and not all of the aspects are equal, so the choices made here will definitely impact the impression a player gets from the class. Stand-out options include the Bear, Bull, Deinonychus, Falcon, Owl, Tiger, and Wolverine.
Shifter Claws: The second of the shifter's unique class features, shifter claws grant the shifter a pair of claw primary natural attacks it can activate as an at-will swift action. The claws deal 1d4 slashing and piercing damage, and gain updates in the following order- 3rd level ignore DR/ cold iron and DR/ silver, 7th level damage increases to 1d6, 11th level damage increases to 1d8, 13th level damage increases to 1d10, 17th level critical multiplier increases to x3, and 19th level ignores DR/ adamantine and DR/-. When wildshaped (we'll touch on that shortly) her new forms natural attacks gain all the benefits of her shifter claws and use the higher damage dice between the base or that granted by the claws. This is going to be strongest at levels 1-5 when having two primary natural attacks dealing multiple damage types is generally going to be superior to most two-weapon fighters and becomes less useful thereafter, but fortunately wildshape starts picking up the slack (and then some) from that point forward.
Wild Empathy (1st level): Nothing new here, this works just like the druid and ranger abilities of the same name.
Defensive Instinct (2nd level): Defensive Instinct is a defensive buff similar to the monk's unarmored AC bonus. Just like the monk, this ability allows the shifter to add their Wisdom bonus (+1 at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter) to their AC, flat-footed AC, touch AC, and CMD. Unlike the monk ability, Defensive Instinct can actually be used with armor (though this reduces the bonus gained from the Shifter's Wisdom, but not the bonuses gained by level, by half), which makes the shifter a very powerful entry defensively. By the time the shifter can afford wild armor they're looking at being able to stack up some significant bonuses to AC, as well as having higher touch and flat-footed ACs than other defensive classes like the fighter and paladin.
Track (2nd level): Just like the ranger ability of the same name.
Woodland Stride (3rd level): Just like the druid ability of the same name.
Wild shape (4th level): The shifter's wild shape is conceptually similar to the druid's, but with several unique changes. The shifter can only change into a specific form granted by one of their aspects, as the beast shape II spell. When this ability first comes online, that means it grants a stronger transformation than the druid's, but lacks the versatility of being able to assume multiple forms. From a combat perspective this grants some powerful and unique advantages to the shifter, especially compared to its full BAB counterparts like the barbarian, fighter, ranger, and slayer. With options like Tiger, Falcon, and Owl available, the shifter has access to a 3 attack pounce with grab on all attacks 6 levels before the barbarian gains pounce, or flight a level before the wizard gains access to it. The strength of this ability tapers with levels since the shifter never gains at-will use of wild shape, and rather than gaining the additional forms and types the druid has access to they gain skill bonuses, feats, and special abilities that build off of their base form. I'd have liked to see more uses of this ability given its limitations (it only gains 1 use plus an additional use every 2 levels thereafter, though they do last for hours per level) and the fact that the shifter really wants to use one form for combat and another for exploration by the mid-game levels, but overall it's a strong combat option with some solid utility hooks.
Trackless Step (5th level): Works as the druid ability of the same name.
Chimeric aspect (9th level): Allows the shifter to gain the minor aspect abilities of two of her aspects at the same time, similarly to the hunter's second animal focus.
Greater chimeric aspect (14th level): Allows the shifter to gain the minor aspect abilities of three of her aspects at the same time.
Final Aspect (20th level): Grants the shifter their 5th and final aspect, and allows them to gain the minor aspect benefits of all of their aspects at the same time.
So, we see a lot of familiar class features from both the druid and the ranger here, though that's probably appropriate on a class that embraces so many of the same nature-oriented themes. The class is a little boring for my tastes, but I could see it being a very popular pick amongst players who enjoy playing fighters and barbarians since it's accessible and straightforward with a minimum number of "fiddly bits" to deal with. The class very much embraces the idea of a "nature paladin" and makes for a strong and competitive option alongside the other full BAB classes, though if you were expecting the druid's wild shape ability on a full BAB chassis, you're going to be disappointed. The shifter's wildshape starts out stronger but much more narrow than the druid's and ultimately lags behind in later levels, relying on the shifter's aspects and full BAB chassis to pick up the slack. The class does, however, deliver on its advertised premise and is a strong addition to the full BAB lineup. If this were a 3pp release from a company like Kobold Press, I suspect it would be pulling 5 star ratings left and right. As a 1pp release it does feel a little plain and uninspired, borrowing heavily from the other nature classes, so my final verdict on the class will clock in at 4 stars.
Chapter 2: Archetypes and Class Options 3.5/5
Chapter 3: Feats 3/5
Chapter 4: Mastering the Wilderness 5/5
Chapter 5: Companions and Familiars 4/5
I've run out of space in this venue, so I'll be completing this review at somnambulant-gamer.com (link to be included when review is complete).
The Divine Caster You've Been Looking For?Michael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
If you're anything like me, you've always found the Cleric class to be a little weird. Where other than media that specifically springs from D&D do you see this divine, "godly" character who prays for spells and runs around in a breastplate eviscerating opponents with their deity's preferred weapon? Aren't most of the divine spellcaster type tropes out there of robe and cloister types, or at least your duster and tie types like John Constantine? Even the evil divine types are always portrayed in heavy black robes with deep hoods or something of the like, preferring darksome spells and magically enhanced minions to wearing metal armor and beating people with their own two hands. The cleric we have is kind of a weird design artifact, born from the wargaming roots of D&D and oddly unchanged since its conception.
The Priest attempts to address that gap between the more commonly seen trope of the berobed and scholarly divine petitioner and the mechanical need for a spellcaster who can provide magical healing and support while surviving the rigors of an adventuring life, so let's take a look at how it does, hmmm?
The Priest has a d6 hit die, 1/2 BAB, Will as its only Good save, and 4+Int skill points off a skill list fairly similar to the cleric's. The priest is proficient with all simple weapons, but not any armors or shields.
The priest, as one might expect given the class chassis, is a full 9 level Wisdom-based divine caster drawing from the cleric spell list, with a spellcasting mechanic somewhat similar to the arcanist's, which is actually the first point that I'm not entirely sure how to feel about. To elaborate - the priest gains the same number of spell slots per day as a wizard, and prepares the same number of spells as a cleric (slightly more from 5th level on including domain spells), casting freely from it's prepared spells using its slots. So, for example, if the priest has chosen cure light wounds, bless, and divine favor as their prepared spells for the day at 2nd level, they can cast any combination of those three spells from their 3 slots for the day. Obviously, the priest's flexibility in how it spends its slots is a powerful factor, particularly considering that unlike virtually every other caster with spontaneous flexibility it gains new spell levels at the same rate as the wizard, and the priest automatically gains either cure or inflict spells as bonus prepared spells, giving him a de facto version of the cleric's spontaneous casting. This flexible casting may mean the priest has fewer spells per day than the cleric, but I think he's clearly the superior caster, even before we move into its other class features, which can further modify and enhance the priest's spellcasting power.
In addition to its spellcasting class feature, the priest gains a selection of bonus languages, domains, a new class feature called divine gift, channel energy, a sacred bond, 3 bonus feats, and a capstone ability called hallowed vessel. I'll talk a bit about of each these, including what the provide and how they fit into the overall class.
The priest's selection of bonus languages (Abyssal, Celestial, and Infernal) is a nice little fluffy mechanic whose actual value will depend on starting race. Since this merely modifies the starting options without actually providing any additional languages, it will be essentially a dead class feature without any real benefit to races with open bonus language lists, like humans, and multiclass characters, but ensures that your priest has at least the option of conferring with whatever divine powers they worship in their preferred tongue. This might have been better implemented as an option that specifically granted the priest a bonus language based on their alignment, so it isn't a wasted ability for many of the characters who might take the class.
The domain class feature works, essentially, exactly like the cleric domain class feature, but the priest gains three domains to the cleric's two. This actually is a huge boon with more impact than one might expect, because not only does it grant an additional set of domain abilities for the priest to utilize, but it's also where the priest's potential spell list gains a big leg up compared to the cleric's; that extra domain is potentially a whole set of thematic spells levels 1-9 that the priest has access to over the cleric. This advantage is bolstered a bit by the fact that starting at 5th level and every odd numbered level thereafter, the priest gains an additional domain spell option in its prepared spells shoring up the power of its flexible casting.
The priest's divine gift class feature can be used 1/day at 1st level, scaling up to 7/day at 19th level. Divine gifts are typically activated as a swift action, and the priest can select any of the divine gifts available each time he uses the ability. The gifts themselves include direct offensive abilities like Smiting Burst, which deals 2d8 + 1d8/ 2 levels to enemies within a 20-foot burst or 1d8/class level to a single enemy and causes them to be shaken on a failed Will save, support options like Divine Intervention which the priest can use as an immediate action to allow an ally to reroll one d20 roll adding 1/2 the priest's class level to the result, or more technical options like Ascetic's Blessing and Supplant Spell. Ascetic's Blessing and Supplant Spell actually need to be called out as being fairly exceptional abilities and things a GM should really be aware of. Ascetic Blessing has a minor verbage issue ( It states: "The priest is treated as having any one metamagic feat of her choosing when casting her next divine spell. This does not alter the casting time of the spell.[...]" The intent here seems to pretty obviously be that the priest can apply any metamagic feat of her choosing to a spell without increasing its casting time, but the actual rules language doesn't actually cover applying the feat to the spell. Aside from the hiccup in the rules structure, this is a "holy-s&!!-are-you-kidding-me-this-is-mythic-level-crazy" ability. Any metamagic feat? Not "any metamagic feat the priest knows"? Add to that the other ability I mentioned, Supplant Spell, which allows the priest to swap out any one of her prepared spells with another spell on her list of the same level, and the Priest's spellcasting is officially vaulted to "substantially better than the cleric's". Divine gifts are powerful modifiers of the priest's abilities, even with their limited uses per day, ensuring that even priest's who've made some poor choices in their feat and/or spell selection will always have the potential to pluck out a winning play.
The priest's sacred bond ability is similar to the wizard's arcane bond in that loss or destruction of the item (typically a holy symbol) imposes some steep penalties on the priest's ability to execute their spells. Unlike the arcane bond, the sacred bond doesn't affect spell recall (already well covered by the priest's semi-spontaneous casting and divine gifts), but instead allows the priest to cast any cure or inflict spell with a range of touch that they've prepared at close range instead. I'm... actualy not a huge fan of this ability. While being able to cast cure/inflict spells at range is a nice boon, it presupposes that the priest is actually going to be spending his in combat actions on cure/inflict spells. For priests who may no longer rely (or never relied at all) on the cure/inflict line to cover their in-combat healing, this is actually a huge and worthless liability. I would have loved to see this option expanded with some additional choices, whether that be a divine companion option (angelic or undead familiars/companions would be awesome), a sacred/favored weapon option, or even just some variants on the benefits available to the sacred bond. As it is, I find that a mandatory class feature with the potential to all but completely shut the priest down, whose only benefit applies to a tiny subset of the spells available which the priest may not (and in many builds arguably should not) even utilize in a situation where the benefit is actually a benefit, is a strict mark against the class as a whole.
The priest also gains Channel Energy at a reduced rate from the cleric, starting at 1d6 at 2nd level and capping at 7d6 at 20th level... Which begs the question "Why?" Channel Energy is a mediocre class feature that requires investment just to be usable in combat, and the reduced progression makes that investment somewhat questionable. Now, the plus sides to this ability lie in its variations from the version the cleric gets; first, it gets free action economy upgrades, bumping up to move action activation at 7th level and swift action activation at 14th level. The verbage leads me to believe that similarly to bardic performance, these action economy changes are inclusive and the priest can still use the larger action expenditure if they wish, meaning that their Channel Energy uses need not conflict with other swift action options like their Divine Gift or Quickened spells. The other big perk here is that the priest doesn't end up with increased MADness due to this ability; the priest's Channel Energy is Wisdom-based, just like its spellcasting, rather than Charisma-based like the cleric's. Ultimately, I believe that the beneficial variations of this ability outweigh the negative effects of the ability's slower scaling, but I can't help feeling that both Channel Energy and Sacred Bond are somewhat lazy class features. That's not to deride the author; it's possible that word counts or deadlines or both impacted his ability to implement more robust options, but Sacred Bond is mediocre at best, and Channel Energy is a class feature that demands investment to be of real use. Now granted, the 3 bonus feats the priest gets are all intended to help alleviate the required investment since they're all channel-focused feats, including the essential Selective Channeling feat, but the first bonus feat doesn't kick in until 6th level and the feature lacks the verbage found in classes that intend you to have some easy feat swapping, like the vigilante, to swap in another feat you qualified for at the level you gained it. Given that retraining is both an optional rule and time-consuming, this imposes an awkward burden on the class, and renders the benefit of being able to gain Selective Channeling as a bonus feat essentially moot.
The priest's capstone ability, Hallowed Vessel, renders the priest immune to death attacks and negative levels, ensures that ability damage and drain cannot reduce the priest below 1 in any ability score, and makes it so that the priest does not die until its negative hit point total is in excess of twice its Constitution score, all handy benefits for a squishy caster with a poor Fort save and a d6 hit die.
In addition to the base class, The Priest includes two new feats and an archetype.
The feats include the almost mandatory and entirely expected Extra Divine Gift for extra uses of the priest's Divine Gift ability, and Powerful Channel, which allows you to boost your channel dice to d10s by channeling as a full round action that provokes an AoO and becoming fatigued for a number of rounds equal to the number of dice in your channel (so, if your channel is 5d6, you can bump to 5d10 in exchange for 5 rounds of fatigue). I don't really like either of these feats. Extra Divine Gift (which refers to itself as "Extra Divine Boon" in its text), is ridiculously good, specifically because Divine Gift is so ridiculously good. I'm not going to take any metamagic feat other than Quicken Spell when I can spend a swift action to pluck whatever metamagic feat I need out of the air, and many other potential bonuses or situations are covered by the wider umbrella of the many other Divine Gift options. Paizo recognized that the vigilante didn't need an "Extra Vigilante Talent" because they had created talents that were actually better than a feat, and I feel like some of that same reasoning applies here. There are very few feats that I would choose over getting additional uses of Divine Gift. Powerful Channel suffers from kind of the opposite problem. While yes, I called out the slower scaling of the priest's channel energy as a negative, it's not a negative I'm going to pay a full round action and up to 7 rounds of fatigue (and the accompanying risk of exhaustion if another source that would fatigue me hits) for. As an example: a 5th level priest would go from 2d6 channeled energy (average 7 points of damage/healing) to 2d10 (average 10 points of damage/healing). In exchange for that extra 3 points, you're foregoing the option to move, potentially provoking an AoO, and for the next 2 rounds you take a -1 penalty to AC, Reflex saves, melee and ranged attack rolls, CMB, and a -2 penalty to CMD (meaning that things are extra scary if an opponent decides the right move is to grapple the caster). The cleric spell list, even with the addition of three domains, simply doesn't have the flexibility that the wizard spell list does, so the danger these penalties impose is much more immediate than it might be for an arcane caster who would take the same penalties without blinking. More than that, 5th level is one of the last points where there might be any reason to use this feat at all. Come 7th level, you can use a Divine Gift, cast a spell, and channel energy normally for the same action economy without taking any penalty, which leads one to ask "Why risk an AoO and take all those penalties for a nominal 'benefit' that doesn't approximate what I could do anyways? Why spend a feat to do so in the first place?" I could potentially see this feat as being okay for channeling done out of combat, but only if I had no other feats I qualified for or even kind of wanted at that point.
The archetype included herein is the "Chosen of Nature", and the name pretty much spells this one out. You get some nature-themed modifications to your skill list, cast from the druid spell list instead of the cleric spell list, and you gain scaling beast shape / plant shape SLAs in exchange for all your Channel Energy increases from 6th level on. I, personally, consider this a bad archetype. Firstly, Channel Energy goes from a mediocre class feature with some interesting class-specific tweaks to a dead feature. Why not just replace it entirely and bring the SLAs online earlier? We're essentially talking about a weaker version of the druid's wildshape, so it would just make more sense to have a smooth flow of progression along your abilities than to have you be a channeler for 3 levels and then a shapeshifter for the rest of your career. Second, this archetype all but dumps channel energy and yet the bonus feats you get at 6, 12, and 18 are all still dedicated to improving Channel Energy, meaning that these bonus feats are basically as dead as the class feature they modify. Finally, this is a class that gets three domains. If I want to play a nature priest, I can grab the Animal and Plant domains and not give up my Channel Energy, while still getting access to some of the beast shape spells. So, I could take this archetype and essentially murder two of my class features in exchange for some SLAs that don't mesh with the rest of my class (you can't use Natural Spell to complete verbal and somatic spell components without actually having the wildshape class feature), or I could keep all of my class features and play a nature caster by grabbing appropriate domains.
So, how to sum up...? While it may seem like I had quite a number of negative things to say about the priest, the majority of these boiled down to things I wanted it to do better, or things that I wanted it to do more of. All the key components of a great class are here, but they feel unpolished, or maybe unfinished, to me. I feel like this class is undeniably better constructed and fits more tropes from outside the immediate D&D/PF franchise than the cleric, but it just doesn't quite fulfill the promise and potential that it hints at.
Cerulean Seas: Beasts of the Boundless Blue (PFRPG) PDFAlluria Publishing
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An Amazing Aquatic BestiaryMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I'll try and elaborate on this review when I have more time, but-
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Intrigue (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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An amazing new class in a hit and miss supplementMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
So, Ultimate Intrigue took a long time for me to come to a complete opinion on.
The Vigilante class introduced in this book is, in my opinion, easily the best non-spellcasting class Paizo has ever created. It breaks up its social options and combat options in such a way that you have a great character able to participate in all areas of the game without having to choose whether you want to be competent in combat or in the myriad other facets of the game like exploration, social encounters, etc. It has deep and well-designed talents that allow you to pick any of a variety of different ways to participate in combat, with or without weapons, and numerous tools for allowing players to influence the story with safe houses, contacts, and more.
At PAX Prime 2016 I had the opportunity to visit Paizo's Pathfinder demo area and play their pregenerated vigilante character. I honestly didn't expect it to go terribly well; after all, the vigilante is a class built around balancing two identities and moving between different social strata, so you'd think that this would require a more controlled environment where you know the other players in advance and have time to plan out how your character fits into the game world with your GM ahead of time, right? Turns out, I was wrong. The vigilante class is well-crafted enough that even while playing a 1st level pregen I was able to easily deal with situations in and out of combat, and it took me about 60 seconds of conversation to establish with the group that I had a secret identity they were privy to and might need them to cover for my character from time to time if he needed to swap identities. It didn't hurt matters that the only downside to anyone learning a vigilante's secret identity is that, well, they know his or her secret identity. You can go all Tony Stark if you want, announce that you are Iron Man, and carry on as normal. Very few of the vigilante's abilities actually require you to maintain truly secret identities, and the only real hit you take is that you're a bit easier to find by magical means (though even this can be addressed with clever use of the Safe House Social Talent).
The book also elaborates on the intent behind numerous spells that often prove problematic for GMs in games where they want to have a focus on gritty investigation of mystery, such as the various detect spells, speak with dead, etc.
I think my biggest disappointments with the book, and the reason I can't give it 5 stars, lie in the feats and archetypes. I'll start with the feats, and a bit about why I see most of them as representative of missed opportunities.
To start with, Pathfinder's skill system is heavily dated. When Paizo brought it over from 3.5, they combined a few extraneous skills, but otherwise did little to update things, meaning the core area of the rules covering everything in the game that isn't casting spells or hitting things is now well over a decade old and out of date. Several skills don't even actually work, or work well, as written, have interactions you're just supposed to kind of assume or make up (Ride and Handle Animal are a mess, Stealth requires one to check out FAQs and blog posts online to use as intended, Bluff and Diplomacy have more than a few vague areas and inconsistencies, etc.), so what better book to address, update, and expand these core components of the game than a book about playing skill and intrigue heavy campaigns? Unfortunately, Paizo chose not to go that route, instead relying on feats to stretch skills over their gaps and issues, leading to many of the feats in the this book providing skill uses that I've seen GMs at hundreds of tables houserule as basic functions of those skills to begin with. Instead of formalizing intuitive uses of existing skills into their basic function, they added a feat tax to allow characters to do things many people already thought they could do. While there is a section in the book going over several of the vague areas in a few key skills, these are primarily common sense clarifications instead of the full address the skills could have used.
The archetypes, like many Paizo hardcovers, are all over the place. Some of them are interesting and dynamic, like the Masked Performer bard archetype, some show an attempt at embodying a cool and modern concept but fail to achieve that concept in the actual execution, like the Magical Child vigilante archetype, and some are just plain bad, so obviously terribly designed that you almost wonder if the person who wrote them has ever actually played Pathfinder, like the Brute vigilante archetype.
Now, don't let the above wall of negativity mislead you; there is a lot of great stuff in this book, including perhaps the most inspired and well-crafted class Paizo has ever produced, a class that introduces really interesting design concepts, plays with components of the class chassis we haven't seen classes treat as quite so malleable before, and is a genuinely fun and interesting class to play in and of itself. Despite many of the feats ranging from useless to frustrating, there are still quite a few that are interesting and viable, and while the archetypes are very hit or miss, that's generally true of Paizo books in general and probably shouldn't be held against this one in particular.
My final verdict on Ultimate Intrigue is 4 stars, and a strong recommendation to pick it up, if for no other reason than to add the Vigilante class to your game (though there definitely are other reasons to add this book to your collection).
Magic + Skills = WinningMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
When the Advanced Class Guide came out, one of the major hybrids a large number of people were surprised to find missing was a Rogue/Caster combination. Fortunately, Marc Radle and Kobold Press have filled that hole, and they've done so with flair and skill.
The Trickster, clearly inspired by and borrowing elements from the Arcane Trickster PrC, is a 20 level base class that elevates and enhances the ideas embodied by the Arcane Trickster and makes the concept playable right from first level. The Trickster features a 3/4 BAB, 6+Int skills, good Reflex and Will saves, 6 level Int-based arcane spellcasting that works similarly to the casting system seen in the Arcanist class, and sneak attack scaling up to 7d6. In addition to these solid mechanics that form the functional skeleton of the class, the Trickster also gains Trapfinding, bonuses to thematic skills, evasion, a pseudo Spellstrike ability called Sneakspell that can be used with melee sneak attacks, three bonus feats, Uncanny Dodge and Improved Uncanny Dodge, Ranged Legerdemain as the Arcane Trickster, Filch Spell which allows him to attempt to redirect an enemy's spell, and the Master Trickster capstone, which allows him to treat all 1's and 2's on his sneak attack dice as 3's and apply a metamagic feat he knows for free when using his Sneakspell ability.
In addition to the class features mentioned above, the Trickster also selects a Forte at 2nd level. The Forte the Trickster chooses gives him a packet of abilities that help customize him and enhance his abilities within a certain area. The Fortes available are:
Overall, the depth and potential of this class is really impressive to me, and I'm looking forward to spending more time playing with the numerous characters this class enables. I strongly recommend this to anyone who's a fan of the Arcane Trickster class, anyone who found themselves missing a skilled/caster combo from the ACG, and really anyone who likes the idea of an effective and versatile class that offers a broad array of potential character builds.
A Magnificent Book of New Takes On Familiar FacesMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
Wicked Fantasy is over 300 pages, covering 10 races old and new and presenting new background information, stats, options, and stories to help bring them to life. The book covers humans, haffuns (halflings), orks, elves, dach'youn (gnolls), gnomes, gobowins (goblins), uvandir (dwarves), roddun (ratfolk), and kuba-chubisi ("noble kobolds" will get you somewhere near the mark). So let's roll right into this!
To begin with, I have some negative things to say about this book, and I want to get them out of the way up front so they're not the last thing on your mind after reading this review.
First, the mechanics and rules language are surprisingly rough for such a beautiful hardcover. There are numerous instances of typed bonuses where the type is nonstandard and undefined, references to non-existent templates for size increases, poorly constructed rules language (for example "You can do this a number of times a day for each god's blood item you are wearing"), areas where the fluff and crunch are in direct conflict (the roddun entry refers to the fact that every fight challenging for the title of King Rat is a fight to the death, then talks about Ex King Rats reclaiming their titles), entire new base classes lacking BAB entries or reference tables, the list kind of goes on. Some of these are things where a reasonably experienced player or GM can easily divine the intent and smooth the rough edges, others are bad enough that the abilities need to be thrown out or rewritten entirely to be useful.
Secondly, the races, all of which have completely rewritten stats and racial abilities, are crazy freaking strong, generally by a substantial and very noticeable degree. This may be exacerbated even more by the awkward rules language; for example, the human "Hometown" racial trait refers to the human gaining a bonus feat, presumably of their choice, for each of two specific skills they have at least a +4 bonus in. Considering the humans also get an additional class skill of their choice that receives a +2 bonus and 1 rank plus the class skill bonus already puts them at +4, this means every human can easily get 2 bonus feats at 1st level. They also get their choice of +2 to any one physical stat and +2 to any one mental stat, an awkwardly worded ability that gives them certain advantages in their hometown (separate from the Hometown ability), a bonus to Will saves that starts at +1 and scales up to +5, a more loosely worded and thus potentially more powerful version of the Inquisitor's Solo Tactics called Improved Teamwork, and an ability that procs off of their critical hits which can provide up to their Charisma modifier as a bonus to attack and damage rolls for all allies within 30 feet. All of the other races presented are essentially as strong or stronger. Honestly, these races are so ridiculously strong that you basically have to limit your players to only the races in this book if you're going to allow them to use the new racial stats, otherwise the player using these options will be at a distinct and probably game-disrupting advantage. If you do have your whole group use the options presented herein, be ready to bump the difficulty of the challenges you throw at them to compensate for their increased power.
Okay, sound a little rough so far? Wondering if that 3 star rating was a mistake, maybe a sneeze where I accidentally scrolled up a bit? It's not, and here's why:
So, how do you rate something like this? I've been trying to avoid the words "fluff" and "crunch", but I think I'm going to have to use them now. The crunch of this book, sadly, fails entirely. I often found myself reading something and thinking that the author must have been playing the game long enough they don't even realize what things they are house-ruling or terms they are misusing, and in an earlier iteration of this review I questioned whether the writers ever actually picked up a Pathfinder Core Rulebook at any point in the design and development process. It smacks of either laziness bred by familiarity, or enthusiasm without a firm foundation of system knowledge, and I can't always tell which. If this book's sole value was as a rules resource, I would have to give it 1 star. But it's not just a rules resource, it is a genuinely enjoyable read, a collection of short stories, a thesis on how classic fantasy races might develop and interact in a different kind of world than we are normally presented with, and in that regard it is an amazing success, 5 stars hands down. My final verdict then will be an average of the two, 3 stars, because I cannot in good faith go any higher than that given its deficiencies in the realm of balance and rules presentation/development. It is, after all, presented as being Pathfinder Roleplaying Game compatible, and I fear that is only true in the broadest sense. If that's not a complete turn-off for you though, I suggest you pick it up anyway, and enjoy it for the piece of art it is.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Occult Adventures (OGL)Paizo Inc.
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Paizo's Back, and They Hit a Home RunMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
Review originally posted at somnambulant-gamer.com.
I believe it was a couple years ago that I interviewed Erik Mona and asked him about his thoughts on Ultimate Psionics. He was actually really excited about it, and told me that he was glad someone had done the psionics and power point system such justice, because Paizo had different plans. With an almost childish glee in his eyes, Erik described to me his dream of a book with classes and mechanics informed by Lovecraftian mythos and new age spiritualism, with a healthy dose of 19th century mysticism for good measure.
Time passed. Paizo released its Advanced Class Guide, a book so poorly edited and sublimely uninspired that I had almost given up hope that we'd see anything as amazing and awesome as the Alchemist, Oracle, or Witch from the Advanced Player's Guide, the first book where they really came out and said "We're Paizo, and this is what we're about". But where the Advanced Class Guide was a barely redeemable slog of mostly uninspired and largely formulaic class design with very few bright spots, Occult Adventures immediately leaps off the shelf as something special, something that shows that spark of creativity and healthy dose of love from the writers and contributors that is hard to quantify or explain but which is immediately recognizable in their work, and which was very much Paizo's hallmark when the Pathfinder Core Rulebook first came on the scene.
Occult Adventures features 6 new "psychic" classes, the Kineticist, Medium, Mesmerist, Occultist, Psychic, and Spiritualist. I'll touch on each of them briefly-
The Kineticist: This is your classic elementalist, with mechanics clearly inspired by 3.5 D&D's Warlock. You have 5 elements to choose from starting out, either aether, air, earth, fire, or water. Your chosen element will determine the basic characteristics of your primary attack form, the kinetic blast, and most of your ancillary abilities. At 7th level you gain the ability to either hyper-specialize in your chosen element, or gain access to a secondary element. In practice, playing the Kineticist is actually very simple. You have your "simple blast" which is an at will ranged attack where you shoot your chosen element at the enemy. Later you'll receive "composite blasts" which are essentially upgraded versions of your simple blast that incorporate either your secondary element or give you new facility with your primary element if you chose to specialize. Rounding the Kineticist out are Wild Talents, which are divided into a small list of Defense Wild Talents, and a very expansive list of Infusion Wild Talents. The Defense talents are gained at 2nd level and are entirely determined by the element you chose to focus on. Essentially, you get a barrier or form of the same element type that either whirls around you protectively, surrounds you in a protective layer of flame that sears anyone who strikes you, or something similar. Infusions are your main opportunity to customize your character, choosing new ways to use your kinetic blast that may include launching yourself through the air with blasts of flame, creating a giant ball of earth and bowling your enemies over with it, wreathing the battlefield in a fog of ice that slows and chills your opponents, or something similar. The Kineticist is very much the psychic analogue to the Fighter - easy to pick up and play, but relatively limited in scope and power.
The Medium: Another 3.5 inspired class, the Medium has some distinct similarities to the 3.5 Binder, where you essentially channel an outside entity into your body to borrow its power and skills. The Medium holds a ritual called a "Seance" to invite a spirit to inhabit his form, and then gains abilities based on the chosen spirit. For example, you could channel the spirit of the Archmage to gain improved spellcasting abilities, the spirit of the Champion to become a superior melee combatant, or the spirit of the Heirophant to become a potent healer. The spirit abilities of the Medium are shored up by a variety of thematic abilities and a fairly solid 4 level spellcasting list. This is a really great class for that player who can never quite make up their mind about how they want to fit into the party, as it gives them a high degree of flexibility and the option to be a skillful rogueish character one day, an indestructible tank the next, and then wrap up the week as the party healer. The class is surprisingly effective at filling any of its available roles, something that's a little unusual in a "jack of all trades" chassis, but which I very much enjoy.
The Mesmerist: So, this class flew entirely under my radar when Paizo was running their playtest. It was this kind of not-very-great remake of the 3.5 Beguiler, and it just fell flat. I can't really explain what happened between then and the final release, but I can tell you that whatever it was, it was awesome. The Mesmerist is probably my favorite class in the book, combining an at-will debuff called Hypnotice Stare with a very high facility at feinting and a slew of cool abilities and rider effects. The Mesmerist has 6 level spellcasting with an excellent selection of spells to choose from, 6+Int skills with a skill list that's probably second only to the Rogue in its scope, and in addition to the various abilities tied to its Hypnotic Stare, it has "Tricks" it can use to plant magical effects inside itself or an ally that can be triggered to grant benefits like an illusionary flanking partner, a shadow double that takes some of the damage you might have taken and redirects it to another target, and more. Add in the Touch Treatment ability which allows the Mesmerist to cure a variety of negative mental status effects, and you have a potent and well-rounded character who can is both an excellent adventurer in his own right and a fantastic contributor to any group.
The Occultist: Where the Mesmerist really seemed to undergo an incredible transformation between the close of the playtest and the final release, the Occultist just.... didn't. This was my favorite class in playtest, but ti definitely had some flaws that I was hoping would get ironed out. Unfortunately, most of them didn't, so we're left with a class that is solid and interesting, but struggles to successfully fill roles other than skill monkey. It seems like it can be an effective blaster, a powerful battlefield controller, or even a deadly warrior in its own right, but unfortunately, many of its abilities simply don't scale well enough to stay relevant for any length of time. In fact, some abilities that desperately needed buffing during the playtest got nerfed by the final release!
The Psychic: I actually don't have a lot to say here. It's a 9th level spellcaster with a cool list of psychic spells, a "Phrenic Pool" that can be used to apply various "Phrenic Amplifications" that modify its spells as they're cast, and who gains a variety of psychic disciplines that are reliant on a secondary ability score (either Wisdom or Charisma in addition to the Psychic's core spellcasting attribute of Intelligence) and help modify and personalize the Psychic similarly to domains or arcane schools, but better fleshed out. It's a solid class that plays fairly similarly to a Wizard or Sorcerer, but with a more distinct flavor and some new mechanics.
The Spiritualist: So, the Spiritualist takes one of the more divisive classes, the Summoner, and reimagines it as a psychic character with a personal spirit. The Spiritualist is a 6 level CHA reliant spellcaster who gets a very solid spell list, a variety of supernatural abilities, and a protective spirit called a Phantom. The Spiritualist's spell list includes a decent (though not comprehensive) list of healing spells, allowing them to step up into the healer role with some degree of success. If you're familiar with the Summoner, the phantom is essentially a powered down eidolon with a few unique psychic twists and abilities to it. Where the eidolon is customized via evolutions, the phantom gains an emotional focus, the driving force that keeps it tethered to the Spiritualist and the world of the leaving. As an example, a phantom's emotional focus could be Despair (perhaps its the soul of one of the Spiritualist's loved ones who committed suicide and was unable to move on?), and the phantom would gain a variety of abilities keyed around that theme, such as attacks that weaken an enemy's ability to fight back and an Aura of Despair.
One of the things that really surprised me about the book was the quality and quantity of the archetypes. The mechanical quality of many of Paizo's archetypes seems to fluctuate quite a bit even within the same book, with the majority of their archetypes ending up in the "flavorful but not particularly spectacular" pile, with the occasional amazing archetype like the Zen Archer monk or Vanguard slayer. The archetypes in Occult Adventures are consistently awesome. I struggle to find any I don't like, and in quite a few cases, like the Vexing Daredevil mesmerist or the Necroccultist occultist, I actually like them significantly more than the base class. There is a huge wealth of material in the archetypes section, covering all of the Paizo classes. In addition to the Vexing Daredevil and Necroccultist I already mentioned, some other stand-outs are the Ghost Rider cavalier (the name pretty much covers it, you ride a ghost), the Sensate fighter (who sacrifices heavy armor proficiency but gets an improved skill list, replaces Bravery with a Guarded Senses ability that protects against a variety of sensory based effects, trades Armor Training for Uncanny Dodge, Improved Uncanny, Dodge, and Evasion, trades Armor Mastery for at-will blindsense and true seeing, trades Weapon Training for a Centered Senses ability that provides a bonus to attack and damage rolls of any weapon the Sensate wields and boosts their Will save, and trades Weapon Mastery for Precision, which allows the Sensate to roll twice and take the better result when confirming a critical hit and forces enemies to roll twice and take the lower result when confirming a critical hit against the Sensate), and the Mindblade magus (who can form weapons out of psychic energy and even create two weapons in that manner and still use Spell Combat).
This is a great book. It feel like these are the classes and magic that Golarion was always meant to have, and it feels like Paizo's entire collective heart and soul was poured into making this thing awesome. The fluff and flavor are top notch, the mechanics are excellent, and everything about this book is a reminder of what the team at Paizo are truly capable of.
Arabian Wonders, and a Bunch of Other Cool StuffMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
Originally posted at Somnambulant-gamer.com.
So, I hadn't heard of "Southlands: Adventures Beneath the Pitiless Sun" until I stumbled across it at PAX. I'd somehow completely missed the Kickstarter, hadn't heard it mentioned or seen any reviews, and yet it leapt right off the shelf at me.
The art, obviously, was the first thing to catch my eye. The cover features this kind of fantasy Arabian woman with a huge lion behind her, set against the backdrop of a desert vista with the hint of a magnificent city in the background. The thing that really struck me as I was leafing through the pages, was that every piece of art seems like it could have been drawn by the same hand, or at least by a team of artists who were all working in the same room. It's all high quality, beautiful, on theme, and there is a lot of it. One of my favorite pieces is on page 259, where a trio of priestesses of Bastet, the cat goddess, are routing a group of duergar.
The fluff and story hooks are excellent as well. You've got a couple rakshasa who are all angling their way towards stealing divinity through one nefarious scheme or another, titanic demigods walking amongst their people and serving as both religious and secular ruler, and tons of other interesting hooks and settings for adventure. One of the new playable races, the kijani, have an interesting backstory where they're fostering the seedlings of their children with human and minotaur hosts in an attempt to become more mammalian, which has lots of interesting story potential all on its own. There's also an expansive description of the various deities that make up the Southlands pantheon, with fairly detailed descriptions of all the interactions and relationships between the various deities.
The crunch, not surprisingly given the quality of the rest of the work, is also excellent. The book is rife with archetypes custom designed for the setting, including a summoner archetype that gets a genie in a magic lamp, gnoll caravan raiders, zebra-mounted cavalry sorcerers, and lots more. The pantheons come with a selection of cool new domains, like Bastet's Cat domain and the new Speed domain, as well as interesting choices for the various deities' favored weapons. The crunch isn't just for the players either; there are variant mummies (including the mummified monkey swarm, which is either horrifying or hilarious, I can't quite decide), tables of Primal Magic Events that can be triggered by casting spells in certain magically unstable areas of the Southlands, and lots more. Did I mention the array of divination spells, new familiars, and the alternate heiroglyphics casting system? Because those seem important to mention too.
This is just an awesome book, both in quality of production and quality of content. I seriously can't recommend this enough to anyone who may want to add elements that evoke India, the Middle East, and north Africa to their campaigns.
An Amazing (if not super difficult) AdventureMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
Shadows of the Dusk Queen is a great adventure with some very talented storytelling, great art, and generally great play.
The basic premise is that once upon a time a fey queen of shadow falls in love with a scion of light, and there briefly seems to be a time where her love can overcome her dark nature. Unfortunately, she comes into possession of a magical mirror that feeds her paranoia and darker nature, and ultimately the scion of light shatters her mirror and binds her away from the mortal realms for a few eons, until she eventually frees herself (which is where the actual adventure starts).
The twisted nature of the shadowy forest where most of the adventure takes place makes it difficult for the party to use magic to shortcut through most encounters without breaking logical consistency, which is nice, though the adventure can be relatively brief depending on the party's choices.
I absolutely loved how the art and writing worked so perfectly in sync, creating an awesome " Brothers Grimm" kind of dark fairy tail feel that was just awesome. As the party quests to restore the dusk queen's shattered mirror and lay her dark powers to rest once and for all, they'll face swarms of shadowy stirges, meet an acid-weeping treant, be tested by a pool of shadow nymphs, and more!
This is a must-have adventure for any fans of fey or dark fairy tails, and can be a great addition to any campaign. If you're a GM looking for that next amazing adventure hook, or even just needing to fill in a few hours for a party of 7th - 9th level characters, I strongly, strongly, suggest you pick it up and give it a spin.
Shadows and SteelMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
You'll have to forgive me for the brevity of this review, but this product deserves a review and I haven't had a lot of time to get one posted.
Path of Shadows presents the Nightblade class, a combination rogue/shadowcaster with a variety of interesting and unique paths available. With everything from miasmic clouds of umbral energy to chains of pure shadow, the nightblade wields shadows as weapons in ways that are refreshingly original and absolutely fun to play.
Alongside the nightblade are a variety of shadow-based archetypes for the core classes and an excellent array of new shadow-themed spells.
The mechanics aren't the only thing interesting in this work though; the art presents an interesting blending of classic fantasy and modern anime giving Path of Shadows a visual look that perfectly matches the edgy but familiar mechanics of the supplement.
An excellent supplement, full of awesome additions for any gameMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I need to open this disclaimer with the fact that I was both a Kickstarter backer, and a contributor. I wrote the Battle Lord and his archetypes, so I'll try to avoid any claims as to his quality or strength. The rest of this book though, I saw at the same time as everyone else when they got to open their .pdf or hardcopy for the first time.
This book contains 14 new classes, roughly 10 pages of new feats, archetypes for almost all the new classes (and the one that doesn't get archetypes is with good reason, which I'll explain later), and a chapter full of haunts and environmental hazards to expand the breadth of your game. I'll start by digging into the classes.
The first class is the Battle Lord. Since I won't be discussing the quality of my own work to maintain the integrity of this review, I'll just tell you how this class came to be. I love characters with a "martial" bent, guys who swing swords and lead armies, holding their own in a world full of guys who can command dragons and create their own dimensions. I never felt like the Fighter really did that. I wanted to be able to play characters like Dujek Onearm or Sergeant Whiskeyjack from the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, Admiral Akbar from Star Wars who pitted his military cunning against an army led by a powerful force user, or Captain America, a relatively normal guy whose leadership and tactical acumen not just had him standing side by side with beings far more powerful than him, but leading them. Enter the Battle Lord, a full BAB class with 4+Int skills and Good Reflex and Will who uses "Drills" to coordinate and share feats with his allies, and "Auras" to influence people off the battlefield. I also really wanted to incorporate some of my own military background into the class, which is where "Specialties" come in; each Battle Lord chooses a Specialty like Artillerist, Medic, Scout, or Soldier, further defining the way they interact with combat and what role they support on a team.
The next class is the Conduit, a 3/4 BAB, 4+Int skill, Good Will save magic-eater. It's obvious that the designer has had some experience with flawed magic-eater classes before; the 3.5 Spellthief was notorious for being exactly as powerful as the campaign allowed him to be. The conduit has several tools for regulating his "Mystical Conduction" ability, his focus for eating/absorbing magic:
The Demiurge comes next, and this class has a well-deserved complexity warning right on the first page. This 3/4 BAB, 6+INT, Good Will save pseudo-caster was inspired by ancient Greek Philosophers, and it's obvious in the naming conventions of abilities like "Enlightenment" "Sophistry" and "Rhetoric". The class' main schtick is whipping up animated magical constructs called "Facsimiles" that it can use for various purposes. There is a lot of floating math involved in creating and adjudicating these things, so thankfully there's several pages of pre-built Facsimiles to draw from until you get the hang of things. Remember how I mentioned one class didn't get archetypes? That's this guy; instead he just got more example facsimiles. Played right, this class can give you an awesome and balanced version of the Master Summoner, but it also shares some of that archetype's weaknesses, like having far too many moving parts on the battlefield. At the end of the day, at my tables this class is restricted to veteran players who have proven they have both the math and time management skills to successfully run it at the table. Probably not for every group or every game, but definitely a unique and interesting addition to the table.
After the Demiurge, we have the Medium, a 3/4 BAB, 2+INT, Good Will save diviner that at first glance isn't a complete class. Diving into the class description though, we quickly see that it's not a complete class because it's potentially any class. The Medium allows herself to be possessed by a Spirit Companion who has their own class levels on par with the Medium. While possessed by her Spirit Companion, the Medium's personality is subsumed by the spirit's and she uses those class features and abilities in place of her own. This is an awesome class for that guy who's always getting bored and wanting to try something new every month. If you're a GM who's getting tired of having to constantly weave new characters in and out of the story while trying to maintain a reason for the group to care about and be invested in the adventure, steer your fickle player towards this class. When he has a new class he wants to play with, he can swap in a new spirit, and everyone else gets the benefit of a consistent cast of characters.
Following the Medium comes the Metamorph. I seriously love this 3/4 BAB, 4+INT, Good Fortitude and Reflex chassis. This is basically your playable eidolon, with a pool of evoutions influenced by your "Genesis" and "Phenotype". Genesis and Phenotypes work similarly to Sorcerer bloodlines, with Genesis determining your primary mental stat for determining DCs and some abilities, and Phenotype determing your basic nature (Aberrant, Bestial, Draconic, etc.). This class is great for creating mutant characters adapted to particular environments; in our Third-Party Thursdays game one of the players just finished playing a gnome with the Plant phenotype who had a climb speed, 10 foot acid-dripping vines he could attack with, and invasive spores that could lower his enemies' Constitution.
Next up is the Mnemonic. This 3/4 BAB, 6+INT, Good Reflex and Will class is basically Taskmaster from Marvel comics. You gain the ability to learn your opponent's feats and eventually their Extraordinary abilities while combating them. You also gain a variety of mental techniques as your level increases, things like telepathy and the ability to sift information from the minds around you to enhance your Knowledge skills. The Mnemonic is part Monk, part Psion, and entirely cool.
Now to talk about the 1/2 BAB, 6+Int, Good Will save Momenta. This is that class you really don't see coming. It comes right out and tells you it's a henchman class, the guy who supports the "real" heroes with abilities like "Pack Mule" which increases the character's carrying capacity. Turns out, this class is unexpectedly amazing! Their main schtick in combat is "Motivation". A Momenta starts each combat with a pool of Motivation equal to his Charisma modifier, and gains an additional point for each ally who gets to take their turn before any enemy acts. He can spend these points to add a 1d6 to an ally's skill check, attack roll, or saving throw, or to activate a "Stimulus", a more complex ability that may involve changing where an ally's turn falls in the initiative order, adding a bit of sneak attack damage on a flank, or a variety of other options. The Momenta also gains Utility spells, spells that are useful for securing a campsite or smoothing over a misunderstanding at the inn, but which cannot be used in combat, and some healing capabilities that can be used in or out of a fight. This is that guy you've seen so many variations of in cinema and comic books: Subotai or Akiro from Schwarzenegger's Conan, Nodwick from the comics of the same name, or Durnik from the Belgariad. And just like that eclectic spread of characters, the Momenta somehow feels right at home in any adventure, whether the party consists of psionic superheroes from a high point buy Dreamscarred Press dream team, or low point buy Fighter and Rogue scrappers trying to scrape a living in a gritty Conan-esque world. This class is not only welcome, but actively sought after in my games.
The Mystic is a 3/4 BAB, 4+INT, all Good saves class that is unabashedly your chance to play an Avatar-style bender. Where Paizo's upcoming Kineticist could be fluffed to be a bender or a super-hero, or what-have-you, the Mystic directly incorporates martial arts and elemental abilities into its chassis, and even the iconic art is highly reminiscent of an airbender as portrayed in the Nickelodeon series. It does pretty much exactly what you'd expet, and it does it well, covering the four elements and a fifth "Force" element that basically gives you what you need to play a Jedi. This is a slick and well made class.
The Pauper, a 3/4 BAB, 4+INT, Good Will class... It's got a cool premise. You have pools of Hope and Despair that can be used to activate different thematic abilities. The class feels a bit weak to me, and seems like it is going to click better with low point buy campaigns where its somewhat unfocused spread of abilities will feel like more of a handy tool box than a random smattering of non-synergistic abilities. I can't say much more without additional playtesting.
The d12 hit die, full BAB, 6+INT, Good Fortitude save Survivor is exactly what the name implies. The Survivor is stacked with abilities that are all focused on keeping him alive and/or helping him avoid or get out of trouble. While the class' fluff and mechanics don't make him the best team player, he's definitely going to appeal to a lot of players, and he can play a similar role in the party to the Ranger, without the magical guardian of nature baggage that some people may not want.
Where the Battle Lord leads, the 3/4 BAB, 4+INT, Good Fort and Will Synergist coordinates. The Synergist has hints of classes like Dreamscarred Press' Tactician in its design, designating allies as members of its "Cast" and applying various benefits to them. If you want to see something funny, throw a Battle Lord, a Momenta, and a Synergist into the same group...
The Umbra is your custom "plane-touched in a 20 level class progression". This 3/4 BAB, 2+INT, Good Will save class picks an energy type (or energy types) to be associated with, and this isn't just limited to the classic 4. There's also negative and positive energy, and a host of demiplanar affiliations that are a combination of two of the elements. The element/plane you associate with really determines your role in the party and the nature of your abilities. This is a seriously fun class, not just for the cool theme, but for the huge amount of replay value the chassis offers.
The Warloghe, 3/4 BAB, 4+INT, Good Fort and Will, is a dark spellcaster who gains their powers by forging bonds with dark powers. This cool little class has a whole slew of special abilities that are customized even further by the spirit you form your your bond with, and it definitely has a kind of dark anti-hero thing going on. My biggest issue with the class is that it's so squishy; it specifically can't use armor or shields, and yet its spell list and abilities are almost exclusively offensive in nature. The Spirit Shield taboo is so essential to staying alive that I really feel like it shouldn't have been a Taboo (think Revelation/Discovery) at all, but rather just a standard class feature. Still, it's a lot of fun and brings some cool stuff to the table.
The Warsmith is the last of the new classes. This 3/4 BAB, 4+INT, Good Fortitude chassis is basically a combat engineer, able to Craft magic items without being a spellcaster, excelling in sundering, and with a variety of abilities called "Designs" to choose from to further customize his role in the group. My biggest issue with this class is that for some reason it uses Charisma to determine the effects of its various abilities rather than Intelligence. Everything about this class screams to me that it should have been Int-based, so much so that I'll be houseruling it that way at my tables. Other than that, it's pretty cool, though it is tip-toeing the line between PC class and NPC class.
Now, to feats...
After feats we get archetypes. The Battle Lord gets expanded a bit, with roles that couldn't be adequately represented in Specialties, like the Marine and Cavalryman, getting put into play. The Conduit gains some rhythm and pattern based archetypes that are interesting, though I'm still testing how they actually play out. The Medium gains some cool options, like a psionic variant and an archetype that allows her to maintain a relationship with two spirit companions simultaneously, sacrificing power for versatility. I think I'm running out of space here, so let me just wrap this section by saying that the archetypes are solid, and either explore interesting new territory or fill in any gaps I may have wondered about in the core classes.
The last section of the book contains a variety of new Haunts, awesome for creepy campaigns, unusual environmental hazards like rat infestations that eat black powder to dangerous effect, and some new templates and feats that tie into various environmental effects. There's also some facsimile character sheets, a final aid in making that complicated class as accessible as possible.
Overall, this is an amazing book, with relatively few typos (I spotted a couple "there"s that should have been "their"s and some gender reference inconsistencies ("he"s where there were "she"s in the prior sentence) but overall very acceptable. The page stock is a wonderful glossy print, and the art is of a consistent quality throughout, largely on the same level as that seen on the cover. While it may not be Wayne Reynolds, it sets the tone for the book excellently.
An Amazing Adventure With Merchants, Lacedons, and Shady Insurance RepsMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I have to say, this adventure is amazing! I've written a couple blog articles about my group's playthrough (find them here and here) they'll illustrate some of what I like about this adventure, but big spoiler alert - I give away a lot of the adventure.
The premise of the adventure is that the party arrives in the town of Svest as a huge celebration is underway in anticipation of the annual trading caravel the town relies on as the backbone of their economy. Things quickly turn south when news arrives that the caravel is lost at sea. A pair of rival merchants vies for the party's services, and soon the race is on to blaze an overland route to the town of Cherr's Landing and return with a caravan of replacement goods.
So that's the story, but what makes this adventure so good is the organization. It's got the smooth transitions and easy steps of a choose your own adventure book, married to handy flow charts, easily referenced maps, and cool handouts. The adventure itself manages to provide exactly the right combination of open options and a critical sense of urgency, spelling out the various consequences of the party's choices in the broader context of the story. This is what all modules should like. I mean it so much I'll say it again: this is what all modules should look like.
Awesome, balanced spellcastingMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I feel like the best way to review this is to just post a reply I made to another gamer about my take on this system:
"It's ridiculously good. It's much better balanced than Vancian casting, uses a point-based mechanic that should feel comfortable and familiar to people who like psionics or mana casting, and instead of cantrips you get scaling at-will abilities. An example of one of the scaling at-wills would be the Life sphere's Invigorate ability, that lets you give an ally your level in temp hp.
The way the system works is that you've got spheres like Life, Conjuration, Destruction, Darkness, Light, Illusion, Mind, Nature, etc.
Full casters get 1 magic talent per level, which can either be used to buy a new sphere and its base ability (or abilities), or purchase additional talents from a sphere you've already gained access to. 2/3 casters, like the Bard or Inquisitor get 15 points over the course of 20 levels, and 1/2 casters get 10. Since spheres use a completely new system all together, they avoid almost all of the issues inherent to the legacy Vancian casters; you're generally going to see Tier 1 level power nixed completely, Tier 2 much more limited, and a lot of stuff falling solidly into Tier 3.
In addition to the system being set up so you can automatically use it with any Vancian casting class, there's also 12 new base classes:
The Armorist - Full BAB, 1/2 caster progression equivalent. Can create special bonded weapons and armor with preset enchantments and swap between them in combat. Erza Scarlet from Fairy Tail.
The Elementalist - 3/4 BAB, 2/3 caster equivalent. Gets Destruction for free with boosted power, mixes elemental spells and abilities with martial combat. Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The Eliciter - 3/4 BAB, 2/3 caster equivalent. Messes with peoples emotions in various ways. Kind of like the Mesmerist from the Occult Adventures playtest.
The Fey Adept - 1/2 BAB, full caster equivalent. Specializes in shadow and nature themed abilities. Think the Leanansidhe from Dresden Files.
The Hedgewitch - 3/4 BAB, 2/3 caster equivalent. Does a good job of emulating the various witch concepts out there with Casting Traditions that provide a set of thematic abilities.
The Incanter - 1/2 BAB, full caster equivalent. This basically your build-a-caster. In addition to full casting progression, you get a set of points at character creation that you can spend on things like specializing in a particular sphere, gaining channel energy, gaining a sorcerer bloodline (sans spells and arcana), or picking up bonus feats. Really well executed for a grab-bag class.
The Mageknight - Full BAB, 1/2 caster equivalent. This is your custom built Ranger, Paladin, or Bloodrager equivalent. Gains resistance to magical harm, Arcane Strike using level as caster level, and a selection of other abilities. This is a little light on its own identity, but you can build a paladin equivalent of any alignment and combine the Life Sphere with Destruction for a knight of a vengeful deity, or Darkness with Illusion for a warrior of Mask, god of thieves, or whatever else you really want to do. Picks their casting stat from the 3 mental stats at 1st level.
The Shifter - 3/4 BAB, 2/3 caster equivalent. You turn yourself and/or your allies into nature-themed natural attacking murder beasts.
The Soul Weaver - 1/2 BAB, full caster equivalent. Dichotomous caster who can be healer, necromancer, or both. Gains a Blight/Blessing class feature that determines where your class abilities fall on the life/death spectrum. Super cool.
The Symbiat - 3/4 BAB, 2/3 caster equivalent. Members of this class have a psionic aberration pulled from the Far Realms and fused to their soul, giving them facility with the Mind sphere and aberrant qualities. Think of the Daelkyr half-bloods from Eberron.
The Thaumaturge - 3/4 BAB, full caster equivalent. It's like a cross between a warlock and an oracle. Kind of like an Occultist from the Occult Adventures playtest without the implements.
With this, Ultimate Psionics, Spheres of Might, and Akashic Mysteries, I may not be looking at the class section of the Paizo books for a long time. The Armorist is basically your magical Fighter, Mageknight covers all the other arcane/divine gish concepts, Incanter can be a Wizard, Cloistered Priest, or Mystic Theurge right from level one, and the other classes cover pretty much any other concept I can't find in my DSP books. I'm for real hooked."
Gotta Train them All!Michael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters is a 180 page supplement primarily built around a new class it introduces, the Monster Trainer. Along with the Monster Trainer class, this 180 page .pdf includes archetypes, new spells, and over 150 monsters both new and familiar that the Monster Trainer can capture and tame. Let's dive into the meat of this thing-
The Monster Trainer is a 3/4 BAB, 6 + INT skill, 9 level caster who captures monsters and utilizes them in a symbiotic blending of man and beast. Does 3/4 BAB, good skills, a pet, and 9th level casting seem a bit much? It did to me at first too, but it make a lot more sense as you dig in to the class and mechanics.
If some of this is starting to sound pretty familiar, that's not a coincidence. The supplement was inspired by Pokemon and that influence can be seen in both art and mechanics. The art in this supplement is beautiful, and tip-toes carefully down a line blending traditional fantasy art styles with more anime-esque art. Truthfully, I was pretty skeptical when I stumbled upon this, saying something to the effect of "Pokemon for Pathfinder? Pffft!" Turns out, I shouldn't have been so dismissive. When I went to see what kind of train-wreck had evolved from that concept, I was stunned to find a mechanically elegant, beautifully illustrated, and excellently fleshed out supplement with all the rules necessary to either graft the subsystem onto your home game's world or to enter the world of the Kingdom as laid out in the supplement.
The monsters are my favorite part, and honestly, I've spent as much time ogling the art and mechanics of the various monsters as actually playing with any of them. There's 150 critters laid out within, with everything from low level "companion" monsters (think starter pokemon) to high level beasts from the Bestiary like the glabrezu, updated with appropriate companion stats and abilities. The large array of low level monsters is excellent, giving the class a huge level of replayability. You could play a melee focused monster trainer, a trainer who focuses on blasting and/or utility with just about any element, a healing focused character, a buffer... If there's a role in the game you want to play, there's probably a class feature and monster combination that will allow you to fill it.
One of my favorite things about this supplement is how well it plays with other classes. The shared action economy and limit of calling one monster per encounter means that you aren't taking up any more table time than any other player, and the game presents several options for advancing your monster, keeping your initial companion relevant through all levels of play. The two main methods of advancing your monster are either through monster "growth" (think evolution), or through spending one of your class features (called Trainer Perks) to allow your companion to advance as a druid's animal companion. This is especially nice for groups where the GM may be inclined to let a player try the class out, but doesn't want to have to make extra allowances in his campaign for the player to capture new monsters at every level.
All in all, I was beyond pleasantly surprised at the quality and execution of this supplement. The class is well balanced and very interesting, the concept is fun, the mini bestiary is surprisingly extensive, and everything about the supplement serves to bring it to life in a way that is extremely fun and enhances any game without getting in the way or intruding on the established parameters of a current campaign. I have to highly recommend this to anyone who's interested in running a pet-based class that is better balanced than the Summoner and has more variety than the traditional animal companion classes. It's also a great source of possible inspiration for GMs looking for something a little different for their next home game.
Are you ready to rumble?Michael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I almost threw my keyboard at the wall just a minute ago. I wrote up a nice long 4 star review going in to great detail about this supplement and all of the awesome materials in it over the course of about 30-40 minutes, clicked submit.... and was redirected to the Paizo homepage. Everything was lost.
So, hopefully when I have time I can revisit this and add all that lost material back in, but let me just sum up by saying that this is a solid 4 stars bordering on 5, and anyone who's a fan of wrestling or adventures that are just a bit zany and doesn't have this, should really get it.
Sexy, Stabby, SweetMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
For anyone familiar with Book of Nine Swords in 3.5, this is that, but better.
For everyone else - Path fo War introduces three new classes and a plethora of feats, prestige classes, and archetypes that introduce a unique martial combat system to Pathfinder. Characters who use this discipline are called "initiators" and the basic premise is:
Path of War allows you to play a martial character who enjoys the action economy normally reserved for spellcasters, letting you move and strike with one of your techniques and creating a more dynamic combat experience.
The classes are each wonderful and fulfill roles traditionally under-supported in Pathfinder:
The Warlord is a battlefield leader, a charismatic warrior who can lead on and off the field. He has a great leadership mechanic for sharing teamwork feats that works much more smoothly and reliably than the sadly flawed Tactician ability of the cavalier (closer to the Vanguard archetype from the Advanced Class Guide if you're familiar with that), and recovers his maneuvers by performing daring acts of bravery called Gambits.
The Stalker is a stealthy slayer, with techniques for unarmed combat, poison use, and hard swift strikes. He's lightly armored but highly mobile, with a unique damage boosting mechanic whose preferred use varies somewhat depending on the critical properties of your weapon.
The Warder is my personal favorite. He's a solid tank who specializes in defending other party members. He gains a unique marking mechanic that allows him to encourage enemies to focus on him or suffer consequences, and has the added perk of a being an intelligent warrior who relies on his INT stat for several of his abilities.
This book did a lot of great things for my group, not the least of which was encouraging my players to actually use combat maneuvers (the traditional kind), a subsystem of the game that they had traditionally ignored because of its unreliability.
I'm giving Path of War a 4 out of 5 not because I don't love it 5 stars worth, but because there are a few options scattered here and there in the document that I worry are just a bit more powerful than they should be. In a group of experienced gamers, these shouldn't be an issue as there are numerous exploits in the core rules that can be much more powerful, but in a group of more casual or inexperienced players these abilities may cause some power disparity at the table. The Path of War classes are very accessible and easy to use; where a monk or fighter can have a very large gap in performance dependant on system mastery, the Path of War classes are harder to make poor choices for and are very forgiving in that regard. To put it another way, imagine that the monk's effectiveness could be measured on a scale of 1-5, with an unoptimized core rulebook only monk being a 1, and a highly optimized Qinggong/Zen Archer using the full array of Paizo materials locking in at 5. The Path of War classes start at 3, optimization takes them to 4, and a small number of very specific builds will press against the upper reaches 5 peaking at 6. Because the initiators start at a 3, groups with players who are still making characters in the 1-2 range are going to feel like these materials are very strong.
Clever Classes—Pathway to Adventure: The Marauder (PFRPG) PDFAlluria Publishing
Our Price: $2.50Add to Cart
Swift, Sure, AwesomeMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
The Marauder is a conversion of a class called the Mariner, originally presented in Alluria Publishing's Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting. It's worth noting that I absolutely love Cerulean Seas and may be more than a smidged biased. That being said-
When I first picked up Cerulean Seas, the very first thing my friends and I talked about was how the Mariner really needed to be converted for non-aquatic play, as the class had so much going for it. It was like some of our favorite features of the monk, rogue, and fighter all mixed together in this Aquaman package that absolutely would deserve its seat in the Pathfinder Justice League, right alongside Paladin Superman.
The Marauder delivers all of that hoped for promise, although he's a bit more Flash than Aquaman in this incarnation. In addition to being a fast moving damage-dealer with 7 bonus feats drawn from a class-specific list (basically a combination of movement, reflex, and combat related feats) the Marauder gains access to combat techniques called "Speed Stunts" which run the gamut from single use speed boosts to the ability to combine a move action with a full attack action (albeit at the cost of his highest attack).
While the class does have two poor saves (Fort and Will), he's still got a decent amount of durability, with d10 hit die (and appropriate BAB) and numerous ways to improve his armor class while moving. High Reflex save and Evasion/Improved Evasion mean that he's unlikely to be concerned about nearly any spell or effect that targets Reflex.
In addition to the core class, this supplement also includes 4 archetypes, the Beast Runner, Fleetfoot, Quickling, and Shadow Sprinter. The Beast Runner gains an animal companion in place of Evasion, with the interesting restriction that the companion must have a speed of 50 or more in a movement mode that the character also possesses. The Fleetfoot gains Favored Terrain and other abilities that emphasize the more stealthy aspects of the class, while the Quickling overemphasizes its association with speed by adding a ki pool, haste, and the monk's abundant step. The Shadow Sprinter may be my favorite archetype, as its class abilities allow you to run up walls, cartwheel through enemy spaces with increased ease and facility, and eventually walk on nearly any surface, including water, lava, or tree branches.
The Marauder wants to move. He wants to move every round and he hates standing still, so he ultimately provides a very dynamic gaming experience, and one that's a blast to play. From a balance perspective, he does an excellent job of breaking away from the "stand still and full attack" dynamic that many combat-oriented characters often find themselves tied to, without pushing his combat abilities outside of what you'd expect from other classes with similar abilities like the monk or ranger. The Marauder is familiar enough that just about any player can pick the class up and run with it (hah!), but has enough cool tricks to entertain even a veteran player.
What I'm saying is, buy this, play this, and I'm pretty sure you'll find that you love it.
Devilishly Good TimesMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I'm going to open up by saying that after reading this I immediately started putting together a campaign to utilize the goodies presented. It was that good.
This expansive issue of Wayfinder offers everything you could possibly want related to the nation of Cheliax, including prestige classes, archetypes, specialized wizard schools, cavalier orders, NPCs, stories, the list goes on.
The cavalier orders and wizard schools were my particular favorites. The cavalier orders are designed for cavaliers looking to join the ranks of one of the Hellknight organizations, and there's an order for each, complete with specialized codes, unique abilities, and even some cool SLA's (Order of the Pyre gains fireball as a 1/day SLA with a caster level equal to character level, which is just.... explosive). We literally sat down the moment we got home from PaizoCon and created an entire party out of this book, including an Ossifuer Wizard who transforms into a Bone Devil, two cavaliers, one who specializes in obtaining information and wiping his enemies minds clean of secrets and another who's a master of disguise, and a Summoner diabolist with a fiendish Eidolon who doubled as a somewhat terrifying healer.
1/2 Druid, 1/2 Paladin, Entirely ExcellentMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I wrote a huge breakdown of this supplement only to have it devoured by the internet gremlins that lurk in the Paizo servers, so I may make this a little more succinct than I would otherwise.
The Forsworn is a Paladin archetype that is really more of an advanced class trying to save on page count. While it uses the base Paladin chassis, several of the changes are very noticeable and make a huge difference in playstyle-
*The class uses a 3/4 BAB progression instead of the traditional Paladin full BAB.
*The class gains 6 level spellcasting off the druid spell list starting at level 1 instead of the normal delayed 4 level spellcasting.
*The class does not gain Lay on Hands or Mercies.
*You gain the services of a loyal unicorn or pegasus mount starting from 1st level.
*You have an extremely strict and expanded Code of Conduct
A lot of these features are cool, some of them are a little more questionable, not in whether they're thematic, but more as to whether they were completely necessary. One of the biggest items is the fact that you lose both Lay on Hands and your Paladin code prohibits you from receiving touch spells from allies. In the case of the unicorn riding Forsworn this also creates a small amount of confusion, as technically, according to their code, they cannot even receive the benefits of the unicorn's Cure spell SLA's, which I'm fairly certain were intended to help compensate for the loss of Lay on Hands.
Still, the class makes a great addition to a group of true heroes, drawing on Arthurian inspirations and providing unique and flavorful options both in and out of combat. In some ways the class is uniquely "complete", in that from levels 1-20 you really feel like you're playing the exact character concept you signed up for.
For a free supplement, this is an incredible deal.
Pathfinder Player Companion: Blood of the Elements (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
Add Print Edition $12.99
Add PDF $8.99
Not quite enough of the right... ElementsMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I'm going to start with the good things I have to say about this product, because that'll go quickly.
The art and background do a good job of hearkening to the arabian themes you might expect of a document which draws so strongly on the ideas of genie-kin, and every race contains some descriptive filler and a regional trait to help tie them more firmly in to the world of Golarion.
That being said, I was generally disappointed by this book. Each of the races (what I really was hoping to see some good cruch and options for) received 2 dedicated pages, typically enough for some fluff and 1 new class mechanic, like the ifrit's cavalier order (Order of the Flame, which fails the bag of rats test in a fairly spectacular fashion), the undine's sorcerer bloodlines, and some new elemental totems for suli barbarians. You'll notice I didn't mention the oread or the sylph. The oread received the "Oread Gem Magic" alternate racial trait, which allows you to stack some additional capabilities onto a very small and specific list of spells by expending precious gems. While the spells are fairly thematic, they're drawn from multiple spell lists so the overall result is fairly... Underwhelming. It basically is going to give you a handful of thematically appropriate "signature" spells that work a little bit better for you than other casters if you burn the cash for the gems. The sylph was even less impressive as their contribution was 2 spells and 2 race traits.
This book probably should have been released as an "Elemental Gazeteer" or something more along those lines, as fully half the book was devoted to talking about the elemental planes and key elemental locations like the City of Brass. Even that would probably have been a bit of a disappointment though, as the planes and locations are also given only 2 pages each.
Maybe, as others have noted, I'm "spoiled" by the high standards set by books like Blood of Angels and Blood of Fiends, or Blood of the Moon, which introduced an entire new race with half a dozen racial variants and robust and meaningful supporting options for each. This book just felt lacking, and screamed "filler"; it almost didn't seem like they were trying terribly hard and this was just a collection of snippets and descriptions that were laying around but didn't make it into other products.
The art and beautiful design of this product keep it from being a complete bust in my opinion, but I think that people who were looking for cool new options for elemental characters are going to find themselves disappointed by what this book has to offer.
Absolutely AwesomeMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
So I'm going to start this by saying that when I first discovered Story Feats in Ultimate Campaign, I was so impressed and excited by the idea of them that I started making them mandatory for my players, who were initially reluctant but ultimately became very enamored of this added tool for influencing and integrating with the story. I may be slightly biased in favor of a product that does them well, but by that same token, we're more inclined to hate something when it messes up a thing we love (I'm looking at you Star Wars), so maybe that's a wash.
Right off the bat, I saw the feat "Armchair General" in this document and knew that I was going to like it. You see, probably the only thing I like more than a feat with a good story that helps progress the campaign is a good teamwork feat and a mechanic for making it work, and this one story feat provided that mechanic in an excellently executed way. This may be a staple feat for every military-oriented character I create going forward.
With close to 40 new Story feats this supplement expands the territory laid out by Paizo and reinforces it with options for almost any character background or goal you could hope for in a standard fantasy game (maybe even a slightly non-standard one full of Dragonriders, Death Mages, Mosaic Mages, and the like!). If you were a fan of Ultimate Campaign and the Story Feats, I'm certain you'll love this supplement. If you liked the idea but were having trouble finding that right story feat that actually fit your character, odds are good you'll find it in here.
Ultimate AwesomeMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
I feel a certain need to preface the following review by saying that I am currently employed as a freelance writer by Dreamscarred Press working on their Akashic Mysteries project, a re-imagining of the 3.5 Dungeons & Dragons subsystem introduced in the book Magic of Incarnum.
That being said...
I recently acquired my very own hardcover copy of Dreamscarred Press' new book, Ultimate Psionics.
The cover is, of course, the "first impression", and it makes a good one. Wayne Reynolds, whose art graces the cover and or pages of virtually every Pathfinder core book, did the cover of this sourcebook as well, featuring a team of psionic heroes battling a crystal monstrosity. It practically oozes awesome, and has the added benefit of showcasing several of the weapons, classes, and races you'll find within the book's pages.
Andreas Ronnqvist and Jeremy Smith, the founders, publishers, and primary writers for Dreamscarred Press, uphold their usual standards of excellence with superb editing, though with one unfortunate typo. If there's ever any question in your mind after purchasing a copy of this book as to whether you got one of the first editions or a later run, check the spine. You'll notice an extra "s" at the end of the publishing accreditation. Don't let this throw you off though, thus far that's the only editing error I've seen in the 451 page tome.
There's a little to much material for me to discuss at length, so instead I'll just go over a quick "highlight reel" of my favorite pieces.
The new psionic class, the Marksman, is an archery focused psionic character who uses the powers of their mind to sense and manipulate the wind and their ammunition to supplement their skill with the bow. They gain Combat Styles and Mantras that allow the character to explore different types of battlefield specializations, like the Finesse Style which focuses more on thrown blades, or the Sniper Style for characters that want to specialize in single, long range, devastating bow attacks. It may be my personal penchant for archer type characters, but this is one of my favorite classes.
The prestige class, the Dark Tempest, presents the mechanics for the Sith-like character on the cover wielding a double-bladed purple crystal sword somewhat reminiscent of a lightsaber. Designed to supplement and support characters who want to combine the Soulknife class, who specializes in creating his own weapons, and classes like the Psion or Wilder who utilize the more advanced mental powers, the Dark Tempest is basically your gateway into playing a fantasy version of a dark Jedi. The class is a kind of martial/caster psionic theurge, amplifying combat capabilities while also advancing the manifesting level of one of your entry classes (basically you gain more powers and power points as though you were a psion or whichever manifesting class you use to meet the prereqs while simultaneously advancing your combat capabilities).
This leads me into the last item I'll touch on. The book presents a series of Legendary Items, items designed to progress along with their wielder. As the character levels up, the items gain in power as well, allowing you to have a kind of "signature" weapon or item. One of these items, the Tempest's Blade, is a double-bladed crystal weapon designed to amplify the wielder's facility for creating psionic weapons. It's a solid and thematic weapon that meshes well with pretty much any variant of the Soulknife class, as well as a limited selection of the psychic warrior's options.
Anyways, I could go on about all of the cool stuff in this book, but instead I'm just going to wrap up by saying this is an amazing publication from a company with a history of amazing publications. Check it out.
Chromatic CastingMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
Once upon a time I went on a binge where I bought almost every SGG .pdf available on Paizo and I've slowly been separating the wheat from the chaff ever since.
This is definite wheat.
The Mosaic Mage takes basically every school and subschool of magic, chops them up, color codes them, and then makes you pick the color you want to go with. Red, for example, has access to conjuration (healing) spells, spells with the fire descriptor, all evocation spells without specific energy descriptors, and a few other options. My friend likes to refer to this as the "Magic the Gathering" style of spellcasting, though the basic premise is well represented in other modern fiction, like Brent Weeks' Lightbringer novels.
In addition to a color (or sub-color) you get a selection of abilities based on the color chosen. These abilities range from the awesome to the mundane, though are all generally useful.
I liked this class so much that I often replace the normal core casters (particularly the Wizard and Sorcerer) with Mosaic Mages, making the color based casting the standard for my campaign world. There's a big reason I don't do this all the time though. The core books don't categorize non-Wizard spells by school. All spells still fall into a particular school, but for the divine and 3/4 or 1/2 caster spell lists you've got to sift through. You learn some interesting things, like which spells you were sure belonged to one subschool actually don't, but it can be a bit of a pain and nothing in this document helps the search. There's also quite a few colors where you'll be struggling to find spells that match your available spell types to fill up your spells known for that level. Between all of the Paizo core books there were exactly enough spells for my 0 level spells known when building a Red Mosaic Mage, and I had to dig a bit to scrounge up a decent array of the other low level spells as well. Mid level spells (like 3rd through 6th) were very robust and well supported, but as I reached the far end of things I was back to scrounging a bit. All of this digging and the lack of some kind of tool or reference guide in the core document is the entire reason this thing is getting three stars. If there were a basic reference document for the spells by level available to the prime colors, even if it were just the spells from the CRB, this would be an easy 4. If they updated the .pdf to add in the spell lists from the other Paizo core products like the APG and Ultimate Magic, it'd be a 5. As it is, the research necessary to put a spell list together relegates this to a class best left to experienced players.
An Excellent Class for Experienced GamersMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
So right out of the gate I want to note that this is an incredible class for experienced gamers who enjoy planning ahead and preparing for their encounters, but of markedly less use for inexperienced players.
Cool CavaliersMichael Sayre (Organized Play Developer) —
So this particular offering from Abandoned Arts is 2 pages (plus cover and SRD) of cavalier goodness, though maybe a little bit more situational than some of their supplements. They introduce 3 new cavalier archetypes, exploring a familiar and much-loved/hated trope with their take on the Dragonrider, the mountless and many-legged Tauric Cavalier, and the brutal Warlord, who rules by strength of arm.
The Dragonrider would more aptly be referred to as the Drake-rider, as they don't receive a true dragon mount, but rather a flight-capable drake with a fairly limited breath weapon. Outside of the early-level flight, the Dragonrider doesn't really gain anything beyond the standard capabilities of most cavaliers (although the ability that gives their drake access to all of their teamwork feats at the cost of halving the duration of their Tactician ability is pretty cool), so despite the Archetype having a name that would implicate obscene levels of power and brokenness... You actually end up with a fairly fun, flavorful, and well-balanced class. Given that there are already flying mounts available to the Druid and Ranger at low levels (the Roc animal companion from the Bestiary and Giant Wasp from Ultimate Magic) it gives the cavalier an opening into that same playing field.
The Tauric Cavalier is an archetype that seems like it'll generally see more use in the GM's hands, or a very specific type of campaign. What you've basically got here is an Archetype that gives races who are their own built-in mount (driders, centaurs, etc.) the ability to benefit from feats and combat styles that make sense thematically but aren't accounted for mechanically, like charging with a lance for the extra damage. I was actually fairly excited when I saw this archetype as it helped address an issue my friend and I had just been discussing in our current campaign, but I can definitely see this archetype being super situational. And speaking of situational....
The final archetype, the Warlord, is fairly cool if you're allowing your characters to use the Leadership feat in your campaign, the full blown x-so-many-100-followers-per-level Leadership. It lets you use Strength in place of Charisma for determining your Leadership score, apply the benefits of your challenge to your cohort and followers, and bully your underlings into accelerating the normal rates for crafting items. Super cool class Archetype for those extended Kingmaker-esque campaigns, markedly less useful in the episodic dungeon-crawl style of play (unless of course your dungeon crawl of choice is the Tomb of Horrors and you just need bodies to stack on top of the traps).