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Centaurs, not just monsters anymore.MrWakka —
Advanced Races 7 presents the Centaurs, and it does so quite well. First it presents an alternate race more in line with what one would expect for a player race, and then an explanation of why there is a difference between it and the Bestiary and ARG versions. It’s a reasonable way to explain it and not just hand wave the difference, and even plays into the Centaur culture presented in the book.
Before I go much further I would say that looking at my copy of the Advanced Race Guide, I would probably estimate the Centaur PC race in this book at 18RP. This places it in the higher end of PC races, beyond the Aasimar, and more along the lines of the Fetchling and Suli. However some features don’t line up exactly with the ARG, so this isn’t a precise judgment, but I thought it might be useful to know.
Back to the meat of the book, the culture presented here is one that falls into a similar, albeit with its own twists, treatment of centaurs as hordes, with nods to the Golden Horde of history. Rather than paint all Centaurs with a single brush however, the book presents three types with their own focus, and further supports this with traits and feats unique to the different hordes. This book also presents them in such a way that it would be fairly easy to introduce them largely as is to another campaign setting if you are wanting to introduce the race to a setting of your own.
After the lore of the Centaurs we reach the traits, feats and archetypes. The traits seem to fall in line balance wise, and a few offer some interesting options, such as additional options for familiars and animal companions in the form of the Raccoon Dog and Dire Weasel, respectively. One minor criticism is that several traits reference a status system, but nowhere did I see it reference what book this status system is available in, which is a shame because it sounds interesting. The feats offer some interesting options, especially for an Oyun fighter type, getting access to trample and a natural attack. The archetypes are somewhat interesting, with the Green Witch I think offering some interesting flavor with the ability to curse or bless areas. It isn’t an ability anyone would eagerly use in battle, but I can imagine a lot of use for it when dealing with a small community or the like. The Oyun Wrestler fighter archetype also seems like one that could see a fair amount of use. The last, the Redegiver oracle archetype, strikes me as perhaps the least interesting, but I could see being used as an npc character.
Following the traits, feats, and archetypes are the spells, gear, and magic items. The belt of unity strikes me as a useful magic item for Centaur players, whereas I find the Majra to be a very handy item for any archer, though I suppose it really depends on how often you find ammunition that doesn’t fit your weapon.
Finally we get two additional races! Not satisfied with one solid race write up, also included is two alternate centaur like races, that while they don’t get a full look at their culture and racial archetypes they are still a very nice bonus. Both present options that are a little different, and might even work if you still want to play a centaur type, but your gm is hesitant to let you go with even the lesser version presented earlier.
Overall I am very pleased with what Karen McDonald has given us with this book, it provides an interesting look at the Centaur race, offers a more reasonable version to play as, in addition to two variations of the race. Beyond that if I had to bring up a complaint it would be that it felt light. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll definitely get your dollars worth, I just wish there was a little more depth to what we are given, like the types of threats that have united the hordes previously for example. Definitely a book worth buying if you’re interested in having Centaurs in your campaign either as players or just as anew culture for them to interact with.
Mixed BagMrWakka —
Advanced Races #5: Ravenfolk offers a look at Midgard’s Ravenfolk, a western take on Tengu. When I purchased this book I was considering playing a Tengu, but since it wasn’t going to be an eastern setting I thought I’d take a chance on these western Ravenfolk.
The book offers a detailed look into the Huginn/Heru, as the Ravenfolk are called in Midgard, and their place in the Midgard setting. Alternatively you could use the information for your own setting, though the connections they have to the gods might make things more difficult in some settings. I particularly liked the feather language it presents which could be adapted to any setting really. The fluff aside I found the crunch rather on the light side, with the alternate racial traits being somewhat hit and miss to me.
The feats, and archetypes presented offer a flavorful, if narrow in crunch, set of options. The Doom Croaker Oracle for example isn’t bad if divinations and a connection to the world tree is what you want, however it does not offer much outside of that narrow focus and probably does not do enough with it to make it worthwhile. Likewise the Sea Raven Fighter offers narrow bonuses in specific scenarios, such as outdoors and while in or on the water. This isn’t bad per se, but you’ll need to have a fair amount of foreknowledge of the campaign you’ll be playing to make use of them. Generally I dislike such narrow focused classes or archetypes because they tend to be fairly weak outside of their specialty, but the reverse would be true of the Tomb Raven Wizard, who gets a very substantial bonus against undead, a common foe, at the relatively low cost of a single bonus feat for that ability, and a second bonus feat for a potentially useful, albeit limited ability later. I would probably bar its use in any undead focused campaign as a result. The Tomb Ravens tenth level ability is also worded in such a way that could cause some debate as to what qualifies as an attack. Do offensive spells count, is it only physical, or melee? Is it an extra attack as part of a full attack action?
The spells and gear continue the theme of flavorful, but narrow. In spells however it works fine, Some of the fun of playing a wizard for instance is having a selection of spells that allow you to have just the spell for the job. Gear is likewise the same, with items like the fighting spurs requiring a very specific build to be worthwhile.
Overall I went back and forth on this, on the one hand I felt like the fluff presented and Midgard specific lore was great for anyone playing in that setting and wanting to know more about the Ravenfolk there, yet even still the crunch just felt as a whole too narrowly focused to have much use short of a campaign that was tailored in that direction. The product description also offered this book as a way to bring the Ravenfolk into a fantasy setting of your choice, but I would have to disagree. Not a lot here is setting neutral, most of it from the culture to the archetypes, to the feats all reference the Midgard setting. By the time you get through adapting it all to another setting, you may as well have just adapted the Tengu.
Ultimately the fluff makes this a potentially useful book for those playing a Midgard campaign, but isn’t enough to overcome all the flaws I found in the crunch, with narrow focus and situational items and archetypes, combined with potentially broken Tomb Raven, it all makes it difficult to recommend otherwise. As a result it falls into the middle ground of a three, out of five.
Worthy AdditionMrWakka —
As a DM I am usually wary when it comes to 3rd party content, Kobold Press of late has been increasingly changing my mind by making quality products. The New Paths Compendium does a nice job of offering up new options for players without crossing over into territory that would make me nervous to allow as a DM. In particular the spell-less ranger has proved to be popular among some of my players, whereas I have found the White Necromancer and Savant particularly interesting.
Most of the classes offer an interesting take not currently filled by official classes, be it core class variations with the Spell-less Ranger, and to a lesser extent the Shaman which I’d equate as the Sorcerer to the Druids Wizard; or the thematic choices like the Elven Archer and White Necromancer, or even the unique Savant. The exception to this might be the Battle Scion, whose role treads close to that of the magus and paladin, but is still is different enough to not feel like a retread. Lastly there is the Theurge, which of all the classes probably ranks the lowest. The problems I have with the Theurge are similar to all the other takes I’ve seen with the arcane/divine mixture, namely that the trade-offs to be able to cast both seem too high, but this is just my personal take on it. I should also note that while the Savant is an interesting class to me, I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, especially less experienced players.
In addition to the base classes the book also features variants and archetypes, the elven archer variants are quite nice, building on the basic concept to allow for more potential use, and it isn’t just a find and replace of elven with another race instead. Each variant offers enough to make it feel like its own thing. I in particular like the Halfling Sling Master, but find the Dwarf Crossbowyer a welcome addition as well. The Skin-Changer is an interesting variant of the Spell-less Ranger, offering a take on the class that incorporates wild shape, or in this case, animal shape. As for the archetypes, there are a range of options, especially for gun based characters, and my only complaint would be that each of the classes presented do not get archetypes, the Theurge and Savant getting left out.
I also want to note the book features a couple of options for the Gearforged race from Midgard. Initially this struck me as odd, as the race isn’t present in the book, but as I thought more on it can appreciate the company continuing to support its own creations with additional supplements. For Gearforged players it offers the Clockwork Monk archetype, as well as a Gearforged race restricted feat called Gear Shred.
The feats section offers some interesting options, such as a section that offers an optional ruleset for scaling feats, a concept that my group has often considered, lamenting the high feat cost for certain feat chains. I am not sure when I will get the opportunity to test this in a campaign, but look forward to it.
Finally the book ends with spells, new weapons, and magic items. I won’t go into great detail on them; they offer new options, and seemed fine. There are also additional tracking sheets, which seemed like they would be handy, especially for the spell-less ranger.
Overall I found the book to be an excellent addition to my collection, a few very minor gripes aside, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for some new interesting class options.