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A Great (if errata-filled) Book for Players

****( )

This book has gotten a lot of flack for two reasons: (1) A number of people were upset by the large amount of errata posted after the book came out. (2) A number of people were upset by the perceived power-creep that this book carried with it, especially in the archetype section.

Both of these are reasonable complaints that I largely agree with.

That said, this book also contains a cornucopia of player options that are great fun. A number of the classes it introduced are now mainstream: it’s hard to imagine playing the game without options like the Brawler, the Investigator, the Slayer, the Bloodrager, the Hunter, or the Warpriest. Or to play without archetypes like the Bolt Ace (Gunslinger), Mutation Warrior or Martial Master (Fighter).

Moreover, the book introduced a number of feats that improve on the available build options available to most players (Extra Hex! Slashing Grace!). Likewise, although the spells in this book seem to have flown under the radar, there are a lot of nice and interesting spells are introduced in this book (Glue Seal, Communal Align Weapon, Wall of Blindness/Deafness, Wall of Nausea, Anti-Incorporeal Shell, Adjustable Disguise, Adjustable Polymorph, Investigative Mind, etc).

Easily 5 stars worth of good material here. Given the unusually large amount of errata, I feel compelled to deduct a star. But all that said, it’s hard to imagine playing Pathfinder without this book -- after the Core Rulebook and Advanced Players Guide, it’s probably the best book for players to pick up.


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A Good Book for Running Wilderness-based Adventures

*****

This is a pretty good book, with lots of interesting and worthwhile contributions. Other reviews have offered a detailed breakdown of the contents of the book, so I’ll just give a quick sketch of my impressions.

A caveat: I have no idea of what is and isn’t a reprint, and I won’t be taking that into account.

--New Races: A+

I love the new races. I’m not someone who usually gets excited by races, but these ones were great. Each has a distinctive voice and interesting character-building hooks to play with, and each is distinctively different from other races on offer.

A wooden-winged curiousity-driven fey race? A plant-race that both can’t reproduce (and so is slowly dying out), but whose individual members are effectively immortal? A plant race that’s basically a bunch of animated vines? Great and inventive ideas.

--New Class (the Shifter): B-

The Shifter is... OK. As others have said, it’s a little boring, and covers territory half a dozen other archetypes seem to have already covered.

There have been a lot of complaints about how weak the Shifter is, so I might as well chip in my 2 cents here. I feel the class was boxed in by two things, both, in part, legacy features from D&D 3.5: (1) it’s abilities mirror those of a Druid in a lot of ways, making the Druid a natural point of comparison, and the Druid is (IMO) the most powerful class in the game (a legacy of 3.5), but (2) it’s a purely martial class, and so needs to be balanced against other (relatively weak) martial classes (another legacy of 3.5).

The result is a class that is roughly on a par with other martial classes, but is clearly weaker than a Druid. Of course, all the martial classess are weaker than the Druid. But most martial classes are different enough to make their relative weakness harder to see.

--Archetypes: A

There are a lot of great archetypes here, along with a bunch of OK ones, and a few duds. My favorites are probably the Green Knight (Cavalier) and the three kineticist archetypes (one a super wood-element-focused option, one modeled on the Dark Sun defilier, and one with variable affinities depending on their environment). But there are lots of other gems to be found here (e.g., the Geomancer (Occultist), the Sylvan Trickster (Rogue), a number of cool Ranger archetypes, and so on).

--Feats: B

As usual, these feats are a mixed bag. There are some nice options that open up interesting options (Improved and Greater Spring Attack, the Totemic feats, Eidolon Mount, a number of cool channel-based feats, several cool wild-shape boosting feats, and a few nice Shifter-boosting feats). And there are a number of feats that it’s hard to imagine taking. About par for the course for Pathfinder hardbacks.

There are also a few feats which (arguably) allow you to do things you used to be able to do using a skill, but which now seem to require a feat. But nowhere near as bad in this respect as (say) Ultimate Intrigue.

--New Environment Rules: A+

These are great. Tons of crunchy rules for making environmental exploration more interesting in all sorts of ways, a few nice sections of fluff spelling out the First World and the Green Faith, and a nice section on the interaction between spells and environmental hazarads. Great stuff.

--Companions and Familar Options: A+

More great stuff here, to make companions and familiars more distinctive and interesting. A ton of extra companion and familiar options. Companion and familiar archetypes. Great stuff for pet-having classes. (Especially familiar-having classes, since default familiars are often boring enough to get completely forgotten about during the course of adventures.)

--Spells: A-

As usual, these spells are a mixed bag. Some great additions (Fey and Ooze form polymorph spells!), including a few potential plot-driving spells for NPCs to use (e.g., Sea of Dust). Actually, since there aren’t a lot of spells, and there are a fair number of nice additions, spell quality is a bit better than average.

--Gear and Magic Items: A-

Some nice mundane equipment additions for low-level and gritty games. (An A there.) The magic items are fine. (More a B/B+.) More “cool magical tree for NPC to use in their magical grove” options than “items your PC needs” options. But since the latter tend to lead to power creep, I’m fine with this. And the magical/plant tree options are pretty neat from a GM perspective, naturally suggesting encounters or bits of magical-background-setting to introduce in an outdoor “dungeon”.

--Overall:

All in all, one of the better hardbacks Paizo has put out. I like it much more than, say, Ultimate Magic, the Advanced Race Guide, or Mythic Adventures. But not as much as my favorite hardbacks, like the Advanced Players Guide, Pathfinder Unchained, or Occult Adventures. On a par with Ultimate Intrigue and Ultimate Combat.

--Final Grade: A- (4.5/5 stars)


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Paizo's only major failure

*( )( )( )( )

This is my only 1 star review of a Paizo product. So I feel the need to explain why.

Mythic Adventures is a based on a great idea. Instead of restricting epic play to (say) characters after level 20, create a mythic system that runs orthogonal to standard level advancement, and which allows players to do things and explore themes not allowed by the standard ruleset.

In the abstract, here are the kinds of things one would want such a product to do:

--1. Provide new mythic abilities which provide plot hooks, inspire the imagination, and suggest ideas for various campaigns or adventures.

--2. Provide new mythic abilities which allow players to do qualitatively different kinds of things than the standard ruleset allows.

Now, D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder have a number of problems when it comes to high-level play: everything takes too long to resolve, and the combat starts turning into rocket-tag -- whoever goes first wins. In part this is because the core game offers more means of boosting offense than defense, and in part this is because the D&D 3.5 math doesn't extend well to high level play. Given this, here are the kinds of things one would hope such a product would avoid:

--3. Avoid positing many more mythic abilities that boost offense than defense.

--4. Avoid new abilities which just add static bonuses to everything. (Increasing everyone's BAB and AC by 10 doesn't make your game more mythic -- it just leaves you with the same game but different numbers.)

--5. Avoid positing abilities which do little other than boost the numbers into the high-level regime where the D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder math breaks down.

--6. Avoid adding abilities which add new sui generis ways of making the game rocket-tag like, by adding yet more "I win"-types of abilities (either by themselves, or in combination with other Pathfinder material that's been published elsewhere).

Unfortunately, for the most part, the mythic ruleset doesn't satisfy these desiderata. Most mythic abilities and spells offer what are effectively bland numerical boosts. There are many more ways to boost offense than defense. There are a handful of abilities inspire plot hooks and feel epic (mythic Levitate and mythic Sleep, for example), but they're surprisingly few in number -- the spells in Ultimate Intrigue offer more interesting plot hooks and adventure ideas than can be found in this entire book. And the mythic rules introduce a huge number of ways to break the game, especially when considered in combination with abilities offered in other books: attacks that do over a 1000 points of damage, spells that ignore SR, give no save, and could kill any creature published in the Bestiary, and so on. (The 3rd party product Mythic Solutions offers some helpful suggestions for how to tone down the mythic rules a bit, but in my experience, most of the game-breaking abilities and combos we ran into are left intact.)

It's not all bad. As I mentioned, there are a handful of mythic spells that feel epic and are plot-hook inspiring, and the book offers some tools for DMs to use to make opponents more deadly. But on the whole, most of what's in this book is best avoided.


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A somewhat anti-climactic end to an epic AP

**( )( )( )

Just to get this out of the way, let me start with the following obligatory advice:

Advice on adjusting the difficulty level of this AP:
Before running this AP, I was warned that the power of mythic PCs quickly outpaced the difficulty of the encounters the AP provides. Despite taking a number of precautions to mitigate this (having players use a 10 point-buy, applying advanced templates to every mythic creature, etc), I found this to be true.

In light of our experiences, and those reported on the boards, the consensus seems to be that there are two generally viable ways to deal with these problems:

Option 1: Power-down the PCs.

(a) Don't give the PCs mythic ranks.

(b) [Optional:] Use the Hero Point system introduced in the APG, and give the PCs a number of Hero Points per day equal to the number of mythic ranks they're supposed to have. (This makes players a bit more robust.)

(c) More or less play the AP as is. (Though there are a couple of encounters in book 6 that will probably need to be made a bit easier).

Option 2: Power-up the encounters.

(a) Give the PCs mythic ranks as the AP suggests (possibly with the nerfs suggested in Mythic Solutions).

(b) Use the (vastly) upgraded stat blocks presented in Sc8rpi8n_mjd's modified stat blocks document to upgrade encounters, and then further multiply the HPs given in the stat blocks by something like (creature's mythic rank+3)/3. (For more optimized players you may need to multiply HPs even more.)

Our experience, FWIW: We played books 1-4 more or less as is, and (despite my efforts to boost and combine encounters) found books 3 and 4 to be far too easy to be fun. We then adopted something like option 2 for books 5 and 6, and found that to be much more challenging and enjoyable. But we also found that combat can take forever -- don't be surprised if you find yourself needing to spend more than one session to get through a fight.

For the conclusion to an epic AP, the story of this leg of the AP feels oddly uneven. Parts feel appropriately epic -- the PCs fighting the Storm King, and working to permanently close the Worldwound. But other parts feel oddly out of place -- the players are supposed to spend a while working through a demonic brothel whose entire staff and clientele combined couldn't come close to threatening a single mythic PC at this level, and the lead-up to the finale is... a dungeon crawl filled with a number of high level mythic opponents on a par with the Storm King, who I guess were just sitting around for some reason?... An unfortunately anti-climactic way to wrap up the story in this AP.

As with the previous legs of this AP, most of the encounters in this AP are far too easy for mythic PCs. Happily, the gap here is a bit less than it was in books 4 and 5 -- for the first time in this AP we get a couple encounters that are probably too difficult for non-mythic PCs. Unfortunately, these encounters are still trivially easy for mythic PCs.

--Fun of playing this leg of the AP, as written: 1/5
--Fun of the story of this leg of the AP: 4/5
--Total score: 2.5/5 (rounded down)


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A mix of awesome flavor and disappointing crunch

**( )( )( )

Just to get this out of the way, let me start with the following obligatory advice:

Advice on adjusting the difficulty level of this AP:
Before running this AP, I was warned that the power of mythic PCs quickly outpaced the difficulty of the encounters the AP provides. Despite taking a number of precautions to mitigate this (having players use a 10 point-buy, applying advanced templates to every mythic creature, etc), I found this to be true.

In light of our experiences, and those reported on the boards, the consensus seems to be that there are two generally viable ways to deal with these problems:

Option 1: Power-down the PCs.

(a) Don't give the PCs mythic ranks.

(b) [Optional:] Use the Hero Point system introduced in the APG, and give the PCs a number of Hero Points per day equal to the number of mythic ranks they're supposed to have. (This makes players a bit more robust.)

(c) More or less play the AP as is. (Though there are a couple of encounters in book 6 that will probably need to be made a bit easier).

Option 2: Power-up the encounters.

(a) Give the PCs mythic ranks as the AP suggests (possibly with the nerfs suggested in Mythic Solutions).

(b) Use the (vastly) upgraded stat blocks presented in Sc8rpi8n_mjd's modified stat blocks document to upgrade encounters, and then further multiply the HPs given in the stat blocks by something like (creature's mythic rank+3)/3. (For more optimized players you may need to multiply HPs even more.)

Our experience, FWIW: We played books 1-4 more or less as is, and (despite my efforts to boost and combine encounters) found books 3 and 4 to be far too easy to be fun. We then adopted something like option 2 for books 5 and 6, and found that to be much more challenging and enjoyable. But we also found that combat can take forever -- don't be surprised if you find yourself needing to spend more than one session to get through a fight.

The story of this leg of the AP is fantastic -- the players have to head to Baphomet's Ivory Labyrinth and break into a prison in which he keeps his most dangerous foes. More than any other AP, this AP feels epic and "heavy metal", and the flavor of this leg of the AP is awesome.

Unfortunately, the difficulty level of this AP feels way off. The encounters in this leg of the AP are trivial for mythic PCs. Heck, most of the encounters of this AP would be too easy for non-mythic PCs. Given the awesome story of this leg of the AP, this was disappointing.

--Fun of playing this leg of the AP, as written: 0/5
--Fun of the story of this leg of the AP: 5/5
--Total score: 2.5/5 (rounded down)


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A partly epic, and partly disapointing, fourth leg

**( )( )( )

Just to get this out of the way, let me start with the following obligatory advice:

Advice on adjusting the difficulty level of this AP:
Before running this AP, I was warned that the power of mythic PCs quickly outpaced the difficulty of the encounters the AP provides. Despite taking a number of precautions to mitigate this (having players use a 10 point-buy, applying advanced templates to every mythic creature, etc), I found this to be true.

In light of our experiences, and those reported on the boards, the consensus seems to be that there are two generally viable ways to deal with these problems:

Option 1: Power-down the PCs.

(a) Don't give the PCs mythic ranks.

(b) [Optional:] Use the Hero Point system introduced in the APG, and give the PCs a number of Hero Points per day equal to the number of mythic ranks they're supposed to have. (This makes players a bit more robust.)

(c) More or less play the AP as is. (Though there are a couple of encounters in book 6 that will probably need to be made a bit easier).

Option 2: Power-up the encounters.

(a) Give the PCs mythic ranks as the AP suggests (possibly with the nerfs suggested in Mythic Solutions).

(b) Use the (vastly) upgraded stat blocks presented in Sc8rpi8n_mjd's modified stat blocks document to upgrade encounters, and then further multiply the HPs given in the stat blocks by something like (creature's mythic rank+3)/3. (For more optimized players you may need to multiply HPs even more.)

Our experience, FWIW: We played books 1-4 more or less as is, and (despite my efforts to boost and combine encounters) found books 3 and 4 to be far too easy to be fun. We then adopted something like option 2 for books 5 and 6, and found that to be much more challenging and enjoyable. But we also found that combat can take forever -- don't be surprised if you find yourself needing to spend more than one session to get through a fight.

The story of this AP was decent and a lot of this AP felt appropriately epic -- with plane-hopping, trying to survive in a demonic city in the abyss, and a face-to-face encounter with a demon lord. The last half of the AP felt a little anti-climatic, though, sending the PCs through a lengthy dungeon crawl in a... [wait for it...] mine. Not very epic.

We found all of the encounters in this AP that the PCs are intended to fight their way through to be trivial for mythic PCs. (For example, I combined the 20 or so encounters in the mine into three big encounters, and the PCs never broke a sweat.) My players seemed bored by this leg of the AP (which is rare for them), and a couple of them independently suggested quitting the AP to try something else.

--Fun of playing this leg of the AP, as written: 0/5
--Fun of the story of this leg of the AP: 4.5/5
--Total score: 2.25/5


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A fun, if unchallenging, third leg

***( )( )

Just to get this out of the way, let me start with the following obligatory advice:

Advice on adjusting the difficulty level of this AP:
Before running this AP, I was warned that the power of mythic PCs quickly outpaced the difficulty of the encounters the AP provides. Despite taking a number of precautions to mitigate this (having players use a 10 point-buy, applying advanced templates to every mythic creature, etc), I found this to be true.

In light of our experiences, and those reported on the boards, the consensus seems to be that there are two generally viable ways to deal with these problems:

Option 1: Power-down the PCs.

(a) Don't give the PCs mythic ranks.

(b) [Optional:] Use the Hero Point system introduced in the APG, and give the PCs a number of Hero Points per day equal to the number of mythic ranks they're supposed to have. (This makes players a bit more robust.)

(c) More or less play the AP as is. (Though there are a couple of encounters in book 6 that will probably need to be made a bit easier).

Option 2: Power-up the encounters.

(a) Give the PCs mythic ranks as the AP suggests (possibly with the nerfs suggested in Mythic Solutions).

(b) Use the (vastly) upgraded stat blocks presented in Sc8rpi8n_mjd's modified stat blocks document to upgrade encounters, and then further multiply the HPs given in the stat blocks by something like (creature's mythic rank+3)/3. (For more optimized players you may need to multiply HPs even more.)

Our experience, FWIW: We played books 1-4 more or less as is, and (despite my efforts to boost and combine encounters) found books 3 and 4 to be far too easy to be fun. We then adopted something like option 2 for books 5 and 6, and found that to be much more challenging and enjoyable. But we also found that combat can take forever -- don't be surprised if you find yourself needing to spend more than one session to get through a fight.

The story of this AP was pretty good -- with a sandbox exploration of a demonic landscape, and a very memorable NPC who can join the party -- but it didn't have as epic a feel as the second leg of this AP.

We found the encounters in this AP to be far too easy for mythic PCs, especially given the 1/day encounter-rate that hexploration lends itself to. (I combined all of the encounters at Arueshalae's Redoubt into one encounter, and combined the Ivory Sanctum encounters in 3 big encounters, and the PCs still had little difficult plowing through them.)

--Fun of playing this leg of the AP, as written: 2/5
--Fun of the story of this leg of the AP: 4.5/5
--Total score: 3.25/5


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An epic, if somewhat easy, second leg

****( )

Just to get this out of the way, let me start with the following obligatory advice:

Advice on adjusting the difficulty level of this AP:
Before running this AP, I was warned that the power of mythic PCs quickly outpaced the difficulty of the encounters the AP provides. Despite taking a number of precautions to mitigate this (having players use a 10 point-buy, applying advanced templates to every mythic creature, etc), I found this to be true.

In light of our experiences, and those reported on the boards, the consensus seems to be that there are two generally viable ways to deal with these problems:

Option 1: Power-down the PCs.

(a) Don't give the PCs mythic ranks.

(b) [Optional:] Use the Hero Point system introduced in the APG, and give the PCs a number of Hero Points per day equal to the number of mythic ranks they're supposed to have. (This makes players a bit more robust.)

(c) More or less play the AP as is. (Though there are a couple of encounters in book 6 that will probably need to be made a bit easier).

Option 2: Power-up the encounters.

(a) Give the PCs mythic ranks as the AP suggests (possibly with the nerfs suggested in Mythic Solutions).

(b) Use the (vastly) upgraded stat blocks presented in Sc8rpi8n_mjd's modified stat blocks document to upgrade encounters, and then further multiply the HPs given in the stat blocks by something like (creature's mythic rank+3)/3. (For more optimized players you may need to multiply HPs even more.)

Our experience, FWIW: We played books 1-4 more or less as is, and (despite my efforts to boost and combine encounters) found books 3 and 4 to be far too easy to be fun. We then adopted something like option 2 for books 5 and 6, and found that to be much more challenging and enjoyable. But we also found that combat can take forever -- don't be surprised if you find yourself needing to spend more than one session to get through a fight.

The story of this AP is fun, flavorful, and appropriately epic. The PCs get lead armies, march into the Worldwound, and try to reclaim a city from the demons! A much more epic task than the ones usually given to PCs of this level.

That said, we found the encounters in this AP to be on the easy side for mythic PCs, especially once the PCs gain their second mythic rank. The "boss fight" at the end of the AP is a bit more challenging, but not difficult enough to scare the players, or make the outcome in doubt.

--Fun of playing this leg of the AP, as written: 3.5/5
--Fun of the story of this leg of the AP: 4.75/5
--Total score: 4.125/5


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A good start

*****

Just to get this out of the way, let me start with the following obligatory advice:

Advice on adjusting the difficulty level of this AP:
Before running this AP, I was warned that the power of mythic PCs quickly outpaced the difficulty of the encounters the AP provides. Despite taking a number of precautions to mitigate this (having players use a 10 point-buy, applying advanced templates to every mythic creature, etc), I found this to be true.

In light of our experiences, and those reported on the boards, the consensus seems to be that there are two generally viable ways to deal with these problems:

Option 1: Power-down the PCs.

(a) Don't give the PCs mythic ranks.

(b) [Optional:] Use the Hero Point system introduced in the APG, and give the PCs a number of Hero Points per day equal to the number of mythic ranks they're supposed to have. (This makes players a bit more robust.)

(c) More or less play the AP as is. (Though there are a couple of encounters in book 6 that will probably need to be made a bit easier).

Option 2: Power-up the encounters.

(a) Give the PCs mythic ranks as the AP suggests (possibly with the nerfs suggested in Mythic Solutions).

(b) Use the (vastly) upgraded stat blocks presented in Sc8rpi8n_mjd's modified stat blocks document to upgrade encounters, and then further multiply the HPs given in the stat blocks by something like (creature's mythic rank+3)/3. (For more optimized players you may need to multiply HPs even more.)

Our experience, FWIW: We played books 1-4 more or less as is, and (despite my efforts to boost and combine encounters) found books 3 and 4 to be far too easy to be fun. We then adopted something like option 2 for books 5 and 6, and found that to be much more challenging and enjoyable. But we also found that combat can take forever -- don't be surprised if you find yourself needing to spend more than one session to get through a fight.

This is good start to the AP, with an epic event to kick things off, a number of interesting NPCs to roleplay with, and a decent dungeon crawl to work through.

--Fun of playing this leg of the AP, as written: 4.5/5
--Fun of the story of this leg of the AP: 4.5/5
--Total score: 4.5/5 (rounded up).


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A Fantastic Expansion of Occult Options (for the most part)

*****

This is a fantastic companion book for those interested in playing one of the classes in Occult Adventures. And for the most part, it gives these classes a lot of love. In order of how much (and the quality of) the love they receive:

1. (A+): The Spiritualist was originally my least favorite class in Occult Adventures. A class with cool flavor but weak mechanics. This book changes that. It introduces not one, but two archetypes that turn the Spiritualist into a viable and interesting option. The first is essentially a psychic version of the Blackblade Magus, and the second gives you a phantom animal companion (or two!) that's a viable option in combat. And it introduces a new Kindness emotional focus that the Id Rager can take(!). This went from a class I couldn't imagine getting myself to play, to a class I have at least two character ideas for. Fantastic stuff.

2. (A+): The Mesmerist, on the other hand, was one of my favorite classes in Occult Adventures. It's a lot like the alchemist -- a 6th level caster with lots of skill points and a bag of abilities that, though neat, don't obviously fit together (in the case of the alchemist: bombs, mutagens, self-buffing extracts, poison-using abilities and alchemy/potion-oriented abilities, in the case of the mesmerist: stares, tricks, touch treatments and a bevy of mind-affecting spells). In the case of the Alchemist, this was fixed by a bunch of great archetypes and options that allow you to really focus on one of the themes of the Alchemist (e.g., bomb focused alchemists, mutagen + self-buffing alchemists, poison-focused alchemists, etc). But until now the Mesmerist didn't really have the options to do the same.

This book starts to change that. It introduces a trick-focused archetype and a bunch of feats that make the Mesmerist's tricks cool and effective enough to really build a character around. Likewise, there are some great Stare feats that make stares effective enough to build a character around. Add in a cool Possession-focused archetype and a "mind-over-matter"-style archetype which moves away from *just* mind-affecting spells, and there are now a number of interesting and distinct options on the table to focus your Mesmerist around. More great stuff.

3. (A+): The Occultist was originally in the middle of the pack for me -- lots of flavor, and reasonably effective mechanically, but with a couple awkward features that make it hard to develop all of the versions of the class one might like to try (such as the dramatic difference in the power of different schools -- from the virtually obligatory Transmutation to the painfully bad Necromancy and Evocation -- and the strong disincentive to choose a school more than once, essentially locking you into a single spell per school). This book (combined with the incredible Silksworn archetype from the Heroes of the High Court) do a fair bit to change that. By adding panoply options (and the corresponding panoply-focused archetype) you now have a cool and flavorful way of getting multiple spells from a given school, and of spreading out your spell picks a bit more. There's still a few awkward features of the class left over (it's still hard to imagine building an Occultist without Transmutation, or with Necromancy and Evocation), but the class is definitely more fun to play with than before.

4. (A): The Kineticist was a class I liked a lot, and it also gets a lot of love, in the form of the first good Kineticist archetype (a melee-focused armor-wearing kineticist tank) and a big batch of new wild talents which open up the variety of builds to pursue, especially if you want a Wood or Void-focused Kineticist. Granted, a lot of them are high-level abilities which only the DM is likely to get to play with, and it's hard to not to wish there were even more utility Wild Talents and Kinetic Invocation options. (More! More! More!) But this still opens up a lot of interesting options, making this book pretty much a "must-have" for anyone building a Kineticist.

5. (B): The Medium was one of my least favorite classes in Occult Adventures. It had great flavor, making it a class I very much wanted to play. But mechanically, the only really viable option seems to be building your character around the Champion spirit and making them a kind of psychic-flavored fighter, which didn't fit very well with most of the Medium-style character ideas I wanted to play with.

This book adds some more neat flavor options to the Medium (you can tie yourself to a kind of outsider), with an accompanying archetype, which someone building a Medium might consider. But none of these options make the class feel like it would play very differently, or open up the possibility of making a Medium which isn't basically a psychic fighter. Of course, these demerits of the Medium class aren't this book's fault, and it's a little unfair to expect it to resolve all of the problems facing the Medium. Still, given how much I like the idea behind this class, it would be great to someday see some options for making a viable character focused around one of the non-Champion spirits.

6. (B-): The Psychic was originally another class from Occult Adventures in the middle of the pack for me. The disciplines have lots of flavor, but, much like the sorcerer's bloodlines, most of them don't have enough mechanical "meat" to make them feel like they'd play that differently. The amplifications are kind of neat-ish, but most don't do interesting enough things to be memorable. And the overwhelming focus on mind-affecting spells makes the Psychic feel a bit fragile, usefulness-wise, for a 9th level caster.

This book does a bit to round out the Psychic's spell casting possibilities, and adds in some psychic analogs of arcane spell-related magic items. But the class feels much the same as before (in both good ways and bad) in light of these options, and there's little that seems specific to the Psychic that's on offer. Okay stuff.

All told, if you're mostly interested in the Medium or the Psychic, then while there are some new options in this book, there isn't anything that you really need in this book. But if you're interesting in playing around with Spiritualists, Mesmerists, Occultists or Kineticists, then this is definitely a book you'll want to have.


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A Fantastic Addition to the Companion Line

*****

This is a fantastic addition to the companion line, on par with the weapon master's handbook that preceded it. Together, these two releases make the Fighter a viable class again. And this release in particular includes a treasure trove of goodies for all sorts of classes. Some of the highlights:

A number of cool feats, including:
--The Mobile Bulwark style feats (which do things like eliminate the attack penalty to hit while using a tower shield and allow you to provide yourself with total cover from an attack as an immediate action(!)), which make using tower shields an attractive option
--The Shielded Gauntlet style feats, which both offer a nice scaling damage gauntlet attack, and end up yielding a (1+gauntlet enhancement) shield bonus to AC, even when you attack with it
--Imposing Bearing, which treats you as two sizes larger for the purposes of bull rush, drag, overrun and trip maneuvers, giving substantial bonuses and vastly increasing the number of foes you can use these maneuvers on
--Secured Armor, which effectively gives you light fortification (25% chance to negate criticals and sneak attacks), which stacks with light and moderate fortification armor
--Sprightly Armor, which adds the enhancement bonus of your armor to your initiative (not bad), and which has a great stamina trick (immediate action shift of armor enhancement bonus to reflex saves until the start of your next turn)
--Defended Movement, a feat that's ho hum by itself, but which counts as Dodge and Mobility for the purposes of satisfying other feats
--Shield Brace, a feat which allows you to use two handed weapons and shield at the same time(!), with an attack penalty equal to the shield's armor check penalty (something you can get to 0 in a number of ways, and which you can use 1 stamina to ignore each round)
--Shield Mage, which reduces the spell failure chance from using a shield by 15%
--Unhindering Shield, which allows you to use a buckler but treat yourself as having a free hand (monks and casters rejoice!)

And a number of other goodies, including:
--A number of Advanced Armor Training options to exchange for incremental boosts to armor training (and which are also gettable via feats), including: BAB-ranks in one of a large list of skills (which is then also treated as a class skill), a +lvl/4 boosts to AC, a scaling boost to DR that stacks with adamantine armor, and an extra headbutt attack during full attacks.
--Some cool stamina tricks, including some which turn the Armor Material Mastery and Expertise feats from "OK" to "Pretty Damn Good"
--Some fantastic magical armor and shield items, including the amazing Shifting Jerkin (cost: about 6k), which acts like a Hat of Disguise which allows you 1/day to spend an hour to permanently trade out any investigator, ninja, rogue or slayer talent for another one you qualify for(!), vastly increasing the versatility of those classes, the Djezet Skin armor (cost: about 3.5k) which imposes no spell failure chance and gives a nice boost to Diplomacy checks (as well as an great visual upon use), and the Gunner's buckler (cost: about 10k) which allows you to use firearms in melee without provoking attacks of opportunity, albeit at a -4 penalty (which you'll hardly notice given how easy it is to hit with firearms). (But won't a buckler prevent you from reloading your firearm? Not if you have the Unhindering Shield feat!)

A fantastic addition to the companion line.


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An epic sixth leg to an urban sandbox AP

*****

(Preliminary note: Hell's Rebels is a series of urban sandbox adventures. Like most sandbox adventures, these adventures especially benefit from a DM who is willing (i) to tailor the adventure to the motivations and goals of the particular party, (ii) to allow players to be proactive, and to shape the adventure around their decisions, and (iii) to allow the party to try (and succeed at) dealing with problems in unexpected ways. So while these adventures run fine "out of the box", they work best with experienced and flexible DMs who are willing to put in a little extra work.)

I haven't run Breaking the Bones of Hell yet, so this review is largely based on my impressions from reading through the adventure. Breaking the Bones solidifies the Hell's Rebels AP as the most consistently high quality AP to date. While bringing everything the campaign has been building up to to a close, this leg provides a good mix of the elements that have come before: a mix of role playing and combat, a little investigation, and an epic climax to finish things off.

One notable feature of this leg (and the last leg) that's worth highlighting is the relative scarcity of "filler" combats. One of the biggest threats to the completion of the higher-level legs of APs (in my experience) is how long high-level combat takes. The duration of high-level fights tends to turn any leg that's even remotely combat-heavy into a not-so-fun slog, and makes it easy for campaigns to stall out. But both Breaking the Bones of Hell (and the previous leg, The Kintargo Contract) do an excellent job of minimizing this. For the most part, combat, when it occurs, is either (i) avoidable, (ii) tied to a specific and interesting task or issue, or (iii) suitably epic. And these combats are made up for, XP-wise, in a satisfying way by adding big XP rewards for a couple climactic events. (I wouldn't have minded having a few more more non-combat ways of resolving some of the encounters in the Tower of Bone, but this is something it's relatively easy for a DM to tweak.)

Some expected highlights:

  • --Negotiating with the Nereza over the future relations between Kintargo and Cheliax (my favorite part of this AP, and a place where I can see players introducing all sorts of fun new wrinkles when nailing down the details regarding the agreement)
  • --Dealing with the Whispering Vortex and Hell Prison haunts (continuing the Hell's Rebels trend of unleashing terrifying haunts (especially if Barzillai has a strong influence in the region))
  • --The epic fight with a mythic Barzillai and a potentially endless sea of infernal hounds...

Some tweaks I'm planning on making:

  • --Although the trip through the Tower of Bone looks like a lot of fun, revealing aspects of Barzillai's personality as the party progresses, I think it would be a bit more interesting if there were a few more non-combat options available to the party to bypass some of the levels. A few tweaks along these lines:
  • --In the Bloodwall Bastion, have the handmaiden devils agree to let the party pass if they can come up with a novel and suitably creative "task" or punishment to inflict upon the children (with the possibility of successfully bluffing them, against an opposed +25 Sense Motive check, into believing that some innocuous or painless task will eventually become torturous)
  • --In the Cantonment, have the Warmonger Guardians agree to let the party pass if they provide them with arms to increase the military might of the diabolical soldiers being formed; demanding at least 10,000gp-worth of weapons or shields per PC they allow to pass
  • --In Fangrane's Reliquary, have Fangrane agree to allow the party to pass if they can answer three questions about Barzillai's life, motives, or ambition; giving the party free access to the library and 1 hour to determine the answer to each question, each requiring a DC 45 knowledge (local, history, nobility) check to determine the answer (using this to fill in any important gaps in the player's knowledge of Barzillai's life, motives or ambition)

Overall assessment: A good mix of fun role-playing opportunities and combat, ending in an en epic encounter with a mythic Barzillai atop the Tower of Bone. A satisfying conclusion to this AP, up there with the very best AP 6th legs (like From Hell's Heart and The Divinity Drive). 5 stars.


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A role-playing-rich fifth leg to an urban sandbox AP

*****

(Preliminary note: Hell's Rebels is a series of urban sandbox adventures. Like most sandbox adventures, these adventures especially benefit from a DM who is willing (i) to tailor the adventure to the motivations and goals of the particular party, (ii) to allow players to be proactive, and to shape the adventure around their decisions, and (iii) to allow the party to try (and succeed at) dealing with problems in unexpected ways. So while these adventures run fine "out of the box", they work best with experienced and flexible DMs who are willing to put in a little extra work.)

I haven't run the Kintargo Contract yet, so this review is largely based on my impressions from reading through the adventure. After the somewhat combat-heavy 4th leg, the Kintargo Contract is crammed with entertaining role-playing opportunities, mixed with some interesting skill-heavy challenges. And although the events in this leg aren't as dramatic as the 4th leg -- there isn't a clear climax to this leg of the AP -- it looks really, really fun to play.

Some expected highlights:

  • --Bargaining for information with Odexidie in the Fallen Fastness
  • --A cornucopia of role-playing opportunities while courting votes from the five families
  • --The Soulstrain Haunt in Mangvhune's secret lair, and the terrifying fight with a Magic Jar-ing dybbuk that results

Some tweaks I'm planning on making:

  • --A clever party might decide to not tell Cheliax about the hidden clause in the Kintargo contract, in order to lure Cheliax into invading Ravounel, which would void the contract between Hell and the House of Thrune, and free all of Cheliax from infernal control. To forestall this possibility, I'm planning on emphasizing Cheliax's overwhelming military power early on (during Silver Raven council meeting in fourth leg), and making it clear to the party that even without infernal help, Cheliax has a strong enough military to both hold on to their empire and crush Kintargo.
  • --Traveling to hell to bargain with Odexidie for information is something I can imagine players resisting if they can get the information they need from Jackdaw instead. So I'm planning on tweaking the hidden clause in the Kintargo Contract to also require the ratification of the lord-mayor to require a certain ritual in a certain location, and to make the details of this ritual known only to Odexidie.
  • --Since the scarring the Soulstrain Haunt makes to the afflicted character's soul is a great way to allow the players figure out key points of the plot with respect to the soul anchor, I'm planning on tweaking the haunt so that a successful save prevents the Trap the Soul effect, but still scars the player's soul and releases the Dybbuk.

Overall assessment: This leg is crammed with role-playing opportunities and skill-based puzzles, and looks like one of the most fun to play through. While it's not quite as enthralling as the best AP 5th leg (Rasputin Must Die), it's in contention for being the runner-up. 5 stars.


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An epic fourth leg to an urban sandbox AP

*****

(Preliminary note: Hell's Rebels is a series of urban sandbox adventures. Like most sandbox adventures, these adventures especially benefit from a DM who is willing (i) to tailor the adventure to the motivations and goals of the particular party, (ii) to allow players to be proactive, and to shape the adventure around their decisions, and (iii) to allow the party to try (and succeed at) dealing with problems in unexpected ways. So while these adventures run fine "out of the box", they work best with experienced and flexible DMs who are willing to put in a little extra work.)

We haven't finished A Song of Silver yet, so this review is largely based on my impressions from reading through the adventure. So far this has been a lot of fun, and I expect it to be among the best legs to date, second only to The Dance of the Damned. It wraps up some loose ends, allows the party to finally let loose on the authorities, and has a number of opportunities for a "special-ops"-style party to shine. There aren't quite as many role-playing opportunities in this leg of the AP as there were in the previous three legs. But the Temple of Asmodeus looks to have some pretty epic encounters, ones I expect my players will remember for a long time.

Some of the things the players enjoyed, and some expected highlights:

  • --Repelling the Thrunish Counterstrike on the player's base
  • --Infiltrating Kintargo Keep
  • --The epic battle in the main hall of the Temple of Asmodeus
  • --The frighteningly difficult task of Exorcising the Devil's Bells

Some tweaks we used/are planning to use to strengthen the narrative:

  • --Each of the missions in the first half of this AP are tied to the liberation of a part of the city. But in some cases there isn't much, narratively-speaking, to tie the missions and liberations together. A few tweaks to make the connection a bit tighter:
  • --Adding a written contract between Natsiel and Barzillai to Natsiel's possessions, and having the public release of these documents (demonstrating Barzillai's willingness to let Natsiel prey on the people of Jarvis End) lead the people of Jarvis End to rise up and ally with Silver Ravens.
  • --Having Tiarise and her inquisitor troops be in explicit control of The Greens (employing martial law to keep the population of The Greens compliant), so that once they're defeated, the populace will gladly join the Silver Ravens.
  • --Adding a written contract between Hei-Fen and Barzillai to Hei-Fen's possessions, and having the public release of these documents (demonstrating Barzillai's willingness to let the skinsaw cultists prey on the people of Villegre) lead the people of Villegre to rise up and ally with Silver Ravens.

Overall assessment: Another great leg of this AP, up there with the very best AP 4th legs (like The End of Eternity and The Wake of the Watcher). 5 stars.


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A fantastic third leg to an urban sandbox AP

*****

(Preliminary note: Hell's Rebels is a series of urban sandbox adventures. Like most sandbox adventures, these adventures especially benefit from a DM who is willing (i) to tailor the adventure to the motivations and goals of the particular party, (ii) to allow players to be proactive, and to shape the adventure around their decisions, and (iii) to allow the party to try (and succeed at) dealing with problems in unexpected ways. So while these adventures run fine "out of the box", they work best with experienced and flexible DMs who are willing to put in a little extra work.)

The best leg of this AP, The Dance of the Damned nails it. Pretty much every part of this leg of the AP is stuffed with interesting social encounters and role-playing opportunities. The crown jewel is the fantastic Queen's Banquet, and the Ruby Masquerade is a close second. And even the side quests, like the Acisazi quest are nicely done, mixing the challenge of deep underwater travel with some appropriately spooky encounters.

Some of the things the players enjoyed most during this leg of the AP:

  • --The creepy descent into the Drowned Eye
  • --Choosing gifts for the Queen's Banquet
  • --Entertaining skill-challenges and role-playing during the Queen's Banquet
  • --Scoping out the opera house during the Ruby Masquerade

Some tweaks we used:

  • --We rewarded the acquisition of Masquerade Points a bit more, by giving the party a number of new supporters at the end of the masquerade equal to 10 times the number of Masquerade Points they earn.

Overall assessment: This leg is as good as the very best AP 3rd legs (like The Hook Mountain Massacre and The Varnhold Vanishing), and in my view, is the best of the lot. 5+ stars.


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A good second leg to an urban sandbox AP

*****

(Preliminary note: Hell's Rebels is a series of urban sandbox adventures. Like most sandbox adventures, these adventures especially benefit from a DM who is willing (i) to tailor the adventure to the motivations and goals of the particular party, (ii) to allow players to be proactive, and to shape the adventure around their decisions, and (iii) to allow the party to try (and succeed at) dealing with problems in unexpected ways. So while these adventures run fine "out of the box", they work best with experienced and flexible DMs who are willing to put in a little extra work.)

As with the last leg, we had a lot of fun with this adventure. A good well-rounded mix of role-playing, skill-use and combat, though the last third of the adventure becomes a bit more combat-heavy than I would have liked. Still, there were several opportunities to reward clever players willing to think their way around obstacles.

As a side note, the feat bonuses that come with Rebellion advancement were an especially nice touch, as they're often prerequisites to getting other face and/or stealth-oriented feats. For example, the free Deceitful feat allowed the party's spellcasters to skip the feat tax on the Cunning Caster feat, which seems essential for a stealth-oriented party. (And since a stealth-oriented party will be aiming to get everyone the Stealth Synergy feat ASAP, feats are a scarce resource!)

Some of the things the players enjoyed most during this leg of the AP:

  • --Playing games at the Tooth and Nail
  • --Infiltrating the Holding House to rescue the armingers
  • --Playing guessing games with the ghost of Lorelu
  • --Working out clever ways to fortify the Lucky Bones, after the party claimed it as the rebellion's stronghold

Some tweaks we used to strengthen the narrative:

  • --If the party decides to focus on keeping the rebellion a secret, and their identities and whereabouts unknown, some of the default lead-ins to missions will feel a bit strained. (E.g., assuming that Lieutenant Elia Nones can just find out who the rebellion leaders are, and where they're hanging out, so that she can approach them with an invitation.) But this was easy to fix with a little tweaking, by (for example) having the party's contacts inform them that Captain Sargaeta is interested in a meeting, or (if the party has done a good job of keeping the very existence of a rebellion a secret) that Captain Sargeata is stuck in a frustrating position, and would be a valuable ally if they could recruit him to the rebellion by offering him aid.
  • --In a similar vein, the final encounter in which Barzillai presents the players with the key to the city will feel strained if the party has been doing a good job of keeping the rebellion and their identities a secret. But this is explicitly an optional encounter, and is easy to just skip.

Overall assessment: Like the last leg, Turn of the Torrent was a lot of fun. It wasn't quite as enthralling as the very best AP 2nd legs (like Seven Days to the Grave or Curse of the Lady's Light), but still a very good entry. 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars.


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A good first leg to an urban sandbox AP

*****

(Preliminary note: Hell's Rebels is a series of urban sandbox adventures. Like most sandbox adventures, these adventures especially benefit from a DM who is willing (i) to tailor the adventure to the motivations and goals of the particular party, (ii) to allow players to be proactive, and to shape the adventure around their decisions, and (iii) to allow the party to try (and succeed at) dealing with problems in unexpected ways. So while these adventures run fine "out of the box", they work best with experienced and flexible DMs who are willing to put in a little extra work.)

We had a lot of fun with this adventure. There are lots of role-playing opportunities, and a fair number of opportunities for a "special ops"-style parties willing to use things like stealth, trickery, or diplomacy to work around potential combat situations.

Some of the things the players enjoyed most during this leg of the AP:

  • --Figuring out how to deal with the devious imp saboteur
  • --Carefully plotting how to free the slaves in the Prisoners of Salt
  • --Coming up with creative ways to bluff Chelish thugs (several times)
  • --An epic fight with Nox, Barzillai's devil-bound ally

Some tweaks we used to strengthen the narrative:

  • --Instead of having the urging of a low-level NPC (Rexus) be the main impetus for the party to start a rebellion, it felt more natural to have the players to build their characters so that they're proactively inclined to set up an active rebellion from the start.
  • --Instead of having the outline of what the party needs to do to successfully organize the rebellion ("The Five Steps of Revolution") be something that's handed to the players by a low-level NPC (Laria), it felt more natural to have this advice be something the party discovers in the Silver Ravens documents they recover from the Fair Fortune Livery.

Overall assessment: In Hell's Bright Shadow was a lot of fun. It wasn't quite as enthralling as the very best AP 1st legs (like Burnt Offerings or Smuggler's Shiv), but still a very good entry. 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars.


More of a great idea, but with more kinks to work out

***( )( )

As with the first flaws supplement, this is a great idea. If offers a number of flaws players can take, and offers them incentives to do so - giving them an extra feat or 3 extra skill points. And this helps round out character creation in two ways. First, these flaws encourage players to develop characters with more interesting personalities. Second, these incentives allow players to flesh out their characters more as well, which is especially helpful for characters which only start out with 2 skill points, and characters built around some idea that requires a handful of feats to get off the ground. (And, incidentally, it makes it easier to play non-human characters, since being human isn't the only way to start off with that extra feat your character desperately needs.)

That said, as with the first Flaws supplement, I was a little disappointed in the implementation of this idea.

My main complaint is that a non-trivial number of these flaws aren't well balanced, either against themselves, or against the incentives for adopting them.

For example, consider the Deranged flaw. The Deranged flaw incurs a -4 penalty to Intelligence, a -4 penalty to Wisdom, and takes a further -4 penalty to all will saves and wisdom checks. This is a staggeringly large penalty - the player loses 2 skill points per level, takes a hit on all intelligence and wisdom-based skills (including Perception), and incurs a net -6 penalty on will saves(!). If one takes an ability score point to be worth roughly one feat, then this flaw incurs over 10 negative feats worth of penalties, something I can't imagine a player ever doing in exchange for a feat. And because the penalties of adopting this flaw are so severe, they don't provide a player who wants to play a deranged character with a viable way of doing so.

Likewise, consider the Cursed (Unlucky) flaw, which requires the player to roll twice for all attacks, saving throws, ability checks and skill checks, and take the worst of the two results. This is roughly equivalent to a 3.3 penalty on everything a player ever does. This is such an enormous penalty that it's hard to quantify.

On the flip side, consider the Inner Turmoil flaw, which grants monks a -1 penalty on will saves. This seems too light for a free feat - you can use that feat to take Iron Will, and end up with a net +1 bonus to will saves. But it looks especially unbalanced when compared to either of the flaws just mentioned above, which impose strictly larger penalties.

PROs: A great idea for a sub-system to flesh out characters, and a good tool kit for DMs and players looking for inspiration for interesting flaws to take.

CONs: A number of these flaws aren't well-balanced, requiring DMs to do a fair amount of work tweaking the penalties to keep things balanced.

VERDICT: 3 stars.


A great idea, with some kinks to work out.

***( )( )

Let me start by saying this is a great idea. Allowing players to take flaws gives players an incentive to develop more interesting characters, and paves the way for some great role-playing moments. Furthermore, the incentives for taking flaws -- gaining 3 skill points or an extra feat -- are also helpful is fleshing out starting characters, especially characters who would otherwise start with only 2 skill points, and characters built around the idea of doing something which requires a handful of feats to get off the ground.

That said I was a little disappointed in the implementation of this idea, for two reasons.

First, these flaws aren't terribly well balanced, either against themselves, or against the incentives for adopting them.

For example, consider the Unlucky flaw. The Unlucky flaw incurs a -2 penalty on all saving throws(!) and a -3 penalty on rolls to confirm critical hits. This is essentially 4 negative feats worth of penalties, and something I can't ever imagine a player taking in exchange for a feat. And since the penalties of adopting this flaw are so severe, it doesn't provide players who want to play an unlucky character with a viable way to do so.

On the flip side, consider the Contact Allergies or Scrawny flaws. The Contact Allergies flaw has you choose some material -- say, wool -- and you incur some minor penalties if you come into contact with this material. The Scrawny flaw grants a -5 penalty to CMD checks against being Bull Rushed. Since many characters will go their entire adventuring careers without coming into contact with wool or being bull rushed, these penalties seem very mild; too mild to justify an extra feat.

Second, while most of these flaws lend themselves to role-playing opportunities, some of them do not. Again, Contact Allergies and Scrawny are good examples of flaws which I suspect can easily have no bearing on how the character was played. (A Scrawny wizard would be role-played differently... how exactly?) But this is a minor complaint.

PROs: A great idea for a sub-system to flesh out characters, and a good tool kit for DMs and players looking for inspiration for interesting flaws to take.

CONs: A number of these flaws aren't well-balanced, requiring DMs to do a non-trivial amount of work tweaking the penalties to keep things balanced. And a few of these flaws aren't very interesting, role-playing-wise.

VERDICT: 3 stars.


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Best Player Companion Release To Date

*****

This is a ground-breaking player companion release. There are lots of things to praise, but the best are a series of additions to bolster some previously-untenable martial options. Instead of describing all of this in detail, I'll just note that:

1. There are options that make a halfling martial character focusing on slings a viable option(!)

2. There are options that make a martial character focusing on thrown-weapons a viable option(!!)

3. There are options that make the core Fighter a competitive class(!!!)

And there are lots of other goodies besides. As one of the designers noted: "One thing that Pathfinder DESPERATELY needs is more martial-focused extraordinary abilities that function under "rule of cool" rather than "rule of reality"." And this companion addition adds to such options in spades.

The best player companion release to date.