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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Book of the Damned (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Mostly flavor for DMs, little use to playersSamy —
I would not recommend this book to anyone except DMs who wanted a lot of deep flavor text on evil gods, evil planes and evil outsiders. The vast bulk of material is stuff that the DM can read in order to form a more coherent world view inside his head, but much of the material is such that it is not only useless to players mechanically, but even further, it is even difficult to convey to players flavor-wise.
Of the 280+ pages, about 120 (so almost half the book) is spent on detailing evil gods that were too small to receive full writeups in previous products. Gods like Baphomet, Dispater, Kostchtchie, Lamashtu, Mephistopheles, Moloch, Nocticula, Orcus, Pazuzu and Szuriel receive two-page writeups -- about 50 in total, covering about 100 pages. The other 20 pages in this section offer two-page writeups for 10 groupings like "Asura Ranas" and "Daemon Harbringers", giving brief detail to groupings gods even smaller than those who merited full two-pagers per individual. This section is essentially useless to players, but the DM can make some use of it for players by building cults that worship these guys and positioning them as enemies that have some of their background fleshed out thanks to this book. Having said that, spending almost half the book to detail the obscure gods of the guys who are going to be sword fodder for the players in three combat rounds? I think a hardcover slot could have been used for something much more useful.
The next 40 pages cover evil planes like Hell and Abyss. This, I think, is one of the more useful sections in the book, because at higher levels, players and campaigns are often going to be venturing into these environments, so getting more detail on them is very good stuff, and the DM can really use this as very concrete setting material for adventures. I actually wish that the art budget from the entire first section had been put into this section, because getting lots of cool images to use as visual aids to show players when they venture into a plane would have been extremely useful to me as a DM. Unfortunately, this is the smallest of the book's four sections, showing a big disconnect between what Paizo thinks we need and what I feel I need.
The third section is essentially the crunch section. Feats, domains, magic items, prestige classes and stuff like that. 95% of it is useless to players, and essentially exists just for the DM to build bad guy statblocks that the players are never going to see. There's a few occasional things that the players can use, like the Moon and Rivers subdomains, but by and large this section is useless unless you are the sort of DM who gets enjoyment out of building statblocks for your bad guys.
The fourth section is called a bestiary, but don't think it's like the Bestiary books simply presenting statblocks -- it has that too, but only about 14 of its 40 pages are statblocks for new monsters. The larger part of this section is flavor descriptions going over existing outsiders (like six pages for devils, six pages for daemons and six pages for demons) and giving them more flavor than existed previously. It's...not useless, I suppose. Some of the evil outsider flavor can be useful for DMs to flesh out encounters between evil outsiders and players. I guess this would be my second favorite section of the book, after the evil planes section.
Finally there's an appendix that presents excerpts from the in-world Book of the Damned in replica-like format as if you were reading the actual book. Kind of neat as a novelty but I didn't feel I got much use out of it.
So essentially there's five sections -- Gods, Planes, Crunch, Bestiary and Excerpts. Gods and Crunch are mostly only useful to build the bad guys of the campaign. Gods is more flavor side, Crunch is more crunch side. But I seriously question the decision to devote over half a hardcover to material that is mostly just useful to build the guys that might be dead in three rounds. My dislike for this decision is a big reason why I only give the book one star. Planes and Bestiary are more useful sections, but they are only about 80 of the book's 280+ pages. Bestiary is about as big as it needed to be -- I don't need any more flavor or statblocks that were presented there, so I wouldn't have wanted to see that section expanded further, but Planes could have and IMO should have been expanded far more. I could have used much, much more detail on the adventuring environments that I as DM could present to players.
Overall I just feel like this book was a big misstep and mis-gauge in what is useful. At least from my personal perspective -- other DMs may disagree. And it's miscategorized -- this book should have been in the DM-focused Campaign Setting line like Inner Sea Gods, to which it is sort of an evil sequel, rather than in the core line where, IMO, books should be more player-useful.
I should add one exception. This book could be really useful and worth its price if you are running an evil campaign. In that case, all the evil gods stuff and evil crunch stuff will actually be player-useful, which rockets the utility of this book upward. If you are running an evil campaign, I would actually consider this a four-star book.
Pathfinder Player Companion: Blood of the Elements (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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This book makes me angrySamy —
This book makes me furious and almost makes me feel a little teary-eyed at the wasted potential. I am a huge fan of Blood of Angels/Fiends, and how they both spend 32 pages on expanding a single race. As a result, Angels/Fiends are the gold standard of a racial supplement. After Angels/Fiends, pretty much all my aasimar/tiefling needs were catered to. They had tons of subraces, so no matter what ability modifiers I wanted to have, I was covered. They had feats. They had traits. They had magic items. They had variant abilities. And of course tons of fluff and art.
Then I open Blood of Elements.
I flip to my favorite of the elemental races, sylph. Three traits and two spells and 1.5 pages of fluff text.
And that's it.
I look at what an amazing job Angels/Fiends did to aasimar/tieflings, then I come here for my sylph characters, and...
I just want to cry. I want to cry.
There was so much that could have been done for the elemental races. So much. Instead, of the 32 pages, a bare 10 pages is split among five races (the four geniekin plus suli). So two pages for each race, and of those two pages well over half is fluff, so you have less than one page of crunch per race. You look at the five pages of tiefling subraces in Blood of Fiends PLUS ALL ELSE in that book. Then you look at less than a page for ALL CRUNCH PER RACE in this book.
It is a completely insane design choice to spend 10 pages of this book on describing the four elemental planes plus the City of Brass, when there was WAY TOO LITTLE space for racial crunch already, and then they waste space on planes! As much space is spent on planes as on the races! When the races are already page-starved!!
They never should have tried to cram FIVE different races into a single 32 page book to start with. But if they absolutely insisted on that terrible choice, then the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM starting point from there would have been to jettison absolutely everything else. No two-page planar map. No ten-page planar descriptions. No two-page "elemental magic". No two-page "magic items". Just the races. Nothing else. Absolutely nothing else. The 32 interior pages should have been allocated as follows: 6 pages per race, and the leftover 2 pages to editorial content like table of contents and rules index.
6 pages per race would have been the barest minimum to even get started on covering the races. What they did now -- 2 pages per race, and more than 1 page of that is fluff, less than a page is crunch per race -- is insane. It's ludicrous. It's insulting to people who actually want to play these races and want options. How could they possibly have thought that people who want to play a sylph would find more value in a two-page planar map than in getting two more pages of traits or subraces? What is wrong with them?
This is the single worst designed Paizo product that I can off-hand think of. I wish I could give it less than one star. The only people I can recommend this to are people who actually don't care about playing the geniekin races.
I'm baffled and flabbergasted at whoever designed this product.
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Shores (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Only problem is that there isn't more!Samy —
This material is super difficult to use.
Weird way to start a five star review, but there you have it. The reason why I say so is because this book has six great, wonderful, inspiring cities that I desperately want to adventure in, but nothing about their surroundings. So there are a few ways you can use this material: A DM that loves to worldbuild and has the time to do so, can flesh out the nation around the city, thus allowing a campaign to take place there. You could teleport-travel to the cities from afar, from areas better detailed, and then teleport back. You could run the campaign entirely inside the city -- perhaps something like transplanting Hell's Rebels to a revolution in the hobgoblin city of Dhucharg. You could have characters conventionally travel to these cities from nearby areas, but handwave/vague/skim the actual journeys. These are some ideas for how you could use these cities. But it is really important to be aware of this when considering buying this book: they are wonderfully fleshed out cities in the middle of a lot of blank white map. Personally, I don't take off a star because of that, but you might, so that's why I want to be really clear about that aspect of the product.
Having gotten that out of the way, let's move on to the content itself. Now, this is six cities, ten pages each. Each has a one-page top-down map for layout, and each has an amazingly evocative two-page wide panoramic shot for atmosphere. Additional graphics include 2-3 full-body NPC shots per city to show important personages or typical inhabitants. Each city has a settlement block (of course), and some new crunch/mechanics. The pseudo-Greek city (Aelyosos) has three new weapons, three new mythic path abilities and two new deities. The pseudo-African city (Anuli) has a new player race (Ganzi, which is to Chaotic as Aasimar is to Good or Tiefling is to Evil), seven new traits and one deity. And so on. The rest of the page count is rounded out by gazetteers of important locations, NPCs, customs and other such flavor material.
The six cities detailed are: Aelyosos (pseudo-Greek, with Mythic Adventures flavor), Anuli (pseudo-African, matriarchal), Dhucharg (pseudo-Japanese, hobgoblin-dominated military-flavored), Radripal (pseudo-Indian, with rakshasa intrigue), Segada (pseudo-Amerind, trade hub and entrance into Arcadia) and Ular Kel (pseudo-Mongol steppe city).
I'm biased because I'm a huge, huge, massive fan of all settings and environments that break away from the traditional Western European fantasy fare, so this product is tailor made for me. It's like getting to travel the world for twenty bucks. This is easily within my top five Pathfinder supplements, and if you're similarly interested in "off the beaten path" cultures and settings, I couldn't recommend Distant Shores more.
Having said that, if your campaign doesn't travel a lot, you're not likely to see a lot of use for this book. Some of the crunch can be brought abroad (like the ganzi player race, for instance) and maybe you want to make a character that has backstory in one of these cities. But this book is very situational. You'll want to think about whether you will have a use for it.
My rating is based on taking the book for what it is, and having a use for the niche it fills. As long as you have a campaign where travel is welcome, this book is a five star product.
Pathfinder Player Companion: Blood of the Coven (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Revisits Blood of Fiends/Angels qualitySamy —
This is one of the best Player Companions in a long, long time. Rather than casting a too-wide net and trying to give something to everyone, it is *focused*. If you're not either a changeling or a witch, you might be able to find useful things here and there. But if you *are* a changeling or a witch...there is so much material. Blood of Fiends/Angels are the gold standard of Player Companions because they really went all-out in focusing on a single race, and resultantly were able to really give that race a wealth of options. On the other end you have products like People of the Stars, Blood of the Beasts, that give something like two, four pages per race and don't manage to do anything meaningful. I'm delighted to say that Blood of the Coven is very much like Fiends/Angels on this scale.
Some of the highlights of the book include 10 changeling heritages (half-pagers each, like the ones tieflings/aasimar get, with different ability modifiers) that allow you to basically make a changeling character that will have suitable ability bonuses for pretty much any class, 10 new traits (of which 2 are changeling-restricted), 9 new witch patrons, 3 witch archetypes, 7 other archetypes, a bloodrager hag bloodline, a hag-called psychic discipline and a two-page spread of magic items (of which my favorite is a lantern that changes color when a specified monster type approaches).
If I had to come up with negatives, I would say that Blood/Coven fails by perpetuating the frequent Pathfinder flaw of forgetting that such a thing exists as alternate racial traits. You know, those things in the Advanced Race Guide where you can customize a race better by swapping out certain aspects. It would have been a really nice treat to get some customization to the basic root aspects of the race, but Paizo seems determined to bury the concept of alternate racial traits. Other than that, I would say the book is pretty much perfect. It could have maybe used some more crunch text to cover special use cases (like the aforementioned lantern, how frequently can it be re-attuned and such), but by and large, this is a really good book and I warmly recommend it.
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Qadira, Jewel of the East (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Perfect Campaign SettingSamy —
This product benefits greatly from having a single author instead of being a patchwork quilt with multiple contributors. It's not a boring, "here's a timeline, gazetteer of places, some organizations, then a bestiary" kind of rote by the numbers standard thing. It gives us a lot of flavor stuff, from relationships with other nations, customs, new crunch like patronage subsystems and witch archetypes. In many ways, Qadira reminds me of the old 1e Forgotten Realms box set in that it really gets down to the brass tacks of what life is like in the environment and makes it come alive for me. Jessica Price does a great job here and this product is a very strong argument for more single-author Campaign Setting books.
Great GM ResourceSamy —
First of all, the product description at the time of this writing does not contain a list of which monsters the Monster Codex contains. So in order to ease your purchasing decision, here we go: boggards, bugbears, drow, duergar, fire giants, frost giants, ghouls, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, lizardfolk, ogres, orcs, ratfolk, sahuagin, serpentfolk, troglodytes, trolls and vampires.
I think the easiest way to explain this product is by comparing it to the Bestiaries. Whereas Bestiaries add *breadth* to Pathfinder's monster repertoire, the Monster Codex adds *depth*. What I mean by that is that the Bestiaries increase the number of monsters, whereas the Codex doesn't give us (m)any actual new monsters, but increases the variety within specific monsters. Instead of having just "orc", and having just that in your toolkit, the Codex provides you with ready-statted, ready-to-drop-into-a-game, orc thugs, orc soldiers, orc mystics, orc chieftains and so on.
What this allows you to do, as a DM, is to have a campaign or adventure centered on a certain type of foe, while still having different types of enemies to throw into fights. With only the Bestiary, you can always increase the number of orcs, moving your adventure from fighting a single orc, to fighting four orcs, to fighting forty orcs, to fighting four hundred orcs, but they'll always be that base level 1 barbarian orc, unless you yourself do the crunch work of customizing enemies. This book does that job for you. Tons and tons of custom statblocks to provide different orcs, different drow, different trolls and so on.
This book is of little to no use for a player. There are a few scattered feats here and there that don't have racial prerequisites, so if you wanted to, you could scrounge for some player options, but that's not what this book is meant for, really. This book is also not very useful to GMs who run premade adventures/campaigns, as those generally already have premade monster statblocks. Finally, the third group of people that will not find this book terribly useful is GMs who have time, and love making statblocks. There are some additional ingredients (feats, archetypes, equipment, animal companions) for you in this book, but the bulk of the book is readymade statblocks. So, the people for whom this book is a perfect fit is those GMs who do their own adventures, but don't have the time or the inclination to make statblocks.
I have a couple of minor issues with the book that dropped it from five stars to four. First, the selection of monsters was in my opinion a little erratic. Did I really need more focus on boggards and ratfolk? They seem kind of small fry compared to things like orc and drow. Did I need both troglodytes and serpentfolk? They seem kind of similar. Getting two kinds of giant (frost and fire) but not all of them frustrates my sense of order. And so on. But you can make up your own mind on the racial breakdown as I have given you the list at the beginning. My second problem was that each race also gets a new monster that is associated with it, and sometimes these felt a little forced and not so inspired, and a lot of times they were just a mount or a guard dog with that race's fluff. I could've done with something more inspired on several counts.
Pathfinder Player Companion: Blood of the Night (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Very little material for playersSamy —
As others have stated, this book is very low on material for actual players. Let me run down the pages:
2 pages overview on vampires plus 2 pages for the four vampire subtypes, for a total of 10 pages. I admit that the four vampire subtypes *are* interesting, and I like them a lot, but they're completely and utterly useless for players, other than as some world fluff.
2 pages on how to include vampire characters in a campaign, which essentially boils down to, either play an all-vampire campaign, or use dhampirs instead. ("With the exception of using dhampirs, there is no easy way to include vampire characters in a campaign with normal humanoid PCs and maintain a balanced level of power between the characters." "If a player wants to play a vampire-like character, choosing a dhampir is the best way to do so and still maintain a reasonable level of power balance compared to the other PCs.") So, unless your entire group is keen on playing vampires, tough noogies.
2 pages spent on three vampire feats (transform into wolf, swarm or mist).
1 page spent on dhampir fluff, 1 page spent on two dhampir roles and two dhampir traits.
2 pages spent on four dhampir subraces, these are very much in the vein of aasimar/tiefling subraces in their respective Companions. In my personal opinion, this two-page spread is the only worthwhile material in the entire Companion for players. This is some genuinely useful crunch for dhampirs. Sadly, this is pretty much the *only* genuinely useful crunch for dhampirs.
2 pages on undead (essentially vampire) hunger, and withdrawal effects.
2 pages on Golarion-specific fluff for the four vampire races (note, again, for the *vampire* races, and not a word about dhampirs. If you want to know Golarion-specific info on any of the four dhampir subraces, it's about one sentence each on the dhamp subraces two-page spread.
2 pages on vampire hunter builds.
2 pages on feats -- five for vampire slayers and four for vampires. If you wanted any dhampir-specific feats, one of the slayer feats is for dhamps only (you can be healed by positive channel energy).
1 page on 6 spells, 1 page on 6 magic items.
The rest is overhead and general table of contents, next month stuff.
For players, at *best*, I think there's about six pages of genuinely useful stuff. The dhampir subtypes, the feats, the spells and the magic items. The builds spread contains no real new information.
If you want this book because you want to play a dhampir, just get the stats for the four dhampir subraces from somewhere and you're done. I really can't recommend buying this whole thing if all you're interested in is new dhampir options.
Get this book if you want a whole bunch of vampire fluff that you probably will never use as a player. Why is this in the Player Companion line? If this is the book they wanted to write, it should've just been Vampires Revisited in the Campaign Setting line.
I would've given the book a one-star rating, for being a Player Companion that's pretty much useless for players, but two things are enough to bump it (just barely) up to two stars. First is the two-page spread on dhampir subraces. The only useful part of the entire book, and it *is* admittedly great, great enough to IMO carry the whole book. And the second thing is, I really like the artwork. The art is great.
That's about it.