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More Fighting!bruuuuuu —
I have to admit that I took an incredibly long time to fully run through this product after I first got it. Frankly, I play casters. I love playing casters. When I think of making a new character, it's always a caster. With that in mind, and while Little Red Goblin have been absolutely top-notch with their other products, I was a bit slower to really dig into this one. I have lots of players who prefer martial classes or simply dislike casters, so my intent with this product was mainly to expand the options for them. I have the Game Master's Curse and run 90% of every game I'm in, so I didn't expect to find any personal need for much of what is here (aside from a wily NPC here or there, but nuances with NPC builds are often lost on my players).
What I found in "En Garde" was far beyond anything that I had expected, even given the track record of the publisher. Their take on finesse-based martial characters is stunning. I don't think I can come up with a better word for it. This looks like a supplement written by people who have actually held and used the weapons described. We all know those gamers who can tell us all of the ways that a weapon can supposedly be use used, but who have never actually held, swung, or seen the results of both success and dismal failure with "fantasy" weapons (historical/medieval and imagined). This wasn't written by those guys.
Other supplements that have described "fencers" or "duelists" have often left me with the taste of nasty, limp-wristed, namby-pambyness in my mouth. Those other classes have seemed more like dancers or acrobats than warriors. The Fencer (base class) described here can stand with Porthos, Athos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan (from the books, people). It is one of the first takes on fighting in case (with two swords) that has ever seemed like what those fencers that I actually know really do. To boot, they've managed to make fighting with a cloak in your off hand seem truly dangerous to your opponents, rather than as a poor excuse for a fan to be used when you're feeling faint. The rules are excellent and there's just too much here to even attempt a synopsis and do them any justice. Get it. Read it. Use it. Love it.
Lest you think that my appreciation of this product is mindless, check out the Meister. It's presented as an archetype for the Cavalier, but the alternate class features are noted as being replacements for Armor Training I through Armor Mastery at the levels that the Fighter gets those same class features (and the Cavalier doesn't). Thematically, this really is a super-proficient and incredibly deadly twist on the Fighter, but it gets two (2) Weapon Training tracks. The abilities listed for specific weapon groups (selected at 3rd level and set in stone for future evolutions of the archetype's abilities) are stunning, but are also a separate track from the normal Weapon Training progression. I'm not quite sure how this would play out in a game, and this archetype would really need to be tweaked to actually be an alternate for the Cavalier, but the possibility of a Fighter giving up increased armor abilities to further increase deadliness with one particular group of weapons seems quite appealing.
The selection of new weapons at the end - along with the new feats - seems almost obligatory at this point, but is managed quite well. The new weapons really feel new, and most of the new feats are usable whether or not you use the other class options of this products.
Overall, take 4.5 out of 5 stars for this. The bumpiness of the Meister and some lingering typographical/spelling errors keep this from getting the full 5, but not by much.
They've Really Stepped Up Their Gamebruuuuuu —
Let me start by saying that my four-star review misses the fifth star based only on the fact that I tend not to give five-star reviews for anything that isn't absolutely perfect in every regard. If I was only to rate the idea and 98% of the execution, I'd have given five stars here, but a couple of minor details held it back from that point.
On to the good stuff: First, check out the art. Little Red Goblin have stepped up more than just one step here. As a talented group of game designers, I gave a pass on much of their prior products' art because I loved their dedication and the quality of their game content so much. The art is finally getting in line with the quality of the rest of the product and I'm really happy to see this. Secondly, spell checking and grammar are greatly improved, although there do remain some few errors here and there, but far fewer than in previous products, and few other people may notice them. Thirdly, the concept is near and dear to my heart and I love the points of flavor that they have provided, including providing damage bonuses only with thematic weapons, the ability to curse opponents, thematic dependence on a god-king, and undead command (to name just a few). And lastly, who in the world would have thought that Little Red Goblin (or anyone else, for that matter) would be able to come up with a full-BAB, 9-level caster that was somehow balanced? I'd hate to give away the show, but the quick gloss is that they can trade in their martial power to cast spells, bit by bit, eventually giving up all extra base attack bonus (beyond what a Wizard would get) in exchange for the ability to cast no small number of pretty cool divine spells. Kudos, too, for making Charisma the primary casting stat and keeping the presence and bearing of the character so central.
And the bad stuff: Frankly, there's not much here. One thing that I did notice is that the Medjay (a limited-list spontaneous caster like the Bard, Sorcerer, or Oracle) can eventually know up to nine (9) 0-level spells, but only five (5) are listed as being available. Beyond that, there are pretty much only the minor spelling and grammar errors, and I'm sure most people won't even notice them (I tend to be REALLY nit-picky here, so feel free to ignore this criticism).
Frankly, I'm excited about this new caster in a way that I rarely have been about new spell-casting base classes. Here's a big, "Thanks!" to the guys at Little Red Goblin Games for yet another great base class.
The Most Unpolished Product I've Ever Lovedbruuuuuu —
I've noticed a distinct lack of eastern-themed material in most of the role-playing games that I have used for a great many years, with those eastern materials that were produced largely feeling either tacked-on as an afterthought, or requiring that I learn what feels like an entirely new system to use them. Little Red Goblin have managed to present some fresh new options for game play, and keep them well within the range of the average player already familiar with the D20 system. With that said, I've got a couple of gripes to include with my praise.
First, one of my biggest pet peeves - which seems to totally fail to phase the run-of-the-mill Internet user today - is the combination of poor grammar and spelling mistakes. There aren't a huge amount of either in this product, but there are some, and it seems like just a little bit more time with a proofreader or editor would have made this already excellent product even better. There were one or two points where the grammar was bad enough that I had trouble telling exactly how a new rules mechanic worked, but I'm sure that it will get cleaned up in errata or future revisions. Users accustomed to textspeak and social media probably won't even notice this, instead feeling a bit off because of all the words that ARE used and spelled correctly.
Next, I have a combination of a criticism and an appreciation. This product relies heavily on rules from the Bestiary 3, Ultimate Magic, Ultimate Combat, and Ultimate Equipment (to a lesser degree). It would be great if this were flagged somewhere other than in the very last section, in the very last column, on the very last page. It's not in the product description on the Paizo website. It's not on the cover. It's not on the title page. It's not in the introduction. Admittedly, all of the rules used are available in the Pathfinder SRD online, so you don't really have to have copies of those books, but I tend to skip over rules that I don't have right in front of me and don't tend to go to the web to get them. Even so, I DO have copies of these books and love the fact that Heroes of the East III integrates so well with them. Third parties have often, it seems to me, ignored the later rules expansions that publishers have produced, and the fact that Little Red Goblin uses them so thoroughly makes Paizo's products even more useful to me. I've always felt a bit like later rules expansions were less valuable than the core rule books, and this definitely adds to the value of those books.
The class archetypes don't have descriptive text with them. I'm not intimately familiar with the various eastern cultures, so I don't just automatically know what their purpose is in the game. The product description here on the Paizo website says more about the reason to use the archetypes than the PDF does. Sure, some of them are fairly obvious, and I'm sure that Little Red Goblin just missed them in the clamor of getting this otherwise excellent product to market. A little poking around on the web or in a well-outfitted public library (does anyone remember those, or what they are for?) should clear much of this up, however.
At the end of the day, and while it seems like I've been fairly critical here, I'm still giving this product four stars out of five. It's well-thought-out and the classes and options that it adds manage to feel like fresh takes on approaching the game and not like new paint over the same old classes. The Yamabushi base class is one of the few new base classes that I've felt excited about recently, and my inner power gamer likes the Shinshoku and is gleefully rubbing his hands together in anticipation of unleashing it in a game world in the near future.
To the guys at Little Red Goblin: you've come through again, and I've come to expect no less from you. Thanks for this excellent product, even if it could use a bit of editing.
Psionics Expanded: Advanced Psionics Guide (PFRPG)Dreamscarred Press
Add Print/PDF Bundle $29.99
Add PDF $9.95
A great product gets even betterbruuuuuu —
This review is also a bit of a review of the core psionics rulebook, "Psionics Unleashed," as the use of this volume depends on having and using the core volume. The work that Dreamscarred did with Psionics Unleashed was a godsend for my games, which have included Psionics for many decades. While the 3.5 rules that are their foundation were good, Dreamscarred managed to improve in them significantly, making them even more balanced and interesting. With that in mind, I was expecting that Psionics Expanded would just be a series of tweaks and some new powers. This is far from the case.
One of the concerns that I have had about running an all-psionics game has been the lack of coverage of core roles, notably healing and heavier tanking, and to a lesser degree party coordination. This book manages to expand the set of core psionic classes to cover these roles, and does so without simply making them a rehash of non-psionic classes. They have a distinctly different feel, and reflect the mind-based character of psionics, which is completely different from traditional systems of fantasy magic.
One of the few downsides that I can offer in relation to this product, is that between it and its predecessor, it feels like there just aren't all that many psionic monsters. Sure, the core bestiaries are to be used in conjunction with the psionics system, but I had really hoped for more monsters in general. Even with that said, I haven't used all of those monsters that are provided between these two works, so there's plenty of material to work with here.