This installment of the occult branch of the Psionics Augmented-series clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, leaving 21 pages. Of these, 3 pages are devoted to reference material like feats and psionic powers from e.g. 7th Path. On these pages, the SRD can also be found. When all is said and done, the new content still amounts to 18 pages.
After a brief introduction to the matter at hand and the interaction of psionics and psychic magic, we get the empath. The new archetype herein. Yes. Singular. The empathy may be a medium archetype, but he is, no hyperbole, the most massive archetype I have EVER READ. I can rattle off base classes that take up less real estate than this fellow…so what exactly is the empathy about?
First things first: No, the archetype is not simply about touching stuff or folks and then suddenly knowing their surface thoughts. The archetype is significantly more than that. Instead of Knowledge (arcane) and Knowledge (religion), he gets Autohypnosis, Knowledge (history) and Knowledge (psionics) as class skills. Instead of the medium’s default spellcasting, an empathy gains access to psionic powers, using Charisma as governing attribute for bonus power points. They gain access to powers of up to 6th level and increase their base power points from a humble 2 at 1st level to 292 at 20th level over the course of their progression.
However, the power points are inextricably linked with the other class features of the archetype, so let’s talk spirits: Whiel the empathy is treated as channeling spirits when contracted to his key defining class feature, instead of the arguably less than exciting medium spirits, he forms a contract with a zeitgeist.
Not with me. With one of my lesser brethren. … Sorry, couldn’t resist. I’ll try to keep the bad zeitgeist-jokes to a bare a minimum. Anyways, zeitgeists are basically the product of the collective unconscious, if you’re feeling Jungian – a collective of emotions between all minds, reacting to events glorious and horrible. They are astral echoes of thought, attention and emotion – and during a 1-hour séance, an empathy may forge a contract with one or multiple zeitgeists. Unlike medium spirits, zeitgeists are separated in 4 tiers: 1st level empaths may only contract with lesser zeitgeists. 6th level unlocks intermediate zeitgeists, 11th level greater zeitgeists and 16th level provides access to supreme zeitgeists. Forming a contract with a zeitgeist requires a couple of things: The empathy, for example, must accept a compulsion and a goal. Zeitgeists require an offering. When bonding with multiple zeitgeists, they ask for power point costs and these costs are not limited by manifester level – good catch there! They always demand powers offered, but obviously offer power in return.
Now, it is obvious that aforementioned goals and compulsions are different from influences and taboos. Compulsions set basically a standard of behavior, while goals, when achieved, strengthen the empath’s link to the zeitgeist. Whenever the empathy acts against the compulsion of a given zeitgeist, he has a 15% psychic enervation chance. When suffering from psychic enervation, the empathy loses all psionic focus he has, power points equal to ½ manifester level, all remaining actions for the turn and becomes flat-footed until the start of his next turn. This otherwise can be modified by feats and abilities that modify psychic enervation. An empathy only risks suffering from psychic enervation once per action, even if that action requires a longer time to complete. Achieving a zeitgeist’s goal permanently strengthens the bond between zeitgeist and empathy: In the future, forming the contract with that zeitgeist nets a single use of the spirit surge class feature that may be used immediately. Multiple zeitgeist’s surges stack, but each zeitgeist may only provide a single spirit surge.
For the purpose of abilities and rules that require the tracking of spirit influence, a zeitgeist is always treated as having 3 influence over the empathy, though this influence does not carry any penalties and may neither be increased, nor decreased. Upon starting play, the empathy can claim to have a number of goals accomplished equal to half her spirit bonus, but all such goals must be from zeitgeists of a tier at least one lower than her current maximum.
Ability #2 that pretty much defines the empathy would be the volksgeist – a composite that roughly translates to “The spirit of the people”, btw. a concept that has similarly haunted academia since its conception. If you require some diversification, think of this as the totality of the attitudes and mindset of the vox populi. Rules-wise, the volksgeist does not refer to the spirit of a whole age, but rather to local and current thoughts and the volksgeist, as a whole, is not sentient. The empathy is always aware of it and can generally sense the attitude of a given community – this awareness is not detailed and does not yield secrets and the like, but it makes for a great roleplaying tool nonetheless. Abilities gained from the volksgeist are always on and are chosen as the empathy increases in levels – they may be changed (and this is really interesting!) when the empathy moves to a new community or when the empathy herself is subjected to sufficient changes, emphasizing the roleplaying aspect of the concept here. At 1st level, the connection to the volksgeist can affect a small tight-knit community like a neighborhood, a village, etc. and yields 2 psionic talents as well as empathy, which gains the network descriptor. 3rd level provides a spirit power gained from the volksgeist, which is represented by bonuses to skills; the nature of these is contingent on the general culture of the area.
New powers are gained at 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th level and at the latter, she also extends her volksgeist to encompass a larger area, gaining an intermediate spirit power, which is reflected in a variety of bonus feats, which, once again, are contingent on the area of the volksgeist: Downtrodden areas yield Endurance, for example, while insular communities can yield Racial heritage. 11th level provides more powers, as does 13th level, which further increases the benefits and range of the volksgeist. 15th and 17th level provide further improvements, with the latter representing the apex of the respective volksgeist’s granted abilities and scope. This ability replaces knacks, the channel-related tricks, propriaton, ask the spirits, trance of three and spacious soul. Oh, and it interacts with the collective empaths get: They can have up to Cha-mod or ½ class level, whichever is higher, beings in their collective. Fans of psionics will already be familiar with collectives, so here’s where things get interesting: While psionically focused, the empathy conveys the séance boon of contracted zeitgeists to all members of her collective. 5th level allows the empathy to expel a zeitgeist as a full-round action that provokes AoOs and risks psychic enervation. If the expelled zeitgeist was the free one, she instead declares another zeitgeist she paid power points to contract with as the new free one, regaining half that zeitgeist’s power point cost – prevents cheesing the ability. Nice. 3rd level provides telepathic communication between members of the collective and the capstone, “A Place in History”, is suitably amazing: You get to create your own zeitgeist that has neither compulsion, nor power point cost for its creator Dying while contracted to such a zeitgeist is not fatal for its creator: The zeitgeist acts as an extra life, respawning the fully healed empathy sans negative levels, but with psychic enervation and sans the zeitgeist. Other empaths may only contract with this zeitgeist if they are 20th level and were involved with the events that led to its creation. And yes, some further guidance is provided for this amazing capstone.
Okay, I’ve been dancing around the zeitgeists themselves for quite a while – and there is a reason for this: The lion’s share of this pdf is devoted to them, and for good reason. Beyond offering guidance on roleplaying the goals and compulsions, each of the zeitgeists comes with a brief, fluffy introduction and associated events. They sport the aforementioned goals and compulsions and grant séance boons and spirit powers, with each of the zeitgeists also sporting a brief table of psionic powers that the respective zeitgeist provides. So, what would be examples of zeitgeists? Well, the first lesser one would be Cogito, Sum of the First Thoughts (great pun there!) – when suffering enervation, you may expend all psionic focuses, delaying the onset of psychic enervation until you regain them. This is a simple spirit power, yes – but a) it is cheese-proof and b), it offers a meaningful tweak of the base engine from the get-go. Imperator, the foundation of civilization provides better aiding other; Little Dip O’ The Dops, representing learning for Survival from errant mice avoiding predators, nets you the option to avoid tremorsense (YES!). Resounding with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem Ozymandias, Obelisk lets you erect an ectoplasmic totem, a kind of tower, if you will, enhancing powers based on it. Parasite, the memetic virus, should bring a smile to students of Dawkins or the dispersal of memes, while Riastrad convey network descriptors to the powers this embodiment of a last stand grants.
The intermediate zeitgeists include eternal martyrdom with connotations of the undead, allowing for better relations with non-controlled undead and hijacking of controlled ones. Charade nets you basically the lite-version of a vigilante’s second persona and Hivemind nets tactician strategies. Iron eye, the broadcast lets you memorize scenes and create illusions in a nice bit of social commentary on television/computer-screens, deeply steeped in the fantastic – big kudos for the amazing artwork there. Ceaseless paranoia can make your changes or those of your allies cause fear, while Numquam, the Lost Moment, lets you add temporal components (as though using time hop (not italicized)) to your psychoportations. The light of potential shining can also be found here. Among the greater zeitgeists, the embodiment of championship, Et Panem, helps prevent provoking AoOs while psionically focused. Evol nets customization options to represent pure adaptability. Spacejammer fans will enjoy Jammer, whose theme is to boldly go where none has gone before. Nirvana lets you leave the shackles of your worldly flesh, becoming basically a bolstering, benevolent spirit for your allies…and Yus, tortured torturer, accumulates pain points with his powers, ultimately allowing the empathy to bend reality once a vast amount of pain has been collected.
Among the supreme zeitgeists, we find Athame, the first angel falling that nets quasi angelic benefits to allies, Mac Dex, the march of progress, who nets a sonic screwdriver, a portal gun and a universally recognized status symbol (get the reference?) – all three of which have been concisely codified – quite a feat in particular for the portal gun. Slash, a tear in space, nets you an hole in reality as a blade (and for once I consider the lack of damage types and ignoring DR and hardness totally justified!) that can also carve open the planar fabric to other lands. (Once again, we have a missed italicization here, but oh well.) Tessa, regal administrator, is about saving the world, while Vinum Verum, is, you guessed it, about altered conscience, courtesy of magic or substances. And there is You. No, that is not a typo. That is indeed a zeitgeist, and an intriguing one at that.
Beyond these inspired and interesting zeitgeists, the pdf goes one step further: It notes the ramifications on psionics-magic transparency variants when using the empathy; provides the reskin for rune magic…AND provides a combo feat for interaction with Ultimate Intrigue’s spiritualist zeitgeist binder, which would be more akin to a volksgeist in this pdf’s definitions, but who cares – cool multiclass feat ftw.!
Editing and formatting are very good – while I did notice a few missed italicizations, the sheer complexity of the rules-language construct attempted and executed herein and the overall clean presentation make this a total winner in these disciplines. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports pretty amazing, far-out full-color pictures. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Author Kevin Ryan, with design-lead by Forrest Heck and additional design by Doug Haworth and Adam Boucher, has created one massive archetype herein, one that addresses the weaknesses of the medium class and purges them with fire. Unless I am sorely mistaken, this is the author’s first project as the primary author – and what a project it is!
Okay, let me make this clear: Reading “empathy” on the cover made me about as excited as reading “lame detect specialist” on a cover. Then, I started reading. My Angela Merkel-style frown slowly and steadily turned into a beaming, radiant smile and it did not leave my face even once while reading this pdf.
To elaborate: The empath presented herein replaces the spirit engine of the base medium with one that emphasizes choice; within each choice made at a given time, we not only get a MEANINGFUL, interesting mechanic tweak of the base engine of the class, we also receive a meaningful roleplaying angle. Understanding the importance of ROLEplaying as well as ROLLplaying, the empathy beautifully marries both aspects of our game into a collective that is bigger than the sum of its parts. The zeitgeists are inspired and ooze flavor in an obvious way; the volksgeist does so in a more subtle manner that is no less rewarding and may actually serve as the drive for whole adventuring careers. From the smallest basics of the engine to its capstone, the empathy represents an absolute masterpiece of a supplement, one that manages to retain its feasibility for both low- and high-powered gaming; from gritty, low-powered Ravenloft or Midgard to potent high-fantasy Spacejammer, Planescape or the Zeitgeist AP, this offers a thoroughly rewarding, meaningful and delightful option. If the author was standing before me, I’d frankly shake his hand or hug him – it’s that impressive. The empathy ranks, even among Dreamscarred Press’ class hacks and complex options, as a highlight of skilled design and amazing narrative potential. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017. If you like psionics at all, get this gem. (Also, if you happen to make an Endzeitgeist zeitgeist, send it my way, all right? And no, I’m not affiliated with DSP or the author.)