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Part II of my review:
We also have a new cavalier option based on a bonded aethership, which I very much liked, in spite of my well-documented disdain for the linearity of the base class. The aether-touched druid has aether-warped summons, shapes and a bonus spell array. The erahthi cultivator once more represents an aethership specialist. The okanta occult druid gets a unique summoning list and the symbiont master gets one of 3 different symbiont companions. The aether soldier fighter specializes on aether bonds and Arcane Strikes, while the gravitic is about using inertia and movement, disappointingly represented as pretty boring numerical boosts. The resonant guard can help boost performances. The artillerist gunslinger is good with automatic guns and aethership artillery. Jump troopers are cool – they get integrated jump thrusters, which later can be weaponized. Siege walkers are heavy infantry with stabilized weaponry and thornslingers are erahthi with symbiotic firearms, which is all kinds of cool. The tech-bonded hunter gets a construct companion. The correspondent investigator gets a few performances and the mindspy casts psychic magic and gains limited mesmerist tricks. Mystic detectives get Disruptive and a slightly modified inspiration, and the prehistorian is a kind of specialist for old lore. Stellar prospectors are space pioneers. The investigator options represent, for the most part, basic engine tweaks – the cool concepts imho deserved more detailed and unique forms of execution. The aetheric scion kineticist is, bingo, an aether specialist who can accept burn to power aether-tech, which makes for an interesting synergy of engines. I am not a fan of all components of the significant amount of unique options for the archetype, but as a whole, I consider it to be interesting.
Mediums can become deathless guides, specializing on mitigating the issues of time: etheric dreamers are in tune with the astral plane and focus on incorporeal interactions – not a fan. Modded mediums are interested, though: The phalanx medium can mod itself to act as better conduits for spirits. Okanta speakers of the ancestors share a bond with allies and shadow visionaries are, binfo shadow specialists. War memorists get two unique spirits with thematic connections to the Century War - cool. The aromachologist mesmerist is an erahthi who develops a hypnotic scent, which is really cool. Hypnotherapists can fortify allies against mental assaults. Monks may become gravitic masters, who can reposition targets and is particularly adept at zero-G acrobatics. Oracles get the new song mystery, the brief (and not exactly interesting) listener archetype and two new curses – aether-corrupted and choir-voiced. I loved both curses. Paladins that become aetheric knights with an okay attack roll-based parade. As you all know, I consider these parades to be a bad idea due to their swingyness, but yeah – if you don’t mind that, then you’ll probably like this fellow. Psychic thoughtdrinkers actually get some occultist-engine crossover, which is pretty cool in my book. Exostentialist rangers have easily one of the coolest names for an archetype, ever, with aberrant companions etc. also a nice take on the concept hinted at by the name. Salvagers are rogues with a pool-based and they can jury-rigged devices. Liked this one. We get a new aether shaman spirit. The firstnew skald archetype focuses on hampering aethertech, while space pirate skalds represent an engine tweak (raging song enhances Dex and Con), with a bit of space-themed abilities added.
The slayer bullet dancer is basically a gunslinging slayer. Sorcerers get the aetheric bloodline, while summoners can become aetehric callers, adding an aetherite dependency to the eidolon and summoning interaction, which can actually make the summoner work in a slightly more balanced manner. Kudos. Star corsair swashbuckler, finally, gain a ton of different deeds.
Okay, notice something? Yes. There is a curious absence here, right? In a daring move that should probably be made by much more settings, Aethera gets rid of both cleric and warpriest. While the book mentions ways in which they could be used, per default, they don’t exist – courtesy of there being no deities. This changes dramatically the vibe of the setting, and for the better. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Regarding the massive class option chapter, I found quite a few of the options herein interesting and flavorful, but honestly, I caught myself thinking that less had been more. There are quite a few cool concepts only represented by pretty bland basic engine-tweaks, unbefitting of the cool roles they represent. There are a couple of cool ones herein, but, as a whole, the chapter feels surprisingly conservative and “safe” in its designs – when the archetypes stand it, it’s mostly due to how they interact with the unique concepts of the setting in a rewarding manner that makes them worth contemplating. In short: Don’t expect classes and options of the complexity of e.g. Thunderscape. To get slightly ahead of myself: The chapter, to me, represents the weakest part of the book, following the inverse paradigm as the racial chapter: Where, race-wise, we emphasize quality over quantity, the archetype and class option chapter feels like the opposite: Less would have been more here, with the real estate better devoted to truly unique game-changers. The chapter is not bad, mind you – I’d probably consider it to be in the 4-star-range vicinity, but contrasted to the impressive race chapter, it feels like it falls short of what it could have been.
Lets skip ahead for a second, into the skills and feats chapter, which provided a good kind of surprise for me: While there are a ton of different feats to enhance class features, tie in with symbionts and aetherships, it was the skill chapter with its unlocks and serious array of new skill uses that made me rather excited: Heal is more relevant, for example, and the advanced medicine skill unlock further increases that tendency. This is a component I am going to use in pretty much all of my games, as the prevalence of exclusively wand-based/divine healing has always irked me, particularly in grittier games. There are options to muffle firearms with feats, occult skill unlocks noted, etc. This chapter, while not 100% perfect (there are a couple of feats I’d consider to be a bit limited), here we once ore have a return to form as far as design-prowess is concerned. I am particularly happy to note that the chapter does not contribute to lame numerical escalation bloat, instead focusing on setting peculiarities and subsystems.
Now, the third chapter deals with the cosmology of the aethera system, which consists of two suns and 4 worlds, each of which shares an intrinsic tie to one of the inner planes. The cosmology and campaign setting per se have so far been not really explained by yours truly, and indeed, there is a reason for that – you see, on a superficial glance, Aethera sports a couple of the classic narrative tropes: There is a mysterious progenitor race, there is the big war – classic tropes of scifi. It is in the details and in the rather impressive deep structure embedded in Aethera that the setting begins to really stand out. The seeds of these tendencies are sown as early as in the racial chapter: You see, to a degree, the races all pose intriguing questions to develop: How to deal with non-binary gender identities, the politics of otherness both within ones social groups and beyond that; the treatment of veterans and societal changes after wars, the book generates a unique identity by the combination of its themes. With a technology reminiscent of Dieselpunk-ish aesthetics with a science-fiction leaning, the races and concepts of the setting touch the issues of colonialism and the consequences, imperialist claims and the effects of cultural hegemony, the conflicts of nature vs. civilization and, of course, the eternal struggle of authoritarianism vs. individualism. If you enjoy space-noir à la the detective sub-story in The Expanse, you can do that with this setting, but similarly, you can go full-blown space opera.
Which brings me to a crucial component of this CAMPAIGN SETTING. I have, at this point, read quite a few scifi toolkits for d20-based games, most recently, of course, Starfinder. Aethera does not compete with them. You see, the majority of these books attempt, in varying degrees of success, to present a rules-based toolkit to represent the totality of the fantasy-gaming based rules of PFRPG in a scifi/space opera context, and while rules, due to what they allow and what they don’t, generate implicit setting assumptions, the focus, usually, lies upon exactly this component. Aethera is a proper campaign setting, in that the rules act as subservient components to the needs of the setting. It should be noted that we not only get a compelling reading experience with the detailed history, but we also get detailed write-ups for the planets and beyond, sporting a vast amount of hooks that make it nigh impossible to not be inspired by the captivating prose and world-building. Interestingly, the concise and intelligent writing actually manages to create a squaring of the circle of sorts. In spite of being widely, if not universally, permissive regarding PFRPG’s vast amount of options, Aethera excels because the setting it creates feels distinctly like a science-fiction game, in spite of the existence of magic, which usually catapults most games firmly towards the space opera genre. Now, you can play Star Wars-y games in Aethera, but the system stands out to me, as a world-building success, due to its embracing of the relevant themes of science fiction.
What do I mean by this? As a whole, science-fiction and space opera, as genres, as often used interchangeably, or are associated with different timeframes and cultures or creation aesthetics, much to my chagrin; if distinctions are made, they often are based exclusively on time frames and aesthetics, while missing the, in my opinion, central point. Whether you like hard scifi like Primer or soft scifi doesn’t matter – there always is a component of possible negotiation of very serious topics intrinsic in the genre. While it is very much possible to read, for example, “Martian Time Quake” or “The Three Stigmata of Eldritch Palmer” for the reading pleasure alone, it is very much nigh impossible to just consume them without taking something of them; same goes with e.g. the Foundation trilogy…and the list goes on. Space opera’s popularity, as exemplified most famously by Star Wars, would probably lie in the fact that it represents a form of entertainment with the trappings of scifi, but none of its thought-provoking components. Again, Star Wars, with its, to me, nonsensical, hyper-conservative, sexless good/evil ideologies and dichotomies presents an easy way to process comfortable escapist fiction routed in nostalgia, one that does not challenge our societal norms or exert our mental faculties. Think about the backlash regarding the senate scenes. They were per se not bad, but they interrupted the fiction of what was expected. Now, while my hatred for the Star Wars franchise is pretty well-documented, I am not judging the vast amount of fans the universe has – there is value and skill in the world-building, aesthetics, etc.. Similarly, we all have different tastes and, indeed, our tastes change to one degree or another, on a daily basis. I am no exception. While Star Wars never did anything for me, I am very much a huge fan of the space opera genre (just not its most prominent example) – I also like to put my brain off to one degree or another and just consume a great space-fiction. It is somewhat puzzling for me to see how ardent fans of space opera and scifi franchises, books and other forms of media can heap so much disdain upon one another, just for not adhering to the “right” form of make belief in a hypothetical future.
And this is where the tangent comes full circle and returns to the world-building of Aethera. You see, the campaign setting provides the tools to tell stories that must be construed to be deeply embedded in the canon and problems that we associate with the scifi genre; at the same time, Aethera manages to allow for space opera style playing experiences and campaign as well – the book is not prohibitive, but inclusive in how it tackles the impactful concepts it touches upon – it can gravitate to anything from “Guardians of the Galaxy”-style gameplay to experiences that are more deeply routed in aesthetics à la Traveller. This is in so far remarkable, as the setting has the burden of having to accommodate magic to the degree of the prominence in which it is featured in PFRPG, which ties in with the final aspect pertaining the player-facing rules, namely the equipment and gear section.
We get notes on restrictions of items by legal status, a brief and painless currency conversion guideline and mundane items like lifelines, instrument weapons, and a ton of different, mechanically relevant and interesting drugs. From radiation suits to trooper armors, we also get new armor. Interesting here: The ballistic quality nets DR versus physical projectiles firing firearms. Now, the firearm rules are based heavily on PFRPG’s firearms everywhere baseline, with optional rules for recoil, firing modes etc. all covered. Now, personally, I think it would have made more sense to make the firearms behave like regular ranged weapons here, mainly due to the fact that the default firearm rules don’t really play well with higher level math. On the plus-side, the chapter provides something I adored, namely a ton of customization options via e.g. different types of ammunition. The ammunition array on its own is really cool (and yes, clips etc. matter), and represents a component I’d love to see expanded.
Now, aethertech is the catch-all term for the truly advanced tech, which may sport hybrid magic properties – the interaction and rules provided here are concise. These items are powered by aetheric energy, though, which makes them behave more in line with technology items. The transparency of this super tech also means that a GM who envisions a magic-less world can easily restrict item options to aethertech-based items without compromising the vast amount of options available for PFRPG. Cybertech is, somewhat unfortunately in my book, called “Automata” in the setting, but once more is featured. Power armor and associated accessories and crafting stations complement this sections in a good way. The engines presented can easily carry a whole book and while there is a ton of customizing possible, I found myself wishing we got more here.
Now, as far as the aetherships noted are concerned: The system presumes crew roles: Pilot, Copilot, engineer, tactical and weapons. The system presented for aethership combat is concise and better than the default vehicle combat, but I found that e.g. the copilot and tactical roles provide less fun for PCs and are better suited for NPCs – RAW, they don’t have much to do but grant meaningful, but ultimately bland tactical bonuses. From lowly speedsters to full-blown dreadnoughts, we get a nice array of sample ships from CR 3 to 20. A big plus as far as customization is concerned would be the fact that the creation process of ships is pretty painless and based on modular structures. Why would you care? Can’t you just teleport? No…but I’ll leave the discovery of that complex to you. We also have special materials here, which, while solid and thematically fitting, didn’t exactly blow me away. The sub-chapter on symbionts was one I celebrated, though, and an aspect of the book I’d love to see expanded. The really high importance of music for the aesthetics of the settinga re amazing and we also get a variety of solid spells and artifacts.
The final chapter of the book is devoted to the bestiary, noting suitable, suggested creatures by bestiary, providing the aforementioned, pretty dominant aetherwarped creature template as well as colossal plant-serpents, various types of azaka, corrupted elementals and NPCs, codex style. My favorite entries, easily, were the kickass kytons introduces herein – they are absolutely amazing and add more than just a bit of Hellraiser-aesthetics to the darker recesses of the Aethera system. I also loved the symbiont write-ups here. Gorgeous and cool, alien and fun.
Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language and formal level: Considering the huge size of this tome, the fact that it is a freshman offering, as well as the huge density of the book, it is even more interesting: There are a few hiccups here and there, but they mostly are minor: A mention of plasma damage sans the explanatory half fire/half electricity here, a typo there – but these are few and far in between. Now, I already mentioned aesthetics: This book is FRICKIN’ GORGEOUS. As in: This could be a Paizo/WotC-book levels of beautiful. The layout in two-column full-color is absolutely phenomenal. The book is CHOCK-FULL with absolutely visionary artworks that breathe life into everything, from races to classes to everything else, this book is absolutely phenomenal in the visual department. Cartography is similarly amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with detailed, nested bookmarks. Unfortunately, I do not own the physical book, so I can’t comment on binding quality or lack thereof or on whether the book’s vibrant colors come out on paper.
Lead designer Robert Brookes, with additional design by Jesse Brenner, John Bennett, Duan Byrd, Jeff Dahl, Andrew Fields, Kaelyn Harding, Thurston “G&*~*%n” Hillman, Nicholas Hite, Sarah Hood, Andrew Marlowe, Monica Marlowe, Daniel Hunt, Andre James, Patrick N.R. Julius, Mike Kimmel, Isabelle Lee, Jessica Powell, Joshua Rivera, David N. Ross, Todd Stewart, Jeffrey Swank, Jacob Thomas, Chris Wasko, and Scott Young, has created perhaps the single most impressive freshman offering I have ever seen. This is the first book by Encounter Table Publishing. It’s almost ridiculous, once you think about it. Sure, it made its ambitious KS-goal, but I did not, not for a second, expect the setting to be this damn compelling, this cool.
As noted before, aethera really allows you to play Pathfinder in space, but that goal is fulfilled by other toolkits and settings as well; where the book excels is the ability to cater to both scifi and space opera, as well as science-fantasy aesthetics, all without compromising the setting’s aesthetics and themes.
Now, on a rules-level, the book is a bit too conservative for its own good and I wished it focused a bit more on some of its aspects, but we can potentially hope for expansions for these aspects; as a crunch-only book, I’d rate this somewhere in the vicinity of 4 or 4.5 stars.
However, this would be an utter disservice to the entirety of this ginormous book. The value of this book lies in its surprisingly holistic, concise and sensible world-building, in its phenomenal concepts – whether as a campaign setting or as a grab-bag of ideas, Aethera is a truly remarkable achievement that makes for a surprisingly captivating reading experience, that has a very strong identity in spite of its inclusive stance. In short: It achieves its goal as a campaign setting in a fantastic manner, with panache aplomb. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, as well as status as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, amazon, etc.
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Really in love with this setting. It has a really unique and fresh take on things. Some of the music-themed naming of things is a little cringey and silly-sounding though.
Hopefully the other material like the intrigue and technology books come out soon.
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|Thrice Great Hermes|
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There's been a lot of delays for various reasons. The Aethera team is very small (and largely employed at day jobs), so when things get bumpy for someone, it makes a big impact. To the best of my knowledge, though, those books are still going to be available in time. ^_^
That's good news I'd been worried that the Aethera line had folded.
|Jason Nelson Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4, Legendary Games|
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At long last, the next incredible expansion to our best-selling Aethera Campaign Setting is here! The amazing Aethera Field Guide explores the spectacular solar system of Aethera in unbelievable depth, with six vividly detailed planets and their eldritch ecosystems. You’ll find nearly 60 magnificent monsters native to these worlds, as well as NPCs, new character options, special equipment developed on each world, and more! From tiny parasites to titanic cloud-soaring leviathans and the immortal paragons, you’ll find inspiring places to plan your adventures in a campaign that blends sci-fi, fantasy, cosmic horror, and steampunk noir in unique blend all its own! Grab this fantastic 220-page compendium right now in PDF, with print preorders available now at the Legendary Games webstore. Once the print version cycles through printer approvals, we’ll get our Kickstarter backers their books and then they’ll be available to everyone, hopefully by the end of next week!
Meanwhile, pick up your copy today at the Legendary Games webstore, Open Gaming Store, DrivethruRPG, and at Paizo as soon as it gets uploaded! PLUS, you can use the coupon code AETHERA10 at the Legendary Games webstore to get $10 off a copy of the amazing Aethera Campaign Setting to go along with it!
This book is available right now for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and the Starfinder version is in layout as we speak, with the 5E version to follow right after! We are excited and delighted to expand this incredible campaign setting, and we also are at long last almost ready to debut the first full adventure set in the Aethera universe, Wanted in the Wastes by Amber Scott, set to release in April!
|Jason Nelson Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4, Legendary Games|
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Question: there was a book advertised for the Aethera Campaign Setting called the Intrigue Manual. Is that still going to be a thing or did that end up being the Star Intrigue book I've also seen around? For that matter, will the Aethertech Manual still happen?
The Aethertech Manual and Intrigue Manual are still in our plans, though Robert's workflow has slowed way down due to day job issues, etc. Now that the Aethera Field Guide is in the can - PF version out now, SF version in layout, and 5E version getting the last dozen monsters converted - his current focus is finalizing the Wanted in the Wastes adventure, which also will be available for all three systems.
After that, we'll look at the state of completeness of the various manuscripts and target which should be the best focus. It might be A Beacon in the Black or one of the Manuals; we'll see how it goes once Wanted is off to layout.
|Robert Brookes RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4|